UEP Colloquium: Memories of Mayor Thomas Menino
| March 9, 2015 | 12:54 pm | Colloquium | Comments closed

Last Wednesday, at an event held to honor the 21 year long career of Mayor Thomas Menino, UEP invited a panel of alumni from within and without City Hall to talk about the late mayor’s legacy. The panel consisted of:

May Louie, community activist with the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI).

Kris Carter, director of programs at the Boston Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics.

Thomas Menino was the 53rd Boston mayor, in office from 1993 until he stepped down last year. According to a 2013 poll in the Boston Globe, Menino’s approval rating rested at a healthy 74%. Notably, nearly half of the poll’s respondents had personally met the mayor at some point. His “politics as personal” approach was mentioned by both panelists as one of his greatest attributes.

May Louie, whose career has been outside of city hall, recounted the history of DSNI’s relationship with the mayor. Having been given eminent domain power by previous mayor, Raymond Flynn, they feared a loss of support under a new administration. Those fears turned out mostly unfounded. Louie says that Menino was comfortable in Roxbury, though there were times when the neighborhood disagreed with his tactics.

Carter spoke about Mayor Menino’s desire to bring in new, talented people to work in city hall. He had begun working in the mayor’s office during the mayor’s final term. He went on to speak about Camp Harborview, started by Menino as an opportunity for students 11-14 in at-risk neighborhoods to spend part of their summer outside of the city and living the summer camp experience.

Comparing Mayor Menino to new mayor, Marty Walsh, both panelists remarked on their shared approach of spending time on the street with communities. Louie mentioned that Mayor Walsh comes from a labor background, which Menino had often found some friction with. Menino had the benefit of decades of experience, something that can only come to Mayor Walsh in time. The panelists did agree that the new mayor “knows what he doesn’t know,” and doesn’t forge into new territories without the help of experienced staff.

Mayor Menino was “a beloved figure” in Boston. For much of the younger generation, he has been the only Boston mayor. His leadership will be missed.

The next UEP colloquium will take place this Wednesday, March 11, at 12pm in Sophia Gordon Hall. We will be visited by representative of Right Question Institute and UEP alum Marcy Ostberg. As always, lunch will be provided.

UEP Colloquium: Planners, Policy-Makers and #BlackLivesMatter
| February 27, 2015 | 1:51 pm | Colloquium | Comments closed

Following Wednesday’s Forum on Race, Inequality and Action, in which the university took an academic approach to engage the community and create a better understanding of issues surrounding the Mike Brown and Eric Garner grand jury decisions, UEP hosted a forum of its own to address the role of planners and policy-makers in the Black Lives Matter movement.

The university-wide forum featured Tufts professors Peniel Joseph, Kendra Field, and Helen Marrow to address public policy and racialized violence. Joyce Sackey, Heather Curtis, and Pearl Robinson spoke on encouraging and empowering for social change.

At the UEP Colloquium, roughly 25 people showed up to report back on the forum and discuss how we, as planners and policy-makers, can effect change on the issue. Participants mentioned the diversity of cultures participating in the discourse, emphasizing the different ways that racialized police violence can be approached. The panel also emphasized the importance of knowing the long history of the issue in order to understand current problems. Quota policies force officers to arrest a certain number of people each month, which becomes almost a necessity as a funding source for municipalities. As funding continues to be a recurring problem, military weapon hand-me-downs are welcomed by police forces, worried about future funding prospects.

After the colloquium, a number of resources were distributed by participants for further reading on the topic:

This article, from Progressive Planning Magazine, directly addresses the connection between urban planners and racial justice.

Here, a former Seattle Police Chief talks about the militarization of the police force.

St. Louis Public Radio takes inspiration from Cincinnati police reform.

Closer to home, The Somerville Times covers an experiment in finding common ground between police and local youth.

For those interested in participating further, Tufts Graduate Student Organizing will hold a meeting in Jaharis room 155 at the Boston Campus on Tuesday, March 3rd from 5-7pm. UEP is trying to build support throughout the graduate student community, but all are invited to attend.

UEP Colloquium: Aseem Inam
| February 19, 2015 | 4:45 pm | Colloquium | Comments closed

Transforming Cities – Transforming Urbanism

In the first of this Spring’s UEP colloquium series we were visited by The New School’s Professor of Urbanism and director of TRULAB, Aseem Inam. Clear from the title of his presentation, Inam’s focus is on transformation and urbanism. He began the talk by clarifying his use of words like “transformation”, as well as distinguishing between “urbanism” and “urban design.” Truly transforming a city, according to Inam, is not likely to be achieved by tweaking reform, but by a fundamental shift in ways of thinking about the structure of cities. More than once during the presentation, he stressed the avoidance of “best practices” and formulaic approaches to urban design, in favor of aspirational and investigative perspectives.

In defining his use of the term “urbanism,” he emphasizes the ideal of what it could be instead of its current definition in relation to urban design. Inam’s urbanism is more future oriented, embracing of plurality, and welcome to change. This can only result from a change in the way we think about cities, incorporating the following:

  • adaptability
  • collective thinking
  • engaging in constant change
  • testing ideas, with constant tweaking
  • multiple approaches

Inam then walked through several examples from around the world, many featured in his book Designing Urban Transformation (2013). He presents his concept of the “city-as-flux” through the development of Al-Azhar Park in Cairo, Egypt. In the development of a new park, planners cleaned up a 500 year old landfill, replaced it with water tanks, and trained local people in historic preservation for artifacts encountered along the way. The plan changed throughout its implementation.

Finally, Inam emphasizes the use of urbanism as a “creative political act,” using the Orangi Pilot Project in Karachi, Pakistan as an example. The project is set in an area with a history of extreme poverty and ethnic and religious violence. It functions collectively, allowing residents to work on solving their local sanitation issues. While this may not sound revolutionary at first, it was effective enough to ruffle the feathers of those in power, leading to death threats and the eventual assassination of the nonprofit’s director.

In a topical discussion, brought up by a member of the audience, Inam gave his opinion on the possibility of the Olympics coming to Boston. He noted that the only Olympics in recent history to have made a profit was the 1984 Los Angeles games. In the World Cup, for example, the only entity making a profit is FIFA. He stressed that the city should identify first how it can be done equitably, and second whether or not it should be done at all.

Next week’s colloquium will follow the university-wide forum on Race, Inequality, and Action. The UEP Colloquium on #BlackLivesMatter will be centered on how we, as students and future changemakers, see our role in working towards equity.

Daniel Abramson on Obsolescence, Sustainability, and Beyond
| February 11, 2015 | 5:15 pm | Events | Comments closed

Tufts’ undergraduate urban studies collective, UP3, invited professor Daniel Abramson to speak at Sophia Gordon Hall about his work on obsolescence in architecture. Abramson is director of the Architectural Studies program at Tufts, and will be releasing a book on the topic later this year, titled “Obsolescence: An Architectural History.”

According to Abramson, obsolescence emerged about 100 years ago as a paradigm of change and how to manage it. As businesses could deduct obsolescence from income tax payments, it became advantageous for them to speed up the rate at which their assets obsolesce. Authorities later defined obsolescence for various types of buildings (e.g. 40 years for an office building).

In the context of urban renewal, obsolescence was frequently referred to as “blight.” City evaluators, in determining areas in need of redevelopment, used architectural obsolescence as well as cultural aspects as parameters. Areas like the West End in Boston, an historically working class neighborhood, were deemed blighted and promptly razed and rebuilt.

Architects such as, Georges Pompadou, Kisho Kurokawa, and Peter Cook sought to incorporate moveable walls, loose site plans with demolish-able or expandable blocks, and replaceable parts into their buildings.

As the urban planning theories of Jane Jacobs began to take hold and people began to value obsolete buildings for other purposes, the trend of obsolescence in architecture began to fade. Abramson cites sustainability and green design as having supplanted obsolescence as the current dominant architectural idea. When asked by the audience what would follow sustainability and green design, Abramson replied that he doesn’t know. Until the zeitgeist changes it is hard to imagine a more rational approach to building and design.

Shomon Shamsuddin presentation on LIHEAP
| February 10, 2015 | 3:50 pm | Uncategorized | Comments closed

Examining the Effects of Home Energy Assistance on Low Income Families

Last week, UEP’s Brown House hosted a presentation about the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) by MIT postdoctorate research fellow, and former policy analyst at the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, Shomon Shamsuddin. He began with some background on the current state of low income access to home heating, as well as general housing issues. The last 30 years have seen stagnant income for low income families, while housing costs have risen. As a way to better understand housing issues, Shamsuddin uses a new, broader framework of examining housing conditions and stability, integrating housing, energy use and health policy for communities. Residential instability has been shown to contribute to poverty and segregation.

By providing help to families in meeting their energy needs LIHEAP hopes to increase residential stability, but policy has been more focused on how assistance is delivered than on measuring outcomes. At an estimated $3 billion per year in all 50 states, Shamsuddin seeks to measure whether these policies result in end benefits to residents. Controlling for various demographic parameters, he conducted a multivariate regression analysis on housing stability, health, employment and home energy assistance. At this stage, he has come to some interesting findings:

  • LIHEAP has shown a positive effect on allowing residents to remain in their homes.
  • LIHEAP has helped to decrease residents’ medical expenses.
  • LIHEAP has shown no significant impact on employment.

A discussion with the audience followed the presentation, bringing up possible outside causes of the trends seen in the research. Interestingly, some of the strongest supporters of the LIHEAP program are in the fossil fuel industry, as it essentially acts as a subsidy increasing demand for their products.

Shamsuddin’s work has thus far suggested that LIHEAP has been successful in achieving its goals, and will hopefully lead to further improvement in residential stability.

Update on Union Square Development Plans
| January 29, 2015 | 4:14 pm | Uncategorized | Comments closed

UEP Professor Penn Loh is interviewed by Somerville Community Access Television (SCATV) regarding the particular situation unfolding with the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) between the City of Somerville and developers. The article and video (found here) also discuss the history and theory behind CBAs generally.

Union United and the Somerville Community Corporation, representing workers and community residents, are upset at being left out of negotiations. As Loh explains, it is important that community members are consulted before approvals are made, while they still have some leverage. Many city representatives and members of the Union Square Civic Advisory Committee have requested that the CBA be settled after plans are further developed, which would effectively exclude community approval as a regulating mechanism. Follow this link for more information.

UEP Students Make #BlackLivesMatter Statement
| January 29, 2015 | 3:37 pm | Uncategorized | Comments closed

The statement appears in the latest issue of The Tufts Daily, and can be found here. The letter was written in collaboration with graduate students from across the Tufts community, but organized largely by UEP students. It mentions the impressive work and organizing done by Tufts’ undergraduate population and calls for increased involvement among the graduate community. Urban planning, in particular, has had a complex history with Black communities. Recognizing this, these UEP students strive to build equitable cities “where Black lives do indeed matter.”

To get involved, email tuftsgradBLM@gmail.com and attend a meeting in the coming weeks.

Democracy Now’s Juan González: Upcoming Film Screening
| January 5, 2015 | 2:07 pm | Events | Comments closed

In the film, Harvest of Empire, producer and author Juan González documents the untold story of Latinos in America. The screening will take place on Sunday, January 11 at Breed Middle School in Lynn, MA. It begins at 2pm and will be followed by a question and answer session.

The film, which won a Best Film award at the Sundance Film Festival, discusses many of the reasons why Latinos immigrate to the United States. It makes direct connections between immigration and the long history of U.S. intervention in Latin America.

More information can be found in the flyers above (left: English, right: Spanish). We hope to see some UEP representatives there!

UEP Colloquium: Inclusive and Equitable Economic Development and Community-Driven Planning
| December 5, 2014 | 3:20 pm | Colloquium | Comments closed

This week UEP, along with Tisch College, hosted John Barros for the Fall semester’s final colloquium. A Tufts UEP-MPP alum, Barros currently serves as Chief of Economic Development under new mayor Marty Walsh. He was interviewed by a panel of current MPP students as well as some UEP faculty on current work being done at Boston City Hall to address equitable development issues.

Barros began getting involved in development issues at an early age, and was put on the board for the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative before he was eighteen years old. Later on, Barros began working with Mayor Menino on the city’s school committee. As he stated, this fit in nicely with DSNI’s mission to view the neighborhood as a campus in order to improve school performance. Following this position and Menino’s decision not to run for reelection, Barros ran for mayor himself in 2013. Barros ran his campaign on a more inclusive economic development plan, something sorely needed for many of Boston’s residents.

Barros was eventually defeated in the campaign. New mayor Marty Walsh decided to create a new position for Barros in his cabinet, however. Goals for the position include treating the neighborhood as the unit of change, focusing on individual assets along with business development, and a new office of family empowerment. Barros also seeks to address the skills gap between Boston’s growing industry and the populations of Boston neighborhoods experiencing 20-30% unemployment.

The most important issue stressed was the need for organized development plans at the grassroots level. Government policy can provide a framework and support, but ideas and momentum must come from the community. The city does not have extra money, Barros stressed, for applicants without a solid business plan. Part of this, admittedly, is due to the difficulty of transitioning from the “Menino budget,” but there are opportunities available for solid action plans.

Barros also spoke about programs directed toward racial justice, such My Brother’s Keeper, bridging the gap between men of color and their potential achievements. The alarming statistics surrounding this issue have been discussed in a previous post about UEP Professor James Jennings on this blog. Barros also spoke about Boston’s plans to invest in worker cooperatives in the greater Boston area.

Finally, Barros suggested that students from UEP get involved in practica and paid internships through the city. We look forward to seeing more of what John Barros can do in his new position!

Weekly colloquia will continue in the Spring semester, but we at the UEP Blog will keep you updated on other talks and meetings around campus. Stay tuned!

Incomplete Streets: New Book by Julian Agyeman
| December 5, 2014 | 2:22 pm | Uncategorized | Comments closed

UEP professor Julian Agyeman, along with other contributors, is releasing a new book titled Incomplete Streets: Processes, Practices, and Possibilities. The book, and the accompanying blog, addresses the concept and movement of “Complete Streets.”

Complete Streets stresses the need to enable safe access for all users. Incomplete Streets suggests that roadways be treated as more than just physical spaces. Complete Streets may actually be reproducing many of the spatial inequalities characterizing cities for the last century. Incomplete Streets calls for a planning process that gives voice to marginalized communities and treats streets as dynamic, fluid, and public social spaces. More about Incomplete Streets and the new book can be found here.