Gentrification as violating UN Human Rights

Some opponents of gentrification argue the process is a human rights violation:

It is the resulting displacement of people who can’t afford increased rents that, in the eyes of these activists, amounts to a human-rights violation. (Homeowners, at least economically, stand to gain from the changes, since their property values often rise as a result.) Drawing on Le droit à la ville, a 1968 work by the French sociologist Henri Lefebvre whose title translates to “The Right to the City,” the organization argues that all people, including the disenfranchised, have the right to remain in their apartments and homes and shape the political and cultural landscapes of their communities. The UN Declaration of Human Rights already asserts that everyone has the right to be protected against “interference with his… home.” Lenina Nadal, the communications director for Right to the City, says the group hopes to build on this idea. “It is an ideal time to  expand the idea that inhabitants not only have a right to their home, a decent, sustainable home,” she said, “but also to the community they created in their city.”

This is an interesting argument that suggests people are being moved from their homes and communities against their will. Americans generally don’t like the idea of others dictating where they can live; see the emphasis on local control, property rights, and opposition to eminent domain. Yet, social factors push and pull people to leave their homes and communities all the time as well as limit people from leaving their communities.

How exactly would this work out in a court of law or as an argument at the United Nations? I suspect there could be a lot of argument about what exactly the right to a home and community is. Could a suburbanite who doesn’t like that a big box store is being built nearby make a similar argument? What about residents who are moved through eminent domain or urban renewal?

Why the UN is in New York CIty, not suburban Connecticut, San Francisco, Philadelphia, or the Black Hills

I recently read Capital of the World: The Race to Host the United Nations by Charlene Mires. The story of how the United Nations ended up on the East River in New York City in the late 1940s is a pretty interesting tale and I will summarize who was in the running.

1. The Black Hills. From the beginning of the UN process involving multiple conferences and committees, the Black Hills tried to attract the United Nations. This was primarily through the efforts of one persistent booster. The argument was that the location represented a new frontier near the geographic center of the United States with plenty of room for a headquarters.

2. San Francisco. The city successfully hosted the 1945 UN San Francisco Conference and represented a world shift toward the Pacific. In the end, the city was eliminated from the running rather early on because delegates from Europe refused to travel that far.

3. Suburban Connecticut. After focusing on the American East Coast, suburban New York, particularly in Westchester County or near Greenwich, Connecticut was the primary option. UN members did not want to be located in New York City, partly because of a lack of connection with nature and partly because of an interest in building a whole new United Nations city. At one point, the UN had plans developed for several plots of land that would involve tens of square miles for this new city. However, NIMBY concerns from suburban residents put these plans to rest: suburbanites were worried the international organization would disturb their idyllic communities.

4. With the New York suburbs essentially taking themselves out of the running, Philadelphia emerged as a viable option. The city made their pitch as the birthplace of modern liberty. The UN was concerned about corruption in the city. As they wondered if Philadelphia would be possible…

5. New York emerged as the winner after the Rockefeller family put together a deal for land to be offered to the UN on the East River (the current site). While New York wouldn’t allow a large city within a city development, there was enough land for a large building and delegates could take advantage of Manhattan’s amenities. As the UN was deciding on its permanent home, they had been temporarily located on Long Island but the facilities were located near eyesores and the commute was too much for many participants.

To me, the most interesting part of the story was the competition and fervor of boosters from around the United States. Dozens of communities lobbied the United Nations – though some had many more resources than others and only few had realistic chances from the beginning. They envisioned the United Nations providing status as well as economic opportunities.

If New York City suburbanites hadn’t lobbied against the headquarters, we might today know a UN city located 20-50 miles outside of Manhattan. But, of course, it seems natural today that the UN is located in the #1 global city.

A UN report discusses how Facebook can be used for terrorism

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime released a report this week on how terrorists are using new platforms like Facebook:

Terrorists are increasingly turning to social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to spread propaganda, recruit sympathizers and plot potential attacks, a United Nations’ report released Monday says.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime said Internet-based social platforms are fertile, low-cost grounds for promotion of extremist rhetoric encouraging violent acts, with terrorists able to virtually cross borders and hide behind fake identifies…

The University of Waterloo sociologist said networks like Facebook are effective tools to screen potential recruits, who could then be directed to encrypted militant Islamic websites affiliated with al-Qaida, for example.

Check out what the full report says about Facebook. Here is the first mention of Facebook (p.4):

The promotion of extremist rhetoric encouraging violent acts is also a common
trend across the growing range of Internet-based platforms that host user-generated
content. Content that might formerly have been distributed to a relatively limited audience, in person or via physical media such as compact discs (CDs) and digital video discs (DVDs), has increasingly migrated to the Internet. Such content may be distributed using a broad range of tools, such as dedicated websites, targeted virtual chat rooms and forums, online magazines, social networking platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, and popular video and file-sharing websites, such as YouTube and Rapidshare, respectively. The use of indexing services such as Internet search engines also makes it easier to identify and retrieve terrorism-related content.

The second mention (p.11):

Particularly in the age of popular social networking media, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and blogging platforms, individuals also publish, voluntarily or inadvertently, an unprecedented amount of sensitive information on the Internet. While the intent of those distributing the information may be to provide news or other updates to their audience for informational or social purposes, some of this information may be misappropriated and used for the benefit of criminal activity.

And that’s about it when it comes to specifics about Facebook in report. One case involving Facebook was cited specifically but the bulk of the terrorist activity appeared to happen on other websites. On one hand, officials say they will continue to monitor Facebook. On the other hand, Facebook is one popular website, among others, where Internet users can interact.

I imagine Facebook as a company is also interested in this and its too bad they didn’t respond, at least not to Bloomberg Businessweek:

Spokespeople at Facebook, Google and Twitter didn’t immediately return phone calls and e-mails seeking comment.

A predicted 1 billion international tourists in 2012 illustrates global mobility

The UN suggests international tourism will hit a new high in 2012:

The U.N.’s World Trade Organization says 1 billion people will cross international borders as tourists this year for the first time…

That figure would be about 4 percent higher than last year’s total. Back in 1950, the figure was 25 million. The UN counts only people who stay at least one night. It does not include cruise ship passengers.

“It is quite iconic when you realize 1 billion people crossed borders,” Vogeler said at a Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association conference in Puerto Rico. “It shows from a sociological point of view how things have changed. If you go back 20-30 years, many people would die without traveling more than 100 miles from home.”…

The organization also projects that there will be 1.4 billion in 2020 and 1.8 billion in 2030.

Some of the sociological factors behind this:

1. More people with income that allows them to travel internationally. Such travel is not cheap but with rising incomes and a growing middle class in developing nations, there are more people who can travel. In other words, more people can afford to travel.

2. A growing cultural emphasis on the value of tourism and seeing different parts of the world. Perhaps part of this is due to more widespread information about other parts of the world. Or perhaps it reflects an idea that a well-rounded person is an international traveler. Regardless of the specific reason, this would mean more people want to travel.

Of course, other factors like cheaper and quicker transportation matter as well as a growing interest many countries (and cities) have in growing their economies through tourism and “selling” their attractions to visitors.

On the whole, I imagine the United Nations would want to promote this quite a bit. More international travel suggests more money will be flowing across borders and more international understanding is possible.

Conservatives fight against perceived UN efforts to herd people into urban areas

A number of conservatives are fighting hard against green efforts that they claim are part of a larger UN plan:

Across the country, activists with ties to the Tea Party are railing against all sorts of local and state efforts to control sprawl and conserve energy. They brand government action for things like expanding public transportation routes and preserving open space as part of a United Nations-led conspiracy to deny property rights and herd citizens toward cities.

They are showing up at planning meetings to denounce bike lanes on public streets and smart meters on home appliances — efforts they equate to a big-government blueprint against individual rights…

The protests date to 1992 when the United Nations passed a sweeping, but nonbinding, 100-plus-page resolution called Agenda 21 that was designed to encourage nations to use fewer resources and conserve open land by steering development to already dense areas. They have gained momentum in the past two years because of the emergence of the Tea Party movement, harnessing its suspicion about government power and belief that man-made global warming is a hoax…

The Republican National Committee resolution, passed without fanfare on Jan. 13, declared, “The United Nations Agenda 21 plan of radical so-called ‘sustainable development’ views the American way of life of private property ownership, single family homes, private car ownership and individual travel choices, and privately owned farms; all as destructive to the environment.”

This is one of those stories that simply made me say, “Huh?” when I first read it. But the article suggests this is now mainstream in conservative circles as Newt Gingrich has mentioned it in a debate and the Republican National Committee has addressed it.

I would be interested in hearing more about whether this is really about sprawl (conservatives want the right to live in the suburbs/more rural areas) or about related issues like international law, the power of the UN, the environmental movement, and liberty. It also suggests that sprawl is not simply about where one can live but symbolizes a whole way of life that is associated with freedom.

I didn’t realize this was tied to a larger movement but this helps provide some background for why some Naperville residents have been so vehemently opposed to smart meters (read some of their arguments here). This group has gathered over 4,000 signatures on their petitions and they make a sort of slippery slope argument: it may be smart meters today but soon the government wants to get all of your information and influence your decisions in the future.

A last question: what is so threatening to freedom about bike lanes?

Disagreement on whether there are 7 billion people on earth just yet

There have been a number of recent stories about how the world’s population has reached 7 billion. Interestingly, not everyone agrees that this has happened yet:

According to United Nations demographers, 6,999,999,999 other Earthlings potentially felt the same way on Monday when the world’s population topped seven billion. But if you’d rather go by the United States Census Bureau’s projections, you’ve got some breathing room. The bureau estimates that even with the world’s population increasing by 215,120 a day, it won’t reach seven billion for about four months.

How do the dueling demographic experts reconcile a difference, as of Monday, of 28 million, which is more than all the people in Saudi Arabia?

They don’t.

“No one can know the exact number of people on the globe,” Gerhard Heilig, chief of the population estimates and projections section of the United Nations Population Division, acknowledges.

Even the best individual government censuses have a margin of error of at least 1 percent, he said, which would translate in the global aggregation to “a window of uncertainty of six months before or six months after Oct. 31.” An error margin of even as little as 2 percent would mean that Monday’s estimate of seven billion actually was 56 million off (which is more people than were counted in South Africa).

Figuring this out is not an easy task. It requires a central group to tabulate results from all of the countries around the world. Could there be a difference in the reliability and validity of the results across nations? For example, can we trust population counts from honed operations in the United States and other Western nations more than counts from Third World countries? (I wish the article went into this: how accurate are population figures from different countries? How big might the margins of errors be?) I’ve seen this before when doing some research in graduate school on suicide figures that the United Nations has collected – in the period I was looking at, roughly 1950 to 1970, some countries didn’t report, some had rougher estimates, and countries could have different definitions about what constitutes a suicide. Absolute population counts should be more straight forward but I imagine there could be a number of complications.

Will we get another round of news stories when the Census Bureau says we have hit 7 billion? I wonder if the perceived global authority of the United Nations versus that of the Census Bureau plays a role. For example, did the New York Times report the 7 billion figure as front-page news and then print this caveat story later in the news section?

A final note: the story ends by suggesting the two estimates are not that far off. If we could be so lucky that all of our estimates have only a 1% margin of error, science would benefit greatly. But it is a reminder that official figures are estimates, not 100% counts of social phenomenon.