Archives for category: urban theory

So, about the crisis of confidence in the Albuquerque police department. A roundup to settle my thoughts.

1.
I am wondering if the peace officer who has charged David Correia with assault at the sit in at the mayor’s office is Chris Romero, the officer seen manhandling Correia in this video, and possibly the same Chris Romero dismissed from, but present at, an absolutely Soviet case of police harassment detailed by Joline Gutierrez Krueger. There appear to be at least two Chris Romero police officers in Albuquerque.
Video and screen caps of Correia’s take down by Chris Romero at the mayor’s office:

http://lajicarita.wordpress.com/2014/06/06/in-defense-of-

Krueger’s 2008 column on the unbelievable excessive force incident at which a Chris Romero was present:

http://www.abqjournal.com/upfront/26115988688upfront09-26-08.htm

2.
I am interested in the proposals by a retired policeman, Joe Byers, for the reform of the police department. It takes courage and love to come forward, and I’m glad he did. I want protesters to work on putting together a group of Joe Byers and his colleagues, as many as possible, to work together for plausible and real reform.

http://eyeonalbuquerque.blogspot.com/2014/06/degradation-of-apd-continues.html

3.
As beady-eyed as I feel about David Correia, he makes the perfect points in Mayor Berry’s oddly stoned, bubble boy response to the APD crisis — hiring dubious interlocutors, setting up toothless police complaint commissions. The idea that a photo op kind of charrette is reparation, rather than a.) PR control, b.) nut-cutting co-optation, c.) surveillance of citizens by notably violent and paranoid cops and d.) a veritably Dickensian Office of Circumlocution, is firmly planted in Berry’s mind as a form of proactive governance.* It’s not. Correia’s “press release” (um, no, it’s a polemic, although a good one; fighting spin with “press releases” strikes me as vying for the spotlight) on the topic of Berry’s spurious police complaint commissions is here. (If this is a movement and not a personal crusade, the good points about the police complaint commissions should have issued from protest HQ, not by the professor personally.)

http://www.apdprotest.org/2014/05/30/apdprotest-press-release-may-30-2014/

4.
The APD audio in the shooting of Ralph Chavez is here, along with a transcript.
http://krqe.com/2014/05/22/audio-released-in-apd-shooting-of-stabbing-suspect/

The video of Officer Pablo Padilla arresting for drunk driving, and smashing the testicle of a law student, is here.
http://progressnownm.wordpress.com/2014/05/19/video-misdemeanor-arrest-costs-abq-student-testicle-after-groin-strike-by-officer/

It seems to me both officers are performing for the camera. The audio of the Chavez shooting has the cop repeatedly saying I do not want to shoot you as he prepares and signals his intent to do so. Officer Padilla appears to discover a joint invisible to the camera, but pointedly described by Padilla — Is this a joint here?.

I think this is obvious to anyone who listens to or watches the (disturbing) tapes.

_____________

*I have to add, given, for example, Dinah Vargas and others’ detailed accounts of harassment by the APD as activists against excessive force, that community participation in police complaint boards is going to be minimal. The account in the Krueger column of the torture of a citizen by four police thugs at night is reason number one why no citizen with a real complaint against the police would ever show up and say anything to a police complaint board. Considering the fates of civil rights lawyer Mary Han, and Jerome Hall, shot dead six days after he won a police brutality suit against the APD, no sane person would show their face at one of the proposed police complaint commissions. You’d have to be crazy.

Doris Lessing may have been — but for her acceptance of the Nobel Prize — the first of the feminist breed for whose existence Virginia Woolf called in *Three Guineas*. The non-secessionist outsider.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/woolf/virginia/w91tg/chapter3.html

I never loved the *Golden Notebooks*. As someone who had from my childhood in Africa been there and done that it was no big woop. I have to think more about Lessing as an African, an Africanist, and an Afro-futurist.
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/15/arts/design/the-shadows-took-shape-at-the-studio-museum.html?_r=0

A much greater book, *The Four-Gated City*, has immortal passages, not least of Martha Quest walking for days through Blitz-cratered London, one of the 20th century’s number one *flaneuses*, a woman seeing the city. Check out Deborah Parsons’ important book on this matter.
http://www.amazon.com/Streetwalking-Metropolis-Women-City-Modernity/dp/0198186835

*The Four Gated City* is the only book I can think of, with Dickens right up there at the top, which actually gets down to what the virtue of money is. One of the protagonists is a rich schizophrenic. In those days the treatment was some lobotomizing drug like Lithium. The rich schizophrenic has the wherewithal to reject Lithium, go home to a safe and well-equipped basement apartment in the family home, in a safe neighborhood, with servants, and stay there, going over the walls with her fingertips, until the fearful tempest has passed. Martha Quest stays with her and takes care of her. In this way, the rich schizophrenic is not a vegetable all the time, but can continue with a life of the mind and maternal affections when she is not ill. That is the value of money — and it presumably exists in village or community life even when there is no money, and a superfluity of unmarried women at home, if not precisely servants. This scene speaks directly to one small political aspect of Foucault’s indictment of mental health practice — Lithium is brain police for the poor.

Lessing’s third great contribution to civilization was frankly telling it like it is about motherhood and abandoning her two little children, just as her mother had spent Lessing’s own childhood telling her what a burden it was. Yep.

The science fiction was, perhaps, a mistake unless you think of it more as unmedicated Sun Ra Afro-futurist riffs. Did she deserve the Nobel? I think perhaps not. But I would have given it to her just for saying motherhood is too hard, spiritually deceptive, and not as important as the patriarchs want you to believe.
http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/2007/lessing-lecture_en.htmlSt

Induced Travel

                Pedestrian Traffic Engineering Principles

How the Mayor’s Path Through the Bosque Will Run Pedestrians Out, Increase the Crime Rate, and Complete the Ecocide We Started

 

  1. A Surfaced Graded Trail Induces Travel

 

Traffic engineering formulas say for every 10 feet you widen a highway, you increase traffic by 3.3 percent.[i]

The Paseo del Bosque is a bicycle trail adjacent to the bosque. The mayor’s proposed 10-foot-wide graded and surfaced trail within the bosque falls under this traffic engineering rubric.

The city says 780 cyclists a day pass under I40 on the Paseo del Bosque. Three point three per cent of that is nearly 25 cyclists a day. So the minimum induced travel on the mayor’s proposed path would be 25 cyclists a day.  Given a 12 hour day, that’s one cyclist traveling through the bosque every half hour.

A  much more likely scenario is that half of the Paseo del Bosque cyclist traffic will use the mayor’s proposed path, for 390 cyclists a day. Given a 12-hour day, that works out to 32.5 cyclists per hour traveling through the bosque, about one every two minutes.

A reasonable scenario would be that the path doubles cyclist traffic adjacent to and within the bosque, such that 780 cyclists a day use the Paseo and 780 a day also use the inner bosque trail. Given a 12-hour day, that works out to 65 cyclists traveling through the bosque per hour, or just over one cyclist per minute.

2. Cyclists Run Pedestrians Out, No Pedestrians Increases Crime

The proposed 10-foot wide path, when shared, would be safe neither for pedestrians or cyclists.

Pedestrians cannot and do not use multi-use trails.[ii]

Albuquerque has done a survey of conflicts between users of its many multi-use paths. This is what the then trails coordinator had to say on the international pedestrian engineering listserv, Pednet:

Here in Albuquerque, New Mexico we have over 80 miles of paved multi-use trails.  The weekends are the worst times for user conflicts due to the varying speeds of users,i.e. rollerblaers and bicyclists  vs. walkers and runners.  The only solution is either separated paths or wider paths, say 14 feet.  Otherwise it will forever be a problem.

We recently completed trail counts and surveys. 368 surveys were collected and many of the comments were “please make the trail wider and smoother”, and this was from rollerbladers and bicyclists.  Most walkers and runners would actually prefer an unpaved surface, since it is easier on your hips, knees, and ankles vs. walking or running on concrete or asphalt.

This is obviously not a full blown study but I can assure you that the data

we’ve collected here over the past two weekends is indicative of the needs and conflicts which exist nationwide on trails whether they be in urban or more off-road/wilderness areas.

Hope this is useful and helpful.

Henry N. Lawrence III
Associate Planner, Trails Coordinator
City of Albuquerque
 Parks and Recreation Dept.

City transportation planner Julie Luna confirms this is the only study Albuquerque has made of conflicts between users of trails.

“Shy space” or “shy distance” is a term used by pedestrian traffic engineers to calculate safe widths for sidewalks, trails, and bicycle lanes. One fast-moving pedestrian such as a runner requires three feet of shy space. Give that runner a dog, who also requires three feet of shy space, and six feet of shy space are required for just two pedestrians.

On a 10-foot-wide trail such as the one the mayor proposes, that leaves four feet of shy space for one cyclist to pass the slower-moving pedestrians. Best practice traffic engineering principles for cyclists recommend six to eight feet of shy space for each one. Any trail through the bosque that would safely allow both cyclists and pedestrians to use it would need to be 12 feet wide at a minimum, or 14 feet wide as the Albuquerque trails coordinator suggested.

Crime increases as pedestrians decrease. Out of the line of sight of motorists, a cyclist-only bosque would harbor increased assaults under the well-documented public safety rubrics of “eyes on the street”. [iii]

A 14-foot-wide trail through the bosque would induce even more cyclist travel, decrease pedestrian travel, and increase crime.

3. Animals and Birds Flee Increased Human Contact

These statistics can best be calculated by the many professional naturalists who oppose the mayor’s path. Gale Garber of Hawks Aloft Inc. has scientifically surveyed bird life in the Rio Rancho bosque since so-called invasive plants which provide nesting habitat were removed, and a crusher fine trail installed. The reduction from over 700 summer birds per 100 acres to under 200 in just eight years cannot be accounted for by drought alone.

The minimum induced travel of one cyclist per half hour twelve hours a day – much less the maximum of one cyclist every minute – would have a permanent damaging effect on the safe nesting habitat of birds, mammals and reptiles in the bosque.


[i] For a survey of the scientific literature on induced travel Google this.
http://www.cts.cv.ic.ac.uk/staff/wp2-noland.pdf
For an August, 2013 report, see Todd Litman, Generated Traffic and Induced Travel: Implications for Transport Planning, Victoria Transport Policy Institute.
http://www.vtpi.org/gentraf.pdf

[ii] For the Federal report on conflicts between users of multi-use paths Google this:
http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/recreational_trails/publications/conflicts_on_multiple_use_trails/conflicts.pdf

[iii] For “eyes on the street”, “shy space” and “barrier effect” outcomes, see the most recent best practices guide recommended by the experts at the international pedestrian traffic engineering listserv, Pednet: Pedestrian and Bicycle Planning: A Guide to Best Practices, Victoria (B.C.) Transport Policy Institute. Their director, Todd Litman, is thought by senior pedestrian traffic analysts to be among the most solid analysts now at work.

www.vtpi.org

The mayor’s vision for the bosque from the first plan through this last one, of which the main feature is still the 10-foot wide surfaced trail, has always had a peculiar dissonance with the nature preserve character of the site. An eyewitness to a discussion with Hizzoner told me the mayor’s vision is pretty much based on his desire to ride his mountain bike through the bosque.

A battle 10 years ago in Washington, D.C. to keep the city, backed by the powerful Washington Area Bicyclists Association,  from stripping a 10-foot wide asphalt “trail” down the middle of a long and skinny neighborhood park taught me cyclists are the most entitled of athletes. And the least interested in, and the least scrupulous in protecting, the slow-moving amenities of pedestrians. It may be different in the land of enchantment, but in Washington, D.C. cyclists are the highway lobby dressed in green clothing.

Without going into the truly ferocious war stories of the battle between the dogs and the toddlers and the runners and the baseball players and jungle gym climbers and basketball players and tot lot occupants whose right to the public space they already occupied in the park carried no sway with the city or the cyclists, I have started to think about mountain bikers.

Only about 3% of all Americans participate in mountain biking, as opposed to the far greater number of pedestrian athletes — 12% hiking and 18.5% trail running, according to the Outdoor Foundation 2013 Outdoor Participation Report.  Outdoor recreation is a man’s world; women’s participation peaks early in life, with 60% of six-year-olds playing outdoors. The percentage of women playing outdoors is all downhill from there, coming to rest with under 20% of women over 66 playing outdoors — as compared to twice as many men — 40% of men 66 and over.

Mountain biking is a Hispanic and Caucasian man’s world. Here are the Outdoor Foundation demographics by race of mountain bikers and other outdoor recreationists:

African Americans

Ages 6+

1. Running/Jogging and Trail Running 19%

2. Freshwater, Saltwater and Fly Fishing 11%

3. Road Biking, Mountain Biking and BMX 11%

4. Birdwatching/Wildlife Viewing 5%

5. Car, Backyard and RV camping 4%

Caucasians

Ages 6+

1. Running/Jogging and Trail Running 18%

2. Freshwater, Saltwater and Fly Fishing 17%

3. Road Biking, Mountain Biking and BMX 16%

4. Car, Backyard, and RV Camping 16% 5. Hiking 14%

Asian/Pacific islanders

Ages 6+

1. Running/Jogging and Trail Running 24%

2. Road Biking, Mountain Biking and BMX 14%

3. Hiking 13%

4. Car, Backyard and RV Camping 10%

5. Freshwater, Saltwater and Fly Fishing 9%

5. Cross-country, Alpine, Freestyle and Telemark Skiing 8%

Hispanics

Ages 6+

1. Running/Jogging and Trail Running 22%

2. Road Biking, Mountain Biking and BMX 17%

3. Freshwater, Saltwater and Fly Fishing 14%

4. Car, Backyard and RV Camping 11% 5. Hiking 9%
http://www.outdoorfoundation.org/pdf/ResearchParticipation2013.pdf

Hispanics are the biggest percentage of people who mountain bike (17%), with Caucasians at 16%, Asian and Pacific Islanders (of whom the 2010 census counts about 600 in Albuquerque) at 14%, and African Americans at 11%. About three percent of children do mountain biking, and 2% BMX (competitive dirt trail racing).

Mountain biking is not for poor people. The average cost of a beginner’s bicycle is $600-$800, according to Essortment. Minimum equipment recommended for the minimum bicycle — a maximum mountain bike can cost $3000 — is “…good helmet, gloves, good cycling gear, shirt, lightweight jacket, cycling shorts that are padded, a hydration pack with at least 50-ounce water storage, and good cycling shoes. ” The cheapest mountain biking shoe at REI is $70, bike helmet, $25, padded bike shorts,$48 — for a dangerous minimum of safety equipment total of $143. Total outlay, $743 for a mountain bike and minimum safety gear.

Here’s the problem.  As every pedestrian traffic engineer acknowledges, cyclists drive pedestrians away.

A 10-foot wide paved trail through the bosque would induce travel by cyclists at rates pedestrian traffic engineers have scientific formulas to calculate.

These cyclists would, as a matter of well-documented fact, chase pedestrians away. What would be left for outdoor recreation in the bosque is a path it costs $743, at a minimum, to access and use.

And what is the average income of the Hispanic communities closest to the part of the inner city bosque the mayor wants to close to everyone who doesn’t have $743?

In Barelas, the median per capita income is $16,118 a year. Households earn $29,194.

In Atrisco, the per capita income is $16,685 and household income is $43,052.

The Outdoor Foundation reports 35% of outdoor recreants — and remember, mountain cyclists are men — are cutting back on non-essential expenses in 2013. No one has done the statistical breakdown for Hispanics and their beloved mountain biking. But the user surveys show that everyone who recreates out of doors lists a pedestrian activity as their first preference.

It’s not hard to conclude that the mayor’s vision for the bosque,  the centerpiece of which remains a 10-foot-wide surfaced trail, would essentially close the bosque to most of the people who live near it and wish to use it. The imposition of a plan privileging men on bicycles, and dis-empowering pedestrians — the majority of users of outdoor recreation — has a political theory component. It is a disturbing unilateral exclusionary move via landscape architecture. It fits into the centuries-long history of the privatization of public space by minority interests. The Spanish broke the Indians’ backs and privatized public land and water by making them dig the first acequia. The river hasn’t been the same since.

No road through the bosque.
http://www.change.org/petitions/mayor-richard-berry-and-albuquerque-city-council-keep-the-rio-grande-bosque-wild

This is an excerpt from a report I wrote for another park 10 years ago. The dates but not the principles have changed, and some bosque-specific information has been added.

I. Multi-Use Trails

“Multi-use trail” is, in practice, a bicycle commuter highway that joggers and walkers shun. The asphalt surface injures joggers’ ankles, knees, and hips. Given a choice, they prefer to run on the earth alongside existing multi-use trails, according to the only recent survey on conflicts between users of  multi-use trails, done in Albuquerque, N. M.[i]

Two thirds of walkers on multi-use trails fear cyclists, according to a federal report on conflicts between users of multi-use trails. Bicycle traffic volume on weekends appears to outpace rush hour traffic all day, thus mimicking weekend auto traffic statistics.[ii] It also corroborates the Albuquerque survey finding that user conflict on multi-use trails worsens on weekends.

In the 10 years since the foundation of multi-use trails, there have been only two studies on conflicts between users, according to the 300-plus pedestrian traffic experts on the international e-mail listserv, Pednet.

The first study of conflicts between multi-use trail users was commissioned by the Department of Transportation when the funds were set aside nine years ago.[iii] User conflict was seen as the number one problem with multi-use trails. This prediction has proved correct. Recently, the city of Albuquerque, N.M. tallied the conflicts between the 368 respondents to a survey of users of their multi-use trails. The city trails coordinator concluded, “The only solution is either separated paths or wider paths, say 14 feet.  Otherwise it will forever be a problem.”

Lacking other precedent, four well-established principles of urban planning and traffic engineering are useful to inform speculation on the future of a multi-use trail.

The first is the certainty that widening induces travel. Senior researchers of the National Academy of Sciences (U.S. government academics, not the highway lobby, nor greens) have authoritatively concluded that every 10 per cent increase in the width of a highway leads directly to a 3.3 per cent increase in the number of vehicles traveling upon it.[iv]  This is a revolution in thinking previously formed by the highway lobby credo, “ease traffic congestion” by building more roads and widening extant ones. What actually happens is that gridlock is not eased, simply widened.

One career environmentalist and long-term observer of the bosque estimates 3 to 5 people an hour currently walk the main bosque path on a summer day.

 According to the city, “an average of 780 bike riders per day pass under I-40 on the Paseo del Bosque”. Given a 12-hour day, that’s 65 bicycle riders an hour, more than one a minute. If the proposed bosque path is connected to the existing Paseo del Bosque trail, pedestrian traffic engineers calculating the environmental impact of a 10-foot-wide surfaced multi-use trail through the bosque would need to take this high volume of use on a parallel path into consideration. As far as I know, no bosque path usage or environmental impact study has been done. But these figures, from 3 to 5 an hour to one a minute, suggest and can be used as ballpark parameters for estimating induced traffic on the proposed trail and its impact on pedestrians, including bosque fauna attempting to cross the trail at twilight, or those inclined to depart high levels of human activity.
Immanent calls by cyclists and bladers for future widening of what is officially designated “multi-use” will almost certainly ensue, as the Albuquerque survey suggests. Conflicts between users are intractable, as the federal report foresaw before there were any trails or users, and as the Albuquerque survey corroborates nearly a decade later.

Second,[v] an urban planning concept known as “eyes on the street” comes into play. A Jane Jacobs concept, the idea is that crime decreases as the number of pedestrians on foot increases. [I wrote this whole document about a proposed path through a neighborhood park in Washington, D.C.. I’m leaving this part in, because while specific to the D.C. site, it also explains in detail what will happen in the Bosque when pedestrians are chased out:

[The Rock Creek Park bicycle commuter path usage survey conducted by the Happy Trails Caucus shows walkers shun the bikeway. The bikeway which crosses west of the creek, and passes under the P Street bridge has sheltered repeated attacks. The first series of assaults were by an ice-pick-wielding bicycle thief (1994). The second series were by a rapist intent on assaulting lone female joggers (1996).  This crime zone was created – according to this rubric of eyes on the street – due to the fact that walkers shun it, and that it is out of the line of sight of motorists. Thus, the establishment of a multi-use trail in Rose Park would possibly create a crime zone by eliminating walkers from the mix, as they have been eliminated from the mix on the Rock Creek Park bicycle commuter path, for which a link is sought to Rose Park.

[If someone knows a similar crime zone on Albuquerque’s cyclist trails that demonstrably, with newspaper clips of the crimes, has become dangerous because pedestrians have been forced out of the area by cyclists, please do the research and make the point at the public meetings Sept. 4 and Sept. 18 on the mayor’s plan for the bosque. If you could give me your sources of info and corroboration, in a formal bibliography, I’d be delighted to include it here with a credit to you.

[In ABQ the Plan, city public safety authorities are quoted (p. 32) on this principle, saying an increase of visitors to the park will make it safer. They seem not to have taken into account that an increase of cyclist visitors, who are not considered eyes on the street, will run off all other law-abiding users of the proposed trail.]

 

Third, traffic engineers calculate that each pedestrian on foot requires only 1.5 feet of  what they term “shy space”. As speed increases, so does the amount of shy space required. Thus, two pedestrians walking very quickly side by side would each require 3 feet of shy space, for a total of 6 feet of shy space. A sidewalk of 6 feet wide would thus be recommended, under the best practices rubric, to accommodate just two fast-moving walkers. A multi-use trail would add even faster-moving cyclists and bladers to this mix. The proposed bosque multi-use trail is 10 feet wide. Given just two fast-moving walkers abreast, that leaves four feet of shy space for cyclists and bladers. Cyclists are usually calculated as needing six to eight feet of shy space apiece. No reasonable plan would increase bicycle traffic while expecting cyclists and bladers to confine themselves to four feet of shy space.

The fourth possible outcome for a multi-use path in the bosque is known to pedestrian traffic engineers as the “barrier effect.” As with Robert Moses’ Bronx Expressway,  a broad asphalt surface with induced traffic traveling upon it prevents pedestrians from crossing to the other side. The barrier effect creates dead space on the side of the highway to which people do not cross. Thus, a multi-use path could halve the space people use, could create a dead zone in the half of the park to which no one wishes to cross. In the bosque, amphibians like the soft-shell and painted turtles who live in the water and emerge to lay eggs on land have a low tolerance to lack of cover. A 10-foot paved trail along the river’s edge would prove a barrier to migration for reproduction that the turtles would be unlikely to overcome. According to one long-term scientific observer of the bosque, a 10-foot paved path would create a barrier effect which could drive amphibians from the bosque.

Click and scroll down for photographs and descriptions of the turtles of New Mexico. Save their species. No road through the bosque.
https://plus.google.com/u/0/108460088402018418673/posts

###



[i] Private communication from HNL.

Here in Albuquerque, New Mexico we have over 80 miles of paved multi-use trails.  The weekends are the worst times for user conflicts due to the varying speeds of users,i.e. rollerblaers and bicyclists  vs. walkers and runners.  The only solution is either separated paths or wider paths, say 14 feet.  Otherwise it will forever be a problem.

We recently completed trail counts and surveys. 368 surveys were collected and many of the comments were “please make the trail wider and smoother”, and this was from rollerbladers and bicyclists.  Most walkers and runners would actually prefer an unpaved surface, since it is easier on your hips, knees, and ankles vs. walking or running on concrete or asphalt.

This is obviously not a full blown study but I can assure you that the data

we’ve collected here over the past two weekends is indicative of the needs and conflicts which exist nationwide on trails whether they be in urban or more off-road/wilderness areas.

Hope this is useful and helpful.

Henry N. Lawrence III
Associate Planner, Trails Coordinator
City of Albuquerque
Parks and Recreation

[ii] Sipress, Alan. (February 19, 2000.)  Saturday Saturation; Traffic Volume on ‘Off’ Day Now Outpaces Weekday  Rush Hours in Region. The Washington Post.

[iii] http://world.std.com/~jimf/biking/conflicts.html

That’s a dead link from the original document I wrote 10 years ago. It may refer to this, but I doubt it.

A study of readers of Backpacker magazine found that over two-thirds felt the use of mountain bikes on trails was objectionable (Viehman 1990). Startling other trail users, running others off the trail, being faster and more mechanized, damaging the resources, causing erosion, frightening wildlife, and “just being there” were the biggest concerns (Kulla 1991; Chavez, Winter and Baas 1993). Keller (1990) notes that brightly colored clothes, a high-tech look, and the perception of a technological invasion can all be sources of conflict felt by others toward mountain bikers.

http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/recreational_trails/publications/conflicts_on_multiple_use_trails/conflicts.pdf

[iv] Sipress, Alan. (January 13, 2000.) More Lanes Better? Not Necessarily; Traffic Increases, Studies Find. The Washington Post.

Fulton, Lewis M., et al. (April, 2000.) A Statistical Analysis of Induced Travel Effects in the U.S.
Mid-Atlantic Region. Journal of Transportation and Statistics 3, 1. 
http:// www.bts.gov/jts/V3N1/vol3_n1_toc.html

Noland, Robert B., and Lewison L. Lem. Induced Travel: A Review of Recent Literature and the Implications for Transportation and Environmental Policy. Paper to be presented at the European Transport Conference, Sept. 2000. London: click Research, then Current Working Papers. Centre for Transport Studies, Imperial College of Science and Medicine, 2000.
http://www.cts.cv.ic.ac.uk/

Noland, Robert B., and William A. Cowart. (August, 2000.) Analysis of Metropolitan Highway
Capacity and the Growth in Vehicle Miles of Travel, forthcoming in the Journal of Transportation and Statistics. London: click Research, then Current Working Papers. Centre for Transport Studies, Imperial College of Science and Medicine, 2000.

http://www.cts.cv.ic.ac.uk/staff/wp1-noland.pdf

[v] For “eyes on the street”, “shy space” and “barrier effect” outcomes, see the most recent best practices guide recommended by the experts at Pednet: Pedestrian and Bicycle Planning: A Guide to Best Practices, Victoria (B.C.) Transport Policy Institute. Their director, Todd Litman, is thought by senior pedestrian traffic analysts to be among the most solid analysts now at work.

http://www.vtpi.org

Five straight skinny reasons why *The Wire* is revolutionary, and TV’s best-ever show.

1.) Real People
As with British and Australian films and TV (as well as Euro, Persian, Chinese and world film and TV, which I don’t watch a lot of), the cast looks like real people. Many of them are. It’s not that many of them are black, which they are, it is that the white people and the black people all look like real people, not Meg Ryan’s post-surgery lips. As Liz Taylor used to say, “There are no real tits in Hollywood any more.”

There are in *The Wire*, and it is thrilling to see. No orthodontia. No nose jobs. No videogenic lipstick of a coral shade only seen in nature on blow up dolls. The diversity of peoples’ teeth, noses, skin textures, hands is beautiful to see. Sonia Sohn’s epithelial folds are almost as titanic a thing of beauty to regard as James Gandolfini’s eyes. The sets are natural colors too. Trees, water, blood, ruins.

2.) No Heroes
There is no star system. There are no heroes. The Hollywood/derriere garde/Aristotelian heroic system in which the story is the story of one handsome young guy does not exist in *The Wire*. They kill a protagonist off every season. The one you really love. McNulty, who is less the protagonist than the linking device, is far less attractive a hero than his creators believe (there is a lot of macho shit going on in the writing, a point to which I shall return.) And there is a reason the macho shits have the confidence to do that. And it’s not just in the ensemble player system.

3.) Real Life Mimesis
It is mimesis. Simon and Burns created the stories out of real life, with which, as a reporter and a homicide detective-turned-middle-school teacher, respectively, they were fairly familiar.

You know, of course, that Hollywood scriptwriters are all old Poonies. That is, they wrote for the Harvard Lampoon before they all got jobs writing for the Simpsons.

Cambridge to Hollywood. Not a circuit famous for the intrusion of anything but ideas, some of them wholesome, but quickly forgotten. Hollywood writers don’t know anything. They make stuff up. It’s called diegesis, as I’m sure you recall, which means basically narrative.

Simons is instinctually clear on the difference between making shit up and being a good writer. He also puts his finger on what keeps old reporters from ever really being able to let go of – let’s just call it, The Game. It’s why people who are paying attention to real life, and writing mimesis, will come up with a killa new protagonist – D’Angelo, Stringer, Frank Sobotka, Michael and the lost boys – every season, because they’re all out there. In the city. The major reason Simon’s new effort Treme is a flop is because he doesn’t know that city, and is falling back on tropes and stereotypes. And diegesis, like a Hollywood guy.

“God is not a second-rate novelist,” Simon says. “God knows what he’s doing, and if you just take what actually happened and marry it to where you want to go, it’s better than if you thought of it yourself.”
http://sepinwall.blogspot.com/2006/08/wire-money-for-something.html

4.) The Back Channel Economy Is Ruthlessly Capitalist
The sharpest political lesson is not we’re all together in The Game. Many people I respect argue this, eliding the point that ruthless capitalism is an I.Q. test for the underclass, apropos a season four episode in which a hopper repeats state senator Clay Davis’ line about taking the money of people who are giving it, and the disgraced police major Bunny Colvin says goodbye to his superiors in the same terms Stringer Bell faces down his executioners. The egalitarianism of The Game, in which the good guys and the bad guys share values is a good point and an interesting one. The political smarm of the idea that sexist black thugs are capitalists just like Nice People is more easily felt when one recalls that Spielberg dedicated “Schindler’s List”, in which the capitalist saves Jews, to his dead capitalist mentor, Steve Ross.

To me the sharpest political point is not, perhaps, that the back channel economy, The Game, systeme D, is as resistant to the reform efforts of people like Stringer Bell and D’Angelo Barksdale as mainstream politics and economics. It is that the back channel economy is just as ruthless a capitalist system to all who do not conform to the macho shit norm as the mainstream economy. In other words, all the macho shits are playing on a level field and the rest of us can suck eggs.
http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/10/28/black_market_global_economy

5.) Cynicism As a Full Employment Mandate for Reporters
I disagree with Simon’s politics, which seem to be that The City is failing because its institutions, including the back channel economy, are incapable of reform, due to the self interest of people like the master politician, the spider seemingly at the center of the web, the police commissioner Ervin Burrell.  The image of a truly powerful black man in Burrell and his performance has gone under-appreciated. I appreciate it. And I disagree with Simon’s apparent politic that no politics can or will save the city, and that only individual action, like Cutty’s, can make a difference in anyone’s life. I reiterate here that Cutty is a character invented by George Pelecanos, not Simon and Burns, to relieve the cataclysm of entropy Simon so enjoys depicting.

The cynicism is pretty much one of self –interest. A broken city is a reporter’s full employment mandate, and a self-fulfilling prophecy. I have to think some more about the fallacies of cynicism; one of them is bullying. RIP, Hitchens.
http://amphibian7.blogspot.com/2007/09/fallacy-of-cynicism.html

Saul Friedlander has famously defined death kitsch as the bedrock of Nazi aesthetics, an effectively staged transfiguration by fire and klieg lights like the Gotterdamerung of Wagner’s imagining brought into life by Hitler, who was excited by fire and blood. Of death kitsch, Friedlander writes:

It as often been said that one of the characteristics of kitsch is precisely the neutralization of “extreme situations,” particularly death, by turning them into some sentimental idyll. This is undoubtedly true at the level of kitsch production, hardly so at the level of individual experience, when one has to imagine or face death. As I have just mentioned, whatever the kitsch images surrounding one, death creates an authentic feeling of loneliness and dread. Basically, at the level of individual experience, kitsch and death remain incompatible. The juxtaposition of these two contradictory elements represents the foundation of a certain religious aesthetic, and, in my opinion, the bedrock of Nazi aesthetics as well as the new evocation of Nazism.
— Reflections of Nazism: An Essay on Kitsch and Death
, 27

Though Friedlander does not say so, I have often thought the apex of death kitsch was the human skin lampshade on the human bone lamp base sported by the commandant of Buchenwald. This banalization of evil is at the heart of the popular support fascism seeks and finds.

Oscar Niemeyer, the Brazilian architect who has died, aged 104, is arguably the avatar of the kind of sex kitsch widely practiced in Hitler’s, Mussolini’s, and Franco’s fascist aesthetic, as well as in the machismo aesthetic practiced by their brothers in Communism and Latin American caudillo culture. The little known, but essential criticism of Brasilia, the planned city Niemeyer, a lifelong Communist, started to design in 1957 is that no workers’ housing was built in the peoples’ Utopia then, or now. The planned city is surrounded by 60-year-old favelas and a proud and lively off-grid candango culture of three generations of the brown people who built the deserted central city. In this walkable neighborhood of low brick buildings, sidewalks, stores, bars and brothels, the Cudade Livre, did Niemeyer and his colleagues themselves disport when building the antiseptic city beautiful.

“We would sit in a club,” he writes, “and happily watch the social mixing taking place in this forsaken backwater. The liquor flowed while our colleagues — the architects, engineers and construction workers — danced together around the wooden-plank floor.There was a mood of nostalgia for home and the distant places where these men had come fromto work together in Brasilia” (Niemeyer, 72).

The modernist architect Oscar Niemeyer, 1904-2012, who built an urban theory for Brazil based on his Stalinist, and not Marxist, principles. He arguably built Brasilia, the planned city which is the capital of Brazil, according to fascist, and not communitarian, aesthetics.

The outstanding work of 20th century Marxists — Walter Benjamin, Mike Davis and Marshall Berman — has been to establish, persuasively, that cities — if not the revolution itself — are for pedestrians, that modernity itself exists in the revolutionary mix of classes, sexes, genders, and races on the sidewalks of the metropolis. Berman defines

….modernism as any attempt by modern men and women to become subjects as well as objects of modernization, to get a grip on the modern world and make themselves at home in it. This is a broader and more inclusive idea of modernism than those generally found in scholarly books. It implies an open and expansive way of understanding culture; very different from the curatorial approach that breaks up human activity into fragments and locks the fragments into cases, labeled by time,place, language, genre and academic discipline.
All That Is Solid Melts Into Air
5

I’ve been chewing over Berman, the great Marxist humanist who is the urban theorist of the Bronx destroyed by Robert Moses’ expressway, of the skanky old Times Square Disneyfied by Giuliani, and the godfather of post-modern Marx studies in America, since I first read All That Is Solid Melts Into Air in the 1980s. Opening its now yellow-edged pages, I find an essay on Niemeyer, heavily highlighted by a forgotten me in pink — what else? — Berman fulminating on the soullessness of Brasilia. Like an old friend, it is a manifesto I had entirely forgotten.

Marshall Berman, of CCNY and CUNY, America’s leading Marxist scholar. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marshall_Berman

Berman went to Brazil in 1987 to discuss his great book on urban theory, quoted above. Everywhere he went — including Brasilia — Brazilians told him that planned city, designed after Le Corbusier by Lucio Costa and Niemeyer, had nothing in it for them. Today, they call Brasilia fantasy island — “ilha da fantasia”. Berman writes

…one’s overall feeling — confirmed by every Brazilian I met — is of immense empty spaces in which the individual feels lost, as alone as a man on the moon. There is a deliberate lack of public space in which people can meet and talk, or simply look at each other and hang around. The great tradition of Latin urbanism, in which city life is organized around a plaza mayor, is explicitly rejected.
(Op. cit., 7)

And here Berman defined the clash of modernisms, if not precisely the fascist hand of sex kitsch, the anomaly for which Niemeyer and Brasilia must forever stand:

Brasilia’s design might have made perfect sense for the capital of a military dictatorship, ruled by generals who wanted people kept at a distance, kept apart and kept down. As the capital of a democracy, however, it is a scandal. If Brazil is going to stay democratic, I argued in public discussions….it needs democratic public space ion whcih people can come and assemble freely from all over the country, to talk to each other and address their government — because, in a democracy, it is after all their government — and debate their needs and desires, and communicate their will.
(Ibid.)

Niemeyer himself was appalled, and sputtered that Brasilia represented the hopes of the people of Brazil and any attack on its architecture or design was an attack on the people of Brazil. Like a good dialectician, Berman synthesized this antithesis to his thesis and decided that of course the people of Brazil desired modernity, but that the modernity Niemeyer and Costa had laid on them in the design of Brasilia was the sterile, techno engineered reality based on classical forms. He does not explore its connection, through the Brazilians’ co-optation of Le Corbusier’s city planning, to the tradition of proscriptive, coercive, explicitly imperialistic,  French colonial urbanism directly inherited by and subsumed by Le Corbusier. This French modernism — partly based in rational, explicitly racist and sexist French urban theory of the late 19th century entailing crowd control, according to the foremost scholar of French planned cities — was intended to perfect and complete the urban organism such that it might expand, in a clone-like fashion, but it would never change. The city of Niemeyer was perfect and complete; indeed in his 2000 memoir he says the city’s modernism represented “the importance of our country” (Niemeyer, 72).

“Niemeyer should have known,” writes Berman, “that a modernist work which deprived people of some of the basic modern prerogatives — to speak, to assemble, to argue, to communicate their needs — would be bound to make numerous enemies.” Those alienated from the sterile spaces of Brasilia would equally be alienated by the lack of sidewalks in America’s suburban developments and would, Berman wrote, in the ’60s and ’70s, begin to develop the alternate modernism “that would assert the presence and the dignity of all the people who had been left out.” There’s a reason the Mad Ave euphemism for the world-wide dominance of African-American culture — which, arguably, arose from hip-hop’s birth in the very south Bronx wilderness created by Moses’ murderous highway — is “urban”. It doesn’t take a village. It takes a sidewalk.

Indeed the riposte of Niemeyer — who joined the Brazilian Communist Party in the mid-1940s (Niemeyer, 46) — to Berman is found throughout Niemeyer’s autobiography. Echoes of his argument surface in the nationalist defense of Brasilia’s architecture all over the internet. This seemingly anodyne description of Brasilia’s charm is also its manifesto as a fascist city. Two professors and eight graduate students travelled to Brasilia in 2007 to take it in. The professors’ account is a retort to Berman, whose idea that Latin American urban space is a grid organized around a plaza is taken as an insult to Brazil’s much more organic Portuguese heritage.* Fernando Lara, a Brazilian architect and professor of Latin American urbanism, writes:

…its system of roads is efficient and rarely congested. In fact, it is a shining success when compared to many other highway-driven cities, such as Los Angeles. Brasilia’s success in this regard reveals a troubling assumption made by its critics, one that goes to the heart of western expectations of a Latin American city. For planners in the United States and Northern Europe, Latin American cities are understood as gridded cities, with a central plaza and streets filled with people selling their wares or enjoying outdoor cafes. However, many of these images are based on the evolution of urban planning in Spanish-speaking cities in Latin America. Portugal and its colonial settlements in Brazil never followed this type of urban development. Portuguese and Brazilian cities rarely had central plazas or gridded streets. Instead, planning tended to be organic, following access to ports, with the population centers hugging the coasts. Hence, to criticize Brasilia for not having central plazas filled with local inhabitants and streets filled with more pedestrians than cars, is to ignore Brazilian urban planning history and to level unfair expectations.

This geographic imbalance also relates to the criticism of monumental public spaces in Brasilia. These heavenly iconic spaces are not bustling with people like in the Zocalo in Mexico City, or the Huaycaypata in Cuzco, Peru. Instead, the major public spaces in Brasilia serve as expansive places to showcase iconic buildings. They are not meant to be inhabited by crowds, but to be seen through car windows by those driving by, or by small groups of people who have arrived with the sole purpose to view the architectural monuments to Brazil’s future, much as one stands to view an artwork in a museum.
http://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=jii;view=text;rgn=main;idno=4750978.0014.214

Fernando Lara, Brazilian architect and historian of Latin American urbanism, UT, Austin.

Lara’s throwaway lines — that Portuguese colonial “planning tended to be organic”, that public space serves “to showcase iconic buildings” to be viewed from a passing car — are the central arguments that Brasilia is an anti-democratic, and in Berman’s rubric, an anti-Marxist, space. I suspect that Niemeyer’s sex kitsch buildings, set off in Costa/Corbu’s forbidding driveby spaces, make it a fascist space.

The widely-discussed effectiveness of fascist architecture depends on spectacle, creating a space in which architecture — or light effects, such as the iconic pillars of light at the Nuremberg Rally — transfigures, in a raptus-like emotional transaction, individual spectators into one. One strategy is dwarfing spectators, another applying the scientific principles of crowd control first invented by the French to contain the frightening crowds of women who emerged in the late 19th century on the newly-created sidewalks of Haussmann’s Paris to go shopping at the newly-invented department stores. (This social phenomenon of modernity, as Berman calls it,  is piercingly rendered by the magnificent social observer Zola in his 1883 novel,  The Ladies’ Paradise.) Later the French built cities in Morocco, Madagascar and Indochina deploying these anti-democratic architectural strategies.

This corsage pin by Lalique was chosen as the logo for a National Gallery exhibit of Art Nouveau. Depicting women as a pestilence was the explicit result of the fear of crowds of women unleashed by the creation of sidewalks in Paris and the invention of department stores.

In a 1975 essay, Fascinating Fascism, culture critic Susan Sontag  pinpointed the erotic nature of fascist aesthetics — “vivid encounters of beautiful male bodies and death”. In it, Sontag posits the fascist aesthetic checklist. So powerfully does it resonate with Umberto Eco’s signs of fascism, written 20 years later,  Sontag’s still stands as the best practices definition of fascist aesthetics:

— celebration of the primitive

— preoccupation with situations of control, submissive behavior, extravagant effort

— exaltation of egomania and servitude, domination and enslavement

— pageantry of massed groups, turning of people into things, the massed groups of people and things arranged around a leader or  force [or iconic, monumental architecture]

— orgiastic transactions between mighty forces and their puppets

— virile posing vs. ceaseless motion in choreography

— glamorizes surrender, mindlessness, death

One becomes, as Berman establishes, in the spectator crowd fascism turns us into, the subject as well as the object of a modernism.

I’m cutting to the chase here of many important distinctions: one becomes the subject of fascist modernity if fascism is, as the seminal 20th century Marxists argue, the inevitable antithesis to the thesis of revolutionary modernism. Fascism is modernity, no matter how many cults of tradition — Kinder, Kuche, Kirche — it exploits.  No one has done the work of synthesizing Marxist and fascist aesthetics of spectacle, though the ground work in fascist spectacle has been persuasively established by such scholars as Simonetta Falasca-Zamponi, who describes the anomaly of Mussolini’s own modernism in the exploitation of modern advertising and polemic sales strategies, media and technology, while adding an acrylic techno sheen to the powerfully transfiguring pre-modern strategies of imperial sized buildings, ritual, symbols, tradition, and the very demagoguery on which Greece and Rome were founded. Writes Falasca-Zamponi,

The erection of buildings and the remaking of the urban landscape, as well as the invention of new rituals and the establishment of pageant celebrations, were intended to contribute to the sacralization of the state under the aegis of the fascist government. The existence of the state depended on peoples’ faith in it. Faith in the state was assured by a mass liturgy whose function was to educate the Italians, making them new citizens and imparting a higher morality.
(Falasca-Zamponi, 7)

Let’s all throw our gold wedding rings into the cauldron for Benito’s war chest, and make the point that Benito’s own magnificent planned city, Asmara, in Ethiopia, is the only other modern imperial outpost to deploy Niemeyer’s beloved curves as its central motif. The Italians called those curves Art Deco, and there, at the end of the earth, Asmara slowly returns to the desert from which Mussolini brought it forth. I submit Asmara, like Brasilia, is sex kitsch.

Niemeyer was the favored architect of the Brazilian president who decided Brasilia should rise from the wasteland at the center of the 3.3 million square mile nation, the world’s fifth largest. He writes that he declined a commission and designed Brasilia on the salary of a public servant, 40,000 cruzeiros antigos a month (Niemeyer, 71). This can be seen as a sign of Niemeyer’s communitarian altruism, freedom from capitalist ideology, ambition of Ayn Rand proportions, or the subtle coercion of a government whose political police still called the president’s fair-haired boy in for interrogation on account of his membership in the Communist Party. In his account of the interrogation, Niemeyer uses the racist Brazilian term, negrinho, to refer to the typist (Niemeyer, 90).

That the oppression of women is the point man of fascism is the issue that renders me beady-eyed in Niemeyer’s curvilinear Brasilia. He keeps saying curvilinearity is pretty girls and Einstein’s universe. I think it is Brazilian contrarianism in the tradition of Nasser’s Third World, Communist intransigence, and fascist sex kitsch. In the dedication of his autobiography, The Curves of Time, Niemeyer writes

I am not attracted to straight angles or to the straight line, hard and inflexible, created by man. I am attracted to free-flowing, sensual curves. The curves I find in the mountains of my country, in the sinuousness of its rivers, in the waves of the ocean, and on the body of a beloved woman. Curves make up the entire Universe, the curved Universe of Einstein.

The curves could well be seen — Niemeyer does see them — as a principled Einsteinian protest against Le Corbusier’s coercive city beautiful. But when the curves are only in the  monuments set one by one, by the Corbu rubric, far away in the center of a ritualistic empty space, one is not moving off the idea that the city is a perfected and completed (and therefore, possibly fascist) ideal form through which the movement of people is coercive and barely permitted. When, in a typical remark, Niemeyer says on one occasion the Brazilian engineers had taught the old world architects they had little to learn, I understood much of Niemeyer’s contrarianism. Building a city in the middle of nowhere is Faust’s own imperialist apotheosis — that’s when the devil shows up to claim Faust’s soul. It is as well, part and parcel of Brazil’s impetus to deforest the planet of the Amazonian rainforest and forcibly remove the aborigines from the site of the Belo Monte dam.

The traditional riposte of the Brazilians to world protest has as much to do with Nasser’s leadership of non-aligned Third World as it does with Brazilian nationalism. You can hear it in Niemeyer’s response to Berman, and in Lara’s 21st century playback. The U.S. old growth forests are gone, they argue, and no Yankee imperialist is going to tell us to stop the genocidal deportation of Indians or cap emissions you fail to do yourself. You can see this nationalism, or exceptionalism, in Fernando Lara’s truthful observation that Brazil is not Latin America, and its urbanism developed differently from that in former Spanish colonies. However, for Lara to assert that Brazil has no tradition of plazas, or democratic space, doesn’t mean Berman is wrong in saying Brasilia has no public space and is therefore not a city for democracy; under Berman’s Marxist rubric, it can also be seen as a tacit admission that Portuguese urban tradition is fascist. Lara’s ill-considered use of the word “organic” to describe the development of Portuguese colonial cities in Brazil can suggest the conflation by 20th century fascism of “organic” tradition — Kinder, Kirche, Kuche — with oppressive modern political tactics. Fascism is totally organic. Nothing could be more organic than genocide.

Nor is there anything more organic than pornography as kitsch. Gillo Dorfles, the pioneer scholar of kitsch — like Niemeyer, a centenarian — defined the terms of the argument in 1969.

Gillo Dorfles, the pioneer scholar of kitsch, who recently curated a show in Milan called “Kitsch”.
http://www.triennale.it/it/mostre/future/1118-gillo-dorfles-kitsch-oggi-il-kitsch

Setting aside the modernists’ problem inherent in the definition of “beauty” as a mandarin taste for elites, and “kitsch” as garbage art for the proles, Dorfles defines kitsch as bad taste. (Another awesome thing he does is finger Salvador Dali and fascist, caudillo Surrealism itself as kitsch, for which service to humanity he should be given a Nobel Peace Prize.) What’s wrong with it, Dorfles writes, is that it is a lie, a lie much more easily replicated in modern media (this would be part of Benjamin’s Marxist argument about replication), and that the cultural elite are extreme victims of it. There are a million more brain freeze zingers to live by in his 1969 masterpiece. The one which concerns the death and afterlife of Oscar Niemeyer is this one:

Bad taste in politics begins therefore with modern dictatorships, and for an obvious reason: in the past, people could accept the fact that a man was endowed — by fate or by the divinity — with super human powers….Nowadays, whenever art has to bow to politics — or generally speaking, to some sort of ideology, even a religious one — it immediately becomes kitsch.
(Dorfles, 113).

Dorfles goes on to publish the excerpt of Clement Greenberg’s 1939 essay, The Avant-Garde and Kitsch. Dorfles notes it was written during the rise of “blatantly kitsch movements in Nazism, fascism, and Zdanovian Stalinism.” Greenberg, one of modernism’s seminal art critics, scans fascist spectacle and  says Marxism is the only medium for high culture and the avant-garde:

Where today a political regime establishes an official cultural policy, it is for the sake of demagogy. If kitsch is the official tendency of culture in Germany, Italy and Russia, it is not because their respective governments are controlled by philistines, but because kitsch is the culture of the masses in these countries, as it is everywhere else….the main trouble with avant-garde art and literature, from the point of view of fascists and Stalinists, is not that they are too critical, but that they are too “innocent’, that it is too difficult to inject effective propaganda into them, that kitsch is more pliable to this end. Kitsch keeps a dictator in closer contact with the ‘soul’ of the people….Today we no longer look to socialism for a new culture — as inevitably one will appear, once we do have socialism. Today we look to socialism simply for the preservation of whatever living culture we have right now.
(Ibid.,
126)

When Niemeyer claims Brasilia represents the people and to attack his city is to attack the people of Brazil, he is sounding very much like the fascist Greenberg describes. For the city to represent of the people of Brazil — even though Brasilia arose from no referendum more popular than the election of the president who ordered its construction, and there was no peoples’ input into either Costa’s city layout or Niemeyer’s building blueprints — its makers had to claim to represent the peoples’ desire for modernity. Whether or not the Brazilian people desired the modernity Niemeyer gave them is still — as Lara’s 2007 defense of Brasilia suggests — entirely debatable. Is a planned city organic enough for Lara’s defense of Portuguese colonial urbanism in the first place? Is planned inherently fascist and “organic” inherently democratic? The proof is in the pudding. Are there large public gathering spaces in Brasilia which are not designed to compel spectatorship of Niemeyer’s state structures? No.

Having established that kitsch is basically a lie, and basically fascist propaganda, Dorfles and his culture warriors go on to discuss porn as kitsch. This is where the Niemeyer problem of sex kitsch gets good. In the teeth of pornography, Dorfles gets down to as good a definition of kitsch as there is:

Even ethics have their kitsch, and here one should consider two fundamental facts:

1.) that kitsch is essentially the falsification of sentiments and the substitution of spurious sentiments for real ones. That is to say real feeling becomes sentimentality; this is the moral argument against kitsch.

2.) that where ethics are in evidence the aesthetic component suffers.
(Ibid., 221)

Ugo Volli goes on to define pornokitsch as “false, sickly, sugary and slightly cold-blooded pornography adapted for kitsch-man” (Dorfles, 224) — kitsch-man being Dorfles’ rubber-necking spectator of modern life, the man of bad taste as he behaves when confronted by a work of art (Dorfles, 15).

Niemeyer  insists all his designs are based on the bodies of the girls he watched from his office window on Copacabana beach. It seems macho, it seems imbued with Brazilian contrarianism, it seems, with Niemeyer’s many Iberian pronouncements on the nature of life as a sigh, as a relentless fatalistic trivialization of the aspirations of the people of Brazil. Arguably, it’s not too far away from saying all the people of Brazil aspire to is the watermelon they’re all eating in Black Orpheus. Booty and bossa nova. It adds, perhaps, some credence to the suspicion of racism on Niemeyer’s part in the negrinho comment.

One scene from the bossa nova film, Black Orpheus, which has received troubled comment. It was released in 1959, at the time Niemeyer and Costa began to design Brasilia.

It has escaped the notice of no critic that the two domes of the National Congress he built in Brasilia are either breasts or buttocks.  When Frank Gehry visited, Niemeyer showed him a photograph of women sunbathing on the beach, alternately facing up and facing down. He told Gehry it explained everything. Years later, whe the New York Times architecture critic sees the National Congress buildings, he sees the girls from Copacabana again, in Brasilia: “They are beautiful and bizarre, isolated landmarks, marooned in the antiseptic environment, which they partly humanize by their erotic and symbolic charge. There in the distance is the National Congress, smartly off axis, with its vertical slabs balanced by two domes, half-melons, like Niemeyer’s female bathers, one facing up, the other down.” The BBC interviewer told the story of spending hours with Niemeyer in his office in front of a huge abstract photograph. Only later did the interviewer realize it wasn’t sand dunes, but female buttocks.

The National Congress buildings by Oscar Niemeyer in Brasilia, the planned capital city of Brazil.

So as the congressmen who represent the people of Brazil meet in a building representing beach bunny body parts, set in an enormous empty plaza that even a defender like Lara notes is designed not for democratic gatherings but for driveby viewing, how does Niemeyer symbolize a museum? Museums are the place where nations build their own myths. How does Niemeyer design the national cathedral of Brasil? With the same kind of trivialized and syrupy kitsch symbolism with which Niemeyer sexualizes federal buildings, thus trivializing and dismissing the democratic function of public space.

The 2002 Museu Oscar Niemeyer he designed in Curitiba he called “a sculptural eye”. It has a base tiled — in a modern take on the venerable Portuguese tradition of azulejos — with a naked woman,  frolicking with an arc which literally repeats the shape of the eye looming so panoptically above her.  Foucault says the panopticon represents modern surveillance society. There’s a lot to think about here about Surrealism, the fragmentation of capitalist trophies Berman mentions, and the fascist aesthetic inherent in museumizing an amputated and abstracted body part.

Museu Oscar Niemeyer, Curitiba, Brazil

The cathedral of Brasilia is either a crown of thorns or a flower. When Kimmelman visited in 2005,  it was empty. The glass windows were broken, it was full of the humid air of the vast bog that is central Brazil, birds nested in the upper struts and “A butterfly bumped against me, and I watched it zigzag toward the ceiling, into the sunlight.”

Oscar Niemeyer’s national cathedral at Brasilia.

To the candangosthe unaccommodated people of color who built it, back in the late ’50s, it must have looked like nothing so much as a rib roast.

________________

*For more on the Portuguese colonial urban tradition in Brazil, see this:

One Brazilian architect dicusses the anti-grid, anti-plaza Portuguese influence, and goes on blithely to pitch the many gated communities her firm has designed for urban Brazilians. The market demands them, she says. They are “permeable”, she says — architect-speak meaning pedestrians can walk through them. Gated communities, qua their racist, libertarian, tax revolt, and elitist origins, are anathema to the other great American urban theorist, the Marxist Mike Davis.

(c) 2012 Jeannette Smyth

If like me you are a diehard lover of cities and the sidewalk, where democracy is formed, you’ll love Chop Shop,  now streaming at Netflix. Ebert says it’s one of the best movies of the oughties. I wouldn’t know, but it has many virtues.

The 12-year-old actor Alejandro Polanco celebrates Willets Point, Queens, in the 2007 neo-realist movie, Chop Shop.

First, it is neo-Marxist. Modernity, it is argued, began in public space with the uprooting of the cobblestones people used to throw at the Bastille. And democracy itself was invented in the plazas of Athens, where citizens gathered to vote on civic matters. Willets Point is not a planned city – so far from being planned it overlooks Rikers Island, the nexus of New York City chaos – and has no sewage system or streetlights. It is an organic, Systeme D — the back channel economy in which half the world’s workers now labor — explosion of auto parts and repair shops where there used to be junk yards.  Visually, cinematically, it is the opposite of the planned, organized, civilized city and much more in the realm of the visual chaos Robert Venturi first discovered in Las Vegas, and Rem Koolhaas celebrates in Lagos.

Willets Point is the urban version of the vast parking lot in which most suburban Americans live, and which academic architecture, who fancy themselves the avatars of modernity, are just beginning to address.  It is not the architecture of reassurance symbolized by Disneyland and everything else Hollywood builds into a set.

The suburbs – I suppose Queens could be considered a suburb of Manhattan – are where all the entry level immigrants now live. The outer boroughs are no longer for white people only, and that clash and ascendancy of cultures is what Chop Shop is partly about. Shea Stadium is right there; the kids sneak into baseball games; everyone in the world wants to own an American muscle car and comes to Willets Point to get one.

Second, the  neo-realist story idea arose from reality. No member of the chattering classes has ever laid eyes on Willets Point, Queens. No Spielberg or Bruckheimer has the nerve to emerge from un-air-conditioned space to regard actuality.

The Iranian-American director Ramin Bahrani, guided there by a roadie who’d had his own car chopped there, spent months hanging out in Willets Point.  He didn’t know what his story was going to be. He waited for the neighborhood to tell him. In the visual chaos, he slowly began to see that there were children who lived and worked there.* That children in America live and work in junk yards is something you’d never know unless you just quietly hung around a place, not re-conforming the reality to make it videogenic. Apprehending, I don’t know, reality.

Third, he had no casting director and basically no lines to memorize, only a carefully rehearsed and diligently pre-shot, shot and re-shot improv script. He found the lumniscent young actors who play the orphaned brother and sister himself. Alejandro Polanco and Isamar Gonzales epitomize the lure of British television and movies to me – indeed Bollywood, Australian, Spanish movies and movies everywhere else but America – they are real faces. Uncut, unBotoxed, shining out light the way no Hollywood mask can.

Gonzales and Polanco live in a crawl space above the chop shop.

Polanco looks, walks, speaks, and acts everything that is good about boys of all ages, and the poignancy of his being 12 years old, a little man — sometimes trudging like a tiny pigeon-toed old man —  is the heart of the story of the working child. Gonzales has the more unsympathetic part, more difficult, perhaps to play than the beautiful boy, but her face in the scene in which she embraces her little brother and swings his legs around in a kickball game is one I will never forget. Then there’s the pigeon scene at the end. Oh me.

Gonzales and Polaco kick ball in Chop Shop.

Finally, there are scenes in the movie, notably one in the subway where Polanco and his much shorter sidekick sell candy, in which there are no actors whatever. Every candy buyer in the subway cars – mostly hard-looking young African-American men – is a real New Yorker caught by Bahrani’s hand-held camera. Bahrani says, “That’s the great thing about New Yorkers is, they’ve seen so many cameras they don’t really care. (Laughter) I’m amazed still. Like, that woman who—not even once does she look into the camera, or even care! No one asked any questions, either, like, “Why is there a camera and five people following?” They just bought their candy and went… It’s amazing, you know? Thank you, because that was like New Yorkers; they allow these things to happen.”

http://www.movingimagesource.us/files/dialogues/3/81269_programs_transcript_html_302.htm

Totally open, and totally cool. The new Jerusalem, the city on the hill for which we left so much behind. Run, comrade. The old world is behind you.

_____________________________________

*The NYT has a wonderful piece about the single, lone legal resident of Willets Point, Joseph Ardizzone,of the auto repair ghetto where so much life goes down.

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/17/nyregion/17willets.html?_r=0)

In honor of the death of New Orleans’ venerable newspaper, The Times Picayune, I am republishing the essay I wrote for the city after Katrina, on Sept. 9, 2005.

The passenger pigeon, the last of whom died in 1914, by Audubon.

I know a little more about the shady side of New Orleans than someone who has never been there should.

Someone I know grew up near there in a little Southern town run by her grandfather. She and her mother lived in his house, her father having been run off by the tyrannies Big Daddy inflicted on his daughter and grand-daughter. After years of hearing about what a hero Bog Daddy [legit typo] was, my friend showed me a photograph of him and I gasped.

The evil light gleamed from his eyes, made them look bright and moist, young and completely malicious, in the face of a too-vigorous middle-aged man. He had held her mother by her ankle over the toilet when she was a child, telling her revealed child underpants that he would flush her all the way to China.

Sexually stunted, she left her husband, whom she disdained as not being of her own class, and fled home to Papa. Papa held my friend over the toilet by her ankle, and told her revealed child underpants that he would flush her all the way to China.

And that, and the stories my friend tells about all her chic boarding school friends in New Orleans, is New Orleans, about Mardi Gras and blighted women’s lives and drunkenness far beyond any I’d ever heard before. I had never heard the phrase she used as repartee: “knee-walkin’, snot-slingin’ drunk.” Hahahahahaha.

That story never broke my heart, though, because I am the survivor of a most unusual Southern family my ownself – one of my names is for the Lesbian aunt who shot herself in grandpa’s library — and it wasn’t about the city of my dreams. My heart is broken now though, and I’ve been at pains to understand why.

My dream of New Orleans is partly based on a family water color, now gone with the wind, I suppose, that some artistic lady ancestor had painted on heavy, ribbed midnight blue artistic lady paper. It was of a swamp, with a mangrove tree, Spanish moss, waters, an egret. There were stained Audubon prints at home of all kinds of swamp and marsh birds. To me, home means blue herons and egrets and long-legged, long-beaked stalkers on the wall.

Great blue heron, by Audubon

Then there’s “Blue Bayou,” the old Roy Orbison song, which I like for itself but whose aesthetic I always wanted, one day, to create a house to live in.

A piazza. A dark old wide-planked floor. Shells. Mosquito nets. Cisterns, tree frogs. It is my first memory, lying in my mother’s arms, looking out the window as she rocks in her rocking chair in Puerto Rico. The stars are twinkling, the tree frogs are singing. My first thought on this planet is that the singing of the coquis is the music the twinkling of the stars makes. New Orleans is my latitude, the only one I’ve ever felt at home in; the sight of a palm frond and the scent of wood smoke, fresh-roasted coffee beans, and red earth makes me know I have, once again, despite everything, come home. Havana and New Orleans are the capitals of my latitude, and Havana — Arab, and run down, like Granada, or Alexandria — is the most beautiful city I’ve ever been to.

Baseball in Old Havana.
By Claudia Daut for Reuters/Corbis.

I’ve always been deeply touched by the idea of the swamp that underlay Washington, D. C., where I live. The Capitol is built over Tiber Creek. There are about three acres of the original swamp left; the geese and herons, with their six-foot white wingspreads, pick their way among the plastic gallon milk jugs which wind up the Anacostia River to their graves in the smooth, black mudflats. Standing on the observation platform behind the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens – founded as a water-lily farm years ago by an African-American, in a now-forgotten neighborhood – the swamp is lovely, dark and deep. It looks like what was here before any of the rest of this mess arrived. You can catch a glimpse through the old scrub trees of some kind of gigantic satellite disk or tracking device which marks the fact the swamp is surrounded by a federal city built on what was once a swamp.

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, the last remnant of D.C.’s primordial swamp.

I knew too much ever really to want to go to Mardi Gras; my strange Southern family belongs to similarly exclusive and arcane – and much older – genealogical societies, so snotty they’d never think of marching in a parade. Indeed, the debutante party for which the Saint Snotty Society exists is so old-fashioned, in a kind of nearly Muslim way, that the orchestra hired for the ball is hidden behind a screen of green leaves. Can’t have the hired help ogling owah wimmin. They still call eggplant guinea squash, and what they call musicians like Peter Duchin you don’t want to know.

So to belong to the krewes and get snot-slangin’ drunk with horrible old Big Daddy at Galatoire’s was not the draw. It was, I think, the Frenchness and the Africanness. Black people named Jean-Baptist; the Creole, Cajun Napoleonic Code mix, mixed with prosperity and culture. There’s always been money in New Orleans, and even the poor people could enjoy some of the benefits.

It was the cosmopolitan aspect without the New York neurosis or the LA narcissism. It was the South. As with my deeply racist, deeply civilized Saint Snotty Society cousins, everybody, black and white, gets into a boat at least a dozen times a year and fishes and shoots. You eat what you catch and clean it too, and then return to the hierarchies of workaday life. People aren’t afraid of the natural world, including sex of all kinds, and death at the hands of the most appalling fates.

The attitude in New Orleans was real. The sweetness. The music. The food.

And now it gives me a little comfort to think of the empty city, Saint Louis cathedral, and all the old Frenchmen who paddled up and down the Mississippi and gave French names to tiny heartland American towns, unbelievably tough French trappers and hustlers in Indian clothes, St Louis sitting there now under blue skies, baking in the sun, with nobody to see it. Marie LeVeau’s own marriage certificate was kept at Saint Louis’, and I think of the completely empty city and hope halfway that Big Daddy and the Mardi Gras girls gone wild never come back again, that George Bush and his goons abandon their idea of Epcot New Orleans and let the marsh come back, slowly up from the Gulf, so the reeds and the grasses and the trees can spread and grow up and out through the windows of St Louis, where the clock has stopped, and the birds can come back, the herons, and the tree frogs, and the Spanish moss, and the passenger pigeons, too, as Audubon, a French Creole his own self, saw them at the turn of the 18th century. The blue sky over New Orleans dark with passenger pigeons. My dream come true. On blue bayou.

My life, since I came back from Cuba, has been all about the dream deferred. I haven’t minded taking care of my mother, and taking care of, once and for all, my terrible upbringing — the epiphany is entirely quotidian but earthshaking.

As an ACOA once described it to me, it is pausing at the door of the hospital room and realizing, in one tsunami of emotion, that they had never taken care of you and now you must break the chain of karma alone. Then there was what I call the vortex of mayhem, managing two storage spaces, five or six dwellings, three of them (including the $8000-a-month-room in the big house, and the $2000 a month one) infested, moving the Aged Parent six times in two years, from shithole to shithole, the voice in the burning bush which told me last year I was “working out of the wrong energy” and that the “answer is in your house” — but it has been a job. I resent having the goalposts moved, just as I was fixing to start to sell my book. I resent, terribly, the financial and health implosions, and have noted that being the victim target of terrible helpless insane peoples’ cruelty is humiliating. Don Miguel’s second agreement, and all the forgiveness work I’ve been doing, speaks to this.

What I have forgotten is what the job coach started to talk to me about just before the shit hit the fan. First, that nobody would hire me as long as the Aged Parent was not in a nursing home. (Having to move her to five different ones and two “rehabs” did not solve this problem.) Second, a 10 year plan. I find myself with artifacts of that straight talk of so long ago — a plus size work wardrobe for a woman of a certain age, budget wise, confected to convey readiness to work, [false] able-bodiedness and up-to-date skills. This itself is as big a mountain to move as was a suitable work wardrobe in 1969, when there was no such thing.

The 10 year plan was then and is now, I have realized, over the last month, about New York City. I wasn’t wrong to choose it then, and I am not wrong to choose it now. Ariele and Amelie’s posts about finally getting studio space in Brooklyn crystallized it for me, as did the dawning realization that Macondo is all about being too far away from God, and Forty-second Street, with the A-bomb, Camp Ped and [redacted from private blog]. I came here because the nursing homes were one-quarter the price of the ones in D.C. and I had to plan for a life that including my mother’s living for another 10 years. My recent visit to Phoenix, which, while it is literally 107 degrees in the shade, overwhelmed me with the happiness and agency and purposive well-kept optimistic and artistic public spaces, entirely lacking here in Macondo. And don’t blame it on the Indians or the Chicanos. They got them, and their genocided ghosts, in Phoenix too. I blame it on the Hispano Inquisition penitente karma, the caudillismo. Macondo. First in the nation in prison rapes. First with the A-bomb.

Sore-eye poppies at ground zero, Trinity Site, White Sands, NM

The fireflies in Gramercy Park. I just remembered that, and realized it is still completely within my grasp.

http://leftfieldcards.wordpress.com/

http://brooklyntowest.blogspot.com/

I want it. I have never gone without anything I wanted.

Laura Foster Nicholson ribbon.

http://www.lfntextiles.com/servlet/the-ALL-RIBBONS/Categories

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