Commonplace 15: Who’s Got the Power?

I found this flyer on a junction box in Tenleytown while getting dinner, and it seems to express a common frustration with much of the class so far. Picture by me.

While I admit City of Rhetoric is quite arguable around its central thesis, I feel the book’s greatest achievements lie in it’s discussion of various methods of “urban development” and the problems thereof. While many local politician will often argue that mixed income housing or redevelopment plans are ultimately a boon for the community, they often overlook the effects on the poorest residents- something that has as of late become an acute point among the more socially conscious urban dwellers. DC in particular has a horrendous problem with housing, having homelessness rates twice the national average, something not helped by the gigantic amounts of gentrification experienced in traditionally lower and middle income neighborhoods as of late. While I can’t say for certain the exact position of the poster of this flyer, as their website appears to have gone down, this has a lot of rhetoric to unpack, not only in content but in location.

This flyer is meant to highlight and shame several officials the authors see as complicit in the gentrification of DC. The figure who first pops out as you, and seemingly the one they aim to direct the most vitrol to, is our mayor Marion Bowser. The rest of the people pictured are appointees, directly or indirectly by Bowser, which makes her position of prominence make sense. These lesser figures are all, as you might expect, involved in urban planning and zoning- two groups with the most control over the rate and manner of city development. The one thing in particular that I very find interesting about this flyer is the center piece, evidently a photo copied sticker. While the “motto” of “GENTRIFY” is pretty standard, the use of stereotypical pioneer imagery brings several dimensions into this. The most obvious one is the subtle racial connotations of the pioneers- people who, if we look past the gloss of historical nostalgia, are best known for displacing and slaughtering innumerable native American tribes in the pursuit of profit. A comparison seems to be made between the gentrifying forces’ displacement of predominantly minority homeowners and the American pioneers displacement of Native Americans, quite an interesting angle.

However, the rhetoric of place of where this flyer is presents more dimensions. Tenleytown is a quite upper-class neighborhood, almost bordering on suburban, with high housing prices. Most residents likely do not have vitrolic feelings about gentrification, or may even see it as a beneficial act benefiting their city. This seems to suggest that such a flyer is not targeted at the residents, but rather at American University’s students, many of whom are quite socially conscious. It becomes a hair more ironic when you realize how many of our students are themselves from upper-middle class backgrounds, who tend to be the driving force in modern gentrification. While having allies is important, one can begin to question the legitimacy of such people in their feelings, or at least their last of reflection. However, ultimately a proper analysis of this may be impossible without viewing their website- but it’s a salient piece of public rhetoric nonetheless.

Reading Analysis 5: “City of Rhetoric”

Why not end a book about the urban landscape with the most famous one in film. Poster art by Boris Bilinsky.

In his final, self-titled chapter of his book City of Rhetoric, David Fleming summarizes many of his prior arguments, as well as giving his closing thoughts on the ideal implementations of his thinking in regard to not only the division of neighborhoods but also the application in teaching, in regards to promoting a higher sense of self-government. After a brief introduction, in which he retells a version of the Greek creation myth saying that humans were granted the city as a method of survival, he goes over the majority of his prior arguments in the book, many of which I have covered in greater depth previously (Fleming 195). However, after this summary, Fleming goes into greater depths about his theory of the rhetorical space, or, as he puts it, “spheres” (Fleming 198). While these “public spheres” tend to be multi-faceted and overlapping, forming a wider landscape of beliefs, he notes that it’s extremely difficult to easily divide a proper public- everything from the level of local power to the size of a community can make or break a community (Flemming 199-200). As well as these problems, he also notices three specific rhetorical problems in cities: the development of a sense of “place,” the creation of spaces that allow publics to form, and avoidance of conflict at the cost of building the kind of tension necessary for political investment (Fleming 203-205). After this, he briefly turns his eye to the public school system in the US, which he states should focus more on the speaking skills necessary to resolve conflict rather than avoid it, a key difference to the “opinion formation” model he’s criticized previously. Moreover, Fleming argues that school should push four values in particular, something he proposes via model assignments: Memory, or more specifically local and family history, Mapping, or the synthesizing of data from your public space, Judgement, or practice ajudicating, and finally Design, or the development of problem solving skills (Fleming 207-209). He finally concludes this book with a bit of an ode to the lessons taught by the city, closing out a book devoted to studying them (Fleming 209-210).

Fleming’s book comes at an interesting time in our nation. As urbanization and gentrification increase at a rapid rate, we are building a new foundation in the cities that will likely define our relationship with our spaces for decades to come. Fleming’s idea, whether or not they are impractical, suggest a new way of dealing with our relationships to our spaces outside of traditional or emerging frameworks. Moreover, an increased self-government is likely the only to deal with the persistent political problems our modern urbanization has caused, where a clear majority of voters live in a minority of urban districts. Such problems, and the economic problems this also caused, can be pretty clearly linked to the rise of Donald Trump, yet another overreaching proponent of “small government” in office. Ultimately, we likely need much of the self-government Fleming promotes.

Reading Analysis 6: “His & Hers”

This photo, a statue of Raleigh, NC namesake Sir Walter Raleigh, was draped with a rainbow boa during protests over the infamous North Carolinian HB2. Photo was taken by Wikipedian “Indy beetle.”

In Suzanne Tick’s essay “His & Hers: Designing for a Post-Gender Society,” she argues that the more multifarious gender perspectives allowed by an increasing number of women in the workforce also correlates with an increased move towards gender neutral design and perhaps even a full acceptance of the theory of gender as a spectrum. Tick focuses her argument on three design fields: architecture, fashion, and interior design. In short, her argument stems from the concept that Modernism, a vague term for much of the design of the mid 20th century, was fundamentally tied up in a generally sexist paradigm of self-glorification and mass production, with women being consigned to ancillary roles (Tick). However, Tick believes that an increasing widespread internalization of feminism in the west is bringing about a move away from strict masculine industrial hardness to a more sustainable model focused on the feeling of living spaces. Furthermore, she argues that this has already picked up a fast pace in the fashion world, where this intersection is increasingly leading towards a uni-gender fashion scene, where feminine clothing for men and masculine clothing for women are becoming par course, leading to a stylistic androgyny that comes hand in hand with the increasing resistance against the gender binary (Tick). Tick ties this into what is by far the most symbolic fight over gender identity: bathrooms. Finally, Tick suggests that the move to have more gender neutral restrooms ties into a greater need for accessible design in regards to alternative and nontraditional gender identities, something she ties in with the Americans With Disabilities Act as worth enforcing through legislation.

Through this essay, Tick hits on some of the more interesting aspects of the “gender revolution” we’re on the brink of. While some of her points may be arguable academically, especially vis a vis the entire modernist movement being dominated purely by masculine ideals, Tick shines when she points that, on the more distant edges of society, we are increasingly moving to a more uniform acceptance of more diverse gender identities, which will define much of the subtler aspects of our world for decades afterwards. However, I must sadly note that these arguments do seem a bit overly optimistic in light of current political events. While the predominantly liberal artistic class will likely be quite accepting of these values in maybe even a decade, issues like racism and gay rights, which are issues spanning back beyond 60 years in American politics, still play an out-sized role in the problems of the U.S., which doesn’t suggest as much utopian progress will be made as Tick hopes. However, despite this, it’s still important to make the first step.

Commonplace 13: Juiced Up

The video this gif was taken from has been making waves in the tech community, and been a source of considerable laughter for all involved (Bloomberg).

“Doug Evans, [Juiceros]’s founder, would compare himself with Steve Jobs in his pursuit of juicing perfection. He declared that his juice press wields four tons of force—“enough to lift two Teslas,” he said. Google’s venture capital arm and other backers poured about $120 million into the startup.” -Ellen Huet and Olivia Zaleski, “Silicon Valley’s $400 Juicer May Be Feeling the Squeeze”

Sometimes  I get the feeling that we’re just throwing millions of dollars at bad ideas for the sake of buzzwords. Hear me out for a moment. You constantly hear on the news about a “new startup” attempting to make something to disrupt a certain industry- let’s say a company that’s like “Airbnb but with dogs.” This company makes a lot of publicity, maybe a video serving as a hypothetical demonstration, and suddenly people are coming in through the windows to give them money. You may say that my idea sounds ridiculous- but what if I told you that someone tried to make a juicer based on the basic Keurig concept?

Juiceros was one of those companies that really shouldn’t have been taken seriously, but somehow was. Realistically, there probably was a market for this, but it would be small and entirely dependent on cold-press juice staying in favor as a food craze. However, nevertheless this was seen as crazy enough to work, and became one of the rare hardware startups to get on the ground, based on lofty promises. And sure, the company did deliver on its promise- the product was released and functional, environmental concerns aside.

Of course, this all blew up in their face when Bloomberg ran a piece conclusively showing that the buyer could just as easily squeeze the juice themselves- replacing a $400 product with a modicum of manual effort. Quite understandably, they’ve become not only the laughing stock of the tech world overnight, but also a cause for reflection. This company, who would have been smarter just selling their juice packets themselves, received millions from Google, a company considered to be the golden goose of startup acquisitions, on the basis of unbelievable promises and a product almost exclusively relevant only to a tiny subset of the urban bubble. It begins to seem to any sane person that companies basically get money for nothing at this point- leaving everyone poorer, more embarrassed, and squeezing their own juice packets.

Works Cited

Nicholson, David, and Henry Baker. “Do You Need a $400 Juicer?” Bloomberg, 18 Apr. 2017. Gif of video by unknown author.

Annotated Bibliography 9 & 10

The PNC Bank Building in Dupont Circle comfortably holds three fast casual restaurants. Photo by me.

1. Argument

Hume, Scott. “Why Fast Casual is Winning.” Restaurants and Institutions, vol. 117, no. 13, 1 Sept. 2007.

In this piece in former restaurant industry journal Restaurants and Institutions, Scott Hume addresses the rise of fast casual during its ascent in 2010. Hume begins his piece discussing what he sees as the factors for their market success: increased restaurant patronage, novelty, health-consciousness, design, and the increased wealth of older consumers (Hume). After this, he goes into more depth by asking various successful people in the industry why they see an appeal. For example, Seth Salzman, the VP of a company which owns Moe’s Southwest Grill among others, believes that the convenience compared to normal casual dining is a major factor, which is corroborated by others (Hume). After this, he turns his eyes to the future of fast casual dining. In this case, he believes that it will grow quite significantly in the catering market, as it’s brand recognition and affordability will make it more successful than similar competitors. However, he also believes that casual and quick-service restaurants will likely respond to this threat by changing their model to have more similarities to their competitors. Nevertheless, barriers to the later make casual dining’s future look bright.

As we approach the final essay, it’s important to analyze why exactly why fast casual businesses seem to succeed as much as they have in the past decade. While this is a very subjective question, businessmen are most likely to have working hypotheses about this matter, owing to the fact they have the most invested in understanding it. This piece, and it’s arguments about why such places are financially effective, will help me understand and analyze the nature of the places whose nature I am probing.

Chophouse, Chipotle’s south-east Asian themed spinoff, failed tremendously, universally closing early this year. Photo by author.

2. Argument

Maze, Janathan. “Why fast-casual chains are struggling.” Nation’s Restaurant News, vol. 51, no. 5, 3 Apr. 2017, pp. 80-81.

In this short article in restaurant trade publication Nation’s Restaurant News by Janathan Maze, he details how assumptions of continuing growth of fast casual chains appear to have been mistaken, with sales in the fourth quarter of 2016 dropping by 1.1% on average. He prefaces this with an anecdote about the fact that shareholders of the fast food chain Jack in the Box were once again urging the company to sell its fast casual chain Qdoba, seeing it as an unnecessary hanger-on: something unthinkable in a field that had once been the subject of a gold rush (Maze). He goes on to describe the fact that several major chains had problems as well, though this was not universal- with chains such as Fazoli’s growing quite significantly in revenue (Maze). Despite this, Maze goes on to detail what he thinks may be the causes of this slowed growth, suggesting everything from fickle consumers not consistently dining at the often hyperfocused restaurants to increased competition due to market saturation (Maze). He ends on a negative note, reminding readers that failing branches are going to be the source of major drains in leasing fees.

It either says a lot about the nature of hype or about the nature of business that only seven years after an article about why fast casual is “winning” that there’s one about why it is struggling. This article acknowledges several things I see evident in my property- absurd competition and the willingness to throw money at expensive real estate. We’ve already seen the problems Chipotle had with its subsidiary Chophouse, leaving a gaping hole in the storefront I’ve spent months investigating. Whatever may happen, this article will likely provide an interesting way to examine the future of these eateries.

Digital Archives 15: A Brave New Economy

While this street manages to have the least political businesses on the Circle (outside of Kramer Books across the street), this sign has all sorts of interesting baggage behind it.

While this stretch of road manages to be the most corporate and, for obvious reasons, least directly political of the immediate branches of Dupont Circle, this sign caught my attention for several reasons. To preface this, I understand that most of Dupont Circle’s businesses target an upper-middle class clientele- the menu at Sweetgreen seems to hover around $10 for an entree, which is not bargain prices. But the exclusion of cash from their purchases says a lot about how they see themselves and their clientele. Despite it’s apparent dearth among the professional class in America, cash is likely not going anyway any time soon- many people still pay primarily by it. It says a lot for a corporation to say that the only patrons they want either have smart phones or debit cards- not to mention that they want you to use their own app. While I’m not sure whether this is politics, it’s sure got a lot of it clinging on.

Digital Archives 14: Taking a Seat

While admittedly it wasn’t in use when I went, Beefsteak is the only restaurant along this strip to even have a small amount of outdoor seating.

Outdoor seating is an often underused amenity of any restaurants. While there are obvious reasons why many avoid them, it’s nice to have the option- and on this front, Beefsteak provides. While the weather on the day these were taken was not the best downtown, it nevertheless looked like an excellent option- if I could afford dining there that day, I likely would have sat here. The fact they provide it while others don’t can be chalked up to several reasons- a self-assigned higher importance, having more sidewalk space, or even laziness on their competitors’ part. Whatever the case, Beefsteak once again stands out from the group of three.

Digital Archives 13: Door to… Somewhere?

The brick parking lot of the building had back entrances, much as you would expect- but this one in particular stuck out.

While I admit I am very easily surprised, this door was by far the biggest surprise of the back entrances here. While there’s nothing abnormal with having the business who occupies a space mark their back entrance (which makes navigation far easier), it’s quite abnormal for them to do as much advertising as BGR does. This is not to say this is completely pointless- undoubtedly the people who park here for work would likely have at least a passing interest in getting lunch at BGR’s establishment. Nevertheless, this is the first time I’ve ever scene a company use their rear entrance to advertise- whether it’s simply a smart move or a plea to potential customers.

Digital Archives 12: Beneath the Surface

The parking lot behind the PNC is quite a stark contrast to the bank’s public facing front.

One who has only seen the neo-classical, street facing facade of the PNC Bank build might be shocked when they come around to the parking lot on it’s rear, which seems to tell a far different story than it suggests. While I can’t say for certain, lacking access to the architects or high quality enough photography of the roof, it seems that the marble facade was retrofitted onto preexisting brick buildings, likely residential, in an effort to save money while keeping up appearances. It amazes me greatly that they were able to disguise this so easily, and perhaps says a lot about the area in general- gilded appearances over a mundane base.

Digital Archives 11: Dupont Duality

This fountain, in the eponymous park of Dupont Circle, stands at the rough center of the traffic circle.

While the exteriors of the stores are undoubtedly more relevant to this documentation, that does not mean a reflection on the architecture of the area at large is not important. Dupont Circle, like much of DC, is a heavily modern neighborhood growing in the often historical architecture of DC’s downtown areas. One need only consider things like a burger joint behind a marble facade to understand the enormously paradoxical and fascinating facts that encompass the neighborhood. I hope to be able to capture this through a handful of these photos, such as this one- a neoclassical fountain juxtaposed with the traffic driving around it and the commercial palaces of PNC Bank and it’s ilk just beyond.