Whitney M. Young

Whitney M. Young, Jr.

“You are not a profession that has distinguished itself by your social and civic contributions to the cause of civil rights.  I am sure this does not come to you as any shock. You are most distinguished by your thunderous silence and your complete irrelevance. You are the employers. You are key people in the planning of cities today. You share the responsibility for the mess we are in—in terms of the white noose around the central city. We didn’t just suddenly get into this situation. It was carefully planned.”

Whitney M. Young, Jr., Executive Director, The Urban League Opening session of the 100th Convention of the American Institute of Architects Portland, Oregon, June 24, 1968

A free society allows the unusual act to help all people discover how individual demands for freedom burn into leadership. These immaturities renew mature cultures. It rips off the masks of prejudices it cannot live with or leave within. It does not accept change. On the contrary, it breathes the love of it.

Robert T. Coles

The original speech was made without notes and typed without editing for a news service. I was there, but it was not until Robert Traynham Coles, FAIA, sent me a copy of the original text of Young’s address that it all began to make perfect sense.  Were it not for Coles, I could not have helped bring an entire generation of hopeful agents of change to know that a speech can change an institution, and a person can change history.

Young’s presentation changed the purpose of planning, design, and architecture.  His challenge was directly responsible for the AIA’s initial support of Design Centers as an alternative to the traditional practice of architecture.  I didn’t know why then, by I could see the shock of recognition in the eyes of the all-white audience.  A key portion of Young’s speech appeared in a guest editorial by Coles for Progressive Architecture Magazine in July 1989. Nevertheless, most picked up the statement above. More recently, the AIA added responsibility for its institutional role in denying legitimate efforts to correct past wrongs (here). Sadly, it was on the 50th anniversary of the speech in 2018.

I have circulated this speech a thousand times because it remains painfully true. I decided to post this speech within the “Malfunctions Section” of the System Change series because it captured a piece of my past in what became known as Community Design Centers (history pdf), (policy pdf), (practice pdf). During that time, from the late sixties, and today Young remains known as the powerbroker by breaking color barriers to employment from national corporations and negotiating reparations from the Federal Government to begin correcting centuries of past wrongs. But, as the quote above proves, he did not pull any punches in this speech to architects. Still, there is no reason yet to stop.

Fifty years later, his words recall the confluence of leaders for system change at that time. System change came from the powerbrokers, the preachers, and the symbol of a Panther. We now benefit from the powerbrokers inspired by Young and the preachers inspired by Martin Luther King’s place in our memory as the moral leader of our time. Finally, one American truth folds its arms and looks you in the eye. Non-violence in creating liberty and human dignity is self-defense in steady opposition to the horror of blood spilled in its name.



Whitney M. Young, Jr., Executive Director, The Urban League
June 24, 1968

Not so long ago, a group of miners suddenly found themselves after an avalanche entombed in one of the diamond mines of South Africa. Starving for food and thirsting for water and in need of spiritual comfort, the Diamonds were worthless, and they slowly met their death.

So, it is increasingly in our society today.  We are skilled in the art of making war; we are unskilled in the art of making peace. We are proficient in the art of killing, particularly good people; bad people are in no danger in this country. We are ignorant of the art of living. We probe and grasp the mysteries of atomic fission and unique and ingenious ways to handle brick and mortar and glass. We most often forget such simple things as the Sermon on the Mount and the Golden Rule.

In our scheme of things, there must be a place for values that transcend materialistic grasping.  Our values are concentrated more around things.  Will we find ourselves entombed in our diamond mine of materialism?

It would be the most naïve escapist who today would be unaware of the winds of change. As far as aspirations are concerned, they are reaching tornado proportions. In our country, the disinherited, disenfranchised, poor, and black are saying no in unmistakable terms. They intend to be in a new world because no one will be comfortable in the one being made today.

Our choices are clear-cut; we can either engage in genocide and the systematic extermination of the black poor in this country and poor generally. Here we have an ideal model in Mr. Adolph Hitler. Or, we can engage in a more formalized Apartheid than we already have. Here we can use our pattern Mr. Ian Smith in South Africa.  Or, we can decide that the American dream and promise of the Judeo-Christian ethic are more than rhetoric. Are they a collection of nice clichés to be mouthed on Sunday morning and on the Fourth of July, or are they are principles to be practiced?  Here we can take as our model the Constitution and the Bible.

Today, the disinherited, unlike the past, see the gap between their standard of living and the majority.  They are no longer are sharecroppers on farms and in rural areas where they have not the benefit of newspapers and radio. Today, for the most part, the poor live within a stone’s throw of the affluent. They witness on their television sets and read in their newspapers and see personally how the so-called ‘other half,’ that is, the other eighty percent, live. The poor no longer assume that their status is God-made. They no longer believe they are congenitally and innately inferior because of color or condition of birth. The poor are fully aware that their living conditions are man-made and not God-decreed or constitutionally derived.

The poor today also are quite conscious of how other people have managed to lift themselves out of the mire of injustice and poverty.  They were the leaders of civil disobedience in the Boston Tea Party. They were revolutionists in the American Revolution, or the labor movement or the women’s suffrage movement, or the struggles of the Irish, Italians, Jews, and what-have-you.

They know that their techniques today, so glibly discredited, are the same techniques that others have used in other periods of history when they found themselves similarly situated. The poor today are determined. We ignore that at our peril.  It is not a passing phenomenon of the moment.  It is not a transitory thing like panty raids or the swallowing of goldfish or crowding into telephone booths. This is a growing trend in our country. And, any institution or individual who feels that he is immune to confrontation or that he somehow will avoid being affected by this, I am afraid he is guilty of indulging in opium smoking.

Now, one other factor tends to accelerate and, if anything, complicates. The poor and disinherited of our society today have found strong allies. The allies are the young people of this country and of the world. Some of them I’ve had an opportunity to talk within some 100 universities, colleges, and high schools this year. Many are experiencing a degree of cynicism at best and contempt at worst for adult values, which can document with unerring accuracy the inconsistency in our society. There is a pervasive gap between what we practice and what we preach, which points to the tragic paradox of a society with a gross national product approaching one trillion dollars.  Yet, it permits twenty percent of its people to live in squalor and in poverty. This society willingly taxed itself to rebuild Western Europe and West Germany.  It spends billions of dollars. There are no slums today in West Germany.  The slums are in the Harlems of our country where black people live who have been in this country 400 years, whose blood, sweat, and tears have gone to build this country, who gave it 250 years of free labor and another 100 of cheap labor. They are the ones who live in the slums and who are unemployed.

These students point out how a budget of approximately $140 Billion was spent last year and less than 20 percent for things that are aesthetic and cultural, and educational, for health, education, and welfare. Almost 70 percent was spent on weapons of destruction or defense against destruction.

No other country has quite this record of disproportionate expenditures.  No other country has ever dreamed of this great wealth.

We are not at a loss in our society for the know-how.  We have the technology.  We have the scientific know-how.  We have the resources.  We are at a loss for the will.

The crisis is not in our cities, ladies and gentlemen. The crisis is in our hearts and the kind of human beings we are. I submit to you that if you are a mother or a father, today, you are being challenged either silently by young people, or you will be challenged even more violently. You are risking the respect of generations, not yet adults and generations yet unborn.

Now, in this situation, there are two or three, I think, positive aspects and possibilities present today that were not present in the past. One is that we are all aware of the problem.  The black person – and I make no apology for singling out the Negro, although I am fully aware that there are poor white people in Appalachia, poor Mexican-Americans, poor Puerto Ricans and Indians – the Negro, is a sort of symbol, the only involuntary immigrant in large numbers –  a symbol of it. I make really no apologies, but the Negro today is at least on the conscience of America. This is not to say that he loves it.  Probably it is irritating to most people, a source of great unhappiness. Still, it is better to be hated than to be ignored.  The Negro has mainly been the victim, not of active hate or active concern, but of active indifference and callousness.  Less than ten percent of white Americans wanted to lynch Negroes, and ten percent wanted to free them. Our problem has been the big eighty percent, that big blob of Americans who have been so busy “making it,” getting ahead in their companies, getting a little house in the suburbs, lowering their golf scores, vying for admittance to the country club, lying about their kids I.Q., that they really haven’t had time to be concerned.

Our sin, then, is the sin of omission and not of commission, and into that vacuum have rushed the prophets of doom. The violent people, the vicious people who hate, and they have come all too often to be the voice of America. But at least we recognize the existence of the problem.  The communication is probably more candid, though more painful than ever before, and that is progress.

And, today, for the first time, we have the full attention and concern of the establishment in America. The decision-makers, the top people – I’m talking about the Henry Fords and the Tom Watsons and the George Romneys, the truly big people in your field and in the field of business and in government. The most enlightened governors, the most enlightened mayors, the most enlightened college presidents, even the religious leaders are now beginning to decide race relations is no longer a spectator sport. In their own enlightened self-interest, they have to get involved.

This is important.  Nothing happens in America until the so-called decision-makers and the power structure decide that they had better get busy, and that’s a powerful ally.

A final positive thing is, I think that we today are no longer in a quandary as to the extent of the problem and the cause. We are now the beneficiaries of a President’s Commission Report – The Kerner Commission. It was composed of predominantly white, respectable, conservative, responsible people. The first time they met as a group was to identify the conspirators who were causing the disorders and suggesting ways of suppression and control. That is how they started out.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the final report. We invited these gentlemen to take a visit to the ghetto, more specifically, to a tenement house. They smilingly, but naively, agreed, and that was the beginning of a significant report. We took these men into a typical tenement house, some 14 floors. Immediately they discovered that as sophisticated as our communications media happened to be, they are not able to give all the dimensions of the situation – the dimension of smell, for example, feel, taste.  The minute these men walked into the building; they smelled the stench of urine.  And why shouldn’t they?  Little two-and-three-year-old boys out in my neighborhood, just when they have to go to the bathroom, and can’t make it back onto the house, go around to the bushes – sort of an accepted pattern.  When you live in the 14-story tenement house with no elevator, little boys can’t quite make it and do what little two-and-three-year-old boys normally do. 

These men went up the stairs.  They made it as far as the seventh floor – they weren’t in the best physical shape. We took them into an apartment, typical, six people living in it, two rooms, and four children.  They saw the little one-and-a-half-year-old with a shrunken stomach.  All he had to eat that day was a bowl of corn flakes, and it was two o’clock in the afternoon.

They talked to the mother whose eyes were bloodshot because she had stayed awake all night trying to keep the rats from biting the children.  They saw rat-holes; saw the roaches.  Then, they talked to the father – alienated, bitter, because he suffered the daily humiliation of not being able to support his children, not playing the role of the father, not being able even to buy the kid an ice cream cone.

Repeated experiences like that left no choice except to, as we say, tell it like it is.

This upset Americans, accused of being racists, being told in no uncertain language that, in fact, there is a gap between how some Americans live.

We are a proud people. We like to kid ourselves into believing that we are good Christians, good human beings, but it isn’t true. These men were not starry-eyed liberals, not sentimental do-gooders. These were white conservatives. I’ve always been told that white people were still right. I assume they’re right.  Rap Brown didn’t write the report.  The report was written by these people that you know as well as I know. And, you know that when good people want a social audit, you take it just as seriously as a fiscal audit that says you’re in arrears and bankrupt. A health audit could mean you have tuberculosis. You wouldn’t go out to see a mechanic and try to get him to dispute the claim.

We are a racist nation, and no way in the world would it be otherwise given the history of our country.  Being a racist doesn’t mean one wants to go out and join a lynch mob or send somebody off to Africa or engage in crude, vulgar expressions of prejudice.  Racism is an underlying assumption of superiority on the part of one group over another.  In America, it had to happen because, as a society, we enslaved people for 250 years, and up until 1964, it was written into our laws and enforced by social custom.  It was discrimination against human beings – that a man, because of the color of his skin, couldn’t go into a restaurant or a hotel or be served in public places.

Now, there’s no way in the world, unless we are a nation more schizophrenic than I think, that we could have this kind of law tolerated and this kind of social custom and still have gone to church on Sunday and mouthed all the platitudes if we didn’t honestly believe that some were superior to others.  Racism reflects itself in many little ways – little to you but big to some people.

A few years ago, my wife and I finally managed to reach the point where we could hire a maid for one day a week.  When she came into the house, she introduced herself as Lucille.  My wife said, “What is your last name?” and she said, “Fisher.” So my wife said, “Mrs. Fisher, let’s talk.” And they talked, and they decided they could stand each other, and she would go to work immediately.  That afternoon my two youngsters came home, and Mrs. Fisher met them at the door and said, “Hello, I’m Lucille.” And my wife came in and said, “Marcia and Loren, this is Mrs. Fisher.”

Mrs. Fisher followed her back into the kitchen and said, “You don’t have to do that, I like to be called Lucille, it makes me feel like a member of the family, and I’m closer.  I like that just fine.”

And my wife said, “Mrs. Fisher, we are not doing this just for you.  Our youngsters do not call adult women of 45 or 50 years of age by their first names. If they don’t do it with anybody else, then we don’t think they ought to do it with you unless they get the impression that you are different because of the kind of work you do. We’re trying to teach our youngsters to respect the dignity of human beings, regardless of what they do or the color of their skins.”

About an hour later, the phone rang.  It was Mrs. Fisher’s little five-year-old son, and he said, “Lucille there?” And my wife said, “There’s no Lucille here.”

And then she told Mrs. Fisher, she thought it was her son, and maybe she had better call him back. So she did, and the conference went like this:  “Son, did you call?”  “Yes, Mother, but they said there was no Lucille there.”  She said, “No, son, I’m not Lucille here.  I’m Mrs. Fisher.  I’m somebody.”

Now, if you could have seen the expression on her face when she said this.  This is just simple, elementary dignity.

Fifty percent of all people in this country don’t even pay their domestic’s Social Security when the law requires them to.  Even though the people say they don’t want it paid, don’t want this kind of record, it is these people’s only opportunity for insurance against old age, against illness in old age, and it is a moral thing to do.  We pay both shares hers – and –ours because we are thinking about her, and we are concerned about what will happen to her.

What I am really talking about here is your role. To realize it as a citizen, it begins in the home.  Dear Lord, let there be peace at home and let it begin with me.

A young man stood up in a meeting a couple of weeks ago – a white fellow, an SDS student. He really blasted the white audience for its prejudice and bigotry, and hypocrisy. He then ended up by saying, “So if it means we have to level down with them to achieve equality with all human beings, then white people must do this.”

This is a racist statement. I pointed this out.  The only reason he could think of “leveling down” was that he was assuming that superiority relates to the acquisition of material things, technology, money, and clothes.  It’s conceivable that it might be a leveling upward, or it might be a bringing together on the one hand qualities of humaneness, compassion, and style.  This society needs a great deal of technology and money, and material things.  And so, we are giving to each other.

If we are going to do anything about changing the individual, let us first admit that it is easier to have lived in a leper colony and not acquired leprosy than live in America and not acquire prejudice.  You don’t start changing until you first admit you have it.

Secondly, as a profession, you are not a profession that has distinguished itself by your social and civic contributions to the cause of civil rights, and I am sure this has not come to you as any shock.  You are most distinguished by your thunderous silence and your complete irrelevance.

Now, you have a nice, normal escape hatch in your historical, ethical code or something that says, after all, you are the designers and not the builders; your role is to give people what they want. Now, that’s a nice, easy cop-out.  But I have read about architects who had the courage, who had a social sensitivity. I can’t help but wonder about an architect that builds some of the public housing we see in the cities of this country.  How he could even compromise his own profession and his own sense of values to have built 35 or 40 story buildings, these vertical slums, and not even have put a restroom in the basement. Leave recreational space for about ten kids when there must have five thousand in the buildings.  That architects, as professionals, wouldn’t as a group stand up and say something about this is disturbing to me.

You are employers; you are key people in the planning of our cities today.  You share the responsibility for the mess we are in terms of the white noose around the central city.  It didn’t just happen. We didn’t just suddenly get this situation.  It was carefully planned.

I went back recently and looked at ads when they first started building subdivisions in this country. The first new subdivision – “easy access to town, good shopping centers, good schools, no Negroes, no Jews allowed” – that was the first statement.  Then, they decided in New York that that was cutting the market too close, so they said the next day, “no Negroes allowed.”  And, then they got cute when they thought everybody had the message, and they said, “restricted, exclusive neighborhood, and homogenous neighborhood.”  Everybody knows what those words mean.  

Even the Federal Government participated.  They said that they must be compatible neighborhoods for FHA mortgages, homogeneous neighborhoods. The Federal Government participated in building nice middle-class housing in the suburb and putting all public housing in the central city.

It took a great deal of skill and creativity, and imagination to build the kind of situation we have now. It is going to take skill, imagination, and creativity to change it.   We are going to have to have people as committed to doing the right thing, to “inclusiveness” as we have had in the past to exclusiveness.

You are also educators.  Many of you are in educational institutions.

I took the time to call up a young man who just finished at Yale. I said, “What would you say if you were making the speech I’m supposed to make today?”  He had some strong observations to make.  He said he did want you to become more relevant.  He did want you to begin to speak out as a profession, he did want in his own classroom to see more Negroes; he wanted to see more Negro teachers.  He wanted while his classwork was going on for you to get involved in the community around you as educators.

When you go to a city like Champagne-Urbana, the University of Illinois is about the only major institution. Within two or three blocks of the campus are some of the worst slums in the country. It is amazing how within a stone’s throw of the school of architecture, you have absolute, complete indifference – unless you have a federal research grant. Even then, it’s to study the problem.

I hope you accept my recommendation for a moratorium on the study of the Negro in this country.  He has been dissected and analyzed horizontally, vertically, and diagonally.  And, if there are any further studies – I’m not anti-intellectual – I hope we’ll make them on white people, and that instead of studying the souls of black people, we’ll be studying the souls of white people; instead of the anatomy of Watts, we’ll do an anatomy of Cicero, an anatomy of Bronxville.

What’s wrong with these people in these neighborhoods?  Why do they want – themselves just one generation removed from welfare or in many cases only one generation in the country, where they have come here sometimes escaping hate and have come here and acquired freedom – why do they want to turn their backs and say in Cicero, “Al Capone can move in, but Ralph Bunche can’t?” 

Why are they so insecure?  Why do people want to live in these bland, sterile, antiseptic gilded ghettos – giving sameness to each, compounding mediocrity in a world that is 75 percent non-white, in a world where can take a spaceship and fly from Kennedy to South Africa in 15 minutes you?  Why would anybody want to let his or her children grow up in this kind of situation?

I think this kind of affluent peasant ought to be studied.  These are people who have acquired middle-class incomes because of strong labor unions and because they are living in an unprecedented affluent period.  But, in things esthetic, educational, and cultural, they leave a lot to be desired.  They wouldn’t know the difference between Karl Marx and Groucho Marx.

This is where our problem is.  We can move next door to Rockefeller in Tarrytown, but I couldn’t move into Bronxville. A Jewish person could hardly move into Bronxville, incidentally.

As a profession, you ought to be taking stands on these kinds of things.  If you don’t speak out for the rent supplements or the housing bill calling for a million houses, if you don’t speak out for some kind of scholarship program that will enable you to consciously and deliberately seek to be in minority people who have been discriminated against in many cases – either kept out because of your indifference or couldn’t make it (it takes seven to ten years to become an architect) – then you will have done a disservice to the memory of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Bob Kennedy, and most of all, to yourselves.

You are part of this society.  It is not easy.  I am not suggesting the easy road, but the time has come that no longer the crooks and crackpots speak for America.  The decent people have to learn to speak up, and you shouldn’t have to be the victim to feel for other people.  I make no pretense that it will be easy.

We do have today the best possibility of generalizing and rationalizing around our detachment.

You have riots and shouts of black power.  Anybody who looks for an excuse to cop out can use it, but I insist that if you believe in equality, then we have as much right to have crackpots.  There is no reason why white people should have a monopoly.  If we have been able to put up all these years with the Ku Klux Klan, with burning and lynching, with the George Lincoln Rockwells, with the Citizens Councils, with slaveowners, and still don’t generalize about all white people, why should white people generalize about all Negroes on the basis of a few?  All Negroes didn’t riot in Watts.  All Negroes didn’t riot in Newark.  One out of three in Newark were whites, and one out of five in Watts, and that’s why there was more violence in Newark.

We don’t generalize.  A man sat on the plane with me, and he and his wife had a couple of martinis.  She fell asleep, and he leaned over and said, “Mr. Young, my wife and I are great liberals; we love your people very much, but we have a problem.  We would like to invite a colored couple into our home.”  He took another sip of liquor and made it more magnanimous, “two or three couples, but my wife doesn’t feel comfortable around colored people. I hope you won’t be offended, but what can we do about the problem?”

I said, “I’m not offended.  I know perfectly well what you mean.  Most people feel odd and uncomfortable and inferior, even around Ralph Bunche—Phi Beta Kappa, Nobel prize winner, cosmopolite, traveled all over the world.”  Most people would ask a stupid question and get an elementary response, and I said, “Maybe the Urban League could help you recruit some of the below-average Negroes that your wife would feel more comfortable with.”

It’s the same business of generalizing – no such thing as a black is a black man, a white is a white man.  We have our right to an Adam Clayton Powell if the Irish have a right to a Curley.  He would make Adam Clayton Powell the epitome of political morality.  Nobody generalized about the Italians because of the appearance of a disproportionate number in the Mafia.  Nobody indicts all of them.  Nobody indicts all white men because a white man killed President Kennedy, Senator Kennedy, or Martin Luther King, or a white man stands in a tower in Texas, kills 14 people, or a white man assaults and kills eight nurses in Chicago.  They didn’t call him “white.”  We called him “sick,” and that’s what they were.  With the Negroes, it’s “the black man.”

We fall victim to clichés like “law” and “order.”  The most extreme example we’ve ever had of order in this world was that created by Adolph Hitler with his Gestapo and his police.  He got his “order.”  There was no dissent – goose-stepping all over the place – and he used that order to bring about the death of about 14 million people, six million of them in ovens.

There will never be order without justice.  And, the first prerequisite for order in this society is that there must be justice.  The women would still be disorderly in this country if they hadn’t gotten the right to vote. The workers would have torn it apart if they hadn’t gotten the Wagner Act, and America would still be fighting England if we had not won the war.

We must have justice.  Civil disobedience and lawlessness have been practiced not by black people in this society but by white people who denied the laws of God and the laws of the Constitution.

When a Wallace stands up and talks about the law – who was more lawless, engaged in more civil disobedience than that man? Who stands in the doorway of the courts and constantly berates the Supreme Court of the United States? Talk about respect for law and order! We, who have been the victims of the most unscrupulous practices by merchants, by landlords, by employers, by public officials  — we know something about lawlessness.

When you talk about crime, talk about the syndicate boss who lives downtown; and, and he’s white, and he’s responsible for the dope and the prostitution and the numbers racket that causes 60 percent of the crime in the ghetto.  Talk about the guy who charges too much interest rate or the guy who makes people pay $500 for a $175 television set.

The people who talk about neighborhood schools – Mrs. Hicks – you know what they mean.  They want little segregated neighborhoods.  Now, we make the big deal – neighborhood schools, and you can go to the same schools.  Then see these same people bussing their kids to private schools, or 300 miles away to prep schools if they’ve got the money.  They don’t really like the neighborhood that well.  But, now it [the neighborhood] has become the new code word for racism, in fact.

Finally, let me speak about your role as a man because I think this is probably more basic than anything.  Sure, you’re architects.  You’re a lot of things – you’re Republicans, Democrats, and a few John Birchers.  You’re a good many things, but you’re a man and a father.  I would hope that somehow you would understand this issue. More than any other human right today separates the phony from the real, the man from the boy – more than anything else.

Rickey solved the problem of attitudes and how long it takes.  I disagree with you that it takes a long time to change attitudes.  It doesn’t take any time to replace them overnight.  When he brought Jackie Robinson to the Dodgers, there was this ballplayer that said, “I’m not going to play with that ‘nigger.’”  He thought Rickey would flap like most employers. I imagine most architects thought he would say that he’d pull away. But he didn’t know Rickey very well.  Rickey was kind.  He said, “Give him three or four days.”  Well, at the end of a few days, Robinson had five home runs and had stolen many bases. This fellow was reassessing his options – he could go back to Alabama and maybe make $20 a week picking cotton, or stay there with the Dodgers and continue to work.  And, now it looked like Jackie would get him into the World Series and a bonus of $5,000 – which he did.  The only color he was concerned with was green.

We see it happening in Vietnam.  White boys from Mississippi in Vietnam develop more respect and admiration for their black sergeant in one week because they, too, have made their own assessment and decided to be liberal white boys from Mississippi instead of dead white bigots.  They’re interested in the art of survival, and the sergeant is skilled in the art of surviving, and they say, “Mr. Sergeant” – and it’s an overnight change.

Why is it that the best example of American democracy is found in the muck and mire of Vietnam?  Why is it that the greatest freedom the black man has is the freedom to die in Vietnam – and as he dies, why do his loved ones, his kids, and his wife and his mother have to fight for the right to buy a house where they want to?

 I know there are other speakers, and I have spoken for too long.  A speech, to be immortal, doesn’t have to be eternal.

I do want to tell you one last story.  Mel Batten, who is the chairman of the board of J.C. Penney, about four months ago was having breakfast with his kids, one girl 21 and one boy 23, and they asked what he was going to do that week.  He said, “I’m going out with Whitney Young, and I have a series of luncheons in some three or four cities.  I’m hosting these, and I’m going around talking about expanding employment opportunities for Negro citizens and giving money to the Urban League.

(Incidentally, I don’t want you to miss that plug – you are distinguished by the fact that I bet we have fewer architects and fewer firms contributing to the National Urban League than any other group in the country.  That is probably my fault, and I apologize – you have not been solicited. Next time it will be your fault.)

But, when he told these kids, his boy said, “You’re going to do what?” He repeated it to him. And the boy said, “You mean you’re not going to maximize the profits of J.C. Penney today! You’re not going out this week to undercut Woolworth’s; you’re not going out to see if you can get something a little cheaper and increase the margin of profits of some product?”  And he answered, “No.”

The 21-year-old daughter, without saying a word, ran over, hugged, and kissed him with tears in her eyes.  He told me, “I never had as much respect and admiration from my kids as I had in that one moment.”

Here is a man who gives his children everything –sports cars, big allowances, clothes, and big tuition.  That isn’t what counts.  They take that for granted.  Here is a man who suddenly became a man with guts, who was concerned about other human beings.  Here is a man who is willing to stand up and be counted.  That’s what these kids care about.

You talk about communication with these kids. They tell you why you don’t communicate. They tell me you are inconsistent. You tell them they shouldn’t smoke, drink, and pet because everyone else does, that you have your own value system, stand up for what you believe in, do what you know is right.  Then, they say, “My mother and my dad never do – they never lift their finger to let a black man in business at the top level, never try to get a neighborhood, into the club or church. They just go along.”

I submit to you that this is a mistake in your role as a parent and human being.  If you cannot identify with the kind of thing I described and that the Kerner Commission saw – if you cannot see that it happens even today in this country, if you can’t as a mother and father, you are in worse shape than the victims.

So, what’s at stake is your country, your profession, and you – as a decent human being.  Anatole France once said, “I prefer the error of enthusiasm to the indifference of wisdom.”  For a society that has permitted itself the luxury of an excess of callousness and indifference, we can now afford to permit ourselves the luxury of an excess of caring and concern.  It is easier to cool a zealot than it is to warm a corporation.

An ancient Greek scholar was once asked to name when the Greeks would achieve victory in Athens.  He replied, “We shall achieve victory in Athens and justice in Athens when those who are not injured are as indignant as those who are.”

And, so shall it be with this problem of human rights in this country. There is something wrong with that kind of society.

By your invitation to me and by your attentiveness to an overly long set of remarks, I am convinced that you are well on your way to becoming as indignant as those who are hurt.

Thank you very much.

Planning Boards = Index

In each part, there are observations that seek to improve the relationship between the powerful and influential money makers and about seven and a half million ordinary working-class people, small business owners, retired people, first responders, and so on.

Part I GOS-3P-RE™

This is an open set of planning questions about the LTCP as if it was a law.  It seems unlikely, except, for the one thing.  Some members of the Council are just as mad at DCP as you are. 

Part II Rolling the Dice

Carl Weisbrod’s presentation is first, speaking as Chair of the thirteen-member City Planning Commissioner in 2016. The second is by Marisa Lago speaking as Director of the Department of City Planning. It looks at this as if it is an honest power grab by term-limited council members, and they are rolling the dice on the next Mayor of NY.

Part III Inclusionary Energy

Seeing the Climate Mobilization Act (CMA) as a compounding displacement factor of the LTCP. A long-term comprehensive plan will be looking at a pile of houses on stilts thanks to the compromises in: City Planning Commission Approves Citywide Coastal Zoning Rules

Part IV Megadevelopment

Imagines the law as a bait and switch 5-year confidence game.

Part V Flushing – A Wicked Problem

Looking for197a  alternative process that invests in the community district power

Part VI Doublespeak+

Ranked choice and pocket books

Part VII Summary of 2.23.21 Hearing

I don’t really know. I’m thinking of something but not sure what yet, but I am moving toward the first shot at a City Council strategy that alters the Council.

Part VIII Getting Strategic

The only way to be sure is to go strategic. First, the discovery of weak appointments. Motivation will be second and money third.

Part VIII: Strategic Planning

Strategic Planning by a Community District Board

What if a Community Board decided they wanted to be something more than “advisory?”  If they did, it would not be stimulated by long-term comprehensive planning. It would be a calculated, tactical decision aimed at achieving an advantage in chosen situations. A strategic plan provides its users with a continuous test for internal strengths (S) and weaknesses (W) as its central function. Commonly called SWOT, that initial scan reveals opportunities and threats primarily external, but not exclusively.  Like the fighter, Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”  Doing this test leads to the first question.

Why does the Department of City Planning and its Commissioners want weakness at the community district level of change?

Weakness and Strength

That question makes it possible to list all challenges that might be attributed to this weakness. Some reasons are listed (here). In one Community District (CD-A), the issues could be listed under the headings of noise, signs, and potholes. It is an area with a higher median income than the city. Other problems in a Community District (CD-B) might cover deteriorating housing, food desert conditions, and poor education outcomes. It is an area with a median income lower than the city. The strengths/weaknesses portion of the SWOT scan is vastly different than others.

On the other hand, the opportunity (O) and threats (T) segment would be far more concerning to the city’s economic health in CD-B. The former (CD-A) would require an uncomplicated set of solutions. The CD-B would require partnerships involving an entirely different set of resource decisions. For this reason alone, strategic plans with Community Districts provide superior capability for resolving the intractable problems in the Districts that have them and rightly deserve priority treatment.  The series of images below come from searching for SWOT.  The resources available are extensive. Frankly, any small group or committee of a CD board can use them to get strategic.

Put “SWOT” in a Search Engine

Every CD has a different relationship with the central urban government authority. Once the initial scan and issues are revealed, the third part of a CD strategic plan is a specific agreement to a broad set of goals. They can be unique to each community and then linked to a citywide mission statement. Therefore, the content of the relationship between residents and Community Board Members and the central authority develops into the fourth part of the locally produced strategic plan.

In CD-A, there may not be a demand for injecting strategic planning into that relationship. If a need is expressed, recognition of it as an opportunity to build reciprocity occurs with ease. It is seen as a new learning relationship of enormous power (here). Reciprocity is underwritten by two forms of research conducted in four directions. These are internal and external assessments of “forces” identified by the parties involved in establishing their partnership. For example, these assessments could examine ways to alter the “advisory” power of a CD introduced as “the problem” in this description of strategic planning. Here, the CD and the CPD would look internally at its strengths and weaknesses. They would share concrete illustrations of the forces internal to their current ability to share power that may reveal external opportunities or mutual interest threats. (see Flushing example here). A strategic plan, in this case, would look to discover, disclose, and define divide and conquer structure in so-called “community benefits agreements.”

Initial evaluations would look to the past based on expense and capital budget decisions from one to ten-year “show me the money” periods. The process looks to the future by sharing neighborhood experiences with community development professionals. These professionals as individuals and organizations may be sourced internally from the community and externally as partners to confirm or enhance, deny, or challenge background socio-economic data.

The need for a CD and the CPD to enter a more substantial partnership-based exchange will develop with a sense of shared mutually beneficial content. The partners will recognize opportunities in their common interest and share in defense tactics against threats. The partnership with CD-A might take a day to negotiate. The resource requirements needed to build an alliance with CD-B present complex problems.  Creating joint ventures is implied here and should be recognized as one that may involve a year to negotiate and renew annually for a decade. Each implemented action is evaluated for success or failure using objective measures in a shared calendar for marking change. The heart of a strategic plan is the moment-to-moment, year-to-year sense of documented collective effort.

The current plan for democratic participation in the city’s development is well exposed for its inequity. As NYC urban planning stands today, CD-A gets stronger when CD “A” and “B” are asked to participate in the same way. In fact, CD-B gets weaker for the lack of comparative results or access to similar resources. However, community districts and their volunteer board members are responsible for supporting the democratic process. When this process is weakened or in trouble, what it needs is more democracy.

The city’s overall economic health provides the “commons.” The capacity to see differences in York City’s 59 Community Districts and resource-react differently is possible. The care and well-being of each of these hundreds of neighborhoods in each district can endure the ignorance of their wealth as well as the tragedy of their poverty with a strategic plan SWOT approach.

A Strategic Plan Outline

“Strategic Plan” in a Search Engine

Seek the term “strategic plan,” and resources become available. A small group or committee can click here and there and come up with something useful. The outline below is not a set of sequential steps. Each action description is an ongoing activity. With seven actions, seven people can develop one skill as the “go-to” person on one of them.  Constantly scanning, restating issues, mission, and goals in new ways, redefining internal vs. external objectives.  Participants will find ways to do things and redo them often and with delight. As one board member stated once, “Win or lose, succeed or fail, it is much better than wailing, and I really hate whining.”

Once the components are up and running in people, it is much like the SQ-3R method taught to students to help them realize a complex subject about which they will be tested, as are we all. The responsibility is to scan the environment, the narrative, and data (S) – prepare questions (Q) with responses and continuously read, recite, and review (3R) the content as it develops.  One other point on the answers repeated to the questions.  The answers can change.  The answer to the why are boards weak may stay – they will always be inadequate. That may not mean ineffective.

Seven Major Actions of a Strategic Plan

  1. Scan the environment.  Identify key factors and trends important to the community’s future. Determine how external forces will influence events in specific localities.
    1. Review existing planning and development activities used in the neighborhood environments. Prepare baseline bibliography of development approaches and intervention strategies currently in NYC, such as CBAs.  Include a focus on the applicability of methods implemented in other neighborhoods.
    1. The initial scan’s critical factors will involve measured trends regarding the persistence of an issue.  Examples might be poverty, housing affordability, or the quality of services tailored to meet specific community needs such as early childhood education, employment training, and adult education.
  2. Select key issues.  Based on the scan, jointly select a few problems whose successful resolution is critical.
    1. Use an integrative method to link issues most applicable to community-based development organizations with staff focused on those issues.
    1. Develop a list of community-based planning activities in NYC and seek practitioners’ experience in the field for their review and comment.
  3. Set mission statements or broad goals. Establish the direction for the strategy development process by setting general goals for routine review.
    1. The mission and goals process reveals directions specific to a Community Board schedule. If mission involved small business development and youth employment.
    1. The review and comment period establishes integrative mission concepts.
  4. Conduct external and internal analyses.  Look in depth at outside forces affecting the achievement of the goals. Identify strengths and weaknesses, along with the availability of resources.
    • A core curriculum provides tools to conduct analysis with a broad base of active practitioners’ participation in community-based development.
    • Publication of primer and training curriculum on comprehensive and strategic methods of “internal/external” analysis. Replication, adaptation, and use by others would be based on resources and identifying strengths and weaknesses.
  5. Develop goals, objectives, and strategies.  Based on the external and internal analyses, decide what can be achieved concerning each issue and how it will be achieved.
    • Conference, symposia, meetings, and workshops define series of activities implied through the development of goals implemented by applying a strategic planning method—a mission and purpose to connect businesses with youth. A strategic tactic would be to ask all fifty members to canvas five local companies with a five-question survey.
    • The day-to-day mission of community-based development corporations, regional and national analysts of trends, and related outside forces would facilitate achievable consensus regarding proposed activities with concepts for implementation.
  6. Develop an implementation plan.  Be specific about timetables, resources, and responsibilities for carrying out strategic actions guided by selecting projects led by stated priorities and policies.
    • Program timetables currently in preliminary form have been provided to isolate the resources and responsibilities of program implementation.
    • An outline timetable framework for program participants following the implementation of the major program elements will provide the strategic basis of continuity in continuing the work initiated.
  7. Monitor, update, and scan process recurs.  Ensure that strategies are carried out.  Adjust them as necessary in changing environments.  Be prepared to update the plan when significant changes occur in the background.
    • Implemented an evaluation to define local practitioners’ impact using data and planning services compared to trends other local, regional, and national analysts.
    • We control what we make recur. A methodology for providing impact data will serve as a program implementation component.

As indicated above,  there are literally hundreds of outlines available to become comfortable to strategically alter the condition in which you find yourself as a member of a Community Board.  

By Fitnr – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
Map Widget

Several board members have run for a City Council office. The recognition is helpful, but the desire to do more is the motivation. Study the map below as a Board Member. Count the City Council members responsible for your district. Ordinary people can build organizational development and leadership skills. They don’t need permission.

Community Districts and City Council Districts

A strategic planning process shapes a renewable agenda for up to five years. All 2,950 Community Board Members (assuming a complete roster) are appointees of the City Council and the Borough President. The City Councilmembers’ appointments are based on the political districts they serve, including one or more community districts. Fifty members are serving two-year staggered terms. Twenty-five appointments occur each year, and the entire board can be reappointed every two years.

Goals of the Strategic Planning Process

Provide broad strategic direction for the Community Districts role and responsibilities, considering trends in NYC, its metropolitan region, and in the fields of community-based economic development.

  • Reaffirm the mission of Community Districts, their vision, values, and theory of change.
  • Routinely set goals, services, and an organizational structure capable of adapting strategic controls.
  • Identify interesting/helpful questions facing Community Districts (CD) (see below).
  • Clarify implementation priorities.
  • Establish the infrastructure, planning, evaluation, and flexibility to achieve our mission and meet our priorities for the coming years.

Sample Questions

  • What role do we see Community Districts play in the “next generation” of community development (given changes in NYC and the region)? How can we encourage the best and most progressive tendencies within the field?
  • What should the future of C.D.s advisory role over the real estate development of the community look like?  What role should a Community District Board play in development projects?  How can C.D.s become more financially robust?  Can it become a mission-accomplishing agency?
  • How can the CD build upon relationships with other institutions to bring more resources to work toward mission-based accomplishments?
  • What is our role at various geographic levels – city, region, state, U.S., global? In addition to our work in the NYC metro region, what role (if any) should we plan in broader national and international efforts for sustainable, equitable, community development?
  • What is the IT/GIS programmatic relationship between the CD and the CPD?
  • Can a CD bring high-quality technical assistance to local community organizations?
  • Can it produce a broader policy framework for equity and sustainability?
  • Do multiple City Council Members strengthen or weaken internal Board functions? In either case, what are the opportunities and the threats?

Background Chapter 8 – City Planning

Over the last thirty years, New York City has weathered national economic and health crises. While supporting unprecedented population growth and economic prosperity, it struggles to find solutions to poverty’s concentration in several Community Districts. Every one of them has a larger population and, in some cases, more jobs than every other city in the State of New York. They comprise over 350 distinct architecturally, ethnically defined neighborhoods. Over a hundred languages are spoken. The remittances that come from the families who live in New York combine to be greater than national foreign aid contributions by the State Department to some countries.

The foundation of government is the measures of responsiveness to community needs that improve opportunities. The New York City Charter renews government functions. Most of the changes are reasonable. Others are obscure enough to be intriguing.  As briefly as possible, the following examines city planning as it developed over the last century. The 1898 Charter of the City of Greater New York gave the Municipal Assembly the power and duty to number and name 22 districts for community improvement. The 1938 Charter imposed a City Council elected by boroughwide proportional representation known as the La Guardia Reform. The eventual end of the Board of Estimate and Apportionment as a power-sharing system is best reviewed in a Gotham Gazette summary (here).1 The oral argument and opinion announcement (here) is a good listen regarding the BoE.

In 1957 the “Community Planning Councils of Manhattan were extended into the outer boroughs and became known as Community Planning Boards.   The 1963 revision of the New York City Charter extended “Community Planning Councils” (1951) to the outer boroughs as “Community Planning Boards,” which are now more commonly known as “Community Boards.”2

The 1975 revision set the number of Community Districts to 59. It established the district manager position and created the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) to review land use proposals such as zoning actions, franchises, and special permits. A timeframe for the review would be added in 1989, just as the U.S. Supreme Court found the “Board of Estimate” (BoE) to be an unconstitutional government structure. The bottom line, a more representative (one person, one vote) government was required. Community Planning Boards became the ‘up from the grassroots” element for conducting dialogue on community development defined by the central authority to govern land use.1 The main question that has arisen since is repeated quite often.

Why should any community-based organization spend years on a 197-a plan and longer to get it approved? 

The evidence regarding this work is that it has no effect on future land use. The lack of city control over how and with who community benefits agreements (CBAs) are created is well criticized. CBAs are private agreements that are usually negotiated between developers and community groups connected with a community development project. However, sometimes the city or a particular elected official or community board does get involved.  Adding a thorough disclosure of all CBA negotiations is a reasonable tactic.  Full and complete disclosure of expected benefits to a locality and the city’s general fund is vital.

Over Half of the Funding Pledged for Capital Initiatives in Rezoned Neighborhoods Is Not Yet in the Budget

Read the findings from the IBO5: PDF HTML

Over $28 billion in taxes were collected from New York City property owners in 2019. That alone stimulates the need for a strategic plan initiated by this question by Sen:

What is the relation between our collective economic wealth and our individual ability to live as we would like?

Real estate taxes are among the most significant expenses for households who own homes in New York City. New York City is classified as a special assessing unit that directly ties the law to a local authority. The New York Real Property Tax Law (NYRPTL) serves as a standard for other major cities and large municipalities. Still, real property assessment and taxation in New York City exhibit grave disparities between a property’s market value and the value upon which property tax is calculated.  The NYRPTL tax system allocates the tax burden unequally and requires reform.

The unfairness is further complicated by a process for appealing and challenging assessments in New York City.  It is inaccessible to the average taxpayer, and as such, it violates the average property owners’ constitutional rights. The lack of affordable access has also led to prejudicial judgments and discrimination against taxpayers of some property classes at others’ expense.

The unfair administration of New York City’s property assessment system, the property tax appeal process, and misclassified and unequal assessment practices have become a violation of taxpayers’ substantive and procedural due process rights under New York law and the New York U.S. Constitutions.

  1. 26 Years Since the Board of Estimate’s Demise March 22, 2015, by Janos Marton
  2. A significant source of what this period was like will be found in the papers of John E. Zuccotti (here).
  3. Sen, Amartya (1999) Development as Freedom (New York: Anchor Books). Google Scholar
  4. “So Much to Do” — A Conversation with Richard Ravitch  Talk at Hunter May 2014 (here)
  5. The Gowanus may be the next rezoned neighborhood that frightens residents with the unknown of development. The Independent Budget Office has looked at a set of approved rezoning plans and examined the funding status for 87 local projects promised to neighborhoods and portrayed as community benefits. Read the findings: PDF   HTML

New York Colleges and Universities

There are nearly one-half-million students of higher education and over 1.1 million students in the NYC public education system. A resource of enormous power given 1) affordability and 2) focus on priorities of the city through scholarships and education incentives. These institutions have an enormous stake in the health, housing, and general welfare of New York City people.

2,5732014Barnard College
18,0902014Baruch College
3,7722010Berkeley College Midtown NYC Campus
11,1572010Bronx Community College
17,4102015Brooklyn College
1,2702016Columbia Business School
1,2442020Columbia Law School
31,4552020Columbia University
8,8462017Fashion Institute of Technology
15,2862015Fordham University
7,0782011Hostos Community College
23,0182013Hunter College
15,0002014John Jay College of Criminal Justice
15,9682016Kingsborough Community College
17,5692010LaGuardia Community College
12,0002019Lehman College (CUNY)
3,8832013Manhattan College
12,0632019Manhattan Community College
5,5192020Medgar Evers College
17,2822016New York City College of Technology
51,1232018New York University
6792010NYU Grossman School of Medicine
1,3952015NYU School of Law
12,8432015Pace University
5,8542015Parsons School of Design | The New School
4,5562014Pratt Institute
19,5202016Queens College, City University of New York
15,4932015Queensborough Community College
4,2012017School of Visual Arts
20,4482014St John’s University Queens Campus
5,8372011St. Joseph’s College New York
1,8912010SUNY Maritime College
16,1612012The City College of New York
8762015The Cooper Union
9392016The Juilliard School
10,2542014The New School
6,3482014Yeshiva University
8,5112015York College

Help in finding the faculty that combine housing, climate and social justice would be helpful here.

Thanks for the contributions to date: OCCUPY

Vote Early

Like any clear-headed voter, I was in shock following the “what happened” 2016 election. I turned to Jane Jacobs for help and went straight for Dark Days Ahead” in my library and came to this in the first chapter:

“…the death or the stagnated moribundity of formerly unassailable and vigorous cultures is caused not by an assault from outside but by an assault from within, that is, by internal rot in the form of fatal cultural turnings not recognized as wrong turnings when they occur or soon enough afterward to be correctable. The time during which corrections can be made runs out because of cultural forgetfulness.”

Jane Jocobs

There is still time. In this election, will we forget the assault on the dignity of women carried out by a candidate for the Presidency of the United States? Will we forget the self-serving lies? As a candidate, he is that unrecognized “rot” in the cultural turning of a national election. Take hope in knowing it is not “fatal.” There is a time to correct. Vote early. To find where your early site is located go here. If you want to go the absentee route get the application here.


The terms of office in the U.S. Constitution assure the observance of character sufficient to support or deny renewal. Terms are kernels of political time, and like seeds, they carry stories of leadership. Some champion the highest of human ideals and guide us with the opportunity for growth with every kind of crucial nutrient. The message of the seed is not to grieve, but to find the nutrients to grow. The rot we have now will provide if left to decay.

I cannot think of a better time to build a massive effort to vote as JFK said, not because it is easy, but because it is hard. The cities are skeptical and easily angered, but on balance, unafraid of change because they are diverse and highly skilled in the experience of it. Today, it may seem difficult to get to the truth and I can tell you exactly where you will find it.

Walk to a street outside your home and accept this idea. Out there the worried search for nutrients and fear of change is strong. Many will be tempted to choose the false promises of a liar. Know that justice can be ripped from our hearts, but not without cost. To succeed in this task, one dark force in the world requires exposure and the “vote” is not all we have, but it is all we need to renew and begin again.

Vote early. To find where your early site is located go here. If you want to go the absentee route get the application here.

Vote damn it!


Kara Springer created the image/public art above. A Small Matter of Engineering, Part II.

“The attention given to the social construct of race and racism is four-hundred-year-complicated, the subject of multiple doctoral thesis, many excellent books, and legislation. On the other hand, there is an uncomplicated pre-systemic solution to racism for ordinary people available right now. Become a playful toddler again, and stay that way, We would just have new friends to play the game of growing up in the world. We could sustain the social context of newness without bias. The lesson here is we do not have a self-identity in these first years of our lives and that the bias now held is learned and can be unlearned.”

Rex L. Curry

Yes, white people do something. Everything we think we know about the world is wrong, and that is a good way to look at it if we expect to learn anything new. I found Corinne Shutack (also white), who found Kara’s work (above) to be a helpful image for the distribution of 75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice. Her list helped me get into racism as one of several American malfunctions I am working on and drafted for you to scroll through (here).  

Gill Scot-Heron (1949-2011) lyrics (here) 1971

Shutack’s work helped me view recent events as having system change potential, a process described in five other posts (here).

Even though the world has been brought down by one innocent pangolin, the secret lesson of the dystopian pandemic is the exposed super-power of a national strike for health and social justice. Coupled with ongoing racial injustice events, I must now plead with you to gird your loins, gear up, and steel yourself for the return to normal.

Do Not Let That Happen.

One of her brilliant teachers said the problem is not whether the events are racist or not. The question is this: “How much racism was at work?”

To deal with the inequality of life chances for a newborn child, it is necessary to recognize probable impediments. Number one on the list should become the disparities of culture, race, and ethnicity that pose grievous imbalances caused by each of those obstacles. Those that are products of city, state, and national policy offer many opportunities for change. They are aimed and every human being from New York City to Los Angeles and from Minneapolis to Houston. Each of them produces vastly different consequences for everyone on the diverse spectrum of America.

The blue note is coming for all to hear and understand (listen) (read). Common interest groups will form, and coalitions for change will be built. System changes occur all the time (here).

Love the One Your In?

A significant part of American history and perhaps of the whole world include patterns of race insecurity. The system we are in fosters that anxiety. The combination of insecurity and anxiety attracts opportunists of all kinds. The emotions are often sought out and exploited by those with political power to sustain or advance their position. Recognize the overarching pathway of this behavior as follows: Pick a group, ostracize them, identify a weakness to exploit or strength to fear, support false but agreeable “like-with-like” ghetto policies, and next, isolate and then criminalize the poverty of the marginalized people. Find or select behavior to define as a crime, confiscate their possessions through forfeiture, and then seize and imprison them. As a process, this is a historical lineage nourished by hate and fear. Reform is a failure with this kind of unremoved, unexamined sickness in the world.

The history of this pattern is that of political practice. It reveals a design to fund and establish the eradication of equality as a self-sustaining Apartheid. In America, the persecution of Chinese immigrants, the internment of Japanese citizens, the eugenic sterilization of the “unfit,” the criminalization of drugs vs. health treatment for the addicted are well known political power moves. Justice speaks when these practices are exposed, the crimes are admitted, and payment for reparations is agreed upon. On a rare occasion, paid up.

Vox developed a story on the four times reparations were paid in America of the six-times world. Think about that ratio. Vox also encourages close reading of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ case for reparations. Since the early 1970s, the genocidal aspects of American racial policy remain in the slow-motion systems associated with the so-called War on Drugs. Like all war, the one on drug use has failed the people while it enriches the businesses of war itself. Reform is a failure; a revolutionary perspective for change will be needed. The debate for me hovers over the idea called a “new era of public safety” vs. “the end of policing as we know it,” and that’s all right.

The two contemporary responses of enlightened leadership on race and cops can be considered as pivotal. The wisdom and vision of Barack Obama to even tackle the subject and the far less known insight of Alex S. Vitale, a “critical criminologist.” Of the thousands of research efforts available for discovery, I recommend two of them as follows:

“…here’s a report and toolkit developed by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and based on the work of the Task Force on 21st Century Policing that I formed when I was in the White House. And if you’re interested in taking concrete action, we’ve also created a dedicated site at the Obama Foundation to aggregate and direct you to useful resources and organizations who’ve been fighting the good fight at the local and national levels for years.” The whole 416-page full policing pdf report is (here).

Barack Obama 2020

The second response includes the excellent criticism of the Task Force’s thorough but modest volley toward a fundamental change in policy by Brooklyn College Professor Alex S. Vitale. His book, The End of Policing, reviews the multifaceted work in this field that recognizes the path on which law enforcement now stands has made it a significant contributor to America’s spiral into deeply racist and racialized practices. There is no double or triple bottom line; cops do more damage than good, and “protect and serve” is the exception to the rule. The bottom line is Fidelis ad mortem does not have to be the NYPD’s motto. It can translate as “faithful (unto or until) death, and there you have the poetic vs. narrative art of the blue wall.

The call from the President of the United States to serve is a compelling and personal honor. A review of the task force report and toolkit reveals a set of thoughtful, experienced change agents. The movement for racial justice in America must call upon the task force’s people to confirm progress, if any, and consider the next steps.

To fully understand the task force report’s failings, excellent insight is offered in Vitale’s book and through his media interviews (here). The Policing and Social Justice Project has an implementation arm for the movement. Finally, life-long learners on the subject should subscribe to The Criminal Criminologist (here), where he interviews scholars and activists. It is a great way to meet people you have yet to work with or encounter.

The Malfunction

The relationship of policing to racism requires the use of the inverse proportion rule. It occurs when one value increases (more people working to solve non-police problems), and it decreases another (i.e., the incidence of unproductive police tasks). Adding more workers on a task to reduce the time to complete the task is inversely proportional. Reducing the time to get law enforcement less harmful is now critical (meaning short term) or back to the same old and seriously wrong-normal.

The best relationship between all Americans to every neighbor should be about the structural, materially unequal experience a child may have when entering the world. The systemic inequality of life chances for newborn children of color is exposed decade after decade. The facts are exhibited as shameful but continue unchanged, even though it would be good for every kid.

The use of law enforcement tends to be the hammer that helps to silence criticism. The rightfully enraged also hold a hammer. The better question is, who and what put that hammer in both their hands? Why is the hammer the only tool available? Much of this is already well understood, it is known, and solutions can be implemented with levers and a fulcrum, but not with a hammer. Wilson (below) can tell you in a few seconds with perfect intensity.

William Julius Wilson

Since the early 1970s (Nixon), the severe problems (the ones requiring a sophisticated toolbox) got fully embedded in racism. Ever since Nixon, every President has presented to the American people ideas with an air of cultural sensitivity. They are truisms such as the need to improve ties, strengthen lines of communication, and to make right past wrongs. All of them are politically calculated half-measures and part of the problem. A social reflex in America is to hide from its history while acknowledging our nation as one of the immigrants. Ignoring the record of formal attacks on the “value” of every new group requires exposure and condemnation from every leadership position available on slavery.

Marginalizing the oldest mass immigration group explicitly enslaved since 1619, to build the nation requires uncovering the cover-up of all cover-ups. The failure of remedies for yet another century of repression angers the mind and fills the heart with hopelessness. Neither form the basis for a system change.

Perhaps it is the violence of human history and centuries of brutal intolerance that the American Constitution sought to purge from people’s governance. It aims to enable and encourage people to sustain the hope for change outside of the system by establishing a false representative government and inside produce as majority vote rules to kill compromise. The idea is that excesses of either could be no longer be rendered invalid by the other.

Nevertheless, America’s social and economic power continues as a thing fueled by slavery and imprisonment. It is a governance system that appears unwilling to fully deactivate rules that encourage and support racism even though the incidence of injustice persists. Change must, therefore, come from changing the system.

The system has been changed, and for an hour and a half, I ask you to please watch white folks talk about the bifurcation of America by Robert Putnam and friends regarding the subject of “our kids.” Beware, the time spent here is informative, but it can make you a little crazy. They know, they really do know, and have the numbers and the argument for change, so why are we supposed to think they will? they do not create change. Is it because they are just “talking points?” Have we failed to empower them to turn their power into change? Do not let it go back to normal.

Robert D. Putnam

Join Your MovementPick a System – Change It

Put a grand in a black bank, find one (here) Five year CD, whatever – your choice. Not for you? Then go to – 75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice and have another look.

Live-Long Learning Choices

Did this already? Then go back to 75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice. She said it is a work in progress and will continue to work on its development.

One last thing. If you believe in the power of working-class greatness, remember the super-power revealed the 2020 pandemic – a national strike for health and justice could get health and justice because if a little bug can bring capital to its knees and put some in your pocket, that bug is telling you something. Encourage everyone to have three to six months of savings to cover the basic, essential living costs. This is a challenging thing, but it is doable and smart for many reasons.

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Jobs and Education

Software, digital hardware, and the life-science industries can add jobs indirectly to a local economy as multipliers, in much the same way as the manufacture of autos and appliances contributed decades earlier with one significant difference. The education of the workers.


Research and development firms in physical, engineering, and life sciences were the first to take full advantage of information management’s technological revolution. As a result, these industries deposited economic growth into regions with innovations in software and hardware. Perhaps the best-known example of this marriage of technology and science is our understanding of DNA would have been impossible otherwise, leading to exponential growth in these industries into exclusive new fields.

Economists have several explanations, but two words get to the multiplier effect for business and jobs – supply chain. The 2020 pandemic revealed specific concerns regarding breaks in this chain, reflecting national security concerns. The logistics of technology for refining material acquisitions into “just in time” cash-saving packets fail miserably during periods when critical conditions demand everything “all at once” to avert a crisis. Global terrorism, climate change, and pandemic conditions more than hint at this issue. Each occurs like an hour hand, but it is the second hand that sweeps the planet with a new reality regarding readiness. Frightening concerns as these are recommitting Amerian policy to jobs and education may be the only way for the economy to stop shaking. It is time to stop looking at the promise of a chrome future and think of it as something a lot more fleshly.

UC Berkeley Economics professor Enrico Moretti’s The New Geography of Jobs examines places in the United States that illustrate the critical difference between economic growth and decline in the context of winner/loser locations in a rapidly globalizing economy. Using U.S. Census Bureau data, Moretti’s book exhibits maps of the United States to reveal the system change’s location impact.  The growth areas were those with a high percentage of college-educated people. He shows a decline in the regions that still have many “smart people” to this day but failed to produce, keep, or attract educated people in the newly growing system change businesses.

Scholarly observers labeled “the losers” as shrinking cities, pointing to Detroit, MI, and others of the Northeast “rust belt” following their 2000 and 2010 Census analysis. Studies of similar “shrinking” conditions throughout Europe focused on this as a phenomenon of industrial globalization, regional deindustrialization, and suburbanization. In all cases, the winners were those who had in residence or could attract well-educated people. The analytical resources are available for the ordinary observer to dig into these changes as a dynamic force and one affected by public policy. In 2020, the importance of easy access to vital information and re-establishing confidence in the small business and banking community was more important than ever. As the history of the Bureau of the Census shows in its “understand America” mission, it has grown to become a major business subsidy for nationalizing businesses. Moving forward is how to make the Bureaus’ “jobs and education data” more widely available and easily accessible by the small business. Here is a quick look.

Geographic Support System Initiative (GSS-I)

For the 2020 Census, the Census Bureau’s reengineered address canvassing reduces costs. In December 2015, BOC published a 100-page report entitled, 2020 Census Detailed Operational Plan for the Address Canvassing Operation to describe this new Address Canvassing methodology. The practice has been routinely updated through 2018 (here) and eventually rolled into the GSS Program.

The maps (left) should be of interest to all Americans. Authorization constraints still hamper the advancement of this resource toward the routine use of a small business. The API from BOC has tutorials on how the data can help businesses. A tutorial of an analysis that links small businesses with congressional elections (here) is an excellent example.

The policy impact on regional economic growth or decline ranges from why Microsoft owners decided to move to Seattle to attract business policies two decades later. Microsoft took their small but rapidly growing 1970s company to Seattle because they were from and felt comfortable. However, the decision by the fledgling Microsoft is also like, but the reverse of public initiatives in regions hoping to find growth.  Both are equivalent, as they are a roll of the dice, plus confidence. Federal officials would not learn of the software and hardware technology industry’s explosive growth until the early 1990s when various attraction-bets came logically into policy.

I doubt that Bill Gates went to the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) system to select Seattle as the optimal location. The SIC was developed in the late 1930s as a New Deal-era initiative by the Interdepartmental Committee on Industrial Classification. His business was barely on the list and would not be there solidly until the reinvention of the SIC in 1997 turned it into the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS). By that time, Microsoft had already put sad little Seattle on the wow-map, but it was not all by itself. It happened because of the enormous attractive power of the industry. Seattle was not a place with a high percentage of educated residents in the 1970s. Over the next twenty years, Microsoft attracted whole businesses, and they all attracted people with educations that met their needs.

The nerd factor here is essential in another way. The mayors of cities called up their planning, and economic development commissioners said, “get me some of that!”  So they put the staff that loved digging into the nooks and crannies of the NAICS to define their regions for comparison to all others economically. As a result, more mayoral questions on the decline and what to do tended to get answers such as publicly investing in “cultural transformation” that led to the arts and a bet on people’s instinct not only to be creative but also productive artisans.

A search engine for NAICS (here) now takes researchers into a six-digit code that parses twenty industry sectors: five goods-producing industries and fifteen services sectors, all geographically searchable at the Bureau of the Census (here). Thus, in looking at the economic structure of employment, the basics are:

  1. Jobs drive economic growth wherever they are located.
  2. So, where you find around 50 percent of workers with college degrees, there is growth.

Strategic Gates

When the meaning of the word strategy is to get the advantage, examining sector-based development is a good idea. When it comes to isolating specific industries by region, this is especially true. Shared needs mean common supplies and mutually beneficial investments in human capital. Public “attraction” strategies that attempt to connect a worker to an employer are an abstraction. It functions well in the short-term, but in the long, it is a malfunction sustaining the myth that low-end employment leads to a ladder that has rungs. They are there, but very far apart if the business model is the provider, without public partners.

What works more effectively are efforts that alter the worker/employer relationship with massive investment in skills that add choices to the worker and their flexibility within a region. Flexibility has cards to be dealt into the public policy hand as well.  The options range widely from help with a car, or specific procurement practice, to a fully paid training program or support for a master’s degree. An added benefit of worker-centered investment is that participants can contribute to the advancement of policy decisions in the future of meaningful work.

Whether that work is by a forensic accountant or a cashier, the purpose of a system change is to build on challenges, opportunities, and futures of them both into eloquent experiences in personal development. The idea of winners and losers will probably always be a macroeconomic point, but it should never exist as a community-based experience. Instead, what should happen in the heart of the cashier or the business owner is the opportunity for growth and knowing there is a higher education resource that is unquestionably and unequivocally available.

The Malfunction

The national partnership between employment and education is a failure. In 2014 the Economic Opportunities Program of the Aspen Institute and the American Assembly (Columbia University) published Connecting People to Work: Workforce Intermediaries and Sector Strategies. It is a 500-page set of whitepapers. The paper to read in this book (pdf here) examined the February 2012 announcement of the Community College to Career Fund. An eight-billion-dollar investment was seeking to bring skills that lead directly to good jobs with the goal of two million workers. The program aimed at high-growth industries by funding regional or national industry groups tasked with identifying workforce needs in their fields and developing solutions like standardized worker certification, new training technologies, or collaborations with industry employers to define career pathways for workers.

When a 500-page document becomes available for the ordinary reader, parsing it for keywords is a powerful tool for skimming the material, searching for specific content using one or two words. I discovered the essay on public investment in a community-college program this way. This one brought out the economic “malfunctions” that affect connecting jobs and education to community development. The words below are ranked from most to least.

The word “sector” occurs 1,319 times and “national” 817 and “region 468 times. The word “federal” occurred 197 times but “federal government” just 14 times. Community College was 151, “university” 115 with cities at 86 and “suburb” only 5.  I found “local government four times, and “regional government” just once. The use of the word “schools” – 20 with high schools getting only three mentions. The choices are many, “union” was interesting as was “interprofessional” and training.

Central to improving connections between job seekers and producers is the idea of fairness or balance. In a global economy where the imbalances are overpowering, local efforts can seem heroic. This is what is wrong with them.  With this view, the use of the word “race” was a mere 36 times, that broke down to “African-American” 24 times and to Hispanics just 7 with the rest mixed in with the word “gender” 18 times.  These are not hot-button words for the footnotes. The issues the people face with these labels must drive the conversation forward, not help it disappear.

Again, the brilliant, heroic work at the local level is not the issue. The megaregions of the nation hold over 85% of the nation’s GDP. Still, the usefulness of regional institutions beyond a structure of few mutual benefit corporations is nil. Malfunctions in jobs and education remain piled into a quagmire of State policy competition neatly encouraged by national policy scant.

In every developed nation in the world, children are considered the top national resource. In the United States, the policy appears to be the children of America are among the highest percentage of low-income whites amid towering imbalances involving people of color. Programs that look at popular fixes such as H1B visas and other short-term job filling policies fail to fully consider a thirty to fifty-year generational failure aimed at children from low- and moderate-income in America.

“The vitality of architecture does not stand on the strength of its foundations or the vision of its builders. It stands on the dignity of life formed in the heart of all of its creators.”

Rex L. Curry (Review of video by Mike Yellen for Ironworker Union 2017) Watch below.

The video above will also be found in a “system change” post on planning, architecture, and engineering (here). It opens like this: “Your bones tell you, you smell it, there is the challenge of unclear change on the tongues of the public speakers. The sticky multiple versions of the truth offered in our modern lives’ political-speech will be swept away by the clear mind of science. This is a call for help in that simple pursuit.”

Below: a sample of data available from U.S. Census Interactive Maps as described above.


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Life Imitates Malfunctions

This section on malfunctions prepares a larger narrative. We are working on how America has 1) an unqualified health problem that includes the inability to self-study health challenges. The importance of recognizing how 2) equality and equity for all Americans requires a system change that clearly shows the flow of equity as a factor of race. Central to these two issues is how capital can become 3) more digitally non-fungible today than in civilization’s entire history. The door is wide open for thieves of credit. The most perplexing malfunction is that 4) trust and confidence appear broken as agents for change. These are the vague, often confusing signals of malfunctions in America. Like a series of little failures, they can multiply combinations of confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance to which American’s are uniquely susceptible, and there is no one helping the American people figure it out.


Introduction to Malfunctions

The weakening state of America’s physical and mental health and the inability to build a platform for advancing equality and equity are malfunctions aggravated by a growing number of uncaptured thieves busily destroying ordinary people’s self-confidence and trust in change. The following examines all four of these observations through a lens of how ordinary, largely small groups of people should define problems. The first one is learning how to eliminate the axis of contention that tears at the American spirit.

Please consider coming back to this page as additions, edits from contributors, or via comments will be logged here, under the category “Malfunction” with the parent category System Change.


The causes of the housing problem can give you a facial tick. Here goes one recent example; the housing market has added single-family-rental securitization. This specimen is made of our old friend mortgage-backed securities backed by inflated home value and a rising market for rental housing. Combined with the collapse of employment, a friend from Michigan put it this way, this could turn into a nasty brew of outraged and hungry people, all of whom have guns.

In 2016, 95 percent of the distressed mortgages on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s books were auctioned off to Wall Street investors without preconditions and few provisions. As a result, the market recovered but without homeowners. Instead, private-equity firms acquired over 200,000 homes. While cities like New York are attractive but expensive investments, a substantial percentage of these new acquisitions occur in middle-class and low- and moderate-income suburban neighborhoods. Single-family-buildings have been in the rental market for a long time, but only recently has this practice added volatility to the market with the public humiliation of eviction.

Matthew Desmond’s book focused on eviction as a cause and consequence of distress in low to high-density communities. Once considered a big-city problem where evictions occurred formally through the courts. Less known and understood are management practices using subtle displacement practices such as “rent to buy schemes,” where low rent is the “hook,” and high down payments provide the profit. Overall, the increased rate of housing displacement is driven by weak government policies attracted to quick fixes, leading to the rise of institutionally managed and owned rental housing, and a court system that does not recognize the rights of tenants as comparable to landlords or developed the capacity for mediation before calling a U.S. Marshal.

“The moment these moratoriums are lifted, we’ll see massive evictions.” 

Professor Emily Benfer, Columbia Law School to CNBC reporter Annie Nova

The tables below will look very different from 2020 onward. Eviction Lab’s website (here) may become one of the best places to keep an eye on America’s housing policy crisis.  Ordinary citizens can help flatten their legislators’ learning curve by examining the Lab’s scoreboard of state policy changes in response to the pandemic. The continuing legacy of the 2008 crisis is directly reflected in the lab’s state-by-state and county checklist (here) and NYC’s Columbia Law School’s help. For example, new York landlords can’t file eviction orders against tenants right now – but they can after June 20, 2020.

The best source for monitoring policy changes in NYC is through the New York University Furman Center.

The market recognizes home value fluctuations with an increased number of tenants available to cover mortgages. However, the market could not recognize the collapse of renter capacity to prioritize shelter over all else. Another fly in the soup (aka malfunction) is the invisibility of increased corporate ownership in low-density areas whose legal systems heavily favor owner over renter. The table below shows how NYS is attempting to protect its 8.2 million people in rental households, of which 5 million are in NYC. The share of renter households whose gross rent made up more than 30 percent of their monthly pre-tax income is approaching 50% of households.

A 2018 study of New York eviction cases (Collinson & Reed, here) established a connection between eviction and homelessness in New York City.  The malfunctions of the housing market go both ways. A similar graph showing the percentage of household income for rent would also move steadily up from a baseline of affordability at 30%, rising to over 50% in 2019.

America’s complicated housing market story includes a blaze of web articles (example here) that claim property management and rental housing acquisitions are good investments based on the volatility of sales (figure 3 below), offering the fun of bargain hunting coupled with the steady upward trend in asking rents (figure 2 above).

Wall Street as Landlord

The Malfunction

Wall Street’s $60 billion real estate purchases have altered housing markets all over the United States. (NYT Story) The total funding for the Housing Choice Voucher program (Section 8) was a third of that at $20.292 billion in FY 2017. As in the 2008 recession, the malfunction is not paying attention to the possibility that former housing policies put equity in ordinary families’ lives through homeownership have disappeared just as the public might have been ready to recognize the inequity built into the system since 1950 could be corrected for the damage to families of color.

New York City’s real estate market includes some of the most high-profile properties in the world. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most expensive in which to invest. This wrinkle in a hot market is smooth with the invention of publicly traded real estate investment trusts (REITs). 

These outfits are companies that invest directly in real estate through properties or mortgages. The Internal Revenue Service requires REITs to pay taxable profits in dividends to shareholders. Companies with REIT status do not pay corporate income tax. It has developed adjudicative services with support systems that recognize the rights of residents as renters. Investopedia’s description of Investing In New York City REITs is recommended reading.

In 1968 the Citizen’s Housing and Planning Council of New York (CHPC) produced a little sixteen-page booklet on the housing problem with the above graphic on the cover. As a housing affordability advocacy group, they wanted people to understand what it took to build and operate affordable housing. So they put in the form of a five-room apartment in which the average cost of its development came to $20,000.

It is important to point out that this was considered reasonable and $20,000 in 1967, based only on the consumer price index changes that would be $155,000 in 2020 to yield a total inflation rate of 675% or 12.73% /year. The genius of the CHPC presentation is how the five rooms (image above) represented in the development was composed of 1) construction, 2) taxes, 3) land, 4) money, and 5) operating costs and then pointed out of the five which had the greatest impact on rent. Answer: the cost of money is the major factor. Today a change of one percent in the average interest rate from development through permanent financing could alter rents by $120 per month. Manipulate all of the other costs, and it will yield minimal impact on rent.

The affordability of housing is built entirely on Wall Street’s finance and banking industries’ desire to sustain both low (for them) and high-interest rates (for everyone else). Since 1967, or just over fifty years, the rate is based on the CPI alone, the trend toward high and almost 675%.

The lack of affordable rents and housing (a human right) sits squarely on government steps in handling the cost of money for the American people’s safety and health. A researcher on this question will find reasonably up-to-date data in another post (here).

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Second Change

Part Five – Every Change is a Second Chance:

Change does occur by chance. Having a readiness for it, on the other hand, requires an eagerness to be fit for the job. Hitting a search engine with the phrase “Theory of Change,” you get something like the mosaic below. My favorite is the Theory of Change website from ActKnowledge and their offer of certification and use of their TOCO software.

Mosaic of Chance Change. Pick a Theory Tile

Feedback is a response, reaction, or comment when you ask people for one. It is best when it is immediate, given freely, and on occasion fearlessly. The emphasis on this first creates an understanding of behavior changes in people’s education as it deepens knowledge in organizations. My experience has taught me that mission statements (i.e., uprooting poverty, ending the conflict, improving health) should be avoided until the power of evaluation is firm and established. These pools use feedback systems as basic as students working individually, pooling ideas in small groups. Structure from various institutional evaluation sources is available for use and essential to discovering and implementing standards.

In the three mission statement examples above, we can see the importance of these attainment measures. Uprooting poverty became a central component of the Civil Rights Movement. Along with the idea of ending sexual/racial conflict, the rise of Me Too and Black Lives Matter are building institutional coalitions for transformative change. Finally, the idea of improving the health of Americans due to a pandemic put a spotlight on the reluctance (perhaps denial) to examine structural inequality, social and economic conflict, and the health of people as the same.

One and the Same

Successful change agents work with people where they are found. The idea of “where” is locational as in a physical place with a view of something. A more complicated element is how the view includes the desire for outcomes defined by measures of outlook. Without the skills to work the language of outcomes, outputs, inputs, feedback, and some solid interpersonal communication instincts, it is challenging to develop “the same” into something vital.

Therefore, it is best to have some language to describe yourself, your community, and what you want to do to it or have it do to you because if you do not have these insights, this is when change becomes regressive. There are a lot of neat ways to keep from going backward. I like digging into change models, but it is equally important to look internally in the know thyself to know others’ kind of way. There is a “thyself” one you can use for just $50.00 or less in bulk if you are already in a never doubt group. Buying your own Myers-Briggs report allows you to acquire a four-letter MBIT type as listed below. You can explore that idea further (here).

  • Inspector – ISTJ
  • Counselor – INFJ
  • Mastermind – INTJ
  • Giver – ENFJ
  • Provider – ESFJ
  • Idealist – INFP
  • Supervisor – ESTJ
  • Visionary – ENTP

Agreeing to the proposition that you can be one of the personalities listed includes possible combinations because people do change, and we do have differences. Knowing an MBIT type in establishing goal-oriented relationships in the organizational setting is a useful “be open” experience. Being in an environment that sees change as an act that recognizes growth, personal advancement, new skills, and so on is useful, especially among the never doubters. As the mosaic below illustrates, the web and tons of print publications are replete with the fun of using personality types as communication and organizing tools.

Mosaic of Briggs-Myers Personality Til es – Have a look.

If an activity is plausible or even feasible, it can lead to an impact. Knowing the content of that impact comes from your ability to test and confirm actions in short-term, micro-focused cycles. Once in motion, these facts create the long-term result known as a system change. The two search engine mosaics above illustrate a grand range of templates available for guidance. The only missing element is called the first step.

The selection of interventions that take you from the beginning to the middle and the end are changes that should be joyful and hopeful. Understanding people’s knowledge and then in their organizations establish the plausibility of a framework for creating change. Like a good film, there are many connections between the early efforts to begin a story and to start on a path toward something, to get near the end, to sense a climax and a possible denouement, but just like the movies, there is no big “The End” anymore.

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System Change

Smithsonian “Salute to the Wheel” 
Map of Mesopotamia (3500 B.C.)


Revelatory, that is what it was revelatory.  Not the amusing face of God kind, more exact. It started when Thunderbirds and Blue Angles in their F-16C/D Fighting Falcons and their F18C/D Hornet Fighters trimmed out to conduct aeronautic acrobatics. They covered the entire city in a thirty-minute fly over the Boroughs.  Fine, I said to myself, a good show, celebrating all the first responders of New York City in a salute to their courage in the fight against a pandemic.  

Read five explorations of system change. One is about discoveries, which lead me to malfunctions as the heart of the issue. Skills are needed so the next three are about critical thinking gambits and pathways. I conclude with the idea that every change is a second chance.

Imagine the ancient time when a sculptor was chipping away at smoothing a stone and created the shape of a wheel.  As a social creature, the sculptor shared this object with others who rolled it and laughed when one day, one of them asked for one with a hole in the center. That is the moment when a system change exploded into existence with the production of round objects made of clay Centuries passed before the wheel becomes a vehicle, but it did.  

The battles of writers, sculptors, fine artists, and all other coders continue to this day for nothing more than joy and your attention, if not curiosity. Modern humans chip away at their vast capacity for system change by sharing information, exchanging ideas, and dispensing them to others who may also roll them and laugh. The second revelation is about the act of discovery upon which all the others rest. Have a look.

Now, please recall my experience with the jet fighter flyover. The display of power like this can raise every hair on your body with awe, terror, and the fear of death.  I know the fear well because it happened to me a long time ago in a roar that ripped something from my being. For me, the fly-over of gratitude recalled that lesson. In just those few minutes, I thought how easy it is in this world to turn every bridge and tunnel to rubble along with whatever else a dozen warships could do to destroy NYC. Trust is the fact implied. Intellectually, this is absurd and unlikely, but I felt it emotionally as if in a film I’ve already seen. The hair on the back of my neck sent me straight into logic models and the theory of change for answers, so I didn’t question the emotion. I just started.

Using code to cope with the unthinkable offers a range of content management systems (CMS) in our minds and places like this to share thoughts. You may recognize the CMS terms. Some of the most common are Java, Perl, PHP, Python, among many others.  As code systems, they represent an accepted, partial existence drifting unseen in the Ctrl+Shift+I background of more familiar titles such as Chrome, Edge, Safari, and Firefox.  If the browser Netscape sounds familiar, think of the others as tribes sharing a new hunting ground. Through these surviving vehicles, the world is laid at your feet. You stand on platforms like WordPress, Medium, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and hundreds of others you use to manage your content, get others’ attention, and perhaps make people curious.  

Congress and the Constitution

In taking on a major malfunction, breaking it into smaller pieces is helpful, but whether in big parts or the little ones, it is hopeless when it comes to constitutional jargon. Observers of the jurist legislators watch tie knots in their tongues. The conclusion of these observers believes they need to be replaced with scientists. There are reasons to do homework on how this may be possible. Step one is to find the source of idiocy.

System Change Cautions: Beware getting caught up in constitutional jargon.

The Critical Legal Studies movement (Wiki) in the 80s examined liberal legalism of the late 1950s through the 1970s. Since then, observers of the conservative and progressive discourse are rebuilding the debate about our future under the law with discord and bad faith arguments. Science will find common ground needed in this noisy place, and that is my problem. It is yours too.

In the conservative constitutionalist’s view, normative or private social authority centers on localized jurisdiction, designed to guide the republic’s actions and protect against legislative or judicial encroachment. On the other hand, the progressive constitutionalists often critique these private sources of power (normative social organizations) as an unacceptable hierarchy to be challenged.

The pathway to social innovations among conservative and progressive views has a constitutional basis. The only common ground here is that both claim the right to system change. It is the pathway upon which they walk that requires clearing. I offer the following example.

Before proceeding with a system change effort, I recommend investing time to understand better two compartments in the same robe’s sleeves known as the Fourteenth Amendment. There are others, but you can see by the top ten list (below) from TIME magazine. the Fourteenth plays a significant role, directly and indirectly.

On June 21, 1788, the Constitution became the official framework of the United States of America’s government. Still, it was not until eighty years and nineteen days later when The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was adopted on July 9, 1868. as one of the Reconstruction Amendments ending slavery. The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution “abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for a crime, and on this point, I highly recommend Ava DuVernay’s 13th (here). The focus here is the subtle malfunctions of the Fourteenth that require equal attention.

The law tucked into the conservative sleeve holds the fire of civil war and the struggle against rulers, something the progressive sleeve shares and knows well. The fabric is the same, but as ideas attempt to move from one sleeve to another, the meaning changes. The only insight I have other than the overabundance of male intellectual hubris of legislators is as follows.

The law demands obedience with rules that either mediate or deactivate. The writers and readers of the U.S. Constitution then speak to normative claims differently. The table below illustrates how oppression was a mediated function between an owner and the people owned from 1619 to 1865. The conservative mediation of authority accepts and activates a wide range of institutions as separate from the citizen as a subject of law because the State defines a person’s legal status, relation to the state, and other persons.

The progressive view of authority reframes the rule of law in search of new conditions. A claim to power sources can become realizable and capable of deactivating specific evidence of oppression. That would be the list you see after 1865 as statements of that evidence.

Source: Josh Tucker – Medium: Black History: A History of Permanent White Oppression, from 1619 to 2016
The Fourteenth Amendment was ratified July 28, 1868

Critical thinking about big problems builds on billions of local event moments, now accelerated with digital communications. Framed in the 402-year sweep of history, the list of post-1865 malfunctions that demand deactivation is a demand for equality with equity. The digital divide is a fact exposing and expanding the educational challenges of resolving these two issues. Still, the Civil War’s polarizing elements may be a strong contributor to today’s binary politics. It is now a digital freedom-ride world.

These actions of the last century and a half are mixtures of wins and losses. In a four-century framework, these events are brief, even seem temporary, impermanent, cursory, in passing, and can strike one down lift one like the 1965 Voting Rights Bill and Fair Housing in 1968, as one of thousand other ways the arc of history bends toward justice.

The conservative’s and the progressives’ understanding of the Constitution supports empirical reasons but different ends. Down to a couple of basics, the constitutional outlook is as follows:

ExperienceInterpeted For LibertyFor Equality
judicial restraint.
Defined by
Precludes race
conscious decisons
ProgressiveOpen to the
necessity of choice
Defined by
Affirm eradication
of hierarchy

The critical thinking outline I use (here) comes down to two items No. 6 – prediction and No. 7 – transformation. I can fully imagine these two components of thought as actual steps onto a pathway that seeks to create change. Not the imagination of change, the slap in the face, tearing of the skin variety.

We cast away priceless time in dreams, born of imagination, fed upon illusion, and put to death by reality.

Judy Garland

The movie is well-known, as a book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (published in 1900) was very different. These two works neatly reflect half of the 20th century and the trends to its conclusion. By 1939 the original highly violent animal slaughtering tale in the Oz became a dreamy musical. The film and, more importantly, the re-write became more widely known than the book could ever accomplish.

No longer a satirical look at the gold standard, the focus became a hop and skipped down a yellow brick road where you and the charming Dorthy (Judy Garland) go on an optimistic quest to get a strawman a brain, a lion some courage, and a tinman a heart. To serve these purposes well, it is necessary to have relationships with people in a community with a common goal because there is no place like home.

The book’s transitional sentiment to the film follows the Gilded Age through 1900 (solidifying segregation), the First World War to 1918 (initializing the war/industrial complex), and The Great Depression to 1939. In this last phase of the century, the film seemed to propel the Federal Government’s power. It accepts a securitization role by taking responsibility for contractual debts such as residential mortgages and other investment obligations like a national highway system in the post-war era of the 1950s. the federal government’s “interstate commerce” power is built on a proven ability to establish the people’s trust to secure and support wealth as dignity. From the Great Depression through to the Civil Rights Movement, the national response to these two forces for change should have propelled the American people forward for another century had it not built racism into the Constitution.

Despite the enormous capacity for social resilience and economic growth established in the 30th century, 21st-century America is losing itself in Constitutional jargon in preference to straight talk on social justice. The cost will be the lost confidence and trust of ordinary people and investors throughout the world. Do not get trapped in this dialogue of the jurists. It is now time to turn to the scientists for the truth. The world recognizes us better than we do ourselves. To close, I offer one example:

“World Bank’s 2019 Migration and Development Brief, $529 billion in remittances were sent to low- and middle-income countries in 2018—an increase of 9.6% over the previous record high of $483 billion in 2017. This figure is significantly larger than the $344 billion of foreign direct investment in these countries, excluding China, in 2018. If we include high-income countries as well, the total amount of remittances jumps to $689 billion, up from $633 billion in 2017.” (Source)

Back to Malfunctions

Box Gambits

Part Three – The Box Gambit:

Pen on page, link the dots, four straight lines

The “rule” of this gambit is to connect all the dots with four straight lines by not allowing your pen/pencil to leave the surface of the page. Solving this graphic riddle will require some thinking and trial and error to be accomplished. Try it four times. Good luck.

When developing a plan, remember this exercise.  We are all in one kind of rock, paper, scissors box, metaphorical or not. Use your experience to identify examples of thinking that get an idea of moving with some examples. Next, describe your thinking with other people (dots) as a creative or imaginative game. What are some examples of thinking or acting that get the dots of this box to work for you? This is a classic “connect” gambit. Use and share this little exercise with friends. Follow the rules four times and four lines. The pen stays on the page. The lines connect all the dots. The answer is at the bottom of this page.

Congratulations on a solution, or before you go for it below, take a moment to think of a problem or issue you/we would personally like to define. Use the sample questions below to guide a journalist’s six basic questions with some sampling answers. There are boatloads of these things available now. This meets the Occam’s Razor test.

Problem Observation

“There are at least three parks in the community in terrible physical condition. They are misused and abused. Then, in the evening, teenagers hang out, sometimes all night, and they are making a horrible noise and a big mess, why I don’t understand how or why, and so on.

A.  Issue/Problem Defining Questions

  1. Who is responsible for the management/maintenance/budget of these parks?
  2. What is, are the causes of poor conditions, the noise, and the mess?
  3. Where are these parks and other recreational places?
  4. When does the “misuse” and disturbance occur all the time, often, infrequently?
  5. Why do these disturbances occur?
  6. How many complaints been made?

B.  Asset/Opportunity Defining Questions

  1. Who are the parents? Who else can we work with to further define this issue?
  2. What are the resources available in the short and long term to “x” or “y.”
  3. Where should we direct our research or take our first action(s)?
  4. When should we get directly involved?
  5. Why must I/we work to define and solve this problem?
  6. How can we work with park management/maintenance?

The Box Gambit Animated GIF.

A graphic illustration of system change produced by Melanie Rayment is discussed in detail in System Change Part Four: Critical Thinking Pathways (here). When I noticed how Ms. Rayment put “system change” outside of her description, I remembered this example from one of my old training courses on creative thinking pathways.

Back to System Change

Pandemic in NYC

Attacks at over 200 mph for the kill

The Economics of a Pandemic in NYC

The impact COVID-19 presents one of the most serious recovery challenges New York City has ever experienced. It will require a system change as it will, without doubt, reveal a previously unknown range of malfunctions.

A practical example of how never doubt groups of strategic economists, civil rights activists, and social service leaders decide to tackle the following set of problems linked to the pandemic. The pandemic changed New York City’s world. Its impact is diving into the city faster than a Peregrine Falcon ripping into the entrails of a Central Park squirrel.

COVID-19’s blow to the economy led to abrupt job losses and business closures. The New York City Independent Budget Office (IBO) prepared a preliminary report on economic impact projections defined by job loss and tax revenue declines compared to previous estimates. Every urban person knows how serious this is going to become. But, on the oddly positive side of the issue, a super-power is revealed in the Pandemic – a national strike for health and justice could get health care and social justice because if a little bug can bring capital to its knees and get the government to put some in your pocket, that bug is telling you something about a national strike. Get prepared.

As the pandemic remains a moving target, the provision of this IBO readiness report could give the deep network of nonprofit community-based organizations time to prepare strategies responding to needs in their community. Read the details here:  PDF  HTML. See the summary and tables below.

  • The local economy will shed 475,000 jobs for over 12 months.
  • Large drops will be in personal income tax and sales tax.
  • Property tax will “lag” the next few years through 2022
  • Impacts on real estate values will occur in 2023 and beyond.
  • The U.S. economy in recession through 2020; GDP falls 4.5%.
  • The shortfall of $9.7 billion in tax revenue from major tax sources fiscal 2020 and 21.
  • The contraction will last through the first quarter of 2021, and job growth will be slow through to 2022.

New Yorkers will need a system change. Most major cities do, and it will not happen anywhere else before it is too late.

The information in the IBO report (summarized above) can stimulate a long list of questions following the critical thinking path outlined in Part Three will be highly useful.

For example:

  1. How can small “never doubt” groups be encouraged to begin?
  2. Where do they get to begin? Who do they work with in the government to establish a role?
  3. How would they find each other, get started, and coordinate their activities?
  4. Can they be organized in networks of expertise?
  5. Is it possible to organize networks of a neighborhood, borough, and city-wide economists?
  6. How about local social science workers conducting interviews?
  7. Can they feed local data (testing, food, rent protection, transit, job access, IRS, SBA) to a city-wide source?
  8. Help confirm the efficacy of aggregate stimulus payments.
  9. Identify and implement innovative assistance services.

Here are just a few of the facts that stimulated restorative action questions above.

Declines in tax revenue vary by base and due payments. See full report.
Most Current is here: https://www1.nyc.gov/site/doh/covid/covid-19-data.page

Back to Malfunctions


Part One – Discoveries:

Johari Window

System change builds on the psychology of transparency in human relationships. In this openness, we find friends to love and leaders to trust with our tithings and taxes. The chart illustrates a heuristic method for building awareness, trust, and confidence whenever a “never doubt” group decides to change the world.

In 1955, the Montgomery Bus Boycott launched the beginning of the most unparalleled system change in America since the authors of the U.S. Constitution finished their work.  Martin Luther King was twenty-six years old when the boycott began. He would have just twelve years and four months more to live. Identifying when a system change will occur reveals an unpredictable set of choices in our history. That means the only thing to do is begin. The only way to discover what you need to know is to act.

Two more examples, on August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment ratified the women’s suffrage movement. It occurred as a product of 54 ballot measures in 30 states. It took decades of work and hundreds of small group efforts to produce national law prohibiting governments from denying or abridging the right to vote on account of sex. After another half-century, the Voting Rights Act (1965) expanded to include the destruction of segregation with the vote’s power. Proof came in 2016, roughly another half-century later. A recent documentary tells another story of system change that involved just six months that changed the world forever (here).


Tossed up for all to see are the grand assumptions and harmful practices in our world that appear to be malfunctions. We say, “Do something about ending this tyranny or meeting that unmet need.” Democracy is supposed to be one of the best ways to solve a stubborn problem, especially when concerns and events threaten many people’s well-being. But, unfortunately, the argument to “do something” also includes authoritarian structures such as raising an army, running a business, the oppression of a people, or ending a pandemic.

At the center of both methods circles the question of efficacy. Is delay due to squabbling and bounded rationality, or is it due to the utter fear of error and power? The discoveries can be positive or negative in our efforts to define problems. Most of our findings concern the value of predicting and mitigating an adverse event’s most probable cause, time, and place. Individual circumstances cannot be assigned effectively in this way and lead to the acceptance of the unknowable as something more easily attached to an actuarial table of risk in anticipation of a long list of malfunctions assigned to social practices few natural events. The losses are, therefore, attributed value and paid to victims post-trauma.

It is occurring to us all that more engagement on questions of global impact events demands an entirely new regime. These events are grounded in climate change and the probable recurrence of global pandemic infections in which there may be other connections beyond comprehension.  The risk to “all” in a post-trauma evaluation is an insufficient duality. Losses are measured in blood and cash, by good or bad locations, as lucky or unlucky, in life or death, for cultural survival or existence as subsistence.  The trauma is further parsed into black and white, rich and poor, knowing and unknowing, educated or not. It divides young or old, able or disabled, using percentages drawn with an unknown, shifting denominator of dissuasions to proportionality. Tossed it up for all to see is the confusion of our times.  (See: Crisis Management)

Still, much of our practical solutions come as a post-trauma payment to reduce future risks. Individual households and governments also pay individually with resources drawn by regional needs. For example, a volunteer fire brigade works in one place, while another site requires a professionalized firefighting force. Predictable malfunctions reveal investments in first responders and a standard set of institutional providers.  In these cases, the assessment of risks and costs and the selection of management protocols establish readiness levels defined by the tools required.

Finding New Pathways

How can the world move steadily and permanently away from post-trauma payouts toward levels of resilience and enduring sustainability?  How can the extensive democratic debate be grounded with more power in the equally slow and painstaking science rules? Will it be possible to make science lawfully capable of overriding the procedures used solely to sustain political power? Given these practices, I can accept authoritarian rules to protect us all on the promise of a system change as structured in the Pathways to Malfunction Identification chart below. This is a failing system.

The chart below describes a bubble-up process established as components of local governance composed of “never doubt” groups. As small organizations, they will select a needed change based on self-interests.  Examples are quality of life issues by residents or scientific groups to analyze specific problems. The chart also recognizes the formation of interdisciplinary groups skilled at acquiring and injecting capital resources. It anticipates coalition groups charged with aligning policy and program implementation schemes built on trial and error evaluations. 

The final system change events in this model (upper right) are as unknown as their seminal beginnings (lower left).  They will become known as the initial efforts bubble-up, and shared ideas spread like Whitman’s leaves of grass across the landscape of personal change. The bet is a simple one.  People in small groups can pick their experience with a problem, become a never doubt organization, and build toward a system change of great value to themselves with recognized results. Should the malfunction be shared widely and require a more productive agency for an action, the process acquires funds. It encourages never doubt coalition groups to seek higher levels of investment that implies a regional area of operation.  Finally, if the malfunction has national effects, the proposed system change will have widespread consensus agreement as it is already in place and well-practiced locally.  

The chart above suggests that social system changes utilize the energy in the “never doubt” idea.  The widespread knowledge of “never doubt” comes from the work and words of anthropologist Margaret Mead regarding cultural transformations or transitions.

Whether the change sought is significant, dangerous, beautiful, or hideous, the cause of a difference (major or minor) can be the work of a relatively small group of people with an idea. The factor often left out is that the change sought could be twelve apostles or twenty violent supremacists. Claims that this is the only way a system change occurs are logical and historically accurate, but it may not be a lasting one in the digital world.  Given the flow of ideas, it is possible to conceive of a thousand groups that might identify and act on a common view of change that will alter everything all at once, whereby the source becomes irrelevant. Rosa Parks knew she was not the first person to be insulted on a public bus in Montgomery. She is known for saying, “I was just tired.” But, it became “one and all” who wanted her to be the last person insulted and arrested on a Montgomery bus. Historians can only speculate why the sit-in at the Woolworths in Greensboro, NC, in early 1960 by four untrained college students set the tone for the decade. Sit-ins at segregated lunch counters are well documented throughout the South, but this one began in February and ended in July.

Therefore, the purpose of the chart (above) is to trust in our better selves. It lays out a belief in discovering malfunctions for two extremely well-known reasons. First, power concedes nothing without a demand. Second, the limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. That was Douglass (1849). He was writing about getting more comfortable with change, even if every turn seems to be for the worse. Sensing the end of misery in the world is a powerful feeling and opens the mind to wonderment and recognize beauty. 

The failures of power occur in its acquisition and thereafter in the keeping of it. Thus, in seeking change, it is logical to examine how public appropriations become private holdings. Here are three widely known global examples:

  1. Vast personal capital accumulation among a small percentage of people is now common knowledge. That the rate is fantastically beyond a measure of any one person’s productive capacity firmly suggests an economic malfunction worthy of analysis and action.
  2. Fossil fuels are irreversibly altering the thin layer of gas encompassing the earth. These added gases are causing climate change and several malfunctions.
  3. The endogenous formation of organic molecules capable of endangering all human life as a virus may be a natural occurrence. However, the failure of anticipation, prediction, management, and mitigation might be the most serious malfunction of all.


The chart has seven letters (GOS-3P RE) in the upper right corner. I developed it to describe a process for defining big problems like the three listed above.  I use them to support the never-doubt group idea with steps that mean something in the immediate sense that can be put to practical use today and share or join with others on a similar path. Before this process can begin operationally, the issue must be continuously well defined and researched. In writing a GOS-3P RE, the “future perfect tense” as a verb form of communication is best.

  1. Establish goals that address the problem(s) as defined.
  2. Form objectives that will measure purpose (s) as stated.
  3. Construct strategies (tactics & activities aiding goal and objective success)
  4. Select a broad range of possible projects  (creatively imagine the future).
  5. Determine policy (the values and principles that will guide future decisions).
  6. Decide on priorities (which projects go first? what is the governing policy?).
  7. Budget the resource implications of the plan (projects, cost? and;
  8. Evaluate (is their measurable progress?)

A “never doubt” group can process and implement these steps with the cautions offered by Alasdair MacIntyre, a Scottish philosopher whose book After Virtue (1981) brings insight to our modern problems. One observation remains especially useful now, “Questions of ends are questions of values, and when it comes to values, reason is silent; conflict between rival values cannot be settled.

In this sense of change, it seems far more reasonable to focus the world on its malfunctions. They can be found among the powerful, among rivals, even amidst our regular day-to-day lives. People worldwide joyfully engage a problem when confronted with a self-interest grounded in something as complicated as community survival or as simple as improving physical comfort. Before us, the task is to broaden this personalization of our place globally and broaden it with digital communication tools at our disposal.

Communication action is occurring now, every minute and hour of the day. But, will these face-to-face experiences spin our lives into the shadows of our home-based comforts? Will they be used to share stories of survival more aggressively? Will they help build the knowledge with the action needed to define and solve common problems?   

From the mathematical genius of interpreting regression to the mean data to the inspirational voices of political activists, we can likewise fall to the floor in laughter at our ridiculous selves in a barrage of satirical media presentations that seem (and often are) far more accurate than a news broadcast. We are awash with the language for change, but finding a pathway to a real change, please think about the Montgomery Bus Boycott or the sit-in at Woolworths in Greensboro and don’t look back.

Malfunctions are examined in detail (here)

  Part Two: Malfunctions

Critical Thinking

Part Four – Critical Thinking Pathways:

Research into the idea of malfunctions requires the insight of the arts well ahead of the imaginable political strategies around which there is so much negative sensitivity. Expanding “our reality” through others’ eyes and experience is often too esoteric and not goal-driven. Not to worry, there are lots of ways to work on community-building issues.

The visual literacy of our society, on the other hand, is expansive and growing. Because of this, a useful phrase in critical thinking is to say, ‘no one is as smart as all of us.’ Words are used to describe and share what we think we know with others, adding pictures to terms in structured settings will always enrich conversations about change.

We are experienced watchers, but everyone can be a better listener. Another useful phrase to use is “listen to be heard.” The habits of mind that manage ‘your thoughts,’ the sound of your voice, and the voice of others in conversation, represent three distinct wavelengths. Each one of them can block or overwhelm the other, building the skills for a disciplined separation of these frequencies produces a useful conversation.

In discussions of health, the word “critical” describes a “short term” condition. In economics, the phrase “short term” is a shareholder supremacy issue briefly discussed in discoveries (here). That led to lead to some ideas about malfunctions (here) in the second part. The third part had some fun on creative thinking. This one opens to a brief examination of critical thinking that speaks to the origins of the first three build trust and confidence in taking direct actions in the fourth part. These are exhibits of “crisis” under the heading of what I like to call, pick your own malfunction.

I take a brief “readiness” look at ‘thinking’ clearly when selecting a process. There are hundreds of them for sharpening up, so pick one, adapt as needed. Here is a quick exercise to run on yourself, with friends, colleagues, and co-conspirators in getting woke on a problem.

Run through the following ten words in ten seconds, asking “what is?”
  1. perspective
  2. confidence
  3. imagination
  4. elasticity
  5. inquisitiveness
  6. integrity
  7. intuition
  8. open-mindedness
  9. perseverance
  10. reflection

There is little need to discuss this exercise as the point is to cause a moment of reflection. If you had a rapid similar word definition response to each one of them know three things 1) you have some or all the skills listed below and 2) if it took even a bit longer than ten seconds, you need more work on them when “critical” thinking is essential and 3) they are just words you can pick your own. Breeze through the following:

  1. analyze
    1. break the whole into parts to discover correlation
    2. list the parts piece by piece
    3. sort the things into things, like with like
  2. apply criteria
    1. judge using well-known rules
    2. apply professional and social standards
    3. compare and assess the means
  3. differentiate
    1. recognize differences and similarities
    2. rank things together or separate in groups
    3. separate into categories or decern status
  4. seek information
    1. evidence
    2. facts
    3. sources
  5. logical reasoning
    1. inference stated
    2. conclusions made
    3. basis of evidence
  6. predict (if that then this)
    1. envision events
    2. plan in the future perfect tense
    3. determine possible consequences
  7. transform knowledge
    1. changing conditions
    2. converting function
    3. alter concepts

Pick Your Malfunction Caution

A brief, am I thinking critically outline like the one above is a fine thing between you and your own head. However, you will need a very different use of your thinking ability if you are contemplating a step directly into the change suggested by No. 6 – predict and No. 7 – transform.

Pathways to Justice

Not being curious enough is a problem. Inquisitiveness will take on the full exercise of your intuition on how to run some inference, demand integrity, and put contextual change in the imagination of ordinary people. Perhaps, the language used becomes more demanding or more visually inspiring to help people hear better to be heard well. Perhaps, direct actions and experiences help define and solve problems more directly because they can be given by the people who share them. In these cases, the process forces sharing experiences with reflection to lead to knowledge and getting better at new questions.  

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is system-change-2.png
Pathways Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License

Observers of this concept are encouraged to share the use of the Pathways Design. The one above is by Melanie Rayment. The design was published (here) and inspired the “never doubt” design on the idea of identifying malfunctions in parts two and three in this series. Be encouraged to share its use as part of the Creative Commons approach to social change globally, as has the Social Design Pathways network. Who knows, perhaps this too is a system change.

The chart captures the process perfectly. It is one of the easiest to read graphic illustrations of system change I have seen. It is the inspiration describing system change using malfunction identification in part two (here). Social Design Pathways offers its use, with attribution and the hope that changes and adaptation in initiatives are shared with them.

Closing Thoughts on Critical Thinking

Just after the election of POTUS45, the message about the need to produce change at the local law level was a loud one. The term system change is not often used, but ideas like “ranked-choice voting” could become law in the cities and expand to county state legislatures. The proponents can then argue for it to become part of a national election system as federal law. On the other hand, in localities throughout the nation, the conservative idea of “resentment” or that something’s being taken away leads strongly to a “ends justifies means” set of policies concerning regulations governing voting and voting districts.

The system change example given most often was the demand to make law governing marriage far more inclusive. The changes began locally but rapidly across the United States, concluding with a Supreme Court ruling. Marriage, women’s rights, voting, health, banking, consumer rights, and so on have important actionable components that go from local to national or global.

The progressive changes tend to get the most attention, less well known, and impact are changes law (or new law) that alters or removes environmental, financial, and business accountability and liability regulations. Not one effort toward a more civil society vs. a free one goes unchallenged in law or legislation. All of them require the leadership needed to demand improvements in civil discourse and faith in laws that protect people, not just values.

System Change Part Five: Pick Your Malfunction is next. As an added source of motivation, I offer the following twenty-six minutes as a parting thought for reflection.

The writer’s exhaustion as an agent of change is described in a post submitted in January 2019 (here). This post attempted to write about and seek writers on the future of democracy. The post reviews Ta Nehisi Coates, David Runciman, Stein Ringen, Philip Coggan, David Post in a search. It looks at one-hundred billionaires who may live in the altered state of blind anticipation of goodness and starts to list hot buttons and fades into exhaustion.

Back to System Change

Break Downs

Part Two – Introducing Malfunctions:

System changes occur in an environment of malfunction. Four were recently recommended to “The Albemarle Report” for exploration. They are developed only partially below and in more detail (here).

The response to the Great Recession of 2008 reveals errors compounded in the govern m ent sector response to the Pandemic of 2020. Both failed to activate critical thinking skills at the highest levels, and those who did and reported warnings were squelched. The first crisis occurred due to highly over-leveraged bank entities (35 to 1) using derivatives drawn from the insured but hideously unregulated and suspect (NINJA) mortgage market. All well-known pre-crisis facts. The solution became a sloppy private-sector bailout of $700 billion

Social Design Pathways
See Part Four for Detail

No Income No Job Applicants NINJA


The 2020 crisis analysis will take more time to conclude, as we are in the midst of it. However, the CBO 2021 report of the 2008 bailout should be fascinating. Early signs from early 2020 economic impacts suggest a reversal of shareholder supremacy might occur because 2008 was highly predictable and poorly resolved.

Profit-taking on a crisis is the thematic first serve culprit in the 2020 crisis based on similar failures to respond before it was too late. Uncomplicated Health Care 101 resources could not succeed for the lack of a clock and trigger and a national testing regime. An Ounce of Evidence  (is worth thousands of pounds of opinions) by Ashish K. Jha will be an excellent place to return for useful facts and recommendations.

The Atlantic and ProPublica are outfits that like to walk us through the weeds careful; journalistic documentation errors can be helpful as well. Nevertheless, the dizzying structure of facts will more than likely, spin into history and fall throughout the American landscape into little piles of hopelessness. For this terrifying reason alone, I think the facts’ importance is secondary because we expect them to become as invisible as a greenhouse gas or a virus.

Like 2008, observers of 2020 will offer a valid list of avoidable errors available for review that will only encourage the MEGO effect (“my eyes glaze over”) that regularly clouds accountability with details far too complex for ordinary voters. The reviews will say we knew the answers for an effective response and didn’t let go with anything remotely resembling a system change capacity. That is the problem to dig into because we are dancing around the facts with the wrong music. The following is an argument for pulling out the dissonance, malfunctions, and blockages of system change.


The lack of critical thinking in the private and public realm regarding these two global instances (2008, 2020) is evident. I believe a sharp focus on malfunction and not the details of every rolling crisis should be at the core of this kind of thinking. The corners and edges of the American economy have become troubled assets, subject to a relief program, again. How do you set a piece of paper on fire? Edges and corners, shocking, I know, the because feds threw TARP on the 2008 fire, but it still keeps burning, albeit quietly outside of the nation’s corporate boardrooms. The Great Recession critics warned us to develop much higher sensitivity to the malfunctions of capitalism, often referring to it as the American-style.

If this the “sensitivity” at the edge is acquired, how can it be more useful? Perhaps this is the time for a band of writers to create improvements as a never doubt group. I would ask individual writers to leap among the language art professions to build a reservoir of ideas so beautifully stated that it will uplift the American-spirit.

I started my own list of writers (here – excerpt below) to search for that language and not wait for it to arrive. I am adding more names, finding those who are building the conversation, publishing “the papers,” and producing the literature for the never doubt groups throughout America that are help bent on good changes. Read them deeply, and watch them find ways to make the data yield results and where truth can mean something again.

All journalists need to be understood in the context of action demanded in the vitally important vision of the world held by Ta Nehisi Coates. I spent some time with Vann R. Newkirk II, Adrienne Green, Adam Harris, Reihan Salam Gillian B White, and Matt Thompson. I cannot speak to Ta-Nehisis Coates’s experience. I can read his books or any essay and fully understand the power of his voice and my hope for his influence.  Meet him here 2018 and here 2017.

From Writer’s Wanted

Since We are Waiting:

The facts show financial service companies, insurance corporations, and a million families went underwater on bad loans and poor judgment. The facts show, millions of people became sick with a virus that killed a high percentage of the most vulnerable due to lung infections and other underlying conditions, and they died alone.

The national to local response 2008 and 2020 to fix the “money” problem focuses on the wrong problem. Americans are confronted by comprehensive “health” concerns affecting the cells of their bodies; there are shortcomings in the entire cognitive outlook. Exploring the reasoning skills of Americans is what should dominate the argument and the conversation. That is where the malfunctions will be found. The money is important, but it crowds out critical thinking on a long list of concerns. Here is a 2008 example.

In 2008, Wall Street won the case – use federal funds and reestablish aggregate demand, sustain liquidity for global trade, keep employment up, but income marginal (paycheck to paycheck) in a high percentage of households. Attack tax rates, government interference, and expose public incompetence. Hide wrongdoing and continue to reduce mechanisms for public oversight into private financial practices and kill debate. These globalists arguments are persuasive and claimed by the strategic financial practices of the Federal Reserve System on down to your 401(k) fully exhibit a malfunction.

Recently (April 2020), several hundred other private businesses and publicly traded companies dipped into that malfunction. However, Shake Shack and that steak franchise didn’t return a combined $30 million in 0% interest loans to reduce public outrage. Assuring all workers’ employment on the government dime is distasteful to investors as it does nothing for a balance sheet or the tax code and lacks flexibility. As billion-dollar companies, they know the only way to recapitalize during a full-blown depression of unknown duration is to wait and reduce payroll far more quietly down the road. The bonus is to align the business with American values of freedom and independence that still takes blood to establish and use them to get good public relations.

Despite the depth of the 2008 and 2020 global economic tragedies, other questions that attempt to define and identify the malfunctions of sound reasoning in America go unaddressed. The financial crisis of 2008 and the health and economic crisis of 2020 has one word that tends to deaden discussion of system change, and that headliner is “money.”  Failing to understand alternatives to money is a malfunction of American cultural thinking.

For example, why is it so uninteresting to wonder out loud if the world could operate as if wealth is not the only means of meaningful communication? Is becoming an outlier, a monastic monk, or an entire monastery the only pathway to sustainability? What are the alternatives, where are the well-celebrated successes? Some many places and events have proven capital to be meaningless in the achievement of human dignity. Those four college students had just a few dollars between them at the Woolworths’ lunch counter when somehow they galvanized an established, ongoing “sit-in” movement across the South.

These questions and events exhibit an ingredient of enormous importance to life. A clear dividing line separates a private marketplace solution for serving a human need from those in the public realm that want to create change. The line that says on this side of it, the use of debt as a cost of money, is irrelevant, where the purposes of care keep us all well and sustaining the simplicities of life are priorities that reign supreme above all others?

For Fairness and Equity

The last two hundred years of American-style capitalism is about growth. The next century will need to observe fairness and equity more accurately. This fight requires a search for leadership that Democracy should be best in finding.  Only one modern American hero has a national day of remembrance for the courage it took to lead a fairness and equity challenge. His pain became ours, and his name was Martin Luther King.

King’s interest in justice with equity held the U.S. Constitution to account first, but this did not extinguish his view on capitalism’s economics.  His demand for change is based on two facts. An economic system built on slavery and imprisonment will not change the rules. Change must, therefore, come from changing the system.

“I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective – the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed matter: the guaranteed income…”

Martin Luther King –Where do We Go from Here? 1967

Resisting the pressure to create change weakens your outlook and idles your voice, yet the sadness built into this silence is a powerful force in creating a new and powerful narrative. For those whose interests lie in connecting the dots with visible lines between the confluence of the 2008 and 2020 crisis will gather their strength by recalling the heart of King’s outlook – that the arc of human history may be long, but it bends toward justice.

The concept of equity in the minds of most people is a good place to begin. Any accountant will explain “equity” as a combination of assets and liabilities. One of the first sources of wealth in the world and pre-eminent in the United States has been to support individual families’ acquisition of assets. Homeownership, with the help of mortgage guarantees, is the prime example. It also formed the perfect storm for converting government-insured mortgages into derivatives in bundles of mortgage-backed securities. Confidence and trust in each household and the economy in which they function is the one fantastic thing that makes the liability expressed by a mortgage possible.

In the post-2008 recovery, millions of families realized they were sold a dream, but not a house. The narrative used said they just tripped into the caveat emptor bucket where all of American-style capitalism’s inequities are poured. That is not the malfunction. The third malfunction is far more disturbing. It was how easily and rapidly a vast amount of capital shifted into serving rental housing demand. It was as if the purpose of the crisis was to slice yet another sizeable chunk of households out of the ownership market, but who will put equity into the pockets of the housing investor-class.


The fourth malfunction’s signal worthy of exploration is a failure of the senses to hear the beep. All of us have the ability to know when someone “feels” trustworthy, a person in whose recommendations you would feel confident following based solely on initial impressions.

The greatest evils are those undetected.

Confirmation bias is a proven human behavior. It is as if there was only one emoji for every expression. It is illustrated repeatedly in the communication between people – it is documented with race, religion, age, a whole set of facial expressions, and all kinds of body language. American’s are a highly sophisticated, visually literate group of people far too easily siloed and willing to stay there.

I say it over, and over, the meaning of everything is found in people, not books, newspapers, or TV reporting. Meaning is putting trust in the instincts we have about the people we give power over our thinking-lives, and therefore we are entitled to a judgment. Where is the narrative, the journalism, and reporting that openly explores the hair-raising ease with which the writer and reader are privately manipulated into being managed per story?

There is “same room,” empathy, but never one that could be hand-to-hand in visual reporting. Judgments are, therefore, personal. The following are mine, no one else. In the discussion of economic recovery policies, I find one group of leaders exhibit a distinct arrogance with a hint of condescension (Mnuchin of Treasury and Ross of Commerce, for example) and other groups who are recommending preventative treatments and therapies for me and the nation exhibit authenticity and sincerity. Dr. Fauci, the face of COVID-19, and Adams, our Surgeon General, come to mind.

I think all can see a sharp difference between these leaders and their styles. Those with extensive experience in managing unimaginably massive amounts of capital in their personal lives and those with extensive experience in managing services and policies that protect human health represent our society’s bifurcation. I can take these impressions as personal and symbolic as a guide to strengthen my critical thinking skills.

For example, I have a positive sense regarding Warren Buffet, even Bill Gates, that yields the humanitarianism that I give to Dr. Fauci. Mr. Buffet also freely acknowledges selling 100% of his substantial holdings in airline stock, and in the same March 2020 breath, he is widely quoted for saying, “Never bet against America.” Mr. Gates’ charitable experience with spending millions fighting infectious diseases in the world led him to practically yell out unequivocal warnings regarding lack of readiness to respond to pandemics. I argue that their humanitarianism is not enough as it fails at system change by changing nothing. What are we missing?

Confidence in Change

Recently, the idea of retaining the world’s confidence in the United States was expressed by none other than the American Enterprise Institute in a map they tweeted to the world. The map is used to illustrate one message for all to see — your wealth belongs here. Illustrating the GDP of individual American States in relationship to fifty other countries in the world is designed to make people confident – to trust the systems that are in place now.  Before you read the next paragraph, I call your attention to Wisconsin on the map below.

This BEA/IMF map is blatant public relations. It was published in the April 2020 phase of the pandemic as an unabashed claim of massive economic power, nothing else. Frankly, I know not where this thinking lands on the index of malfunctions. The following is how I am trying to work it out.

In response to the pandemic, a “system change” relationship between public and private equity is something Europe understands and Denmark in particular. I have one example of why Wisconsin should have no difficulty in system change if they were more like Denmark. Hartland, WI, for example, is known as the nuclei of one of the most important regions of Danish immigration in the United States, but there is a stronger point to be made.

The Denmark government stepped forward to continue paying wages for their people even when they are not working. People kept their jobs with their employers and stayed home. Denmark retained some businesses and most family income and stopped the virus from spreading with efficiency. The policy maintained the nation’s cultural status quo with steady, confident anticipation of ending the crisis. The employee’s program is the arrow program’s tip from a full quiver of medical and economic tactics. The system change is rapid. It allows business activity and production to restart with as little cost and disruption as possible. Instead of a half-baked business paycheck protection program, this was a well prepared Protect Denmark strategy.

Please spend a few minutes with Mette Frederiksen, Prime Minister of Denmark, introducing her nation’s work opening the Climate Summit in Copenhagen (here) and New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardin on COVID-19 (here) then (here) then Trump on Climate (here) via NBC. There was a surprise until the NBC video told me that he could read a prompter well – so stay with it long enough for proof. I leave it to your cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias instincts. Mette’s every word rings with truth to me that Trump ends with the testimony of a bait and tackle shop owner from Port St. Lucy on ending toxic tide is the only part that rang truthfully.

Remember Port Huron

Consider the four malfunctions summarized below and remember Port Huron if you are of a mind to develop more detail. All of the above brought to me a recollection of the Port Huron Conference because the answers were there and beautifully identified a half-century ago. (here). I am stunned, by their revelations.

First, fully recognize and prepare a narrative that describes how America has a comprehensive health problem that includes the inability to use our wealth far more effectively in self-study. Second, figuring out the importance of equity for all Americans requires a system change that clearly shows equity flow. The “one percent” copy line has failed to capture the imagination or the curiosity of people. Third, capital is more fungible today than in the entire history of civilization. Ordinary people like me barely understand how quickly markets change. A specimen, such as a variable stock holding, can be mutually interchangeable (replace or be replaced) at the speed of light solely for the holder’s benefit in charge of the change. The pensioner will not notice what was taken until it is gone forever. The fourth and most perplexing malfunction examines how trust and confidence are broken as agents for change. Is it for the lack of a hard “in what?” do I trust, and in whom am I confident? Could it be a failure to face the clear signals of confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance? Is there no one helping the American people figure it out?

Aside from my deep belief that the purpose of time is learning how to get the next moment right, the serious malfunctions in communication and, therefore, persuasion will not self-solve. Courage will be required. Examine our country’s health as a cognition issue, that the perception of all people, from the homeless veteran to the owner of a hundred Manhattan towers, should agree to one central point? The creation of equity for both comes at the cost of the other that the vet’s pain is removed when the powerful owner becomes a partner in a change to the system. What could make that happen?

Recognize the malfunctions sketched out here are not the “have vs. have not” situations that shaped the lives of these two people. It was for the lack of a system change that eliminated inequities between the “knowing” and the “unknowing” of them both as they look out over the landscape of their country.

Thank you for reading System Change, Part Two: Malfunctions. Comments are appreciated on these ideas, references to other readings, and the practical steps needed to bring them into sharper view. Conference recommendations and notifications are appreciated giving that it has been far too long since the insight of Port Huron and the work of Writers Wanted.

I have offered a brief gambit in Part Three. It is a bit of instruction from the teacher in me, but if you still want to know what that is, click (here).

Seven Elements/Four Topics

The following few thousand words seek a new value system for the city and regional planning, architecture, and engineering professions. Your bones tell you, you smell it, there is the challenge of unclear change on the tongues of the public speakers. The sticky multiple versions of the truth offered in the political speech of our modern lives will be swept away by the clear mind of science. This is a call for action in that simple pursuit.

The challenges embedded in the failures of planning, architecture, and engineering are vast. Only a third of the earth’s landscape is urban, and it holds over half its population and will not stop. The densest regions are near natural resources and the ocean, and every part of it is instructive of an adaptation to restraint and the failure to do so. These regions range from heartbreaking failures to soaring enclosures of fully actualized human potential. This duality is now squarely before the change-makers. The rationalized contradictions of “have” and “have not” have become the tragedy of the knowing and the unknowing.

Core Elements of Planning, Architecture, and Engineering Practice
  1. The practice knows that humans experience the world through their bodies.
  2. The practice focuses on specific purposes for buildings and built environments for humans to provide experiences of the world.
  3. The practice builds environments made of materials drawn from the earth’s crust, for which there is a timeless responsibility.
  4. The quality of an architectural solution derived from demonstrations of extraction processes includes responsibility for all human experiences in creating and using each product.
  5. Demonstrations of quality derive from combinations of functional and technical requirements.
  6. Creating a place, its coherence, and material quality produce an aesthetic experience assigned by its users to the design solution.
  7. Standards of practice develop through deliberate periods of reflection, evaluation, and routine performance tests to establish planning, architecture, design, and engineering expertise.

The desire to build a city of gold or a shed in the forest does not require the expertise of architecture and engineering (A&E). It does require the confidence presented by preexisting, demonstrable products. Regretfully, the solutions are, therefore, retrogressive on all aspects of economic and social change. Less understood is the fundamental intention of design as a producer of hedonic experiences known as aesthesis. However, the ability to love, like, or appreciate your environment, yourself, and other people as part of that experience requires psychological and physiological knowledge. At the center, the human ability for profound learning can anticipate and empathize with the knowledge. In the A&E professions, this responsibility has been allowed to remain indeterminate, weak, and damaging to the United States. This is due to a “first” principle. Remaining accountable to the desires of the bill payers, and only as accountable to government as the law requires. See (Finding Density)

Whitney M. Young Jr raised racism in A&E in 1968 at the 100th convention of the American Institute of Architects. Just a few years before his accidental death (1971), he put a deck of cards on the table and explained to the AIA membership that they were the problem.

“Now, you have a nice, normal escape hatch in your historical, ethical code or something that says, after all, you are the designers and not the builders; your role is to give people what they want. Now, that’s a nice, easy cop-out.”

Whitney M. Young Jr.
Read the complete speech here.

Providing the service of design expertise to meet severe challenges such as “sustainability” exists, but it is weak. The desire to end development practices that contribute to racism is supported, but with actions subservient to the historical, ethical code used as an escape hatch.

Demands to improve the human experience with the world require steps well beyond establishing the coherence of place. Confirming a sense of safety, comfort, accessibility, mobility, novelty, color, harmonics produce a long set of demands for consistency. The designer’s production of spatial and aesthetic content requires a new social resonance in the 21st century, an open and uncertain intelligence essential to understanding every human need more than physical. The space-makers knowledge of existence will grow in service to a higher cause and one of purpose in service to humanity, not the bill payers. In failing to take these steps, architecture and engineering are not improving the human condition, and the world must ask why?

The following four topics summarize research and analysis of social and economic issues affecting the professional and non-professional urbanization of the United States. It began with the idea that a small laboratory on the idea of breaking some rules in one medium-sized A&E firm could reveal the brilliance of design as power. The topics outline an Occam’s Razor set of four simple steps by the professions of planning, design, architecture, and engineering that might save us all.

Four Topics

Challenging Planning, Architecture, and Engineering Practice

Topic One: The Arc of History Is an Act of Construction

For the last few thousand years, humanity has gathered and shaped materials from the earth’s crust. It now occurs at a rate unprecedented in any other period. Yet, from Fordism to now, history does not describe the cost of this change as safe practice in any sense of the word, but as one designed to be continuously more profitable.  

As a national policy, this practice pushed manufacturing labor out of the United States to less regulated, lower-cost areas in trade for lower-cost goods at home. Globalization is a well-documented force of history; however, its impact on the city-building trades is a research and development task tossed like a ball to the city-builders, the designer, planner, architect, and engineer, and they can’t catch.

Yes, individual projects represent extraordinary exhibits of design and technical expertise. Still, they are caves in the storm of urbanization history as it spreads the poisonous mass of human endeavor “as construction” across the surface of the earth.

Cities cover the earth’s prime locations, and yet they remain little more than a vague notion. As a stimulant to further discussion on this topic, I refer readers to “How cities took over the world” (here). The project experience of the A&E firms expressed by those in the graphic (below) and as many other contributors would care to recommend is needed. The Guardian (here) offers readers an extensive review of the earth’s urban reality. A video illustrates (here) the explosion of cities in the last two seconds of a three-minute presentation covering 4,000 years of urban development, or 9,000 if you want to go Neolithic.

The growth of architecture and engineering as a professional force surpasses all others in city-building, yet it remains an undistinguished expression of political power. Management companies such as McKinsey & Company noticed this as a productivity problem in 2017 (here). Its city-forming capacities and influence are self-suppressed in preference for praise as an art. Over the last four thousand years, from Alexandria to the Erie Canal, the practice has turned away from recognizing how it shapes the world as a political force in preference to its services for expressing the imaginations of capital. This behavior needs to stop.

The global A&E practice has developed in service to those who desire to build cities at a development rate rightly criticized as endangering the well-being of life. In this context, the thousand-year arc of history exhibits urban life brought to its knees many times in countless submissions to the destructive forces of black death, war, resource overreach, and the anticipatory ignorance of central governance. This behavior needs to stop.

The thread in this demand for discussion asks participants to examine this history with the presumption of a continuously urbanizing, global system, structurally and destructively embedded in or alongside another world that uses only what it needs, wastes nothing, and obtains its energy from sunlight. Looking forward and back, questions regarding the medium- and long-term must recognize the incompatibility of these two systems as currently designed. How can the destructive forces of each establish balance, and at what cost to human life?

Preceding our few thousand years, millions of species have come and gone over the last four billion years. In this context, the genius of time is the formation of well-informed and reflective humans, capable of explaining and understanding the universe well enough so as not to become its victim. The first question of history that points to this future of knowledge must discover an urban world that is generous with the earth with near-perfect information. The history of urban construction needs to change. Finally, can the powerful development expertise of actors such as those exhibited above become more mindful of this challenge. What forces are needed to get more effective thinking, and where necessary, force corrective action?

Topic Two: Erase the Contract

Architects and engineers have defined a set of professional restrictions on themselves. They also accepted limits demanded by investors (public and private). As the classic phrasing in the contract documents describes, A&E work shall be limited work. A&E provides two services design and construction documents, or more directly, build design expertise reputations to “get the job” and “documents” that get a project built.  

When a building is to be built, the process begins for the construction manager when there is an agreement between the owner and the architect followed by a separate agreement between an owner and the architect called the B132 agreement between the owner and a construction management adviser. This agreement follows the A232 that outlines the general conditions of the contract of construction. Following this step, the litigious nature established by these first two agreements sets into motion the possibility of many other contracts designed to avoid complaints.

The climate warming crisis has encouraged a process for implementing the concept of “sustainability” into every project as an exhibit (E 235).  The process for change orders and the steps necessary to acquire certifications for payment, new construction change directives, and ultimately a certificate of substantial completion sets forth the final payment elements of the initial contract between owner and contractor.

After these two tasks (get the job and sign documents), A&E is without power and trapped in binding contracts of its own making. It can observe well-paid union workers in conflict with the non-union worker through strategic “divide-and-conquer” tactics to accomplish a profit. Profit, of course, is essential. It is only the term and structure for defining returns and accruals that are in question — the result involves the intervention using public funds for supply-side subsidies and demand-side incentives of public policy.

Change in response to unmet human needs is injected into the city-building process to lower the cost of money or support efforts to produce better and safer environments through various zoning and construction regulations. The result is a maze of contractual requirements. Finally, A&E remains relevant in its examination of a long list of issues and concerns related to the use of building materials and construction practices to maintain public welfare and prevent litigation on a project-by-project basis. In addition, the knowledge drawn from the application of technology in planning, architecture, and engineering in city-building has the power to prove that humanity is not an infestation but an instrument capable of understanding the full complexity of all the conditions in which a building is made, not as an object in space, but as an addition in a community where much more needs to be done and with whom new partners are needed in a very different type of contract.

Efforts to change the system from within have resulted in introducing technology and law to produce contracts, such as presented by the Integrated Project Delivery introduced by the American Institute of Architects in the mid-2000s (AIA pdf here).

As a stimulant to further discussion on this topic, refer your readers to the implementation of IPD ( pdf here) that reviews a dozen projects in the United States. I also ask you to refer project experience of A&E firms expressed in the graphic (above) as it relates to the construction trade organizations exhibited in the graphic (below) along with as many other “workers organizations” as you would care to recommend with one additional component – add your focus on the expertise of the construction trades as exhibited by their union representation and by spending about three minutes with some people talking about their life-experience in construction.

‘The vitality of architecture does not stand on the strength of its foundations or the vision of its builders. 
It stands on the dignity of life formed in the heart of all of its creators.”

I offer the following change tactically aimed at a far more significant change in the city-building contract than exhibited in the well-intentioned tinkering offered by the IPD program. First, I would include a demand to recapture a resource such as building information modeling systems (BIM) as a public responsibility. It is adopted widely and somewhat inappropriately by construction management firms in contracts with owners and developers. It belongs elsewhere in a new partnership.

If significant improvements in system management toward a practice of architecture and engineering are to occur, it must defer to people’s lives in priority over the property. In response to demands for resilience, it must meet sustainability goals in preference to weathering the next storm, whether it be fire or rage. A new relationship between the construction trades, their unions, and A&E can produce the balance needed to move forward as a force for political change. Accepting this idea may be essential to eliminating the destructive forces of raw capital at work in the world.

An improved concept of change that gets well past the profitability of managing time is needed. The cold industrialization of construction awaits on the global factory floor. In this writer’s mind, a new alliance of architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) are the best means toward retaining the art and humanity of architecture with the precision of science and engineering sustained by the heart and soul of its human builders. Technology makes many contributions to city-building that offer exhilarating promise. The embodied energy in building materials could be sustained for centuries as recyclable. All surfaces would collect tactile and energy from the sun, the movement of people and goods occurs seamlessly. When these changes can be made to recur there is proof of control. With these proofs, one other human problem requires careful examination in the United States because it is the most diverse society on earth.

The argument in this brief look at changing the city-building contract is one that must occur between design, the technology of architecture, and engineering with the construction trades and its workers. Without this change, the city-building professions will fail in their contract with humanity.

Topic Three: Change the Concept of Change

Building diversity is an adjustment of social justice and a step toward extraordinary new powers for change.

Open processes that value human dignity, fair wages, health, and safety occur in countries with the capacity to make a democratic change. Over the last fifty years, public regulation and litigation regarding the safety of construction sites make them marginally protected. Elsewhere in the world, the record shows construction labor as a struggle with death, and if not death, despair.

Investors know creativity is in the major urban centers, and the time to capture it is now.  When business and government leaders put options on the table that don’t create change, the policy is not to create change. The CEO’s from small to massive A&E firms recognize the prevailing narrative of a nation’s white, male, racial preeminence, and how it is represented in their businesses today. They should see it in the context of a rapidly changing American value system aimed at high levels of fairness that eliminate wrongs, thereby opening an exponential capacity for growth through innovation.

As the more responsible power holders take a good look at the nation as it is today, they will discover how to shift the subtle and corrosive ideology of gender and racial pre-eminence that is white and male toward greater inclusion. They will learn how it creates the invisibility of all others. The first step is to identify the privileges that have enabled past “rights” to continue for so long that they have become today’s “wrongs.” In the light of a society that seeks to improve its understanding of itself, the demand (while painful) for a “facts are friendly” approach to solving problems is paramount.

Nearly 40% of the U.S. population are people of color.  Their lack of representation in many influential fields reveals obvious “white race preeminence” that remains unchallenged. Department of Labor (DOL) numbers to back that up are:

  • From 2009 to 2018, the percentage of black law partners up from 1.7% to 1.8%.
  • From 1985 to 2016, the proportion of black men in management at U.S. companies with 100 or more employees barely budged–from 3% to 3.2%.
  • People of color held about 16% of Fortune 500 board seats in 2018.
  • A 2018 survey of the 15 largest public fashion and apparel companies found that nonwhites held only 11% of board seats and that nearly three-quarters of company CEOs were white men.
  • In the top 200 film releases of 2017, minorities accounted for 7.8% of writers, 12.6% of directors, and 19.8% of lead roles.

As a stimulant to further discussion on this topic and resistance to it, I will refer readers to two discussions on the implementation of diversity (AIA pdf here, a research article here) that addresses a range of issues. The task of linking A&E to the Construction Trades experience offers lessons in racial and gender in both of their ranks.

At first glance, architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) firms have improved gender balance with a significant influence on education and training programs. The construction trade unions have improved racial access and trust in diversity with added strength in the transparency of pay equity and negotiations for health insurance services in their ranks. There is a strong win/win potential in developing this relationship through education.

An alliance of knowledge and choices in career ladders between the building trades and city-building professionals can produce any more levels of participation from designing a building to building one. The enrichment for a cross-disciplinary engagement in the challenges faced in city-building is infinite in its possibility. It is capable of crushing the intellectual silos in which the trades and professionals find themselves trapped.

Topic Four: Realign City-Building

Until recently, the history of the construction industry regarding change issues has been not to allow social change. The history of A&E, however, illustrates policies more responsive to demands for change. The focus on education serves greater gender-balance positioned to achieve equity; A&E policies are also eager to adapt to new technologies to their portfolio of problem-solving tools.

Few evaluation systems address social change and sustainability beyond the capacity of marketing to claim “steps.” Departments of Commerce (Census) and Labor produce measures for evaluating responses of business and industry to social demands. Agents can claim modest advances in broad areas such as social justice and point to specific areas such as sexual harassment. However, steps in preventing environmental damage do not quantify threats to future generations effectively. Vague, and in many cases, unverifiable measures are used on a project-by-project basis with impunity. Draw a line around the city. Inside unlimited growth is on offer if nothing damaging can go outside that line. With this alignment, there may be enough time to make it work. If not, I fear doom awaits full expression in the screams of the impoverished.

On the question of accountability, these issues concern any thinking person. The design professions and construction trades can take a more substantial leadership role in public policy. There are more questions, and please offer them, but the best of them to seek opinions as follows:

Thank You

Yep, this is a tunnel search.

Please contribute facts, names of places, numbers, sources, and resources to help this little think tank community explore some ideas, and define the problems presented in each of the following questions. Our focus is simple — no one is as smart as all of us.


Should the A&E community enter into alliances with the construction trades industry to make both more responsive to social and environmental challenges?

Knowing that an alliance with the construction trades is not considered possible at this time, what strategies might you offer or what purposes might this action serve?

Please respond: link to email here


Is it possible for you to envision the formation of a highly trained, architecture, engineering, and construction industry as a highly advanced technological force in the city-building world? If yes, what national and global structures would you deploy (real or imagined).

Knowing that the top annual billing rate for the world’s largest A&E firms falls short of a billion U.S. Dollars, consider your answer in terms of taking full development control.

Please respond: link to email here


Through legislation and changes in central governance policy, will it be necessary for A&E to develop the capacity to establish a controlling and deciding role in every expenditure related to urban preservation, re-development, and construction?

This question presumes an inability of nation-states and global regulatory bodies to establish ground rules for managing the displacement of millions of people over the next half-century.

Please respond: link to email here


Can A&E define and resolve the challenges of the next two decades that predict enormous physical damages to the urban infrastructure of America?

Please respond: link to email here

The question imagines the availability of substantial capital to resolve coastal and southern border disruptions in new multi-national business partnerships designed to define specific levels of design expertise rapidly when needed.


Will A&E lead in its capacity to design and plan environments that respond to the vast creativity embedded in the social and economic diversity unique to the United States?

The representation of the multi-cultural, ethnic, and racial composition of the American population is considered a valuable asset. Can A&E in the United States respond effectively in resolving issues?

Please respond: link to email here


Will AEC envision new ways of life that focus on the humanity embedded in our shared realities that produce new forms of comfort in life and health in living with the knowledge that we sustain the joy and laughter of all those who wait in the deep future?

Asking for your theory of change in this closing question asks you to reflect on all previous answers with the idea that some elements of hope for the leadership in the profession will become possible, if not in your heart, then in your imagination

Please respond: link to email here and thank-you.

The challenge is to combine design skill and construction knowledge and the progressive nature of labor unions, architecture, and engineering to create the opportunity to save us all or save anyone who looks into the eyes of a six-year-old to know that we had better try hard and start now.