Category Archives: Editorial

Cleveland's Police's Telling Response to Tamir Rice and the DOJ Report

So this is the statement Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams issued in response to a scathing Department of Justice report finding the department is “reckless,” “poorly trained” and “frequently deprives people of their constitutional rights.” I’ll spare you the gory details of this report, if you want more info check this out, but in a nutshell the two-year investigation found that officers, among other things, have been pistol whipping suspects and firing guns in a manner that threatens innocent bystanders.

Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams

In light of all, Chief Williams prerogative is to remind the pubic that “the majority of” their “officers do great police work.” I want to say, for the record, I have absolutely no doubt that that is true. It is also, entirely beside the point.

Let’s say Calvin Williams was the owner of a restaurant. Let’s say a bunch of people ate food from this restaurant and got very sick and that the health department came and wrote a report and found there were “systemic” problems with the restaurant’s policies and employees that led to the problem. Let’s say the report also uncovered other problems — labor violations, vermin in the kitchen, etc. What if restaurant owner Calvin Williams response was, “I want to remind everyone that we served a lot of meals that didn’t make people sick.” Of course that would be true, but when you’re in a position of authority, you don’t get to be congratulated for things working as they should — especially in light of shocking evidence that in some important instances they are not.

This should really be obvious to anyone in a management role, but a few bad apples can spoil the bunch. If a few Cleveland Police Officers are out there pistol whipping people in the face like they think they are Scarface or something, that is naturally going to overshadow the good work being done by the majority. That’s why it’s Chief Williams’ job to make sure that kind of thing doesn’t happen. And he completely and utterly failed at it. Now he is not accepting responsibility the way a real leader should.

This kind of response from all throughout the ranks of Cleveland leadership is almost more disturbing to me than the findings in DOJ report itself, and definitely helps explain how things could have gotten so out of hand.

Additionally, this insistence from police that because their job is risky and difficult, unprofessional, unethical and dangerous conduct should be excused is just not logically defensible. Because police are entrusted with a great deal of authority and latitude, they are under even more obligation than other kinds of workers to behave ethically and professionally at all times.

When you are in charge of an organization that screws up this badly, and the evidence of the screw up is so completely devastating, there is really only one acceptable way to respond: Chief Williams should apologize to the people of Cleveland and admit that he and other leaders have failed in their primary duty of ensuring quality throughout the department’s ranks.

Among those of us who are outraged by what has been uncovered, I think there are very few of us that doubt there are upstanding and hardworking officers throughout the ranks of the Cleveland Police. It’s unfortunate, but it’s axiomatic to employees within any organization, that their reputation is tarnished when others among their ranks behave unprofessionally and unethically.

It’s men like Chief Williams and other superior officers that have let the hardworking and trustworthy officers within CPD’s ranks down, by permitting disgraceful behavior by other officers wearing the same badge. The responsibility for the department’s tarnished image belongs with them, not misperceptions of the public or the media.

–Angie Schmitt

 

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Documenting Pittsburgh's Labor Culture

Worker with United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America flag – Pittsburgh, PA

“There are no saviors, we are our own saviors. We have the capacity to save ourselves. Not individually no, but we have the capacity to band together, work together and understand that in order to create a better world, we need to create a world in where we all live better. If we create a world where only some live better, we haven’t created a better world.” – Mel Packer, Pittsburgh Activist & Community Organizer

When it comes to my work as a social documentary photographer, the image is secondary. Sure, I want my pictures to be clear and dynamic, but I need to fill the frame with interesting subjects in order to accomplish this. That’s why the experience comes first. Without it, I’m merely taking pictures.

Stephen Pellegrino, working class artist & musician – Homestead, PA

I count my involvement within the labor community in Pittsburgh to be a testament to this philosophy. Citizens of Industry, my first long term documentary project on labor culture and worker solidarity, has afforded me the opportunity to meet people that I wouldn’t have otherwise. The first installment of the project, Steel City Solidarity, uses photo documentation, interviews and various forms of multimedia to chronicle the state of labor and worker solidarity in the city of bridges. The current social and political climate of inequality has manifested itself into a complex struggle at the grassroots level; creating a strong base of community activism using alternative methods of cultivating advocacy and awareness. Pittsburgh has one of the strongest histories of unionism and civil involvement in the United States, and allows for an in-depth look at the inner workings of this ever-evolving movement.

Documenting labor culture has been a long tradition in the photographic community. Early photographers such as Otto Hagel, Milton Rogovin and Charles Rivers understood the importance of chronicling the strife of workers; not only as a historical document, but with an eye for artistic composition. Unlike straight journalism, documentary work allows for a more personal storytelling approach.

May Day March for Immigration Reform – Pittsburgh, PA

For the past year and a half, the work has allowed me to examine the industrial landscape of Pittsburgh and become acquainted with those who inhabit it. I’ve explored the roots of the region’s steel history through the ruins of its iron ore plants, and examined the essence of protest and advocacy by participating in area rallies and conversing with community leaders. I have talked with individuals who have lost their jobs by trying to unionize, and have learned about the cultural spirit of labor through the region’s artists and musicians. While these experiences have advanced my project, they have also influenced my own resolve. My confidence in the labor movement is stronger than ever.

With the first installment of Citizens of Industry coming to a close, the project will continue to grow as a multipart examination of worker culture throughout the rust belt region. It is the desire of all artists for their efforts to endure, and it is my hope that the work will not only serve as an educational piece, but as a creative narrative into the heart of the working class. Time will only tell.

– Andy Prisbylla

Visit Citizens of Industry at www.citizensofindustry.org.

Connect with the project on Facebook and Flickr.

Contact the photographer at www.andyp.org.

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Does your community suffer from power pole blight?

I don’t know about your community, but here in Greater Lansing there seems to be an intense love affair between public utilities and power poles. “Holy pincushions, Batman, you’d think they’d all been raised by a family of porcupine.”

In some places, the primary roadway corridors look like a long, linear parade of power pole blight. Sadly, all too often this leaves communities in the region with disjointed and unpleasant streetscape aesthetics to viagra for sale overcome. I know Greater lansing is not alone, as I have seen power pole blight across many parts of the Rust Belt.

Seriously...in the middle of a roundabout?
Seriously…in the middle of a roundabout?

Attempts have been made to convince area utilities to remove portions of the visual blight and bury the power lines, but that is usually greeted with consternation and rebuttals on the costliness of such actions. If the community or property owners wish to pay for burying the lines, they would be glad to oblige. As a result, instead https://twitter.com/drjonesbilly of a modern and efficient electrical grid, numerous locations end up with a cobbled together third-world styled electrical grid that struggles to maintain service during ice, snow, and wind storm events.

One would think that after a certain number of repetitive power outages and emergency repairs to broken, damaged, and fallen power lines, electric utilities would initiate https://twitter.com/drjonesbilly routine burying programs on their own to reduce the number of outages and their firm’s long-term maintenance costs. Throw in discount viagra regular tree trimming efforts and eventually burying power lines doesn’t look so expensive anymore. Apparently the bean counters differ on that assessment.

Years ago, power utilities were often active participants in economic development, community enhancement, redevelopment, and revitalization efforts. It was seen as a way to increase the utility’s customer base. Today, some utilities can be a stubborn impediment to new initiatives and progressive streetscape design ideas. Whether this is a function of the short-term profit mindset or local firms being bought out or merging with multinationals is not entirely clear. Unfortunately, whatever the reason, local communities across the Rust Belt and other parts of the nation are left with paying the price of power pole/line blight with unsightly pincushionesque landscapes dotting the horizon.

No one is advocating for the burying of the entire power line infrastructure. That would be viagra for men impractical. But, in those areas where the power poles have become overbearing and omnipresent, or in places where redevelopment and revitalization efforts are trying to get underway, burying the power lines makes sense. As stakeholders in the community and https://twitter.com/drjonesbilly the Rust Belt generally, it is hoped the region’s utilities will join any and all localized efforts to achieve a more aesthetically pleasant streetscape and overall community vision.

– Rick Brown

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Ten Lessons from Boulder, Colorado

 

View of Boulder from the Flatiron Mountains - photo by author

I had the great pleasure of visiting Boulder, Colorado for the first time over an extended weekend. As an urban planner, I was able to take away many useful lessons for Rust Belt communities from the lovely city abutting the Front Range. Granted, not every place can be set aside majestic mountains, but every community does have unique attributes.

Here are what I would quantify as the top ten. Many of these are remarkably similar to the ten lessons from European industrial cities published earlier this month.

  • Cherish, protect, enhance, and enjoy your natural surroundings, attributes, and amenities.
  • Don’t worry, be active! As one of the healthiest and most active cities in the United States, Boulder residents practice this every day.
  • Active transportation (walking, hiking, cycling, mass transit) is absolutely key to a vibrant, healthy community.
  • Design the city to be human-scaled and pedestrian friendly.
  • There is a place for cars, but not at the forefront (both in the city and on college campuses) – the University of Colorado campus is amazingly compact and is only bisected by a few streets.
  • Skyscrapers and sprawl are not necessary for a healthy community – sprawl, in particular, is the antithesis of a healthy community.
  • Create third places and amenitiesdowntown Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall (a closed street) is an amazing third place filled with people and constant activity.
  • Embrace street art, performers, and vendors – they add life and vibrancy.
  • Preserve and protect your community’s architecture and cultural heritage – they’re the only ones you’ve got!
  • People will pay the necessary premiums (taxes, fees, rent, cost of living, etc.) to live, work, and play in a well-planned, diverse, eccentric, healthy, innovative, and sustainable community.

– Rick Brown

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Filed under architecture, Art, Brain Drain, Economic Development, Editorial, Education, Featured, Good Ideas, Green Jobs, Public Transportation, sprawl, the environment, Urban Planning

Ten Lessons from European Industrial Cities

Dublin - Soure: photorator.com

I’ve had the distinct privilege and honor of visiting the great cities of Dublin, Ireland; Glasgow, Scotland; and Manchester, England over the past four years. All three of these industrial revolution-era urban centers can provide America’s Rust Belt with valuable insights about overcoming past malaise and degradation to chart a new economic paradigm. Here are ten lessons I have learned from visiting them and observing what makes all three so vibrant:

  • Cities can be reborn again and again, as long as they are not abandoned.
  • Discarding and demolishing a city’s physical history or its cultural legacy leave little from which to build a strong foundation for the future.
  • Plan and design every project with pedestrians, cyclists, and transit in mind.
  • Mixed uses are a great catalyst for rejuvenation, especially when residential uses are a part of the equation.
  • Density is imperative, provided it remains at a human scale.
  • Focus precious transportation resources on public transit, particularly modes such as commuter rail and light rail.
  • Government participation is critical – the private and non-profit sectors have a role, but they cannot do it all.
  • Art and cultural vibe – both traditional and trendsetting – are tremendously important.
  • Remain open to bold and possibly contentious new ideas, designs, and/or methods for accomplishing goals.
  • Accentuate the positive, but be sure to also address the negative.

– Rick Brown

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Three dumb things people are saying about the "Opportunity Corridor"

Here’s a handy guide to not putting your foot in your mouth when discussing Cleveland’s “Opportunity Corridor,” a $350 million highway-development scheme that will displace 90 families on the Southeast side. Don’t, under any circumstances, say the following things:

1. “The Forgotten Triangle” …

Can we just stop using this patronizing, culturally biased term? Pretty please? As my friend Akshai pointed out, who exactly “forgot” about these neighborhoods people live in? Was it the people that live in them? Did they forget they live there?

This bs term is being used to make the case for clearing parts of these neighborhoods for a road. (Mansfield Frazier calls this “planned abandonment.”) Would it be so easy to seize people’s homes as agents of the state if we were to call these places by their rightful names, Central or Fairfax, proud neighborhoods with many assets? Of course not! Stop using this term immediately if you don’t want to sound like a jerk.

2. This project is decades old (as if that is a good thing)

When this project was dreamed up, gas cost 98 cents a gallon, Enron was a blue chip stock and everyone thought Full House was a good show. Here’s the thing: we’ve learned a lot since then (or have we?) MAYBE, just maybe, projects dreamed up during an era of different energy and economic realities aren’t appropriate decades later! Go back to start!

3. This project will help transit/support transit oriented development

Excuse me, but … LOLZ! Building a $350 million highway right next to an underused rail line is not doing transit any favors, let’s be honest with ourselves here. Passenger rail and driving are competing modes, they’re not complimentary, in case you’re confused. If we start offering everyone who drives to work daily a $50 prize that won’t help transit and this isn’t all that different.

The idea that this will help support transit oriented development is just as perverse. The thing about transit oriented development, that is a term that is not synonymous with “any development by transit.” The only kind of development a $350 million piece of car infrastructure will support is car-oriented development, not to be confused with transit oriented development, which necessarily requires a REDUCTION in car infrastructure.

Also this project has no transit elements whatsoever. This project is transit oriented development a lot like the widening of 271 is transit oriented development, in that IT IS THE OPPOSITE OF TRANSIT ORIENTED DEVELOPMENT. If it is in fact Opposite Day, however, continue calling this exorbitantly expensive road project transit oriented development.:)

A.S.

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Gaming the Economic Development System

Once again, it appears that “build it and celebrate it” no matter the past sins (or future consequences) reigns supreme among economic developers. While hyping an announcement of more jobs and new construction in Greater Lansing, the fact that the insurance company in question challenged its property taxes using the “functionally obsolete building” scheme in 2010 was conveniently overlooked (see article in City Pulse).

Source: freep.com

If you are not familiar with the “functionally obsolete” tax game that is being employed most often by big box retailers, the claim that is made is their building is “functionally obsolete”  because it was specifically designed and built for their purpose and no other entity could possible adapt it. Needless to say, the whole argument is rather sketchy, but unfortunately, state tax tribunals have been swallowing it hook, line, and sinker. This argument might be plausible or reasonable if the structure was 20+ years old, but it is also being made for newly/recently constructed buildings. The story in the May 8, 2013 edition of City Pulse is an example of the same scheme being used for an office building. Exactly how hard is it to move cubicles, desks, and partitions?

The professional planning community needs to address this issue and fast. If a building is to become so dysfunctional (or functionally obsolete) so quickly, should it be approving for construction in the first place? And if it means the local property taxes are going to soon take a backhanded hit in the process, even more reason to deny the project unless the applicant certifies the building will be erected In an manner that is not dysfunctional (a.k.a. functionally obsolete).

Most special use (or conditional use) permit approvals require a community to determine whether the use “will not be detrimental to the economic welfare of neighboring properties or the surrounding community.” If the proposed building is to become “functionally obsolete” within ten years, no realistic or reasonable decision maker should approve its construction. Otherwise, all they are doing is losing badly at a zero sum game.

– Rick Brown

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