Monday, August 31, 2009
Jane Jacobs and Gentrification
In a recent review of Anthony Flint’s book on Jane Jacobs (Wrestling with Moses: How Jane Jacobs took on New York’s Master Builder and Transformed the American City), Jason Epstein* argues that Jacobs has had a remarkable effect on urban planning and development in North America. Her triumph over Robert Moses and James Felt (New York planners who wanted to build an expressway through the heart of Lower Manhattan) shifted that city’s focus from epic infrastructure projects, especially for cars, to the preservation of mixed-use neighborhoods, replete with multiple housing types, mixed commercial and industrial properties, and accessible streets that organically connected citizens and structures alike. However, as Epstein concedes, this preference for preservation over slum clearance came at a cost:
The West Village was saved, but as with all victories, unintended consequences ensued. Clarence Davies, a Felt ally and head of the Housing and Redevelopment Board that
replaced [Moses's] Committeeon Slum Clearance wrote ... "that if the Village area is left alone and if no middle-income housing is projected by the Board ... eventually the Village will consist solely of luxury housing, which we, of course, will be powerless to prevent ... This trend is already quite obvious and would itself destroy any semblance of the present Village that [Jacobs and her allies] seem so anxious to preserve."
The term was not yet in use but Davies had foreseen the gentrification that would within twenty years turn the Village into some of the most expensive real estate on earth. The mixed-income neighborhood of dockworkers and middle-class households and artists’ lofts that Jacobs championed would become the victim of its own charm. There would be little room for working-class families or struggling artists in the Greenwich Village that Jacobs fought to preserve. "Her vision of organic city growth," Flint writes, "would do little to curb gentrification."
The dialectic of urban development, therefore, produces winners and losers. I`m now in Chilliwack. You can guess which side I am on.
* Epstein, Jason (August 13, 2009), "New York: The Prophet." The New York Review of Books, Vol. 56, Issue 13: 33-35.
Friday, August 28, 2009
Bucking the Trend
When I was a student at UVic, a professor in
the history department had this poster up on his door. It was a
favourite of mine, and I have looked for my own copy ever since. I
recently came across an online version and thought I would share it with
Thursday, August 27, 2009
My letter on multiculturalism is used by the Globe and Mail
On Aug. 25th, a short letter I wrote to writer Daniel Stoffman was used at the beginning of his Globe and Mail question and answer session on multiculturalism. In response to his earlier article, I made the simple point that multiculturalism is not as central to the Canadian fabric as some people believe because there are other, more fundamental values at play.
Stoffman's basic thesis is that Canada is not truly multicultural, even if it appears to be a commonly held perspective of politicians and journalists. Stoffman hedges his bets when it comes evaluating his own conclusions, though he does imply that it's probably best for Canada to accept diversity rather than true multiculturalism - which he regards as a rather radical policy if taken to its logical conclusion. I'm not sure I share his rather extreme conception of multiculturalism, but I do agree that we overestimate its importance - however it is conceived - in our political culture.
Monday, August 24, 2009
Leaving out certain details
The trouble with truth and journalism is not that the media regularly publishes falsities. It's that it usually omits important information or emphasizes certain facts over others.
Here's an example: On August 17, 2009, the Vancouver Sun publishes an article with the headline, "Liberals funded by business, NDP by unions". On the face of it, it would appear there is equivalence: business and unions support their respective parties to the same degree. But, of course, that's not really true. The sub-heading provides a bit more detail when it reads, "Businesses donated 70 per cent of Liberal funds for 2009 election; unions gave 40 per cent of NDP revenue". At least here we begin to see that there is no equivalence; Gordon Campbell's Liberals are more beholden to corporations than the NDP are beholden to unions. Too bad the headlines and sub-headings aren't switched.
Much more problematic is what is left out completely. The other way of understanding things would be to compare the absolute amount that the business sector gave to the Liberals, as compared to the absolute amount the unions gave to the NDP (in this case, between Jan. 1 and the May election). However, for some strange reason, those important numbers aren't in the news story. By my calculations - using all of the raw data provided by the article - the NDP received $2.16 million from the unions, while the Liberals received $6.65 million from the corporations. That means the Liberal Party received over 3 times more money from corporate BC as the NDP received from the unions. Such an omission might appear subtle, but it certainly works to reduce the significant differences that the headline ignores. And so much for equivalence.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Neil Boyd ... Criminologist in the Clouds
On August 6th, Neil Boyd, a widely quoted criminologist from SFU, wrote an opinion piece that decried those who criticize him and other academic commentators on the issue of crime. Here's a brief response.
Neil Boyd, a well known SFU criminologist, seems puzzled that people “don’t like what academics have to say” about crime. I would propose the opposite: Boyd does not like to hear what others think about crime, and that he represents a point of view that most Canadians wholeheartedly reject.
Boyd and many others in his trade take a social scientific view of crime. Criminal behaviour is analyzed with statistics and identifiable trends, and the response to crime is framed by rehabilitation, deterrence and other approaches amenable to measurement. Moreover, these empirical preferences carry a significant normative commitment, to which Boyd appears deeply committed.
But I would posit that the large majority of Canadians don’t see crime in the same way. They see crime, particularly violent crime, as primarily a moral issue, and have a normative commitment clearly at odds with Boyd's professional perspective. Even if there were only one violent crime next year in Canada, the question would remain: did the convicted criminal receive a penalty of reduced entitlements commensurate to the rights he or she took away from his/her victim(s)? This is justice as equity or fairness. Crime in this sense is not conceived as a medicalized problem that must be solved by experts. It does believe that people must be held responsible for their actions, particularly when these actions are so heinous that they violate the basic rights of others. Indeed, it's a view that believes the justice system is as much about the victims of crime as the criminals themselves. It also believes that drugs or alcohol - especially if attached to violent crime - do not automatically provide a get-out-of-jail-for-free card. If one is capable of the mundane tasks of eating, finding some form of shelter and securing drug supplies - all of which require at least a modicum of rationality - then why is such rationality immediately and quite conveniently ignored when it comes to criminal responsibility? Finally, it believes that the criminal justice system ought not be a social working institution. If there are legitimate human needs for social welfare, then why does it appear that the police and the courts are obliged to be primary social working agencies? They lack the requisite resources to accomplish such a lofty goal, with the end result that they do a mediocre job of both policing and social working.
The criminal rights faction usually responds (condescendingly) that this normative perspective is mere retribution, and that it doesn’t solve the problem of crime. Unfortunately, we rarely hear in any extended way why retribution is indeed wrong, except that it is supposedly “uncivilized”. Apparently moral responsibility is barbaric. Moreover, the demand for “solutions” merely restates a rather self-serving standard - the kind of standard that employs a lot of people in the criminal rights industry - that simply ignores the call for moral equivalence.
If Boyd wants to be taken more seriously, perhaps he should talk less of “ad hominem” attacks, and more of a fundamental clash of values. This may take him beyond his comfort zone of statistical analysis, but it might answer his aforementioned puzzlement more honestly.