Making housing activism attractive on-screen

Fighting housing issues may be necessary but it is probably not the first topic viewers, producers, and networks think of for a good product. Until Show Me A Hero:

At its heart, Show Me a Hero is a wonk procedural, exploring all the seemingly impossible and impassable hurdles that policy has to traverse to become reality. But it’s brought to life by Nick Wasicsko (Oscar Isaac), the titular hero. In 1987, when the show begins, Nick, a former cop and lawyer, and current Springsteen superfan, is an eager and ambitious new member of the Yonkers City Council, which is already being roiled by a court ruling. A long-gestating lawsuit has finally found Yonkers, a working-class city just north of the New York City border, guilty of intentionally segregating its housing. The judge presiding over the case has ruled that 200 units of low-income housing must be built on the east, and white, side of the city. That is, more precisely, 200 units of housing, to be spread out over eight different locations, in the white part of a city of a couple hundred thousand people that has spent 40 years practicing systematic housing discrimination and segregation. That is, also, 200 units of housing greeted by white homeowners as an existential threat to their property values and way of life, visited upon them by liberal outsiders, to be fought viciously and rancorously, lest any of the “public housing people” come to live next door.

Nick is soon tapped to run against the Republican mayor in what is supposed to be a slam-dunk election for the incumbent but turns into an upset when the virulently anti-housing voters elect Nick simply because he is not the mayor, who has assented to the judge’s ruling in the case. Nick is happily swept into power by an incensed and racist cohort who expects Nick to fight the housing order, even though it is legal and will never be overturned, and disobeying it will bankrupt the city. Nick is not a simple, straightforward hero: He doesn’t come into office intent on doing the right thing, damn the consequences. He’s a cocky kid, tickled to be the county’s youngest big city mayor, who has to choose between being reasonable, responsible, and righteous or a recalcitrant, unrealistic bigot—when it is the latter choice that will let him keep his job. Nick does what is right. How he does this, and at what personal and professional expense, is the meat of Show Me a Hero, which, tellingly, gets its title from the F. Scott Fitzgerald quote, “Show me a hero, and I’ll write you a tragedy.” (A piece of advice: Don’t Wikipedia Nick Wasicsko if you want to avoid spoilers.)

Plenty of critics and viewers have echoed Newton Minnow’s claim that television will become a “vast wasteland” when it is bad. Yet, couldn’t a show like this be entertaining and provide a public good?

While I noted above that housing activism is an unlikely television topic, it is also an underdiscussed topic overall as many prefer to talk about the promises (and occasional perils, particularly after 2006) of the housing market without acknowledging the influence of residential segregation and the need for interventions to make affordable housing possible as well as to break down persistent clusters by race and class.

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Peregrine falcons take over Chicago apartment balcony

See what happens when peregrine falcons take over an city apartment balcony:

It all started four years ago, when the birds began dropping by the building’s balconies early each spring. In April 2014, the couple got pretty cozy on Dacey Arashiba’s terrace. Arashiba, an I.T. consultant, was delighted, but his neighbors, put off by the birds’ loud noises and poop, complained. “My building manager told me the birds had to go. Maintenance staff shooed them off the balcony,” Arashiba says. “And that was it. For a while.”

But in June, the birds came back. A week later, the pair had laid three eggs in Arashiba’s flowerbox (“I am an occasional, lazy gardener and hadn’t replenished the dirt in a few years,” he admits.)

Now on the offensive, Arashiba called Mary Hennen, director of the Chicago Peregrine Program, who told him that falcons are federally protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (and had previously been on the state and federal endangered species lists). It’s highly illegal to harass them (building management complied)…

Arashiba let Massey crash in his condo for a full month so the 23-year-old photographer could get close-up pictures of the birds as their chicks grew from tiny fluff balls to sleek (but spotted) youngsters. Massey’s assistant, Katie Stacey, was also there to help out with parts of the shoot, which required some precarious balancing of equipment to fully capture the birds’ vertigo-inducing existance.

There are some great pictures here. I wonder how many city apartment dwellers would have had a similar reaction to the Arashiba’s as their balcony became a lot more difficult to use. Would many have sided with the neighbors who complained? And if the birds had been chased away, could they have easily found a nesting site elsewhere in the city?

See an earlier post regarding a book about the birds of suburbia (“suburdia”).

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No “musical ensemble that was more sociological” than the Beatles

Looking back at the Beatles playing Shea Stadium in 1965, one radio personality the group was a sociological phenomena:

Fifty years ago, the Beatles changed the way America witnessed live music by performing the first stadium show of its size and scope. On Aug. 15, 1965, the boys from Liverpool played a record-shattering concert at New York’s Shea Stadium, which would be televised on BBC and ABC, immortalized in a documentary, and further the massive reach of Beatlemania in the ’60s. Legendary radio personality Cousin Brucie served as the announcer, and now, 50 years later, he says it still stands as the tipping point for turning concerts into must-see live spectacles…

The Shea Stadium show broke records in terms of profits and attendance; promoter Sid Bernstein said the event made $304,000, and 55,000 fans were at the stadium. Ed Sullivan’s iconic documentary about the event, The Beatles at Shea Stadium, culled footage from 12 cameras that documented the day, and captures the band at their peak of fame…

1965 was a pivotal year in both music history and American history, and Brucie remembers the Shea Stadium performance being one of biggest events that brought young people together for something that was pure enjoyment. “At that time in our nation, we needed something desperately to get our minds off some of the tragedy that was happening, the assassinations, racial strife and political problems,” he said. “Anybody who was at Shea Stadium, it’s like someone who was at Woodstock. You have to have been there.”

Experiencing live music has changed nearly completely since the Beatles took over Shea Stadium, and Brucie attests today’s music festivals and arena tours would not have existed without that one day in New York. “The [show] was really the beginning of major events that we we have today at stadiums. It was a precursor of everything. It was an experiment that worked very, very well. Today when people go to concerts, they go to listen to the music. There has never been a musical ensemble that was more sociological and garnered the emotion than this particular group, the Beatles,” he said.

Similar arguments have been made by many: the Beatles came about at the right time, the group was more than the sum of their parts and was able to amplify the hoopla (which also burned them out as they stopped touring one summer after the Shea Stadium concerts), and concerts in the 1960s were the place to be (from Shea Stadium to Woodstock).

But, the statement that “There has never been a musical ensemble that was more sociological” is interesting. What exactly does it mean? That they shaped broader society more than any other group? They are more fascinating to study and ponder than other groups? Everywhere they went was an interesting social scene? Their innovations were way ahead of other artists? Not too many groups could claim similar things and perhaps the time is past when a single music act or musical/social experience could truly get the attention of the world.

Listen to the full Shea Stadium concert here.

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Suburban car dealer limited to 75% of sales must be over $75k

The suburb of Burr Ridge has some price restrictions for a used car dealership:

The proposal would place the pre-owned luxury car dealer under a two-year probation period to see how a $10,000 minimum sales price would work. Under terms of a 2013 special use permit granted for the dealership, cars may not be sold for less than $30,000, and 75 percent of the vehicle sold must have an average sale price of $75,000 or higher, said Mayor Mickey Straub. The average price of a car in the show room needs to be $87,500, he said…

The dealership has maintained a $79,000 average sale price on its vehicles, but it is losing sales when it cannot trade in vehicles under $30,000, said Mutie Sughayar, Global Luxury Imports owner.

Residents expressed their concerns with traffic around the car dealership and the perceived image of the village if the minimum vehicle sales price is decreased…

“It was one of the stipulations that would ensure that the business remain a luxury used car dealer with minimal foot traffic,” said Mary Bradley, another resident.

Some suburbs want car dealers because they can generate a lot of tax revenue. Others think they are eye sores and project a certain kind of image. Burr Ridge is not alone in this; the city of Wheaton also worked to avoid the numerous car dealers along Roosevelt Road in Glen Ellyn. But, I’ve never seen price restrictions for car dealers like these enacted in Burr Ridge. Raising concerns about traffic are common in NIMBY situations even as this car dealer is close to an I-55 exit where there are plenty of other businesses and County Line Road has to have moderate traffic to make these businesses worthwhile. The negative image of the car dealer is likely the more important culprit in this community with a median household income of $115k.

Perhaps the only worthwhile car dealers in wealthy suburbs are ones that solely sell expensive vehicles to a limited number of people. Talk about exclusive…

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Claim: nightclubs closing due to new Millenial social patterns

The number of nightclubs in the UK has declined in the last decade and here is one possible reason why:

Even famous London dance-music clubs such as Turnmills, Bagley’s and The End have succumbed to a process that has seen the UK’s total portfolio of nightclubs shrink by almost half from 3,144 in 2005 to 1,733 a decade later.

The statistic from the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) is a signal not just of the effect of the smoking ban and the imposition of student loans but of a fundamental shift in the way a new generation chooses to spend its entertainment budget…

A night out at a pop-up restaurant or a secret cinema feels more adventurous than yet another club night, which will only drain finances needed for that ambitious summer holiday trip. According to Yakob, nightclubbing has become for many young people a “couple of times a year” experience, hearing the best DJs on the best sound systems…

Twice a year punters aren’t going to pay a nightclub’s bills. But even for some dedicated music fans, the lure of a night of House music could be reduced by their long hours of listening to playlists on a premium streaming service during daily commutes. The UK is among Spotify’s strongest markets. Felim McGrath, analyst at market research company GlobalWebIndex, says: “In years gone by you would go to a nightclub at the weekend to discover music played by a top DJ. Now you can do that online via a curated playlist.”

While this isn’t good news for the nightclub economy, the social ramifications are interesting. For pre-teens to young adults, music is often an essential part of the social experience. It is part of creating an identity, burn off steam and/or transgress boundaries, and unite with other people. All of this can be done with music online – it just takes different forms. For example, instead of going to nightclubs or as many concerts, users can post in forums and comment sections about their favorite artists. Instead of interacting with strangers (who may share the same music interests) at venues, the music is now more privatized as users can select what they want wherever they want. Like many experiences with the web, users get more choice in more places but lose embodied experiences with others.

At the worst, in the future no one will emerge from their headphones and personalized experiences. At the best, perhaps the music listened to and discussed online can lead to new kinds of unique experiences outside of the typical nightclub and concert experiences.

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All whites fleeing minorities bought McMansions?

In an article about the reconcentration of poverty, the journalist includes this description of how white residents responded to more minorities moving to the suburbs:

As newly middle-class minorities moved to inner suburbs, though, the mostly white residents of those suburbs moved further away, buying up the McMansions that were being built at a rapid pace. This acceleration of white flight was especially problematic in Rust Belt towns that didn’t experience the economic boom of the mid-2000s. They were watching manufacturing and jobs move overseas.

The use of McMansions is interesting here. It could be doing three things:

1. It could simply be referring to larger houses. The size of new American homes has increased in recent decades and McMansions are often held up as the exemplar of this.

2. It could be shorthand for suburban sprawl. McMansions are often viewed as emblematic of big lots and expensive houses in whiter communities. Using the phrase McMansion here could reinforce the idea that all wealthy suburbanites live in McMansions.

3. This could be more negative as substituting “large homes” for “McMansions” doesn’t carry the same kind of negative connotations.

And for the data on the number of Americans living in neighborhoods where more than 40% of residents are under the poverty line:

The number of people living in high-poverty areas—defined as census tracts where 40 percent or more of families have income levels below the federal poverty threshold—nearly doubled between 2000 and 2013, to 13.8 million from 7.2 million, according to a new analysis of census data by Paul Jargowsky, a public-policy professor at Rutgers University-Camden and a fellow at The Century Foundation. That’s the highest number of Americans living in high-poverty neighborhoods ever recorded.

Not a good trend.

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“Turning Suburban Tysons [Corner] Into a Walkable City Will Take Time”

Eric Jaffe discusses the slow transformation of Tysons Corner, Virgina from car-dominated edge city to walkable city:

Last week marked the Silver Line’s first birthday, and with so much riding on it, so to speak, attention naturally turned to the lower-than-expected ridership numbers. The Washington Post reported that the Silver Line is serving about 17,000 daily riders during the work week, well off the pace of 25,000 riders that planners had set by this time. The “bulk” of this ridership aren’t even new users, according to the Post, but rather people who used to take the Orange Line instead…

But while it’s far, far too soon to declare the great Tysons shift a failure, it’s not too early to point out some of the little failings that still need to be addressed.

Poor walkability is one. Citing an internal analysis, Martin Di Caro at WAMU reports that Metro officials believe a lack of “sidewalks, crosswalks, and bike lanes” is a key reason behind the low ridership numbers…

But the neuroscience of driving habits clearly shows that mode choice is most susceptible to change in the early stages of a major life event, such as moving homes or starting a new job. Insofar as Tysons developers have been slow out of the gate when it comes to encouraging transit, walking, and biking, they might be missing a critical opportunity to change commuter behavior…

A third setback might fall more on Metro itself. The Post’s Dr. Gridlock reports that the biggest problem facing Silver Line ridership isn’t the stations—it’s the service. A delay on new rail cars forced Metro to stretch the existing fleet thin. The proposed fix involves running fewer eight-car trains during rush-hour twice a week so the older cars can get maintenance; given the strong ties between transit service and transit ridership, that’s not an encouraging proposition.

Transforming an exemplar of suburban sprawl is not easy: the community has to respond with corresponding infrastructure (improving walkability), changed mindsets (getting people into new patterns and perhaps this requires newer residents), and adequate service to make it viable alternative.

However, we might ask how much time is needed before we could properly evaluate the impact of the Silver Line. Five years? Twenty years? A couple of generations? And it matters who is doing the evaluating and for what reasons. Is this about seeing a financial impact (paying for the construction of the new line plus measuring new development prompted by the new line)? Assessing the decisions of politicians? Trying to reach a magic number of daily users? It will be interesting to watch the ongoing analysis and who gets to take the credit or blame.

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Why is football “the sport that most closely aligns itself with religion”?

NFL player Arian Foster is out as a non-religious player:

Arian Foster, 28, has spent his entire public football career — in college at Tennessee, in the NFL with the Texans — in the Bible Belt. Playing in the sport that most closely aligns itself with religion, in which God and country are both industry and packaging, in which the pregame flyover blends with the postgame prayer, Foster does not believe in God.

“Everybody always says the same thing: You have to have faith,” he says. “That’s my whole thing: Faith isn’t enough for me. For people who are struggling with that, they’re nervous about telling their families or afraid of the backlash … man, don’t be afraid to be you. I was, for years.”

He has tossed out sly hints in the past, just enough to give himself wink-and-a-nod deniability, but he recently decided to become a public face of the nonreligious. Moved by the testimonials of celebrity atheists like comedian Bill Maher and magicians Penn and Teller, Foster has joined a national campaign by the nonprofit group Openly Secular, which plans to use his story to increase awareness and acceptance of nonbelievers, especially in sports. The organization initially approached ESPN about Foster’s willingness to share his story, but ESPN subsequently dealt directly with Foster, and Openly Secular had no involvement…

Religion may be football’s sole concession to humility, perhaps the only gesture that suggests the game itself is not its own denomination. Nowhere is the looming proximity of Christianity more pronounced than in the SEC, where, in the time of Tim Tebow, a man named Chad Gibbs was inspired to write a book — God and Football — telling of his travels to every SEC school to decipher how like-minded Christians navigate the cliff walk between rooting for Florida and maintaining their devotion to Christ. These religious currents aren’t confined to football, of course: Big league baseball teams routinely hold “faith and family” days; players appear at postgame celebrations to give their testimonials, and Christian rock bands perform well into the night. In football, though, public displays of faith can be viewed as a necessary accessory for such a dangerous and violent sport.

I’m more interested in why football might identify more with religion than other sports. (And I’m a bit skeptical of whether this is true.) Is it:

1. The physical nature of the game? Perhaps it reminds the athletes more of their own mortality. Plus, careers are short due to the physical demands. Perhaps playing football reinforces religiosity.

2. The connection between football and certain areas of the country? This article cites the Bible Belt and SEC schools. So this connection between football and religion could really be a relationship between football and the South? This could be an example of a spurious correlation.

3. The people who play football are more religious and/or come from more religious families? In this explanation, the religiosity comes before football rather than because of football (different causal order).

4. Football players have been more publicly vocal about their faith compared to athletes in other sports?

5. A historical connection between churches and/or religious schools and football?

Could be some interesting stuff to look into…

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The odd McMansions of Mill Basin, Brooklyn

Some recent McMansions in the Mill Basin neighborhood in Brooklyn caught the eye of a photographer:

Photographer Nate Dorr recently shot some of the more interesting edifices in the neighborhood, noting that some of the architecture seems to come from “a sculptural confusion of design elements that suggests the owners just opted to combine all possibilities in one facade rather than make any attempt to decide between them.” And that pretty much sums up the look of the area…

This is indeed a unique collection as well as a apt description. Perhaps the eclectic mishmash of styles actually creates its own unifying aesthetic? Hip neighborhoods can make this work – artists and creative types can’t be confined – but perhaps not wealthy ones.

A 1991 New York Times article suggests the waterfront property attracts the wealthy:

Waterfront houses eclipse these in cost — up to $4 million — and luxury. More than 200 have their own docks and a few have elevators. One, on National Drive, has a six-car garage and on Indiana Place stands a three-story house with an all-glass facade. Such high-profile houses have been built or bought by politicians, restaurateurs, physicians and, reportedly, leaders of organized crime.

An interesting outcome for a neighborhood with history dating back to the 1620s.

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NYT crossword: “I merely bought myself a McMansion, and now I’m ___!”

I don’t know how often McMansions appear in crossword puzzles but here is a recent example from the New York Times:

The crossword clue for today new york times crossword puzzle is I merely bought myself a McMansion, and now I’m ___! , and the right or the best answer for I merely bought myself a McMansion, and now I’m ___! is :

INTHEBIGHOUSE

Could also work with “I just walked into the University of Michigan football stadium, and now I’m ___!”

See the full solved puzzle here. And clue here is playing off the theme of staying in jail:

THEME: hoosegow —  fill in the blank clues that treat literally some figurative terms for being in prison. All clues begin “I merely…” and end “… and now I’m ___!,” the idea being that the speaker is talking as if he’s been put in prison for doing something, when the prison term is actually just a literal description of what the speaker was doing.

If intended this way, this would fit how many McMansion critics might feel about having to live in such a house…

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