MacArthur

The MacArthur Foundation

MacArthur Fellows Program

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation support creative people, effective institutions, and influential networks, building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. MacArthur is placing a few big bets that truly significant progress is possible on some of the world’s most pressing social challenges, including over-incarceration, global climate change, nuclear risk, and significantly increasing financial capital for the social sector.

President John Palfrey defines the values that drive the Foundation and remain accountable to the community. It is also the approach every narrative in search of resources should include. 

Creativity encompasses innovative, imaginative, and ground-breaking ideas, thinking, and strategies that will have a meaningful impact on large and complex challenges. Bring them inventive ideas that support the creativity of individuals and organizations.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion The Foundation sees Diversity as the characteristics that make people distinct. Equity as treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement while eliminating barriers that have prevented the full participation of some individuals. Inclusion is an environment where all individuals feel welcomed, respected, valued, and feel a sense of belonging.

Compassion is central to respectful and compassionate interpersonal interactions with kindness and caring, reflecting the foundation’s recognition and understanding of integrity as the act of behaving honorably. It is a commitment to sound judgment, honesty, dependability, and accountability. Finally, life-long learning is the practice of seeking new understanding, knowledge, and skill with values acknowledging continuous lessons from staff, grantees, partners, peers, and communities.

Environmental Works

Environmental Works is a nonprofit Community Design Center directed founded in Seattle, Washington (1997). EW’s long track record has proven to be pivotal in all areas of need in the Seattle area. For example, the design-resource library for sustainable, affordable communities developed by EW was instrumental in reducing the stormwater impacts and increasing overall energy conservation practices in vulnerable communities.

EW is organized into four studios: housing, community facilities, landscape, and special projects. Each studio is headed by an experienced architect with more than twenty years of experience. It is a nonprofit full-service landscape, and architectural firm that responds to projects that the for-profit architectural community agrees would be unprofitable. This community also recognizes that a substantial record of sustainable practice, material use, and cost impacts of this public service-based agency has been of value to community needs throughout Seattle.


Good Listening

Logical arguments in Latin began will over 2,000 years ago and faded along with the Roman Empire several centuries later. An interesting contribution to the world of today remains in the structures of human argument as follows:

Argumentum:

  • ad hominem – the appeal to personal prejudice
  • ad populum – an appeal to mass emotions
  • ad misericordiam – an appeal through the exploitation to pity
  • ad baculum – the application of brute forces – “to the club.”
  • ad crumenam – an appeal to money, “the purse.”
  • ad verecundiam – the playing up of prejudice
  • ad ignorantiam – stress upon ignorance
  • ad captandum vulgus – a dishonest argument to “catch the crowd.”

The Standard of Risk

This is an odd post to do at this time. The thoughts of all on Eastern European theaters have only moved a bit north and west of the Middle East. There is more war-detail. No real loss of enthusiasm, but more emphasis on atrosity. I sense dread, but it is not as serious as thinking about my kids, old friends and how tired everyone seems to be. To dig into it, I began this long essay on perspectives. It is unedited. It will be a string of thoughts to come back and review, edit, remove and start again as so do we all.

RLC – Occupy

Urban planning is full of socially conscientious jargon: sustainability, diversity, social action, consensus-building, anti-poverty, ecologically sound, and a recent favorite, decarbonization. Many planners think that planning should be a tool for allocating resources to eliminate the significant inequalities of wealth and power in a society. That sounds more interesting than maintaining and justifying the status quo. It is a popular approach in social science schools of grad and undergrad universities. Thus the charge of a liberal bent. Change is motivating because learning to manage it is encouraging. The motive is reasonable, and it feels right to stand before that massive billboard demanding “A Fair and Just Society.” On the other hand, a drive down a road with that notice includes another. That billboard will always say, “It Will Never Happen.” Why? Progressivism and neoliberalism function in policy as if the proponents were mortal enemies. That is not the case. They are siblings of the same parents who want to keep the kids under control and uncorrupted, especially during a divorce.

When the public attempts to serve ordinary people, the task begins with laws governing the ability to trade freely in a “free market” and a public policy to fill gaps. Democratic solutions to problems become difficult when these two processes define the other as corrupt. For the planner, the control power builds on reforms of past errors in these markets. Buildings fall and kill people – write a safety code. Land uses poison land and lungs – legislate to protect the environment. Much can be done to either embrace or obscure failures. A property is taken by law and redeveloped by public/private partnerships to erase failures blandly defined as entropy. In all of these instances, clever T-shirts that say things like “Blight Me” or “There Is No Planet B” sell very well, along with resistance to a lawful change by lawful means. When these disruptions happen, you have met the parents attempting to distinguish lies from truth.

The Process for Corruption

The quick answer to the “lies” problem is that only the demand for currency and not cash alone will support intangible assets such as health, welfare, and safety. It is the demand that counts. Whether represented by T-shirt sales, or flipping property, the process creates openings during and after the push and pull of a reform movement. The intent is to capitalize on the obstacles used in resistance to “the state” and when it is “the state.” When that happens, you have watched the parents at work on practical matters of intelligence. However, the accompanying values determine likely pathways along the historical arc of questions of currency encountering parental guidance.

Those born after 1944 and before 1965 in New York City accept and understand how truth began to disappear worldwide. For New Yorkers, the disappearance has a date. On November 9, 1965, New York City suddenly lacked electric power for twelve hours, trapping about 800,000 people [? population of Tangier, Morocco] in the NYC subways and causing chaos throughout the Northeast. It was due to a 230-kilovolt transmission line tripping near Ontario, Canada. Then a blackout in 1977, again in 2003, and 2006, 2012, and 2019 now reveal to New Yorkers that these disruptions are part of a continuum. Although this example, among many others throughout the world, is given a specific tipping point, the causes remain meaningless. These many failures have one reason – the rise in the demand for power coupled with systems of organized lying. The ensuing malaise has “tells such as the inadequacy exposed in, “we are doing the best we can,” or the hypocritical “thoughts and prayers,” sentiment.

National Archives and Records Administration 1944

Nevertheless, the “switch-trip” part of the truth on the cause of events such as a massive power failure remains a source of assurance, if not meaning. A mere nod to the web entangling every person plunged into a sudden market failure and crisis reveals the survival instinct among those with political capital and those without it. Social scientists recognize psychotic elements in the survival instinct embedded in ordinary people can also be found in large corporations as they continue to enlarge.

The defining measures for a reduction of sanity include lack of remorse, unassailable leaders, disturbingly globalized economic structures, and resistance to comprehend the experience of others when damaged. Even war offers this unhopeful truth. With the enforcement of laws and regulations, the public is responding to disruptive behavior only to discover the impossible task of detecting future errors. Hence, the action creates a condition of contrast and comparison necessary to publish new law. That is the parent. The next question is about the currency of that parenthood.

The Mask of Persuasion

The desire for control over creating something that every human on the planet would pay ten dollars to acquire is arousing. Is this feeling similar to “love thy neighbor?” Both motives are undeniably human. But sadly, The Mask of Sanity (here) is on both sides, offering cash and currency. The free-wheeling explorations of the global capital mask are brought under political control all of the time, but not for long periods. These ventures cover the demands of social justice ideas routinely. Yet, the desire to get ten dollars from everyone every day to use a widget remains inevitable.

Despite the production of vast imbalances, recently expressed as a series of dirty little wars, ultimately just war prevails for the lack of headway on other fronts. Progress by its Latin origin would be a combination of pro and gradi and translate to for the stride. The proverb — the road is made by walking is a personal expression of that kind of need for change. The desire to get to a new place or resolve differences through negotiation and compromise unavoidably involves the reallocation of a resource. The walk is through a government willing to enforce standards. The policy examines this demand for change based on risks such as lawlessness, disparate causes, and violent methods—all events representing good reasons for being conservative.

The analysis of Ludwig von Mises (Bureaucracy 1944) and Friedrich Hayek (The Road to Serfdom 1944) describes today’s neoliberalism. They characterize the risks associated with FDR’s New Deal as a welfare state expression of communism and ensuing totalitarian control. Hayek’s book sales and the attention of the wealthy, fearful of powerful governments tuned by war, led to the Mont Pelerin Society, an organization dedicated to neoliberalism in 1947. Under these historical conditions and compassion for the status quo, the political aim embraces the spirit of reform. It is a foil against risk factors. A modern social reform will always look to a standard for justice in this granular context of the law built on the inadequacy of measures from one group to the next. Thus, the “he said, no, I said” context believes persuasion is the priority, not fact.

From refugees to American homeowners, the focus on distinct groups (regions) sees resourceful individuals, corporations, and governments agreeing to mitigation regulation, watchdog administration, and planning. Hence, since 1944, the advent of exquisitely refined measures with terabytes of data per issue. Each can measure system conditions in continuous change from one state to another. The first test of this new order has two words – global carbon.

From 1939 to 1944, the spectacular industry growth in steel, rubber, aircraft, munitions, shipbuilding, and aluminum became possible due to the infusion of public capital from 1933 to 1940. During these two periods, it was possible to build a public investment argument to resolve the excesses of business practices in response to an economic collapse and include the stimulus of a massive war in Europe.

Similar to the climax of the industrial era, the technological revolution became equally exponential. An excellent example is the number of internet users at three million people] in 1990 became nearly two billion by 2010 and four billion in 2020, representing over 50% of the earth’s population. It has occurred before, but this was the first time it was global. The macroeconomic impact was recognized early by Nobel Prize winner Robert E. Lucas Jr. in 1995.

“For the first time in history, the living standards of the masses of ordinary people have begun to undergo sustained growth… Nothing remotely like this economic behavior has happened before.”

Robert E. Lucas Jr

Parenting

Every parent knows that when you take a kid’s stuff away, privileges, or worse, their phone, or demean their political outlook, all hell can break loose. Setting milestones provide the mitigating factor to this crisis. Examples would be grounding for a week, reduced allowance, or driving privileges for a month. Parents can be very creative when controlling the household until they fail. The parents we are talking about here are very close to losing control of the kids. Very close, but then I came across a video blog by Anderson Cooper on the entire concept of parenthood. As it turns out, his quest to be the best parent possible offers valuable insight into the metaphor used here on the meaning of liberty in a free society.

His first thoughts involved the newness of parenting and the seriousness of doing it well. His first post introduced his desire to have conversations with other parents and people who offer advice. His first interview was with Janet Lansbury regarding her insight into parenting.

Kids’ personalities are constantly growing, and they should be observed and related to as persons. All parents have a unique relationship with kids. In this sense, it is the most private and most public of human relationships. Lansbury quickly clarifies the importance of the differences between parents and children, all parents and children of all ages, their caregivers, educators, and scientists. 

The rate and absorption of content in these relationships vary in these relationships. The example given is when a baby reaches for an object. A parent might seek to give it to the child. Being mindful of differences suggests other interests, such as seeing fingers, feeling arm motion, or cloth texture. From the beginning of a relationship, it is essential to not “rush” and consider combinations of perceptions.

Cooper’s inquiry then turned to how vital talking is in this relationship. From describing individual actions to making emotions known, the brains of young children function almost exclusively on sounds. The endeavor absorbs those that are inclusive and personally engaging from other sounds that are less so. At this point in the conversation, the idea of “braving the silence” came up. Like not rushing to give an object to a child, silence in a conversation is equally important in these relationships knowing the kids are not parents. Cooper noted it was a journalism technique to wait and listen for more during an interview to gain information.

The example was how can a new kid not change everything when parent-child becomes parent children. The silence helps to more openly welcome the unstated feelings of change that represent new levels of change, such as confirming being upset about this change in awareness.   Confirmation bias remains a confirmation confirmed in the relationship.

As most aunts and uncles will confess, it is easy to wind up the kids with the excitement of play itself. On the other hand, stopping play confirms a unique power component. As the parents will tell the aunts and uncles that the kids are not adults, parenting represents the initial relationship model followed by many others. When it is time to stop play, recognize “the courage to confirm” balance in building a life for the kids outside of the parent relationship is preeminent.

Cooper then turned to a parent and colleague, Clarissa Ward, on the challenges of being a working parent. This portion of the interview hinged on media communications with kids instead of the warmth of a parent’s personal space. When separated, the parents are in pain. On the other hand, the deep emotion comes from knowing the kids are not. Despite the separation, parents struggle to discover what is best for their children. Nevertheless, if the kids still feel love, are being held, appreciated, and sense stability, the parent’s comfort remains strong and perhaps survives the entire journey.

Government

Because it was Anderson Cooper, it felt appropriate to replace parents with governing and the kids with the people as a schema on parallel analysis to determine the number of components needed to uncover the underlying structure of a large set of variables. So the following is a drill down on finding the government and people within a parent and child metaphor.

His first thoughts involved the newness of governing and the seriousness of handling it well. His first post introduced his desire to have conversations with other governments and people who offer governing advice. His first interview was with Janet Lansbury regarding her insight into governing.

People are busy forming their personalities and should always be observed and related as persons. All governments have a unique relationship with the people. In this sense, it is the most private and most public of human relationships. Lansbury quickly clarifies the importance of the differences between the governments and the people, all governments and people of all ages, their caregivers, educators, and scientists. 

The rate and absorption of content in these relationships vary in these relationships. The example given is when a baby reaches for an object. A government might seek to give it to the child. Being mindful of differences suggests the potential for other interests, such as seeing fingers, feeling arm motion, or cloth texture. From the beginning of a relationship, consider combinations of perceptions and not “rush.”

The subject then turned to how vital talking is in this relationship. From describing individual actions to making emotions known, the brains of young children function almost exclusively on sounds. The endeavor absorbs those that are inclusive and personally engaging from other sounds that are less so while separating the parents and kids, governments and people.

At this point in the conversation, the idea of “braving the silence” came up. Like not rushing an object into a child’s hand, silence in a conversation is equally important in the relationships between people and governments. Anderson noted that the braving silence technique of journalism, to wait and listen for more during an interview, often gains essential information.

An example was how new people (siblings) change everything is when silence helps to openly welcome the unstated feelings of change. The unsaid parts represent new levels of change, such as confirming being upset about this change in awareness.   Confirmation bias remains a confirmation confirmed in the relationship.

As most aunts and uncles will confess, it is easy to wind up the people with the excitement play itself. On the other hand, stopping play confirms a unique power component. The government will tell the aunts and uncles that the people are not adults, and the government represents the initial relationship model followed by many others. When it is time to stop play, recognize “the courage to confirm” balance in building a life for the people outside of your relationship as the government is preeminent.

Cooper then turned to a parent and colleague, Clarissa Ward, on the challenges of being a working parent. The conversation hinged on the “coldness” of media communications compared to the warmth of personal space. When separated, the government will experience severe pain. But, on the other hand, a deep emotion comes from knowing that the people are not. Despite the separation, parents struggle to discover what is best for their children. Nevertheless, if the kids still feel love, are being held, appreciated, and sense stability, the government’s comfort remains strong and perhaps survives the entire journey.

Robert Gutman

Robert Gutman

In an all-encompassing life of research and study of the architecture profession, Robert Gutman (1926-2007) published a continuous critique of the state of that profession in a variety of well-grounded essays. It began with a 1965 research grant from the Russel Sage Foundation to explore interactions between architecture and sociology. This inquiry remains open and unresolved.

Architecture is driven by the “status” associated with design in an advanced capitalist society. It can be described as high or low, quality vs. the lack of it, and as a condition that expands to include entire neighborhoods, new and old, restored and gentrified, diverse or isolated, and most recently environmentally terrified.

Proving the Negative

Why do people demand proof, verified, and vetted facts when it comes to making changes in the quality of life in a community but do not apply similar demands to the ghosts and gods of change? Are these not the most dangerous in the world? Are these ghosts not swirling in the fossil fuel of war and terrorism? These are known forces. Why the lack of will to fill the gap between these ghostly and the general expectation that a better world is possible? Gutman saw the raw subjectivity that insists the builders are doing well and called it false. As Robert Gutman put, there is,

“an unreality of the espoused view of the world of practice is perpetuated by the profession itself, by the schools, and to some extent by the architectural press, and these distortions make it more difficult for architects to deal creatively and constructively with the problems which the profession faces.”

Architectural Practice – A Critical View 1988

What is the market for design among people who don’t believe they can afford it and have no respect for it? Are they correct? The provision of design resources is the initial architectural service and the entire built environment by extension. Do we accept that low- and moderate-income people represent an invisible segment in that market? The market exists with personal capital and credit. Others could be served, but only if serious gaps are acknowledged, and new values recognized.

Rarely will community organizations find themselves like a paper in the top drawer of a desk where there is proof can they have the answer to the problems of their community. Instead, a nonprofit institution may find itself responsible for a combination of services meeting the needs of vulnerable families. You will often see them as accountable for producing and managing affordable housing and community facilities. Yet, you may also know them working under poor or deteriorating conditions made tragically complex by meager, sporadic assistance.

To open that desk top, they will need built environment professionals to respond to their needs in a far less autonomous way. Unfortunately, architecture and those who study the structure and functioning of human society remain indecisive associates and silent to the indifference. Gutman, however, countered as a teacher by encouraging a significant segment of future architects to recognize that a form of architectural resistance, regardless of the disturbances caused, can help people demand a better world. These acts create a battle between design as fulfillment vs. corporate practice where the function is all that matters, leaving the work of realization to others. 

Sustaining design as a resource for finding complex solutions to complex problems recognizes that design and architecture can lead the way. There will always be projects that have the potential to shift the status of architecture toward comprehensively better places. What is needed is a set of self-renewing political acts and the institutional continuity of a design purpose in a community.

The technique of creating a drawing to envision a future or align intention is one of humanity’s most significant accomplishments. When done well, the design practice formulates what needs doing, and it has been so for thousands of years. In creating environments, whether raw survival or human actualization, the need is increasing among the invisible clients, and like refugees, altering the structure of demand. The entrants to the profession are undersupplied in this sector, often relegated to second-class status within the profession, yet this is the area of greatest need. It is vital to alter society’s perception of the architect as one with short-term relationships in a community. It is time make design a permanent institutional presence in underserved communities and make them as purpose-driven as a public school.

Every urban region’s density and structural complexity are too siloed into rigid regimental structures and components to manage. However, these parts need to be recognized and defined as a whole by a local institution with the primary purpose of structurally understanding all of the connective tissues that make it part of a city. Therefore, this institution needs to be in a community as a permanent entity to ask one question until answers are produced. What is our design? How do we create and renew ourselves?

Ukraine

This is one new way to look at war news.

Following is a cut/paste from Poynter (here).

The Maldita team sent a message to a listserv belonging to Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network, which brings together about 120 fact-checking organizations and advocates of factual information in the fight against misinformation. With a spreadsheet, they invited other fact-checkers to enter disinformation they’ve debunked.

The result is ukrainefacts.org, a database developed by Maldita that publishes fact checks on the mis/disinformation circulating in Ukraine. Also called #UkraineFacts, the collaborative effort of verified signatories of IFCN’s Code of Principles is now available to the public for browsing. There’s also a map of the world that users can click on to read about debunked disinformation in different countries.

The Opposite End

In February 2022 an opinion article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy was offered to its readers entitled: Will More in Philanthropy Adopt the MacKenzie or Melinda Approach to Giving? The term “end of the scale” is used to describe the power expressed by dollars in trillions, because the quantity and management of these huge fortunes have produced an “opposite end” or a new extreme to examine in the world of charitable giving.

First, the amount of cash involved is truly unfathomable but highly transparent via the Melinda Gates approach, and Mackensie Scott describes her approach to giving by saying her researchers and administrators form a constellation “attempting to give away a fortune that was enabled by systems in need of change.”

The graphic below is a description of the Gates Foundation transparency by Wouter Aukema (here) as drawn from the foundation’s highly accessible database access (here). In Mackenzie’s blog, there is a list of nearly three hundred organizations given grants,($8.5 billion ), the suggestion that ongoing gifts may not be public, and the recipients will be trusted.

The article closes with the “end of scale” elements that alter the traditional approach to the presumed partnership between vast wealth and the challenge of the 2010 Giving Pledge (Gates and Buffet) First, grants are made based on trust. Second, the cash is unrestricted, but the third end-of-scale element is the expectation that the funds reflect the problems the grant is addressing by directly benefiting those who experience those problems.

The Not for Profit Architect

Community Design

Community Design’s institutional development history began in the 1970s (here). Its practitioners continue to bring a transformational idea to community development by investing time with people at very early stages regarding the design of everything, of all places in which they live and work, as vistas, rows of buildings, gateways, hallways, entrances, and portals through which life occurs. The result of this design approach has planners and architects on an entirely new path in an attempt to advance the field of community development through design — a practice through which all cultures embrace discovery.

The philanthropic community continually improves its investment structure with resources that defend against threats and uplift the human spirit. The choices are many, improved educational opportunities, enhanced anticipation of economic shifts that leave people behind, including incentives and subsidies to level “the playing field.” These and many other investments in people are vital. But, why leave the physical environment where these advances must occur to individual projects and urban landscapes defined by pre-supposed functions in poorly thought out places? An investment in Community Design has become essential as it is greatly needed.

One aspect of the need to take this position examines the trillions of charitable dollars flowing into the world economy. In a brief examination of two huge foundations (here), the list of recipients can be discovered to have acquired millions of these dollars. All of them expect to function in physical environments that are inadequate and crumbling around them, and not one dollar could be found by The Report aimed at the professions expected to help them build for change. The quality of the physical environment is as much a clear community design problem as it is to uplift the human spirit. The agents expected to be responsible are woefully unprepared. Community Design offers answers.

Form Follows Feeling

Community Design is a practice that builds visions for the future in neighborhoods. It builds confidence in the capacity for change. It is a power that shows community leaders, emerging leadership, and ordinary people how to align their interests to one modest goal that all can share – creating a beautiful community for everyone.

In New York City, developers get added square footage as a supply-side incentive for affordable housing, known as mandatory inclusion. Other approaches look to demand-side subsidies to reduce economic disparities and support diversity. Unfortunately, these points of view are solely monetary decisions. As a result, there is very little design thinking beyond building height, bulk, and sky exposure.

On the other hand, the design process provides a more vital understanding of development and control points in every imaginable aspect. Public engagement improves when design thinking becomes a combination of investment in people and places for social action. Discovering a sequence of design innovations and integrations for creative use is a clear alternative to a predefined bulk with a function.

Innovations in Community Development

Architects interpret individual structures or combinations of places as a fabric that reveals a dimension of emotion and a capacity for insight into the human spirit and condition. Buildings transcend generations, structures decay, renew and adapt to ideas that form the design of a community many times over and for many generations. Vast physical areas are in constant physical change. Housing, schools, childcare centers, police and fire stations, shopping districts, parks, playgrounds, and places for worship fit as forms with functions along pathways. There is a design, but does the community see it, have a sense of control, and like or dislike the places surrounding them every day?

Here are a few examples of the innovation in design thinking made possible through design as it engages a community

More examples are needed for above that reflect the ideas below and a rewrite…

  • Resources to regularly engage stakeholders in shaping strategy or discussing choices are routine and well-understood public engagement activities. However, design help to shape the place for these discussions is still haphazard.
  • Testing the viability of new program ideas or getting existing programs and services to scale for more significant impact is a common requirement of nonprofit organizations. However, design is a valuable testing process in determining choices and is rarely used to its potential.
  • Nonprofits are asked to evaluate new business models and earned revenue opportunities to sustain impact, resources to examine the physical aspects of the idea, assist in aligning decisions, comparing resource selection, and draw action plans based on days, months, and years to bring a strategy to lifeng them every day?

Here are a few examples of the innovation in design thinking made possible through design as it engages a community.

More examples are needed, such as those that reflect the ideas below and rewrite…

  • Resources to regularly engage stakeholders in shaping strategy or discussing choices are routine and well-understood public engagement activities. However, design help to shape the place for these discussions is still haphazard.
  • Testing the viability of new program ideas or getting existing programs and services to scale for more significant impact is a common requirement of nonprofit organizations. However, design is a valuable testing process in determining choices and is rarely used to its potential.
  • Nonprofits are asked to evaluate new business models and earned revenue opportunities to sustain impact, resources to examine the physical aspects of the idea, assist in aligning decisions, comparing resource selection, and draw action plans based on days, months, and years to bring a strategy to life.

Design Democracy

The Kettering Foundation is listed as a possible resource in the design center resource directory (here). The Foundation expresses a singular purpose by asking, “what does it take for democracy to work as it should?” So naturally, a short question deserves a brief response from a design point of view.

Keep your imagination focused because we are in times that test our eyes and ears. Our imagination of the vote proves we can have expectations but that everyone gets a different test. A vote is a test that fills in what we think is there, but it is limited by what we are. To pass and fail, yet grow, we learn to take the test of others and work to become mates as if we were on a ship. Safe harbor offers time for preparation and a purpose, but to stay there is to fail a journey of unlimited tests. Whether that ship is the earth in the cosmos or a small boat in the ocean’s winds, the thinking we use to create the problems does not help solve them. Democracies work as they should when they take tests of our thoughts. The first test is the vote, and the second is on the value of its voice.

Tests work as standards in the teaching/learning situation. They can be diagnostic regarding proficiency with a subject. They can be internal or external, objective or subjective but always fall to the hand of a final arbiter. In the case of a democracy, that would be the law. In matters in law, one or more legal tests help resolve the propriety of law as enacted. However, in the context of a congressional hearing, discovery, or other legal proceedings, the resolution of specific questions of fact or law now hinges on the application of valid assessments disregarded by manipulating the rules. For democracy to work, replace the poor use of rules with final tests and an arbiter. The future of democracy is part of the American experience, most commonly considered a thing that happens to us and far too rarely as a thing made by us.

Design Centers

In applications for financial support, we believe the “made by us” is an area where the skills of design and architecture offer enormous resources. It can produce advances in the democratic processes by establishing a community design practice as a bedrock institution. The vast physical landscape is a product of professionals that do not control the products envisioned by their masters. The establishment of a community design practice in urban areas represents balance in the analysis of the as-built environment, the impact of new build practices as an evaluation, and through demonstrations.

Nathan Cummings

Kavita Nandini Ramdas has departed after four months as president and CEO of the $473 million Nathan Cummings Foundation. If a social justice movement person needs help, have them look at their grant guidelines(here). The website has a “partner search” engine. I put in architecture, project, and “inclusive clean economy” from a drop-down menu to get a list of funded groups. One was the Auburn Theological Seminary. General Support $500,000 over 24 months in 2020 for its national programs that build the capacity of faith leaders, activists, and social movements.

Updates

The Graham Foundation

The Graham Foundation is well known for its contributions to the work of architects and designers as thought leaders. In recent grant programs, grantee projects (research), and public programs (social advocacy) The Available City program Chicago Architecture Biennial (Sept – Dec. 2021) revealed that some thinking never changes, fails to develop, and feeds on the most lasting problem of our time.

The video below describes a recent public program initiative of the Graham Foundation. As one involved in projects exactly like those below, only a half-century ago. The shock continues to be nothing has changed. It is as if I am watching a time loop with irrevokable power.

After watching it is easy to rationalize my experience and theirs. The vacant lot conversions of my New York past are now well-institutionalized community gardens or taken city-owned land absorbed into more extensive projects such as a head start center and housing. I wrote of one example in Brownsville, New York (here).

Another part of the surreal time loop feeling of “now it is all happening to you” is more critical regarding the essential sadness beneath the optimism of The Available City video. It is for the lack of robust, institutional stewardship of the built and “to be demolished” environment this is capable of reforming real estate development as a process. The lack of that stewardship allows the renewal strategy to be little more than restocking a supermarket shelf with packaged and processed, nutritionally neutral foods. Or, it could be worse than that. It supports development practices that are pleased to support a vacant, lead soil lot for a modest community garden or some adventure play. Oh, and a vague hint of change.

The sadness is that these are earnest attempts to create a new life. They reflect the possible elimination of poverty with further use. The design builds on a grand purpose, recalling the loss by considering rebirth. Yet, to this day, the despair remains. It is limited to vegetables or keeping a playground safe amidst the chaos of the vacant lot neighborhoods of Chicago or those of Brooklyn. It was not enough then, and it is still that way.

Rocky Mountain Institute

Carbon Free Buildings Initiative

The Growth in the use of the word “must’ has become notable as a belief in something that is certain Examples in use are we must:

  • Construct only zero-carbon buildings
  • Retrofit 5% of buildings annually
  • Ensure electric and efficient appliances

Note the increased use of the Future Perfect Tense in response to “must.”  Examples are by 2030 we will:

  • Retrofit large numbers of existing buildings to be all-electric, grid-interactive, and efficient.
  • Create building industry platforms to support technology dissemination, supply chain development, and business-led interventions.
  • Raise public awareness of health and climate costs of fossil fuels in buildings.
  • Design and advocate for carbon-free building policies in 20 key US states representing 70% of direct gas use.

The Secret Life of Materials

Goals Leading to Design and Construction Choices

Objective: Percent reduction embodied carbon in building materials

The following resources offered by RMI address specific performance specification, use of sensors on time, money, material, circularity in recycling, sequestration, and technology

Low-Cost, High-Value Opportunities to Reduce Embodied Carbon in Buildings

Giving America’s Infrastructure a Clean Start

Concrete Solutions Guide

Reducing Embodied Carbon in Buildings

Policies Leading to Projects and Priorities

The US Federal Government Takes the Lead on Low Embodied Carbon Buildings

U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) approved a series of procurement principles to shift to low embodied carbon building materials and approaches.

Colorado Passes Embodied Carbon Legislation

The bill requires the office of the state architect and the department of transportation to establish policies that include the maximum acceptable global warming potential for specific categories of construction materials.

The Theory of Change

Combining ideas about systems of thinking needed to explain something is often based on principles independent of the thing to be explained because they involve feelings. On the other hand, direct actions seek to make someone or something different. The acts alter or modify an existing condition into a new one. The banners in the above graphic on the “Theory of Change” combine ideas with action applied in various institutional settings. It is a discipline worthy of routine use in achieving long-term goals. Perhaps this is why the phrase “community design” is used by the architects and planners. They practice it as an art. Community feelings are the vibrant heartbeats of change, and as an equal part of its street and building design. 

RLC

Interventions

The goal of philanthropic investment in supporting community vibrancy, financial sustainability, and resilience integrates three fundamental objectives:

  1. To magnify local power to address this generation’s pressing societal and environmental challenges to equitable change
  2. To implement strategies and programs to make self-sustaining organizations possible with solutions developed in partnerships with financial asset associates.
  3. To confirm new and traditional investment models that break down portfolio and grantmaking barriers to reduce the conflict of interest between short-term impact and the desired permanency of inclusion, diversity, and equity.

Of course, these are not the only objectives, but they can be measured. The purpose of an intervention is to bring about an outcome. For example, in community design, the construction and rebuilding of physical space is an intervention in a communities life. But unfortunately, terminology can get people hung up. For example, the production of tall residential buildings in a community yields a variety of emotions. Understanding a community’s experience of this as an intervention is an excellent example. In it, the relationship between community and design becomes extant. However, another less complicated example would be helpful regarding a desire to produce change instead of reacting to one.

“In ten years, the number of children from impoverished backgrounds that become successful students and citizens will be doubled in community-X to help meet broad citywide diversity, equity, and inclusion goals.”

When stated as a long-term goal with implied objective components (i.e., defining “successful student,” “impoverished household.” “doubled”) establishes a base criterion. That done, a set of possible actions can become strategic.

The next step is to provide a structure that will prove a proposed intervention is working. The desire for change lacks meaning without an empirical basis along the path to its achievement. So a tactical prototype could be “after-school programs.” The steps following this decision would be to create a managing policy and a supportive work plan involving students, faculty, space, and material resources. In addition, the spatial and project design for the program would take active shape with a sense of priority regarding implementation.

Why a Theory of Change? (TOC)

Kurt Lewin’s work as a psychologist initiated a strong understanding of human cognition combined with social change. His work became a significant interest of the Aspen Institute (Roundtable on Community Change). As a result, Aspen is credited with the broad dissemination of TOC and its wide acceptance. While it began under the auspices of Aspen in the 1980s, the body of work “in the field” over the last forty years has produced well-received and practical examples of TOC efficacy.

A global leader on TOC implementation is Actknowledge – a nonprofit organization in New York City. The founder of Acknowledge, Heléne Clark, has helped expand TOC from its early beginnings to include the Center for Theory of Change to provide additional training and education resources worldwide.

In 2007, the first web-based processes offered by the Theory of Change became available. Since then, it has drawn nearly 25,000 registered participants. The impressive list of Acknowledge TOC clients is (here) for review. In addition, a series of publications are available (here) for further reading. Also, there are a variety of spin-offs. One example points to the Theory of Change compared with the Logic Model used by ASAID (here) and more broadly (here).

The logic method is linear. It is used to extrapolate and optimize what exists as knowable. The process is functional, but there is an alternative. Design thinking offers equally practical processes by which concepts develop through a feedback loop that includes verifying measures yet involves a wider range of participants. 

Applications to Planning, Design and Architecture

Since Lewin’s founding work and the investment by the Aspen Institute, the Theory of Change is recognized today as a revolutionary contribution to social change because it is counterintuitive. TOC is an alternative to the prevailing thought that following specific indicators such as prescribed functions will lead to a design program. However, the sole use of “indicators” or “outputs” are not sufficient contributors to long-term social change as a process.

Implementing TOC is supported by the  Four W’s — asking who, when, where, and why, followed by how. The answers help define a change in the context of feelings — asking how injects that emotion into a place. As a thought experiment exercise, asking why with a minimum of five responses also produces tangible results. Working with a community to gain information specifying an experience with change (also known as the Big What?) has significant implications for the end products created by design and architecture. TOC offers an excellent pathway. Here is another example.

The experience of travel is a helpful example to share regarding the practice of goal setting. Simply traveling is one aspect; however, it is very different when feelings and destinations allow for distinctions. For example, heading for Alaska requires significant differences in thinking compared to the Philippines. Getting to those differences and back-mapping to a present location offers many preparation planning and action choices with a place and a time.

In social change, it is crucial to develop a similar set of specifics to produce the needed perspective — it does seem counterintuitive to work backward from the desired outcome. Social change succeeds when the practice commands a combination of qualitative and quantitative measures. A well-known New York urban planner often quotes Yogi Berra, “You have to be careful if you don’t know where you are going because you might not get there.”

The example of the after-school program would require several specific quantities (attendance, grades, testing, grad rates) followed by results in the post-education experience of former students in the long term. Of equal importance, however, is the quality of experience. The feeling of getting to a destination. Here is one example of TOC’s impact on design. One fieldwork TOC effort sought to discover meager attendance rates in a Manhattan elementary school. It proved not to be the cause of parental or teaching behavior initially considered a function of the problem—a fully applied TOC process discovered it was the school’s adjacency to a high school with abusive students. The design solution – alter the design using time and the pathways. Initiate efforts at the HS level to effect change.

The contribution of TOC to the practice of community design is its emphasis on “long-term” when the goal is to achieve a social change as an outcome. Even randomized surveys of human opinion ironically prove that people lie on surveys. A typical example is that many people will say they practice recycling compared to the far lower percentage of actual household recycling. The TOC message is that it is difficult to measure an attitude accurately, but it is possible to measure observed behavior correctly.

Endnotes

Lewin’s 3-Stage Model of Change: Unfreezing, Changing & Refreezing. (2012, September 11) is available in (here).

In addition, two publications for downloading from Actknowldege examine goal formation and back mapping as a process for selecting short, medium, and long interventions to achieve outcomes. Theory of Change Technical Papers (Dr. Dana H. Taplin, Dr. Heléne Clark, Eoin Collins, and David C. Colby) and Basics, A Primer on Theory of Change, (Dr. Dana H. Taplin, Dr. Heléne Clark)

Don’t Look Up

It wasn’t mortifying George, it was liberating! www.monbiot.com

For every concerned adult, it is the same old story and it can cause emotional collapse.

“I was reminded of my own mortifying loss of control on Good Morning Britain in November. It was soon after the Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow, where we had seen the least serious of all governments (the UK was hosting the talks) failing to rise to the most serious of all issues. I tried, for the thousandth time, to explain what we are facing, and suddenly couldn’t hold it in any longer. I burst into tears on live TV.”

Losing It Posted: 10 Jan 2022 02:20 AM PST. Following is what reminded him of tragic pointless action.

The incredulous air of a planet death film. We die slow, so duh! The planet can too. ACT!

How do you process bad news? What is your sense of urgency? Have a look at: “My Represent Us Story,” and the “Unbreaking America” video with Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Silver. Nearly two million people saw it by February 2019.

The following 12 minutes is the answer.

It has succeeded west coast and northeast. Our friends in Michigan, Nebraska, Arkansaw, Missouri, and all over the South are working. Are you? It is just 12 minutes. Get the verticle line answer.


Concrete Thinking

On December 16, 2021, New York City’s Municipal Art Societ (MAS) published Towards Comprehensive Planning: Moving Beyond Our Comfort Zone to reinforce City Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s “Planning Together” legislation. MAS Director Elizabeth Goldstein stated the report supports a “community-based, comprehensive planning framework.” Goldstein’s report makes three concrete recommendations; 1) a new City Chater Revision Commission, 2) Increased Funding for Community Boards/Boro President offices, and 3) implementation of Intro 1620-A.

Note that three other recommendations were made, but within the context of the press release, they cannot be assigned a person’s name, a place, date or number. Words the wind really, just words in the wind.

On Being Concrete

Clear Thinking

In all communication find concrete words. Concrete words are essential to the discussion of issues.   The discovery of this information from a narrative or conversation is the best way to define problems.   Concrete words are; names of people; numbers and number words; dates (e.g. clock and calendar words); and words that point to one specific person (I, you, he, she, my, your, his, her).

A concept is usually abstract, as opposed to concrete.  The conceptual should be disregarded if it is not a product of the analysis or synthesis of facts and experience.  Concepts can be useful abstractions and powerful tools for thinking as long as they are backed up by references to people, things, and events.  In this way, a  “concept” is constantly subject to the expansion of meaning and delineation of detail.  Constant reference to what is concrete provides alternate settings for a broader understanding of relationships in new environments.

In the following “news release” highlight or underline these concrete words:

  1. Names of people.
  2. Numbers and number words
  3. Dates (e.g. clock and calendar words)
  4. Words that point to one specific person (I, you, he, she, my, your, his, her.)

Abstract words are made concrete by using a word from one of these four groups.  For instance, the word idea by itself is an ‘abstract’ word, but Rex’s idea, two ideas, or their ideas referring to a specific group of people such as MAS, makes the abstract word ‘idea’ a concrete word.

Some useful notes on applying this practice with a group will be found (here)

Planning Together: Part IX

Plans compare with actual events. The longer it takes, the more confusing it becomes.

“Planning as a process is extremely important and has to be done at multiple scales: at the neighborhood, community, city, and regional-level.”

Tom Angotti

On December 16, 2021, The Municipal White Society began an attempt to bring comprehensive planning back to New York City by reviving tabled legislation entitled “Planning Together” See: MAS Outlines Path Forward for Comprehensive Planning in NYC. The Report’s series on Planning Together will be found (here). The Report calls it the Long-Term Comprehensive Plan (LTCP). In all the posts, there are inconsistencies, inconsequential facts, and a few non-sequiturs. Gratitude to all. Press on dear friends, press on.

Tom Angotti says planning “has to be done at multiple scales.” The use of “has to” means “must” be done with a touch of desperation. Given his priority as “right and just,” a viable, comprehensive planning process calls for a combination of actors. Leaders in community-based organizations, citywide agencies, and regional planning staff would focus on NYC’s 59 community districts/multiple neighborhoods involving a variety of other data envelopes from census tracts to police precincts. The implementation team would need linkages to the broad city planning department priorities and the recurring responsibilities of the central city agencies. It will be necessary to align with regional interests, especially the public benefit corporations. Contrast the approach envisioned by Angotti with the reality clearly stated by the chair of the City Planning Commission in the same Report.


“We are charged by state law that we must have a well-considered land use plan and what we have maintained historically is that the city zoning framework at any given time is the city’s well considered plan.”

Anita Laremont

The LTCP implies the need for a sophisticated online communication and coordination network. The functionality requires discussion. The software needed will need to help bridge the gap between the conceptions of “comprehensive” and the inferences of “well-considered.” Why? New York City is an “everything happens all at once place.” An authentic long-term plan aimed at ordinary residents and businesses and developers and investors will need to function in a new way. It cannot run like a linear board game.

The LTCP responds, in part to the obvious and dramatic new constructions bursting from the soil of New York. Their architects and engineers eagerly serve the real estate developers, and their councils press the sky-high magic of material innovation enthusiastically onto the skyline and into the soul of this city. The aggression is passive. It leaves the bulk of social planning and justice issues to government work. Thus the question. Is this LTCP up to the balance of power task.

The long-term comprehensive planning idea does not appear capable of recognizing the routine manipulations of the city zoning framework. The Report will aim at the red meat of that opinion in the conclusion of this post. But, first, a brief look at the money.

The Report recommends following the “Benjamins” using Angotti’s recommendation. Therefore, please accept the following as a thought experiment on this central point.

An urban planner’s salary varies; however, simply using the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) data reveals that the median annual wage for urban planners is $73,050. Given Angotti’s requirement for “extremely important” planning, it would be prudent to imagine an overlapping team of about 100 professionals. The average could be around $80K but go with that for the moment. The staff would be organized by specialties such as demography, GIS systems, organizational development, design, architecture, administrative and legal. They would be assigned to work full-time for five years. Consider five years as a minimum contractual commitment.

The cart needed for this project would require a horse to carry $36.5 million for annual salaries. Dividing the indirect cost for the operation of such a glorious staff by its direct costs X 100, you could get an accurate overhead. Or more conservatively accept a nonprofit average of 35%. In the latter case, the project would conservatively require $12 to $15 million for operational implementation. The total first-year cost is around $50 million. Staffing it to work effectively on the other requires 200 people. So make that a $100 million lean start-up. In a city with an expense budget of $80 billion, that would be one hundred twenty-five hundred-thousandths of a percent (0.00125x 80 billion). The NYC expense budget hovers at $100 billion 2021/22, so will it be easy to discover a spending consensus for this priority?  Not if the plan confuses people. On the other hand, recall that New York City’s budget is more than most States and several countries, or that the State of New York has a GDP about the size of Canada.

The Report is all for such a task force composed of two hundred highly skilled planners and related professions willing to take a deep five-year dive into what NYC needs to be and do. But, unfortunately, it is an increasingly competitive, rapidly changing world that also reflects the abyss between the values expressed in the two quotes by Angotti and Laremont (above). The words of Emma Lazarus in the harbor, “give me your tired, your huddled masses,” has shifted to “give me your cash and capital. After that, it will be breath-free here.” Residential real estate functions as a “safety deposit box” in cities such as New York.

The minor $50 million effort fails the multiple scales test. A larger, well-funded plan, poaching from the top a bit, has an even chance at success. However, adding two new people at the Community District level with network access to the other hundred in the agencies, RPA, and a State office or two would barely shake it out. Another issue connects the LTCP idea with the sky-high skyline issue, and that is how well it can handle, alter, influence, or change NYC’s various hot buttons. The MAS picks eight in a little graphic fleurette.

Why Eight Hot Topic Buttons?

See the purple balloon on the upper left of this chart, Complete Community Design? That is where the Angotti vision of the comprehensive plan and all of its costs would sit on a topic list. Why? Three of the other tiny petals reflect unconventional combinations or adventitious labels 1) code enforcement, 2) annexation, 3) zoning, subdivision, land use, code.” Four of them imply a responsible agency, 1) economic and community development, 2) environmental protection, 3) historic preservation and 4) capital improvement programming. Are these the “hot buttons” essential to lanching this effort? Let’s assume they do, that leads into the question of “fit.”

The paragraph x of subdivision b of section z problem

The creation of a new Charter Commission review is the priority recommendation. Rightly so. Please walk through the overlapping, vague, and often deferentially confusing narrative in the New York City Charter. This is the red meat The Report refers to in this post.

The length of time provided (e.g., paid) for a full examination of the proposed ripples in the changes to the law governing NYC is unknown. The task requires transparency and high-level professional consideration of constitutional law, including effective recruitment of citizen volunteers.

To sum up. Are the changes to the Charter (listed below) sticky? Would they stay or slide to the floor if thrown onto this city’s political walls? Next, will there be a consensus among the city’s corporation counsel and advisors regarding these changes individually and in combination?

The changes to the Charter are scattered throughout the overall discussion of the LTCP and the legislation. However, listed in the numerical order of the Charter, they can be examined in detail. We are sure all of the members of The Report will have a good time with these changes as independent analysts and in groups.  Virtual Bayer, Tylenol, and Advil are offered with kindness. Each Section is linked to the full text. The dates in the original legislation were based on its passage. The committee tabled the legislation.

The changes to the NYC Charter are
discussed in Part II: Rolling the Dice
and listed below.

(here)

Thank you for taking a deep dive into the following list. It was assembled when the prospect of passage was possible. The Report’s strategy was to document its failure with that presumption.

  1. Section 82 (subdivision 14) Powers and Duties of Borough Presidents Five-year cycles instead of four
  2. Section 197-c. Uniform land use review procedure. a statement of alignment describing how the application aligns, conflicts, or does not apply to the comprehensive long-term plan prepared according to subdivision d of section 20 rules to determine whether such applications align with the comprehensive long-term plan subdivision d of section 20, including notice of conflicts with the LTCP
  3. Section 197-d. Council Review. notice of conflicts with the LTCP and a land-use scenario found in paragraph 7 of subdivision d of section 20
  4. Section 205 Comprehensive waterfront plan. REPEALED until….?
  5. Section 215 Ten-year Capital Strategy: This section details the cost of maintaining existing city infrastructure. Align city budget priorities with each goal or priority outlined in the LTCP.
  6. Section 219  Project initiation; commitment plan. Projected capital projects not previously anticipated
  7. Section 228 Draft ten-year capital strategy. Five-year cycles instead of every other one
  8. Section 230 Community board budget priorities. Needs not previously stated is have to be pointed out, and a new interface is implied as a responsibility of the Mayor’s office
  9. Section 234 City planning commission hearing and statement on the draft ten-year capital strategy. Every five years
  10. Section 248. Ten-year capital strategy. Every five years
  11. Section 668 Variances and special permits.A grant or denial of the board must respond to recommendations included in the comprehensive long-term plan required by subdivision d of section 20
  12. Section 1110-a. Capital plant inventory and maintenance estimates. Ending in 2022 and restarting in 10/2023 with an online machine-readable format and hooked up to subdivision i of Section 20 and according to paragraph 1 of subdivision b of section 215.
  13. Section 2800 Community boards. Annual statement of needs now every two years (6) Render an annual report to the Mayor, the council and the Borough Board within three months of the end of each year and such other reports to the Mayor or the borough board as they shall require (such reports or summaries thereof to be published in the City Record)

Time to discover the stickiness of the proposed changes (above) and ensure a concrete discovery process could build confidence. For example, knowing the named agencies and staff for this work includes the people responsible for providing dates and designated places.  Ideas are only concrete if they can be given names of those who ascribe to them and places from which they speak. 

Finally, with a pact that the changes proposed could be good, what happens in concrete terms to the people accountable for the operation and implementation of these changes.  That analysis is nothing more than naming the people and places with the numbers (dates, times, dollars, and algorithms) needed to confirm that feeling.  In other words, is the process of the LTCP workable? Can it be implemented with confidence given a concrete analysis? 

Use the Contact form for name and email and offer a link to your analysis of these changes, including a reference to others, or request participation to add to this forum. It matters little to The Report and its wild unassuming crew.

Contact

One brief note regarding the utility of using a concrete filter is described (here). First, read the MAS press release (here) if you haven’t already. Then read (here) to recognize the utility of this practice.

New York, NY Metro COI

The argument for hearing out a democratic socialist will occur because we are headed there anyway. There are many reasons for this evolution of social governance in the complex urban community. After WWII, American people will remember that their parents or grandparents could purchase a new car every year; wages were strong and ahead of inflation. Their employers and unions negotiated good health insurance services, supported public schools, and helped with their children’s higher education goals. Well-supported retirement plans were common. What we do not remember is everything between WWI and WWII.  It is remembered as the Great Depression, not the hundreds of big government programs and policies that pulled ordinary people out of desperate times. Historians document this shift in America well, but it has faded from the American culture to become an unknown.

  • Francis Fukuyama (The End of History and the Last Man 1992) In this work, he does not neglect to say there will be a century or more for globalization to establish liberal democracy. Nor will this tumultuous century inject greater prosperity into the world easily. The trade and communications economy could bring the world close to peace and prosparity, but only if Reinhold Niebuhr was wrong in 1932 (Moral Man and Immoral Society).

Social Democracy

Jack Dangermond is the founder and president of Esri, a geographic information system software company approaching $6 billion in assets since its formation in 1969. Thanks to rapid transformation in every aspect of digital technology, it is possible for an ordinary person to examine the availability of complex data sets by location. Jack’s interests are global, yet he is one of the people that fully understand that people will think local. It is about their front door and acting accordingly for events such as the welfare of their children. Take a few minutes (here) with his presentation ongoing global to local.

The Child Opportunity Index (COI) map is an excellent example (here) and is pictured below. It is calculated based on Education, Health & Built Environment, and Neighborhood Social & Economic Opportunity indicators. The Kirwan Institute published this research free and online because it works to create a just and inclusive society where all people and communities have the opportunity to succeed. For more information, visit their website (here).

It is developed here as a link shared with a discussion of a large housing development project near Flushing Creek in Queens. The need for this development to recognize related community development interests (e.g. childhood opportunity) is clear. What is not evident is whether the development will displace those young people, or bring them the future.

Point Layers

Polygon Layers

Housing + Transportation

The ESRI resource brings data to people, freely and without cost. It is not a service offering answers to problems, it is an invitation to people to recognize their power. In the example below the people of Flushing, Queens, and a large section of New York City do not need an automobile. What they do need is a high-quality investment in the subway and related mass transit system to be competitive with private transit. The people of NYC are the low-carbon emitters, however, they are not well represented.

Mandatory Inclusion

The image above is clipped from the NYC Zoning Resolution

The Voluntary Inclusionary Housing Program (VIH) provides a bonus floor area if the developer creates permanently affordable housing. A maximum of 20% of the Residential Floor Area must be set aside to tenants at 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI)., the project must be located in the Inclusionary Housing Designated Area to qualify for the bonus floor area. The Mandatory Inclusionary Housing Program (MIH) requires permanently affordable housing to be provided to obtain alteration or new building permits from the Dept. of Buildings. The MIH affordable housing options are detailed below; each area will apply specific options. The maps and suitable alternatives can be seen in Appendix F of the NYC Zoning Resolution.

The Developers Choices

Option 1: 25% of the Residential Floor Area needs to be set aside at a weighted average of 60% AMI, with at least 10% set aside at 40% AMI

Option 2: 30% of the Residential Floor Area needs to be set aside at a weighted average of 80% AMI

Option 3 (Deep Affordability Option):20% of the Residential Floor Area needs to be set aside at a weighted average of 40% AMI

Option 4 (Workforce Option): 30% of the Residential Floor Area needs to be set aside at a weighted average of 115% AMI, with a least 5% set aside at 70% AMI and 5% set aside at 90% AMI

Affordable Housing Contribution

Project developers with less than 26 residential units and 25,000 sq. ft. FAR have the option of contributing to the affordable housing fund. Projects with ten residential units and 12,500 sq. ft. of Residential Floor Area are exempt from the MIH requirements.

The MIH units may be used to satisfy other affordable housing program requirements. Several firms are involved, from design to the Completion Notice administered by the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).

A “My Neighborhood” post (here) will follow a vacant city-owned lot to follow a real-world example. A broader discussion of what it takes to produce a creative place is (here).

Resources: Look for Data

As the options list above suggests, this is New York City and everything is negotiable. A common criticism of the MIH approach to equity and fairness is the rents remain “too damn high.” However, the argument by housing advocates for additional resources such as Section 8 rental assistance for families can be made if local activists work with data and technical service providers to bring added data/value to the table, reflecting a greater need. Examples are plentiful; however, the following are a good place to decide if the “deep end” is for your organization or if new partners may be the way to get a better handle on the problems that need solutions.

  • The Urban Institute’s rental assistance prioritization index enables housing authorities and providers of rental assistance to find vulnerable communities.
  • The Census Bureau hosted a 12-week sprint with university-based leaders and Census data experts to find ways to disseminate Census data more equitably. The best examples for NYC are CityBuilder and Data to Go.
  • Google and Carto partnered with HUD to create an online map to demonstrate a mix of census data, rent data, and Google’s mobile device data. State and local government officials can navigate the map to analyze COVID-19 migration patterns across the U.S., gauge the effects of movements, and identify where additional resources are needed.

Amidst all of the chaos, hoops, and hurdles of the above is more complex than straightforward, clear you head by listening to a person that sees the earth and density in a very positive way.

Remote Sense

Jack Dangermond is the founder and president of Esri, a geographic information system software company approaching $6 billion in assets since its formation in 1969.

The technology to watch systems deteriorate and thrive at the local, regional and global level of observation is available. Jack illustrates the power of geospatial data in a mere six minutes. Still, the solution offered is frustration personified, but only if the tragedy of the commons moves from the pasture to the planet. or the alternative (here) “let’s all work together” is realistic.

Without a doubt, he expresses a powerful sense of urgency. It is worrisome, but Jack sees how geography has a way of combining the self-interest found at every doorstep with the regional thresholds of common interest and, after that, the hope of a global capacity to manage change.

The technological capacity to combine orbiting remote sensing tools and the somewhat ominous ability to predict land/ocean uses as they change is astounding. In addition, Esri’s interest in supporting open source business and pubic agency planning and development data is comforting.

With regular programming and artificial intelligence mapping and analysis, Jack calls upon all people and organizations to the geospatial platform. He sees it as a central tool for understanding local, regional, and global conditions as one with the power to improve planning, policy- and decision-making on the ground in every “layer” imaginable.

Do you or your organization use a GIS system for making decisions in an area of public interest? Examples are housing, public safety, air, and water quality, tenant organizing, public markets, food deserts — you get the idea.

If you are unfamiliar with this resource, consider opening a public account where information is made freely available by ESRI with the help of local, regional, and national organizations. Have a look (here)

An example from a member of The Report is available for review (here).

    Please Respond

    Planning Hazard

    Other than the occasional declaration of a national park, housing produces the largest demand for land. Land acquisition and regulation in the public interest for urban development and renewal, on theother is one of the hottest buttons ever legislatively produced and upheld as law. It may be time to rework this established foundation for managing new challenges aimed at sustaining the welfare of the nation and its people.

    The impact of climate change on real estate development has stimulated anticipation of a new combination of eminent domain rights and land-use zoning useful in de-stimulating investment by location. This authority, however, will follow, not lead new industry trends focused on climate impacts. New price-mechanism led by mortgage bank lending and insurance company practices are rapidly reshaping the regulatory environment.

    Hazard Assessment

    The heightened assessment of climate impacts has begun. It will alter state and local protection of the nation’s watershed. The question is will it be in the interest of the general welfare. The wilderness urban interface will be focused on fire and flooding hazards more sharply than ever. The four early indicators examined here are instructive of two possibilities. First is whether an up from the grassroots leadership will emerge with effective, replicable legislative solutions. Second, whether obstructions to an effective national land-use policy will reduce the plausibility of a timely response.

    1. Recently U.S. Congress introduced legislation to require the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) to provide rules for finance disclosures examining climate change impacts. (here) and pubic responses (here). Federal legislation lacks consensus as  law makers remain willing to “wait it out” leaving the hazard guess work to the industries involved.
    2. The Federal Housing Finance Agency also has published a Request for Information for public input on this topic and collected numerous responses (pdf here)
    3. The Climate Disclosure Standards Board (CDSB)(here), is an international consortium of businesses and NGOs, who publish annual guidance on accounting for climate risk in financial statements. The CDSB has yet to establish a “risk-standard” useful for the protection people in flood hazard areas.
    4. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) maintains Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) identify Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHAs). SFHAs are into divided into different flood insurance rate zones based on the magnitude of the flood hazard.

    Hazard Awareness

    While the legislators seek consensus, federal agencies request public input, and the international community struggles to lead, we find FEMA. It is a post-trauma agency. Their maps often are out of date regarding the ongoing production of single-family housing by an average of five years. Why? The maps establish plans for disaster readiness. They have an indirect influence on local land use and zoning policies. In this regard, FEMA estimates that thirteen million people in the United States (2020) — four percent of the population — live in SFHAs, the high flood-risk areas. On the other hand, The National Insurance Journal research identified 29 million flood risk properties outside the official flood zones (here).

    About one million single-unit structures are part of the 1.5 million built in the United States each year (pdf here). The demand for housing still connects directly to flood-hazard areas. A mortgage and insurance may not be available; however, development loans will continue based on off-site collateral. The onus of risk by the occupants has accepted policy. What is becoming a concern is due to the growing number of households willing to be a risk yet require a public response.

    David Burt is the founder of Delta Terra Capital, a climate risk intelligence agency aimed at institutional investors. In his testimony submitted to the Senate Special Committee on the Climate Crisis (3.20.21), he wrote:

    “the damages to residential real estate will be roughly .85% per year, 58% higher than the amount collected by insurers to cover it.”

    The risk assessment shared with large investor clients is vastly different than that shared with Joe Public looking for a house. See the deep end data drill down using Freddie Mac STACR 2020-DNA6 Credit Risk Transfer (CRT) securitization. (here).

    Get Examples

    The following example of the public response to addressing flood-hazard risk involves six watersheds west of the Hudson River in New York State. Funding combining city, state, and federal sources began in 2011 following the flood impact of Hurricane Sandy and more recent impacts such as the extreme rainfall of Hurricane Ida. The NYS watershed environments provide fresh, forest-cleaned water to over twenty million people without filtration. As a result, Flood-hazard analysis and related climate change impacts have become vital to the retention and resilience of this resource.

    The Local Flood Analysis Program (LFA) served fourteen municipal areas preparing mitigation plans. The Stream Management Implementation Program (SMIP) examined design/construction activities, regulating implementation through a Local Flood Hazard Mitigation Implementation Program (LFHMIP). While voluntary, the City-Funded Flood Buyout Program (FBO) provides at-risk property holders with eligibility for a FEMA buy-out as well as assistance for those not eligible. In addition, New York implemented two other programs to engage the public and professionals with long-range planning with public funding. These are the New York Rising Community Reconstruction Program and the Sustainable Communities Planning Program.

    Data is requested on Hazard Assessment, Awareness, and Local Examples and the connection to housing affordability: (initial locational sources in NYS (here).

    The White Chair

    The White Chair Prompt

    The photographer’s relationship to architecture equips us with a possibility — an agreement of care for the immense impact of density on human life.

    The artist’s eye on urban density requires an exploration of beauty with the planet in mind. Michael Wolf’s favorite photograph of Hong Kong (here) may not be this landscape from his website homepage. Still, it reveals the opportunity for reflections on intensely urbanized life and the wildness of that white chair. With his help, one can explore a series of graphic landscapes (here) that force quality of life thinking with visceral effect. The sense of humanity in his pictures discovers shades of life’s transparency (here). His portraits reveal the beating heart of society.

    Imagine the white chair as an opportunity to gain perspective on the purpose of architecture. What do we reveal if the spread of these apartments became small buildings spread across the hills and valleys below? Is it possible to slip into the ground space among these structures to discover an abundant sense of warmth and protection, art and entertainment, education and training, fresh garden foods, children laughing, the soft bounce of a ball? Are the hallways, corridors, doors, and elevators equally comforting? These questions dismiss judgment of architectural mass for a higher level of contemplation on the quality of dense urban life.

    Favela Policy

    “The demonizing rhetoric of the various international wars on terrorism, drugs, and crime is so much semantic apartheid: they construct epistemological walls around gecekondusfavelas, and chawls that disable any honest debate about the daily violence of economic exclusion.” 

    Mike Davis in Planet of Slums

    War has matured from violent mechanization into routine political practices during the last century. All of them are tightly organized into specific spatial groupings. The roots of this application of power are well understood as the feudal, colonial, and postcolonial geographies of domination. The range of its influence on policy today requires revocation for one reason. It is a destroyer of cities. A good place to prove that a repudiation of the favela policy and a positive alternative is possible can be found in the neighborhoods of NYC. The damaging option is the long list of slowly enlarging favelas and poverty-occupied regions across the global city.

    Practical perspectives from a progressive city like New York observes its urban world as a global entity. The phrase “core-periphery spatial structures” used to describe this view is academic but valuable when looking at the location of housing development sites that explain the attempt to meet human needs or fail to do so in the urban world.

    The persistence of poverty has a place name in every country.

    Housing Discussions

    The following paragraphs introduce other posts in The Report on the subject of housing. First, it introduces access to resources that examine the world’s “shantytown.” Second, it looks at the failure of the built environment professionals to “step it up.” as leaders. Finally, two other articles focus on the idea of strategic exactions in housing development and the other on the crisis of “rent” in New York City as a bellwether for the nation. So here they are:

    The Informals

    Like the instruments of war, similar practices in the formation of political structures use spatial organization in a direct attempt to control people as capital. “Informal Settlement” is a standard description for the construction of this capital. It is a phenomenon that is considered an organic condition brought about by a long list of market failures. A short introduction to them will be found (here) for a more intensive global location examination. These are places where subsistence economy suffering is collective, but the observer will also discover many compelling examples of the creative human spirit at its finest. In many cases, the failure to find access to capital flow hierarchies, often identified as the property of the powerful, fails all of us.

    Creating a Living Place

    A more extensive examination of the causes is placed on the doorstep of the professional facilitators (here). It is not unfair to call out the lack of a professional moral compass among the building investor professions. This failure is not from the viewpoint of individuals but the institutional nucleus of their domains. The membership of the built environment institutions has not been one-tenth as capable of addressing the issues that cause human suffering as those of health and law. There are exceptions that prove efforts to fix this problem, have occurred thru failures. The Report includes a post entitled Brooklyn is Charitable (here). In it, there is a small list of organizations and institutions that are attempting to push and pull urban planning, architecture, and engineering into the world of social and environmental justice.

    Strategic Exactions

    The introduction of new urban housing and the question of affordability is highly complicated. Will the introduction of a “gentry” encourage the displacement of lower-income who rent? Will higher-income people, regardless of skin color, remain silent in defense of the vulnerable members of a community? A post is entitled “Castling” and examines this medieval structure as a classic metaphor for power. It examines many of the anti-displacement strategies for New York City neighborhoods (here). It also looks at the American urban version of the favela, politely referred to as geographies of the city where “persistent poverty” is the issue. Detailed examination of cause is addressed but awkwardly separated. Finally, this post looks at “exactions” with the name community benefits agreement and ideas about alternatives such as “strategic exactions.”

    The Rent Crisis

    A detailed look at housing malfunctions is (here). One of the points made in this post is how an organization was founded in 1937. The genius of the Citizens Housing and Planning Council (CHPC) is how the five rooms of an apartment can represent the five costs of development. These are 1) construction, 2) taxes, 3) land, 4) money, and 5) operating costs. CHPC points out that of all five costs, only one has the most significant impact on rent. Answer: the cost of money is the primary factor. Today a change of one percent in the average interest rate from development through permanent financing could alter rents significantly. Attempts to manipulate all of the other costs yield minimal impact on rent.

    Freddie Mac estimated at the end of 2020 that the United States was 3.8 million housing units short of meeting the nation’s needs. Combine that with the surge of millennials into the housing market — they represented more than half of all mortgage originations last year — as well as the insatiable appetite of investors, who now snatch up nearly one in six homes sold in America. The contours of a new, lightning-fast, permanently desperate housing market come clearly into view.”

    New York Times, 11/12/2021

    No Limits Preservation

    Review the designation reports and a citywide map of all city landmarks (here).

    Report PDF (here)

    On September 18, 2007, the school at 2274-86 Church Avenue became a New York City Landmark. The designation report includes “The Town of Flatbush,” “Public Education in Flatbush,” and a description of the campaign to build the now-demolished school. The information also includes a brief biography of the building’s architect John Culyer whose contribution to the development of New York City is unquestioned. That vanished historic structure is in the upper right corner of the map at Church Avenue and Bedford Avenue. Except for the image (above) and the designation report (here), the building became a story, not a place in 2016. Its future as a place that respects the past is now in question.

    On March 2, 2016, Sarah Crean wrote its brief epitaph, “Demolished: Landmark Flatbush District #1 School” (here). Although the building lost its structural integrity, the cause of its demolition was a deficiency of interest from potential investors coupled with the lack of initiative by its city government managers.

    The Albemarle-Kenmore Terraces Historic District is part of this community’s historical legacy. However, the building loss speaks to what it takes to save a landmark. In late 2021 the construction of Nine DeKalb Avenue (Brooklyn’s First Supertower) neared completion at 73 stories. It will offer over 400 condominium apartments for sale and occupancy in 2022. It seems unlikely that this massive structure would express historic preservation values, but there is a story here.

    In 1932, the architects Halsey, McCormack & Helmer designed the hexagonal structure of the original building on the site as a bank. Due mainly to the building’s impressive atrium and the decade in which it is a part, it became a New York City Landmark in 1994. With the permission of the city’s Landmarks Commission, the new architects  (ShoP) integrated the bank into the final design. The initial debate on this development is whether integrating the original design into the building is appropriate.  From an architectural critic’s point of view, it has succeeded.

    Nevertheless, from a “development as social change” perspective, the debate could not be more heated or significant. Turn the page.

    Albemarle-Kenmore Terrace

    The Albemarle-Kenmore Terrace Historic District was designated by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission on July 11, 1978. The designation was due to the work of the Albemarle-Kenmore Neighbors Association (AKNA). A brief history of this effort will be found (here).

    If you have an interest in the preservation of the buildings that comprise this district please subscribe. If you are a participant in the ongoing debate on the role of the NYC Landmarks Commission as a conservation partner in the city’s land-use development you are welcome to subscribe. The members of the AKNA will consider participation in support of your interests.


    Chapter 74 of the New York City Charter (here) empowers the eleven-member commission to designate a landmark, landmark site, interior landmark, scenic landmark, or historic district. The membership of such commission shall include at least three architects, one historian qualified in the field, one city planner or landscape architect, and one realtor. The membership shall include at least one resident of each of the five boroughs.

    Rainfall Flooding

    “Hurricane Ida devastatingly impacted our area, the urgency to understand this kind of threat and determine the risk it poses became abundantly clear.”

    RPA

    Use the link below to see a full version of this map and the article. A strategy to protect the community from the likelihood of more intense rainfall is available now. Question the integrity of the E21 Street catch basins due to recent construction. (E21 Post) This is a reasonable first step. Would you explore Portal 311 (here) on this issue?


    Source: RPA Measuring Flood Risk in New York City Housing and Basements

    About 180,000 small residential buildings in NYC are vulnerable to rainfall flooding – 168,000 have basements, 123,000 below grade. In addition, the community is susceptible to “nuisance flooding,” however, the city’s data is incorrect regarding the “below grade” data.

    Issue: The community has been made more vulnerable due to concrete and other material dumping into the catch basins at Kenmore and Albemarle. As the map suggests nuisance and deep flooding surround the historic structures of the community, along with new multi-story construction. An investigation may be needed. Mitigation may be essential. However, AKNA, the school, and whatever the new Church-Bedford site will yield ad “development” would likely be at the lower end of a very long list of remediation actions under the heading of flooding resiliency for this city. Assurances are needed with all new construction.

    A 311 Portal is available to call out this problem. A good first step has been to question the data. Note the new build (existing and proposed) is not on the map, and second, call out trouble with the catch basins on the East 21st. Street and wherever you see a problem. I have observed three dumping acts that could have compromised catch basins along E21 Street. They were, 1) during construction of the new building on E. 21st. 2) during construction on Albemarle Terrace and 3) during sidewalk repairs along with the Dutch Reform Church. Only the new E21 construction was reported.

    Take a Moment to Examine the Big Picture

    Focus on Priorities

    Every Problem is a Housing Problem

    Providing community-based development organizations (CBDO) with insight into strategies of service for specific client constituencies is a constant challenge. The day-to-day tasks of program leaders and staff engage a variety of pre-determined reasonably funded activities. Executive Directors and program staff involved in social services intake need an analytical agent to help them describe existing conditions that could become critical. Here is an example of how such an assessment could work:

    The Furman Center has produced multiple resources on housing issues with statistical evidence by neighborhood, as well as, combinations that reveal a wider spread of city-wide concerns. The array of eviction data from Furman is vast, requiring many hours of review on the predictive, mitigating, and direct service demands possible. The benefit of a summary of these resources is essential. It applies to an organization’s mission, operational issues, strategic outlook, track record on the subject, and the subsequent choice of tactics. A temp with planning research and analysis experience is economical yet strategic in its importance.

    The following posts explore approaches to housing issues.

    The overall distribution has remained roughly unchanged since 2016, as the order of the top five and composition of the top ten remained the same. The map above illustrates the concentration of high average property tax bills in the Northeast. In contrast, southern states (with the exception of Texas) boast some of the lowest RET bills for their resident homeowners. See post below.

    Power is in the hand of the governed.

    Housing Economics

    Even Texas, the state that added the most housing units, showed decreases in more than half (52.4%) of its counties — reflecting the concentration of housing unit growth in larger metropolitan counties, with declines more common in smaller non-metropolitan counties.

    Spend some time looking through the 2020 Population and Housing State Data. The priority within the Bureau will remain in this area as it will direct the addition and subtraction of political representatives. The increase in metropolitan county density in states like Texas will reveal housing as a massive engine for growth. The lack of criticism for the quality of place-making should be observed very carefully as 2020 data rolls on to the nation’s micro-marketing platforms.

    For example, criticism for using an archetypal housing structure (below) is warranted. The data on how housing production produces jobs and supports industries is important. That the data also reveals a metropolitan shift across the country is more so. The focus on jobs and industry is useful. however, the design of the new and restored communities is how lasting value is established in the new world of climate change roulette. Revealing the preference for the areas of the country that are becoming increasingly wet or dry under rapidly changing barometric domes of atmospheric heat threatens these gains. A shift in focus away from individual structures to the way entire communities produce jobs, support industries, and remain resilient is the core challenge.

    In this context, the vast wealth of American households is generated by where Americans want to live or are forced to live. This is followed by the type of structure available and the cost of acquisition. The result remains a choice limited by income and the transfer of equity from one generation to the next. Thousands of other factors are involved, all of them well documented. The issue remains the general unwillingness to build a different society.

    A national policy regarding the location of home equity is strengthened by a metropolitan strategy where inclusion is sustained as a high priority. The urbanization of the New York and Houston metro areas presents an important basis for comparing land-use policies that yield the greatest benefit. One example built into the libertarian argument of Texas where the idea of historic preservation was attacked by a lawsuit suggesting it violated the city’s “no zoning” rules –turning that city into a sprawling megalopolis of virtually uncontrolled land uses (here).

    The numeric change at the state measure is vast, while the metro comparisons are statistically similar. The opportunity to understand metropolitan development in the context of climate change and resilience, public cost, and private benefit will be found in these two dynamic housing environments.

    State and Core Based Statistical Areas

    New York State
    Population Density (2020): 428.7 people per square mile
    Total population (2020): 20,201,249
    Total population (2010): 19,378,102
    Numeric change (2010–2020): 823,147
    Percent change (2010–2020): 4.2

    New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA Metro Area
    Total population (2020): 20,140,470
    Total population (2010): 18,897,109
    Numeric change (2010–2020): 1,243,361
    Percent change (2010–2020): 6.6

    Texas
    Population Density (2020): 111.6 people per square mile
    Total population (2020): 29,145,505
    Total population (2010): 25,145,561
    Numeric change (2010–2020): 3,999,944
    Percent change (2010–2020): 15.9

    Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX Metro Area
    Total population (2020): 7,122,240
    Total population (2010): 5,920,416
    Numeric change (2010–2020): 1,201,824
    Percent change (2010–2020): 20.3

    Thanks! I ripped this one into text like a bandage, and fixed most of it, but thanks again.