The Fundamentals

Cloud of related terms to urban planning

 

David Fleming, in the afterword of his book titled The City of Rhetoric, argues that if we wish to see any advancement in American society, we must no longer neglect the important relationship between a given space and socioeconomic trends. This chapter is unique in the sense that he begins by providing historical and political examples that many Americans are aware of. He references political bills, statistical data, and publicized orations. To clarify his argument, he remaps the arguments he developed throughout the course of the book. This way, we understand the relevance of what seemed like arbitrary detail in the part before. Finally, he stresses the relationship between space and socioeconomic issues is not coincidental. Before we can understand the complexity of the world we live in, we must examine our built environments. If we can understand the rhetoric of our built environments, we can prevent the further fragmentation of our society.

Fleming begins his argument by listing examples of major events that the American public has experienced, and this solidifies the connection between his work and the real world. For instance, Fleming begins this chapter with a quote from the U.S. Housing Act of 1949 which reads, “The Congress declares that the general welfare and security of the Nation and the health and living standards of its people require . . . the realization as soon as feasible of the goal of a decent home and a suitable living environment for every American family” (211). This allows Fleming a platform to introduce other historical examples of the American government addressing public planning, and their failure to address it well. He references how the Bush administration circa 2006 failed to uphold the standards set by the 1949 Housing Act and how hurricane Katrina revealed that the American government had tried to mask worsening socioeconomic trends as indicators of progress. To Fleming’s readers, such examples draw the connection between theory and practice. For lack of better terms, it simply becomes real.

To reinforce this concept, Fleming revisits and reflects on the examples he had explained in depth throughout his novel. He recalls the shortcomings of Cabrini Green, Chicago’s suburbia, and unforgiving high rises. After acknowledging them, David Fleming begins to answer the proverbial question, “So what?” And to that, he answers that design, by nature, is natural and countervailing to large-scale political and economic forces. Design is organic, and to force design to work differently and to separate people, the design is flawed. To further the concept of a relationship between a built environment and larger economic, social, and political issues, he appeals to a widely accepted cause–global warming. Fleming argues ironically,  “dense, centered cities— as “un-natural” as they often seem to us— may be our best hope in fighting global warming and, ultimately, saving Earth as a habitable planet” (215).  He references this because, one way or another, he is trying to convince his readers why these concepts are important. If one reason isn’t enough to convince his readers, then this might.

The overall message of Fleming’s afterword inspires a sense of activism. It is short, concise, and despondent. Fleming recognizes the fragmentation and polarization of American society is only increasing, and that he doesn’t have much hope even in newer generations to reverse this trend. However, Fleming isn’t entirely convinced there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Although he expects there is no point in placing the burden upon future generations to essentially reverse a trend that has been developing for centuries, he claims that the minds of youth are still malleable. I admire the way Fleming ends this last chapter. Fleming states, “Perhaps if young people experience, even just within the walls of a high school or college classroom, what it can be like to be members of a strong public, they will grow up and demand such publics in the ‘real world’” (214). And how are these “strong republics” formed? Well, the first step is to understand our built environment.

The Price of Democracy is 99 Cents

The tweet above appears on my Twitter feed quite often because I do follow to the Washington Post, among many other news organizations. I find their methods to get more subscriptions quite interesting. Maybe I only noticed recently, or maybe it’s true that this marketing tactic started with the strengthening Donald Trump campaign for President of the United States. But why does it matter?

I first want to explore the nature of the advertisement. I, a college-aged woman studying International Studies, go on Twitter often to find my news. Yeah, yeah, I know. Why would I depend on a social media site to inform me? See, here’s the thing: I don’t only follow Twitter accounts that mainly create entertaining context, I also follow many government agencies and news outlets. I appreciate that Twitter is constantly updating, and that allows me to be connected with the world around me in a unique way. The Washington Post recognizes that this is true for people that use Twitter in a similar fashion as I do, so they understand that placing an ad like this on this platform would be effective.

Now that I’ve explained the context, I want to explore the diction used in the advertisement. The advertisement mentions a “vigorous press” that “empowers the people.” It also states that democracy “depends” on this vigorous press and that you should pay to support the work of “great journalism” that makes this all possible. And, with a price of 99 cents, who could say no? Certainly not people whose political awareness heightened in the past few years, or the people who wish to technically embed themselves in the news cycle. And there we have it: an effective advertisement.

The Barriers

Metal gates locked with a rusty chain and lock
“One of the closed lots in Shaw. Dominic Moulden, who has been organizing residents in Shaw for 30 years, says the city is still failing to meet the most basic needs of some residents, particularly when it comes to housing.
Raquel Zaldivar/NPR”

This picture illustrates a very real problem in Shaw. On one hand, Shaw seems to be improving. It seems to be developing, and along with the new developments, Shaw seems to be a place where there is newfound opportunity. That’s at least what most developers and newer residents would like us to think. But, like the caption and its picture, what use is this if developers and urban planning institutions no longer care about the previous residents? As the description suggests, Washington doesn’t see the wellbeing of these residents as a priority. I think that should be criminal.

Leaving Home and Going Nowhere

An elderly black woman looking forlorn as she holds an eviction letter in her hands
“Joan Scott, 70, sits with her belongings and holds the envelope that contains court papers that she signed agreeing to leave Brookland Manor.” 

I don’t know what else to say about this photograph other than the fact that it’s intense. The photo puts an actual person behind what seems like abstract ideas I can only talk about by reading about them. This photograph begins to connect everything I want to eventually bring to light. Although I haven’t taken this photograph (I’ve obtained it from here), I believe it’s important to include in my culminating project the human aspect to this, a.k.a. the aspect that matters most. We can talk about the socioeconomic trends about Shaw in the broadest to narrowest of terms, but it loses an important part if we don’t ask people like the woman pictured above questions like, “What happens?” “Will you be alright?” “Do you have a place to go?” The photograph really exemplifies the power that seemingly arbitrary political institutions have to transform an individual’s life for the worse.

Patriotism in Shaw

A grayscale black soldier salutes surrounded by the American flag.
“Support Our Troops” – 1513 Rhode Island Avenue NE

According to this website, this mural not only has general American history embedded into it, but family history as well. The mural is painted in front of a store called “Good Ole Reliable Liquors,” and it’s owner, Mike Toor, supports troops because he has family in service. To him, this piece means so much more than the display of patriotism just for the sake of it. To him, this means honoring his family. Like many murals in Shaw, this one features a black figure. Honoring black culture is quite common in Shaw.

Getting Stepped On, Getting Stomped Out

 

Mural depicting cattle being stepped on
Mural near the Howard Theatre. 

This mural is located near Shaw’s Howard Theatre, and the image above was obtained from this website. Of course, with most street art, it’s difficult to understand what context it holds. But here’s my interpretation:

The imagery is intense. A pig in a suit being stomped out by a disembodied foot in front of a sea of reds, oranges, and yellows. The pig is holding money, and if you look closely, you might be able to make out some faces in the “fire.” This clearly shows anti-capitalist sentiment in DC and the need for what I assume to be greedy capitalist pigs to quite literally stomped out from Shaw.

I find this especially thought-provoking because it’s an entirely different narrative than one I have seen in other platforms. On the websites of developers, for example, the way they view their actions in Shaw is largely optimistic. This, however, tells a different story.

Pencils as Guns in DC

Black woman holding a pencil as if it were a gun

“Education is a Powerful Weapon” – 312 Florida Avenue NW. This mural is quite iconic in Shaw. The vibrant colors and confident stance of the figure depicted certainly extends a strong message; “Education is a Powerful Weapon.” What I especially admired about this mural was the nature of the figure depicted. She’s standing strong, proud, and tall. And like many residents of Shaw, she is black.

Shaw has quite a rich and vibrant history, but it has repeatedly been marked by crime and unrest, especially after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I believe this mural wishes to transform this notion of a violence-ridden city. I believe it speaks volumes about DC’s black community fighting the generalizations forced upon them due to crime with something much more empowering and benign– education.

Annotated Bibliography 7&8 – Shaw in the News

Background

Franke-Ruta, Garance. “The Politics of the Urban Comeback: Gentrification and Culture in D.C.” The Atlantic, Aug. 2012. The Atlantic, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/08/the-politics-of-the-urban-comeback-gentrification-and-culture-in-dc/260741/.

In her article “The Politics of the Urban Comeback: Gentrification and Culture in D.C.,” Garance Franke-Ruta adds nuance to the process of gentrification of U Street. She begins by restating trends that have been communicated by the DC census and articles in prominent news outlets like the Washington post stating that the black population in Shaw is declining at an alarming rate. However, her article shifts gears to talk about the slowing of gentrification. She enumerates, “A close look at the Census data shows that black population loss in the neighborhood actually slowed as gentrification picked up, dropping almost in half from the previous decade’s rate as whites and Asians flocked to the neighborhood in the first years of the new century, and as new amenities moved in” (Franke-Ruta). What I especially admire about Franke-Ruta’s analysis is that she doesn’t minimize the issue of gentrification. Although she highlights that the process is slowing, she does acknowledge that it’s an important issue to address. Towards the end of her article, Franke-Ruta enumerates that while the change is slowing down, it isn’t improving race relations in Washington. In her words, “D.C. has enough statues of white men and venues and buildings named in their honor. Lord knows it has a boatload of statues of white men on horses. It does not, in the grand scheme of things, have many statues of major figures in African-American history.”

This article would be very interesting to include in my broader analysis of the neighborhood of the Howard Theatre, Shaw, because it offers the perspective of someone who experienced the change firsthand. Many times throughout her article, Franke-Ruta writes in anecdotes about her personal encounters with a changing Washington and what it really means to be a resident of a gentrifying community. This is exactly the perspective I wish to include in my broader analysis because it allows me to understand the demographic changes in Shaw through a qualitative lens.

Exhibit

Shaw Main Streets | Development Pipeline. http://www.shawmainstreets.org/properties/development_pipeline. Accessed 13 Apr. 2017.
In this post, an organization called “Shaw Main Streets” lists the several development projects underway in Shaw. It’s important to note that this isn’t a post that offers an argument or some deep insight. The list the publication provides of the myriad of development projects are supplemented with hyperlinks and pictures so people can learn more about the changes they will soon come across.
Illustration for the future result of construction
Concept for 655 New York Avenue

The picture above, for example, illustrates the end result of a current project. This source, in concert with my other sources, may provide valuable insight into what changes exactly are occurring in Shaw. Sure, I have mentioned before that there are many developers with interests in Shaw to transform it in various ways, but this source will provide context for that. This source will provide background as to what changes are occurring, who is vouching for these changes, and what these changes will contribute to Shaw at large.

Background

Sommer, Will. “White People Flocking to Shaw, Nearby Neighborhoods.” Washington City Paper, 12 June 2012, http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/news/city-desk/blog/13065614/white-people-flocking-to-shaw-nearby-neighborhoods.

Will Sommer, in his article titled, “White People Flocking to Shaw, Nearby Neighborhoods,” provides a quantitative analysis on the demographics of Shaw. This article, like the one I mentioned previously, does not offer a substantive argument. The argument it does present, however, is that the zipcodes in Shaw are some of the fastest growing zipcodes in Washington. Sommer also sarcastically comments on the nature of the changes in Shaw by saying, “If you’re looking for white people, you should head to the D.C. ZIP code that includes Shaw, Bloomingdale, and LeDroit Park.” While some may believe this comment is in poor taste, it does provide a name to what may otherwise seem as arbitrary numbers. Furthermore, Sommer’s publication compares the current demographics of certain Shaw zipcodes to what they previously were. In doing so, he paints an interesting picture of how Shaw is forever changing.

This source opened my eyes to start thinking about the importance of zipcodes. Throughout my life, I never really paid attention to them. To me, zipcodes were just an arbitrary collection of numbers that simply aided in locating a building. This source, however, uses zipcodes not only as a grouping, but describes it as an entity with characteristics. The characteristics can then be used to describe the changes in Washington. I think it would make my own work interesting if I incorporated the demographics of certain zipcodes of Shaw in my writing.

THE MOST DEADLIEST COUNTRY, I guess?

Pakistan is one of the world’s deadliest countries for journalists. Intelligence agents and members of banned militant organisations are behind “serious threats” to reporters, says Reporters Without Borders.

Above is the first paragraph of an article released by BBC News about the Pakistan’s media profile. When I read this, it’s safe to say I was a little disappointed. And now to explain myself…

This first paragraph on the website has been bolded, just like I have done so above. This paragraph sets the tone for the rest of the publication which, to no surprise, focuses on the shortcomings of Pakistani media and the freedom which, as clearly communicated by the article, doesn’t actually exist.

My issue, however, is not to refute the facts it presents. It’s all true. I’m not denying that Pakistani media needs to be awarded more freedom or that reporters should be able to publish any piece whatever their stance on the government is.

So let’s take a closer look at the diction used. Pakistan is one of the world’s “most deadliest countries.” Parties have “banned” and issued “serious threats” to reporters. By this initial description, readers are confirming their own biases about the country of Pakistan. They are confirming the biases that western media has forced upon the country. Thanks to western media, Pakistan is inherently seen as a backwards country operating under a sinister dictatorship  (fun fact: it’s not) that serves as a breeding ground for terrorist organizations.

The problem with such a description is that this image is then applied to the people of Pakistan. Because this is what is repeated time and time again in headlines on western media outlets like BBC, ABC, CNN, and Fox News, people may not understand that Pakistani citizens aren’t the gross generalization they are told to be. The headlines regarding Pakistan regard death, political struggle, and occasional feel-good stories.

And this is a tragedy because Pakistan is full of people who are constantly fighting for freedom, constantly criticizing what they see wrong around them, and constantly seeking to improve their communities. It’s a shame that they are assigned to this single narrative that the world makes them out to be.

BBC isn’t lying, but the way the article is written, judging from the first paragraph, shows signs of rhetorical injustice.

One Barrel at a Time

President Trump has taken steps to erase the Obama administration’s environmental record in an effort to buoy the struggling coal industry. But the move risks running afoul of public opinion, with majorities of the public in support of several rules that Trump is focused on dismantling.

Trump’s sweeping executive order includes rewriting rules curbing carbon emissions, lifting a moratorium on federal coal leases and removing the mandate that federal officials consider climate change impacts when making decisions. Trump already approved two major oil pipelines, rolled back other limits on extraction and burning of fossil fuels and eliminated a system that would have made energy companies pay more in federal royalties.

Above are two paragraphs pulled from this Washington Post article.

These two paragraphs play an instrumental role in communicating a sense of urgency and anxiety to its audience. However, the way these paragraphs do so is quite subtle.
I’d like to draw special attention to the general diction of these paragraphs. In the first, President Trump creates an “effort” to “buoy the struggling coal industry.” By describing the coal industry as something that needs to be saved and describing Trump’s reaction as merely an “effort,” the author indirectly asserts that such an effort wasn’t successful. Instead of describing Trump’s attempt as a “valiant” or “great” effort, it’s just an effort.
The next paragraph reinforces this notion that such efforts weren’t successful. But then, the question becomes, “Who were they successful for?” The first two sentences list all the actions taken to aid oil companies and other big industries. Ultimately, they are the recipients of such good fortune. The last sentence, however, suggests that such a victory isn’t one to be celebrated. It asserts that there are certain corporate responsibilities that companies have towards the people and are now not required to fulfill them. So, while Trump’s effort is to help America, once again, it is merely an effort.