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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Posts tagged "childhood"


Pizza Pizza Daddy-O

Clip from a 1967 film by Bob Eberlein and Bess Lomax Hawes that looks at continuity and change in girls’ playground games at a Los Angeles school

Playground song and schoolyard rhymes is my primary exposure to how oral transmission works. I learned the suburban standards (Miss Susie) but Pizza Pizza Daddy-O is brand new to me. You can watch the full 18 minutes at

The footage included in this film was taken in December of 1967 on the playground of a school in a Los Angeles black ghetto. The players are a dozen fourth-grade girls (9 to 10 years old). The repertoire of games played by African-American children at this time was highly stable across the country and highly dynamic; new games (usually re-workings or parodies of older ones) appear and disappear, but their essential structure and stylistic characteristics continue to be handed on from one generation of school children to the next.

Mousercise - Bugaboo. This is what this only child speed reader did for exercise back in the day. Today, we decided to break out the Mousercise to get in shape for the L.A. party scene.

Peter Brings the Shadow to Life via The Predatory Bird. Grown-ups don’t play with their shadows often enough. Superstar illustrator Suzy Lee drew an awesome reminder of how strange and sometimes scary shadows can be.

A one horse town with one saloon doesn’t require a food critic. A two book library (Analects of Confucius + Tao Te Ching, the Holy Bible + Augustine’s Confessions, etc) needs no Sunday Book Review. As a pre-teen, I was perfectly happy to listen to the soundtracks to Les Miz, the Phantom of the Opera, and Annie (it was very self-affirming) but at some point I became aware of a wide world of music. An early crush introduced me to the Violent Femmes by singing Blister in the Sun in chemistry class, somewhere around the same time, I learned about the existence of Casey Kasem and Rick Dees and the weekly Top 40. 

I still relied on either actual friends (ones with older siblings and better hair to tell my ultra nerdy self what was cool) or on myself to figure out what I did and didn’t like on the radio (Tom Petty yes, Richard Marx not so much.)

Now I rely on others. I can take with multiple teaspoons of salt, since everyone gets in a tizzy about service, but I also am reluctant to go somewhere without _any_ Yelp reviews. (Paranoid internal thought process: is it a front? do they have a trapdoor that leads to a room with kidnapper & a chloroform rag?) Those handy dandy music mp3 blogs have replaced afternoons standing in a record store. And even when I want to make an impulse purchase of an As Seen On Tv item, I still look it up on my phone while standing in checkout line.

Damn you internet, I can make my own decisions.

More real discussion on deciderating from The Millions blog:

In his introduction to Best American Essays 2007, Wallace writes almost cordially about his part in the “deciderization” process, but he then breaks character to rail against the American loss of mental free agency. Just as he is part of an outsourcing tradition of a venerable anthology, Wallace notes that “we are starting to become more aware of just how much subcontracting and outsourcing and submitting to other Deciders we’re all now forced to do, which is threatening (the inchoate awareness is) to our sense of ourselves as intelligent free agents.” True to his style, Wallace couldn’t help but see symbolism in an otherwise flattering role as guest editor. The impish shape he saw in the shadow of an editorial temp was the burden of human thought and moral resolve gladly surrendering to others because, in part, big issues are made to seem too complex and impossible to grasp, which, of course, suggests that we need specialists to delegate our minds to. He says, “And yet there is no clear alternative to this outsourcing and submission. It may possibly be that acuity and taste in choosing which Deciders one submits to is now the real measure of informed adulthood. Since I was raised with more traditional, enlightenment-era criteria, this possibility strikes me as consumerist and scary.”

I was in the middle of writing a somber post about Korean Americans and guns, but decided to dig up something cheerier. From our family trip to Yellowstone. No explanation for my stance.

I literally grew up in John Hughes territory in suburban Chicagoland. When I was 2, my parents moved to the best school district they could find, a North Shore suburb sandwiched between the towns featured in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Home Alone. But I also grew up in and through the John Hughes territory of film, a landscape of absent parents and class-conscious mayhem that bore little resemblance to the school-Korean church-music center system I orbited in real life. In retrospect, the dorky delight I took in kissing in cars (glee that lasted well into my twenties) was being able to finally inhabit Shermer, Illinois, even after I left suburbia for the city.

Apparently, children’s television has an even more insidious effect on our desire for specific neighborhoods and socio-spatial forms. Maybe my longing for cup-of-sugar neighbors is not the ambient aloha but years of watching Mr. Rogers chat with his neighbors in a proto-New Urbanist Pittsburgh. [That show would also explain my addiction to cardigans.] The internet has also been mulling over the connection between the neighborhoods we seek out as adults and the Jane Jacobs-esque stoop of 123 Sesame Street.

For our building, and for 123 Sesame, the steps are a place of everyday use that brings us from our apartments to the bigger world; an outdoor living room, a vestibule, both public and private, connecting the two worlds.

Frederickson also shares a lesson about public space and gentrification from the 25th anniversary episode, a show that aired way after my time with Sesame Street had ended except for a sporadic consumer fondness for Jim Henson products.

When I’m feeling especially intolerant, I remind myself that Oscar is often helpful to his neighbors, generally without meaning to be. In Sesame Street's 25thAnniversary Special, produced for ABC in 1994, Joe Pesci plays a Donald Trump look-alike named Ronald Grump. He wants to clear out Sesame Street and replace its small, worn buildings with a gleaming high-rise, sporting prominent “G” logos. He's driven away when Oscar, whose trash can* is on city property, refuses to leave. How can you sell condos to the wealthy when there's a Grouch hanging out on the doorstep? You can't. Grouches are an effective tool against rampant gentrification.

An uncompromising defense of the right to the city and of use value over exchange value. We’ve talked a little bit in class about the Kakaako Makai redevelopment plan and its deployment of the phrase “highest and best use” with regards to property development that requires the displacement of homeless families living in Mother Waldron Park. It’s kind of marvelous that Sesame Street aired a special that explicitly addressed the gentrification of Giuliani’s New York City.

This post is brought to you by this picture from the Pittsburgh History Journal


* I wonder if my fascination with dumpster diving can be traced back to Oscar the Grouch.