For its issue of March 1914, Harriet Monroe’s Poetry magazine accepted Carl Sandburg’s “Chicago” and seven of his other poems about the city…
And a city — in the first five lines of the work of an obscure socialist poet in a 2-year-old magazine founded by a Chicago Tribune art critic — had found its enduring descriptors…
“The poem was absolutely revolutionary when it first came out,” says Bill Savage, who teaches the poem as a distinguished senior lecturer in English at Northwestern University…
“They have a kind of omnipresence that makes it a little bit difficult for us to think and feel our way back to how original and daring this was,” Polito says. “You show something like ‘Citizen Kane’ to a group of young students. The techniques of that film have been imitated so many times, they don’t see what was startling about it. That’s a little bit true here. It’s a little bit hard for us a hundred years later to recapture. It’s almost as if it’s a combination of the Book of Genesis and the national anthem for Chicago. It’s the founding myth and the celebratory lyric.”
Reading this, it strikes me that this poem is really well-known in the Chicago area because residents feel like like it embraces all the contradictions that they enjoy (or at least acknowledge) about the city. But, is this poem well-known elsewhere? The article suggests academics elsewhere often didn’t think highly of Sandburg’s work. Is their a poetic equivalent for New York (perhaps the recent Jay-Z and Alicia Keys hit “Empire State” might be a modern version?) or Los Angeles? If so, perhaps I wouldn’t know as I’ve only really heard of Sandburg’s poem…
A noise gap has developed in American public life, and it’s a problem. The bars—at least those frequented by people under 40, who historically drive bottom-up political movements—have gotten louder. How loud? In 2012, the New York Times found that bars in that city regularly reached decibel levels so dangerously high that they violated federal workplace safety standards.
All that noise makes it hard to conduct a meaningful conversation, which is actually the idea. Bars have gotten louder at least in part in response to research showing that louder music encourages patrons to talk less and drink more. By rendering conversation obsolete, the loud atmosphere also nudges people towards imbibing past the point where intelligent conversation is possible. It’s not easy to find a large, crowded bar in an American city where conversation isn’t drowned out by music or a sports telecast. In fact, the Saloon, On U St. in Washington, D.C., has made its name by refusing to play loud music and forcing patrons to stay in their seats, making conversation possible.
The cafés, meanwhile, have gotten quieter. For centuries, coffee was used as a conversation stimulant. But in the present-day U.S., it functions primarily as productivity booster. Coffee long ago penetrated the workplace, and now cafés themselves have become workplaces—not just for eccentric writers and artists, but for knowledge workers of all stripes, who are often plugged into headphones that are plugged into laptops.
In 2011, a Gizmodo writer found it rude that people were talking near him at a café and tweeted, “Etiquette question: Now that coffee shops are basically office spaces, do you have to be quiet when you’re in them?” At the Bean in Manhattan’s East Village, as in several other other New York coffee houses, management has instituted a laptop-free zone. A few tables tucked in a corner of the shop, the Bean’s computer-free zone may as well be a memorial to the late, great café atmosphere.
This sounds like the sociological argument for better third places where average citizens can gather and converse. The primary argument there has been that there are not enough of these spaces. This new argument suggests having these third places isn’t enough; just their existence doesn’t guarantee public conversation but they need to meet certain conditions.
I suppose that could also fit a Marxist perspective: people use these spaces in such a way to follow their own interests (whether the customer wants to be left alone or the proprietor is pushing more product) and are blinded by the lack of civil discourse in which they are participating. In other words, the drinks, alcoholic, caffeinated, or sugary, and their intended uses, whether entertainment or work, are distracting people from the true issues at hand.
Does all this mean that we need a movement for better third places or public spaces (like public squares where some recent global revolutions have started or some argument that business owners who provide such private spaces will get more business) first before agitating against larger structures can begin?
J. Wesley Brown’s vivid nighttime portraits of bus riders are a refreshing look at a rarely seen side of Los Angeles. The city’s freeway interchanges are iconic, but for many Angelinos, these bus stop dwellers represent an even more authentic feeling of home.
Brown, 34, spent two and a half years roaming the city to shoot Riders, a series of fascinating portraits of ordinary people doing ordinary things. That might seem like a mundane topic, but Riders offers a commentary on the societal strata of Los Angeles.
“Riding a bus in L.A. is the most outwardly visible sign of class divide,” says Brown.
In shooting Riders, Brown found the movie posters in bus stop advertising sometimes offered a commentary on the scenes framed by the bus shelters. And his exploration of the city noted that poorer neighborhoods that don’t attract advertising dollars often don’t have bus shelters at all.
Los Angeles is known for its cars, highways, and driving. Yet, owning a vehicle is expensive and mass transit is a necessary part of life for those with fewer resources. The current LA Metro might not be as expansive as the once-extensive streetcar systems but a major city today can’t function well or serve its full population without at least some mass transit.
It sounds like the pictures also highlight one of the odd features of car ownership in the United States: outside of a few places, like Manhattan, many Americans would choose to purchase a car when they have the economic means. Whether this is because a car offers more independence or is a symbol of having reached a certain social status or mass transit is viewed as more lower class or a combination of these, attaining car ownership is an important part of American life.
As for the PDK/Gallup poll, no one recognizes the importance of a question’s wording better than Bill Bushaw, executive director of PDK. He provided me with an interesting example from the September 2009 issue of Phi Delta Kappan magazine, explaining how the organization tested a question about teacher tenure:
“Americans’ opinions about teacher tenure have much to do with how the question is asked. In the 2009 poll, we asked half of respondents if they approved or disapproved of teacher tenure, equating it to receiving a “lifetime contract.” That group of Americans overwhelmingly disapproved of teacher tenure 73% to 26%. The other half of the sample received a similar question that equated tenure to providing a formal legal review before a teacher could be terminated. In this case, the response was reversed, 66% approving of teacher tenure, 34% disapproving.”
So what’s the message here? It’s one I’ve argued before: That polls, taken in context, can provide valuable information. At the same time, journalists have to be careful when comparing prior years’ results to make sure that methodological changes haven’t influenced the findings; you can see how that played out in last year’s MetLife teacher poll. And it’s a good idea to use caution when comparing findings among different polls, even when the questions, at least on the surface, seem similar.
Surveys don’t write themselves nor is the interpretation of the results necessarily straightforward. Change the wording or the order of the questions and results can change. I like the link to the list of “20 Questions A Journalist Should Ask About Poll Results” put out by the National Council on Public Polls. Our public life would be improved if journalists, pundits, and the average citizen would pay attention to these questions.
The answer doesn’t lie in a revolutionary new cement or asphalt mix — yet, experts say. Instead, it comes down to a few simple things: quality materials, experienced builders, plus regular road maintenance and reconstruction.
“A lot of things cause potholes, but at the core they’re caused because we don’t do enough road maintenance. We push our roads too far and too hard,” said engineer Don Hillebrand, head of Argonne National Laboratory’s Transportation Research Center…
Avoiding potholes starts with getting it right the first time, said Mohsen Issa, a University of Illinois at Chicago structural and materials engineering professor…
Hillebrand, a former auto executive with Chrysler and Mercedes-Benz, spent time in Germany, where “they view roads as a serious thing and spend much more on road maintenance than we do and expect them to last longer,” he said. Deeper foundations and thicker concrete help preserve German roads, he noted.
Roads seem to be the sort of thing many people don’t pay attention to until things start going wrong. However, as this article notes, roads have to be built well and continually maintained. This requires a good deal of resources that people may not want to spend until something goes wrong. Yet, when things do go wrong, fixes are not necessarily quick or easy. This provides a classic lesson in infrastructure: spending money upfront pays off down the road.
A question: just how many pothole stories can the media run this winter?
The median age of a broadcast television viewer is now the highest ever at 54. Twenty years ago, it was 41. The most-watched scripted series in the 1993-94 season was “Home Improvement,” with a median viewer age of 34. Today, it’s “NCIS,” with a median viewer who is 61.
Confronted with these realities, the networks are aggressively making the case to advertisers that older viewers are valuable — especially the affluent and influential 55-to-64-year-olds they’re calling “alpha boomers.” The 50-and-up crowd of today, they contend, is far different than the frugal and brand-loyal group that came of age during the Great Depression and World War II…
Younger adults, busy with school, careers, socializing and child-rearing, have always watched less TV. Now they’re even harder to find, thanks to technology that allows them to watch TV whenever and wherever they want, and to skip over commercials…
A decade ago, networks primarily sold ad inventory for prime-time shows based on how many 18-to-49-year-olds were watching at home. Now, network sales teams are emphasizing other metrics, such as income and education level of viewers.
The population bulge known as the baby boomers continue to influence American society. There was a really nice infographic in the Chicago Tribune version of this story (I can’t seem to find it online) that clearly shows some of the patterns across networks: CBS has the highest median age where even their “younger shows,” like How I Met Your Mother and 2 Broke Girls, have a median viewer around 50. The youngest network, by far, is Fox with six shows with a median age under 40 whereas no other network has 1 show under 40 and each only have a few under 50.
It would be interesting to then compare these shifts on television to other areas of advertising and marketing. Can advertisers move away from targeting young people on television because it is so much more effective to target them on social media and websites? Or is television still such a big deal even with declining numbers that Internet advertising still can’t compare?
For 30 years Gregory Jacobs spent his days at Fisherman’s Wharf hiding behind branches, often up against a trash can, silently waiting for unsuspecting tourists to come by.
When they did, and when they least expected it, he would push those branches towards them, often giving them a little growl. Almost always, without fail, they would jump scream and run.
It is one of those iconic San Francisco experiences. Few people can forget a run-in with the bushman.
But Jacobs hadn’t been in his usual spot lately. He’s been in and out the hospital with heart problems. Last Sunday, his family told KTVU, his heart finally gave out and Jacobs passed away.
The article goes on to note that there are actually two Bushmen so there will still be one at these tourist sites.
Bushman might be considered one of Jane Jacob’s “public characters.” Sociologist Mitchell Duneier discusses this idea in the introduction to his classic ethnography Sidewalk.
Not long after we met, I asked Hakim how he saw his role.
“I’m a public character,” he told me.
“A what?” I asked.
“Have you ever read Jane Jacobs’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities?” he asked. “You’ll find it in there.”
I considered myself quite familiar with the book, a classic study of modern urban life published in 1961, and grounded in the author’s observations of her own neighborhood, Greenwich Village. But I didn’t recall the discussion of public characters. Nor did I realize that Hakim’s insight would figure in a central way in the manner in which I would come to see the sidewalk life of this neighborhood. When I got home, I looked it up:
The social structure of sidewalk life hangs partly on what can be called self-appointed public characters. A public character is anyone who is in frequent contact with a wide circle of people and who is sufficiently interested to make himself a public character. A public character need have no special talents or wisdom to fulfill his function—although he often does. He just needs to be present, and there need to be enough of his counterparts. His main qualification is that he is public, that he talks to lots of different people. In this way, news travels that is of sidewalk interest.
Jacobs had modeled her idea of the public character after the local shopkeepers with whom she and her Greenwich Village neighbors would leave their spare keys. These figures could be counted on to let her know if her children were getting out of hand on the street, or to call the police if a strange-looking person was hanging around for too long: “Storekeepers and other small businessmen are typically strong proponents of peace and order,” Jacobs explained. “They hate broken windows and holdups.” She also modeled the public character after persons like herself, who distributed petitions on local political issues to neighborhood stores, spreading local news in the process.
While Bushman didn’t necessarily provide needed services for local residents, being a fixture for so long and interacting with the tourists in a unique way helped make him a feature of Fisherman’s Wharf. I remember seeing him in action multiple times. The first time was surprising and yet it seemed to be the sort of thing that one could only find in a big city: a local man popping out of one of the more natural features along this stretch of the Embarcadero (yes, tearing the Embarcadero Freeway down was helpful but a lot of this road is still fairly ugly) and poking fun at the many tourists who bring lots of money into the city. This is quite different from other odd characters in American cities like the Naked Cowboy in Times Square or the various gold or silver-covered street performers on Michigan Avenue and elsewhere who perform and then ask for money. The key difference is that Bushman had a direct confrontation with tourists who were often quite frightened – until they realized that people were watching them and this was all “normal.”
Increasingly, bank branches are headquartered in distant urban areas – and in some cases, financial “deserts” exist in towns with few or no traditional financial institutions such as banks and credit unions. That means that local lending to individuals based on “relational” banking—with lenders being aware of borrowers’ reputation, credit history and trustworthiness in the community—has dropped, according to a Baylor study published in the journals Rural Sociology and International Innovation.
Instead, more individuals launching small businesses are relying on relatives, remortgaging their homes and even drawing from their pensions—all of which are risky approaches, said lead researcher Charles M. Tolbert, Ph.D., professor and chair of the department of sociology in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences.
But for the 30 percent who obtain loans through the traditional lending method, that approach also can be very challenging, according to the research article, “Restructuring of the Financial Industry: The Disappearance of Locally Owned Traditional Financial Services in Rural America.”
Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation statistics showed that from 1984 to 2011, the number of banking firms in the United States fell by more than 50 percent—to just under 6,300—while the number of branches almost doubled, to more than 83,000, according to researchers’ analysis of data from the FDIC’s national business register. For the study, Baylor researchers partnered with the U.S. Census Bureau Center for Economic Studies.
I’m sure financial institutions would argue it is not as profitable to locate in more rural areas that do not generate as much business as denser areas. It would be interesting to look at the exact figures from financial institutions in rural areas: are they not profitable at all or are they just less profitable?
However, how essential are financial institutions to local economies? The same argument might be made about hospitals: they provide essential services even as they are not as profitable in rural areas. (I would guess people would probably rate health care as more important than credit access but both are important for communities.)
The article hints at another aspect of this change: fewer banks in rural areas means fewer relationships between lenders and residents. While forming relationships may take time, couldn’t they be better for business in the long run? Prioritizing efficiency and profits over people may be good for the bottom line and shareholders but it is the sort of approach that seems to have turned off a good number of Americans to large banks.
This is not a piece from The Onion but rather a story at Atlantic Cities: a Millennial discusses why she thinks the grass may be greener in the suburbs.
I’m one of the thousands of Millennials who make up this new urban demographic. I left the comforts of Eden Prairie, Minnesota — a suburb of the Twin Cities and a community that has consistently been ranked one of the best small towns in America — for New York City. And while my move to New York was the right decision for a variety of reasons (or so I keep telling myself), I often wonder if the grass might indeed be greener—both literally and figuratively—had I stayed in the suburbs.While we’re on the subject, let’s talk about green space. Multiple studies have tracked the social, cultural, and emotional assets green spaces bring to a community, including mental health benefits and reduced rates of gun violence. While cities such as New York and Philadelphia have made tremendous gains in creating new and better public spaces in recent years — former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg presided over the biggest program of park building since the 1930s — too many urban communities are still “park deserts” compared to their suburban counterparts.
Another area where suburbs often trump cities is in the quality (or lack thereof) of their public schools. From the mass closing of public schools in Chicago to the “dizzying, byzantine system” eighth grade students and their parents go through to select a public high school in New York City, it is as hard as ever—if not harder—for parents to find quality public education for their children in large American cities. And this particular reality seems especially stubborn: students from suburban communities are more likely to graduate high school and go on to higher education than their urban counterparts, which of course in turn makes them more likely to get well-paying jobs as adults.
But the number one way the suburbs beat the city, especially for young people, is in affordability. After living in both Washington, D.C., and New York City, I can safely say that affording basic human necessities, such as shelter and sustenance—not to mention having a little fun here and there—is much cheaper outside of the city center. When paying $1,000 per month to share an apartment is a “good deal,” and when you don’t think twice about spending $14 for a single cocktail, what chance does a young city dweller have to actually save money? Not all cities are as insanely expensive as Washington and New York (Philly! Baltimore! Portland!), but when the mortgage on a spacious, four-bedroom home rivals the monthly rent of a cramped one-bedroom apartment, there really is no competition.
These are common arguments for the suburbs through American history back to the founding of some of the earliest suburbs in the mid-1800s: they provide green space and more nature, the ability to avoid “urban issues” like underperforming schools, and affordable housing compared to dense cities.
I have to wonder if her perspective is skewed just a little bit by growing up in Eden Prairie. As she notes, this is a community often marked as one of the nicer American suburbs. Not all suburbs are like this as they range from inner-ring suburbs adjacent to big cities to industrial suburbs to edge cities with lots of jobs to more exurban areas with bigger lots. Not all suburbs would have these three traits she claims are most important and others may offer features she does not discuss. On the whole, her arguments about the merits of the suburbs may be marked by a particular higher-end experience of American suburbs.
Derek Thompson points out some interesting household expenditure data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics: Americans spend quite a bit on housing and transportation.
Families with radically different incomes—from lawyers and doctors down to high-school dropouts—all spend about half of it on homes and getting around, which suggests an historically tight relationship between marginal income growth and marginal spending growth on real estate and transportation. You get a raise, you shack up with roommates. You get another raise, you get nicer studio. A bigger raise and you move out to the suburbs and buy a house—commensurably increasing your spending on transportation (bigger car + gas).
This monopoly of housing/transit dominance is sticky for many reasons—America is big and has space for houses but zoning often limits development, leaving us with high relative housing prices and rents; suburban sprawl invites car ownership; infrastructure supports a car culture; our gas taxes are low and mortgage interest deductions are high; the list goes on—but it doesn’t have to be this way. Not every country spends half its income on homes and cars. They have other priorities, like the UK, where the typical family spends a walloping 20 percent of its income on the super-category of “fun stuff”: culture, entertainment, sports, alcohol, and tobacco. Or look at Japan, which spends more than twice as much as us on food consumed at home.
And where might this money go if it was not spent on these two areas?
Imagine what would happen if we didn’t spend $1 in $2 on houses and cars. It would be rocky for the real estate and auto industries who have come to rely on a steady stream of spending. But it would leave a lot of money left over other stuff—like smartphones, and dinners out with friends, and shoes whose fanciness belies our income level. This isn’t a vision of the future. It’s a description of the way a lot of young people live today, particularly educated twentysomethings who’ve moved to urban light areas (e.g.: newer subrubs within commuting distance of the city proper, like Arlington, Va.) where they can save on real estate, take public transit, and preserve enough of their lowish salaries to cobble together a connected and fairly social life outside work, if they have it. Maybe these trends are recession-era fads that will fade with the recovery. If not, it’ll be a big deal.
Owning a car and a home simply seem to be foundational features of modern America and the American Dream. The first offers independence and mobility. The second offers a private retreat from the harsh outside world and one’s own land to do as they please (though owners might choose to be part of homeowner’s associations that limit their options to enhance their property values). Being middle-class, a desired goal of many Americans, is tied to these two items. They also point to a person’s identity, representing one’s status and personal tastes.
All that said, Thompson hints at the possibilities if these foundational values (dating to roughly the 1910s and 1920s and then cemented in the prosperous post-World War II era when they became more attainable) fade and are replaced by others. It isn’t just an economic question of what happens to the auto industry or builders but rather a larger question about American social life: could be truly imagine an America without widespread praise and chasing after houses and cars?