Archive for the ‘Philadelphia’ Category


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.

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.

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 »

Reflections from recent trips across Southeastern Pennsylvania:

Communities are increasingly forced to deal with the long-term impacts of industrialization, where the veneer of economic prosperity ultimately gives away to reveal damaged communities and impaired ecological processes. We visited two sites that are deploying strategies to deal with such post-industrial conditions. One location was Palmerton, Pennsylvania; a Superfund town nestled in the bucolic backdrop of the Kitatinny Mountains. The other was Philadelphia’s Mill Creek, which is currently encapsulated within enormous sewer pipes underneath the city. The sustainable practices at Palmerton and Mill Creek provide some insight on how to design strategies that restore the ecological functions of highly impaired environments.

Palmerton Superfund Site

In 1898, Palmerton was founded as a factory town, nestled between two ridgelines, to conduct zinc smeltering during the height of industrialization in the United States. After decades of constant smeltering, the forest ecosystem collapsed, affecting an expanse of nearly 2,000 acres. Due to deposition of zinc, lead and cadmium from the furnaces, microorganisms in the soil substrate were killed off, and an integral component of the forest lifecycle ended. Without decomposers, nutrients in the soil were eliminated, leading a domino effect that decimated the forest. To date, it is the largest Superfund site east of the Mississippi River.

On site, I was struck by the eerie landscape of windswept, bleached trees amongst barren grounds of dry dirt. Abandoned, rusted factory facitilies stood like sentinels to remind residents and visitors of a foregone era. Amazingly, some plant and wildlife species are returning to the environment; numerous sprouts of sassafras and sourgum were seen emerging from gnarled trunks.

Due to the immensity of the contaminated area, removing the toxic substrate was out of the question. We learned about two strategies to rebuild the soil nutrients, with the goal of creating a capping layer of substrate above the contaminated soils. The first attempt to “green” the decimated slopes entailed terracing the mountain to establish over 60 miles of roadways. These costly roads provided access for trucks to spray “ecoloam” along the slopes. Ecoloam was an engineered growing medium composed of sludge and schlag material from city waste. From afar, this method successfully “greened” the mountainside. However, some critics of this method blame the pervasive amount of invasive species on the applied slopes, due to the unpredictability of the seed composition of the ecoloam mixture. Additionally, trees could not establish beyond the depth of the ecoloam because the roots would hit the contaminated substrate beneath.

The land now belongs to telecommunications monolith known as Viacom, as a side acquisition through various transactions. To its credit, Viacom is funding the implementation of the second strategy, which relies on the hardiness of warm season native grass species to restore and stabilize the mountain slopes. Based on a serpentine barren-type ecology, this strategy aims to mimic the type of succession that had occurred in the site’s geological glaciation context. To establish the grasses, a growing medium composed of limestone, commercial fertilizer, grass seeds and compost was sprayed from the air, or hand-dropped along the slopes. This method appears to be less disruptive of the mountain slope because roads are not necessary, and the warm season grasses seem to be growing quite successfully.

In addition to the warm-season grasses, the predominant plant species we observed included the gray birch, sassafras, poplar, aspen and chestnut oak trees. Furthermore, some rare plant species were thriving quite well in these extreme conditions, such as wild bleeding heart and sandwort. Despite the calculated efforts to establish native plants, invasive species continue to pose a threat to the restoration efforts. As such, the staff work hard to eradicate the butterfly bush and ailanthus tree that they find along the slopes.

Continue Reading »

On a positive tip, I’ve copied a letter sent from the Obama Chinatown HQ below:

Dear Friends,
We in PA just can’t say enough about how much your support has meant to us over the past two months:
Thanks to you, United People for Obama went from meeting weekly in a restaurant basement to meeting in our own Philly Chinatown office with phone and internet. With your support, our Philly Chinatown office transformed from a simple meeting space to a vibrant Obama Philly Chinatown Headquarters.
To everyone’s surprise, with every Chinatown bus, the volunteers kept coming. Almost overnight, our Obama Philly Chinatown Office became well-known throughout the City as a vibrant, well-organized volunteer hub. On Saturday, our volunteers called 2,747 Democrats in PA and knocked on over 10,000 doors on Saturday and Sunday alone!
Thanks to you, we used to have to tell other Philadelphians where Philly Chinatown was, but now Philly Chinatown has been visited by Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Indian, and German worldwide media. People are not just fascinated by an Obama for America office in Chinatown: They are fascinated by the incredible transformation of an office space into a movement, of volunteers into a family.
In short, we’re not closing up shop in Philly Chinatown because, quite frankly, the support of this wonderful community has put us in position to be a force for North Carolina, Indiana, Oregon, and beyond. We’re Fired Up! Ready to Go!
Thank you for giving from your heart and for being our inspiration. Thank you to Mr. Lee Deng, our office donor, and the staff-Van Tamom, Director of AAPI Outreach, Field Organizer Peter Harrell, and full-time volunteer Helen Liu for everything. Thank you to Senator Barack Obama, Maya Soetoro Ng and Konrad Ng for their support of our Philly Chinatown Office!
Now let’s get to work!!!
Sincerely,
Anna, Matt, Nina, and many, many others

Obama didn’t win the primaries in Pennsylvania. But with Clinton winning PA by a decent margin, we remain gridlocked. Something’s gotta give. I sense that some folks are losing steam, and I’m hearing more from people that they want this process to be over. I, too, confess that thoughts of Obama not winning the ticket occur more frequently. Corporate media doesn’t help, and their sound bites reduce the heart-and-soul of Obama’s message into sterile political stunts. Their poor analyses spin Obama voters into a composite of young, affluent, educated, and African-American. (Turn off CNN!)

Still, I’ve dug my own deep Obama trench and am unwilling to leave at this moment. I look over at Hillary’s camp, and I see a reinforcement of the power structure. Anything’s better than Bush, but I want a great leap forward, I want to us “push our humanity” by voting in an Obama presidency. Maybe people aren’t ready for that tough road..but if not now, then when?

Continue Reading »

The Clinton campaign swooped onto Penn’s campus late this afternoon.  Loud cheers and a whole bunch of hoopla took place until Hillary appeared around 8pm.  Obama supporters came out with signs and people to counter the rally, but the best show came from a neighboring fraternity house that blasted “Obama! Obama!” from their loudspeakers.

This last-minute Clinton rally was very telling about her campaign, and its lack of support among college-aged voters.  I’ve been hard pressed to come across any Clinton organizer or volunteer up until this evening’s rally.  Whereas the Obama camp had been present since February, tabling every day, registering voters, signing up volunteers, conducting dorm walks, holding visibility events.  Clinton’s campaign hardly tried, for whatever reason, and swooped in on campus the day before our primaries.   Plainly speaking, you can’t really top the 35,000+ folks who attended Obama’s rally last Friday.

This morning I was late to class because I couldn’t peel my eyes and ears away from watching a clip of Obama’s speech in Philadelphia.

Thoughtful, evocative, comprehensive, unapologetic and visionary.

Anyone who is frustrated by the filtering and spinning conducted by corporate media only needs to listen to Obama in his own words to understand and feel why this man is unequivocally qualified to be the next president of the United States.  Who else has the ability, the way Obama does, to move each one of us to work towards the change we believe in?   He calls on our communities to embrace “the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past.” In an eloquently direct way, Obama invokes messages of Gandhi (be the change we wish to seek), MLK (the fierce urgency of now), and James Boggs (America, love it enough to change it).

Click here for the full text and/or the entire clip.

Politician – 1. a person who is active in party politics; 2. a seeker or holder of public office who is more concerned about winning favor or retaining power than about maintaining principles; 3. a person who holds a political office; 4. a person skilled in political government or administration; 5. an expert in politics or government; 6. a person who seeks to gain power or advance within an organization in ways that are generally disapproved.

Statesman – 1. a person who is experienced in the art of government or versed in the administration of government affairs; 2. a person who exhibits great wisdom and ability in directing the affairs of a government or in dealing with important public issues.

kalpenn.jpg

Obama’s presidential campaign has arrived in Philadelphia, and I’m amped about the elections coming right to my backyard! Last week I took another step to seal my residency in PA by registering to vote. Pennsylvania’s going to be an important piece in the election, particularly since our governor has publicly endorsed Clinton.

Tonight, I went to check out a voter registration kick-off event, hosted by Philly Students for Obama. Featured speaker was Kal Penn, who’s been volunteering for Obama’s campaign since Iowa.

I’ve been a fan of Kal Penn, through Harold and Kumar, and more recently The Namesake. It’s pretty incredible that this actor, self-proclaimed cynic, and registered independent has put himself out there for a presidential campaign.

The crowd, mostly composed of college students, was quite diverse, something I think has become uniquely characteristic of Obama rallys and events. Much like what I saw in South Carolina, Obama truly draws people from a wide range of backgrounds. And the man wasn’t even in town tonight!

Throwing in a bit of humor through his speech, Penn talked about how he got involved with Obama after hearing his DNC speech in 2004. Penn outlined the three main reasons drawing him to Obama — college grants ($4,000) for anyone who wants to attend college, being against the Iraq war from the beginning, and universal healthcare.

Penn also shared a moving story about the head of the Iowa Independent Farmers Union who told Obama volunteers that this was the first time he met a statesman. I don’t remember the last time I heard anyone use the term statesman to describe someone. I was drawn to Obama because of his organizing background, but I believe that statesman captures an additional element to his integrity as an elected official.

For folks in Philadelphia, click here for Obama’s Pennsylvania Campaign.