Saturday, October 12, 2013

America’s New Oligarchs— and Silicon Valley’s Shady 1 Percenters

Mark Zuckerberg, Billionaire founder of Facebook

see: America’s New Oligarchs— and Silicon Valley’s Shady 1 Percenters        
When Steve Jobs died in October 2011, crowds of mourners gathered outside of Apple stores, leaving impromptu memorials to the fallen businessman. Many in Occupy Wall Street, then in full bloom, stopped to mourn the .001 percenter worth $7 billion, who didn’t believe in charity and whose company had more cash in hand than the U.S. Treasury while doing everything in its power to avoid paying taxes.

A new, and potentially dominant, ruling class is rising. Today’s tech moguls don’t employ many Americans, they don’t pay very much in taxes or tend to share much of their wealth, and they live in a separate world that few of us could ever hope to enter. But while spending millions bending the political process to pad their bottom lines, they’ve remained far more popular than past plutocrats, with 72 percent of Americans expressing positive feelings for the industry, compared to 30 percent for banking and 20 percent for oil and gas.

Outsource Manufacturing, Import Engineers

Perversely, the small number of jobs—mostly clustered in Silicon Valley—created by tech companies has helped its moguls avoid public scrutiny. Google employs 50,000, Facebook 4,600, and Twitter less than 1,000 domestic workers. In contrast, GM employs 200,000, Ford 164,000, and Exxon over 100,000. Put another way, Google, with a market cap of $215 billion, is about five times larger than GM yet has just one fourth as many workers.

This is an equation that defines inequality: more and more wealth concentrated in fewer hands and benefiting fewer workers.

While Facebook and Twitter have little role in the material economy, Apple, which continues to collect the bulk of its profit from physical goods—computers, iPads, iPhones and so on—has outsourced nearly all of its manufacturing to foreign companies like Foxconn that employ workers, often in appalling conditions, in China and elsewhere. About 700,000 people work on Apple’s physical products for subcontractors, according to the New York Times, but almost none of them are in the U.S. “The jobs aren’t coming back,” Jobs bluntly told President Obama at a 2011 dinner in Silicon Valley.

Not so much anti-union as post-union, the tech elite has avoided issues with labor by having so few laborers who could be organized. Andrew Carnegie and Henry Ford exploited workers in Pittsburgh and Detroit, and had to deal with the political consequences; the risks are much less if the exploited are in Chengdu and Guangzhou.

"There doesn't seem to be a role" for unions in this new economy, explained Internet entrepreneur and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, because people are "marketing themselves and their skills.” He didn’t mention what people without skills in demand at tech companies might do.

But Americans with those skills shouldn’t rest easy, either. These same companies are always looking to cut down their domestic labor costs. Mark Zuckerberg, in particular, is pouring money into a new advocacy group,, with a board consisting of big-name Valley luminaries, to push “comprehensive immigration reform” (read: letting Facebook bring in a cheaper labor force). In a remarkably cynical move, has separate left- and right-leaning subgroups to prod politicians across the political spectrum to sign on to the bill that would pad the company’s bottom line.

Ostensibly, the increase in visas for high-skilled computer workers is a needed response to the critical shortage of such workers here—a notion that has been repeatedly dismissed, including in a recent report from the Obama-aligned Economic Policy Institute, which found that the country is producing 50 percent more IT professionals each year than are being employed in the field. The real appeal of the H1B visas for “guest workers”—who already take between a third and half of all new IT jobs in the States—is that they are usually paid less than their pricy American counterparts, and are less likely to jump ship since they need to remain employed to stay in the country. Facebook’s lobbyists, reports the Washington Post, have pressed lawmakers to remove a requirement from the bill that companies make a “good faith” effort to hire Americans first.

The Valley of the Oligarchs

Even as market caps rise, the number of Americans collecting any cut of that new wealth has scarcely moved. Since 2008, while IPOs have generated hundreds of billions of dollars of paper worth, Silicon Valley added just 30,000 new tech–related jobs—leaving the region with 40,000 fewer jobs than in 2001, when decades of rapid job growth came to an end.

The good jobs that are being created are also heavily clustered in one region, the west side of the San Francisco peninsula—a distinct and geographically constrained zone of privilege. The area boasts both formidable technical talent and, more important still, roughly one third of the nation’s venture funds along with the world’s most sophisticated network of tech-savvy investment banks, publicists, and attorneys.

But little of the Valley’s wealth reaches surrounding communities. Just across the bridge to the East Bay are high crime rates and an economy that’s lost about 60,000 jobs since 2001 with few signs of recovery. Inland, in the central Valley, double-digit unemployment is the norm and local governments are cutting police and other core services and even trying to declare bankruptcy.

“We live in a bubble, and I don’t mean a tech bubble or a valuation bubble. I mean a bubble as in our own little world,” Google’s Schmidt boasted to the San Francisco Chronicle in 2011. “And what a world it is. Companies can’t hire people fast enough. Young people can work hard and make a fortune. Homes hold their value. Occupy Wall Street isn’t really something that comes up in a daily discussion, because their issues are not our daily reality.”

Inside the bubble zone, centered around the bucolic university town of Palo Alto, employees at firms like Facebook and Google enjoy gourmet meals, child-care services, even complimentary house-cleaning. With all these largely male, well-paid geeks around, there’s even a burgeoning sex industry, with rates upwards of $500 an hour.

Those at top of the tech elite live very well, occupying some of the most expensive and attractive real estate in the country. They travel in style: Google maintains a fleet of private jets at San Jose airport, making enough of a racket to become a nuisance to their working-class neighbors. They have even proposed an $85 million flight center, called Blue City Holdings, to manage airplanes belonging to Google’s founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and its executive chairman, Eric Schmidt. Like the Russian oligarchs, currently making a run on Tuscany’s castles and resorts, the Valley elite have embraced conspicuous consumption, albeit dressed up in California casual. In San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties combined, luxury vehicles accounted for nearly 21 percent of new car registrations from April 2011 to March 2012, more than twice the national average. Home prices in places like Palo Alto and the fashionable precincts of San Francisco go for well over a million—and routinely trigger all-cash bidding wars.

We’re the best thing happening in America,” one tech entrepreneur told the Los Angeles Times. Even a reporter for the New York Times, usually worshipful in its Valley coverage, described the spending as “obscene.” An industry party he attended included a 600-pound tiger in a cage and a monkey that posed for Instagram photos.

Why Social Equity Advocates are declaring War on the "White" Suburbs.

The One Bay Area Plan provides "Social Equity" to give other communities the chance to share in Marin's tax base, zoning designations, school budgets to provide a "fair share" for disadvantaged communities.
Editor's Note: The Bay Area Plan considers "Economic, environment and equity" .  This article is a perspective on "social equity" in planning and regionalism and Smart Growth.  Marin has its own Social Equity Advocates such as Urban Habitat, Public Advocates and Marin Grassroots (where our newest planning commissionor, Ericka Erickson works) and many more.  These activists have embedded themselves on the planning commission and local politics and are considered "stakeholders" while the vast majority of us,  ordinary Marin taxpayers and property owners are considered outsiders.  This is why YOU need to get involved. 

An interview on race and metropolitan development  with john powell

In Northeast Ohio—one of the most racially segregated metropolitan areas in the nation—race has been a powerful force shaping the region. To promote greater dialogue on this important subject, we reprint the following interview with john powell in which he takes the provocative stance that “bringing racial justice awareness to regionalism is the single most important civil rights task facing us today.” powell is one of the most innovative thinkers regarding race, civil rights, public policy, and the law in the country. He is the executive director of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University and Williams Chair in Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at the OSU Moritz College of Law. He was formerly national legal director of the ACLU and has published widely on race, civil rights, and the law. The interview was conducted by Bob Wing, editor of ColorLines magazine.
Q: What is regionalism?

A: Regionalism is the notion that you should think about, fight for, and administer resources at a regional and not just a city or federal level. The economy, the infrastructure (transportation, utilities, etc.), and the labor market all function on a regional level. In general a region can be thought of as a city and its suburbs, what the census calls a metropolitan statistical area. That is why regionalism is sometimes called "metropolitics" by people like Myron Orfield.

Q: Why is regionalism important for anti-racist work?
A: Today, metropolitan regions are divided racially and spatially into largely white and affluent suburbs and largely non-white and poor urban centers. These dynamics are at the heart of racial inequality today. If this inequality is to be effectively fought, suburban sprawl and political fragmentation must be combatted by movements for regional and metropolitan equity.

Regional inequity has seriously undermined the efforts of the civil rights movement. By the time the movement came to the north, this structure of suburban sprawl and urban poverty had been put in place and the movement could not effectively address it. A series of policy and Supreme Court decisions like Milliken in the mid-1970s outlawed desegregation and anti-discrimination efforts across school district and city lines. These decisions protected racial inequality between what were increasingly white suburbs and minority cities.

In fact, while the Supreme Court basically dismantled the ability of whites to garner resources and protect themselves on a neighborhood basis, it actually enhanced their ability to do the same on a regional basis. Just as the doctrine of states' rights at the beginning of the century was a code for allowing the states to frustrate the rights and economic hopes of blacks, the doctrine of local autonomy and municipal rights have been used to frustrate these hopes at the end of the century.

As a result, whites have been able to re-isolate minorities in the declining urban core and older suburbs, away from jobs, growth centers, a strong tax base, and other opportunities. This is aggravated by the fact that today suburban voters outnumber urban voters: the political center of regions throughout the country has shifted to the suburbs, again isolating the urban core.

Q: But regionalism seems to be dominated by white environmentalists and suburban interests that are not interested in racial justice.

A: True. So far, regionalism, "smart growth," and anti-sprawl movements have been mainly framed around the interests of white suburbanites and environmentalists. Our challenge is to reframe these issues from the standpoint and interests of people of color, who mainly live in the cities and older, declining suburbs, but whose conditions are inextricably connected to the newer, growing suburbs.

In most cases, the cities actually subsidize the suburbs, which in turn suck resources out of the cities. Cities need to fight for equal resources—housing, transportation, jobs, and education—with the suburbs. Cities cannot raise the money they need to deal with issues of concentrated poverty simply within the cities.

Q: How is concentrated poverty related to regionalism?

A: Although most politicians frame the issue of regionalism mainly through an environmental lens, as a historical matter the central issue driving sprawl is race.

Where there is sprawl—the expanding low-density use of land—and political fragmentation in an area with a substantial minority population, there will be racialized concentrated poverty at the core. Concentrated poverty is where people with incomes below the poverty line represent over 40 percent of a census tract: most of these are people of color.

This pattern is caused by white middle class and upper middle class people fleeing to the edge of the region, taking important resources and opportunity with them and erecting barriers to low-income people of color. Concentrated poverty should be understood as racial and economic segregation combined. It is the segregation of poor people of color from opportunity and resources.

Q: Can you give an example of how this dynamic of sprawl and concentrated poverty actually works out?

A: Over the last twenty years, the population of Detroit has fallen from just under two million to probably less than a million today. Most of those remaining are low-income black people. At the same time, the population of the Detroit metro area as a whole has increased by 3 percent—but the land it occupies has multiplied times 12. Hundreds of separate municipalities have been created, and they vie to capture resources and keep needy, low-income people out. This is classic sprawl and fragmentation.

The first population that moved to the metropolitan edge was white and upper middle class-the corporate executives of General Motors, Chrysler, Ford, and their friends. When they moved, they brought their auto plants and resources with them. I grew up in Detroit from 1960-1995, and during that time there wasn't one auto plant built inside the city of Detroit. In 1960, 56 percent of the jobs in the Detroit metropolitan area were in Detroit proper; today only 18 percent of the jobs are in Detroit.

When rich people move, they also suck resources out of the urban core: businesses, jobs, property taxes, malls, money for highways, transit, police, water, etc. Then other middle class strata in the population follow them, reproducing the same phenomena. This flight was not just looking for the right place to live, but looking for a white place to live.

This in turn left Detroit and dozen of other cities across the country with masses of poor people of color who have much greater social needs than middle class or rich people, but with a decimated tax base with which to pay for those needs. Fewer resources, concentrated poverty. More needs, higher taxes.

Q: But how is this sprawl related to race?

A: You know, half the people in the country living in concentrated poverty are black. Another third are Latinos. Even though more than half the impoverished people in the country are white, most poor white people don't live in concentrated poverty. Moreover, during the long economic boom we've had in the U.S., the number of people living in areas of concentrated poverty has doubled. So it's not just economics; concentrated poverty is sorted by race. And this racial sorting takes place not just on a neighborhood level now, but on a regional level: cities versus suburbs, inner-ring suburbs versus outer-ring suburbs, this side of the freeway versus that side of the freeway, etc.

Q: Can you expand on the role of the government in this racialized sprawl?

A: The government had a central role in the history of sprawl, especially through its housing policy. When the government set up the homeowners loan corporation and then the Federal Housing Authority in the 1930s, it wrote a truly racist underwriting manual to guide them. To qualify for a loan, you had to live in a "racially homogenous community," meaning an all-white community. The federal government was the first to draw a red line around communities of color, prohibiting loans. Newly constructed homes were preferred over existing homes, thus encouraging the development of suburbs. And then the federal government built highways so people could get from their new suburban homes to their jobs in the cities.

Since the private lending industry wanted to do big business with the federal government, they adopted the same racist policies for making home loans.

These programs racially structured housing patterns just as large numbers of blacks were leaving the south and moving to cities in the 1940s and 1950s. Some economists have estimated that the federal government has spent over two trillion dollars subsidizing the flight of white people out of the central cities. Following the government's lead, private banks and the secondary mortgage market made trillions of dollars available primarily for white suburbs.

But there is even more racist inequity when one looks at our transportation policy, our infrastructure policy, or our taxing policy. They reflect nothing short of a national suburban policy and an anti-city policy. And race is central to understanding any of these policies.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy- Planners from Outer Space

Very funny bits at 03:40 and 16:30. Worth watching to understand the planning process in Marin County.

Prefabricated Apartment Buildings coming to Marinwood/Lucas Valley? Why not?

[Editor's note:  Saw this interesting article on prefab apartment building to share with you. One of the "problems" with non-profit housing is that it is outrageously expensive due the the tax incentives which are monetized to sell on the private market.  A much more intelligent way to build is with modular construction where costs can be sliced. We get MORE housing for less cost.  Isn't that our goal?]

See Article in the New York Daily News 

Inwood gets the city’s first prefabricated apartment building

Broadway Stack, a 28-unit modular building, is just the first of many to come.

A final rendering of the Inwood building shows how the stack modules will work.

By the end of the summer, uptowners can live in a Lego house: the city’s first concrete and steel, multi-story prefabricated building.

Broadway Stack is a 28-unit moderate-income apartment complex built with 56 prefabricated modules. The modules were assembled off-site in a former subway car factory and then shipped to Inwood, where they are being stacked to form a seven-story tower.

“It’s an exciting alternative method of construction,” said Stack’s architect Peter Gluck. “As the country urbanizes there is more and more need for modern and low-cost housing, and this one response.”

Prefabricated, modular construction is having a New York “It” moment. In Brooklyn, Bruce Ratner has broken ground on a SHoP Architect-designed modular building that would be the world’s tallest.

Work is also in progress for nARCHITECTS’ My Micro NY, the winner of Mayor Bloomberg’s contest for ergonomically designed apartments.

But prefab housing used to have a negative connotation.

“In America there’s a stigma attached to prefabrication,” said Allison Arieff, author of “Prefab,” and editor and content strategist at a San Francisco-based urban planning institute. “People picture trailers and mobile homes.”

But prefab design isn’t limited to cheap, ugly, and identical boxes.

“It can really look like anything,” said Gluck. “I don’t think these apartments look cookie cutter, they’re totally different from each other.”

Builders and architects like prefabricated housing because it allows more control over a project.

Pre-fab modules are raised and stacked at an innovating building currently under construction in Inwood.

And using the pre-built units dramatically reduces the duration of construction, which in turn stymies costs associated with insurance, labor, and rental equipment.

According to Stack’s developer, the project saved 15% compared to more traditional construction, and the work will finish in 11 months instead of 16 for a ground-up apartment building.

“The quality is superior because construction is all done in a controlled, interior space as opposed to outside where the you have to deal with the cold, wind, and other elements,” said Gluck.

Architects and developers love it, but union workers don’t. At Ratner’s Brooklyn tower, some contractors — already smarting from reduced wages on prefab jobs — are suing over alleged safety violations.

Prefab may be hot right now, but it isn’t new.

Arieff traces prefab housing back to 1624 when wood panels were shipped from England to Cape Ann. Edison designed a prefab concrete house, Sears sold prefabs by mail order, and visioneer Buckminster Fuller was interested in mass-produced, efficient housing that could be easily assembled and disassembled.

“Prefab is a very cyclical thing, it comes and goes every 10-20 years,” said Arieff.

But the creators of Broadway Stack think this time it’s going to stick around.

“It’s here to stay,” said developer Jeffrey Brown. “It makes too much sense to ignore.”

Read more:

Affordable, Eco-Friendly Housing Solution in Kenya for true "Social Equity"

In Kenya, social equity is true "equity" for the poor. They are given the tools to build homes and a business with this simple technology. How much better it is for these people than warehousing them in "big box" apartments by the freeway.  They are allowed true ownership and "equity" from their own labors.  They even learn a marketable skill that can earn them a living.  This is social economic justice in the finest sense of the meaning.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Can you live in 220 square feet?

Editor's Note: The county of Marin just reduced the minimum size for apartments to 220 square feet or roughly the same size as a parking space for one car. The latest fad for minimal apartments is popular in major urban areas.  Unfortunately, the residents need the same water, sewer, government services as people in less dense environments so the "green living" concept is over rated as an environmental solution. 

See article in the Atlantic Cities:

The Minimalist Living Movement Could Use a Different Spokesperson

The Minimalist Living Movement Could Use a Different Spokesperson
Matthew Williams/LifeEdited

Graham Hill has been taking a lot of hits recently. His op-ed a couple of weeks ago in The New York Times, “Living With Less. A Lot Less,” was one of the site’s most popular for days. But Hill’s manifesto of minimalism -- in which he related how he got super-rich from his entrepreneurial Internet dealings, got a lot of stuff, got rid of it, and then got happy living in a 420-square foot apartment with very few belongings – was slammed by many who read it.
At The Nation, Richard Kim called Hill’s piece "a majestic display of guileless narcissism." Kim argued that Hill’s criticism of America’s consumption culture is aiming for the wrong target, and that “Hill and The New York Times would be better off lecturing Washington about pursuing fair labor practices, tougher regulations and socializing medicine and education than they would hectoring people for spending too much on stuff."
 At Gawker, Hamilton Nolan was decidedly more Gawkerish in his critique:
The problem here is not the message. The problem is the messenger. More specifically, it is the messenger using his own life as supporting evidence for the message. … A millionaire does not have the standing to tell regular people that money is overrated. Graham Hill moved into a smaller apartment and sold some of his stuff. But he sure as fuck didn't empty his bank accounts. It's easy not to have material things when you can just buy whatever you need, whenever you need it.
In case anyone was wondering, Graham Hill, who at age 42 has become a sort of poster child for the minimalist lifestyle in the United States, is aware of his detractors. He made a passing reference to the Gawker piece when he gave a talk this week at the Museum of the City of New York at an event tied to the new exhibit, “Making Room: New Models for Housing New Yorkers.”

And then, with no hint that he was fazed by the criticism, he went on to give his presentation about the way life has been supersized in the United States – bigger cars, bigger houses, bigger Cokes – and why he thinks that living smaller is the economically rational, environmentally desirable, and forward-thinking way to go.

His presentation focused on that apartment of his, an enviably blank canvas for dinner parties with attractive and fascinating people, meaningful and lucrative work, and peaceful sleep. Like the model apartment upstairs at the Making Room exhibit — which shares some furnishing with Hill’s space — hearing his talk provides a seductive glimpse into an imagined life that is free of encumbrance, rewarding, and socially responsible to boot.

From an environmental point of view, as Hill points out, reducing the space in which we live is perhaps the most efficient way to reduce our negative impact on the planet. Buildings, he reminds us, are responsible for as much as 50 percent of carbon emissions. And he makes the case that giving up “stuff” will actually make us happier.

"If we’re smart about applying design technology and behavior change, we can create really compelling, fulfilling lives that can allow us to have lower footprints and save money," he says. "We believe that this simpler life is a happier life."

The theme of the night was "Small + Shared = Green," and it’s an idea that Hill has a vested interest in as the founder of a startup company call LifeEdited, which he repeatedly referenced during his talk. According to the company’s website, it’s "in discussions with developers in several cities to create apartment buildings based on these concepts."

Hill shared the stage with Paul Freitag of Jonathan Rose Companies, a New York real estate developer that's known for its environmentally conscious buildings. Together with LifeEdited and other partners, Jonathan Rose was a finalist in a recent New York City competition to design an apartment building of “micro units” that would cater to the large and underserved population of single people in New York – some 50 percent of the city’s residents.

Apartments in the building proposed by Rose would have been just 280 square feet. That’s smaller than currently permitted under New York law, but the city made an exception for the competition, which will result in a real-life building that will serve as a possible model for this type of housing around the city. (The winner was Monadnock Development LLC, Actors Fund Housing Development Corp. and nArchitects.)

Freitag explained that his company’s vision for the development is based on the idea that the actual apartments are just a part of the living space available to tenants. The building’s design incorporates not only familiar amenities such as a fitness center, but also extensive common balconies, a restaurant that would crowd-source its menu and serve as a community center, ample bike parking, and a "library" of seldom-used but desirable items such as camping tents, power tools, and karaoke machines that could be shared by all the building’s residents.

"Think of it as a great big building in which you happen to have a 280-square-foot private space," said Freitag. "You really have to think about the entire building as the place you are going to live."
"One of the things we keep repeating is, "Sharing is cool," says Freitag. "No one really thinks sharing is cool." But in a building like this, he says, the social message would be clear: owning is so passé. Or, as Hill says, "The idea is to move from ownership to access."

Not that Hill says that you have to give up owning stuff entirely. In fact, his presentation had multiple slides showing brand-name items (with those brand names clearly visible) that you could purchase as part of the minimalist lifestyle – featherweight towels, colorful nesting bowls, easily stored hot plates. It was all fancy and sleek and very desirable. "I’m a walking, talking Resource Furniture ad," Hill quipped at one point, name-dropping the company that builds the folding bed he sleeps on and the magically vanishing table he uses to host dinner parties of 10.

Hill’s avowedly anti-consumption model may, in fact, be better for the environment than traditional consumption. But it is no less aspirational. This is not, as he pointed out, about wearing a hair shirt in order to atone for sins against the planet. If you have the money to fork over up front, you can buy high-quality, very cool things to enable you to live more simply, while getting rid of all of your old, inefficient and unfashionable crap. Hill’s minimalism is not cobbled together, it is curated. It is very much about enjoying a different kind of good life – or, as Paul Freitag put it, "You can live not only much more cheaply, but also much more richly."

And not necessarily that much more cheaply, in the end – market-rate rents on the proposed micro units would have been $2,150 a month, not even $500 less than the current market rate for studios in the East Side neighborhood where the development would have been built. You could rent the built-in furniture that would optimize the apartment, too, and that would have raised the monthly cost by another $200. The individual housewares that Hill holds up to his audiences are pricy, too, although he takes pains to point out that if you buy something at twice the price and it lasts four times as long, it’s really half-off.

But not everyone can afford that “twice the price” up front. And in New York, not everyone can afford to live in well-designed buildings. If the city were to change its building codes and allow tiny apartments such as the ones advocated by Hill and his colleagues, there would be no assurance that they would all have the features that make these model units so desirable – the individual balconies, modular furnishings, tall ceiling heights, state-of-the-art energy conservation measures, and so forth. Couldn't a change in building codes mean a return to low-grade tenements?

The discussion at "Small + Shared" didn’t go there. But if the ideas on display at "Making Room" are ever going to make it into the mainstream as options that can be deployed on a meaningful scale, it would be helpful to have someone besides a millionaire explain how great it is to live with less.
Sarah Goodyear has written about cities for a variety of publications, including Grist and Streetsblog. She lives in Brooklyn

Mobile Town Square Pops Up In North West London

Mobile Town Square Pops Up In North West London
Tuesday October 8, 2013 By Rebekka Keuss

Cricklewood, a community in North West London, has no town hall, no library, no town square, not even a single bench. Last month, a mobile town square on wheels finally changed this and gave the town the public space they deserved.

Curated by London-based civic ideas agency Spacemakers and designed by Studio Kieren Jones the Cricklewood Town Square comes to life in the shape of a miniature clock tower, which is attached to the back of a bicycle. Whenever it stops it transforms empty spaces into vibrant community events.

In a playful, yet effective way the Spacemakers indirectly tried to find out the answer to one question: If Cricklewood had a town square, what would happen there? As a result residents of the Cricklewood community were able to enjoy the mobile town square at various locations, for instance on the rooftop of a car park, and could make use of this intervention for a diversified number of events. It showed that if Crickelwood actually had a town square the people would come to see film screenings, dog shows, chess championchips, tea dances, exhibitions, debates and take part in a DIY library or a DIY sign-making workshop. All of these events were successfully held, of which the latter was also an initiative to create the graphics and signage of the Cricklewood Town Square together with Studio Hato and the community.

When entirely spread out the Cricklewood Town Square measures about 10 square meters. The clock tower with faux-brick cladding, which was built in reference to the Smiths clock factory which used to reside in Cricklewood but was sold for scrap during the war, raises awareness about the town’s rich history. The tower structure holds all the equipment needed for a temporary public space, ranging from benches, stools, tables over games and umbrellas. All equipment was produced by local manufacturers. Finally, wayfinding signs that indicate the exact location of the mobile town square are also included in the package.

The Cricklewood Town Square aims to give a sense of community back to its people, a feature that is too often overlooked – as the case of Cricklewood strikingly shows – and unfortunately barely considered a necessity. As part of a wider series of interventions across Cricklewood, led by Gort Scott Architects, the project functions as a starting point for conversations within the residential area and shows the possibilities even in these scraps of land. Since the Cricklewood Town Square is a mobile and, thus, temporary, device this project was brought to life as a forerunner for a more permanent public space, though, the structure will enjoy a long-term stay in Cricklewood. In addition, the Cricklewood Town Square will be on display at the RIBA Forgotten Spaces exhibition at Somerset House until 10 November.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Honk if You Love the Mass-Produced Automobile and Driverless Automobiles of the Future

Honk if You Love the Mass-Produced Automobile

Critics note: Cars will soon use less energy and emit less pollution than public transit.

The Model T Ford made travel easy for the common man.
Monday, Oct. 7, will mark the 100th anniversary of the opening of Henry Ford's moving assembly line for producing the Model T. This innovative production system allowed Ford to double worker pay while cutting the price of his cars in half, making it possible, for the first time, for auto workers to buy the cars they built.
Time magazine lists the Model T among its "50 worst cars of all time" because "the consequences of putting every living soul on gas-powered wheels" were (supposedly) so negative. The Obama administration seems to agree with that bleak summation. Its recent strategic plan for the Department of Transportation focuses exclusively on such negative consequences, which allegedly include the high dollar cost of driving, poorly designed cities, greenhouse gases and obesity. The "Livable Communities" section of the plan, for instance, says that Americans drive too much because cities are designed to make us "auto dependent," and the plan's goal is to rebuild cities to induce people to drive less.

In fact, many of the supposed negative costs of cars are purely imaginary, while others are rapidly declining. Each year's crop of new cars is safer, more fuel-efficient and less polluting than before. Department of Energy data show that in 1970 cars used twice as much energy per passenger mile as did mass transit. Today, they are practically tied, and in a few years driving will use less energy and emit less pollution than public transit.

For more than 60 years, Americans have consistently spent around 9% of their personal incomes on driving, even though per-capita miles have tripled since 1950. According to data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics—counting both user costs and subsidies—public transportation costs nearly four times as much per passenger mile as driving, while Amtrak costs well over twice as much.

A Ford Model T on the assembly line in 1927, the 15 millionth the company produced.

The costs of driving are overwhelmed by the benefits of mass-produced automobiles, benefits largely ignored by the Obama administration and various anti-auto groups. Ford democratized mobility: Today, 91% of American households have at least one car, and 96% of commuters live in a household with at least one car. Curiously, Census Bureau statistics indicate that more than 20% of commuters who live in carless households still get to work by driving alone (apparently in borrowed cars).

By tripling urban travel speeds, autos gave workers access to better jobs and employers access to a wider pool of workers, contributing to a huge increase in worker productivity. Per-capita GDP has increased by nearly nine times in the last century, and autos are responsible for a large share of that increase.

Automobiles relieved people of the need to live in cramped tenements that were within walking distance of their jobs. By giving workers access to cheap, unregulated land at the urban periphery, cars contributed to a 50% rise in homeownership rates since 1940. Cars also gave everyone access to a huge variety of low-cost consumer goods. In 1913, the average grocery store had fewer than 500 products for sale; today, the average is more than 20,000. Without cars, modern retailers from Krogers to Whole Foods, Wal-Mart to Costco, and Tru-Value to Restoration Hardware simply could not exist.

Cars were an essential ingredient in both the civil rights and women's rights movements. The Montgomery bus boycott succeeded because enough blacks owned cars that they could share rides to work with former bus riders. Women's rights became a certainty when enough families owned two cars so that both spouses could drive to work.

Although cars are often blamed for urban sprawl, in fact they have preserved far more productive farm and forest land than urban areas have consumed. Before cars, trucks and tractors replaced animal power, farmers devoted close to a third of their land to relatively unproductive pasture. Since 1913, close to 200 million acres of that pasture has been converted to productive crop or forest land. By comparison, all the low-density suburbs in America occupy well under 100 million acres.

Mass-produced automobiles gave low- and moderate-income people access to forms of recreation previously available only to the rich. For example, in 1912, fewer than one out of 4,000 Americans visited Yellowstone Park; last year, it was more than one out of 100. Autos greatly contributed to human health and safety. Thanks to paved streets and automotive technology, fire departments and paramedics save hundreds of thousands of homes and thousands of lives each year.

When Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005, New Orleans had the second-lowest per-capita auto ownership of any major city in America. As documented in news reports at the time, a result of the immobility was tragedy as hundreds of people died and tens of thousands were stuck in the city. When Hurricane Rita hit Houston a few weeks later, autos allowed four million people to evacuate with almost no casualties.

Personally, I hate to be behind the wheel of a car and look forward to driverless cars. But as an economist, I realize that the mass-produced auto is one of the greatest inventions in history. Instead of trying to reduce driving, we should encourage it while continuing to make it safer, cleaner and more energy efficient

[Editor's Note] I prefer a bicycle to driving any day. I'd love to live the bicycle friendly lifestyle until I die EXCEPT it is not reasonable or practical in today's mobile society. Cars allow you to engage in commerce and get work far beyond, the limits of cycling. A personal vehicle allows you to escape the time wasting of waiting for mass transit connections. With the advent of hybrids, and clean fuel technologies, cars are cleaner for the environment than trains or buses. I look forward to "driverless cars" where all I have to do is provide a destination and can read the paper. It will provide mobility and freedom like never before.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Why Tough Teachers Get Good Results

Why Tough Teachers Get Good Results


I had a teacher once who called his students "idiots" when they screwed up. He was our orchestra conductor, a fierce Ukrainian immigrant named Jerry Kupchynsky, and when someone played out of tune, he would stop the entire group to yell, "Who eez deaf in first violins!?" He made us rehearse until our fingers almost bled. He corrected our wayward hands and arms by poking at us with a pencil.

Today, he'd be fired. But when he died a few years ago, he was celebrated: Forty years' worth of former students and colleagues flew back to my New Jersey hometown from every corner of the country, old instruments in tow, to play a concert in his memory. I was among them, toting my long-neglected viola. When the curtain rose on our concert that day, we had formed a symphony orchestra the size of the New York Philharmonic.
Kupchynsky Family
Mr. K began teaching at East Brunswick High School when it opened in 1958.

I was stunned by the outpouring for the gruff old teacher we knew as Mr. K. But I was equally struck by the success of his former students. Some were musicians, but most had distinguished themselves in other fields, like law, academia and medicine. Research tells us that there is a positive correlation between music education and academic achievement. But that alone didn't explain the belated surge of gratitude for a teacher who basically tortured us through adolescence.

We're in the midst of a national wave of self-recrimination over the U.S. education system. Every day there is hand-wringing over our students falling behind the rest of the world. Fifteen-year-olds in the U.S. trail students in 12 other nations in science and 17 in math, bested by their counterparts not just in Asia but in Finland, Estonia and the Netherlands, too. An entire industry of books and consultants has grown up that capitalizes on our collective fear that American education is inadequate and asks what American educators are doing wrong.

I would ask a different question. What did Mr. K do right? What can we learn from a teacher whose methods fly in the face of everything we think we know about education today, but who was undeniably effective?
Luci Gutiérrez

As it turns out, quite a lot. Comparing Mr. K's methods with the latest findings in fields from music to math to medicine leads to a single, startling conclusion: It's time to revive old-fashioned education. Not just traditional but old-fashioned in the sense that so many of us knew as kids, with strict discipline and unyielding demands. Because here's the thing: It works.

Now I'm not calling for abuse; I'd be the first to complain if a teacher called my kids names. But the latest evidence backs up my modest proposal. Studies have now shown, among other things, the benefits of moderate childhood stress; how praise kills kids' self-esteem; and why grit is a better predictor of success than SAT scores.

All of which flies in the face of the kinder, gentler philosophy that has dominated American education over the past few decades. The conventional wisdom holds that teachers are supposed to tease knowledge out of students, rather than pound it into their heads. Projects and collaborative learning are applauded; traditional methods like lecturing and memorization—derided as "drill and kill"—are frowned upon, dismissed as a surefire way to suck young minds dry of creativity and motivation.

But the conventional wisdom is wrong. And the following eight principles—a manifesto if you will, a battle cry inspired by my old teacher and buttressed by new research—explain why.

1. A little pain is good for you.

Psychologist K. Anders Ericsson gained fame for his research showing that true expertise requires about 10,000 hours of practice, a notion popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book "Outliers." But an often-overlooked finding from the same study is equally important: True expertise requires teachers who give "constructive, even painful, feedback," as Dr. Ericsson put it in a 2007 Harvard Business Review article. He assessed research on top performers in fields ranging from violin performance to surgery to computer programming to chess. And he found that all of them "deliberately picked unsentimental coaches who would challenge them and drive them to higher levels of performance."

Arthur Montzka
Mr. Kupchynsky helps his daughter with her bow stroke in 1966.

2. Drill, baby, drill.

Rote learning, long discredited, is now recognized as one reason that children whose families come from India (where memorization is still prized) are creaming their peers in the National Spelling Bee Championship. This cultural difference also helps to explain why students in China (and Chinese families in the U.S.) are better at math. Meanwhile, American students struggle with complex math problems because, as research makes abundantly clear, they lack fluency in basic addition and subtraction—and few of them were made to memorize their times tables.

William Klemm of Texas A&M University argues that the U.S. needs to reverse the bias against memorization. Even the U.S. Department of Education raised alarm bells, chastising American schools in a 2008 report that bemoaned the lack of math fluency (a notion it mentioned no fewer than 17 times). It concluded that schools need to embrace the dreaded "drill and practice."

What Surfing Can Teach you about Ownership

Maybe we should chip in and give our Board of Supervisors surfing lessons

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Early Childhood Standards of Common Core are Developmentally Inappropriate

Early Childhood Standards of Common Core are Developmentally Inappropriate
Child Psychologist Dr. Megan Koschnick Criticizes Common Core Standards for K-3 as Age and Developmentally Inappropriate

Washington, D.C. – Today the American Principles Project (APP), in conjunction with the Pioneer Institute and the Heartland Institute, released a video of Dr. Megan Koschnick’s presentation discussing how certain aspects of the Common Core standards are developmentally and age inappropriate.  Dr. Koschnick gave her presentation at a September 9, 2013 conference at the University of Notre Dame.  APP, Heartland, and Pioneer sponsored the conference, entitled “The Changing Role of Education in America: Consequences of the Common Core.”

“Why do we care if [Common Core standards] are age inappropriate? Well, you can answer that with one word – stress,” said Dr. Megan Koschnick during her presentation. “Instead of thinking about what’s developmentally appropriate for kindergarteners, they are thinking [college] is where we want this kindergartener to end up, so let’s back track down to kindergarten and have kindergarteners work on these skills from an early age. This can cause major stress for the child because they are not prepared for this level of education.”

Dr. Koschnick’s presentation echoes the concerns set forth in the Joint Statement of Early Childhood Health and Education Professionals on the Common Core Standards Initiative (March 2, 2010) and with the concerns set forth in the The Answer Sheet blog in the Washington Post, entitled A Tough Critique of Common Core on Early Childhood Education (January 29, 2013). This blog, written by Edward Miller and Nancy Carlsson-Paige, quoted Dr. Carla Horowitz of the Yale Child Study Center as stating, “The Core Standards will cause suffering, not learning, for many, many young children.”
Reactions to Dr. Koschnick’s presentation at the Notre Dame conference, by those who were in attendance, include:

Khadine Ritter of Ohio:  “As a mother of two young children, I am astounded by the irresponsibility of those in government who seemingly never consulted child development experts to determine if these standards were age appropriate.  They are toying with a generation of students, but we won’t see the detrimental consequences until it is too late. I hope public officials will now do their homework and watch Dr. Koschnick’s important presentation.”

Professor Gerard Bradley of University of Notre Dame Law School:  “Many critical observers of Common Core have focused upon the inadequate math and ELA standards at the high school end of education — and rightly so.  But, Dr. Koschnick’s arresting presentation tells us that there is much to criticize at the front end, as well.”

APP Education Director Emmett McGroarty:  “Dr. Koschnick sets forth her concerns as a child psychologist in clear, but troubling, detail.  I urge every parent, every teacher, and every administrator to watch Dr. Koschnick’s presentation and to read the Joint Statement and the blog article by Mr. Miller and Ms. Carlsson-Paige.”

Heartland Institute’s Joy Pullman:  “Dr. Koschnick’s analysis makes it clear what other early childhood professionals have said: Common Core asks small children to behave like little adults, and they are not little adults. Anyone who cares for a small child could tell you this. This is a further consequence of the Common Core lead writers’ lack of experience and professional reputation, and of its committees excluding experts in early childhood.”

Jamie Gass, Director of Pioneer Institute’s Center for School Reform: “In addition to the weaker academic content in Common Core’s ELA and math standards, it now appears that due to haste and inexperience Common Core’s authors also introduce material to schoolchildren at developmentally inappropriate ages. Given this new and troubling information drawn from Dr. Koschnick’s analysis, it’s not difficult to see why parents and a growing number of child psychologists across the country are up in arms over Common Core’s deficiencies.”
Common Core "Number Sense" for grade school. I think the answer is "C" but cannot understand the convoluted logic and why this important to teach to early math learners.