This just came across my inbox! I’m very excited to see Obama and efforts to promote investment in urban infrastructure. Someone has also put up a website that lets you vote on specific urban policy issues. I’m not sure whether this site is officially connected to Obama’s administration, but it’s worth checking out. Maybe if there is enough internet traffic, it will pick up on Obama’s radar screen!

Obama to Create White House Office of Urban Policy

November 12, 2008 8:59 AM

On National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” yesterday, longtime Obama family friend and Obama-Biden transition team co-chair Valerie Jarrett said that the president-elect would, as pledged during the campaign, create an Office of Urban Policy.

Jarrett said the office would “have a comprehensive approach to our urban development,” who will be an “advocate for cities” within the White House, taking “all the variety of different federal programs and help target them in a logical and systematic way.

“For those of us who have worked in city governments across the country, we recognize how invaluable that person will be,” she said.

Obama discussed this idea in June in a speech before the U.S. Conferen.

“Yes, we need to fight poverty,” he said. “Yes, we need to fight crime. Yes, we need to strengthen our cities. But we also need to stop seeing our cities as the problem and start seeing them as the solution. Because strong cities are the building blocks of strong regions, and strong regions are essential for a strong America. That is the new metropolitan reality and we need a new strategy that reflects it -– a strategy that’s about South Florida as much as Miami; that’s about Mesa and Scottsdale as much as Phoenix; that’s about Stamford and Northern New Jersey as much as New York City. As president, I’ll work with you to develop this kind of strategy and I’ll appoint the first White House Director of Urban Policy to help make it a reality.”

– jpt

UPDATE: ABC News Polling Director Gary Langer points out that Obama lost small towns and rural areas by 8 points, won suburbs by a scant 2 points, and won cities (population 50,000+) by 28 points, 63-35 percent. (That includes a 59-39 percent margin in cities with a population of 50,000-500,000, and an even wider 70-28 percent margin in cities with more than 500,000 residents.)

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Huma Khan

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It’s been a long time since I’ve read something that’s motivated me enough to start a new blog post.  Attending design school has been one of the most consuming and exhausting endeavors I’ve undertaken. But today I read an explosive speech by Jeff Chang, and it has helped me re-orient myself back to the first reason I decided to become a landscape architect/urban planner.

I’m starting to piece together and articulate how the policies that the past 40 years, which Jeff summarizes in his speech, also encompass the physical and spatial disenfranchisement of communities of color. When Jeff describes hip-hop as a response to the “story of the rise of the politics of abandonment and the politics of containment”, it is not just that these policies have socially disenfranchised communities, but that there is a a physical displacement and exclusion of communities that has resulted.  The urban renewal policies of the 1950s, combined with the drug economy, destroyed our Paradise Valleys and Hill Districts around the country, p

In school, this sense of urgency is mostly absent among students.  Too bad most of us are caught up perfecting our renderings and drawings, clicking away in front of computer screens (and here I sit blogging).  We need more conscious, justice-oriented designers to join the fight to restore our communities and take up the questions that Jeff posed at the end of his speech.

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OUR ANCESTORS, OUR BREATH
Cultivating Spiritual Power for our Healing and Happiness

ANNUAL MINDFULNESS RETREAT FOR PEOPLE OF COLOR IN THE TRADITION OF VENERABLE THICH NHAT HANH

@ BLUE CLIFF MONASTERY

PINE BUSH, NY

WED, OCT 22 – SUN, OCT 26, 2008

Our fifth annual retreat offered to People of Color in the tradition of the Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh will be held on the East Coast for the first time! In this five-day retreat for people of Native-American, African, Latina/o, Asian/Pacific Islander, Caribbean, and Middle Eastern ancestry (as well as their Caucasian family members), we will touch healing and nourishment through the practice of mindfulness and our reconnection to our ancestors.

This retreat offers us the opportunity to practice and enjoy the art of mindful and peaceful living in our daily life. We will learn to recognize and embrace our pain in transformative ways, find peace within ourselves, and foster stronger sisterhood and brotherhood in our communities. It will give us an opportunity to stop, rest, and touch the source of wisdom, compassion and healing in ourselves, so that we can renew our relationships and bring peace and understanding to our world. Through the practice of mindfulness we will learn how to nourish happiness, gratitude, good communication and serenity in our daily life. Some of the questions we will explore are:

• What are our sources of spiritual power in us?
• How can we cultivate our spiritual power to maintain balance in our life?
• How can we nurture faith, joy, creativity, and compassion in our daily life?

For further information, please check our website later on for more details regarding this retreat (www.bluecliffmonastery.org), or call us at 845.733.4959.

My letter to the editor in response to the Architecture Issue of the NY Times Magazine was published. In it, I had expressed disappointment at the lack of perspectives from landscape architects, and the recognition of the influence of landscape architecture among our favorite “starchitects” whom were prominently featured in several articles. Maybe they’ll come out with a Landscape Architecture Issue!

Letter to the Editor, NY Times Magazine:

The architecture-themed issue, “The Next City” (June 8), was a wonderful exploration of how today’s cutting-edge architectural firms, like OMA and MVRDV, are exploding the boundaries of conventional architecture. However, I would have liked to have seen perspectives from landscape architects, or what some refer to as “landscape urbanism.” Even architects like Rem Koolhaas, Bernard Tschumi and Stan Allen are turning toward landscape architecture to infuse and renew their own architectural-design strategies. Planning cities by single buildings was, and continues to be, a shortsighted strategy. To truly design our urban centers, we must now think of the city as a landscape of infrastructure (transportation, utilities) and systems (ecological, social, institutional).

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.

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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?

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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.

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