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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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.

In the nightmare of participation, political subjects become caught in the logic of an iconic participation, a representative participation that has been exaggerated to the point of hollowness.

The power of this participation is the power of the mesmerizing icon: It sustains the nightmare that we cannot wake up from, and it compels us to go on playing our assigned roles. Why has participation become a nightmare? The history is longer than we can tell here. Start looking a few decades back, to the 1980s, when the Western political model of participation as a legitimizing force emerged—a significant step in the evolution of late capitalism’s political theater.

It is participation as instrumentalized political practice. Participation becomes a scripted scenario of liberal democracy, into which you insert the necessary actors, props, lighting, cameras, and mechanized monsters.

Jeremy Beaudry and Bassam El Baroni, Postscript to The Nightmare of Participation, November 2010. (via post-carbon)

At a common sense level, research was talked about both in terms of its absolute worthlessness to us, the indigenous world, and its absolute usefulness to those who wielded it as an instrument. It told us things already known, suggested things that would not work, and made careers for people who already had jobs. ‘We are the most researched people in the world’ is a comment I have heard frequently from several different indigenous communities. The truth of such a comment is unimportant, what does need to be taken seriously is the sense of weight and unspoken cynicism about research that the message conveys. (p 3)

Linda Tuhiwai Smith's book Decolonizing Methodologies is a touchstone for many at the University of Hawai’i. I’m excited to be reading it for a seminar on methodologies this semester.

INQ13 | Linda Tuhiwai Smith & Eve Tuck “Decolonizing Methodologies” from JustPublics365 [Her talk begins at 10:25]

I have the hiccups. That is all.

I have the hiccups. That is all.

I’m venturing into the performance and aesthetics literature to better understand how our expectations and actions in urban space are changing. I keep on getting distracted while reading because I want to look up all the artists mentioned. Lux Boreal is a contemporary dance company based in Tijuana that plays a lot with public space performances. Via Hopkins, D. J., and Kim Solga, eds. Performance and the Global City. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

Presentación final de la clase de montane del Curso de Verano de Lux Boreal 2009 en Tijuana B.C. Se invadió sin previo a viso un espacio publico en Plaza Río.


There is a twitter account entitled, “Shit Academics Say,” which rings so true and which I love so much that I’ve been retweeting entries periodically.  Here are some of their recent entries that made me snort with laughter while hanging my head in shame:

1. “Email me to remind me to email you.”

2. “You had me at ‘hence.’”

3. “I am outdoorsy.  I look out the window when I work.”

4. “I’ll be there in just a minute.  I just gotta finish writing this one thing.”

5. “I will not work over the holidays.  I will not work over the holidays.  Except those reviews and revisions that should only take a few hours.”

6. “Praxis.”

7. “Nothing. I was talking to myself.”

8. “I had a dream that I cheated on my manuscript with another manuscript.”

9. “If you want it done right, don’t tell your co-authors until it is done.”

10. “I crossed my arms halfway through the talk to clearly express my displeasure with the speaker unjustifiably equating our lines of work.”

Seriously, fellow academics: run, don’t walk, towards this twitter site.  It gave me countless hours of amusement.

This recent tweet got passed around and made me giggle. A guide to interpreting faculty feedback, via @AcademicsSay. 

What They Say: Very interesting

What You Hear: They are impressed!

What They Mean: Clearly nonsense

Andrea Lange’s Refugee Talks (1998, Audio & video installation, 33 min) features nine sequences of individuals or groups each performing a song. All refugees from different countries living in the same reception center in Oslo during the winter of 1998, the participants chose songs relevant to their own lives.

Description from Australian Centre for the Moving Image

Always framed amid a setting of apparent bourgeois domesticity – whether reclining back comfortably, or perched awkwardly on a couch – the refugees sing in a cappella, staring straight to the camera. They sing songs that evoke origin and a sense of place, songs and lamentations in their own languages. Sometimes, however, they sing in accents and expressions that are more familiar to people in the West: a woman sings an old blues standard, her voice drenched in the history of the Mississippi delta; two young girls dance to the Spice Girls and declare that, ‘If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends.’

Lange took her video camera to a reception centre for refugees in Norway. Awaiting confirmation or denial of their residency applications, the refugees ‘speak’ this state of ‘becoming’ through the medium of music. Exhibited at life-size scale, Refugee Talks asks the viewer to listen directly to these contemporary psalms and to reflect on the emotions and experiences being communicated.

Refugee Talks is a work that emerges directly from an engaged humanist commitment. In acknowledging the humanity of the refugees, the viewer comes to an understanding that spaces once designated as separate and different – political space, geographic space, cultural space – can possibly be transcended through music and song. This is the promise of artistic space.


People’s Climate March September 21st in NYC. Photo/ image by @jetsonorama

Some beautiful posters from the JustSeeds Artists’ Cooperative for the upcoming Climate Justice gathering in NYC. Downloadable pdfs here.

People’s Climate March poster designed by Crystal Clarity: “These Illustrations came from Hurricane Sandy. They focus on the horrible disparity that was amplified after the storm. Highlighted, the organized rescue efforts of community based organizers. ( the people’s lifeboats). During Sandy it became clear to a lot of us that our communities were not really a priority and that those with the means to afford alternative housing or had money and could afford to relocate were able to escape horrific tragedy. Those without this access were left behind in unlivable situations. It shows the struggle of those left without resources who then became resourceful.”