This week in suburban poverty has seen multiple versions of a headline roughly like this: “US poverty at highest levels since 1960s”. Media outlets, mainstream and alternative alike, appear to be acknowledging there is a problem more than ever. So they should, and doubly so as there is an election on in the United States. The data in this coverage is from an Associated Press survey done in anticipation of this fall’s 2011 US census data.
For many, the sixties are ancient history and yet others recall in some fashion a decade when social issues, including poverty, were seen to be in the realm of resolvable problems. There was even talk of a “war on poverty” and a Great Society under Lyndon Johnson. It looks like the gains made in the era of Kennedy photo ops in Appalachia are in danger if one in six Americans are now in poverty!
That’s a picture of Solar House 1, an MIT project built in, wait for it …1939! As it happens, knowledge of how to optimize a building to make use of solar energy is downright ancient. Among the ideas we need to get reacquainted with in a hurry has to do not with digital or analogue technology but simply with the way houses, entire neighbourhoods, are sited within a “solar envelope.” We’ve come across the idea that cycling, walking and public transit can affect one’s quality of life positively. After getting to a built structure you want it to be heated, cooled, and illuminated in ways that are equally cheap and sensible so that resources (especially money!) are not wasted, are kept available for other things. Again, we find the actual physical mechanism of the suburbs a huge potential influence on the poverty found there!
The solar envelope: how to heat and cool cities without fossil fuels
Low Tech Magazine
A person earning twenty-five grand a year who can walk to work is richer than the person making thirty-five a year who drives to work? Yes? No? Maybe? Would the money saved in this proposition be enough to help someone avoid or reduce social exclusion?
Going forward, communities really need to be doing all they can to support walking. Even here in wintery Canada walking already makes a difference to those with lower incomes. Supporting walking only makes sense, really. Here is an item on walking from Slate.
photo: Eadweard Muybridge (via Wikimedia Commons)
The pleasure is all suburban-poverty.com’s to make mention of Copenhagen’s new dedicated bicycle super-highway. The route from a suburb called Albertslund into Copenhagen is 11 miles/18 kilometers in length and the first component of a serious national network of routes. What a fantastic real world precedent for just about any fossil fuel-using community looking for alternatives!
Cycling is healthy and cheap and empowering. Bikes are sensible tools for fighting suburban poverty. Here in North America, compulsory automobile ownership enslaves working people, drawing their resources into a matrix of requirements for gasoline, insurance, repairs, tire replacement, maintenance, tickets, parking fees, interest payments, depreciation, accidents and injuries, noise and pollution. Something has to change.
The New York Times item covering the cycling superhighway has been picked up in blogs, by the Toronto Star, and in many other places. It’s hard not to envy infrastructure like this and we hope to see more everywhere.
photo: Copenhagen via Wikimedia Commons
Ever on the lookout for clues as to where the suburban project is going we were struck by a recent finding about social conditions in Las Vegas. The frenetic growth and artificiality of Vegas is something to behold. Beneath the doom tales of foreclosure and searing drought, beneath the flashing lights and smarm we find human beings adapting to the place they must live. Las Vegans, no less than the citizens of any other built-yesterday Nirvana, still get up in the moring and make it work as best they can. In one area, the Las Vegans appear to have pulled ahead of other communities: the number of single fathers raising children. The general sleaze and the 24-hour “service” economy of the desert gambling paradise seems to be kinda tough on moms.
Why ‘Sin City” has so many single fathers BBC News Altered States
Making a choice between suburban living and some other kind, or even choosing to see much difference between the two at all, has been a proposition since the suburbs were born. Now, late in the day for cheap energy and E-Z money, the question is defined anew. Recently political actors in Toronto expressed both sides of the question in a place where the suburbs and the city are, if anything, becoming more alike. The amalgamation of the old downtown City of Toronto with its sprawlshed never really sat well with anybody and yet it seems the language for describing the differences between city and suburb is much weaker than it should be.
Raising children in the city vs the suburbs Huffington Post
Do the suburbs make you selfish? Time Business
That snapping, crunching sound you’ve been hearing of late is not just from the femurs of unfortunate horses participating in the chuckwagon races in Calgary. No, it’s a much bigger vehicular wreck called Barclays. The latter is a massive British bank recently revealed to have rigged what is called LIBOR. This is the rate of interest at which banks lend each other money.
It’s a big one kids, …again! Yet another looting-from-the-top-down failure of morality in the global banking system with bad implications for society at large. It really will never end with these institutions until there is nothing left to loot. It isn’t like younger managers are drawn to careers in finance so that twenty years from now when they have risen to the top they will lower their wages and bonuses is it?
The only good news we can see is that this one is not open to interpretation. The dishonesty is plain and in clear sight now. Baltimore is one of the American cities that, along with state governments and public agencies, has done business with Barclays. Baltimore has now taken the lead in a massive lawsuit to recover what amounts to money stolen from their taxpayers. Incredible, since much of the Great Recession has been expressed in the US in the form of cutbacks to state and municipal services. Money that should have gone to public agencies, their services and employees, is in the coffers at Barclays.
Retrofitting seems to be the suburban-poverty theme of late. Here is a link to an article describing the benefit of changes to Plessis-Robinson. An outer suburb in southwest Paris, France. What is referred to as “smart growth” or “new urbanism” in North America was put in place there beginning in the 1990s. The article, like much discussion of suburban futures, is mainly about built form and resource usage. Again, who would argue with attractive buildings that conserve energy, greenspaces, walkability, public safety, advanced recycling, water saving efforts and so forth? Well, only an idiot. What is it then that retards such development in one place but not in another? See the results for yourself in the six minute video available at the link below.
It would seem to us that improvements to sustainability and general aesthetics might make a suburb more expensive and harder on those with less income. On the other hand, denser, more economically diverse places with better public transit and a variety of types of housing would make life easier for working people and those in social difficulty. How late is it to be putting in place a process of working out such issues in North America?
At the Museum of Modern Art in New York CIty there is an exhibit featuring conceptual retrofitting schemes for seven US communities battered by the recession. The exhibit is called Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream. Wonder what Mr. Lloyd would make of the proposals on display in his building?