Saturday, November 28, 2015

Documentary - The lost world of communism part 1 (East Germany)



Over time, suburbs have had many enemies, but perhaps none were more able to impose their version than the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. In its bid to remake a Russia of backward villages and provincial towns, the Soviets favored big cities – the bigger the better – and policies that were at least vaguely reminiscent of the “pack and stack” policies so popular with developers and planners today.
Some of this took the form of rapid urbanization of rural areas. Under Joseph Stalin’s rule in the Soviet Union from 1929 to 1953, scores of “socialist cities” were founded near new, expansive steel mills. These steels mills were built to speed up industrialization, in order to produce vast amounts of weaponry. These, notes historian Anne Applebaum, represented the Soviet communists “most comprehensive attempt to jump-start the creation of a truly totalitarian civilization”, by bringing the peasantry into the factories to grow Russia’s working class.   Built from the ground up, these factory complexes, notes Applebaum, “were intended to prove, definitively, that when unhindered by preexisting economic relationships, central planning could produce more rapid economic growth than capitalism”.
As is sometimes asserted by urbanists today, the new socialist cities were about more than mere economic growth; they were widely posed as a means to develop a new kind of society, one that could make possible the spread of Homo sovieticus (the Soviet man). As one German historian writes, the socialist city was to be a place “free of historical burdens, where a new human being was to come into existence, the city and the factory were to be a laboratory of a future society, culture, and way of life”.
Elements of High Stalinist culture was evident in these cities; the cult of heavy industry, shock worker movement, youth group activity, and the aesthetics of socialist realism. This approach had no room for what in Britain was called “a middle landscape” between countryside and city. Throughout Russia, and much of Eastern Europe, tall apartment blocks were chosen over leafy suburbs. Soviets had no interest in suburbs of any kind because the character of a city “is that people live an urban life. And on the edges of the city or outside the city, they live a rural life”. The rural life was exactly what communist leaders hoped their country would get away from, therefore Soviet planners housed residents near industrial sites so they could contribute to their country through state-sponsored work.
With this assumption, Soviet planners made some logical steps to promote density. They built nurseries and preschools as well as theatre and sports halls within walking distance to worker’s homes.   Communal eating areas were arranged. Also, wide boulevards were crucial for marches and to have a clear path to and from the factory for the workers. The goals of the “socialist city” planners were to not just transform urban planning but human behavior, helping such spaces would breed the “urban human”.
As is common with utopian approaches to cities, problems arose. Rapid development, the speed of construction, the use of night shifts, the long working days, and the inexperience of both workers and management all contributed to frequent technological failures. Contrary to the propaganda, there was a huge gap between the ideal of happy workers thriving in well-managed cities and the reality.  
If today’s architects sometimes obsess over the quality of production and design, the Soviet campaign to expand dense urbanism was less aesthetically oriented. Less than a year after Stalin’s death, in December 1954, Nikita Khrushchev set a campaign to promote the “industrialization of architecture”. He spoke highly of prefabricated buildings, reinforced concrete, and standardized apartments. He did not care for appearances, instead focusing on just building housing because that is what the people need. Prefab tower blocks, called Plattenbau in German and panelaky in Czech and Slovak, were constructed all over the Soviet Union and their satellite states. Originally, these apartments were to house families working for the state.
In 1957, a group of architecture academics from the University of Moscow published a book called the Novye Elementy Rasseleniia or “New Elements of Settlement”. This team of socialist architects and planners --- Alexei Gutnov, A. Baburov, G. Djumenton, S. Kharitonova, I. Lezava, S. Sadovskij--- became known as the “NER Group.”  In 1968, they were invited to the Milan Triennale by Giancarlo de Carlo to present their plans for an ideal communist city. In cooperation with a group of young urbanists, architects, and sociologists, they created an Italian edition of their bookunder the title Idee per la Citta Comunista.    
Alexei Gutnov and his team set to create “a concrete spatial agenda for Marxism”. At the center ofThe Communist City lay the “The New Unit of Settlement” (NUS) described as “a blueprint for a truly socialist city“. Gutnov established four fundamental principles dictating their design plan. First, they wanted equal mobility for all residents with each sector being at equal walking distance from the center of the community and from the rural area surrounding them. Secondly, distances from a park area or to the center were planned on a pedestrian scale, ensuring the ability for everyone to be able to reasonably walk everywhere. Third, public transportation would operate on circuits outside the pedestrian area, but stay linked centrally with the NUS, so that residents can go from home to work and vice versa easily. Lastly, every sector would be surrounded by open land on at least two sides, creating a green belt.
Gutnov did acknowledge the appeal of suburbia --- “…ideal conditions for rest and privacy are offered by the individual house situated in the midst of nature…”, but rejected the suburban model common in America and other capitalist countries. Suburbs, he argued, are not feasible in a society that prioritizes equality, stating, “The attempt to make the villa available to the average consumer means building a mass of little houses, each on a tiny piece of land. . . . The mass construction of individual houses, however, destroys the basic character of this type of residence.”
The planner’s main concern was ensuring social equality. This was seen in their preference of public transportation over privately owned vehicles, high-density apartment housing over detached private homes, and maximizing common areas. These criticisms of suburban sprawl have some resonance in the   writings by planners advocating “smart growth” today. Both see benefits to high density housing. For one, they argue it is more equitable so everyone, no matter what social class they belong too, can live in the same type of buildings. Some New Urbanists do also like the idea of mixed-income communities. In addition, they both see their ideal community utilizing mixed-use developments, with assuring people easy access to public services such as day care, restaurants, and parks, creating less of a need for private spaces. Similarly, New Urbanists also claim that their planned developments would foster a better sense of community.

Source: Gutnov, Alexi, Baburov, A., Djumenton, G., Kharitonova, S., Lezava, I., Sadovskij, S. The Ideal Communist City. George Braziller: New York. 1971. 
Of course, it is easy to go too far with these analogies. Even at their most strident, new urbanists and smart growth advocates do not enjoy anything like monopoly of power than accrued to Communist leaders. And also, not all the ideas of new urbanists, and even the creators of the Ideal Communist City, are without merit. The ideas of walkability, close access to amenities and services, are adoptable even in privately planned, suburban developments. But the dangers of placing ideology before what people prefer are manifest, whether in 20th Century Russia or America today.
Alicia Kurimskais Senior at Chapman University studying History and Political Science, A first generation Slovakian, she spent one year abroad at Anglo-American University in Prague. She is currently working on her thesis which examines the repercussions taken upon the Czechoslovak people following the assassination of Nazi General Reinhard Heydrich in 1942.  

Are Residency Preferences for Affordable Housing allowed in Marin? HUD responds.

Marin County Fair Housing Forum March 2015

Sara Pratt, Assistant Deputy Secretary of Enforcement for HUD explains why residency preferences will not be allowed if the demographics of the community do not fit the "racial balance" targets for "social equity" This theory of social equity maintains that a zipcode is "racist" and "exclusionary" if the population mix does not match the HUD racial standard. It is also known as "Disparate Impact".

Many Caucasian Housing Advocates are under the mistaken impression that they will qualify for affordable housing based on economic need alone. They do not know that "protected classes" will have a preference.

We think that people should not be judged on the basis of skin color. Need alone should determine who is qualified to live in affordable housing. Geographic preferences also make sense because of our priority of taking care of our neighbors regardless of skin color.

Diversity is a worthy social goal but its outcome should be achieved through the celebration of culture not through government edict. It is demeaning to EVERYONE when people are not allowed free choice to live in communities of their own choosing.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Rapture by Blondie

SMART needs another $600 million to fully realize its vision

SMART needs another $600 million to fully realize its vision

The total price tag for the proposed 70-mile SMART train route, including train stations, is currently projected to be around $1 billion.
By Tom Gogola
The tracks are laid, the cars are here—but the train stations?
As the highly anticipated Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) service rolls down the line to a late 2016 opening, an October document released by SMART indicates it will eventually need an additional $120 million to fully develop nine stations along a 43-mile “Phase I” route from San Rafael to Airport Road in Santa Rosa.
The station funds are a piece of the $600 million SMART needs to raise to realize the vision of the rail as a sleek, green and efficient alternative to unrelenting congestion on Highway 101 for commuters in Marin and Sonoma counties.
The SMART project list includes another $124 million for a promised bike and pedestrian parkway along the tracks; $11 million for a presently unidentified second station in Petaluma; $42 million for a Larkspur track extension; and, eventually, $178 million for the Phase II SMART extension, about 25 miles of track north to Windsor, Healdsburg and Cloverdale.
The station build-out has reached a new phase. On Nov. 17, contractors poured the top layer of concrete for a station in San Rafael and were headed north once they finished.
“This really marks the beginning of the station-finish process,” says Matt Stevens, community education and outreach manager at SMART.
The head of the rail district says the $120 million represents station enhancements that would take place over the next 25 years, as he stresses that the document in question is a planning document requested by the regional Metropolitan Transportation Commission.
“We are building the stations from downtown San Rafael to the airport,” says SMART general manager Farhad Mansourian. He insists that the money to build the stations in time for late 2016 is available now. “Absolutely. By the time we finish our project, we’ll have spent just under $500 million for the entire system of 43 to 45 miles.”
The station designs were approved by the SMART board of directors earlier this year. According to a report from the May 6 board meeting, the approval came with a board request for a range of improvements that totaled $12 million across the system. Those are listed as “unfunded requested improvements” in SMART documents.
Marin and Sonoma County residents voted to support Measure Q in 2008, which imposed a quarter-cent sales tax for 20 years to fund SMART’s construction, and which has sent over $200 million SMART’s way, according to revenue estimates. SMART has pieced together multiple revenue sources to supplement Measure Q.
Based on information contained in the Oct. 21 planning document, the total price tag will approach
$1 billion by the time the 70-mile system  is complete. The additional $120 million for station 
Read the full article in the Pacific Sun HERE
Richard Hall of  Remarks:

  • Glad to see somewhat objective reporting from the Pacific Sun, I have yet to see this reported on by either the IJ or the Press Democrat despite forwarding them both the documents.
  • Good to read this statement affirming SMART is approaching a "price tag" of $1 billion...

    "Based on information contained in the Oct. 21 planning document, the total price tag will approach $1 billion by the time the 70-mile system  is complete." 

    However Mike Arnold and I peg the total price tag as easily beyond $1bn and nearer $1.5bn. We have a records request due today from Farhad / SMART (if they don't deliver today they are late).
  • Neither the IJ or the Press Democrat have touched upon this additional $695m (not $600m as reported) in funding asks from SMART to complete the line originally promised
  • The bike lobby is clearly screwed over, the promised multi-use path is clearly unfunded, now estimated at $124m (instead of $91m from prior estimates). Arguably SMART, that only passed by a narrow margin, would not have passed without promising this path; now they've reneged on that promise.
  • The $120m additional for stations is dismissed by SMART's spokesman Matt Stevens as the "station finish process" or by Farhad as a "wishlist" of improvements for MTC. Puhhhlease!
  • The Petaluma station is interesting as it appears to show SMART is actually exacerbating sprawl, opening up development on land previously off limits or beyond the "urban land boundary". Why else would Pacific Lumber offer the land at Cornerstone up for free for a station if not so that then their adjacent land value becomes higher in value and more attractive to developers.
  • Of course any such development would go through the "full public process" - I think we all know how that works by now! The argument for development is alluded to since the station site is so close to the (now vacant?) Firemans Fund offices.
  • Sadly once again the media references the train in paragraph 2 as a "green and efficient alternative" clearly they are not in possession of the facts about diesel trains and ridership, or low emissions of cars - I submitted an op ed explaining that this narrative doesn't fit the facts that hopefully an outlet with integrity will publish.

"Broken Windows Create Wealth" Fallacy explained

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Give Thanks to to the Little Things

We convince ourselves that life will be better after we get married, have a baby, then another.
Then we are frustrated that the kids aren't old enough, and we'll be more content when they are.
After that, we're frustrated that we have teenagers to deal with.
We will certainly be happy when they are out of that stage.
We tell ourselves that our life will be complete when our partner gets his or her act together when we get a nicer car, are able to go on a nice holiday, when we retire.
The truth is, there's no better time to be happy than right now. If not now, when?
Your life will always be filled with challenges.
It's best to admit this to yourself and decide to be happy anyway.
A quote comes from Alfred D. Souza. He said,
"For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin - real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, or a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life."
This perspective has helped me to see that there is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.
So, treasure every moment that you have and treasure it more because you shared it with someone special, special enough to spend your time...and remember that time waits for no one.
So, stop waiting until you lose ten pounds, until you gain ten pounds, until you have kids, until your kids leave the house, until you start work, until you retire, until you get married, until you get divorced, until Friday night, until Sunday morning, until you get a new car or home, until your car or home is paid off, until spring, until summer, until winter, until your song comes on, until you've had a drink.... there is no better time than right now to be happy.
Happiness is a journey, not a destination.
Work like you don't need money,
Love like you've never been hurt,
And dance like no one's watching.
Robert Westerburg

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving

"We Shall not be Moved" Marin City 11/23/2015

Stealing Property Rights in South Carolina

If you own land outside the "urban growth boundary" you may suffer a similar fate as these property owners in South Carolina. Urban planners and politicians are re zoning property rights out of existence. Some of the black landowners have held this land since after the slave days. We cannot let this happen in America.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

What's wrong with Common Core?

Like Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, the EPA’s regulatory assault on energy production, Obama’s anti-suburban moves, American policy in the Middle East and other fundamental transformations, Common Core is so big and sprawling a change that it’s often tough to see it whole. That problem has just been solved by Drilling through the Core, a book that’s bound to become the go to handbook of the Common Core’s opponents.

Drilling through the Core is a collection of essays by the most informed and prominent critics of the Common Core, including Sandra Stotsky, Ze’ev Wurman, William Evers, and R. James Milgram. It includes a wonderful treatment of the Founders’ views on the study of history by James Madison biographer Ralph Ketcham.

But what sets the book apart is the 80 page introduction by Peter Wood. Calmly and with crystal clarity, Wood explains and connects nearly every aspect of the battle. It’s all here, from the most basic explanation of what Common Core is, to the history, the major arguments for and against, and so much more. The controversies over both the English and math standards are explained; the major players in the public battle are identified; the battle over Gates Foundation’s role is anatomized; the roles of the tests and the testing consortia are reviewed; concerns over data-mining and privacy are laid out; the dumbing-down effect on the college curriculum is explained; as is the role of the Obama administration and the teachers unions.

I found the sections on “big data” particularly helpful. I confess that despite my considerable interest in Common Core, I hadn’t much followed the data-mining issue. Boy was that a mistake. It strikes me that the potential for abuse of personal data is substantially greater in the case of Common Core than in the matter of national security surveillance. With Common Core we are talking about databases capable of tracking every American individual from kindergarten through adulthood, and tremendous potential for the sharing of data with not only government but private groups (balanced against assurances of privacy that seem decidedly weak and unreliable).

There are those who have declared an interest, not only in tracking information like students’ addresses, economic status, race, immigration and disciplinary records, free lunch status, religious affiliation, parents’ political affiliation, as well as every test you’ve ever taken, special education status, and other academic data, but even positively creepy indicators like facial expressions, eye tracking, and “smile intensity scores.” Furious parental opposition has already blocked some of this nonsense in some places. But there is still a very real possibility that Common Core will usher in cradle-to-grave dossiers on every American. At a minimum, we ought to be debating this issue. I doubt that most of the millennials exercised by NSA surveillance have even heard about Common Core data-mining.

Part of the problem here is the sheer range and complexity of an innovation like Common Core. Yet the rushed secrecy in which Common Core was adopted has also limited the number of people, to this day, who truly understand what is at stake. The extent to which the math standards have been dumbed down; the degree to which all the Common Core standards were adopted without being properly tested or evaluated; the sense in which the standards amount to an immensely expensive unfunded mandate on states—all of this and more has been disguised by the secretive and very arguably illegal and unconstitutional manner in which the standards were adopted.

Wood also does an excellent job of explaining how the supposed flexibility of the standards will soon be effectively eliminated as the newly-designed tests kick in. As with Obamacare, the most controlling aspects of Common Core have been conveniently delayed until several years after adoption.

In short, if you want to understand how common core works—including all that the creators of Common Core would prefer that you not understand—Drilling through the Core is the book for you. After taking in Wood’s invaluable introduction, you can pick and choose from among the topical articles that interest you most.

For making up your mind about this still-poorly understood issue, or for taking part in the battle, Drilling through the Core is essential reading.

Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He can be reached

How "public input" is faked at Plan Bay Area meetings by Paid Shills

This public visioning sessions for Plan Bay Area were conducted around the bay area where the audience was seeded with professionals and paid activists posing as "the public" . Our democratic rights have literally been stolen by a sham process. We will fight back.

See this Marin IJ article detailing the paid activists in Marin that helped pass this plan.