[From Boggs Educational Center]

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An Open Letter to Time Inc.
On the occasion of the first article reflecting your yearlong commitment in Detroit.
By SHEA HOWELL

I just read Daniel Okrent’s article “Detroit: the Death—and Possible Life—of a Great City.” If this is your best effort, you might as well sell the house and move back to New York. The article offers nothing new and is a recycling of stories already told. Moreover, it continues to perpetuate the myths that Detroit’s ills are because of myopic auto companies, self-interested unions, riots and racial tensions. While there are measures of truth in these images, they are caricatures of the people and events you chronicle. You don’t need to be in Detroit to drag up these tired images and superficial views. Continue Reading »


This essay will appear in Grace Lee Boggs’ Living For Change column of the Michigan Citizen.

Manufacturing can save our cities.  We should not view it only as dying.   Instead, we must rethink it within a “community-scaled” framework that produces products, jobs, skills, relationships, and stronger neighborhoods.

The familiar narrative about manufacturing in the U.S. begins at the turn of the 20th century.  Manufacturing gave us prosperity.It gave us global economic power. It created a robust middle class.  It ramped up at unprecedented scales to meet the demands of mass consumption, particularly in the automobile industry.  Cities like Detroit (“Arsenal of Democracy”) and Philadelphia (“Workshop of the World”) were hailed as success stories of the Industrial Revolution.

This revolution did not last forever.  Deindustrialization began in the post World War II years.  With automation the number of workers required on the line declined significantly.  As the labor movement grew in strength, companies left for the suburbs. Today corporate urban flight extends overseas, and the bastions of American industry struggle with the devastating effects of disinvestment and rising unemployment rates.

Economic development solutions for de-industrialized cities often fall into two categories.  The first looks at the physical conditions of thousands of derelict buildings sitting idly across the landscape and devises programs that rehabilitate neglected industrial buildings for commercial or residential uses.  E.g.  former factories are converted into luxury condos. The second approach focuses on job creation by building a “knowledge-based” economy. Advances in digital technologies have sped up globalization, placing a premium on jobs in this sector. To become a “knowledge city”, cities invest in research institutions that develop technological innovations in science and engineering. Advocates believe that cities with a strong knowledge economy will increase their global competitive edge.

These prevailing approaches do not leave much room for viewing  manufacturing as part of the equation for urban revitalization .  Should every abandoned factory become high-end residential lofts? Is the knowledge economy the panacea for all de-industrialized cities?  Instead,  manufacturing is caricatured as an industry encumbered with union lobbyists or associated with a dying era, one that should step aside for the Information Age.

A Brooklyn-based non-profit is demonstrating the viability of community-scaled manufacturing.  Through the acquisition, rehabilitation, and management of neglected industrial spaces, Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center has transformed six properties into top-rate facilities.  These buildings mainly house custom-made artisanal operations, like woodworkers, upholsterers, and fabricators.  Over 100 businesses reside in GMDC’s buildings, supporting over 500 workers. The majority of employees are residents from the surrounding neighborhood, showing that community-scaled manufacturing can deter fears of gentrification and displacement.

Economist E.F. Schumacher said, “If you get too many useful machines , you will get too many useless people”. By encouraging  the reuse of supposedly obsolete industrial infrastructure, community-scaled manufacturing is a place-based strategy that  roots manufacturers in their local areas. It addresses workforce development concerns about the lack of skilled workers. The apprentice-style education provides a way for people to discover and develop their own abilities.

Thus manufacturing becomes a step towards broadening  hands-on opportunities for many people. Jobs in trade and craft are good skills;  community-scaled manufacturing recovers the societal value of jobs in which people make things.  Its inherent small-scale demands a localized economy and has the capacity to advance craftsmanship, promote education, and build stronger communities.

Manufacturing can, should, and is taking place in our cities.  More communities are recognizing the need to localize  goods and services.  The local food security movement reflects this understanding.  Community-scaled manufacturing can realize similar outcomes. It has the ability to bring the consumer closer to the producer, decrease the ecological footprint of manufacturing, improve local economies, and encourage self-sufficiency. We can let go of the old way of manufacturing – its polluting factories and menial labor — and embrace the future of community-scaled manufacturing.

mj

Thanks Mary for sharing this “open letter” by Phonte. It captures a lot of what I’ve been trying to articulate about Michael Jackson and my frustration with the U.S. media’s portrayal of his life and work. R.I.P Michael Jackson (1958 – 2009)

My Hero Ain’t Molest Them Bitch Ass Kids: A Kaing’s Tribute

I haven’t been compelled to blog in a long time.

In an era where everybody is twittering and text-messaging their lives away, a well-thought out essay that extends past 140 characters is quickly becoming a thing of the past.

But when our universe lost its brightest star on June 25, 2009, I felt a deep, overwhelming sadness that I haven’t experienced in many years and I felt moved to say….something.

My hero, Michael Joseph Jackson, is dead.

Honestly I’m still trying to process it, almost like the loss of a much-loved family member. I mean, hell, to many of us Michael WAS family. Much like Nike, or Coca-Cola, or McDonalds, Michael Jackson wasn’t so much a person as he was a living, breathing, American institution; a ubiquitous force that has seemingly existed forever and one that we couldn’t imagine a world without. Seeing Michael onstage was less like watching a musician perform and more akin to witnessing a magician at work.

But contrary to his otherworldly stage presence and magical aura, the man we called The King of Pop proved to be a mere mortal. And now my hero, Michael Joseph Jackson, is dead.

What isn’t dead, unfortunately, is the cloud of false accusations, unsubstantiated rumors, myths, slander, and outright lies that surround his life and his legacy. The greatest myth regarding Michael Jackson is that he was a pedophile who preyed on young children. Continue Reading »

We featured Kian Goh at the Unspoken Borders Conference this year, during the Talk20 session.   Having Goh be part of the conference was fantastic, particularly because of her direct engagement with the queer community on design issues.  One of her projects is featured in our hot-off-the-press publication.  She was also recently interviewed by the American Institute of Architects – be sure to listen to the mp3 of the interview.  She articulates the importance of promoting social justice through design.  Though she specifically speaks to an architectural audience, her words resonate well with other design fields.

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Two weekends ago, we wrapped up an inspiring, thought-provoking conference. Fortunately, we had a representative from Arch Paper cover the conference, and they’ve just posted a review of their reflections. Here’s a highlight:
Amidst the discussion of what designers can do about social inequities, a related question emerged: should design education address the root causes of those inequities? “There’s no lack of design-build studios going out to poor neighborhoods to build houses, but there’s no discussion [in architecture school] of why those neighborhoods exist,” said architect Kian Goh. But isn’t there a trade-off between expertise and generalism? Some participants thought so, and urban designer Felipe Correa countered: “It is important that we not overextend the net, that we bring it back to what we know how to do best,” he argued. “Allow sociologists to deal with the sociology.”
I think this has been our best conference yet, particularly because we were able to attract a wide cross-section of students to attend.  In addition to the various methods of collaboration, great graphic design and aggressive outreach effort, I believe our theme, “Ecologies of Inequality”, strategically peeked the interest of students. As a designer of color, this conference is a nourishing reminder why I decided to pursue this profession in the first place.
Another participant also posted her thoughts of her visit. After the conference, two PennDesign architecture students have launched an interactive blog to continue the dialogues around design and social justice.

I’m smiling. The NY Times reported that the Obama’s will be planting an organic vegetable garden at the White House, complete with an educational program with local elementary students to help harvest the produce.

For urban dwellers who have no backyards, the country’s one million community gardens can also play an important role, Mrs. Obama said.

When the Obamas made made the call for people to get more involved with volunteering and service projects in their communities, I witnessed thousands turning out on MLK Day in DC.  Imagine the new surge of urban residents participating in community gardens, urban farms, CSAs and other local food programs!

White House Veg Garden

Detroit’s abandoned Chin Tiki restaurant has been razed.  This New York Times article alludes to rumors about a new hockey arena planned by the Ilitches. Yikes. The last thing that area needs is another big development. The Cass Corridor, once home to Detroit Chinatown, is a portal to downtown Detroit and imposing a large sports stadium will further hurt the already-damage the urban fabric of the neighborhood.  There’s no doubt that Chin Tiki participated in the exoticism of Asian cultures yet there seems to be a loss of historical significance  and cultural memory resulting from its absence.

…the loss of Chin Tiki is an example of bad city planning…with the right people behind it, Chin Tiki could have been a downtown success story, like the once-mothballed Cliff Bell’s, the deco-style jazz club nearby that reopened recently.

More urgently, Detroit should steer away from relying on big box entertainment venues placed in the heart of the city, where a tangle of freeways already intersect once-intact neighborhoods. What Detroit needs is to find a new direction for the economy, one that could foster small local businesses, less auto-dependent infrastructure, and even promote urban agriculture/community gardens.

This is one of the few, if only, student-run conferences at PennDesign that explicitly explores the intersection of race, politics and design. The theme, “Ecologies of Inequality”, investigates the systems and institutions that create and perpetuate disparities in public health, transportation, economic access and spatial disenfranchisement. It will also feature projects that are using design to develop new systems of equality and justice.

We’ve got an amazing line-up, so check out the website when registration opens on February 15.

The Philly Chinatown community is once again fighting to maintain their survival.  Threats to Chinatown’s future began as early as the projects that brought the Vine St. Expressway (I-676), Market East and the convention center  during the urban renewal period.  Because of the fast-track nature of the casino proposal, the community and its allies are put in a tough position to respond quickly, and the op-ed sums up the questionable package put forth by the mayor. Perhaps Philly activists can take a cue from Detroit’s anti-casinos struggle. Detroit former mayor Coleman A. Young challenged the anti-gambling activists to go beyond merely protesting the construction of casinos and to answer the question: if not casinos, what kind of development could save our city?

Thanks to Joanie for sharing this op-ed with me.

IT’S HARD TO imagine how answering a call to revitalize American cities could go wrong for Philadelphia, but somehow it happened.Last month, the Nutter administration submitted a $2.6 billion wish list for President-elect Obama’s economic stimulus package. Out of 400 cities, Philadelphia ranked No. 2 in the amount of money requested. And second on the city’s list (in dollars) was $125 million for the redevelopment of Market East in anticipation of a proposed casino.

Never mind that city officials rushed through a rezoning process saying the casino itself would be the catalyst for development in the area. Never mind that four months later, there isn’t even a plan in place. Continue Reading »

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