Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Keep Australia Beautiful Week

I am still on the e-list for Keep Australia Beautiful because I admire their litter survey tool, which is comprehensive and better than most equivalents in the US.

Below's post is reprinted from email.

The KAB pledge is to pick up one piece of litter per day for the entire week.  Many years ago, Geoff Hatchard wrote a piece where I seem to remember he recommended picking up five pieces per day.  I do way more than that on average, although I tend to focus on recyclables.

When I travel, by comparison I am always amazed at the contrast to DC, the national capital, which to my way of thinking, is particularly dirty.

I argue it is because a lot of people don't take ownership of their community, don't feel a part of it.  Even nice areas of the city, Georgetown excepted maybe, are replete with litter.

While there are various "clean/green" teams for commercial districts in DC, it's hard often to see enough impact.  Plus, I think we need "flying squads" that do a circuit of regular pick ups in areas outside of commercial districts.

For some discussion of litter issues, see:

-- "Every litter bit hurts," 2005
-- "Litter revisited," 2006 -- discusses my coming across Keep Australia Beautiful
-- "Litter : This week is Keep Australia Beautiful Week and Friday is "Butt Free Friday"," 2014. In the comments section, Charlie points out a survey of Torontonians on sustainable behavior, although the most current survey focused on behavior wrt trash in Toronto parks


Keep Australia Beautiful Week has started!
No Images? Click here
KAB Week header

The Litter Rally starts today! Take the pledge to keep Australia beautiful.

Spanning Monday 21 to Sunday 27 of August, Aussies everywhere are uniting to take the pledge.
Hundreds of Aussies are pledging to make a difference for our communities by picking up one piece of litter each day of the week.
Take the pledge to enter the 2017 #LitterRally and spread the word, together we can beat litter!
We won’t stand for litter. Will you?

Join us on social media for #KABWeek and the #LitterRally!


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A brief comment about Confederate monuments

It's hard to disagree with people arguing that such monuments weren't erected to call attention to history as much as they were to sow fear with regard to black-white relations.

But removing all of the "sculptures" from the public space makes it that much harder to provide the greatest possible opportunity for interpretation, reinterpretation, and challenge.


I can see changing the name of streets--e.g., Alexandria, Virginia ("Alexandria wants your help in renaming Jeff Davis Highway," WTOP-Radio) is renaming its segment of Route 1 so that it will no longer be named for Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy.

Richmond, Virginia has chosen to keep the monuments on its prominent boulevard, Monument Avenue, where all but one of the statues and monuments venerate Confederate personages. From the Wikipedia entry:
Monument Avenue is an avenue in Richmond, Virginia with a tree-lined grassy mall dividing the east- and westbound traffic and is punctuated by statues memorializing Virginian Confederate participants of the American Civil War, including Robert E. Lee, J.E.B. Stuart, Jefferson Davis, Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, and Matthew Fontaine Maury. There is also a monument to Arthur Ashe, a Richmond native and international tennis star who was African-American. The first monument, a statue of Robert E. Lee, was erected in 1890. 
But I would argue it is reasonable to consider removing such prominently located statues and sculptures because their position in highly visible and centrally located places of prominence in the public realm framework imply acceptance and veneration more than they do the opportunity to provoke rethinking. 

Certainly, as a historic district, Monument Avenue hasn't been utilized as a place to discuss how statuary and monuments can be used to project a way of thinking and subjugation, based on the description of the district by the National Park Service.

But a piece, "Bring bigger picture of history to Monument Avenue," in the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot argues that Monument Avenue presents such an opportunity:
Monument Avenue should become the place where we see and feel our national shame. The statues along it, many artistically splendid, should be accentuated with extensive historical connotations so that they might provide a justifiable sense of societal advancement. Let them celebrate our significant and, yes, ongoing efforts to reject our past failings.

And add more monuments. Surely some of our nation’s corporations and foundations would step forward to support the building of new, glorious statues recognizing the sacrifices and achievements of those who fought to defeat racism and bigotry.

Imagine a grand marble representation of the Underground Railroad, which guided former slaves to safety and freedom. How about another marking the 10 greatest contributions to sciences, arts, athletics, industry and public service by African Americans since the Civil War? Perhaps another saluting the Tuskegee Airmen?

How about individual statues as well to recognize those who are seldom celebrated? ...
By contrast, moving all of these monuments to museums obscures what they represent.  Sure, they will be viewable and accessible, but will require deliberate action in order to engage with them and the history they represent.  But not having such objects out in the open, an opportunity to confront more directly the nation's negative history is also lost.

This came up in a conversation at Thanksgiving Dinner, shared with our next door neighbors and their family, who hail from South America.  We were talking about US Imperialism and the impact on Latin America, and how they experienced it first hand, which is why they have such a complicated relationship with the US.  But also how the average American knows very little about this.

I explained that it isn't until college--and only certain colleges at that--when the average American has the opportunity to be exposed to alternatives to the typical mythology about the US and its place in the world, especially as a force only for good.

The reality is that as a country, our external relations aren't always "a force for good," and internally as a nation we have many faults too, in race relations, economic opportunity, and politics.  Certainly, an identification and consideration of the power of whiteness isn't something that most people are willing to do nor are they willing to examine their sense of privilege and power that results from it.  People want to maintain their power and prefer to label people who disagree as "the other."

Ironically, the process is comparable to how motor vehicle operators treat other modes as usurpers ("Criminal Bicyclists," "Streets as places versus 'Motordom'," "Societal change (and sustainable transportation)," and "This gets tiresome: an automobile driver insists that automobiles are efficient users of precious road space while transit vehicles are inefficient," and "Bicyclists as the other (continued).")

Of course, my other point about this would be to reinterpret the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in terms of American Imperialism.  I don't think that would go over very well ("Dancing with the one that brung ya and challenging the dominant narrative").

Below is a reprint of a piece from 2014.  (Also see "Slavery museum in/and Richmond," 2013.)

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014
(Public) History/Historic Preservation Tuesday: Museums and Modern Historiography

Last weekend we went to the George Washington Birthplace National Monument, in Westmoreland County, Virginia.

Interestingly, it is a re-created place, not unlike Colonial Williamsburg, and both places share John D. Rockefeller Jr. as a donor.  Rockefeller gave money to the Birthplace a few years before he was enticed to fund the preservation and re-creation of Virginia's original state capital.

It was interesting that the bookshop had a couple of titles that challenged the mythology around George Washington, and the exhibit, while very simple, started off with a section on "myth vs. fact" about George Washington.

The books, Here, George Washington Was Born: Memory, Material Culture, and the Public History of a National Monument and Inventing George Washington: America's Founder, in Myth and Memory, discuss the role of George Washington as an element of nation building and the national "story" and mythology around the founding of the United States of America, and the promotion of patriotism.

Last year, visiting Gettysburg, I was spurred to read a bunch of books about the Civil War, having been first primed a few years before by the Valentine Richmond History Center in Richmond, Virginia, and their exhibit on the historical themes of the city, which pointed out that during the Civil War era, Richmonders--remember that their city was the capital of the Confederacy--voted against entering into war with the Union.

Modern historiography of the Confederacy makes hash of the "Lost Cause" myth.   Even I remember reading one of the chapters of Barrington Moore's Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World in my sophomore year in college, and how "the Civil War was necessary to make over the US as a modern industrial economy."

But that interpretation still hasn't percolated down much within the South more generally.  One example is the City of Petersburg, Virginia and its presentation of various Civil War sites under the control of the city [through its department of museums].

Confederate flag.  Given that a nation's flag is very much a symbol, the ongoing controversy over display of the Confederate flag is another example of the clash between reflexive "patriotism" and an unwillingness to consider all relevant elements of said symbol vs. considered reflection.  How can the flag of the Confederate States of America not be seen as a relic of racism and slavery?

More recently, the Danville Museum of Fine Arts and History has gotten caught up in this controversy.  Danville was the last "capital" of the Confederacy, and the Confederate flag flies on the Museum's grounds.

The Museum's strategic plan calls for presentation of an inclusive history and so the display of the flag is seen as incongruent with their goals and objectives and they requested from the city permission to take it down.  That has touched off great controversy and the local newspaper has a great number of articles about it (e.g., "Museum marches on with upcoming sesquicentennial commemoration," Danville Register-Bee ).

From the article:
The newly adopted strategic plan includes a vision “to be the Dan River Region’s leader for integrated awareness of history, culture and community,” according to a Sept. 30 letter from Board of Directors President Jane Murray to museum members. ...

Burton, in a Sept. 30 letter to the city, asked Danville City Council to remove the flag from outside the building to inside for an upcoming exhibit of the history of Confederate flags. The museum’s board of directors had voted Sept. 25 to make the request as part of its new three-year strategic plan.

The request caused an uproar among Confederate heritage organizations and other supporters of keeping the flag on display outside the museum. The move re-ignited a debate between flag supporters and those who see the flag as a racist reminder of past enslavement of African-Americans.

During an interview Friday, Burton said the Confederate flag exhibit that will be part of the sesquicentennial will go on as planned. People have “politicized the flag,” she said, but the museum’s board is merely trying to be inclusive and welcoming to everyone.
The comment threads are particularly interesting and there have been a number of pro- and con- letters to the editor as well (e.g., "Confederate flag must come down").

Right:  Georgia II by Leo Twiggs.

By contrast, there is an exhibit of paintings by an African-American artist at the Greenville (South Carolina) County Museum of Art ("SC artist sees heritage, hate in Confederate battle flags," Greenville News).

From the article:
Some see heritage. Some see hate.  When artist Leo Twiggs looks at the Confederate battle flag, he sees both of those things — but also a vision for a more harmonious future. 
Twiggs' 11 large depictions of the flag at the Greenville County Art Museum are at once beautiful and tattered, reflecting a shared Southern history of pride and pain. 
"In our state, I think the flag is something that many black people would like to forget and many white people would love to remember," Twiggs said. ... 
Through the repeated image of a torn and tattered flag, Twiggs addresses subtle issues about the shared Southern history of African Americans and whites, and the continued complexity of race relations.
History curriculum not patriotic:  Colorado. While interrogational historical interpretation is accepted in the academic world, it is still controversial in the K-12 educational arena, as witnessed by the recent proposal by a local school board in Colorado to make over the district's AP history curriculum because they didn't believe it is "patriotic" ("Changes in AP history trigger a culture clash in Colorado." Washington Post ).

The Board backed down after widespread protest led by students.  Image from the AP story "Colorado students walk out in protest,"

Of course, the dichotomy between patriotism and "revisionism" or a broader interpretational framework for history and "social studies" is a major thread in national discourse

Personal history.  Speaking of rocking my world, and personal historiography, because of my tragic childhood, I don't have a lot of details about my own ethnicity, although I have some clues, stuff I remembered, which Suzanne decided to follow up.  So while I thought half my heritage was German/Russian, it turns out that I am Polish-Russian/Belorussian on my father's side of the family.

And looking at old records of the family, while I thought always that Hamtramack, Michigan, a Polish enclave surrounded by Detroit, was 100% Catholic, the reality is that the area also attracted, at least for a time, Polish Jewish immigrants also.  Some of my relatives likely lived for a time in the "Poletown" neighborhood in Detroit that was eradicated in the 1980s for a GM manufacturing plant.

On that note, the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews has opened today in Warsaw  ("A new Warsaw museum devoted to Jewish-Polish history," Financial Times). The museum's core galleries address the place of Jews in Poland's history, focusing on integration but acknowledging anti-Semitism, recovering memory that was eradicated finally by the Holocaust.

Crowdsourcing museum curation/the public in public history. The Wall Street Journal has a piece on crowdsourcing art exhibits, "Everybody's an Art Curator," which can be controversial when familiarity can trump artistic evaluation and merit. On the other hand some museums have experienced a significant uptick in visitation, membership, and funding when they increase public engagement through such methods.

In terms of community history, I have had some problems with the "everyone's a historian" focus of some of these kinds of initiatives. I do think that historians need to step in when it is warranted and provide greater context, and acknowledge developments in history at multiple scales (commmunity, metropolitan area, region, state, nation, globe) so that important events aren't lost at the expense of the familiar and popular. See the past blog entry "Thinking about local history."

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Thursday, August 17, 2017

A proposal for a DCResidentCulturePass in DC

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8/18/2017
Two errors in one day. Not good.

John Suau, Executive Director of the Historical Society of Washington points out that I mis-remembered what I read about access to HSW collections being made available at the Newseum, and the Newseum extending free access to HSW members during the period that Newseum is housing the collection.

I wrote:
The HSW collections will be accessible at the Newseum in the interim, and the Newseum is extending free access to its museum to HSW members during that time.
The reality as relayed by Mr. Suau:
Access to the Historical Society is via the Group Entrance on C Street; prior appointment is required for access to the Historical Society on 3M in the Newseum. The Historical Society does not charge a fee for services (we are a private 501(c)(3) that receives only nominal support from the District). This entrance does not allow for free access to the Newseum's exhibits and program.
-- HSW press release on access to collections while the Carnegie Building is closed for construction 

In any case, I am glad I mis-remembered, because it led to a very good idea, and this post. In fact, to build membership, Newseum should consider doing what I thought they were doing.

I have corrected the text below.
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This poster from the 1970s advertised free admissions nights at museums in New York City and was designed by Alan Peckolick, who recently died ("Alan Peckolick, a Leading Logo Designer, Dies at 76," New York Times).

Culture notesThe new Museum of the Bible about to open in DC has announced that admissions fees will be voluntary, in part because by being in DC, they will be competing with the Smithsonian Institution museums and the National Gallery of Art, which are free.

The Historical Society of Washington's "second floor" of the old Carnegie (Library) Building will be closed during the building's first floor conversion to an Apple Store.  The HSW collections will be accessible at the Newseum in the interim, and the Newseum is extending free access to its museum to HSW members during that time, by appointment and through the special group entrance on 5th Street. Access to the HSW collection does not include free access to the Newseum exhibits.

Last month, the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History announced they would be closing its IMAX theater and replacing it with an expanded food service operation.

I write a lot about cultural planning, cultural heritage, and heritage tourism, mostly in the context of Washington, DC and my identification of the gap between serving local audiences and telling the "Cultural resources planning in DC: In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king," 2007) versus being the place where the national story is told and how national power is projected through the various federal cultural institutions ("Dancing with the one that brung ya and challenging the dominant narrative," 2008).

And about arts and culture and urban revitalization ("Arts, culture districts and revitalization," 2009, and "BTMFBA: the best way to ward off artist or retail displacement is to buy the building," 2016).

In keeping with my line that "I might not be a good planner, but I am great at gap analysis," it turns out that this ends up being a good place to discern gaps in cultural planning practice, especially because DC as a local place has ceded the provision and development of what would be a local cultural facilities ecosystem to the federal government, ending up with a situation where the local cultural program and offer is severely stunted.

Although DC is going through a culture master planning process, since they haven't reached out to me, I wonder about how good the plan will be.  That might sound "conceited" but outside of academia, the reality is that few people in the city are considering these issues in quite the same way.

Then again, they have decent consultants, and there is a standard approach to cultural master planning which tends to yield good work, e.g., Boston, Chicago, etc., even if I argue that there are plenty of gaps in the process of creating culture master plans leaving important elements of the cultural ecosystem unexamined, such as with higher education ("Should community culture plans include elements on higher education," 2016), cultural media, and local filmmaking ("Culture planning at the metropolitan scale should include funding for "local" documentary film making," 2016).

Not to mention that even bigger institutions have a problem finding affordable space in DC's expensive real estate ("D.C. museums lamenting the real estate market," Washington Business Journal).

And the closure of the IMAX Theatre reminds me of my point that local cultural plans still need to make recommendations about other cultural institutions, even those that are federally owned, within their communities when circumstances change.

DC's culture plan needs to consider provision of spaces of all types, including theaters.

Categorizing the audience for museums and cultural facilities in Washington.  Technically, we should first distinguish between presenting institutions, or arts as consumption, and arts as production.  Plus visual arts, natural science, and history museums have a different typology than performing arts, especially theatre, but I am not distinguishing between these two categories.  And the list below is not exhaustive.

Arts centers tend to support working artists, arts as community building, and community arts, while arts museums tend to "present" works by name artists, and may be "encyclopedic," presenting arts and artifacts over centuries.  History-related institutions (museums, historic house museums, sites, etc.) generally don't address "contemporary" matters, although there are exceptions.

We can categorize museums/cultural institutions in Washington, DC into four types.

National museums.  The first set are "federal" or nationally-focused and are positioned to tell the "national story of the United States," project national pride, etc.  These include the various Smithsonian Museums, the National Gallery of Art, the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.  The museums are free, but performances at the Kennedy Center are not.

This category should include the National monuments (Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, etc.) on the National Mall, Arlington Cemetery, and the White House, none of which charge admissions, and the Mount Vernon Plantation of George Washington, which does.

These institutions comprise the primary "tourist destinations" that out-of-the-area visitors attend on visits to Washington.

To this category should also be added certain National Parks in the area.

Nationally-focused museums.  The second set is comprised of facilities that aim to draw on the "national" audience, people visiting the city, and are less focused on serving the local community, even if they do so and quite well. 

This category includes the International Spy Museum, the now closed National Museum of Crime and Punishment, the never opened Armenian Genocide Museum of America, Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Newseum, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, and the soon to open Museum of the Bible.  Excepting the forthcoming Bible Museum, all charge admissions.  And charging puts them at a disadvantage compared to the "free museums."

Cultural institutions based here.  A third set is facilities offered by institutions based here, and even if the focus of the facility is not local, the audience tends to be made up of locals.  This includes Constitution Hall (Daughters of the American Revolution), the Anderson House of the Society of Cincinnati, the Phillips Collection, the National Building Museum, the German-American Heritage Museum, Dunbarton Oaks, the Hillwood Estate, Folger Shakespeare Library, etc.  Most of these facilities charge admissions.

(The Building Museum would argue it should be in the second category.  Interestingly, while their exhibits are nationally-focused and their sponsors tend to be national firms and organizations, my sense is that their audience is pretty local, so I have them in this category.)

Locally-focused cultural institutions.  The fourth set is facilities focused on serving the local population/telling the local story/or are a part of local institutions.  The foremost local cultural institutions in most communities are the local library system, the local fine arts museum, and the local history museum. 

DC has a local library system, but it doesn't have a local fine arts museum.  The Historical Society tried to create a "City Museum," but it didn't work out. 

While it is fulsome to take the blame, I kick myself for not putting forward the idea that the now defunct Corcoran Gallery be taken over by the city and made over into the local fine arts museum, while shifting the Corcoran School of Art and Design to the University of the District of Columbia ("Should community culture plans include elements on higher education").  Although I don't think DC had the capacity to rise to the challenge and opportunity.

The someday to reopen Children's Museum is one (even though they want to reposition as a national museum), as are the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington, and the collections of the Historical Society of Washington, Tudor Place, the Katzen Center at American University, Lisner Auditorium, the Textile Museum and the George Washington University Museum (focused on local history), etc.  Many charge for admission, some don't.

Equity admissions initiatives. Years ago, I came across a program by the Walker Art Center which provides free membership for low income families (How Museums Can Become Visitor Centered, p.14, The Wallace Foundation), and even provides transportation to the museum.

Similarly, the Montgomery County Department of Recreation RecAssist Fund provides free access for low income families. 

The Salt Lake City Library system has worked out an arrangement with five local cultural facilities: Discovery Gateway; The Leonardo; Natural History Museum of Utah; Red Butte Garden, and Utah Museum of Fine Arts; to provide the "Community Exploration Pass," where patrons can check out a pass providing free access to the museums for one month.  (There are limited numbers of passes, but passes are available at all seven branches.)

I am sure there are other examples.

This one isn't quite the same as the others, but, courtesy of the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation, residents of New York City can get free admission to the PS1 museum outpost of the Museum of Modern Art, located in Queens, provided they can show id demonstrating their residency. 

Similarly, the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Walters  Museum of Art (Baltimore) have free admission, supported in part I believe by foundations.

And as featured in the museum poster, many museums have one night per week or month when they offer free admission.

CityPass marketing packages are oriented to tourists.  Cities with a large base of tourist visitation tend to have a product called a CityPass, marketed to tourists. 

A CityPass packages a number of attractions into one ticket, at a discount from the list price for individual admission, and can be bought to be used over multiple days.  The San Francisco CityPass includes free transit on the MUNI system--streetcars, cable cars, MUNI Metro, and buses.

In DC, because the primary museums are free, CityPass isn't likely interested in being represented in the market. 

Instead, DestinationDC has created an equivalent product, called the Go Card Explorer Pass.  But since most tourists are primarily interested in the national museums and monuments, it likely isn't a big player in the tourism market, except that it is marketed in association with tourist bus transportation.

Why not a "CityPass" membership package for local residents/How about creating the DCResidentCulturePass.  The relationship between the Newseum and the Historical Society of Washington for the period when access to the HSW archives is on-site at the Newseum gave me an idea.

The cultural institutions that charge admission and focus on serving local audiences (mostly) should create a form of "Resident CityPass" that allows for limited admission privileges at the other institutions, with the aim towards encouraging more visitation and an increased number of memberships.

For example, a pass could include the National Building Museum, the Historical Society, Newseum, Phillips Collection, Tudor Place, Hillwood Estate, and the National Museum of Women in the Arts. 

A relevant example is how Disneyland and Disneyworld offer specially priced membership passes for area residents, although the price keeps rising and the benefits reduced ("Disneyland reintroduces Southern California pass for $459," Orange County Register).

Similarly, many years ago when I applied for a job at a "chain-oriented" concert/theatre facility, I made the point that while on any one night they competed with local institutions like the National Theatre, Arena Stage, the Shakespeare Theatre, and the Kennedy Center for selling tickets, the reality is that these institutions collectively comprise the "Downtown DC Cultural Cluster" and they should share audiences, vis-à-vis cultural institutions located outside of the city center.

The idea of "Resident" isn't limited to DC, but to residents in Metropolitan DC who are members of at least one of the proposed participating institutions.  Of course, any relationship a local library system wanted to develop, comparable to that how the Community Exploration Pass works in Salt Lake is up to them.

Other marketing initiatives as examples: two local; one cross-national; one national. Locally, the Dupont-Kalorama Museums Consortium provides free access the first weekend in June.  The participating museums are Anderson House – Society of the Cincinnati, Dumbarton House, Mary McLeod Bethune Council House, The National Museum of American Jewish Military History, The Phillips Collection, and Woodrow Wilson House.

On the last weekend of June, the Heritage Montgomery (Montgomery County, Maryland) sponsors Heritage Days, which provide open access to museums and sites across the county, with a special focus on events in the Upper County Agriculture Reserve.

Doors Open Events.  Doors Open is a program like that of the DKMC, but extended to the entire city. 

In North America, Toronto and New York City are two of the cities that offer such programs, although the original concept comes from Europe. 

The Toronto event led to the creation of a similar initiative for the entire Province of Ontario, Doors Open Ontario.  Baltimore's Tourism Day is comparable.  New York's version is called Open House New York and is in October.

Smithsonian Magazine's Museum Day Live!.  Nationally, the Smithsonian Magazine sponsors Museum Day Live! where you can get free passes to two museums, chosen from a long list of participating museums.  But usually going to any of the sites is quite a zoo.  This year it's Saturday September 23rd.

DC needs its own Open House/Doors Open event to promote local cultural institutions.  Building on the DMKC Museum Walk the first weekend in June, at a minimum DC needs to create its own Doors Open event to promote local cultural institutions separate from the national institutions, to build local audiences for local culture, and to improve equitable access to cultural institutions on the part of audiences which may be income limited.

Conclusion.  Ideally a DC Doors Open initiative should be paired with a CityResidentCulturePass program.

I wonder if either concept is suggested in the DC Cultural Master Plan draft?

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When brand promises collide: Atlanta Falcons stadium and Chick-Fil-A

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Corrected due to major error.  I mixed up the Braves baseball team stadium and the new stadium for the Atlanta Falcons football team.  This error was pointed out in the comment by Alex B., below.  While the text has changed to reflect the correction, the comment text remains.
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I have "always" had a problem with the concept of branding because I come out of the nonprofit world, where the focus is on "mission and identity." 

But the reality is that branding is merely a tool used to present and market an organization in a very comprehensive way.  Branding is about identity.

Sure, lots of nonprofit organizations don't use branding very well or look to the private sector to lead their efforts, e.g., Smithsonian's now cancelled initiative with Target, but some organizations including government agencies are leaders in using branding to shape the way they organize and deliver services to spark positive changes. 

Some examples include the way that the Salt Lake City Libraries are branded as "City Library," the Idea Store libraries-adult education centers in the Tower Hamlets Borough in London, or how the Department of Transportation in Tempe Arizona is branded as "Tempe in Motion," or TIM.

In DC, the way that the DC Water and Sewer Authority has rebranded as DC Water and the DC Department of Transportation as d. are other examples, although I would argue in both instances, the brand is more about the logo rather than an extension into every element in how the agencies organize to deliver and market their services.

Government agencies have a lot of opportunity to do a better job through what I call "action planning," which is distinguished from more traditional planning processes by employing the design method, including branding and identity systems, and by integrating program delivery (implementation) into the system.
Slide, action planning as systems integration
I have gotten into "arguments" about this on nonprofit boards that I have served on, in terms of ensuring that what we do is congruent with what is supposed to be the identity and "promise" of the organization.

Those arguments are based on my thinking that boards are the "brand managers" of an organization.  I expressed this concept in the commercial district revitalization framework plans for Brunswick, Georgia and Cambridge, Maryland in 2008 and 2009, writing that:
... elected officials need to take their responsibilities as stewards and managers of a community's image very seriously: 
Just as the study team believes that “we are all destination managers now,” elected and appointed officials in particular and in association with other community stakeholders serve as a community’s “brand managers”—whether or not they choose to think of their roles in this manner. 
That means that decision-making on land use and zoning, business issues, infrastructure development (roads, sewers, water, utilities, transit), technology (broadband Internet, etc.) and quality of place factors (arts, culture, historic preservation and heritage, education, public schools and libraries, urban design, etc.) must be consistent and focused on making the right decisions, the decisions that collectively achieve and support the realization of the community’s desired vision and positioning.
Something else I read termed this as making "brand deposits" or "brand withdrawals," how the decisions and actions concerning a brand either make positive contributions and build the brand or the actions are negative and diminish the value of the brand, its reputation, aspirational qualities, etc.

Atlanta.  This comes up in an interesting way in Atlanta with the new Atlanta Falcons football stadium--the Mercedes Benz Stadium--and one of their food vendors, the Chick-Fil-A chicken fast food chain.  Chick-Fil-A is owned by a religious family and ever since the company's founding in the 1940s they have chosen to be closed on Sundays.

Chick-Fil-A has chosen to keep that policy in force in the stadium, even in the face of the reality that most football games are played on Sundays ("Chick-fil-A addresses decision to close Sundays at Mercedes-Benz Stadium," Atlanta Journal-Constitution; "The Falcons' new stadium has a Chick-fil-A, which won't be open for most Falcon games," Chicago Tribune).  That ought to have been a deal breaker in terms of the expectations of the Atlanta Falcons. 

Besides making the point that the business being open during all events should have been an item in the contract between the managers of the stadiums and the "tenants" (similar to the point I make about cities, stadiums and arenas, and access to transportation being an element of the initial contract, not something to bring up later, especially when the government entity usually has little leverage and must rely on the "goodwill" of the counterparty), this is an illustration of the collision of two very different brand promises.

While I respect the choice of Chick-Fil-A to run their business the way they want and there is no question they have been very successful at doing so ("How Chick-fil-A went from cult favorite to fast food behemoth," Eater; "Chick-fil-A Shifts Brand Strategy from Kows to Customer Experiences," Top Right Partners), the Atlanta Falcons should have represented equally their brand promise which means that all food vendors are operational when the stadiums are open, and not entered into a contract with Chick-Fil-A.

Is an opportunity being created for another firm to step in?  But it could be that this is what we might call a "Reese's Pieces" movement. 

In the movie "E.T." the scriptwriters wrote a scene where E.T. is lured by the children placing a trail of "M&M" candies.  But Mars Corporation didn't want to participate. 

Hershey Chocolate stepped in the breach, and the publicity garnered from this product placement made Reese's Pieces--a line extension of the already successful peanut butter cups--equally successful.  M&M's decision ended up creating a viable competitor when one hadn't existed previously ("Did You Know Spielberg Originally Wanted M&Ms for E.T.?," Moviefone).

Why not "force" stadiums to boost local independent businesses rather than chains?  This is a tricky issue because communities funding stadiums and arenas have different objectives than either professional teams or the leagues, which in turn can have different sponsorship arrangements that clash with support of local business.  (Although recently, the Chicago White Sox developed a tiered sponsorship arrangement, carving out a separate "local craft beer sponsor," from national beer sponsorship relationships in association with a change in agreements. See "White Sox split with Miller, ink beer deal with Modelo Especial," Crain's Chicago Business.)

And the reality is that many sports stadiums and arenas, like the Washington Nationals baseball team, are doing a lot in this realm, even if it tends to be more typical that these become licensing arrangements with a master food service contractor.

Food is now recognized as a major element of the game day experience ("Enhancing the Fan Experience in an Ever Changing Industry," Faithful Gould). A report ("Sports and Entertainment Venues: What do Fans Really Want") based on the ongoing Fan Experience Study by Oracle Hospitality ranks food and beverage as the foremost element of attending an sports event.

While Popeye's is associated with New Orleans and KFC with Kentucky, there are great independent fried chicken purveyors in Greater Atlanta that could leverage a "we are open when the stadium is open" marketing approach to build their business -- outside of the stadium and within it, were the team to choose another vendor.

The Eater article "Where to eat fried chicken in Atlanta" lists sixteen exemplary choices.

Sure Chick-Fil-A is considered an iconic Southern food business and is even based in Georgia, but the reality is their fried chicken isn't any better than KFC or Popeyes.

... although it is interesting to see a professional sports team be on the losing end of this kind of battle, rather than local governments, which are more typically the entity that gets the short end of the stick in such negotiations.

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My joke about President Trump

Is that he represents the "id" of a certain segment of wealthy. But I guess it's a lot worse than I thought.

Social Distortion's song, "Don't Drag Me Down," seems particularly apt at the moment, given the President's ardent defense of white supremacists. Although according to some reports, many younger supremacists "self-radicalize" ("'He didn't learn this at home': What do you do if your child sides with Neo-Nazis," Washington Post). For those who are brought up in a hateful environment, sometimes they can change ("The white flight of Derek Black," Washington Post),but it's likely to be pretty rare, as President Trump proves to us.

"Don't Drag Me Down"

Children are taught to hate
Parents just couldn't wait
Some are rich and some are poor
Others will just suffer more
Have you ever been ashamed
And felt society try to keep you down, I begin to watch things change
And see them turn around
Turn around
They'll try to keep you down
Turn around [x2]
Don't drag me down

Ignorance is like a gun in hand
Reach out to the promised land
Your history books are full of lies
Media-blitz gonna dry your eyes
Have you ever been afraid
And felt society try to keep you down, I begin to watch things change
And see them turn around

Turn around
They'll try to keep you down
Turn around [x2]
Don't drag me down

Ignorance is like a gun in hand, reach out to the promised land
Your history books
Are full of lies, media-blitz gonna dry your eyes
You're eighteen
Wanna be a man
Your granddaddy's in
The Klu Klux Klan
Taking two steps foward
And four steps back
Gonna go to the White House
And paint it black

[x2] Turn around
They'll try to keep you down
Turn around [x2]
Don't drag me
Down

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

There should be a "1% for placemaking" program associated with road projects (separate from incorporating sustainable mobility infrastructure)

wave pattern in sidewalk Biscayne Blvd Miami, Ricardo Burle MarxThe wave pattern in the sidewalks of Biscayne Boulevard, Miami by Ricardo Burle Marx, is similar to what he did along Copacabana Beach in Brazil.

Transportation architecture as civic architecture. The basic point is that it shouldn't be that hard to take the extra time and money to make transportation infrastructure simultaneous recognize its responsibility to function as civic architecture in a manner that enhances communities, rather than merely facilitate the movement of people and goods.

The most current discussion of the concept is developed in "Town-city management: we are all asset managers now."

In keeping with my various writings on "transportation infrastructure as an element of civic architecture," there used to be the "Transportation Enhancements" program funded by the US Highway Trust Fund.  But that program was eliminated by the Republican Congress in the passage of the most recent transportation funding act.

An article in Public Roads magazine, "Making the Journey a Destination," discussed this program, which put aside funding for lots of good stuff:
  • Provision of facilities for pedestrians and bicycles
  • Provision of safety and educational activities for pedestrians and bicyclists
  • Acquisition of scenic easements and scenic or historic sites (including historic battlefields)
  • Scenic or historic highway programs (including the provision of tourist and welcome center facilities)
  • Landscaping and other scenic beautification
  • Historic preservation
  • Rehabilitation and operation of historic transportation buildings, structures, or facilities (including historic railroad facilities and canals)
  • Preservation of abandoned railway corridors (including the conversion and use of the corridors for pedestrian or bicycle trails)
  • Inventory, control, and removal of outdoor advertising
  • Archaeological planning and research
  • Environmental mitigation to address water pollution due to highway runoff or reduce vehicle-caused wildlife mortality while maintaining habitat connectivity
  • Establishment of transportation museum
Hive (Bleecker Street) (2012) © Leo Villareal, Bleecker Street/Lafayette Street Station, 6, B, D, F, M lines, MTA New York City Transit.

Percent for art programs.  During the Great Depression, the federal building program instituted a program that put one percent of the total budget for a project into "art and decoration." 

Today, the federal building programs maintains this initiative as "Art in Architecture" at one-half of one percent of a project.  Since the initial federal program, many cities and states have adopted similar programs.

Art funding for transportation projects. Many transit agencies have similar programs (Best Practices for Integrating Art into Capital Projects, booklet and report) American Public Transportation Association) and often public art--murals especially and sculpture--is incorporated into road, streetscape, and bridge projects. But it is more miss than hit when it comes to road projects.

Roadside Landscaping.  Many jurisdictions provide some landscaping for beautification and vegetation management purposes, either at the city, county, or state scale. 

The genesis for many of these programs was in the "parkway" approach to building long distance roads, although this way of building roads was supplanted by the creation of the Interstate Highway system ("Historic Roads in the National Park System," NPS). From the report:
The idea of parkways grew out of 19th century efforts to create beautify cities by creating grand, landscaped boulevards for the purpose of recreational pleasure afforded by walking, riding, driving carriages, and the social interaction that went along with it. Characteristics of these roads included limited-rights-of-way, careful plantings and landscape articulation, exclusion of commercial vehicles, and limited access. Often these boulevards were the approach roads to city parks, or connecting roads between them.
Perhaps in response to the often grim freeway landscape, in 1965 Congress passed the Highway Beautification Act, spearheaded by Lady Bird Johnson ("How the Highway Beautification Act Became a Law," FHWA), although a primary element of that law had to do with billboards.

-- Benefits and Risks of Urban Roadside Landscape, NACTO
-- Use of native vegetation in roadside landscaping: a historical review
-- Synthesis of New Methods for Sustainable Roadside Landscapes

In Providence, Rhode Island, the State DOT doesn't have enough money to repaint a tagged mural.  According to the Providence Journal ("‘I did my best’: David Macaulay saddened, but not surprised, by demise of R.I. highway mural"), an intricate mural based on the drawings of David Macauley and designed as a response to tagging was so damaged by a recent incident that they won't be replacing it, because they haven't maintained the program that first created the mural.  From the article:
Macaulay’s whimsical vision depicted a row of arches with statues of famous Rhode Islanders, including Moses Brown and General Ambrose Burnside, several invented characters and a playful dog who appeared to have knocked down one of the statues while chasing a pigeon.

But quite quickly, the Macaulay mural was tagged with graffiti — and then repaired — the year it was created under the initiative of then-Gov. Lincoln Chafee. The governor’s team had commissioned local artists and raised private donations to pay for several murals along major highways leading into the state. ...

Macaulay’s trompe l’oeil work in Providence was tagged again this winter, and then again in spring, state Department of Transportation spokesman Charles St. Martin explained Monday.

This time, the DOT couldn’t clean up the artwork as it did the last time.

Back then, the DOT still had under contract the agency whose muralists had painted Macaulay’s original design onto the curved wall near the highway, St. Martin said. This time, the graffiti was “pretty extensive over the entire structure,” St. Martin said, and the DOT no longer has a muralist on standby.
That's a programmatic failure, and maybe a lack of money, but rather than be resigned to painting the graffiti over, why not address the need to provide operating funding to maintain murals and other placemaking elements of road projects?

David Macaulay mural, Providence

Tagged David Macaulay mural, Providence

David Macaulay mural painted over, Providence

Why not create a "percent for placemaking" "highway" (transportation) program?  Rather than just focus on public art, although "art" can be interpreted pretty expansively and includes street furnishings, pavement treatments, and other elements, "percent for art" programs should be repositioned as "percent for placemaking" programs, and systematically address treatments that include murals and sculptures, but go beyond it.  Places that don't have such programs should be encouraged to create them.

Basically, eligible projects should include most of what had been part of the former transportation enhancements program, with the addition of public art elements.

Murals on highway pillars, WichitaPeople walk Sunday on a bike path underneath Interstate 135 near freshly painted murals done by the group ICT Army of Artists. (May 1, 2016)Photo: Daniel Salazar The Wichita Eagle.

But it should be done in a systematic fashion, especially with road projects, so elements treated as utilitarian elements like freeway abutments can be made more aesthetically attractive.

Include maintenance as a part of the program.  The incident in Providence indicates that there should be funding set aside not just for creating placemaking elements but also for maintaining them.  The way to do so would be to include funding for maintenance as part of "percent for placemaking" programs.

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Quote of the day: cycling licensure-motor vehicle operator competence

The article reports that based on a survey of people in Greater Toronto, people believed--especially those older than 65--that requiring bicyclists to be licensed would significantly improve road safety.

Andrew Clark of the Toronto Globe & Mail disagrees.  From "Bike licensing fixes traffic problems about as well as mercury cures syphilis":
The best strategy for getting cyclists to obey the rules of the road is to change those rules so they are compatible with how cycling works and to encourage better habits through education (as they have in countries such as the Netherlands). Are there idiots who cycle? Yes, many. They’re an insufferable bike-short-wearing nuisance, but they’re nothing compared with the menace of some motorists.

If we are serious about using licensing to help alleviate road issues, then we should be considering mandatory retesting for drivers. At present, you get your licence and that’s it. As long as you don’t break the law you’re good to go until you’re in your 80s. During those years we can develop a few bad habits. We do rolling stops and get lax with our mirror checks; even the best driver can get rusty. If you selected 100 drivers at random and had them take the driving exam again, a significant number would fail. Why not require drivers to retake their driver’s exam every 10 to 15 years? It would lessen all the sloppy and dangerous driving we see on the roads.
Yes, I agree that the Idaho Stop should be legalized ("Failure to pass the Idaho Stop as an indicator of lack of commitment to DC's Sustainability Plan by DC's elected officials (Updated)").

And I believe that there should be a short mandatory "refresher test" every time we renew our drivers licenses. I think, based on research, the "refresher test" should focus attention on those driving actions we know to be problematic, from dealing with pedestrians and cyclists to distracted driving, what particular signs mean, etc. ("Proposals for bicycle improvements at the state level in Maryland," item #4).

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Monday, August 07, 2017

Waste diversion is better to start from incrementally

The Washington Post reports, "Composting and curbside pickup in Washington's five-year plan," that DC plans to institute curbside yard waste and composting pick up by 2022.

But DC is way behind.  In "A way for DC to begin adding yard waste collection as a separate element of waste collection and reduction programming" and "More on zero waste practice and DC," I discuss a wide variety of initiatives DC could undertake to divert a significant amount of waste from the waste stream, and few seem to be being pursued.

From "Solid waste management update":
Maryland just released the draft of the state's Zero Waste Plan, with aggressive goals for significant diversion and reduction within the waste stream by 2040.  The plan has 56 action steps.   Steps include banning unrecyclable materials, 90% diversion of food waste, and significant take up of recycling in multiunit buildings.
While a goal for a program to launch in five years seemingly isn't particularly ambitious, it's pretty ambitious compared to where the city is at today with solid waste practice:

- people toss into trash a lot of waste that can be diverted from the waste stream
- especially recyclables (cans, bottles, cardboard, paper)
- but also other reusable items (furniture, construction materials, etc.)
- the city isn't diverting yard waste at present, even though the outer city generates a considerable amount of such waste
- there is no real program to promote on-site composting in the outer city, where many households have lots of a large enough size to do so
- diverting recyclables from trash receptacles in the public space is hit or miss, with a lot of recyclables tossed into the trash
- most multiunit buildings do little in the way of recycling and diversion
- most food service establishments could do a lot better job of recycling and capturing food waste for composting
- the city hasn't created new building regulations that could systematically support diversion ("Reformulating building regulations to systematically support sustainability")
- a lot of the trash dumped by individuals at the Fort Totten Waste Transfer Station is divertible, if they were required to sort what they dump

In short, DC is very much behind better practice, let alone best practice, although from a Gerschenkronian perspective (summary of Economic Backwardness in Historical Perspective) there can be advantages in being so far behind. 

Theoretically, it allows you to jump ahead of being behind, to the best of best practice.  But I don't see that happening.

DC's solid waste planning process is constrained.  One problem is that "DC's" solid waste diversion planning is constrained because DPW is primarily concerned with the trash it picks up, mostly from households, not commercial and multiunit residential buildings.  This shapes how it plans.

And serious "reeducation" is required for current programs, let alone new programs.  From the Post article:
Brenda Platt, co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance — a District-based national nonprofit that has pushed for composting programs — said the success of a wide-scale composting program depends on education. She urged the city to establish more programs in schools to teach children the importance of composting, while ensuring residents understand how it helps the environment and how to get involved.
Yes, education is an issue. But it's an issue now, with solid waste practice more generally, let alone for the adoption of significantly new practice.

Interim measures to adopt now.  Important interim measures can be adopted now to get the city to a better place concerning actual diversion of waste, working towards 2022 as more a midpoint on better practice, rather than the start of it.

1.  Institute yard waste diversion in the outer city "now" (something I suggested maybe 10 years ago, but is standard practice in states such as Maryland). I would start by testing it in one ward, like Ward 4, and then rolling it out to other wards as the program is implemented, tested, and refined.

2.  Promote on-site composting in the outer city "now."

Montgomery County promotes yard waste diversion on site as well as through regular pick up. We developed our personal on site composting program based on materials and website based information provided by Montgomery County. Last time I checked, similar information was not available on the dc.gov website.

While the new drop-off program is a good thing (something that was initiated in Manhattan decades ago by the Lower East Side Ecology Center), plenty of households could do this on-site, reducing the demand for government-provided services.

For example, my household has been doing on-site composting since 2009 and over time as I've become even more hardcore, in a typical week we generate less than 2 gallons of "trash" but a full bin of recycling.

3.  Institute city-wide "education" programs to discourage people from tossing recyclables into the trash stream.

This is a major program, partly because when people are given large trash cans, they are less inclined to sort  ("Why don’t Austinites recycle more? The answer might be simple," Austin American-Statesman)

4.  Institute city-wide "education" programs to discourage people from tossing into recycling stuff that isn't recyclable, from dog feces to light bulbs to all kinds of weird s***. 

I did read the city's Solid Waste Study which was released a few months back with the intent to write about it, but it wasn't particularly scintillating.  We can do a lot better, especially on this dimension.

5.  Then add composting pick up pilots, working to add curbside composting to one "center city" ward "now" -- meaning before 2022, to test the viability in the urban core, as well as curbside composting to one "outer city" ward "now", to test the viability there too, all the while massively promoting on-site composting.

6. Create best practice recycling and diversion programs for multiunit residential properties.

Because DPW doesn't pick up from these properties, and in fact generates revenue from such properties as tipping fees, there isn't much going on in terms of solid waste diversion with apartment, condominium, and cooperative properties, especially older properties controlled by regional rather than national firms.

7.  To accomplish this, DC should start out by identifying one multi-property firm to work worth to develop best practice across various types of properties.  As such a program is created and refined, other properties can be added to the program.


Mayfair on the Green condominiums.

Toronto has some significant best practice examples that DC can learn from ("Toronto Green Multiunit Building Challenge"). Toronto's multiunit buildings recycle and compost 27% of their waste, while single family residents divert 65%.

The example of the Mayfair on the Green complex in Scarborough demonstrates that significant improvement is possible ("Best practice multiunit residential zero waste project in Scarborough").

The complex now diverts 85% of their waste, stream, after instituting changes to collection practices accompanied by a heavy and ongoing education and participation campaign.

8.  Require the sortation of divertible "trash" dropped off by individuals at the trash transfer stations.  Nothing prevents DPW from doing this now, as I have testified/written about for some time.

Instituting new programs in 2022, without improving current practice, and testing in the interim isn't likely to significantly improve outcomes.  Unless somehow the city believes that by adding curbside composting all of a sudden those households that are laggard will start not just composting but modifying their currently less sustainable behaviors as it relates to the waste stream, adding new programs will only have some benefit.

Households committed to sustainable practice are primed to do the right thing. 

But the vast majority of households aren't committed to sustainable behavior and therefore have to be educated, incentivized, and or "punished" in order to adopt new sustainable waste diversion practices.

Set real metrics for measurement of success, improvement, and progress for 2018-2022, including:

1. Increasing recycling
2. Reducing the number of recyclable/divertible items tossed in the regular waste stream
3. Bringing yard waste diversion online in the Outer City
4. Reducing the amount of unrecyclable items tossed into recycling bins
5. Participation in urban composting programs (drop off at farmers markets, on-site, curbside)
6. Development of recycling and diversion best practice for multiunit residential buildings

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Friday, August 04, 2017

I don't see much to celebrate in the legacy of Cool Disco Dan

cool disco danCool Disco Dan, Danny Hogg, was a graffiti tagger in DC, very active in the 1980s, and he recently died ("'A folk hero': D.C. street art legend Cool 'Disco' Dan dies at 47," Washington Post).

There is a documentary on him, which ran recently on one of the HDTV channels of ABC7 in Washington.  In honor of his death, the Anacostia Community Museum is showing the documentary later today.
Friday 2pm- 4pm
Joe Pattisal’s 2014 documentary film, The Legend of Cool “Disco” Dan, narrated by DC native, Henry Rollins and featuring testimonials from Marion Barry, Chuck Brown, DC Scorpio, Reverend Walter Fauntroy and other influential voices from the 1980s.
As a person concerned with commercial district revitalization, I am torn about graffiti. Graffiti is seen as a detriment by many in terms of perceptions of community safety.

There is a difference between mere "tagging" and artistic expression/commentary/innovation. Graffiti tagging is different from murals and other similar kinds of public art, although I can let slide some graffiti, if put more on interstitial spaces, it is particularly creative or commentary.

If it isn't anything but a tag/name, how does it contribute to community, rather than an individualist expression that mars the built environment?

See this 2003 Post report, "2 Charged With Graffiti: Md. Men Spray-Painted in Much of D.C., Officials Say," on graffiti damage on H Street NE.

The same issue came up with "the work" of Borf, which was focused on tagging, not political expression, although there was one particular daring example of the tagging of a highway sign on Constitution Avenue ("The Mess That's Hard To Miss," 2007).

I dealt with a similar problem as a Main Street manager in Brookland in 2007, when multiple buildings were tagged similarly, including the former Newton Theater, now landmarked.

Banksy, now that's another story. cf. the documentary on the competition between "Banksy" and "Robbo," called Graffit Wars."
Emailing: banksy3gal
Banksy graffiti painted on the border wall demarcating the West Bank-Israel border.


In fact today there are new reports of Banksy painting again on this wall, showing President Trump's love of walls ("Trump graffiti on West Bank barrier mocks love of walls: Artwork resembles work of elusive artist Banksy; one image has US president wearing a skullcap, vowing to construct ‘a brother’ for the barrier," Times of Israel).

Or the "graffiti crews" that have migrated to large scale public art projects infused by graffiti, e.g., a neighborhood scale mural in Bogota, Colombia.

I don't see much value or anything heroic in the work of Cool Disco Dan from that perspective.

It does remind me of the narrative of "Chopper" in the A.D. 2000/Judge Dredd comic series from the early 1980s, of graffiti being a way to make a mark in an otherwise atomized society.

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Feedspot ranks Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space blog a Top 100 Urban Planning Blog/Website

While my writing production is down significantly compared to earlier times--

(1) I figure a lot of the time I've already written about particular topics and as the Talking Heads sang in the song "Psychokiller," "say something once, why say it again?"

(the crazy thing is sometimes when I am looking up backfile pieces and I come across stuff I have no recollection of writing and I am surprised at how good some of the writing is)

(2) because of that I set a much higher expectation for what I write now, and so each piece typically is much more involved and detailed and takes a lot longer to research and write

(3) meaning I write less and/or have many many unfinished written or outlined pieces

I have been blogging regularly since February 2005 (I started the blog in November 2004 but then I didn't write anything) and have more than 10,000 entries, with thousands of photos--many not my own--and millions of words.

It's always nice to be recognized, which the aggregator Feedspot does, in naming this blog one of the Top 100 Urban Planning blogs and websites.

Since many of the blogs/websites listed are produced by organizations and/or more than one person, it's heady company.

Plus the list is somewhat international, not limited to the United States or the English language.

Being ranked #64 isn't so bad.

Jarrett Walker/Human Transit is ranked #12; Aaron Renn/Urbanophile is ranked #19, and Gordon Price/Price Tags #43.

It's definitely august company!

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National Farmers Market Week, August 6-12 and the food sector

-- Farmers Market Coalition resource page for National Farmers Market Week

According to the USDA press release:
On Friday, Aug. 11, USDA’s flagship Farmers Market in Washington is hosting several special events on the National Mall at 12th Street and Jefferson from 9 a.m.–2 p.m. and adding a special Night Market from 4 p.m.–8 p.m. Special guests include the Farmers Market Coalition, the official chef of the Washington Capitals Robert Wood, and the U.S. Army Band.
Infographic from the Farmers Market Coalition.

Farmers markets.  I have a past blog entry on reasons why communities create farmers markets here, "The reason(s) why a farmers market is created shapes the type and mix of vendors allowed to sell."

The Neighborhood Notes blog in Portland has a good entry on creating successful farmers markets, "Ingredients of a successful farmers market," which references this market study of farmers markets, Portland Farmers Markets/Direct-Market Economic Analysis: Characteristics of Successful Farmers Markets.

Farmers markets as a retail activation device.  One of the disconnects in a city like DC is that farmers markets are used as a way to "get people to come to our commercial district" as an activation (and placemaking) device, with less interest on the overall functioning of "the food system."

In practice it means that DC has "way too many farmers markets" in terms of them all being able to be successful and thrive, especially on the most popular day--Saturday.   For example, on Saturdays within a couple square miles there are four markets at 14th and U Streets NW, 14th and Park Road (Columbia Heights), Petworth at Georgia Avenue and Upshur Street, and at 14th Street and Colorado Avenue.

Contrast this to Baltimore, which has fewer markets, but each one is much bigger, with greater variety, and less expensive food, compared to DC markets.  But you do have to travel farther to get to those markets.  On the other hand, each market tends to be "much better" than the typical DC farmers market.

Similarly, Salt Lake City only has a couple farmers markets (granted the city is half the population of DC), but the Downtown Farmers Market on Saturday has to be one of the best in the United States, in the top 10--and that means, compared to markets in Southern California, Portland, and New York City.  No farmers market in DC functions at that level. 

"Concentration"--just having a couple markets rather than many dozens makes that possible.

I sit on the board of DC's public market, Eastern Market, and I am constantly amazed at all the new competition that the market continually faces, from new supermarkets to new farmers markets--one just opened up in the Capitol Riverfront district on Sundays, and one is likely to open at The Wharf development in Southwest next year.  And EventsDC, which controls the RFK stadium campus, proposes to create a "food hall," there, less than one mile from Eastern Market.

I noticed that FreshFarm Markets moved its Thursday Penn Quarter Market from a closed block of 8th Street NW to the large sidewalk plaza on F Street in front of the Smithsonian Reynolds Center arts museums, becoming much more central and visible.

Food security.  In the past I wrote that "I wish that DC did more focused food security and food market planning and coordination than it does," although now there is a Food Policy Council in DC.  Interestingly to me, I don't think they've ever reached out to DC's public market, Eastern Market.

Toronto's Food Policy Council is a good model for what can be done in this arena, although many other communities have set up similar food policy councils, following the example of Toronto.

Community Foodworks is a DC nonprofit that is active in this area, running a number of farmers markets, a farm, and outreach activities.  They publish "food access" brochures for many of the city's wards, but they don't seem to be available online.

One of the "problems" in food security planning is that oddly enough, some times it doesn't include supermarkets in the planning.

When Aldi, a "hard discount" store, first opened in DC, I found illuminating one of the quotes in an article from the Washington Post, "Grocery store openings boost underserved communities in D.C. region."
"I’ve been praying that they’d bring a store like Aldi’s or Wal-Mart to this neighborhood because that’s where we spend our money,” Davis said. “The stores where consumers spend most of their money is outside of D.C. This is going to improve everything in the neighborhood.”

City officials said having a branch of Aldi, which is known for low prices, will help meet several needs. 
It made me realize that in planning for a community's retail mix, we don't necessarily aim to cover all price points in a retail category, and that facilitating access to lower cost food--including supermarkets not just farmers markets (although in DC, farmers markets tend to offer high priced food, not low priced food, e.g., a couple weeks ago at the Takoma Farmers Market, granted an organic-focused market, one vendor marked pints of raspberries for $10 each)--ought to be a part of retail planning.

Satisfying multiple market segments with one farmers market.  One problem with organic-food oriented farmers markets is that as a rule the items are expensive, and I personally can't stomach "paying that much for food," when I know I can buy nonorganic items for 1/4 the price--although I happily buy specialty organic items that are unique.

You don't see this at most farmers markets, but a few of the vendors at the Takoma Farmers Market on Sundays sell "seconds" produce at a deep discount.  A couple vendors are the deepest, selling their defective tomatoes, cucumbers, stone fruit, and apples for up to 75% off, while the other vendors might discount items by 33% to 50%.

I buy that defective produce knowing that for some recipes "perfect" ingredients are not required, especially tomatoes for making gazpacho and in recipes where the tomatoes are cut up finely, apples and peaches for pies and other sweets, etc.

In the supermarket world, this type of sales and pricing is called "salvage" ("Salvage Grocery Stores: The Next Big Thing In Food Isn't Even New," Modern Farmer).

Separately, there is a trend of more chain supermarkets selling "ugly produce" at a discount to standard produce, both to reduce food waste and to round out their pricing and segment strategies ("'Ugly' fresh produce gets hipper for grocers, but there's one problem -- supply," CNBC).  Technically, "baby carrots" are produced by grinding down "ugly" carrots, as a way to make sellable produce out of what otherwise would be wasted.

More farmers markets, especially the highest-priced ones, should do this.

Markets as opportunities for nexus on environmental issuesThis year, contracting with Compost Cab, DC has set up food scraps/compost drop off programs at a market in each ward, for example in Ward 1, it's the Columbia Heights market on Saturdays, and in Ward 6, it's at Eastern Market.

(Granted it's something I suggested that DC do for many years, but I shouldn't be too critical that it takes 4-8 years for programs to be initiated, should I?)

Maybe the next step could be pizza box composting at farmers markets.  Most people just toss them into recycle bins, but because they are soiled they aren't recyclable ("wish recycled") and if not diverted, make recyclable paper and cardboard less usable.


Nevertheless, millions of pizza boxes are put in recycle bins
North Carolina State University has created a program to capture pizza boxes in a separate process ("Pizza Box Composting Gets College Try: Campus arms race to go green nets creative efforts to deal with the greasy containers," Wall Street Journal) which is easier for them to do compared to individual households because they can focus on dormitory buildings.  From the article:
College students love pizza. They also love recycling.  But their pizza boxes are virtually unrecyclable, thanks to the cheesy, greasy residue left behind on the cardboard bottoms.  What’s a poor school to do?
At North Carolina State University, the answer is the Pizza Box Composting Project—dumpsters placed at eight locations around campus that since early last year have helped turn approximately 16,000 grease-stained boxes into fertilizer.
(Because I hate tearing up pizza boxes for composting, I prefer that we make pizza from scratch.  The problem is that when the urge for pizza arises, we don't usually have fresh pizza dough ready for cooking.  Yes, I used to just toss pizza boxes into recycling, knowing that the firm that processes DC's recycling has a chipper in their facility for pizza boxes, separate from the recycling stream.)

Trends in the food sector

Food Halls are exploding.  Speaking of "retail activation," food halls, which are a variant of public markets but usually focused on prepared foods, with maybe a bit of selling of fresh food, are exploding as the retail sector declines generally and real estate developers and property managers need to absorb space.

-- "How artisan food halls are transforming malls," JLL Real Views
-- The Successful Integration of Food & Beverage Within Retail Real Estate, International Council of Shopping Centers

Home delivery/meal kits.  Affecting farmers markets is the growing demand for home delivery of food, as well as "meal kits," where preparable meals are purchased--usually delivered, but more and more supermarkets are offering them as well.

I realized that meal kits need to be considered not in terms of being more expensive than buying "fresh food," but in terms of being cheaper than restaurant meals.  So the issue isn't that the average meal is double the cost of fresh food, but $5-$8 cheaper than a restaurant meal, and more gourmet than the average home cooked meal.  Plus now Blue Apron is positioning itself as "farm-to-table."

Hard discounting/Lidl and Aldi.  Lidl is a competitor to Aldi, another "hard discounter," in Germany where both are based, and around the world.  Hard discounters offer mostly private branded goods and generally lower costs on produce--20% to 40% cheaper than traditional markets and generally cheaper than Walmart (although they are aiming to be price competitive at locations where they compete).

Aldi has been active in the US market for a couple decades and is currently expanding ("German grocery chain Aldi expands stores," Fortune Magazine), while Lidl has just entered the market and aims to grow fast. Lidl aims to differentiate by being a bit more "upscale" ("German grocer promises high quality, low prices; US supermarkets take notice," CNBC).

By comparison, the Aldi shopping experience can be grim, but people accept it in return for significant savings.  (I buy produce and certain basic goods at Aldi, but over the years have found that most of their private label "more processed" items don't measure up.)

In the UK, Lidl and Aldi have significantly reshaped the supermarket industry there, putting great pressure on those firms. 

While it is reported that Walmart is responding to Lidl I think that the real issue is over time, Lidl especially will put pressure on traditional supermarkets, which have gone through rounds of shrinkage in the face of waves of competition first from Walmart and then from the larger more successful chains, especially Kroger, which operates nationally, but from superior regionally focused chains too, like HEB in Texas, Giant-Eagle in Pennsylvania, Publix in the South, and Meijer, first in Michigan and now expanding.

Amazon-Whole Foods and supermarkets as a real estate product.  This is more about Amazon purchasing a system that can support its Amazon Fresh grocery service than it is fixing Whole Foods and lowering their cost basis, although their cost basis is likely to be improved as a result of being exposed to Amazon's pricing discipline.  Amazon likely doesn't care about expanding Whole Foods.  They don't need to be "nationwide," just present in those areas that have a preponderance of Amazon Prime members, so they can use the stores to support home delivery of food (along with other Amazon products).

It will put more pressure on supermarkets though, which except for weaker companies (e.g., Marsh Supermarkets in Indiana just went out of business, a wholesaler with stores--Strack & Van Til, just went out of business in Illinois, etc.) tends to be one of the strongest segments of today's declining retail property sector.

While these articles are older, they support the point, although there will be a sorting between stronger and weaker strip centers.

-- "Strip Malls turn heads," Realtor Magazine
-- "Most likely to succeed: Strip centers anchored by grocery stores," Real Estate Journal

This article is new, about a shopping center in Bowie, Maryland:

-- "At Hilltop Plaza, Fortified Property Group And Rappaport Find A Neighborhood Stronghold," Bisnow

For example in Southeastern Virginia, Wegmans and Publix have entered the market and this is leading to consolidation and closures of supermarkets by existing companies.

This sorting will impact strip centers as those with the more competitive supermarkets will do better than those with weaker players.

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