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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A helpful investigation into the multiple meanings of civic crowdfunding from Rodrigo Davies. He took a grounded theory approach by way of discourse analysis — looking at the project pages of 274 campaigns collected from Citizinvestor, IOBY, Neighborly and Spacehive — and then developing the common framings and themes. He also finds some differences between how projects are presented and how the civic crowdfunding platforms themselves are framed. The short presentation (slides plus audio) is well worth a look.

Davies starts with three possible and popular framings about the importance of civic crowdfunding:

  1. Community Agency: that civic crowdfunding is based around collectives, brought together by geographic or interest-based ties, that pool economic and social capital to effect change.
  2. Individual Agency: that civic crowdfunding is driven by individuals seeking ownership of their environment for the purposes of entrepreneurial advancement, and reflects the increasing tendency of individuals to want to bear the responsibility and risk previously held by institutions.
  3. Institutional Decline: that civic crowdfunding is an outgrowth of financial strain among municipalities, and serves a libertarian agenda seeking the reduction of the role of government.

I especially appreciated his point about differential agencies. If investing in common goods (public/quasi-public goods) is exercising agency, then it is clear that different individuals and different neighborhoods will have significantly different levels of agency, depending on their disposable income. Given the recent Supreme Court ruling, this configuration of citizenship really did remind me of the majority opinion that money is speech. Civic crowdfunding is fun (see Robocop statue below) and can be a way to “kickstart” civic involvement and discussion about the importance of public goods. But we should be careful not to oversell its democratic capabilities. 

Another distinguishing feature of the post-1965 Asian immigration is the predominance of immigrants from South Korea, the Philippines, South Vietnam, and Cambodia, countries deeply affected by U.S. colonialism, war, and neocolonialism … The material legacy of the repressed history of U.S. imperialism in Asia is borne out in the ‘return’ of Asian immigrants to the imperial center. In this sense, these Asian Americans are determined by the history of U.S. involvements in Asia and the historical racialization of Asians in the United States. The post-1965 Asian immigrant displacement differs from that of the earlier migrations from China and Japan, for it embodies the displacement from Asian societies in the aftermath of war and colonialism to a United States with whose sense of national identity the immigrants are in contradiction precisely because of that history. Once here, the demand that Asian immigrants identify as U.S. national subjects simultaneously produces alienations and disidentifications out of which critical subjectivities emerge. These immigrants retain precisely the memories of imperialism that the U.S. nation seeks to forget.

Lisa Lowe, Immigrant Acts, Chapter 2 (via mrsonsai)

When I put “Lisa Lowe” into the tumblr search system, I kept getting pictures of white people: Someone should sort that out 

Lisa Lowe! Immigrant Acts was the first time I read theory and realized how useful theory can be in analysis. I barely remember the basic contours of the book (proof of my own patchy memory, not the strength of her argument) so had to look up the description at Duke Press

Lowe argues that a national memory haunts the conception of Asian American, persisting beyond the repeal of individual laws and sustained by U.S. wars in Asia, in which the Asian is seen as the perpetual immigrant, as the “foreigner-within.” In Immigrant Acts, she argues that rather than attesting to the absorption of cultural difference into the universality of the national political sphere, the Asian immigrant—at odds with the cultural, racial, and linguistic forms of the nation—displaces the temporality of assimilation. Distance from the American national culture constitutes Asian American culture as an alternative site that produces cultural forms materially and aesthetically in contradiction with the institutions of citizenship and national identity. Rather than a sign of a “failed” integration of Asians into the American cultural sphere, this critique preserves and opens up different possibilities for political practice and coalition across racial and national borders.

Re: Lisa Lowe not popping up in searches, while Tumblr is fine when looking to reblog the greatest hits of social theory (hello French philosophers), it’s kinda terrible as a repository of “mid-list” theory, especially when the text under question was published in 1997.

(via sunyuh)


Verner Panton design, 1960s

OMG this is like one of those carpeted cat towers but for people. 

(via mattjamesrogers)

Lonche is a film that tells a tale of two taco trucks, weaving together the narratives of J&S Catering, a traditional lunch truck that roams the strawberry fields of the central coast of California, and Takoz Mod Mex, a gourmet food truck serving the high-tech companies of Silicon Valley. As we follow along with both restaurants-on-wheels on their daily routes, we see the dedication and struggle that it takes to feed a hungry workforce in these two vastly different communities. This short documentary is much more than a story about tacos and burritos – it is an intimate look at family, labor, and sacrifice.


Lonche: A Tale of Two Taco Trucks screens on Sunday, April 4 at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco as part of the Food & Farm Film Festival.


Dungeons and Dragons and Philosophers.

I was hoping for some gelatinous cubes.

Just reposting this because I was remembering how enjoyable Radiant City is. 


“In some ways a suburban city can be understood as an intolerant city. A city that propagates a suburban model is a city that propagates pure private space as opposed to any notion of public space. And when you only advocate private space, you get to the point where people cannot tolerate one another.”
Marc Boutin, architect and professor, University of Calgary on the absence of public space and public encounter in a suburban world.

The directors of Radiant City, Gary Burns and Jim Brown take a wry, full-family mockumentary approach to the issue of suburban sprawl that interlaces the story of one family (kids commenting on the subdivision names “oh this one is named after the farmer who sold the land to the developer I think?”; dad directing the community musical staging of “Suburbia” which includes the lyric phrase “sensible zoning”) with actual urban planners and critics.

Given James Howard Kunstler is in the mix, sprawl comes out looking something like Beelzebub’s droppings or as he put it, the “greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world.” Average size of a North American suburban house went from 800 square feet in 1950 (about the footage of my childhood home) to 2266 square feet in 2000.

The film goes beyond Anti-Sprawl 101 to leave you with some very memorable images of what the built environment hath wrought. Full length version viewable at National Film Board Canada

Asker anniekoh Asks:
woohoo! verso books nerding out! I still haven't figured out my top five...
anniekoh anniekoh Said:


50% off AND free shipping. I too had to resist buying the entire catalog. I got those capitalism-related books because I wanted to learn more about its history! So which books did you end up getting?? I might go for another round before April 14th…

I ended up getting Marshall Berman’s On the Town, Chin-tao Wu’s Privatising Culture, and Juan González and Joseph Torres' News for All the People. As much as I love planning and geography books, sometimes I gotta go back to my first loves - arts and journalism.

I’ve missed the HIFF screenings of this film but fingers crossed I’ll catch the next one.


Imagine a world where a little boy can grow up to be the woman of his dreams, and a young girl can rise to become a leader among men. Welcome to Kumu Hina’s Hawai’i, where there’s a place in the middle for all.

As a companion to the podcast on how the apartment complex took over South Korea, I wanted to discuss Leslie Kern’s article, “Reshaping the boundaries of public and private life: gender, condominium development, and the neoliberalization of urban living” in Urban Geography 28.7 (2007). 

This paper on gender and condominium development uses Toronto as a case study for how the shifting types of housing “may affect the nature of people’s attachments to, or engagements with, city life and local issues.” Much as in Honolulu, discussions about “smart growth” and sustainability have been framing ongoing projects to increase density and intensify urban land use, especially in areas formerly devoted to industrial or light-industrial uses. As Kern writes, “It is meant to serve as both a spatial and a social fix.” 

Single women comprise the largest group of condominium owners in Canada (2001 census data showed that 10.7% of female one-person households own condos, double the rate for households in general) and are estimated to make up 40% (!) of condo purchases in Toronto in particular. The discourses of security and independence feature prominently in Kern’s in-depth interviews with women condominium owners. She concludes that while “emancipation” may be one desired goal/outcome for women owners, this freedom must be understood in a context where urban life and urban citizenship is increasingly defined by ideas such as privacy, autonomy, and consumption.

Excerpts from Kern’s article:

The social aspects of intensification have not received a great deal of public attention, although a recent article in the Toronto Star (Cotroneo, 2006) drew attention to both the social challenges of intensified living and the ways that condominium communities form and interact. Residents were attempting to translate the common ownership structure into a common social structure by setting up activities and events within their condominium community. However, the impacts of this privatized form of community in terms of the effects on broader engagements with the city requires further investigation. The common ownership structure and monthly fees mean that residents have a vested interest in their own amenities, and fewer requirements for open and accessible public space, public recreation, or entertainment, or public provision of family programs (Fincher, 2004). The question remains, does intensification facilitate the formation of healthy urban communities, or are these communities so narrow and exclusive that the scale of “local” citizenship practices is reduced from the city or neighborhood to the individual, private condominium building?

How do women engage with the neighborhoods in which their condominiums are located? In this study, several women articulated a sense of community within their buildings, but this did not seem to translate into attachment to the neighborhood as a whole. Indeed, the condominium lifestyle may make neighborhood connections redundant for many.


[“This is KINGSCLUB – an exclusive condo for member’s only – your key to the ne plus ultra of condominium living in one of Toronto’s most premier locations.”]

They [developers] also wanted to have an area where people could get together, and kind of entertain, and meet other people and socialize. So those were the big things for the facility, the rooftop garden, the barbeque area, and I think the way that they created it was very much like a common area, so you feel like you’re at home and you get to meet new people. (Jillian, age 30)

It hasn’t got a whole bunch of shops along there, so it doesn’t get a lot of foot traffic. It feels like your space when you get home, you’re not sort of sharing it with everybody. (Jennifer, age 29)

So without wanting all the responsibilities of a house, I still wanted it to feel a little bit like a community….We actually had a barbeque where it was like all the owners, kind of a seasonal barbeque kind of thing where everybody could get together and meet each other, which is I guess something that tends to happen at street parties. So I think it’s kind of nice to have that sort of feel in a building..

[Bliss Condo: “This neighbourhood is full of possibilities with a complete cross section of the city all living together from groovy hipsters to strait laced Bay St. financiers.”]

“Taking advantage” of urban amenities is a way of relating to the city that is not a straightforward form of gendered emancipation; rather, this process interlocks with class privilege to promote a mode of urban living where consumption is the new citizenship. Condominium dwellers are courted by the city because of their potential to bring economic benefits to the downtown core. These benefits of downtown living are premised on a definition of quality of life that focuses on spectacle and consumption, rather than on improving equitable access to the public realm.

Does the public interest lie in having houses built in such a way that they are not prone to excessive noise or vulnerable to flooding?Or, does the public interest lie in producing less expensive housing? The answer to both questions is yes, and therein lies the problem.
Stuart B. Proudfoot, “The Politics of Approval: Regulating Land Use on the Urban Fringe”  Canadian Public Policy / Analyse de Politiques, Vol. 7, No. 2 (Spring, 1981), pp. 290.

Must resist the urge to buy all the books. Still, 50% off all Verso Books until April 14th is very very tempting. Some of the wish list that has yet to be whittled down

Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship by Claire Bishop

A New Kind of Bleak: Journeys Through Urban Britain by Owen Hatherley

Yellow Peril!: An Archive of Anti-Asian Fear by John Kuo Wei Tchen and Dylan Yeats

The Pig and the Skyscraper: Chicago: A History of Our Future by Marco d’Eramo (Translated by Graeme Thomson)

Savage Messiah by Laura Oldfield Ford

On the Town: One Hundred Years of Spectacle in Times Square by Marshall Berman

Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism by Stephen Graham

Exquisite Corpse: Writing on Buildings by Michael Sorkin

Building the New World: Studies in the Modern Architecture of Latin America 1930-1960 by Valerie Fraser

The Origin of Capitalism: A Longer View by Ellen Meiksins Wood