Category Archives: Cities

When Americans Act Like Millionaires

Words, and spin, and the Mad Men and Mad Women of this perverse consumerism and cultural wasteland tied to Predatory Capitalism, Celebrity Culture and Americans who have perpetual ennui because of their perpetual dumb-downing, perpetual swallow of exceptionism as a core value of the American Project To Take Over the World.

So many, and they are mostly center or center left (sic) people who want to head out of la-la land and end up in some paradise where their Social Security earnings and savings and investment accounts can stretch so they can lie in, again, someone else’s paradise.

I get disgusting things all the time, just to gauge how much more disgusting the USA becomes minute by minute — you know, Fox un-News, or crap from Rachel Maddow or CNN, or any of the mainstream media or Alt-right crap, I will peruse to see just how effective the Edward Bernays Form of Marketing and Brainwashing is turning out.

International Living, that’s yet another example of the crass — “I have mine, and you can just deal with it” as they want to parachute into other people’s lands and utilize the higher income and money savings to live a comfortable life somewhere quaint, sleepy, near a beach, palm trees, rum, topless men and women walking around.

I’ve put my money where my mouth is on this one. I bought two lots in this gold-standard community myself.

The community is in Fortim, a little town on Brazil’s northeast coast. I wrote yesterday about why I believe that now is the time to buy Brazil.

There are three megatrends happening right now in Brazil…

Brazil is rebounding from an economic downturn—this is a chance to ride the country’s next phase of substantial growth.

The U.S. dollar is extremely strong compared to the Brazilian real right now. As I write, one dollar is worth 3.96 reals. In April 2014, one dollar only bought 2.24 reals. This currency play essentially lets us buy real estate for a sizeable discount.

This particular deal taps into the Path of Progress I’ve been following for years on this coast.

My first investment in Brazil was in Fortaleza, a booming city on this northeast coast. In 2008 and 2009, I, along with members of my Real Estate Trend Alert group, bought condos close to the boardwalk in Fortaleza while prices were low. As Brazil’s economy roared ahead and middle-class numbers soared, real estate prices shot up. A member of my group bought a condo in Fortaleza for 215,000 reals. He later sold for 450,000 reals—more than doubling his money.

Here are other sites on how to find the best place as an American or Western to live, with or without thrills —

The 13 Best Countries for Americans Who Want to Live Abroad

Ranking the Most Dangerous Countries for Americans To Visit

Look, this is where the white race is, or the Western Culture — looking to leave their homes of conquest — for some happy and safe (sic) Third World (under-developed, developing, exploitable) country to create an enclave of Western mindset, judgment, values, and disgusting influences. As Andre Vltchek says:

It is no secret that Western migrants are taking advantage of poverty, low prices, and corrupts legal systems. Their arrival raises prices for housing and land. It leaves millions of local people literally homeless, and it raises the prices of food and basic services for the local population.

In a way, people in many poor countries get robbed twice: by Western corporations, and then again, by Western migrants.

In one of the hotels in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in a bar late at night, I overheard a conversation between a visiting Swiss businessman and his Chilean counterpart:

“You know, those immigrants that we call ‘paperless’”, lamented Swiss man. “It’s too many of them… too many! We should just throw them directly to the sea; we should drown them! We don’t need such scum in Europe.”

A few days earlier, my friend, an Ecuadorian government official based in Quito, told me a story:

“Lately, many Europeans keep coming to Ecuador and to other Latin American countries, searching for jobs, trying to migrate. Their economies are collapsing, but there is no humility when they come here, only arrogance. Another day, a Spaniard came to me, applying for a job. I asked him for his CV. He looked at me with total outrage: ‘But I am a Spaniard!’ he shouted. ‘So what?’ I replied. ‘These days are over, comrade; days when just being a white European man would be enough to land you a job anywhere in Latin America!’”

On the touristy island of Kos, German tourists, showing indifference, even spite, are stuffing themselves on fresh seafood, downing gallons of local wine. This year, “Greece is bit cheaper than other destinations”, a German couple at Athens’s airport tells me. “That is why we come”. Few meters from the seafront of Kos, a local hospital literally collapsed, with no ability to save human lives.

On top of it, thousands of destitute refugees from destabilized countries (destabilized by the West) from all over the world are now everywhere, at every corner of Kos. It feels like “the last supper of Europe”, repulsive orgy of indifference, consumerism, and moral decay.

But no artist bothers to depict it, as there is hardly any political art left in Europe.

So the International Living is talking about Brazil — and we know how bad off Brazil is, but read this guy’s bullshit: “Why I’m Betting on Brazil” by Ronan McMahon:

The timing on this deal is perfect. But you might not think it from watching your news feed…

In recent years, Brazil has made headlines around the world for crisis and corruption.

But that façade of scandal has always masked massive opportunities…opportunities I and members of my Real Estate Trend Alert group have successfully acted on time and again. (Find out how to become a member of this group, here).

I’ve written repeatedly about the sound fundamentals underlying any Brazil play.

Brazil is an agricultural superpower. It’s one of the world’s biggest exporters of soy, beef, coffee, orange juice, and chicken. The country sits on a huge aquifer, so there’s plenty of water to support agricultural activities. And, with a massive amount of unused land, plenty of capacity for future growth. This taps into two demographics: world population growth and the rise of the middle class.

The United Nations predicts the world population will add a billion more people by 2030, and another billion by 2050. That’s 2 billion more mouths to feed.

And as the middle class grows, they buy more meat, use more fuel, and ultimately want more of what Brazil produces. Brazil manufactures everything you could think of—from shoes to cutlery to cars to planes. It’s home to companies like brewer AmBev, aerospace firm Embraer, and JBS, the largest meat processing company in the world.

Rich in minerals like gold and copper, Brazil is also an energy giant. Oil and gas production is expected to reach 7.5 million barrels a day in 2019, making Brazil one of the world’s top producers.

Brazil is the eighth-largest economy in the world, ahead of Italy, Russia, and Canada. Back in 1960, its gross domestic product (GDP) was only $15 billion. Today, it’s more than $2 trillion.

I’m not the only one that thinks the time is right to buy Brazil.

These deal makers and deal seekers do not care about the people in those countries, but they do care about real estate, cheap this and cheap that and gorging on their own insides. Nothing like these article headlines from the Intercept to put a kink in the old International Living’s underwear:

THE BOLSONARO GOVERNMENT’S AGGRESSIVE RESPONSE SHOWS WHY OUR REPORTING ON THE SECRET BRAZIL ARCHIVE IS SO VITAL

ON THE FRONT LINES OF BOLSITIES FIGHT AGAINST CLIMATE CATASTROPHE

BERNIE SANDERS CALLS FOR BRAZIL’S JUDICIARY TO RELEASE LULA IN WAKE OF CORRUPTION EXPOSURE

WATCH: INTERVIEW WITH BRAZIL’S EX-PRESIDENT LULA FROM PRISON, DISCUSSING GLOBAL THREATS, NEOLIBERALISM, BOLSONARO, AND MORE

BAD CHEMISTRY BRAZIL’S PESTICIDE INDUSTRY IS CREATING MASSIVE PFOS CONTAMINATION

BRAZIL’S JAIR BOLSONARO MEETS WITH DONALD TRUMP TO CONSOLIDATE THEIR FAR-RIGHT ALLIANCE

IN JAIR BOLSONARO’S BRAZIL, FAR-RIGHT BILLIONAIRE’S MEDIA EMPIRE IS BEING EXPLOITED TO INVESTIGATE JOURNALISTS — INCLUDING THE INTERCEPT

SON OF JAIR BOLSONARO, FASCIST LEADING BRAZIL’S PRESIDENTIAL POLLS, TWEETS FAKE POSTER LINKING LGBT PEOPLE TO PEDOPHILES

BRAZIL’S MARIELLE FRANCO DENOUNCED THREE MURDERS IN THE DAYS BEFORE HER ASSASSINATION.

Water, Water, Water: War Against Humanity

Capitalism is broken. It is like a gun pointed at the heart of the planet. And it’s got these characteristics which mean that it will essentially, necessarily destroy our life support systems. Among those characteristics are the drive for perpetual economic growth on a finite planet. You just can’t support that ecologically. Things fall apart. It also says, well, anyone has got a right to buy as much natural wealth as their money allows, which means that people are just grabbing far more natural wealth than either the population as a whole or the planet itself can support.

— George Monbiot

Below a short piece I wrote for the Newport (OR) News Times. Sort of like shadow boxing, writing traditional news pieces to at least prop up some of the deep deep issues tied to broken Capitalism.

Note that capitalism would never be allowed in the article, let alone the reality of how broken capitalism is. Imagine, the pigs in politics, the war mongers, the Venezuela wannabe killers, all those elites running their mouths and groins in their spasms of narcissism.

Imagine how many communities in the USA are failing, near failing, about to fail, because the billionaires and the war mongers and the Industrial Complex of felons — pharma, ed, legal, finance, IT, AI, insurance, banking, energy, chemicals, prisons, ag — are hell bent on abandoning any humanity in their insanity and their sick elitism and their bizarre anti-people and community logic.

Thousands of dams about to fail in the USA. Water systems that shoot out lead and a thousand other chemicals that kill brains and DNA. Imagine the conservative society of civil engineers giving the USA a D- for infrastructure. Imagine the failing education system. Imagine the mass murdering media following all the dog nose in rear end stories.

This story, of course, is about $70 million a city is supposed to get for a failing duo of earthen dams. Newport on the Cascadia Subduction Zone, where an earthquake will set off many other earthquakes and tsunamis.

The whole lovely Oregon Coastline will turn into a McCormac “The Road” dystopia.

The UN recently sounded the alarm that urgent action is needed if Arab states are to avoid a water emergency. Water scarcity and desertification are afflicting the Middle East and North Africa more than any other region on Earth, hence the need for countries there to improve water management. However, the per capita share of fresh water availability there is already just 10 percent of the global average, with agriculture consuming 85 percent of it.

Another recent study has linked shrinking Arctic sea ice to less rain in Central America, adding to the water woes in that region as well.

There you have it — the stupidity of this country flailing about the world with empire on steroid and smart phones, and every community in the USA is facing sea ice inundation problems because those communities near the oceans have a heck of a lot of influence on the rest of the middle of America. Money money money — and the spigots go right to the pockets of the Fortune 1000 and the Aspen Institute fellows and the Davos crowd.

So, on a community level, Newport faces big issues because the dams will fail and the cascading disasters of no water for months will cause disease and depopulation.

Ironies beyond ironies. We will NOT stop pumping emissions into the air. Read Jamail’s piece above, “The Last Time There Was This Much CO2, Trees Grew at the South Pole.”  Science. Reality.

The schizophrenia of the rich and deplorables backing trump or pelosi or biden or any of the two manure pile candidates yet every community faces kissing bugs invading, housing crisis after rental crisis, wage theft, huge thefts of human futures. Billions of people on earth stolen. So the rich and the sick people on FOX and CNN get off on the chaos they set forth.

From River to TapNewport’s Water System is an Engineering Miracle Delivering a Fragile, Vulnerable Resource to us All

Newport’s state of the art water treatment plant along Big Creek impressed the mayor and some of the council-members as we toured the facility after a presentation on the very real future water crisis that could befall not just Newport, but all the towns serviced by the water facility.

The message was clear from Newport’s Public Works Director: a new dam has to be built for the public’s health, safety and economic welfare. The public works director emphasized that 10,000 residents of Newport use water, but also another 40,000 additional temporary residents also suck up the water during tourist season. Add to that 50,000 number the huge seasonal water demands of the fishing industry and year-round clean water needs of the Rogue Nation brewery.

“In the event of an earthquake, the dams most likely could fail,” Tim Gross said. “We are looking at two to six months after a major Cascadia event (fault line earthquake) to rebuild a dam and replace the infrastructure that supplies water.”

He likened a dam failure here to what happened after Hurricane Katrina – people left the city, and millions upon millions of dollars in GDP were lost. “If the dams fail, it would be hard for this community to recover.”

There are projected population growths of 30 percent or more for Newport by 2030, and a new brewery in the works, so in reality, water demand will possibly double. Much of what Gross presented to the 20 or so people attending April 29th’s Town Hall at the Water Plant was pretty “technical” in a geo-engineering way, but the overarching message was clear.

Each year delayed on construction adds a few million dollars more added in inflationary costs. “I’ve been working on this for eight years,” he said. “This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.”

Council-member David Allen emphasized that Senate Bill 894, sponsored by Sen. Roblan and Rep. Gomberg, was just referred to the Ways and Means Committee. It’s a $44 million general fund grant to be put forward for this project.

The reality is four years of geotechnical work already invested to study the two dams’ subsurface conditions point to the same thing – “the soils under both dams fail in a 3.5 earthquake.” This is spongy soil holding back millions of gallons of water;  that is, it’s “silty sand, clayey silt, and silty clay alluvium overlying Nye Mudstone.”

The failure probability for these two dams giving out 60-feet down and then causing overspills is high in a rather low intensity 3.5 (on the Richter scale) quake.

We all know about the Cascadia Subduction Zone, and the hundreds of faults that spiderweb throughout the coast, from sub-sea land masses to the coastal and beyond terrestrial areas. Our communities have various disaster preparedness plans tied to earthquakes and resulting tsunamis.

No amount of food and water will suffice, however, if the toilets can’t be flushed and water won’t be piped into sinks for months on end. It’s the resulting disasters that truly affect a community after the initial impact of a natural calamity such as a quake and tsunami.

Ironically, Gross stated that a three-day study workshop in October 2018 “was a career highlight for me . . . working with these people . . . the smartest people I have ever met.”  The experts looked at studies, projections and cost estimates for a new dam coming in at $70 million. For Gross (and others), there are basic questions surrounding a $70 million project to build an RCC (roller compacted concrete) dam between both the existing earth dams on Big Creek:

  1. What will work?
  2. How much will it cost to maintain?
  3. Will it be resilient?

We’re talking about two earthen dams built in 1951 and 1955 and dozens of geophysical tests on site and in the laboratory, with some pretty high-power members of the international community who study dams, seismic events on infrastructure, and others who have dam remediation and building in their portfolios.

Other options like rebuilding or rehabilitating the two dams or constructing a desalinization plant or even building a new dam miles away at Rocky Creek are off the table. The only thing really in play is Alternative Six: No Action, which is still an option the City has to weigh against the possible risk of losing the only drinking water source for Newport in case of a seismic event.

Ironically, a new embankment dam (not a great choice) would require 10,000 truck trips to bring in materials; 30,000 truck trips for a new earthen dam, all of which would ruin a community the size of Newport. This RCC dam proposal, however, requires less construction materials and would be utilizing some old logging roads. The project is outlined in many phases, including building a road around Big Creek, building a water pipeline to allow for water to be continuously supplied to users during construction, then building the dam, and doing stream restoration.

In the end, the plant manager, Steve Stewart, who has worked for the Public Works Department 30 years, makes a plain selling point – “I love my job because I like providing a clean product to the community. I drink it out of the tap every day and am proud of what we do here.”

Gross emphasized that many Oregon communities are facing similar challenges with aging dams needing replacing. The biggest and least expensive push for Gross is getting the community behind conservation, and, more importantly, gaining an appreciation that water is always available and can’t be taken for granted.  Newport is part of the Mid-Coast Water Planning Partnership which is a group of 70 entities and stakeholders representing diverse water interests in the region from Cascade Head to Cape Perpetua. The group’s goal is to not only understand water resources and create an integrated plan, but to carry forth on better water management in the region over the next 50 years.

So, yes, milquetoast in some ways, the piece above, but how else can this stuff get through . . . and this is the reality of mainstream America and even small town news — never ever question the business community, the timber industry, the fish industry, even the oh-so hip beer and ale community. You see, we have to work on bio-regionalism and stopping the unchecked growth in communities that can’t weather the current storm of neoliberalism and assault capitalism, let alone the future implosions of climate change and in our case, earthquakes!

Worse yet, though, and no matter how much George Monbiot or Dahr Jamail or Bill McKibbeon or any one that is part of the Extinction Rebellion or even ecosocialists like myself to realize it’s game over. Simple stuff, stopping more liquefied natural gas trains, pipelines, ports and ships crossing the seas to move that fossil fuel to the engines of consumption.

Coos Bay, Oregon, and this project, Jordan Cove LNG, is emblematic of the broken systems of capitalism and the broke pipes of compliant democracy. Here:

Headline — “Coos Bay Braces for Jordan Cove Impacts.” Imagine that, we are still attempting to stop those mafia style energy companies, trying to get our own state to stop this project, but it’s all theater, and the provokers purveyors of this sickness — multiple corporations, transnational banking, etc. — don’t give a shit about the environmental and economic breakdown of all these ships criss-crossing. We are addicted to fossil fuel and oil, to the point as a species we will give up water and food — pink shrimp, Dungeness crab, halibut and salmon, for the turn of a shekel:

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is expected to issue a final decision on the Jordan Cove LNG terminal and pipeline project early next year.

The Coos Bay Channel widening project is not as far along in the regulatory process. Earlier this month, the port hit the “90% design” milestone in completing their permit application. An Army Corps of Engineers spokesman said they don’t expect to have the Draft Environmental Impact Statement completed until March 2020.

Port CEO John Burns says the channel-widening project is the next big step for the port, which hopes to attract larger vessels and more shipping traffic overall.

“We look at the global Maritime Fleet, the size of ships. If we were going to be an international player we’ve got to be able to at least bring in ships of that size,” Burns said. “Otherwise, we will not be competitive with other ports on the West Coast.”

The project would significantly widen and deepen a little more than 8 miles of the Coos Bay shipping channel. Currently the channel is 350 feet wide and 37 feet deep. The new plan would widen the channel to 450 feet and 45 feet deep. The spoils would be dumped at a site offshore.

Regardless, the physical characteristics of Coos Bay would change significantly if the projects go through. The port’s proposed channel widening project would remove enough earth to fill a football field-sized skyscraper the height of Mount Bachelor. Add the fill Jordan Cove needs to remove for its project, and that shaft of earth rises higher than Mount Hood.

Federal environmental reports for Jordan Cove and a previous Coos Bay dredging project characterize the ecological, water quality and hydrologic impacts as temporary and within reasonable limits.

Thus, we are cooked, because we have trained PR spinners and bloodless engineers and financial creeps and legal felons in our elite schools and other schools to live in a world with no ethics other than getting the most our of earth as quickly as possible. They end up as government shills and they end up as these pigs running Jordan Cove.

Project after project like this is unfolding now and for the future. Not just the USA, but Russia and China and Europe and Canada and Australia and Japan. It’s not about retrenchment, but energy for more fabrication of a false humanity, for more pies in the sky — hell ships to Mars, the Moon, to asteroids, while a majority on earth can’t even collect clean water daily. Imagine that, we have allowed the schools, colleges, media, military, government, punishment sectors of our so-called advanced Western world, and those in the Far East, to sink ecosystems, which in turn, sinks communities Big Time.

Polluted minds with hubris dripping out of their veins and orifices is what the new normal is for so-called CEOs, public servants (disservants) and public “intellectuals” like Gates (sic).

Citizens against LNG or Jordan Cove are small in numbers because of the deplorable thinking processes people have garnered from deplorable media and deplorable parenting and deplorable jobs and deplorable politicians and deplorable Americanism — hence, there are a shit-load of deplorables out there ready to sacrifice food and water for a job!

Hundreds protest Veresens Jordan Cove LNG Open House Events

You won’t see Naomi Klein or the stars of the New Green Deal tackle the very real battles going on now in community after community, which is how capitalism has always worked — divide and conquer, propaganda on steroids, military and police strong arming, legal entrenchment, political pimping and prostituting: by the corporations the polluters, the murderers.

Schizophrenia — Democracy Now

On Wednesday, the House of Commons became the first parliament in the world to declare a climate emergency. This is Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn.

“We have no time to waste. We are living in a climate crisis that will spiral dangerously out of control unless we take rapid and dramatic action now. This is no longer about a distant future. We’re talking about nothing less than the irreversible destruction of the environment within our lifetimes of members of this house.”

It is highly significant, because it provides leverage for people like myself, for people like Extinction Rebellion, the youth climate strikers, to actually say, “Well, now you MPs, you members of Parliament, have declared a climate emergency; you have to act on it.” And, of course, it’s not clear that they’ve completely thought through the implications of this. I mean, on the same day, yesterday, that this climate emergency was declared, there was a legal ruling saying a third runway at Heathrow Airport can go ahead. Well, look, this is an emergency. And that means we need to start retiring fossil fuel-based infrastructure rather than building more of it.

The major banks, the oil companies, the politicians in the pockets of banks and oil companies, the military industrial-services-delivery-marketing complex, the Trumps and the Bidens, the entire mess that is American bullshit bifurcation of brain cells —  I will fight for the good of my rich kids and family to be free of pollution, to be well cared for, well educated (sic), blessed (sic) with opportunities to make money and live in safe neighborhoods and see the world and dodge taxes . . .  but the pain, suffering, slavery, pollution, despair, displacement, well, that’s all good for my corporation’s marks:  those  tired, your poor,  huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore, the homeless, tempest-tost.

The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

immigrants seeing the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper

The Banality of Evil Creeps into those Who Believe They Are Good

I was at a city hall meeting in Beaverton, Oregon, the other day when a few questions I had for the presenters dropped jaws. We’ll get to that later, the jaw-dropping effect I and those of my ilk have when we end up in the controlled boardrooms and chambers of the controllers – bureaucrats, public-private clubs like Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, and both political operatives and those who liken themselves as the great planners of the world moving communities and housing and public commons around a giant chessboard to make things better for and more efficient in spite of us.

Look, I am now a social worker who once was a print journalist who once was a part-time college instructor (freeway flyer adjunct teaching double the load of a tenured faculty) facilitating literature, writing, rhetoric classes, and others. The power of those “planners” and “institutional leadership wonks” and those Deanlets and Admin Class and HR pros and VPs and Provosts to swat down a radical but effective teacher/faculty/instructor/lecturer isn’t (or wasn’t then) so surprising. I was one of hundreds of thousands of faculty, adjunct,  hit with 11th Hour appointments, Just-in-Time gigs and called one-week-into-the-semester with offers to teach temporarily. Then, the next logical step of precarity was when a dean or department head or someone higher got wind of a disgruntled student, or helicopter (now drone) parent who didn’t like me teaching Sapphire or Chalmers Johnson or Earth Liberation Front or Ward Churchill in critical thinking classes, it was common to get only one or many times no classes the following semester. De facto fired. They fought and fought against unemployment benefits.

Here’s one paragraph that got me sanctioned while teaching in Spokane, at both Gonzaga and the community college:

As for those in the World Trade Center… Well, really, let’s get a grip here, shall we? True enough, they were civilians of a sort. But innocent? Gimme a break. They formed a technocratic corps at the very heart of America’s global financial empire—the “mighty engine of profit” to which the military dimension of U.S. policy has always been enslaved—and they did so both willingly and knowingly. Recourse to “ignorance”—a derivative, after all, of the word “ignore”—counts as less than an excuse among this relatively well-educated elite. To the extent that any of them were unaware of the costs and consequences to others of what they were involved in—and in many cases excelling at—it was because of their absolute refusal to see. More likely, it was because they were too busy braying, incessantly and self-importantly, into their cell phones, arranging power lunches and stock transactions, each of which translated, conveniently out of sight, mind and smelling distance, into the starved and rotting flesh of infants. If there was a better, more effective, or in fact any other way of visiting some penalty befitting their participation upon the little Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers, I’d really be interested in hearing about it.

We are talking 17 years ago, Ward Churchill. The Little Eichmann reference goes back to the 1960s, and the root of it goes to Hannah Ardent looking at the trial of Adolf Eichmann, more or a less a middle man who helped get Jews into trains and eventually onto concentration camps and then marched into gas chambers. The banality of evil was her term from a 1963 book. So this Eichmann relied on propaganda against Jews and radicals and other undesirables rather than thinking for himself. Careerism at its ugliest, doing the bureaucratic work to advance a career and then at the Trial, displayed this “Common” personality that did not belie a psychopathic tendency. Of course, Ardent got raked over the coals for this observation and for her book, Eichmann in Jerusalem.

When I use the term, Little Eichmann, I broadly hinge it to the persons that live that more or less sacred American Mad Men lifestyle, with 401k’s, trips to Hawaii, cabins at the lake, who sometimes are the poverty pimps in the social services, but who indeed make daily decisions that negatively and drastically affect the lives of millions of people. In the case of tanned Vail skiers who work for Raytheon developing guidance systems and sophisticated satellite tethers and surveillance systems, who vote democrat and do triathlons, that Little Eichmann archetype also comes to mind. Evil, well, that is a tougher analysis  – mal, well, that succinctly means bad. I see evil or bad or maladaptive and malicious on a spectrum, like autism spectrum disorders.

Back to Beaverton City Hall: As I said, last week I was at this meeting about a “safe parking” policy, a pilot program for this city hooked to the Portland Metro area, where Intel is sited, and in one of the fastest growing counties in Oregon. Safe parking is all a jumbo in its implications: but for the city of Beaverton the program’s intent is to get three spaces, parking slots from each entity participating, for homeless people to set up their vehicles from which to live and dine and recreate. Old Taurus sedans, beat-up Dodge vans, maybe a 20-foot 1985 RV covered in black mold or Pacific Northwest moss. The City will put in $30,000 for a non-profit to manage these 15 or 20 spaces, and the city will put in a porta-potty and a small storage pod (in the fourth space) for belongings on each property.

This is how Portland’s tri-city locale plans to “solve” the homeless problem: live in your vehicles, with all manner of physical ailments (number one for Americans, bad backs) and all manner of mental health issues and all manner of work schedules. Cars, the new normal for housing in the world’s number one super power.

This is the band-aid on the sucking chest wound. This is a bizarre thing in a state with Nike as its brand, that Phil Knight throwing millions into a Republican gubernatorial candidate for governor’s coffers. Of course, the necessity of getting churches and large non-profits with a few empty parking spaces for houseless persons is based on more of the Little Eichmann syndrome – the city fathers and mothers, the business community, the cops, and all those elites and NIMBYs (not in my backyard) voted to make it illegal to sleep in your vehicle along the public right away, or, along streets and alleys. That’s the rub, the law was passed, and now it’s $300 fine, more upon second offense, and then, 30 days in jail for repeat offense: for sleeping off a 12-hour shift at Amazon warehouse or 14-hour shift as forklift operator for Safeway distribution center.

So these overpaid uniformed bureaucrats with SWAT armament and armored vehicles and $50 an hour overtime gigs and retirement accounts will be knocking on the fogged-over windows of our sisters/ brothers, aunties/uncles, cousins, moms/dads, grandparents, daughters/sons living the Life of Riley in their two-door Honda Accords.

Hmm, more than 12 million empty homes in the richest country in the world. Millions of other buildings empty. Plots of land by the gazillion. And, we have several million homeless, and tens of millions one layoff, one heart-attack, one arrest away from homelessness.

The first question was why we aren’t working on shutting down the illegal and inhumane law that even allows the police to harass people living in their cars? The next question was why parking spaces for cars? Certainly, all that overstock inventory in all those Pacific Northwest travel trailer and camper lots would be a source of a better living space moved to those vaunted few (20) parking spaces: or what about all those used trailers up for sale on Craig’s List? You think Nike Boy could help get his brethren to pony up a few million for trailers? What worse way to treat diabetic houseless people with cramped quarters? What fine way to treat a PTSD survivor with six windows in a Chevy with eight by four living space for two humans, a dog, and all their belongings and food.

The people at this meeting, well, I know most are empathetic, but even those have minds colonized by the cotton-ball-on-the-head wound solution thinking. All this energy, all the Power Points, all the meeting after meeting, all the solicitation and begging for 20 parking spaces and they hope for a shower source, too, as well as an internet link (for job hunting, etc.)  and maybe a place to cook a meal.

While housing vacancy has long been a problem in America, especially in economically distressed places, vacancies surged in the wake of the economic crisis of 2008. The number of unoccupied homes jumped by 26 percent—from 9.5 to 12 million between 2005 and 2010. Many people (and many urbanists) see vacancy and abandoned housing as problems of distressed cities, but small towns and rural communities have vacancy rates that are roughly double that of metropolitan areas, according to the study.

This is the insanity of these Little Eichmanns: The number of cities that have made homelessness a crime! Then, getting a few churches to open up parking slots for a few people to “try and get resources and wrap around services to end their homelessness.” Here are the facts — the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty states there are over 200 cities that have created these Little Eichmann (my terminology) municipal bans on camping or sleeping outside, increasing by more than 50 percent since 2011. Theses bans include various human survival and daily activities of living processes, from camping and sitting in particular outdoor places, to loitering and begging in public to sleeping in vehicles.

I am living hand to mouth, so to speak. I make $17 an hour with two master’s degrees and a shit load of experience and depth of both character and solutions-driven energy. This is the way of the world, brother, age 61, and living the dream in Hops-Blazers-Nike City, in the state of no return Nike/Oregon Ducks. Man oh man, those gridlock days commuting to and from work. Man, all those people outside my apartment building living in their vehicles (I live in Vancouver) and all those people who have to rotate where they live, while calling Ford minivan home, moving their stuff every week, so the Clark County Sheriff Department doesn’t ticket, bust and worse, impound.

I have gotten a few teeth – dentures — for some of these people. Finding funding to have a pretty rancid and nasty old guy in Portland measure, model and mold for a fitting. That’s, of course, if the people have their teeth already pulled out.

Abscesses and limps and back braces and walkers and nephritic livers and dying flesh and scabies and, hell, just plain old BO. Yet, these folk are working the FedEx conveyor belts, packaging those Harry and David apples, folding and stacking all those Black Friday flyers.

Living the high life. And, yet, these Little Eichmanns would attempt to say, or ask, “Why do they all have smart phones . . . they smoke and vape and some of them drink? Wasteful, no wonder they are homeless.”

So that line of thinking comes and goes, from the deplorables of the Trump species to the so-self vaunted elite. They drink after a hard day’s work, these houseless people. Yet, all those put-together Portlanders with two-income heads of household, double Prius driveways, all that REI gear ready for ski season, well, I bicycle those ‘hoods and see the recycle bins on trash day, filled to the brim with IPA bottles, affordable local wine bottles, and bottles from those enticing brews in the spirit world.

So self-medicating with $250K dual incomes, fancy home, hipster lifestyles, but they’d begrudge houseless amputees who have to work the cash register at a Plaid Pantry on 12 hour shifts?

I have been recriminated for not having tenure, for not being an editor, for not retired with a pension, for not having that Oprah Pick in bookstores, for not having a steady career, for working long-ass hours as a social worker. The recrimination is magnificent and goes around all corners of this flagging empire. Pre-Trump, Pre-Obama, Pre-Clinton, Pre-Bush. Oh, man, that Ray-gun:

He had a villain, who was not a real welfare cheat or emblamtic of people needing welfare assistance to live back then in a troubling world of Gilded Age haves and haves not. That was January 1976, when Reagan announced that this Welfare Queen was using ”80 names, 30 addresses, 15 telephone numbers to collect food stamps, Social Security, veterans benefits for four nonexistent, deceased veteran husbands, as well as welfare. Her tax-free cash income alone has been running $150,000 a year.”

Four decades later, we have the same dude in office, the aberration of neoliberalism and collective amnesia and incessant ignorance in what I deem now as Homo Consumopithecus and Homo Retailapithecus. Reagan had that crowd eating out of his hands as he used his B-Grade Thespian licks to stress the numbers – “one hundred and fifty thousand dollars.”

Poverty rose to the top of the public agenda in the 1960s, in part spurred by the publication of Michael Harrington’s The Other America: Poverty in the United States. Harrington’s 1962 book made a claim that shocked the nation at a time when it was experiencing a period of unprecedented affluence: based on the best available evidence, between 40 million and 50 million Americans—20 to 25 percent of the nation’s population—still lived in poverty, suffering from “inadequate housing, medicine, food, and opportunity.”

Shedding light on the lives of the poor from New York to Appalachia to the Deep South, Harrington’s book asked how it was possible that so much poverty existed in a land of such prosperity. It challenged the country to ask what it was prepared to do about it.

So, somehow, all those people reminding me that my job history has been all based on my passions, my avocations, my dreams, that I should be proud being able to work at poverty level incomes as a small town newspaper reporter, or that I was able to teach so many people in gang reduction programs, at universities and colleges, in alternative schools, in prisons and elsewhere, at poverty wages; or that I was able to get poems published here and stories published there and that I have a short story collection coming out in 2019 at zero profit, or that I am doing God’s work as a homeless veterans counselor, again, at those Trump-loving, Bezos-embracing poverty wages.

Oh, man, oh man, all those countries I visited and worked in, all those people whose lives I changed, and here I am, one motorcycle accident away from the poor house, except there is no poor house.

Daily, I see the results of military sexual trauma, of incessant physical abuse as active duty military, infinite anxiety and cognitive disorders, a truck load of amputated feet and legs, and unending COPD, congestive heart failure, and overall bodies of a 70-year-old hampering 30-year-old men and women veterans.

They get this old radical environmentalist, vegan, in-your-face teacher, and a huge case of heart and passion, and I challenge them to think hard about how they have been duped, but for the most part, none of the ex-soldiers have even heard of the (two-star) Major General who wrote the small tome, War is a Racket:

WAR is a racket. It always has been.

It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.

A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.

In the World War I a mere handful garnered the profits of the conflict. At least 21,000 new millionaires and billionaires were made in the United States during the World War. That many admitted their huge blood gains in their income tax returns. How many other war millionaires falsified their tax returns no one knows.

How many of these war millionaires shouldered a rifle? How many of them dug a trench? How many of them knew what it meant to go hungry in a rat-infested dug-out? How many of them spent sleepless, frightened nights, ducking shells and shrapnel and machine gun bullets? How many of them parried a bayonet thrust of an enemy?

How many of them were wounded or killed in battle?

Out of war nations acquire additional territory, if they are victorious.

They just take it. This newly acquired territory promptly is exploited by the few — the selfsame few who wrung dollars out of blood in the war. The general public shoulders the bill.

And what is this bill?

This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all its attendant miseries. Back-breaking taxation for generations and generations.

For a great many years, as a soldier, I had a suspicion that war was a racket; not until I retired to civil life did I fully realize it. Now that I see the international war clouds gathering, as they are today, I must face it and speak out.

More fitting now than ever, General Butler’s words. Structural violence is also the war of the billionaires and millionaires against the rest of us, marks and suckers born every nanosecond in their eyes. Disaster Capitalism is violence. Parasitic investing is war. Hostile takeovers are was. Hedge funds poisoning retirement funds and billions wasted/stolen to manage (sic) this dirty money are war. Forced arbitration is war. PayDay loans are war. Wells Fargo stealing homes is war. Lead in New Jersey cities’ pipes is war. Hog  excrement/toxins/blood/aborted fetuses pound scum sprayed onto land near poor communities is war. Fence lining polluting industries against poor and minority populations is war.

So is making it illegal to sit on a curb, hold a sign asking for a handout;  so is the fact there are millions of empty buildings collecting black mold and tax deferments. War is offshore accounts, and war is a society plugged into forced, perceived and planned obsolescence.

Some of us are battle weary, and others trudge on, soldiers against the machine, against the fascism of the market place, the fascism of the tools of the propagandists.

Some of us ask the tricky questions at meetings and conferences and confabs: When are you big wigs, honchos, going to give up a few hours a week pay for others to get in on the pay? When are you going to open up that old truck depot for homeless to build tiny homes?

When are you going to have the balls to get the heads of Boeing, Nike, Adidas, Intel, the lot of them, to come to our fogged-up station wagon windows in your safe parking zones to show them how some of their mainline workers and tangential workers who support their billions in profits really live?

How many millionaires are chain migrating from California or Texas, coming into the Portland arena who might have the heart to help fund 15 or 30 acres out there in Beavercreek (Clackamas, Oregon) to set up intentional communities for both veterans and non veterans, inter-generational population, with permaculture, therapy dog training, you name it, around a prayer circle, a sweat lodge, and community garden and commercial kitchen to sell those herbs and veggies to those two-income wonders who scoff at my bottle of cheap Vodka while they fly around and bike around on their wine tours and whiskey bar rounds? Micro homes and tiny homes.

My old man was in the Air Force for 12 years, which got the family to the Azores, Albuquerque, Maryland, and then he got an officer commission in the Army, for 20 years, which got the family to Germany, UK, Paris, Spain and other locales, and I know hands down he’d be spinning and turning in his grave if he was alive and here to witness not only the mistreatment of schmucks out of the military with horrendous ailments, but also the mistreatment of college students with $80K loans to be nurses or social workers. He’d be his own energy source spinning in his grave at Fort Huachuca if he was around, after being shot in Korea and twice in Vietnam, to witness social security on the chopping block, real wages at 1970 levels, old people begging on the streets, library hours waning, public education being privatized and dumb downed, and millions of acres of public sold to the “I don’t need no stinkin’ badge” big energy thugs.

I might be embarrassed if he was around, me at age 61, wasted three college degrees, living the dream of apartment life, no 401k or state retirement balloon payment on the horizon, no real estate or stocks and bonds stashed away, nothing, after all of this toil to actually have given to society, in all my communist, atheistic glory.

But there is no shame in that, in my bones, working my ass off until the last breath, and on my t-shirt, I’d have a stick figure, with a stack of free bus tickets, journalism awards, and housing vouchers all piled around me with the (thanks National Rifle Association) meme stenciled on my back:

You can have my social worker and teaching credentials and press passes when you pry them from my cold dead hands!

Rocinha Favela and the Future of Urbanism

During a recent tour in Brazil, I visited the Rocinha Favela in Rio de Janeiro. Rocinha is the largest favela in Brazil and runs up a very steep hill near the centre of Rio. It is believed at least 70,000 people live in Rocinha (some estimates suggest more than double that number), living in houses made from concrete and brick. It is officially described as a neighbourhood and has very basic sanitation, plumbing and electricity. Rocinha also has shops, hairdressers, banks, art galleries and many other businesses. The word favela itself is derived from a skin-irritating plant of the spurge family: removing these plants to live in these areas was not easy so the people called the hills after the plant.

View of sea from top of Rocinha favela (Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin 2018)

History

The favelas go back to the late 1800s when soldiers, brought in for a local war, had no place to live and so settled in the hills. After the end of slavery and the growth of city life many people moved to the cities and the favelas spread. A later industrialisation drive in the 1940s brought many more people to the cities and the favelas expanded dramatically. In the 1970s there were public housing projects but these too disintegrated into new favelas. As the drugs trade increased in the 1980s so too did the growth of gangs and gang warfare. In Rocinha, like many slums, it also has an ongoing conflict between police and drug dealers.

Locals perform samba drumming, Rocinha (Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin 2018)

UPP and BOPE

The state began a war on the drug gangs in 2008 with the Pacifying Police Units (UPP) moving in, usually after an initial operation by BOPE (Special Police Operations Battalion) who scour the area for heavy weapons and drug caches. The main purpose of the UPP is to stop armed men from ruling the streets and end drug trafficking. However, there seems to be an uneasy peace between the UPP and the drug gangs. While walking through the narrow ‘streets’ of Rocinha, a man with a revolver pointed in the air walked through our group and twice we were asked to refrain from taking photographs as we walked past armed groups of men.

Cemented-over bullet holes, Rocinha (Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin 2018)

Cinema

If you look at any listicle of Brazil’s best films you will probably see two films, Elite Squad (2007) and Elite Squad: The Enemy Within (2010) contained within. These films follow the actions of a BOPE squad in a favelas and does so without pulling any punches. Different, conflicting elements of society are portrayed in both Elite Squad films. The BOPE and police are shown to have corrupt elements, ultimately manipulated by political figures. The middle class are shown in the discussions about the nature of power in university lectures (with particular emphasis on Michel Foucault) and the students are shown working in charitable organisations in the favelas with the nod from drug gang leaders. The main narrative of the films is the idea of corrupt police making financial deals with the drugs gangs – Elite Squad (2007), and changing to corrupt politicians making money by taxing the whole community after the drug gangs have been pushed out – Elite Squad: The Enemy Within (2010).

Overhanging wires on telegraph poles, Rocinha (Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin 2018)

Tourism

The global success of these two films has probably been one of the factors in encouraging tourism in the favelas While the drug gangs generally do not appear to target tourists there have been incidents where tourists have been injured or killed by both the police and the drug gangs usually as the result of some accident or misunderstanding. In general, tourism, like in many other places, is a quick-fix solution for local businesses but does little in the way of any real social or economic development of the favela neighbourhoods.

Local store, Rocinha (Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin 2018)

Whither the favelas?

While slums became common in Europe and the USA in the 19th and 20th centuries they are predominantly found in developing countries today. The Little Ireland slum in Manchester, for example, became a source for social scientist Friedrich Engels’ book titled The Condition of the Working Class in England published in Germany in 1845. According to the UN World Cities Report 2016: Urbanization and Development – Emerging Futures:

The percentage of slum dwellers in urban areas across all developing regions has reduced considerably since 1990, but the numbers have increased gradually since 2000 except for a steep rise of 72 million new slum dwellers in sub-Saharan Africa.

Also, according to one article on the world’s five biggest slums:

Around a quarter of the world’s urban population lives in slums. And this figure is rising fast. The number of slum dwellers in developing countries increased from 689 million in 1990 to 880 million in 2014, according to the United Nations World Cities Report 2016.

The biggest slums in the world today are: Khayelitsha, Cape Town, South Africa (Population: 400,000); Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya (Population: 700,000); Dharavi, Mumbai, India (Population: 1 million); Ciudad Neza, Mexico City, Mexico (Population: 12 million); and Orangi Town, Karachi, Pakistan (Population: 2.4 million).

Favela mural, Rocinha (Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin 2018)

Urbanisation and the flight from the land

The development of industrialised farming has been one of the major reasons for the the flight from the land.  There is also the perceived view that economic opportunities are greater in the cities. Governments invest less in rural communities because of lower population densities and this creates a vicious cycle. In Ireland today, for example, friends of mine in rural areas still can’t get broadband speeds fast enough to play video clips on their computers and in August the government announced the closure of over 160 post offices nationwide. Meanwhile the urbanisation of Dublin has extended into neighbouring counties while pubs and shops in the rural areas close due to a lack of footfall. While the pressure on Dublin has not produced slums it has created huge increases in rents and a growing homelessness problem.

So what can be done about slums? There appears to be three main approaches to the question of the future of slums around the world today: (1) Renovation: top-down and bottom-up approaches, (2) Demolition for rehousing and rebuilding, and (3) Demolition for parkland.

Local bakery, Rocinha (Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin 2018)

Renovation: top-down and bottom-up approaches

Around the world slum upgrading has consisted of concrete paths, sanitation, safe drinking water, water drainage systems and public transport. The Brazilian state has done some top-down upgrading in the favelas, putting in basic sanitation and social services but much more needs to be done with masses of wires on telegraph poles and cabling bundled along the side of the paths. However, with the global neo-liberal move towards privatisation of public housing there doesn’t seem to be much hope for governments doing serious renovation of slums in the near future. More importantly, in my opinion, has been the bottom-up slum upgrading, for example, in Orangi Town, Karachi in Pakistan where the residents installed sewers in 90% of 8,000 streets and lanes, digging them by hand themselves. This kind of community spirit builds solidarity which is more important for the residents in the long run in their struggle against uncaring states:

In 1980, the development expert and entrepreneur, Akhtar Hameed Khan, observed how many communities were self-organising to fill the gap in services – from building homes and schools to water delivery – and launched the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP). Now globally renowned, the project has not only led the DIY sewerage projects which continue to expand to this day, but has built a network to manage a plethora of programmes that range from micro credit to water supply, to women’s savings schemes. OPP’s director Saleem Aleemuddin told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that when activists began working in the area in 1980, the lack of sanitation was the most “obvious” and “problematic” area for residents. While it took the OPP around six months to convince local residents to invest and pay for the installation of the first sewerage line on their street, it was not long before people were taking their lead and organising themselves. “Since the government gets almost nothing in revenue from the slum, it therefore pays the least interest to its [slum] developments too,” Aleemuddin said. “In fact, people in the town now consider the streets as part of their homes because they have invested in them and that’s why they maintain and clean the sewers too.”

Favela houses, Rocinha (Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin 2018)

Others argue that the slums should be seen as similar to the medieval towns and parts of cities preserved all over Europe:

The tight-knit structure of settlements built in the Middle Ages serves as an important lesson on making modern developments compact and keeping key services easily accessible to the people using them.

Thus, they argue, slums could be converted into a form of green, eco-friendly living areas such as Cambridge where people walk everywhere now instead of driving. However, it is more likely to become a form of gentrification as usually it is wealthier people who can afford to do the extensive and detailed building and repairs (not to mention the demands of state preservation policies in the case of medieval buildings).

Government plans for Rocinha (Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin 2018)

Demolition for rehousing and rebuilding

The demolition of slums for rehousing projects does not have a great history. It tended to shift the social problems of the slums to other parts of the city. In Ireland in the 1960s, Dublin’s slums had reached a breaking point as urbanisation and the collapse of slum houses put pressure on the government to move people out to suburban Ballymun into high-rise 15-storey flat complexes. However, by the 1980s Ballymun was seen as a social sink and had to be regenerated itself in the 2000s and the blocks demolished. Also, this strategy can be a cynical ploy as the flats built on the sites of the former slums are sold as properties on high-value city-centre land

Local kindergarten, Rocinha (Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin 2018)

Demolition for parkland

A prime example of a slum demolition is the Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong which eventually became the Kowloon Walled City Park. What started off as a Chinese military fort in the 1800s became one of the most densely populated slums in the world. It was extended upwards in the 1960s to become a city of over 30,000 people in 300 buildings occupying little more than 7 acres (2.8 ha). The residents were compensated (with some being forcibly evicted) and demolition was concluded in 1994. Today it is a 31,000 m2 (330,000 sq ft) park which was completed in August 1995.

In Brazil, this is always a possible future for the favelas in Rio. Not many realise that the sculpture of Christ the Redeemer on top of Corcovado mountain is in the middle of the Tijuca Forest – a massive reclamation project of land which had suffered from erosion and deforestation caused by intensive farming of sugar and coffee in the nineteenth century. The whole area was replanted with plants and trees of the rainforest and is one of the biggest urban forests in the world today.

Cabling on streets, Rocinha (Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin 2018)

Climate change and the future of urbanism

The future of slums around the world seems tied to a kind of trendy belief in the necessity of planning for an urban future. However, there are those that believe that an alternative to the constant growing urbanisation is to create a model that would attract a part of the urban population back to the rural environment. The potential for creating jobs in the agricultural sector in the future must be seen in the context of sustainable soil management and the difficulties that will be facing food production in future projected changes in temperature, ultraviolet radiation, soil moisture and pests which are expected to decrease food production.

Governments would be better off to develop projects to modernise the rural areas with the type of facilities and services that can be obtained in the cities to attract people back to the land. Collapses in various crops or crop destruction around the world due to unexpected frosts, drought, hurricanes, floods, etc can only be expected to increase, leading to food insecurity and the potential for global food price increases and food riots.

Malcolm X mural, Rocinha (Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin 2018)

The very existence of a slum shows a government’s inability or reluctance to deal with mass population shifts. It reveals a fundamental structural problem in democratic processes and redistribution of tax wealth. For a government to allow a section its own citizens to live a Hobbesian existence exposes the rhetoric of a government for all. How can this be changed and slum issues be resolved? As the Orangi Town example above shows, solidarity and activism can solve practical problems efficiently even if it is letting the government off the hook of responsibility. As has been seen in the past, the social contract only operates when both government and people keep their sides of the bargain. When, or if, it breaks down the anger constantly bubbling underneath can spill over. While revolutionary changes around the world in the past, in general, are often attributed to their great leaders, the fact is that it is usually down to the most expropriated and alienated people in society to get the great social change juggernaut moving in the first place.

• All images in this article are from the author.

Bylaws that Require Parking Drive Up Costs of Housing

While climate disturbances wreak growing havoc across the planet, Canadian cities continue to mandate pro-car measures that drive-up housing costs and contribute to global warming. Even the most walkable, bike-able and mass transit oriented neighbourhoods still require parking spots to be built in new residences. Finally, last week downtown Montréal eliminated parking requirements for new residential projects. Going forward developers in the Ville-Marie borough will no longer be forced to build a certain number of parking spots per new unit.

Across the country zoning laws require residential and commercial buildings to secure a certain number of spots based upon the number of dwellings or square feet of space. The city website explains that “Edmonton’s Zoning Bylaw requires new developments, including homes, schools, offices and stores, to provide a minimum number of off-street parking spaces.”

Toronto’s website has a detailed list of parking requirements based upon various criteria. Per residential unit, Toronto usually requires between 1 and 1.4 parking spots while it’s between 1.15 and 1.95 spaces in Mississauga.

Unlike most zoning ordinances that simply prohibit something, parking requirements are coercive: They tell developers exactly what to do. Cities don’t ban the construction of apartments with one bedroom or bathroom but some ban the construction of apartments with only one parking spot.

Converting buildings to different uses can be difficult in places with substantial parking requirements. Sometimes a new business simply cannot move into a building that formerly housed an operation with lower parking requirements without adding more spaces (or obtaining a variance).

Extensive parking requirements have reduced many architects to designing buildings around parking laws. “Form follows parking requirements,” laments Donald Shoup author of The High Cost of Free Parking. A 2017 Corporate Knights article notes, “Ottawa’s Hintonburg  and the Glebe or Toronto’s Kensington Market and Yorkville would never be built today. These special places were developed before current parking standards came into effect.”

Since all units, irrespective of size, are generally required to have a parking spot, apartments have become larger and more expensive. No matter the size, Mississauga requires 1.15 spaces per (human) housing unit downtown, which acts “as a disincentive to build smaller, affordable units.” The financial and logistical burden created by parking requirements has restricted the rooming supply. “Zoning requires a home for every car, but ignores homeless people,” writes Shoup. “By increasing the cost of housing, parking requirements make the real homelessness problem even worse.” (It generally costs $40,000 to $60,000 to build an underground parking space in downtown Toronto while a surface spot in a low-density area can be built for as little as $2,000 to $8,000.)

Most significantly parking requirements spur private car travel. Parking and car travel are mutually reinforcing; more parking means more car travel and more car travel means increased demand for yet more parking.

Sometimes zoning requirements mandate commercial and office spaces provide a certain amount of free parking. Even when zoning laws don’t mandate free parking, the saturated “market” creates an expectation that parking will be free. Would there be any need for parking requirements if people were willing to pay? Wouldn’t profit-oriented businesses sell as much parking as they could charge for?

The right to affordable housing must be prioritized over the “need” for parking.  Progressives currently running for positions in city governments across the country – Saron Gebresellassi, Derrick O’Keefe, Jeremy Loveday, etc. – should take up an issue that drives up housing costs while increasing private auto use. Let’s build cheaper housing, more liveable cities and a healthier environment by ending parking requirements in city bylaws! That should be a slogan all sensible people can rally around.

Public Space and the Bicycle: Copenhagenizing Cities

Indian cities are in crisis. Spend any length of time in a large city there and you will notice the overcrowding, the power and water shortages and, during monsoon, the streets that transform into stinking, litter-strewn rivers. At times, these cities can be almost unbearable to live in. Little wonder then that the concept of ‘smart cities’ is taking hold among policy makers, however flawed the notion might seem to be.

And, not least, of course, there is the horrendous traffic chaos and congestion, the choking pollution and the increasing number of massive concrete flyovers: monstrosities that have taken their place among numerous other planning disasters that blight so many Indian cities.

A couple of years back, Delhi introduced an ‘odd-even’ traffic policy whereby vehicles with certain registration numbers were allowed on the road only on designated days to try to cut down on traffic congestion and pollution. But this failed to solve the underlying problem that stems from a model of ‘development’ that associates a (wholly unnecessary) push for urbanisation and car ownership with progress.

Despite the problems, the greater the urban sprawl and the more road building that takes place, the happier are the real estate, construction and car manufacturing sectors. That’s not idle speculation: the documentary How Big Oil Conquered the World describes how the car and oil industry criminally conspired to undermine public transport systems in US cities to get the population and urban planners hooked on the car.

As long as urban planners prioritise the car and wrong-headed notions of ‘development’ governed by powerful players continue, Indian cities will not only sprawl ever outwards and be defined by traffic congestion and air and noise pollution, but residents will experience an ever-worsening decline in their quality of life and increasing dependency on motorized transport.

Indian planners might wish to take note of a recent New York Times article which highlighted that Los Angeles has decided against adding lanes to a freeway. Although Andre Gorz noted this back in 1973, policy makers are waking up to the fact that building extra lanes merely means more cars, more pollution and journey times increasing. As soon as you build a highway or add lanes to a freeway, cars show up to fill the available capacity (known as induced traffic demand).

This induced demand imposes costs on us all in terms of degraded public space and serious health risks (recent research shows that a congestion charge in Stockholm reduced pollution and sharply cut asthma attacks in children).

Just as some countries are now realising the folly of widening and building ever more roads and jamming cities with cars, Indian planners carry on regardless by blighting the urban landscape with ever more huge concrete flyovers and expressways snaking across cities and dividing and destroying communities.

Smart thinking

A day before Delhi implemented the second phase of its ‘odd-even’ vehicle policy, the city announced it wanted to support the construction of more roads to solve congestion by enhancing road capacity via new roads, road widening, elevated corridors, flyovers and underpasses.

One would have thought that smart cities call for smart thinking. Not so in Delhi.

If there is one city that seems to be on the right track, it is Copenhagen. The city believes that cycling should be the foundation for sustainable transport strategies and is key to making cities clean, green and liveable. Copenhagen’s urban transport solution gives space to cars but more importantly to bicycles, pedestrians and public transport.

Back in the early 1970s, Copenhagen was just as traffic-clogged as anywhere. Now it has around 400 km of cycle paths. The city’s 2017 Annual Bicycle Report confirms that cycling is the preferred mode of transport for the city’s inhabitants. Each day, some 62% of Copenhageners use their bikes to go to work or school/college.

Copenhagen has in recent years been voted the ‘best city for cyclists’ and the ‘world’s most liveable city’. Throughout the world, there is now a desire to improve public health and combat climate change. As a result, Copenhagen’s renowned cycle-friendly policies are serving as a template for some of the world’s most congested cities.

Aside from health and environmental considerations, an effective urban transport policy should be democratic. Unlike cars, even the poorest segments of society can gain access to a bicycle. The bicycle is indeed democratic, not just for those who cycle but also for the rest of the population who are too often impacted by planning blight, pollution and the colonisation of urban space as a result of planning that privileges car users ahead of everyone else.

However, the bicycle is only truly democratic when spatial segregation is limited and bike lanes and appropriate cycle-friendly infrastructure exist to properly connect all areas. Inspired by Copenhagen, Mexico City’s bicycle strategy is attempting to address this issue through a comprehensive cycle path network, which aims to create mobility through areas that have been closed off due to previous planning strategies.

The arrogance of space

For cities to fully embrace the bicycle, city planners must stop thinking like motorists or capitulating to powerful lobby groups and plan for the needs of cyclists. In Denmark, for example, the Copenhagen-Albertslund route is the first of a planned network that will comprise 26 Cycle Super Highways, covering a total of 300 km. The network is predicted to reduce public expenditure by €40.3 million annually thanks to improved health.

Consider that in Europe 50% of most city land is dedicated to streets and roads, parking, service stations, driveways, signals and traffic signs. And yet the average European car is parked for 92% of the time. Of the other 8% of time, 1.5% is spent looking for a parking space, 1% in congestion and just 5% is spent driving. There are 30,000 deaths per year on European roads and four times as many disabling injuries. Consider too that an average European car has five seats but carries 1.5 persons per journey.

In Copenhagen, city planners tend to give an adequate proportion of road space to cyclists: proper cycle lanes with curbs that separate cycling space from car space; cycle lanes that are usually also sufficiently wide. After all, why should cars hog so much road space when the majority of road users are cyclists?

In the article ‘The Arrogance of Space’, it says:

We have a tendency to give cities human character traits when we describe them. It’s a friendly city. A dynamic city. A boring city. Perhaps then a city can be arrogant. Arrogant, for example, with its distribution of space.

For too long the arrogance of car-obsessed urban planners has degraded our health and our quality of life. But when you have good-quality public transport and the opportunity to cycle thanks to appropriate infrastructure, there is no need to hand over excess space to cars and produce endless concrete sprawl for car parks.

Walk (or cycle) around Copenhagen and you will immediately appreciate there is much less traffic noise and pollution compared with other cities. It is indeed a spatially friendly and a compact city – and a less “arrogant city”. It is also less hectic and more tranquil than many other cities and – taking things even further – arguably more community-oriented.

The slow life

Of course, community-oriented living isn’t just due to transport strategies, although Andre Gorz said that to love your place or space, it must first of all be made liveable, not trafficable. He went on to state that the neighbourhood or community should be shaped by and for all human activities, “where people can work, live, relax, learn, communicate, and knock about, and which they manage together as the place of their life in common.”

In Copenhagen, the municipality encourages outdoor living by offering open-access communal table tennis tables, basketball facilities, well thought out kids’ parks, landscaped parkland and lakes. Even during cold weather, Copenhageners congregate on the streets and in the parks to socialise and embrace the concept of ‘hygge’, probably best defined as: a conscious appreciation, a certain slowness, and the ability to recognise and enjoy the present. Get to know the city and you will soon realise that hygge isn’t just a cliché.

The key word in that definition is ‘slowness’ because from there we arrive at the concept of ‘slow living’.

Writing in 1973, activist and writer Ivan Illich stated:

The use of the bicycle… allows people to create a new relationship between their life-space and their life-time, between their territory and the pulse of their being, without destroying their inherited balance… In contrast, the accelerating individual capsule [the car] enabled societies to engage in a ritual of progressively paralyzing speed.

Modern culture is an advocate of speed, epitomised by car worship. Cars, speed and high-energy living have become essential facts of life. In the process, our communities have become disjointed and dispersed. We have sacrificed ‘slow living’ – in terms of intimacy, friendship and neighbourliness – for a more impersonal way of accelerated living.

Where would be the need for the car when work, school or healthcare facilities are close by? Less need for ugly flyovers or six lane highways that rip up communities in their path. Getting from A to B would not require a race against the clock on the highway that cuts through a series of localities that are never to be visited, never to be regarded as anything but an inconvenience to be passed through.

Instead, how about an enjoyable walk or cycle ride through an urban environment defined by community and intimacy? An environment free from traffic pollution or noise and where ‘neighbourhood’ has not been deadened and stripped of its neighbourliness, local stores and facilities.

Clearly, many of the problems associated with modern cities are not just due to cars or transport systems. Urban planning and the colonisation of space mirrors capitalism and the needs of powerful corporations.

By focusing on capitalism and how culture reflects the division of labour, Andre Gorz said:

It cuts a person into slices, it cuts our time, our life, into separate slices so that in each one you are a passive consumer at the mercy of the merchants, so that it never occurs to you that work, culture, communication, pleasure, satisfaction of needs, and personal life can and should be one and the same thing: a unified life, sustained by the social fabric of the community.

Although it would be naïve and misguided to think that the bicycle (and cultural change) could transform the social relations of capitalism, it is at least emblematic of a different form of urban planning and smart thinking.

Urban Madness: Inequality and the Right to the City

The weekend edition of the Financial Times dated April 7/8 featured a story in the House and Home section under the title ‘Barcelona hits the Brakes.’ The story describes the negative effect of last October’s Catalan independence referendum on Barcelona’s real estate market. The Times cites data from the Spanish property website Idealista. During the summer of 2017 (Q3 2017) properties in the city gained an impressive 018 percent compared to the previous year. In Q4 2017, in the midst of uncertainty stemming from the referendum, the prices fell 1.2 percent, with the sharpest drop taking place in the priciest neighborhoods.

The most interesting nugget of the story reads like this:

Foreign buyers’ sensitivity to Catalonia’s uncertainty political situation bode ill for the city’s property market in the mid-term since they form an increasing share of the market. Years of steady appreciation has meant that much of the city’s stock has become too expensive for locals. Salaries have been stagnant says Encinar (founder of Idealista). ‘Today, when you ask local agents about business, they talk to you about ‘investors’ rather than ‘clients.’

Meanwhile in February the British Columbia Finance Minister Carole James announced measures targeting foreign buyers and speculators. Foreigners now have to pay a 20 percent tax on top of the listing value (up from 15 percent), and a levy on property speculators will be introduced later this year. Starting this fall foreign and domestic investors who don’t pay income tax in the province where the property is will pay a speculator tax of 0.5 percent of the property’s assessed value in 2018 and 2 percent thereafter. The government also vowed to crack down on the condo pre-sale market and beneficial ownership to ensure that property flippers, offshore trusts and hidden investors are paying taxes on gains.

The flashpoint for the legislation is Vancouver where foreign, particularly wealthy Chinese capital, has been driving double digit gains in property value. Media accounts report that Vancouver casinos and real estate have in recent years become vehicles for laundering proceeds for Asian high rollers and drug dealers with ties to the fentanyl trade. There were also two seasons of the very corny reality TV show Ultra Rich Asian Girls which followed the exploits of daughters of wealthy Chinese families as they shopped and partied around the city. With Chinese capital flowing housing prices in Vancouver have skyrocketed-in 2016 CBC reported that price of a single family home shot up 30 percent in one year to an average of $1.4 million even as the city claims that over the past decade the housing stock has grown by 12 percent and the population by only 9 percent. Toronto and Montreal appear to be on the cusp of similar transformations.

This kind of thing is happening in cities all over the world. In Lisbon a flood of foreign investment and financial deregulation has in the city center up 30 percent over the past two years. Yet the average monthly wage in Lisbon is about €850. Over in London research conducted for mayor Sadiq Khan revealed foreign investors are buying up thousands of homes suitable for first-time buyers. Of the 28,000 new homes built between 2014 and 2016 3600 were scooped up by foreign buyers with the majority from Singapore and Hong Kong followed by Malaysia and China. Last year it was revealed that an entire new 81 unit complex in Southwark (on the site of the former Heygate council estate) was bought by foreign investors while the same was true for 87 percent of Baltimore Wharf, a development on the Isle of Dogs where apartments started at £400,000. Accounts of Russian oligarchs living the high life have filled the press, at one point in 2016 campaigners connected to Russia’s opposition leader Alexei Navalny organized London’s first ever ‘kleptocracy’ tour. Charles Moore, a former editor of the Telegraph, said a few years ago that London’s property market has become ‘a form of legalized international money laundering.’

In New York, early numbers from the latest Census Bureau’s Housing and Vacancy survey show unoccupied apartments ballooned by 35 percent in the three years since the last survey. Over 100,000 units are occupied temporarily or seasonally (74,945), basically meaning investments and vacation pads for the wealthy, or for unexplained reasons (27,000), no doubt a good number of the latter fit the former description.

According to data compiled by the firm PropertyShark, cited in the June 2014 New York magazine article titled ‘Stash Pad’, since 2008 about 30 percent of condo sales in large-scale Manhattan developments have been to purchasers who either listed an overseas address or bought through limited-liability corporations (a method favored by wealthy international buyers). The marketing firm Corcoran Sunshine, which specializes in luxury buildings, estimates that 35 percent of its sales since 2013 have been to international buyers, half from Asia, with the remainder about evenly split among the rest of the world. Data from the Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey revealed 57 percent of apartments in the three block stretch from East 56th Street to East 59th Street, between Fifth Avenue and Park Avenue, are vacant at least ten months a year. From East 59th Street to East 63rd Street the vacancy rate is almost 50 percent.  Stretching it out further the Bureau estimates that 30 percent of all apartments in the entire quadrant from East 49th to East 70th Streets are vacant at least ten months a year. This coincides with New York’s homeless population reaching an all-time high.

It is difficult to conceive a more absurd reflection of global inequality than the building of cities specifically for elite investors at a time when urban homelessness is spiraling. Indeed global inequality has reached absurd levels. According to Oxfam’s report An Economy for the 99%, since 2015 the world’s 1 percent has owned more wealth than the rest of the planet. The richest eight men own the same amount as the poorest half and over the next 20 years 500 people will hand to their heirs over $2.1 trillion- a sum larger than the GDP of India. While global development is slowly narrowing inequality between countries, inequality is rising within countries everywhere. The World Inequality Report 2018 reports the share of income going to the top 10 percent has increased somewhat in Europe, remained high in Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East and has exploded in the United States, Russia, and Asia.

The city-as-investment dynamic is also a logical consequence of neoliberalism. Neoliberalism, defined as an economic system of liberated markets, free trade, deregulation, privatization, and the withdrawal of the state, emerged from the economic stagnation of the early 1970s. Neoliberalism hasn’t been good at producing productive profits as the rate of profit has remained low. U.S. productivity growth is at its lowest level since the 1800s.However, if production is producing profits at a reduced rate where are capitalists to go to increase wealth? Get the state to cut your taxes. Break unions and freeze wages. Invent and expand creative financial assets. Buy back your company’s stocks. Build and invest in urban properties.

Since the mid-1980s corporations have become by far the most important buyers of their own stock. The dirty fact is that money cannot be made as fast by actually investing in production, meaning new plants, equipment, workers, etc., as it can by pumping up stock prices. The price-earnings (P/E ratio) measures a company’s current share (i.e. stock) price relative to its per share earnings. Since the mid-1930s the median P/E ratio for the Standard & Poor 500 stock index is 17. It currently stands at about 25. Another metric is the CAPE index, ‘cyclically adjusted price-earnings’. It measures real earnings per share over a 10 year period and corrects for inflation. The historic median is 16. Currently it is at just almost 33.

For the U.S. this has caused inequality to explode. The World Inequality Report 2018 breaks down American income growth by selected percentile from 1980-2014. Income for the bottom 20 percent of the population grew by a mere 4 percent over that period. The bottom 50 percent grew at only 21 percent, less than 1 percent a year. The top 10 percent grew 113 percent, the top 1 percent grew 194 percent, the top .001 by 423 percent, the top .0001 by 616 percent.

As the planet grows more unequal it grows more urban. For the first time in history the world’s urban population outnumbers the rural population. Cities have absorbed about two-thirds of global population growth since 1950. In 1950 there were 86 cities in the world with more than one million inhabitants. As of 2016 there were 512 such cities, by 2030 there will be an estimated 662. Urbanization spans a vast gulf from the very wealthy neighborhoods of ‘International’ cities such as Shanghai, London, and New York to teeming slums all over the global South. Around one billion people, or roughly 1 in 8 people worldwide, live in slums. In this period cities have emerged as a key part of capital accumulation, absorbing surplus capital and labor. Gentrification has transformed from a local process, even an exception to urban disinvestment, to the pillar of global urban planning.

This inevitably makes the Right to the City movement of paramount importance to the International Left. The struggle against gentrification in London and San Francisco is easily linked to the struggle against displacement, and for basic human needs, in the pueblo jovens of Lima and favelas of Rio de Janairo. At bottom is the right for people to exist in space and time. This goes far beyond just an individual right to the resources a city contains. Since the process of urban change is a collective one, thus is the right to the city. Geographer David Harvey was surely correct when he wrote that ‘the question of what kind of city we want cannot be divorced from the question of what kind of people we want to be, what kinds of social relations we seek, what relations to nature we cherish, what style of daily life we desire, what kinds of technologies we deem appropriate, what aesthetic values we hold.’

This never will be easy.  As inequality deepens and urbanization expands, state militarization grows with it. Stephen Graham, in his important book Cities Under Siege: The New Military Humanism, shows boomerang effect of the War on Terror on policing in Western cities. Drones are now involved in crime patrol. Security Zones, based on efforts to build Green Zones in Baghdad, are prominent in big cities. Temporary Security Zones are set up around sports events and political conventions. Since the 1990s over $5 billion worth of surplus military equipment has been transferred to police departments across the country.  During the Obama years, before limits were put in place which have since been rescinded by the Trump administration, police departments received tens of thousands of machine guns, thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment, along with hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft. The number of SWAT teams has skyrocketed since the 1980s. Originally established to deal with hostage situations and heavily armed criminals, SWAT teams are now deployed tens of thousands of times a year, mainly for drug searches (well glamorized by the CBS show S.W.A.T.). There was a glimpse of these possible confrontations with social movements during the protests against police brutality in Ferguson in 2014. There is no reason to expect these trends will cease and every reason to think they will expand.

Such is the specter that justice movements may have to confront in the future. Still, future social revolutions will be in cities or nowhere.

Exchanging Cars for Housing

Who could possibly be against doing something that would be both good for the environment and improve housing affordability in our biggest cities?

By turning public land devoted to noisy, dangerous and polluting vehicles into social/co-op/rental housing it is possible to put a dent into runaway climate change while improving housing affordability and urbanity.

Radio Canada recently reported on a 14-storey co-op set to be built just behind the Bell Centre on the southern edge of downtown Montréal. The Coopérative Montagne Verte will have 136 units, which will make it the largest housing co-op in a single building in Montreal. Having received a piece of city land, the co-op will be financed in equal measure with public funds and a long-term mortgage. If all goes according to plan, hundreds will gain access to affordable housing in an area with easy access to employment and services by foot, bike and mass transit.

In discussing the barrier to building more co-ops Radio Canada claimed, “the scarcity of land in Montreal is also an important issue.”  This is absurd. In fact, one of the city’s principal problems is the abundance of public land devoted to noisy, dangerous and polluting vehicles, which contribute significantly to the climate crisis (40 per cent of Montréal’s greenhouse gas emissions are from transport.)

Near where the Coopérative Montagne Verte will be located, for instance, is a highway that has gobbled up a large swath of the city centre. Thousands could be housed on the public roadway and adjacent areas destroyed by it.

In what would be a more straightforward cars-for-shelter exchange, Boulevard René-Lévesque is wide enough to build a row of lodgings with a narrow street on each side. Thousands of family sized social/co-op/rental units could be built and it would improve the city for its inhabitants and the planet. While it may seem radical, this move would simply be a return to before buildings were demolished to widen the street in the 1940s and 50s.

Other car spaces in the city centre could easily be turned into affordable housing. The three blocks of McGill College between Cathcart and Sherbrooke and a number of other non-through streets between Sherbrooke and Saint Catherine on the western edge of downtown could be reclaimed for multi-story dwellings. To the east, avenue du Parc Lafontaine between Sherbrooke and Rachel is wide enough to build a row of smaller units with a narrow street on each side.

With housing affordability an even bigger issue in Toronto and Vancouver there would be much to gain by turning public roadway into co-op/rental/social housing there. The land destroyed by the centrally located Gardiner Expressway could house thousands. Rather than spending $3.6 billion to fix the monstrosity, Toronto could subsidize co-op/social housing on this prime piece of public real estate.

Proof that cars-for-housing exchange is not pie in the sky, Vancouver’s city council voted to remove the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts at the eastern edge of downtown. Their plan to build thousands of housing units (30% “social housing”) is better than the status quo, but not ambitious enough. The city should eliminate the boulevard that is part of the current plan and turn it all into a car free social/co-op/rental housing oasis. Ideally located for getting around by foot, bike and Skytrain, the area reclaimed for housing should also be extended along Georgia Street into downtown.

A whopping 27.4% of Toronto is roadway (another 13 per cent is parks and open spaces — a share of which goes largely unused because of the unpleasantness of adjacent traffic filled streets). I was unable to find the exact proportion of Vancouver and Montréal devoted to roadway, but a significant share of those cities is also devoted to noisy, dangerous and polluting vehicles.

We need to build an environmentalist/urbanist/housing rights coalition that would push to turn swaths of this land into social/co-op/rental housing.

Ethical Stardom: Pursuing Dreams in Cities Under The Shadow Of Gentrification

As cities become increasingly difficult to afford for middle-income Americans, how do we reframe the concept of ethical consumption to fit the requirement for creative people to move to a major cultural center to succeed?

Banksy, Follow your Dreams

The idea of moving to New York to pursue your dreams or a better life has a history dating back centuries. There are chefs from around the world who wanted to open a restaurant sharing their hometown cuisine with American audiences. There are artists, writers, and musicians from the Midwest who wanted to be in the biggest city in the country for the most opportunities.

It’s a romantic story that’s no less interesting and unique because it’s so common. While native New Yorkers rightly show off their stripes, go back a generation or two and you’ll find most of their families were based somewhere else.

This narrative continues as people arrive by bus, train, and plane every day. However, this is a different era with different conditions.

I’m not talking about immigrants seeking refuge or people who’ve bravely fled war-torn countries for survival. I’m talking about people who choose New York purposely, because of its cultural capital.

Where once this was a city to arrive in with a dollar and a dream, it’s now a city that requires you to save for months or years in advance to land on your feet.

Moving to New York, or most American cities, to pursue your dreams has become both a privilege and a requirement in many fields, especially the arts and humanities.

But with city populations ballooning and real estate prices skyrocketing, cities already have a great pool of talent vying for every position.  There are kids growing up in the Bronx struggling to get the change together to take a train downtown for an art or music camp their parents saved up to bring them to.

It takes a charming arrogance to presume that as a small kid from Minnesota, you could be better than every other dancer or poet living in New York. It makes for a great origin story. Sometimes it works out and it’s hard not to identify with that underdog story.

The only problem is that type of success is starting to look a lot less like luck and a lot more like a victory lap.

It’s not always a victory lap for the young person who hasn’t made it. Not everyone who moves to a city comes from wealth and comfort. But often in pursuit of the familiar, a transplant fuels a system that’s in motion to suburbanize the city.

This system aims to make New York and every other major city a safe and familiar tourist attraction. People come to New York to eat at the Applebee’s in Times Square, to shop the Disney Store or visit the Nike store—all things they could find in their own nearby malls.

They don’t come here for the now-closed shows, luncheonettes, and hat shops. There’s a closed commercial loop between the box stores in suburban malls and the businesses that now populate the tourist capital of New York City. There’s a responsibility that’s fallen on the city in maintaining a welcome environment for small businesses rather than trying to offer family friendly entertainment to tourists. In failing this, they’ve driven small business to the margins of the city, where tourist dollars are needed, but where they’re never directed to go.

Jeremiah Moss writes:

… Combined with a record-high population of 8.5 million, the city is being destroyed by its own so-called success […] Locals avoid the city’s art museums because they’re jammed with tourists clamoring to take selfies with the masterpieces. […] The green-jeweled oasis of Central Park is “being trampled to death,” as former parks commissioner Adrian Benepe told the Times in 2016. And still City Hall wants more. The latest goal is 67 million tourists per year by 2021.

Young, enterprising, low-income New Yorkers need to pursue alternative paths to pay for their dreams. Without credit, assets, or property, they might have to take out pricier loan options, making the whole enterprise of following their dreams a higher stake venture than it is for large established businesses.

This is not to discourage anyone outside of a major city from following their dreams. But if you achieved your dream in someone else’s hometown, you have a responsibility to your community to try to make room for two of you.

If your neighbors speak a language you don’t know, learn their language. Buy groceries from their shops. Sincerely love the neighborhood you live in, or don’t move there. If you choose a neighborhood because it’s got cheap rent, realize your role in harvesting the fruit of someone else’s life and work.

You need to ensure that local public schools can offer the opportunities you had. You need to make sure that a single parent can do what you’ve done without having to struggle and sacrifice in ways you’ve never had to.

The garment district is moving to Brooklyn. The art world has moved from SoHo, to Chelsea, to Chinatown. Long Island City is starting to look like Dubai.

While other cities like Detroit and Philadelphia have tried to attract more of this cultural capital that once went exclusively to New York and LA, it’s important not to just repeat the same mistakes in a new environment.

I implore other aspiring artists to bring their talents wherever they feel they’re needed. But if it looks like the boat is full, why not check with the passengers before you jump on. There will always be another boat.

Photo: Move NY