(141) Retrofitting the suburbs

Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs
Ellen Dunham-Jones & June Williamson
John Wiley & Sons
ISBN 978-0-470-04123-9

We’ve been wanting to mention
this book for a while and now that there is an updated edition available, here it is.  Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs is a big, detailed, serious take on just what can be done with aging, unattractive suburban sprawl. With the text you get maps and colour ilustrations of real world improvement projects aimed at making suburbs more walkable and connected, more transit friendly, more aesthetically pleasing, more economically varied and more attached to the realities of the environment.  Who wouldn’t want these things?  And surely retrofitting suburbia would ameliorate poverty there, enhance employment, prevent the suburbs from sliding into deeper obsolesence if not full on ghettohood.  The approach here is rational and advocates a technical, investment-orientated  approach to improving suburbia.  Absolutely these ideas should be on the table, many are already in existence and working well.  On getting acquainted with this book you will look at suburban communities as opportunities, not just as a set of mistakes or doomed to a Mad Max kind of future.

Ellen Dunham-Jones TED Talk 19:24

(140) Marx at 50c

Murmurs of Marxism, of maximum socialist gains, are faintly heard from the fringes as our brains fry in the heat of summer and both Europe and America go nowhere.  It would be far beyond irony and deep into the realm of something crazy if it turned out that thirty years of neo-con horseshit triggered a serious revival of Marxism and that revival were expressed politically.  It’d be hard to decide who the joke would truly be on but few of us at any level of society below the 1% are laughing these days.

Why Marxism is on the rise again Guardian

(139) Toronto builds & builds

A lot of the change in the suburbs is driven by change in the city.  Toronto is among the five largest cities in North America and has a tower building boom going on that appears to outdo the others on the list combined.  The idea of finding a family home in the central city or the inner, older suburbs of Toronto seems to be rapidly becoming obsolete for all but the wealthiest people.  This brings Toronto into line with many other global cities where international financial muscle, physical geography, and high population growth rates shape life.  This type of change pushes working people outward.  The distance pushed goes up even more for those in social difficulty.

The ‘Manhattanization’ of Toronto will change family-housing dreams CBC

(138) Left coast food deserts

Food desert is one of the jarring terms for describing the lowered expectations marking life in suburbia during a time of contraction and economic weirdness.  It refers to the difficulty in acquiring good, fresh, reasonably priced and varied food in a way not overly moderated by automobiles.  For lower income people and the elderly this can get kind of awkward.  Smaller towns outside the city and densely populated urban areas often host farmer’s markets and other food sources not found in suburbs where the groceries come home via the big-box-store-and-a-highway interface.  Another feature of life not much considered as the Great Recession rolls along and things continue to change.  At the link below there is an item relating to Vancouver, British Columbia.  The author’s concerns about food deserts can translate to many, many more places of course.

Poor and elderly stranded in westside food deserts Vancouver Sun

(137) Murder, suicide & financial ruin

Some sort of hideous thing.
Suburban poverty can be a monster
with many limbs.  American children experiencing foreclosure are more vulnerable to social problems, for example.  The suicides, depression, domestic violence and lost human potential accompanying the cratering of the economy in the United States since 2008 is truly mind boggling.  Calling it class warfare hardly seems unreasonable when you look at everything from the so-called liar loans to the bailouts and the general behaviour of the super elites.  Here, Mark Ames describes a situation of class warfare getting hotter and costing lives.  He even relates the hypocrisy, fraud and chicanery in the American economy to the war in Afghanistan.  Ames is no friend to the establishment or the status quo.  At this link he is talking on RT’s BigPicture.  Things do get righteous at a couple of points but the topics at hand are hardly a joke.  Ames connects the massacre of 17 Afghanis by an American army sergeant directly to difficult, immoral times in America and compares that sad event to the workplace and school shootings that became commonplace beginning in the Reagan era and about which he has written a book.

Mark Ames on RT YouTube 10:51

(136) Tulsa, Oklahoma! Come on down …to suburban poverty

Tulsa was also nicknamed the Oil Capital of the World …that would be on top of the architectural progress mentioned above.  After the towers and the oil comes, you guessed it, the suburban poverty.  As we’ve seen repeatedly, the “new” poor are from the middle class and often lack experience with their circumstances.  Clearly, this new poverty is not situational or temporary for many of those experiencing it.  This item has good statistics, identifies local resources and is moving to read.

Suburban families suffer through poverty Tulsa World

(135) Television documentary this Sunday

Readers with access to American network NBC may like to set aside some time tomorrow night for a special episode of the program Dateline called America Now: Lost in the Suburbs.  Newsguy Lester Holt looks into long term unemployment, food banks and the recent confirmation (Federal Reserve Bulletin for June 2012) that something like 40% of the wealth of the US middle class has simply evaporated.  Even if a lot of that wealth was in the form of bubble money and attached to specualtive real estate in a Ponzi economy this must surely represent permanent demographic change, a permanent state of damage. What a spectacle it is, to see “ordinary” middle class American families go from employment and reasonable fulfilment of their ambitions to poverty. 2008 was a long time ago for some of the people interviewed.  Holt focussed on Boulder, Colorado, a community where the majority of people thought things were really quite good, that they were getting a deal as square as their state.  Now it’s all about food banks and scraping by after your savings and unemployment insurance have run out.   

Boulder County families, agencies will be featured on ‘Dateline NBC’ special TimesCall.com

MSNBC slide show derived from Lost in the Suburbs

Great recession Fallout Huffington Post


(134) Elizabeth Kneebone from the Brookings Institution

Poor McAllen ...literally!Here’s a thirty-five minute video featuring reseercher Elizabeth Kneebone of the Brookings Institution.  Brookings had brought out one of its major reports into suburan poverty at the time and the reasonable and very inteliigent Ms. Kneebone offers her insights into the changing geography of American poverty.  Curiously, McAllen, Texas appears on two of Ms. Kneebone’s lists.  What an honour that must be!  The reality of this change is enormous and so the interview is dense with facts and insights and the people calling in to ask questions or make comments had a wide variety of ideas, too. 

Suburban Poverty January 29, 2010 C-SPAN Video Library

Brookings Institution

(133) Less driving

American Family ShitboxWith the progression of the Great Recession we’ve read a few things online that indicate trouble in one of the major relationships of suburban living arrangements.  Of course, we are referring to the automobile.  It’s not just about the cost of ownership or having no job.  It seems that where you find an automotive/residential matrix the number of miles driven per person has been going down, total car sales are down and that the younger people appear less hell bent on acquiring driver’s licenses than in the past.  It is still early to decipher the meaning of these changes but we can safely assume that these changes are dictated ones, not chosen ones and they reflect the problems and growing poverty of suburbia.  Here is an item from the UK on the matter that also includes some American statistics.

America’s love affair with the car is running on empty Guardian

(132) Schnarky!

Canada’s largest freshwater turtle: the Snapping Turtle. Watch out kids! Tory the Turtle is none too fast but he’ll take that hand clean off if he gets the chance.

We came across this item, the article not the turtle, in the National Pest the other day.  It won’t be a shocker to any of suburban-poverty.com’s loyal readers to know that inequality and poverty is damaging to the general functioning of the economy and therefore harmful to the business interests and the political system that would appear to foster said poverty and inequality at every turn.  That the piece was written by a mainstream political actor associated with the federal Liberal party is not that striking either.  What we noticed were the snarky, unsophisticated comments from the general readership of The Pest.  Of course, not all the comments are simplified neoconservative maxims delivered with spite.  Nonetheless, we’ve seen such reactions all over the internet whenever economics is the topic at hand.  It bothers us and worries us that so many of our fellow citizens are so cranky and touchy and childish in their ideas about economics and the nature of societal relations.

Why is it so tough for people to separate the personal from the social, the anecdotal from the general?  We’ve come to conclude that most people commenting on economics and society are firstly giving vent to some emotional quirk, making a resentful statement primarily.  See for yourself.

Scott Brison: If Canada doesn’t tackle income disparity, the economy will suffer