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In New Orleans, it isn’t cars or hills that are the bicyclists main enemy, it’s potholes and poorly paved streets. On a route that I often take, I have to navigate and joust to the left and right to avoid running into bumps in the road that have, in the past, knocked my feet off my pedals.

While potholes persist as the number one enemy, the city’s effort to repave roads is a bittersweet solution. Recently, my street was repaved: prior to last week it was bumpy and uneven, but by New Orleans standards, in pretty good shape. Now, it is smooth and the blacktop so fresh that it still shines under the streetlights. As I ride my bicycle down my street I feel as if I’m sailing. Unfortunately, cars apparently have the same sensation. Since the repaving, I’ve noticed many more cars driving at higher speeds that were impossible when the street was harsher.

As an urban planning student, I’ve always thought of traffic calming in certain terms: speed bumps, decrease street width, etc., but now I see that disrepair and neglect are just as effective, if not more so. This isn’t an endorsement of city government leaving streets in bad shape, it is simply a notation on the fact that repaving a road, which seems like a win-win, has negative repercussions of its own.

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A kindling affair

A friend insisted that I write a blog post about my new home in New Orleans so I feel the need to finally oblige him. To call it home is still a bit strange, because how can one be at home in such a magical place like New Orleans? Vines have swallowed up many a crumbling shotgun house and when I step out into my backyard in the evening I hear someone practicing their trombone on Music St. (yes, I live one block from Music St.)

I arrived at a great time for this city. Within 3 weeks the Saints had won their first Super Bowl ever and despite being a newcomer I participated in the celebration. Riding my bike to the French Quarter after the final second of the game passed, I was immediately swept into a second line parade that had thousand second liners. We took over the street and stopped traffic but no one cared, pedestrians or cars, because the beloved Saints had finally won.

Of course, the Saints win was just at the beginning of Carnival season and Mardi Gras was only a week away. There is no way to relay how unreal Mardi Gras was other than to say that  it felt as if there was no other place in the world except New Orleans. My favorite parade was the Krewe of Eris, which was a participatory, DIY parade that ran through the Marigny (my neighborhood) through the French Quarter and back to the Marigny. While most parades are permitted and sanctioned, Eris was not. This is in holding true to the namesake; Eris is the goddess of chaos and discord. We marched through the streets with a twenty piece brass band and no particular route. It was glorious and empowering. The night ended with a tropical downpour and me returning home with a box of wine I somehow came across along the way.

Thankfully, I made it out of Mardi Gras alive and am getting deep into the semester at school. Class is a little bit dry and I am thinking of switching to the Masters of Urban Studies program, which is more theoretical and research based. Meanwhile, I’m interning at the Creative Alliance of New Orleans where I am working with my colleague Katherine to develop programming for an arts incubator. I get to visit artist work studios and entrepreneur incubators and do research for community development through the arts. I also just got a job at Metromix, a nightlife guide based out of Chicago that’s opening a new site in New Orleans. I’ll be writing reviews and building the community down here to get more people participating.

As for the magic of New Orleans? Well, I step out my front door in the morning and can smell the Mississippi River. I take long walks on Saturday and stop in Jackson Square to hear gypsy music. Last Sunday night I went to a speakeasy party at a house that looked as if Boo Radley’s skeleton lived there. I ride my bike around late at night through the Bywater and French Quarter and sometimes it’s so foggy you can’t see the end of the street. I try and frequent the Candlelight Lounge where the Treme Brass Band plays for tips on Wednesday nights. The Candlelight is on a dark residential street in the Treme, a few blocks from where jazz itself was born.

My house has imperfections and I am the middle room in a 3 bedroom shotgun. I have two yellow walls and soon will be building a bamboo canopy for my bed. My roommates are architects, community developers, and a swing dancer. I meet a new person almost everyday.  My neighborhood borders on dangerous and I love it for that; cities are unpredictable and chaotic and New Orleans is no different. I’m still getting used to it all but in truth, I want it to continue to be enigmatic. Secrets are alluring and not knowing is sometimes the best remedy for this modern world.

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Public consumption of data is at an all-time high and growing.

GOOD’s ‘Transparency’ series relays a study on Americans data consumption and it finds that 3.6 Zettabytes are consumed daily; that averages out to about 34 gigabytes per person.

Another statistic shows that among mobile phone users, mobile internet is used by 26% of people. This number is expected to jump to 43.5% by 2013.

The emerging field of urban computing ties these two statistics together and at the same time aims to democratize public data even further. As it stands right now, citizens/users have to navigate through byzantine government websites to access data that is poorly organized and underused. Developers, such as City-Go-Round, are trying to coax the potential out of the data and organize it into useful sets for public use. In developing Apps for mobile devices, these developers recognize the ability of computing to transform the way we interact with our surroundings.

Yesterday London also recognized developer abilities and decided to create an online data warehouse.

The warehouse will include “[i]nformation about planning decisions, crime rates, abandoned vehicles, house prices, road accidents and many other metrics…”

In addition to providing the data, they are providing incentive to developers to do interesting things:

“Those who come up with the most innovative ways to harness the data could get a substantial grant to help them bring their idea to life.

4iP, Channel 4’s Innovation for the Public Fund, said it would back the best ideas with a £200,000 cash pot.”

To say the least, government catching up with and aiding the development of innovative urban living is a welcome trend and one which I hope flourishes in this new decade.

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Ten Songs of 2009

So I had to make my own list, mainly just to organize my music in a way I rarely do: by year. Here are my top ten, in no particular order.

Brackett, WI – Bon Iver
Haunted Hymms – Tim Cohen
Synchronized Swimming – Sgt. Dunbar and the Hobo Banned
Woodpecker on the Larch – We Are Jeneric
Moody Tower – The Intelligence
We Stay Out – Smith Westerns
Keep it Hid – Dan Auerbach
Lost at Sea – The Fiery Furnaces
I Had Lost My Mind – Daniel Johnston
Knotty Pine – Dirty Projectors and David Byrne

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Dave Bing, former NBA player and founder of Bing Steel, was elected mayor of Detroit in November 2009; since then he has been re-imagining the city. After the former mayor of the city, Kwame Kilpatrick, was convicted of misuse of public funds Detroit voters put their trust into Bing, an established businessman who plans to manage the city as any businessman would: like a business.

When interviewed by the Wall Street Journal he says

“A city is a business,…it’s a $3 billion plus business. The past administrations didn’t understand that, and I think that’s got us where we are.” Voters realize that private “businesses create jobs,” he says. “That’s where wealth come[s] from, and for too long we’ve treated them like enemies.”

He wants to make the city “more business friendly,” but how? “Take the licensing and permitting process that people have to go through,” he explains. “I’ve heard nothing but war stories. So I’m focusing on how we can help businesses cut through the red tape in city government. As an entrepreneur, if you have to spend all of your time trying to get licensing and permits . . . guess what you do? You’re going somewhere else. We’ve got to make Detroit a place where businesses can make a profit again,” he says hopefully.

I appreciate Mr. Bing’s business-minded attitude towards rebuilding Detroit. He is correct about licensing and permitting being a major obstacle to entrepreneurship yet I am somewhat wary. Rebuilding a city from the depths that Detroit is in will take much more than knocking down obstacles for business development. One of the major obstacles that is unrelated to written code is the ability of those businesses to draw customers. Much like how companies want to see favorable (ie. high income, educated, etc) demographics before spending on advertising, businesses need to see a possible return on investment before setting up shop. To achieve a level of patronage favorable to business Detroit should focus on creating a culture that educates its own citizenry, draws educated people from elsewhere, and ultimately retains those who were educated in the area.

Bing also recognizes this need when he says, “We’re losing a lot of our young talent who graduate from our top universities, because they don’t see the opportunity for jobs in the future here. That’s got to change.”

Apart from education and business development, redevelopment with livability in mind is also imperative. Population flight from the city to the suburbs has left Detroit desolated. The depletion of the tax base has left Detroit in a precarious situation fiscally and also with an excess of decaying buildings and infrastructure.

Bing “wants to tear down buildings and dilapidated homes and convert thousands of acres to ‘parks and greenspace.’ He also wants to privatize public services to save money and create a new cosmopolitan environment that will attract middle-class and affluent families that have fled to the suburbs.”

The demolition is feasible because of federal funding that was allocated specifically for this purpose. The money is needed because

it can take years to transfer title to a property from an owner or lender who abandoned it to the government, during which time the property becomes run down and helps drive down the value of the whole neighborhood. Once the government takes over that land, it can make decisions on whether to tear down the building or sell it to a developer either as an individual property or part of a larger bundle of properties. That can help maintain property values in the area by preventing blight. It can even be profitable for the city if administered well. But it requires a fair amount of money to get the process started, which these funds can help provide.

With all of these proposals and the clear-thinking going on in Mayor Bing’s office it’s hard not to be hopeful. These are ambitious but realistic goals; much needs to be done to get them off the ground but concessions from Detroit stakeholders, public engagement and a committed group of people will certainly help.

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For millenials, protest must be pragmatic. Yes, many of us rail for or against one cause or another but really, what’s the point of all the yelling and screaming if nothing comes of it? Also, does yelling and screaming ever convert anyone to your cause? Past generations of protestors have answered that question with a resounding No. So how do we protest? We plant a garden.

Robyn Waxman, a graduate student of design at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco,

“became fascinated with the next generation of designers’ role when it came to protest and civil disobedience, a place designers and artists have been focusing their efforts for centuries. Studying millennials, who are generally considered to be a group of participatory, positive, technologically-savvy 18- to 30-year-olds, revealed some interesting insights: This was a generation that had solid respect for the law and was reluctant to publicly criticize the status quo. “[They] are really concerned about defying authority,” says Waxman, who is 39. “They are looking out for their future.” As her thesis, Waxman proposed an intervention that helped redefine protest for the rising creative group–a form of engagement that would help educate and inspire them in how to take action.

“She realized if confrontational behavior was not in their nature, then she would have to introduce a form of more perpetual protest. Waxman sought to have a group of students physically reclaim a strip of public land bordering the school’s street, which CCA shares with homeless residents as well as day laborers. Waxman believed they could intervene agriculturally on the block–which was littered with hypodermic needles–by growing enough food for the neighbors.”


Urban farming is a growing trend and as a form of protest it is one that many millenials, including myself, can get behind. It’s a productive cause and its effects are tangible. There is something subversive about growing ones own food in the heart of a city; the collision of lifestyles highlights the disconnectedness of city living while also bringing one back to a “simpler time” that many of us never experienced. Urban farming is the most basic protest against the everyday complexities of modern life.

“Protest doesn’t have to be something that people hate,’ says Waxman. ‘That’s what makes it so enticing for this generation.”


Looks like the kids are alright, afterall


(via Fast Company)

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There is currently no better ad campaign than Levi’s “Go Forth” campaign. They employ the first few verses of “Pioneers! O Pioneers!” a poem by Walt Whitman and try to appeal to Generation Y and beyond with the call for youthful vigor. Maybe I’m a sucker but it makes me want to buy (more) Levi’s. In this campaign they realize their role in American culture and by referencing other quintessential American figures/ideals they make their jeans more than a product, they make them a lifestyle.

Here’s an excerpt from “Pioneers! O Pioneers!”

Come my tan-faced children,
Follow well in order, get your weapons ready,
Have you your pistols? have you your sharp-edged axes?
Pioneers! O pioneers!

For we cannot tarry here,
We must march my darlings, we must bear the brunt of danger,
We the youthful sinewy races, all the rest on us depend,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

O you youths, Western youths,
So impatient, full of action, full of manly pride and friendship,
Plain I see you Western youths, see you tramping with the foremost,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

Have the elder races halted?
Do they droop and end their lesson, wearied over there beyond the
seas?
We take up the task eternal, and the burden and the lesson,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

All the past we leave behind,
We debouch upon a newer mightier world, varied world,
Fresh and strong the world we seize, world of labor and the march,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

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