Leaning into “Everywhere else is Cleveland”

A recent ad from the New Orleans Police Department tried to set their city apart from other cities, namely, Cleveland:

Photo by DAVID Mercado on Pexels.com

The NOPD posted the commercial—”Everywhere Else Is Cleveland”—to its social media accounts at 9 a.m. Wednesday…

“Everywhere Else Is Cleveland”—which features women, people of color and members of the local LGBTQ community—was commissioned by the foundation as part of a broader recruitment push to help fortify the city’s shrinking police force. To broaden their applicant pool, the department recently relaxed restrictions around past marijuana use, credit scores and physical appearance—including tattoos, facial hair and nail polish.

The commercial’s title is a play on the famous Tennessee Williams quote: “America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.”

See an earlier post about this quote.

This quote referenced above hints at a larger issue for those who study American cities. When is it helpful to lump cities together as similar enough or helpful to put them in different categories because they have unique traits? All big cities share some common characteristics but they are also different in certain ways. Is size, the time of settlement or rapid population growth, density, political system, cultural opportunities, or something else the factor we should use to analyze cities?

The quote above suggests there are four categories of cities: three that stand on their own then a much larger category represented by Cleveland. Cleveland is the stand-in here for all nondescript cities compared to three American cities that have unique personalities and settings. The ad suggests New Orleans is a very different kind of place.

Is this objectively true? As far as I know, there is no New Orleans School of urban thought, but this does not mean there should not be. Urban sociologists and theorists tend to squabble more about the biggest cities and whether New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles are the best models for understanding urban processes.

Perhaps celebrity-led affordable housing is not the answer

Actor Brad Pitt created a foundation that built 109 affordable housing units in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. According to one observer, the project has not gone well:

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Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation built 109 eye-catching and affordable homes in New Orleans for a community where many people were displaced by damage wrought by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Now this housing development is in disarray. The vast majority of the recently constructed homes are riddled with construction-related problems that have led to mold, termites, rotting wood, flooding and other woes.

At least six are boarded up and abandoned. Many residents have filed lawsuits that are still pending. That is, a nonprofit that built houses with input from Frank Gehry and other prominent architects amid much fanfare for survivors of one disaster then ushered in another disaster…

Brad Pitt, who took credit for launching this organization in 2007 and often served as its public face in subsequent years, was still listed as a board member as of 2018.

Pitt’s lawyers argued that he could not be sued over the housing development’s failings, but a judge ruled in 2019 that the movie star would remain a defendant because of his role as Make It Right’s founder and chief fundraiser.

Housing, plus the decades of policies and history undergirding it in particular locations and in the broader sense, is difficult to address.

This proposed solution is one employed in many American sectors. A celebrity comes in and lends their name and resources to a project. I think I showed a class a documentary Pitt narrated about efforts to rebuild in the Lower Ninth Ward.

What happens in the end because of the efforts of the celebrity? Here, the outcome does not sound good: the homes are in disrepair and court cases are pending. The homes that were intended to help are their own problem.

To repeat, tackling affordable housing, even with the help of a megastar, is no easy task.

Discussing why a professional sports team would adopt the name the Pelicans

It appears the New Orleans Hornets will adopt a new name: the Pelicans. Here is some discussion on TrueHoop about the meaning of the name and other names that were in the running:

And yet, if you put a gun to my head and said: Come up with a funny name for a minor league baseball team I’d say “Pelicans” and I’d worry that it wasn’t realistic. Like, what owner would name his team for an unathletic bird noted for how much marine life it can carry in its big mouth?

In terms of specifically dissecting the Pelican and noting its awkwardness, I think that is fair, but I think the qualities of the bird do not necessarily translate into the perception of the team. Magic is not the “sportiest” of names. It’s either weak in some sense or cheating (is there a rule against sorcery?), right?

Not to pick on the Magic, of course. The Celtics aren’t meant to be pagans. The Knickerbockers don’t have people’s unsundry parts in them. Those names are “made” by their legacies. It is the duty of every franchise to build that legacy to overcome all of these, at first, imperfect names. And upon the fanbase. They have to “own it,” to use the parlance of our time.

People in New Orleans dislike change, but they love New Orleans. There’s nothing like some hate from north of I-10 to get some New Orleanians to love what those “Yankees” hate.

It’ll work.

And a quick look at three other possible names:

The colors were purple, red and black primarily, they had the voodoo dolls, the graveyard, bones and mojo for mascots, and more. It was fantastic, local, recognizable, edgy. Voodoo is currently owned by the new AFL, as Benson folded his team prior the older AFL folding. The Shreveport-Bossier City Battlewings (north Louisiana for those playing the home game) moved here, donning Voodoo garb. This was at least one obstruction to this…

Krewe was another good choice. “Krewe of X” is used to describe the people in parades in many cases (I was Krewe of Endymion after the Super Bowl, for instance). This has clear cultural relevance and built-in mascots, branding, etc. It would be a beacon for those three people who’ve never heard of Mardi Gras. Krewe of New Orleans … the party has arrived.

Brass was another good name. It’s evocative of Jazz, and was the name of an ECHL team (minor league hockey) here in New Orleans (yes, really) that folded shortly after the Hornets relocation. You can write the branding for it quite easily.

I suspect this analysis is right: local fans could get used to all sorts of names over time. I would assume that winning more would make a sports team name more permanent. While there may have been other reasons for these switches, think of the Charlotte Bobcats and the Washington Wizards. Perhaps some cities are even better suited than others to adopt stranger or more local names. And yes, a number of professional pro sports team names don’t make a lot of sense given their current context and era. For people who like local color, it is almost too bad sports teams aren’t required to have names that match their current community. Finding the best local names could be a fascinating exercise…

But I wonder if this is part of a larger shift in the names of sports teams away from fierce animals or creatures. Just as first names in the United States can change (here is a sociologist talking about the decline of the name Mary but the resurgence of the name Emma), the names of sports teams can change. Think of the new team names in the four major sports in the last two decades and it is an odd collection of old-style and new names. This may have to do with branding: new kinds of names offer new opportunities. Take the Oklahoma City Thunder. Their name is not shared by another team in the four major sports and is not found too frequently elsewhere. It could lead to all sorts of new marketing opportunities though it might be difficult to come up with appropriate mascots and train copy editors to use the name correctly.

Of course, one innovation of the future could be that more American sports team adopt corporate names. This could be a lucrative revenue stream.

Dressing up a terrible idea

Early last week, NPR’s Morning Edition ran a story about the Mardis Gras Indians (Wikipedia backgrounder) who are attempting to copyright their costumes in order to collect money from photographers who take pictures of the festivities in New Orleans.  In the words of Howard Miller of the Creole Wild West Mardi Gras Indians:

For years we had the fear that we have been exploited. They [the photographers] had been taking advantage of us and coming in and snapping pictures. In selling the pictures, we see them everywhere – magazines, even in art galleries being sold and we are not getting anything from it.

Enter Ashlye Keaton, an adjunct law professor at Tulane Law School, who is representing Mr. Miller:

[The costumes] fall under copyright protection as works of art, as sculptures because the designs are sewn onto canvas and other materials and they are worn not as costumes, but they’re worn over clothing. So they’re not functional, which qualifies them for copyright protection as a sculptural work of art pursuant to the copyright act.

Mike Masnick over at TechDirt picked up on this story this morning.  Like me, he thinks this is a terrible idea:

[T]his whole thing goes against the very purpose of copyright law, which was to provide an incentive to create. But these guys have plenty of incentives to create that have nothing to do with copyright. Basically, they’re just upset that someone, somewhere might make money selling a calendar of Mardi Gras photos without paying them first….In the interview, the Mardi Gras Indian they interview makes no argument at all about incentives to create. Instead, he goes with the “I think that’s fair” argument for why photographers should pay him. Well, those photographers don’t think it’s fair — and copyright law is not about what someone thinks is fair. It’s about the incentive to create, and it makes no sense in this context.

Masnick makes a few other points:

  • That costumes are clothing a thus cannot be protected with copyrights.
  • That any photographs of the costumes would be a fair use because they would be “transformative” (citing a case about Grateful Dead concert posters).

I think one of the more pernicious effects of the expansion of intellectual property legal entitlements is that people now think they should be paid any time someone else makes money.  This is simply not the way the world works.  I won’t expand too much on Masnick’s points, but I would like to make a few point of my own about unsolicited benefits.

If I buy a house and put a beautiful garden in the front yard, I may well raise the property values of every house on my street.  Does the law allow me to collect any money from my neighbors?  No.

If I squeegee your windshield without being asked to while you are stuck in traffic, can I demand that you pay me?  No.

To be sure, Mardis Gras provides real benefits to lots of people, and Mr. Miller’s costume no doubt contributes to that general benefit.  As a general rule, however, the law doesn’t reward people just because they provide other people with benefits.  Why?  It’s generally unfair to foist such a responsibility on others (that’s why “squeegee men” are considered such a public nuisance.)  Moreover, it’s way too costly for courts to figure out who should pay who in what amounts after the fact.  Far better to let people strike their own bargains — to pay for communal landscaping through a homeowner’s association or to take their cars to a car wash.

If the Mardis Gras Indians want payment from their costumes, they have plenty of options.  They can:

  • collect donations.
  • look for a corporate sponsor, sell advertising, and/or give commercial endorsements.
  • sell their costumes to others.
  • perform in a private parade (with paid tickets).

What they can’t do, however, is simply take those costumes, walk down a public street in a free parade open to the public, and expect to be paid for it.  It just doesn’t work that way.

The Katrina Cottage versus the McMansion

After Hurricane Katrina, there was a need for innovative housing designs in order to quickly rebuild the city’s housing stock. One such design was the Katrina Cottage, a 308 square foot dwelling that was quite portable but was well made and fit with existing architectural themes. The Chicago Tribune asked an employee of an urban planning firm who lives in one of these homes why exactly these homes did not catch on:

Q. You’ve said these little houses have a lot of fans who are attracted to their simplicity and see them as the anti-McMansion. Why didn’t Katrina Cottages catch on?

A. Well, you know, this kind of project would be illegal in most places; building codes restrict room size, and zoning codes restrict lot size. It wouldn’t work in a suburban subdivision; it has to be a small infill development. Dropped randomly into (traditional) subdivisions, the houses look eccentric and experimental.

The reason it works in Ocean Springs is that it’s around similar houses and it’s within walking or biking distance of places to eat and drink, a grocery store, a YMCA, hair salons, barbershop and retail. I rode a bike everywhere and didn’t need a car. If you have easy, walkable access, you don’t need all kinds of stuff in your house.

You see, in a conventional suburban development, they’ve taken an entire town and compressed it into a McMansion — you have the bar somewhere, you have the basement rec room, there’s the TV room, the coffee shop in an espresso machine. There’s a room with workout equipment. In a conventional subdivision, you have to (put all those features into the house) because you don’t have access to anything you can walk to.

There are a few developments based on the idea — there’s Cottage Square, where I stayed. Ross Chapin, a developer in Langley, Wash., builds so-called “pocket neighborhoods” — he’s got people buying 400-square-foot homes for $600,000. And Lowe’s created and still sells plans and kits for (individuals) who want these houses.

Several things are interesting in this response:

1. Conflating all suburban homes with McMansions is a common mistake.

2. The idea that suburban developments don’t want anything too different in terms of design or architecture is accurate. Homes that look too different might just negatively affect property values. On top of this, the idea that many places would find these homes to be illegal seems silly but is likely true.

3. I would be very interested to know what would lead people to pay $600,000 for a 400-square foot home. Check out Ross Chapin’s designs here.

4. You can read more about Ben Bowen’s thoughts here. It sounds like his argument for these small houses includes a certain kind of neighborhood where amenities and daily needs are within an easy walk. These ideas seem quite similar to those of New Urbanism.

Cities that are losing population

The list of the top seven American cities in population loss (measured as a percentage of total population) is not surprising: New Orleans, Flint, Cleveland, Buffalo, Dayton, Pittsburgh, and Rochester (NY). And outside of New Orleans, why these cities have lost population is also not difficult to figure out: a loss of manufacturing jobs.

But a list like this raises some questions about cities:

1. Is it that unusual for cities to lose population? If cities can boom, as these cities did during the industrial boom, why can’t they also go bust?

2. The headline on the article is misleading: “US cities running out of people.” There are still plenty of people in these communities – what is unusual is that the population is declining.

3. Is there a point where these population losses will stabilize? I always wonder this about cities – some people stay because there are still some jobs, particularly medical, municipal, and service jobs available.

4. Is there something the federal government could do to help these communities reverse these trends? Is there a public interest in not letting cities like these slowly die?

5. Measuring the city’s population is perhaps not the best way to go about it. How have the metropolitan populations changed? Are there still people in the region? This would make a difference.

Rubble clearance in Haiti proceeds at a slow pace

Eight months after a 7.0 earthquake devastated Haiti, most of the rubble in Port-au-Prince has still not been removed:

By some estimates, the quake left about 33 million cubic yards of debris in Port-au-Prince — more than seven times the amount of concrete used to build the Hoover Dam. So far, only about 2 percent has been cleared, which means the city looks pretty much as it did a month after the Jan. 12 quake.

Government officials and outside aid groups say rubble removal is the priority before Haiti can rebuild. But the reasons why so little has been cleared are complex. And frustrating.

Heavy equipment has to be shipped in by sea. Dump trucks have difficulty navigating narrow and mountainous dirt roads. An abysmal records system makes it hard for the government to determine who owns a dilapidated property. And there are few sites on which to dump the rubble, which often contains human remains.

Also, no single person in the Haitian government has been declared in charge of the rubble, prompting foreign nongovernmental organizations to take on the task themselves. The groups are often forced to fight for a small pool of available money and contracts — which in turn means the work is done piecemeal, with little coordination.

This is a reminder that while large disasters such as this often prompt quick and widespread relief efforts, these efforts may be needed for long periods of time. After the initial needs are taken care of (water, food, medical care, etc.), there is often even more work to do in order to rebuild.

The opening of the NFL season last week provided another reminder of this in New Orleans. While that city has made some progress, there is still a long way to go and the necessity of these efforts often receive little attention from broader society.

h/t Infrastructurist

NPR on New Orleans: Still a long way to go

In a story that has slowly faded away, NPR looks again at New Orleans. The verdict: “the city’s health is much improved” but there is still much to be done. Top on the list of things to do: encourage economic growth that will continue to draw new residents and redevelopment.