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.

Environmental Justice Executive Order Signed
| November 28, 2014 | 2:54 pm | Uncategorized | Comments closed

The order, signed by Governor Deval Patrick on Tuesday November 25th, directs state agencies to devote resources to protect the health, safety, and environment of the state’s most vulnerable residents. It also encourages public participation in governmental decisions. This Factsheet provides a summary of the order, as well as the Massachusetts Environmental Justice Alliance and its efforts leading up to the signing. It also lists the agencies affected by the order.

Environmental Justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.

The Massachusetts EJ Alliance is convened by Alternatives for Community and Environment, ACE. The campaign began in 2009 and will be finally implemented by May 24, 2015. ACE’s senior attorney, Staci Rubin states that “This Executive Order is unique in that it requires the state to focus enforcement and funding efforts for environmental benefits in environmental justice communities.” The order creates a public participation plan including a multilingual outreach program and accessible, convenient public meetings. It will also set up an advisory council with community stakeholders.

This is a big step forward for Massachusetts, joining 7 other states that have previously passed executive orders on environmental justice. As Governor Patrick declared, “Today we reaffirm our commitment to providing the whole Commonwealth with better quality of life through parks, open space and sound environmental policy.”

The Week at UEP: Student Group Meetings
| November 22, 2014 | 7:16 pm | Uncategorized | Comments closed

This week at UEP both the Tufts New Economy and the Intercultural Practice Group held their monthly meetings on campus.

Wednesday evening, students interested in exploring cooperative economic models came together for dinner and discussion around plans for this and next semester. The campus New Economy group shares the goal of examining and promoting more sustainable and equitable alternatives to the dominant economic paradigm, though this can mean different things to different people. The discussion started with introductions of the new attendees and a talk about what new economy means to each of them.

Group members brainstormed ideas for activities to facilitate learning about new economy and spreading ideas to the rest of the Tufts community. Previous activities have included trips to the CERO cooperative energy, recycling and organics organization, the Hayley House Bakery Café in Roxbury, and the Taza fair trade chocolate factory in Somerville. Future plans include bringing on speakers and intellectual leaders on the topic, trips to the Wellspring Collaborative in Springfield, and coordinating with other local new economy groups.

The following Thursday evening, the Intercultural Practice Group assembled for a viewing of the documentary “Can We Talk?” about Boston’s busing and desegregation crisis  in the 1970s. The documentary brings together former students, teachers, bus drivers, and community leaders from the time period, during which Boston attempted and failed to address racism, classism and segregation plaguing the city’s public schools. Truly heartbreaking stories are told about a generation of Boston students, mostly students of color, who were effectively robbed of their formative educational years.

A post-viewing discussion focused on how different Boston may look now, but in many regards nothing has changed. There remains a huge disparity in school and education quality between rich and poor neighborhoods in Boston. The racial make up of Boston Public Schools has changed drastically since the busing period, with the flight of many white families and families of means into areas with better conditions and greater educational resources. The busing period and the failure of public policy to address issues of equality in Boston is hugely relevant to the Intercultural Practice Group, whose focus is to facilitate cross-cultural dialogue and challenge self-segregation.

Both groups will continue to meet regularly on campus, and all are welcome to join, not just UEP students. The more people involved, the more impact these groups can have. If you are interested in getting involved, please visit the web sites above or keep your eye out for flyers around campus.

UEP Colloquium: Visiting Scholar Yuting Liu
| November 17, 2014 | 2:49 pm | Colloquium | Comments closed

The Urban Poor and Low-Income Neighborhoods in Chinese Large Cities

Yuting Liu, visiting scholar and professor of urban planning at the South China Institute of Technology in Guangzhou, presented his research on patterns of urban poverty in Chinese large cities to the Tufts UEP community. Yuting Liu has published extensively on the issue of new urban poverty during the transition from China’s planned economy to one that is more market oriented. Specifically, Yuting’s research deals with the socio-spatial pattern of poverty. This presentation is important as UEP strives to extend its studies to incorporate international planning issues.

Yuting gave a brief history of his studies, which began with China’s recent development from a planned economy to a powerful market economy. This transition improved conditions among the rural poor. 250 million people were living in rural poverty in 1978, down to 30 million in 2000. Urban areas, however, have seen a widening gap between the rich and the poor, with new urban poor and rural migrants located in particular areas of the city.

He breaks the issue up into two distinct features: the new urban poor (urban hokou) and rural migrants (rural hokou). Economic restructuring and reform of state-owned enterprises resulted in large-scale layoffs, which, in addition to many poorly educated young people and single parent families, contributes to a high degree of urban poverty. poor, rural migrants to big cities represent another source of urban poverty. Former farmers are either migrating to the city, or, surprisingly, cities expand to the point that they envelop entire farming villages. Considered outsiders, the rural hokou are frequently marginalized, undocumented, and unaware of their rights as city residents.

In socialist China, there was very little geographical pattern to its urban poverty. With market reforms, China is seeing poor communities concentrate in particular areas of its cities. Yuting used Nanjing(population ~8 million) as an example in his study. Traditional port and industrial neighborhoods near the Yangtze River, such as Mufushan and Baotaqiao, and dilapidated urban districts like Jiankanglu and Nanhu have experienced a concentrated presence of new urban poverty. Poor rural migrants, on the other hand, concentrate on the urban fringes and inner suburbs.

Many poor and dilapidated neighborhoods have been torn down in order to construct new affordable housing settlements. In theory, this should provide some relief to the new urban poor, but settlements have mostly been constructed in the suburbs. Since the new housing is far from access to services and facilities in the inner cities, residents still face hardships in moving out of poverty.

Responding to questions, Yuting contrasted Chinese poverty with that seen in the United States. China sees a far greater level of rural to urban migrants, whereas the United States has more issues with international immigration. There is not as much of an ethnic, racial, or religious component to poverty patterns in China as in the United States. The vast majority of those living in major cities are Han Chinese, so discrimination is often based on regionalism or rural/urban distinctions. Notably, Yuting claims that large Chinese cities see remarkably little informal informal housing development, few slums and shantytowns, especially as compared with other developing powerhouses like India and Brazil. This, Yuting claims, can be attributed to the fact that urban land is publicly owned.

A fascinating discussion, bringing to light issues of international urban planning and development. The next colloquium will be on Wednesday, December 3, featuring Boston’s Chief of Economic Development and former director of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, John Barros. We will meet, as usual, at 12pm in Sophia Gordon Hall. Note that there will be no colloquium this week or next week. See you there!