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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There’s the poverty of cheap luggage bursted open at immigration
The poverty of the turned head, the averted eyes
The poverty of bored sex of tormented sex
The poverty of the bounced check the poverty of the dumpster dive
The poverty of the pawned horn the poverty of the smashed reading glasses
The poverty pushing the sheeted gurney the poverty cleaning up the puke
The poverty of the pavement artist the poverty passed-out on pavement
Princes of finance you who have not lain there
There are poverties and there are poverties

There is the poverty of hand-to-mouth and door-to-door
And the poverty of stories patched-up to sell there
There’s the poverty of the child thumbing the Interstate
And the poverty of the bride enlisting for war
There’s the poverty of prescriptions who can afford
And the poverty of how would you ever end it
There is the poverty of stones fisted in pocket
And the poverty of the village bulldozed to rubble
Princes of weaponry who have not ever tasted war
There are poverties and there are poverties
There’s the poverty of wages wired for the funeral you
Can’t get to the poverty of the salary cut
There’s the poverty of human labor offered silently on the curb
The poverty of the no-contact prison visit
There’s the poverty of yard sale scrapings spread
And rejected the poverty of eviction, wedding bed out on street
Prince let me tell you who will never learn through words
There are poverties and there are poverties

An excerpt from Adrienne Rich’s Ballad of the Poverties
No one perhaps has ever felt passionately towards a lead pencil. But there are circumstances in which it can become supremely desirable to possess one; moments when we are set upon having an object, an excuse for walking half across London between tea and dinner. As the foxhunter hunts in order to preserve the breed of foxes, and the golfer plays in order that open spaces may be preserved from the builders, so when the desire comes upon us to go street rambling the pencil does for a pretext, and getting up we say: “Really I must buy a pencil,” as if under cover of this excuse we could indulge safely in the greatest pleasure of town life in winter—rambling the streets of London.

Du Tonc's music video for their song Darkness has a beautiful sequence that contrasts feeling alone and on the outside and then feeling within the swirl of the inside. I went on a prowl for new music (not a bad form of procrastination) and came across this song. Thumbs up most definitely.

Architect turned artist Marjetica Potrč brings the messiness and beauty of informal housing into the white walls of the art gallery.  

Image sources: Caracas: House with Extended Territory from Galerie Nordenhake; small images from artist’s site; Hybrid House at Meulensteen Gallery; Urban Strategies at AR/GE Kunst Galerie.

The more people’s standpoints I have present in my mind while I am pondering a given issue, and the better I can imagine how I would feel and think if I were in their place, the stronger will be my capacity for representative thinking and the more valid my final conclusions, my opinion. (It is this capacity for an “enlarged mentality” that enables men to judge; as such, it was discovered by Kant in the first part of his Critique of Judgement, though he did not recognize the political and moral implications of his discovery.)
Hannah Arendt, Between Past and Future  (via franceslin90)

new Risograph print, originally designed for Justseeds new Liberating Learning portfolio, available individually here!

Justseeds is a steady source of beautiful prints. What if all 7th grade social studies classes took this approach?


new Risograph print, originally designed for Justseeds new Liberating Learning portfolio, available individually here!

Justseeds is a steady source of beautiful prints. What if all 7th grade social studies classes took this approach?

(via justseedsartists)


[Reconstruction of a Roman latrine along Hadrian’s Wall]

Some toilet talk, via Clara Greed’s Inclusive urban design: Public toilets. Routledge, 2003. I agree with some of her assumptions — “In creating the inclusive, regenerated 24-hour city, it is most important that such [public toilet] facilities should be copiously provided” but not the emphasis on shoppers/tourists as the target user. As the title goes, Everybody Poops. Her often spiky prose cracked me up as well (emphases added below).

From Clara Greed’s Inclusive urban design: Public toilets

In medieval times, public communal latrines were common and 13 have been identified in London, mainly sited over rivers. There was an 84-seater in Greenwich Street called Whittington’s Longhouse after Dick Whittington, Mayor of London, who apparently frequented this establishment in 1480. Communal bath-houses were developed, often with unsavoury reputations. Queen Mathilda, wife of Henry I, ordered a latrine to be erected for the use of the citizens in Queenhithe, a quay near London Bridge. In 1355 the River Fleet in central London choked up altogether from effluent from latrines overhanging this tributary of the Thames.

…As the public toilets were located over rivers and many town centres were focused around the main bridges, the toilets were centrally placed and accessible. Presumably shared toilet facilities engendered a sense of community among users that would be the envy of modern town planners trying to regenerate the inner city.


[Upper Islington, 1811]

Anyone, including women, still has the right under medieval statutes to squat in the gutter within the boundary of the Ancient City of London, provided they first call out ‘en paine’. It is rumoured that women did this at the time of the great suffragette marches at the beginning of the twentieth century (which attracted half a million marchers) and others did so at the time of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. It is still legal for a taxi-driver to relieve himself on the inner wheel of his hackney carriage (taxi-cab)… this law has not been enforced or put to the test for many a year but, in theory, still applies (although Westminster City Council has been seeking to bring in strict anti-street urination laws in 2002).

Early ‘feminist’ groups such as the Ladies’ Sanitary Association established in the 1850s campaigned for better toilets. In 1884 the Ladies Lavatory Company opened its own private public conveniences at Oxford Circus for ladies who had to spend the whole day in London (Adburgham, 1989:231). The campaign for public lavatories for women was a key component of the Suffragette Movement, almost with equal importance to attaining the vote. Julia Edwards, from her research on the evolution of public toilets, concluded that campaigners for toilets have always tended to be women because of this blatant inequality. But at least in Victorian times, despite the prudery on such matters, there was a climate of willingness to build public toilets as there was a celebration of sanitation as the new technology. Public toilets were seen as a sign of modernity and technological advancement like computers nowadays. Thus it may be argued that women benefited as ‘citizens’, albeit to a lesser degree, with men, from public works inspired by civic pride and gas and water socialism (Edwards and McKie, 1995). 


SAVE THE DATE: City & County of Honolulu King Street Cycle Track Pilot Project Public Information Meeting.

Date: August 28, 2014, Thursday.

Time: 6:30pm - 8:30pm

Location: Neal Blaisdell Center, Hawaii Suite

Purpose: To provide updates to the public on the City & County of Honolulu’s King Street Cycle Track Pilot Project.

This really taps into my Lego/Tetris urges. Apparently they laid out all the prefab pieces on a airport runway.

The backstory to the house and the photo, by Louis Martin, Originally published in Casabella, April 2001 (via the Canadian Centre for Architecture)

Arnold Newman, the well-known portraitist, was on assignment for Life Magazine when he took this photograph of the 3000 parts of a house manufactured by the Lustron Corporation in Columbus, Ohio. His picture captured the vision of Carl Strandlund, the president of Lustron: a package metal house to be delivered by truck to any site; there, the parts would be assembled by four men in four days.

By June 1947, [Strandlund] managed to get a $15.5 million loan from the government to transform a surplus airplane factory into a giant plant for the production of 100 houses per day. The Lustron Corporation settled in Columbus and promised Congress 17,000 houses by January 1949; production started on 1 November 1947.

Efforts concentrated on the development of a two-bedroom prototype designed by a team led by Morris H. Beckman, a young Chicago architect who had graduated from MIT in 1938. Practical in plan and conventional in shape, the house was acclaimed in the press for its built-in furniture, technological innovations, harmonious pastel colors and affordable price. Standard features included an all-electric kitchen, interior sliding doors, an appliance combining dishwasher and washing machine, and a radiant warm air heating system concealed in the ceiling. Yet the most unusual characteristic of this house remained undoubtedly that, except for the concrete floor, all exterior and interior surfaces including the roof and built-in furniture were of porcelain enamel on steel. Consequently, colours were permanent and pictures, hung with magnets; but cleaning was easy and maintenance, almost nil. Modeling its operations on the automobile industry, Lustron distributed its houses through a national network of authorized dealers and offered models of different sizes.

Lustron’s story never ran in Life. During the spring of 1949, the reputation of the company was damaged by financial and political scandals. Crumbling under its colossal $37.5 million debt, Lustron was forced to close its Columbus plant in 1950. By then, 2,492 homes had been sold throughout the United States. 


Components of a Lustron Prefabricated House, Columbus, Ohio, 1949 (scanned postcard)

photograph by Arnold Newman; copyright 1984 Arnold Newman; also copyright Fotofolio

Planning is the process of making choices about the future, both where we intend to be and how we intend to get there in light of contingencies and uncertainty. To even begin discussing these different but interrelated questions we would have to begin with the partial ordering of preferences, albeit changeable, about this state of affairs over that and this course of actions over that.

The formation of preferences is a costly exercise. One has to choose from myriad options to formally declare preference, even to oneself. Thus changing preferences in the light of countervailing evidence, for example, when presented with a better argument, is to forego the benefits of the choice of the preference and incur substantial costs of change. Eliciting consent typically involves shaping or changing preferences of individuals and entities. The costs and benefits are not purely economic and can include non-quantifiable entities such as loss of social standing, risk of being called fickle, etc. Thus as individuals and groups we demand extremely strong reasons to change our stated preferences

Nikhil Kaza, “Tyranny of the Median and Costly Consent: A Reflection on the Justification for Participatory Urban Planning Processes.” Planning Theory 2006 5: 255

I adore participation. But it is not a magic incantation that solves all problems. How to ensure that a planning process gets robust and meaningful participation? Have we considered who isn’t participating (who’s not in the room, what language barriers, linguistic or technical, are causing problems, etc)? And how do we know how deeply held or lightly chosen people’s preferences are?

At tonight’s Ala Moana neighborhood TOD workshop, we got to use “clickers” to vote on our priorities for the future of the neighborhood. It was a remarkably paralyzing process, and most of the time, I wanted to click “none of the above” or “I need some further clarification”, neither of which were options. When I handed in my comments on the plan, the city planner (a fellow DURPie) chuckled at my densely written page. I am an Ala Moana resident / planning student / Korean speaker with some sense of responsibility to the Koreans who aren’t comfortable with English language planning processes. Some concerns align but not all!

[Public participation ladder from “Public participation in waste management decision making”]

In theory, American planners learned from the anti-democratic catastrophies of urban renewal in the 1940s, 50s, and early 1960s. In practice, too many planning processes assume the “right” answers even before the questions are posed. Policy design and implementation that actually grapples with the complexity of cities requires “a strategy which is as unstructured as the problem type itself.” In a 20-year old paper that still has a lot to teach us, Matthijs Hisschemöller and Rob Hoppe offer a "learning" strategy as a possibility for “Coping with intractable controversies: the case for problem structuring in policy design and analysis.” 

Problem structuring involves the confrontation, evaluation, and integration of as much contradictory information as possible. Engaged in debate, participants become aware of the multiple aspects of the problem by argument and counter-argument.

They describe the learning strategy as including:

A high level of public participation. Unlike rule, learning is based on the assumption that citizens are capable of rational judgment on matters they feel personally involved with;

There is an almost complete equality among actors. Even persons and groups that normally relate to each other in a hierarchic fashion treat each other as equals, if only temporarily;

Scientific experts have no role other than non-expert participants, since the essence of the process is recognized as evolving around the production of political choice. Experts are not excluded from participation, but the status gap between them and lay citizens is not big. As Mitroff puts it: “An expert is not a special kind of person, but each person is a special kind of expert, especially with respect to his or her own problems.” (Mitroff et al., 1983:125)


Public participation in a learning strategy is not primarily motivated by calculations of self-interest, as in negotiation. Problem structuring requires a shared sense of social and political responsibility. Persons participating in this process do not see each other primarily as selfish interest-maximizers or as mere instruments to their own ends. Instead they see each other as persons, presenting information on the issue at stake. Participants take on the role of citizens (Hoppe, 1989).

If the process of problem structuring has really started, a moment will come at which (almost) all actors involved have come to reframe their original position. In other words, the interaction process will have produced some really new ideas. This new conception of the problem will probably take special notice of one (or some) vulnerable interests that were not taken into account before.

Rebecca Sheehan’s 2010 article "‘I’m protective of this yard’: long-term homeless persons’ construction of home place and workplace in a historical public space" is a really fascinating and thoughtful article on how being homeless doesn’t mean you don’t have a sense of home, but rather than you “expand and diversify” your definitions of home, sometimes including movement and networks of community into the feeling of being-at-home.

Sheehan’s literature review offers hours of potential reading. She cites research on how some homeless persons feel that “living in public spaces and in squats rather than in hostels allows them to feel safer, more socially connected, and more autonomous.” Finding spaces to exist as people rather than pariahs was critical and not easy. One refuge was the public library. Library staff and even other patrons treated them “no differently from any other patron with a home,” so homeless persons could leave their marginalized status ‘at the door’.

Rebecca Sheehan. “‘I’m protective of this yard’: long-term homeless persons’ construction of home place and workplace in a historical public space.” Social & Cultural Geography 11.6 (2010): 539-558.

I aim to build upon this literature, explaining how long-term homeless persons attempted to make the Jackson Square area [in New Orleans], a central public space for tourism and the city’s image, personally and socially meaningful as home place and workplace. Indeed, it is perhaps surprising that long-term homeless persons came to the Square area at all when less-patrolled public spaces in the city and French Quarter existed. I argue that the Square’s historical and tourist attraction status actually supported long-term homeless persons’ desire and ability to occupy it in significant ways.

[Jackson Square in New Orleans]

Long-term homeless persons also demonstrated that they established a more personal sense of home place in the Jackson Square area, asserting even a sense of residence. Boss, a black man in his sixties, claimed Jackson Square as ‘his’ Square, regularly swept one area of the Pedestrian Mall, and sometimes said to passersby, ‘It looks real nice don’t it?’ Within a few weeks after Hurricane Katrina, Boss had returned to Jackson Square’s Pedestrian Mall sweeping, ‘taking care of [his] Square.’ Additionally, Samuel, a black man in his late forties, declared that he was ‘protective of this yard.’ Later in my field work, Tracy explained that he had housing but that he came back to the Square to check on people. Accordingly, Austin, also an African American in his thirties, described Jackson Square as ‘homeless people’s “everyday” family.’

Moreover, long-term homeless persons slept on benches in Jackson Square and its Pedestrian Mall as well as on the grass in the Square, usually during the day. They had less trouble sleeping during the day in these areas because tourists were often found napping in these same places, allowing long-term homeless persons to more easily blend in with the homed population. Furthermore, long-term homeless persons often preferred sleeping in the Square area rather than in shelters, ‘where bad things happen’ and ‘weird people’ stayed. Jackson Square allowed them to feel not so different from homed persons because they were participating in similar activities and felt safer due to mainstream tourist traffic and visibility.