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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[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.


Karin Apollonia Müeller, images from Tree Series, 2003–05, Top: Uprooting the Snowball Tree, 2003. Bottom: Daisy’s Dead Snowball Tree, 2003

Frank Gehry’s highly reflective metal building [the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles] had to be softened by tree planting. The landscape scheme was symphonic, with trees chosen for the timing and hue of their flower. Müller discovered that this entailed buying mature trees at bargain rates from private homeowners. An elderly woman in Culver City habitually sat in front of her modest clapboard bungalow and opened her mail under the shade of her tree. Now her shade has been sacrificed for the civic good. [The tree dies once it is transported to the building downtown]. A strange instance of utilitarian aesthetics in the land of private interests. The whole sequence exhibits a fairy-tale sadness yet evokes a Southern California populated by ordinary folks and visionary schemers familiar to readers of Louis Adamic and Upton Sinclair.

- Allan Sekula

I have a strong prejudice against star-chitecture. In March at the Blaisdell cultural district presentation, we groaned in dismay when one of the Urban Land Institute fellows suggested that Honolulu get itself one of those iconic “destination” buildings. Don’t get me wrong, I like pretty things too. But… 1) these flagship redevelopment projects are like the contemporary cargo cult religion ever since the Bilbao Guggenheim, and 2) I really don’t like Frank Gehry or Zaha Hadid’s swoop-tacular blob-buildings and recently have come to the conclusion that it is because they are using the same aesthetic and fabrication process as the B-2 bomber. These are curves that are oddly militaristic rather than humanistic.

Anyway, this went a bit farther afield than my original comment which was simply “Frank Gehry killed a grandma’s favorite tree!”

Thomas brought up Titanic because he had a question: Were there really mountains of ice like that, floating in the water? I told him there were. Were they melting? Yes.

“So it seems to me that if they’re melting, there’s still plenty of water to come,” he said. “And sea level’s going to rise up. And that is danger. Isn’t it?”

“Yes,” I said. “It is.” My apologetic voice came out high and meek, and Thomas laughed at the sound of it. Someone pointed out that the ice must be very far away, but Thomas explained that the seas are connected, and I offered the analogy of a bowl, how the water rises everywhere no matter where you pour it in. “We have come to an answer now,” said Thomas. “Because you’re telling us there’s still ice — drifting, or sitting on the hills?” Reluctantly, I described places with ice as far as you can see.

“This gives us ideas that there’s still more to come,” Thomas said. “The water is still going to rise.” I finally realized that until that moment, he’d been worried but uncertain about the rising water. He’d been hoping that his people could still hang on: If things didn’t get any worse than this, if the sea didn’t get any higher, if there was no more ice to melt, then they could stay and cope. Things were tenuous but workable. And I had just delivered the news that crushed that hope. Kulenus would have to evacuate.

“I am sorry about our island,” Thomas said, speaking slowly. “But life is important.”

The people of Kulenus island in Papua New Guinea confront the need for climate change evacuation. “How Titanic is helping a South Pacific tribe understand why their island is disappearing,” by Brooke Jarvis.

In honor of the 20,000 UH Manoa students who went back to school today, four things about The Bus. 

1) It makes me incredibly happy that I know two former city & county employees who had the idea to have a Bus Riders Appreciation Day and stood at the King & Punchbowl bus stop handing out donuts and saying thanks to commuters.

2) Having a bus pass makes riding the bus much more appealing (no need to count change or hoard transfers), but only bus riders buy bus passes. If various deep-pocketed environmentalists in town could subsidize week-long trial bus passes, I suspect some drivers (especially those who work near UH campus or downtown) can be tempted to make the switch.

3) And from Bianca Sewake’s transportation series at FLUX HAWAII (in which a single ride changes her mind about The Bus, a veteran rider dishes on sandy seats).

“We have a very loyal ridership in Honolulu for many, many years,” [Roger Morton, president of Oahu Transit Services] said. “Our ridership on a per capita basis is the fifth highest in the country, only succeeded by a few of the very large cities such as New York City, Boston, San Francisco and Washington D.C.” A large part of the ridership can be attributed to the seniors who use the bus. An estimated 36,000 seniors are bus card pass holders. Overall, however, Hawai‘i has a diverse demographic of riders who come from all facets of society—low income, high income, workers, students from elementary to the university level. In fact, at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa, around 18,000 students receive a free bus pass (the cost is included in their fees) for the year. Even tourists use our buses, making up an estimated eight to 10 percent of the ridership.

4) The McGill University study that placed bus riding at the very bottom of the hierarchy of satisfaction for student commuters? (“Which Mode of Travel Provides the Happiest Commute?” at CityLab) Oh, Montreal with your snow and ice, I don’t trust your applicability at all. Also every time I catch a ride to campus, there’s a hot scramble for free street parking near campus. The walk from the car to my department is often longer than the bus ride to campus.   

Decolonizing Street Art: Anti-Colonial Street Artists Convergence (decolonizingstreetart on FBis happening right now in Montreal. I got so excited I bought one of their “decolonize" patches as a small way to signal support, despite the nearly 5,000 miles between there and here*.

The artists, living across Canada and the USA, already focus part of their work on issues related to indigenous resistance such as environmental struggles against pipelines and mining and justice for missing and murdered native women.

EVENTS: Throughout the Anti-Colonial Street Artists Convergence, visiting and local artists will be creating art pieces on the streets of Tiohtià:ke (Montreal) between August 22 until September 3. Some of these collaborations will be open to the public.

Participants will share ideas on how to take action against appropriative imagery found in Tiohtià:ke street art & more general hipster visual culture. The will be some art materials available on site for direct action.

* [which reminds me that I think it’s pretty shitty that the University of Hawai’i at Manoa campus bookstore’s clothing boutique sells a tshirt that has a graphic of a pug wearing a feather headdress.]

In their article “Decolonization is not a metaphor,” Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang elaborate on anthropologist (and former community planner!) Kim TallBear’s description on how “blood”-based identities can be racialized in very different ways*.[* as originally cited in the Boston Globe… remember the whole Elizabeth Warren is a Cherokee hullabaloo?]

Also, a reminder how statistics are state numbers. I had no idea about Virginia’s so-called “Pocahontas Exception” but now I know. WTF.

Tuck, Eve, and K. Wayne Yang. “Decolonization is not a metaphor.”Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society 1.1 (2012).

Through the one-drop rule, blackness in settler colonial contexts is expansive, ensuring that a slave/criminal status will be inherited by an expanding number of ‘black’ descendants.

Yet, Indigenous peoples have been racialized in a profoundly different way. Native Americanness is subtractive: Native Americans are constructed to become fewer in number and less Native, but never exactly white, over time. Our/their status as Indigenous peoples/first inhabitants is the basis of our/their land claims and the goal of settler colonialism is to diminish claims to land over generations (or sooner, if possible).

That is, Native American is a racialization that portrays contemporary Indigenous generations to be less authentic, less Indigenous than every prior generation in order to ultimately phase out Indigenous claims to land and usher in settler claims to property. This is primarily done through blood quantum registries and policies, which were forced on Indigenous nations and communities and, in some cases, have overshadowed former ways of determining tribal membership.

In 1924, the Virginia legislature passed the Racial Integrity Act, which enforced the one-drop rule except for white people who claimed a distant Indian grandmother - the result of strong lobbying from the aristocratic “First Families of Virginia” who all claim to have descended from Pocahontas (including Nancy Reagan, born in 1921). Known as the Pocahontas Exception, this loophole allowed thousands of white people to claim Indian ancestry, while actual Indigenous people were reclassified as “colored” and disappeared off the public record.

…the government sees aboriginal justice initiatives (aimed at aboriginal offenders) and a national DNA database for missing persons as appropriate measures…Surely tracking indigenous girls’ DNA so they can be identified after they die is not the starting point for justice. Indigenous women want to matter before we go missing. We want our lives to matter as much as our deaths; our stake in the present political struggle for indigenous resurgence is as vital as the future.

So do we need an inquiry?

We need to stop the killing of 15-year-old native girls. We need to put an end to the abduction of indigenous women. We need to overhaul a justice system in which justice is so distorted that it is no longer recognizable. We need no more excuses, no more condolences, no more lists of missing women. We need an end to treating violence as mundane.

An inquiry will only help if it has action attached and if it shifts power into the hands of indigenous women, meaning it is led by indigenous women…Accountability means supporting existing anti-violence measures already being initiated by indigenous communities. These include rite-of-passage ceremonies to restore honour for young women, the Moosehide Campaign in which native boys and men take on culturally-relevant responsibilities to end violence toward women, and mentoring between girls and women which fosters the resurgence of women’s cultural roles at a local level…Accountability means supporting indigenous visions of justice, restoring our humanity and upholding girls’ resistance and leadership.

Treating our deaths as unremarkable is a form of violence that needs to stop along with the murders themselves. Taking steps to end the violence now is the only route to justice.