Kate (kate_nepveu) wrote,

WisCon: Race and Class in Urban Planning

This was a great panel and I learned a lot. Feel free to ask for clarifications and I will try to the best of my ability.


How does centralized planning divide our cities along lines of race and class? Subsidized housing, elevated freeways, new condos, zoning regulations: Who decides where these are placed, and for what purposes? From Tyrion Lannister scouring King's Landing during war to Ariane Emory programming the populations of Cyteen and Gehenna, these issues affect our fictional worlds too. Let's talk about how power and urban planning interact.

Vylar Kaftan
s.e. smith
Michelle Kendall ("Mikki") (m)
Jamie Nesbitt Golden (thewayoftheid)
Michael J. "Orange Mike" Lowrey

Mikki: writes a lot about race & class & gentrification in Chicago, where lives, especially

Vylar: writer, chair of FogCon (ran this panel at first one of those)

s.e.: writer, journalist, rural background, intersections between rural & urban gentrification

Jamie: writer & recovering journalist, used to cover business development

Mike: live in neighborhood that has gentrified out from under him, and on edge of neighborhood that was thriving black community (Bronzeville, Milwaukee) before ran freeway through it, by people including well-meaning white socialists

Mikki: how often do these things occur because people think they are doing the right thing? Fictional variations (actual too), people saying will fix X problem and don't realize will create Y problem. How do address this?

Vylar: just in general really complicated, once a process starts, "sunk cost fallacy" makes hard to address problems with process/goal that arise partway through

s.e.: re: Bay Area (San Francisco), lot of "green development," finds interesting that there is a fixation on density, good for environment but no-one in Berkeley actually wants it _there_ because not that attractive; plus green dev. cost 3x as much to live in, NIMBY

Jamie: how to engage people? in Chicago, an announcement is only nominally a request for citizen input, so thinks thing to do is put the right people in office who will listen. Re: green development, used to cover as journalist, lot of these cases spend millions of $ on this, like multiuse developments, live/work/shop--end up empty, can't get foot traffic, because don't listen to people

Mike: cult of expert, masters/PhD in urban planning convinced know what's good, hard for them to understand that if people in this four-block area want something different, either have to listen to them or admit that treating as disposable trash. Ariane Emory convinced knew better than entire planetary populations, horror and tragedy of _Cyteen_. In our reality, make a historical district, throw out four families in one house and one upscale couple move in.

Mikki: see stories about school closings in Chicago, what happens is therefore neighborhoods become places where don't move if have kids. Chicago schools sit on huge lots (audience: ooh, money): charter schools may come in and admit only select students. Lots of consequences: move to where schools are, but those movers include those with higher incomes, so cities cut transit, cut school buses, buildings move to condos from apartments. Really think they're doing right things for kids, but "underutilized" schools = less than 32 kids in a classroom, always the way down to first grade.

Mike: and then you condemn it as a failing school

Mikki: exactly, and kids get shuffled around, disrupted over and over again, THEN we have to fix it, but you broke it in the first place. So make things better, who for? So other question about fiction, when writing, how do you responsibly present the options and what should happen in terms of "gentrification"?

s.e.: picking up on Jamie's point about communication. Lived for year on artificial island in San Francisco Bay (Treasure Island), former military base, Superfund site, was covering base realignment and closure at time, went to all meetings about HUGE amounts of environment cleanup needed. Island was very low rent so low-income people, once an hour bus, no grocery store, but really beautiful views. Navy meetings would show pictures of very expensive housing, would get quizzed about fates of actual residents, who were not served well politically. So fiction, actual communication process where residents heard about what they think is wrong and can fix is critically important.

Mike: remit of panel conflicted, writers and people. As reviewer, thinks of: brilliant, well-meaning character, this is one of the ways that tragedy can occur, best of intentions does wrong thing, dramatic potential for your character to be that asshole

Mikki: question for audience: in your area, has it been gentrified? are *you* gentrifiers?

audience: east side of Madison, fertilizer plant shut down right after moved there, fantastic alderman who went door-to-door in neighborhood about redevelopment to urge them to get involved. Multi-use development that has tenants and houses scaled to what's already around it. Not done yet, but hopeful.

Mikki: Chicago, Hyde Park, space in center that used to be open development, Univ of Chicago really pushed through hotel+stores+condo for some reason, but had those in the past and they all closed

audience: as both academic and someone been poor: 1) in this country in particular (is a global phenomenon), emphasis on property rights is a real double-edged sword: home-owners are the people who get listened to, renters get very short shrift, should think about use value, i.e., people who live in and use a place (in some cases, generational tenants, seen as a problem of not assimilating into property ownership model rather than example of being invested in a location), no legal model that gives weight to those people. 2) Miami very tight real estate market, fascinating, lot of international people who don't live full-time, so little non-owned property but lot of speculative property, that gives very different perspective. 3) people do dream of moving to suburbs, is a real thing

Mikki: global phenomenon: when talk about West about doing dense urban planning, where are we going to get our food? Answer appears to be Africa of course or global South in general, colonization as used-car salesman (oh, you've been there for many years, but you're not using it right now, we'll make it better for you! You'll love it really!)

s.e. amount of arable farmland in US has shrunk dramatically, partly because of bad practice but partly because romance of farmland, chunks of family farms being sold off to developers (because farming is expensive) because people think it's romantic to live near farms. So useful in fantasy, what happens to farms, where do all the chickens go?

Mikki: entire agricultural system of (eastern?) US built on black folks who farm, we know this. (some context I missed)

Vylar: (missed some context here too, something about) power about who lives where, SF or future when we all live in domes easy to turn down oxygen . . .

Mike: re: Milwaukee, Iron Collar of separately-incorporated suburbs surrounding abandoned minority cities; riots in Stockholm currently, where inner cities are reserved for upper-class and rest shoved into ring suburbs where no transit & no jobs, so lot of places suburbs aren't "good"

audience: Robert Moses & Jane Jacobs had war over urban planning, see Jacobs _Life and Death of the American City_ (1961) really fantastic book re: war between over cars and bulldozing NYC communities. (Jacobs: visionary, lot of today's planners don't seem to be familiar.) Back to fiction, urban planning will change a lot when oil price goes way up and driving has to change.

Jamie: few years ago covered story about transit villages, set out housing developments around major arteries of transportation, Fruitvale ? in Oakland as model, somewhat successful but run into mixed-used developments and realize that people who can afford market-use rent are skittish about it because don't want to be next to the poor people. What makes a difference is how present projects to public. Does think that this is future.

audience: fiction could be useful to tell story of invisible processes before public announcement made: creation of infrastructure, sewers and electricity etc. Ties into privatization process, cities all are flat broke . . . because of way we have structured tax collection (special districts that get all).

audience: tangent but needs to be said, lot of critique of urban planning, but if you don't have it you have Texas and things like Town of West where fertilizer plant was right next to school etc.

Vylar: played enough Sim City to know that!

s.e.: issue of labor hasn't come up yet: urban planning is a lot of work, but who is doing the work that results in the finished product? In SFF, often see open use of slavery in creation of colonies, genetically engineered people doing work and then abandoned; lots of interesting stuff about bodies and use

Mikki: yes believe in planning to, but don't necessarily talk about how implication is that going to leave people without place to go and how don't make plan for those people and then push away from social structure and support system. E.g., Chicago, neighborhoods where see multiple shootings, shut schools down 10 years ago, transit 20 years; lost mental health centers, hospitals, etc.

audience: why were they shut down?

Mikki: tax-increment financing (TIF): collect taxes in big increments but then need permission to use, and developers get permission (her neighborhood lost school while $190 million to build sports arena for private college)

audience: Madison, TIFs go for "affordable housing", which is $800/900 month. Recommend book with photos re: little tiny decisions that make space unusable: _City Comforts: How to Build an Urban Village_. Lives in Manhattan (missed neighborhood), last patch of gentrification with huge class imbalance in neighborhood, feels powerless

audience: worked for 13 years, in graduate school now. First outer-ring suburbs are now where a lot of poorer people are being pushed out, that have already been vacated as cities gentrify. _Daughters of Elysium_, Joan S. (GoH) - talks about longevity and scale of speculation, way that developers have huge influence on way cities look. E.g., much more profitable to build new development in suburbs than renovate in city, because of speculative element. And cities fund suburbs through taxes. Is there a way to counteract long-term vision of developers?

Mike: happening to working class suburbs all over, racial composition changing dramatically

(same) audience: also related to highway development, 1960s worst thing to happen to working class & black neighborhoods. Thinks looking at historical stories & putting in fictional contexts to get brains working different way.

audience: recommends Gold Coast series, KS Robinson

audience: report today about new census data, majority of poor people live in suburbs, whole new issues about that because life is so atomized there, isolation & invisibility becomes much worse

Mikki: seeing that a lot of in shutdown of major projects in Chicago, but suburbs not planned for people who are used to walking to store or taking public transit, so lot of people are boomeranging back to city but not coming back to neighborhoods or schools that are familiar to them, to areas that are not gentrified YET, but services get cut first and then once strangled and forced everyone out, will "fix" and local income goes way up

audience: also most new immigrants now coming to suburbs now

audience: think really interesting way things aren't used for intended purposes, cities grow themselves, Nariobi & Rio squatter cites that serve functions people need them; re-gentrification & people using infrastructure in ways not intended (not sure what means), could be good avenue of fiction

s.e.: Rio, what happens with Olympics: slums being gentrified, now hip place for expats! where did residents go? Beijing, where did people deemed un-picturesque go?

Mikki: saw that in Atlanta too, still recovering. Chicago, her neighborhood was on edge of area trying to get Olympics, suddenly streets paved, trees clipped, at same time as people being pushed out. Washington Park traditionally big green pretty area, lots of festivals, but those are very black (African Fest, etc.), all of sudden tiny number of people who recently moved in calling about noise and trying to get permitted things get shut down (which didn't work).

[random thought: expecting this to be an issue in the next Rivers of London book, apparently there is a thing about South London that I am not familiar with. But because Peter is interested in architecture and class and race and history, I expect to learn more about it.]

Jamie: what happens when city doesn't get Olympics and everything just stops? Had developers swoop in, renovate all these buildings, rent them out, and then bid failed, these gorgeous buildings are just empty, nothing there.

audience: but no pressure to lower the prices, that's the trick

Jamie: developers don't live there

Mikki: (tangent: watched some developers go under trying to do NYC games in Chicago): but as foreclosure bell tolls, developers turn the buildings into "affordable housing", but not really, just say "Section 8 can live here now" [Section 8 is the, or maybe a, federal housing assistance program]

audience: in some countries, actually laws that guarantee housing, not great but does put pressure on developers. In contrast, Chicago etc., tax breaks but no pressure, can wait for market to turn and take long-term view because the land is a capital investment, doesn't hurt you to sit on it. Note that some things are huge public collaborative processes, like new train system, people hate big systems but cities by nature need them.

Mike: why people love cars, individualize and privatize transport.

s.e.: loop back to hipsters and noise complaints: does stuff with urban gardening, poor people been doing for long time, hipsters acting like they invented, now "right way" to do these things, cities suddenly have lots of ordinances about micro-farming etc. that privilege "pretty", expensive way to do (Detroit, front lawn was full edible garden, neighborhood was eating from it, city forced removal). "appropriation of poor skills"

Mikki: _Time_ articles shocked to see these! But obviously if in food desert, going to grow things.

audience: seems like problem is that living spaces are being made commodity, any mechanism, fictional/non-, to stop that?

Mike: historian, once tracked history of plot his house stands on from when stolen from tribe in 1830s, people have always flipped land, unless set tax structure to privilege other kinds of transaction. Movement in 1900s? single-tax (something), only tax on land transactions, not saying good idea but. Bizarrely, feudal system did better on land ownership. Would take total revolution in American legal structure.

Vylar: local involvement & activism, much harder to take advantage of people know & understand.

Mikki: don't be afraid to take advantage of media. Ex of saving one of son's schools, very active and involved parents who will keep going to local politicians and keep getting covered by media

audience: yes but huge time investment by people who don't have a lot of it

Mikki: absolutely. In their neighborhood they rotate among themselves to share the load

Mike: granny power, get retirees

Jamie: also, don't have to physically be there, underestimate social media; if can get Onion to take down tweet about Q. Wallis, can get local media to cover you or school officials to listen to you

Mike: urban planning too important to be left to urban planners

s.e.: community solidarity only tactic; bringing in youth too, often only need little pushes to start mobilizing and distribute load of activism

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Tags: cons: wiscon: 2013

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