studying the city (Annette Koh)

Public space, the right to the city, and civic engagement. How can we improve equity and access through participatory urbanism? Ph.D. student in Urban & Regional Planning at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. Former resident of Seoul & San Francisco.
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[Historic Honolulu photo from the Ala Moana Transit Oriented Development Draft]

Yup, I’m still thinking about how to increase participation in planning processes. This post focuses on terminology.

At the Ala Moana Transit Oriented Development community workshop, I would suspect many attendees were unfamiliar or at the very least unclear on the terms flying around thick and furious. The presenter did his best to avoid acronyms, but knowing that “FAR” means “Floor Area Ratio” doesn’t actually explain much at all. Probably the consultants, city and county employees and the table of DURPies were able to follow the presentation with ease, but I still got tripped up by what was intended by certain broad terms like “amenities” or “affordable housing.” One person’s amenity could very well be another’s eyesore and as one audience member pointed out, depending on what percentage of Area Median Income was used to define affordable housing, affordable housing may only be affordable for a two-white-collar-income household. 

The draft document itself allows a deeper engagement with the concepts than a 2-hour public meeting, but only provides so much in the way of explanatory definitions. Page 144 of the draft plan lists in brief some of the finance tools that could be used in the development, and describes the idea of community benefits, but an expanded glossary would be hugely helpful. I know, I just suggested making a 149 page plan better by adding more pages. ^_^ The TOD website provides a list of resources but in all honesty, it would take a really dedicated resident to teach themselves all the planning concepts included in the TOD plans.

Even Neighborhood Board members, who get a crash course in urban planning by way of their service, often pick up only fragments, raising concerns about sufficient parking spaces without also considering the “high cost of free parking”.

I guess this also feeds back to my obsession with a citizens planning institute (perhaps run via the Neighborhood Commission? Ahem ahem). On page 145, under the strategic partners section, Ala Moana residents and community groups are “responsible for participating in government processes to ensure community input continues to be a part of plan implementation.” Without a familiarity with the terms and concepts under discussion, residents are hampered in their analyses of the pros and cons of proposed options. The democratic process of city-making would really benefit from a higher level of city literacy.

Deadline is October 10th! The 28 winners of the “Get Your Hangeul On 2014” will be included in the exhibition of the same name. Winners will also receive 30 t-shirts printed with their winning design.   


This is incredible.

Marshall Islands poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner presented this poem at the opening of the Climate Summit.


Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, The Duck and The Decorated Shed, Diagram, 1970

Stand Down [an event for homeless veterans in San Diego is] a pop-up, military-style tent village where vets can get help for a weekend. Volunteers offer haircuts, warm meals, cots to sleep on, legal help.

We did a little pop-up of our own — a portrait studio on the periphery — and asked the same questions of all the veterans who came by: How’d you end up here? What have you seen? How do you see yourself?

To get at that last question, we invited them to pose any way they wanted for the camera. And then look at themselves in the photos. They also told us their stories.

[Vanessa Messner, 40, was born in Panama and served in the Army from 1996-2001 as a medical-supply specialist]

Silverman, Robert Mark. “CDCs and Charitable Organizations in the Urban South Mobilizing Social Capital Based on Race and Religion for Neighborhood Revitalization.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 30.2 (2001): 240-268.

Social capital is not as trendy of a term these days, but it has become an accepted “input” in community development. I appreciate Silverman’s reminder of the limits of social capital.

Protest poster from May 1968. As referenced by Claire Bishop in her book on participatory art:

During May 1968, one could find graffiti proclaiming ‘To be free in 1968 means to participate’, while at the same time the Atelier Populaire produced posters showing a hand and pen, conjugating the verb to more sceptical ends: ‘Je participe, tu participes, il participe, nous participons, vous participez, ils profitent.’ (Bishop, p 79)

Protest poster from May 1968. As referenced by Claire Bishop in her book on participatory art:

During May 1968, one could find graffiti proclaiming ‘To be free in 1968 means to participate’, while at the same time the Atelier Populaire produced posters showing a hand and pen, conjugating the verb to more sceptical ends: ‘Je participe, tu participes, il participe, nous participons, vous participez, ils profitent.’ (Bishop, p 79)


Les Foules “Crowds” By Charles Baudelaire

It is not given to every man to take a bath of multitude; enjoying a crowd is an art; and only he can relish a debauch of vitality at the expense of the human species, on whom, in his cradle, a fairy has bestowed the love of masks and masquerading, the hate of home, and the passion for roaming. 

Multitude, solitude: identical terms, and interchangeable by the active and fertile poet. The man who is unable to people his solitude is equally unable to be alone in a bustling crowd. 

The poet enjoys the incomparable privilege of being able to be himself of someone else, as he chooses. Like those wandering souls who go looking for a body, he enters as he likes into each man’s personality. For him alone everything is vacant; and if certain places seem closed to him, it is only because in his eyes they are not worth visiting. 

The solitary and thoughtful stroller finds a singular intoxication in this universal communion. The man who loves to lose himself in a crowd enjoys feverish delights that the egoist locked up in himself as in a box, and the slothful man like a mollusk in his shell, will be eternally deprived of. He adopts as his own all the occupations, all the joys and all the sorrows that chance offers. 

What men call love is a very small, restricted, feeble thing compared with this ineffable orgy, this divine prostitution of the soul giving itself entire, all it poetry and all its charity, to the unexpected as it comes along, to the stranger as he passes. 

It is a good thing sometimes to teach the fortunate of this world, if only to humble for an instant their foolish pride, that there are higher joys than theirs, finer and more uncircumscribed. The founders of colonies, shepherds of peoples, missionary priests exiled to the ends of the earth, doubtlessly know something of this mysterious drunkenness; and in the midst of the vast family created by their genius, they must often laugh at those who pity them because of their troubled fortunes and chaste lives. 


Poets for Ferguson is an effort to support and stand in solidarity with all the protestors of Ferguson and those stuck with subsequent legal dues.

Poets for Ferguson is a 24-hour livestreamed cypher consisting entirely (read, exclusively), of poets of color from across the country. Participating poets will be reading poems from 6PM EST, September 27th to 6PM EST, September 28th, to raise money for those protestors of Ferguson, MO who have accrued legal fees (bond, legal defense expenses, etc.) as a result of protesting in the wake of the murder of Michael Brown on August 9, 2014. All funds raised will be contributed to Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment (M.O.R.E.) in their efforts to provide protestors with financial aid.

If you are interested in becoming a participating poet/venue, CLICK HERE for specifics on the different kinds of participation, and then hit up the Ask inbox! If you can’t participate, share this post and spread the word. 

In love & solidarity.

Cecile Emeke's “Strolling" series features young black Britons talking about their lives. The videos present a sampling of the breadth and depth of black experiences. As Emeke writes:

Growing up in London I was not reflected anywhere, not fully. I think most of us tried to grasp on to images of african-american culture, and we tried to cling on to our identities from the caribbean and africa. We’d wave our jamaica flags at carnival and watch reruns of fresh prince but ultimately nothing reflected us. We didn’t exist. 

There are a couple spokespersons who seem to have been implicitly elected as the collective voice of the black community in the UK, but I don’t relate to most of them. They normally are male, much older and have a hint of inaccessible academic elite pretentiousness to them. Maybe there were voices that I could relate to once, but they must have been erased or silenced already, because I can’t find them. Why does there have to be a singular voice anyway? 

If aliens came to London and determined who was here by the media, they would probably conclude that black british women do not exist, and that black men only come in the form of misogynistic, school age, aspiring rappers or drug dealers who live on impoverished estates. They would never know we were here. We’re invisible. 

It is as though beautiful things have been placed here and there throughout the world to serve as small wake-up calls to perception, spurring lapsed alertness back to its most acute level. Through its beauty, the world continually recommits us to a rigorous standard of perceptual care: if we do not search it out, it comes and finds us.
Elaine Scarry, On Beauty and Being Just, p 81. 

This might be the first sensor-based artwork I’ve really really liked.


Tele-Present Water Simulates a Spot in the Pacific from Halfway Around the World

Artist David Bowen is known for his kinetic sculptures that are driven by real-world data from natural phenomenon. For his work “Tele-Present Water,” first exhibited at the National Museum in Wroclaw, Poland, Bowen pulled real-time wave intensity and frequency data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) buoy station 46246 (49°59’7″ N 145°5’20″ W) located in the remote Shumagin Islands of Alaska. This information was scaled and transferred to a mechanical grid structure, resulting in an uncanny live simulation of the movement of water from halfway around the world. The piece, along with Bowen’s other works, speaks to the way technology and telecommunications can both alienate us from and unite us with the natural world. While technology has enabled us to control and model phenomena with unprecedented precision, it may also provide a means to understand the world in a more intimate, visceral way.