I’m going to give some attention to the public FB post of a long-time family friend, an African-American IT professional and pastor from the Baltimore suburbs between western city line and Patapsco river that have been my home territory (though not always where I’ve lived) for the better part of three decades. He posts publicly there, we can pretty safely say, not because he’s inattentive to information privacy matters, say, or is just an indiscreet person, but because he means to present an open testimony of fidelity — the fidelity he understands to be our due to God and wants to urge those under his pastoral care to follow his example in, as also conversely God’s primary fidelity toward the people of God, the ground of this man’s declared confidence in doing the thing he sees to be right even when it’s a very painful thing to do.
What I know for sure is this: as much as he’s willing to work and as earnest as he is about getting straight, Will most likely will never get his GED, never get a full-time job that pays him enough to do any more than live from week to week, and, never get free of the drugs that are all but foisted on him from all sides — from family, friends, and just about anybody he meets on the street.
The problem isn’t in Will, it’s in everything that surrounds him. As much as I dislike David Simon’s The Wire — because it’s so pessimistic — I have to grant that Simon has this much right: drugs aren’t going away. Ever.
I don’t share Tanner’s confidence about the pure exteriority of the problem this young man faces — or about practical benefits to be gained from the sweeping complex of government-administered socioeconomic measures his list of things we all ought to be able to agree on could be expected to call forth. But Tanner’s managed a direct personal & economic connection to the harshest of social realities in this part of the western world, and that puts him in a position to talk which most of the people who’d dismiss his understanding as tired leftism are far from enjoying. I’d rather know what a guy like Tanner thinks is going on, concretely, than hear many a guy to whose conclusions about healthy political and social order my own thinking perhaps comes closer. And I’d rather be a guy like Tanner, in the end.
After years as a guitarist, editor and activist, I began writing about jazz in 1999. Since then my taste in music has grown steadily more radical, my politics the reverse. I believe this is largely a coincidence, though I still wonder if something lies behind it. As a Nader-for-President volunteer in the mid ’90s I was invested primarily in the bebop and postbop tradition, commonly grouped under the heading “mainstream jazz.” Today that is still my home, although I’ve come to understand and love sounds that are far more extreme, that even some jazz players wouldn’t consider music. In part, I hear this work as refreshingly apart from the hypercapitalist, commoditized, fluff-obsessed world around it. And yet even as a staunch liberal and social democrat, I’m increasingly turned off by what Ian McEwan has called the ”cloying self-regard“ of today’s antiwar street-protest left, the very place on the political spectrum where adventurous, experimental musicians and fans tend to gather.
Daniel Fischlin of the University of Guelph has written of “sound as dissident practice, commentary, critique.” His colleague Ajay Heble, writing in support of the jazz avant-garde, has suggested that “the ‘return to the tonic’ structure of diatonic music [i.e., mainstream jazz] is … an ideological convention, a way of reinforcing the status quo.” But artists’ intentions are too varied, the experience of listening too subjective, for Heble’s paradigm to be airtight. And much of modern jazz falls between the poles of consonance and dissonance, “inside” and “outside.” As Heble admits, “… the connections between dissonant musics and oppositional politics are not always readily sustainable.”
I do take seriously Robin Balliger’s claim that “music and representations of music are contextualized activities that have social and political meaning.” But this shouldn’t close off the idea of music as a sphere unto itself. I have to laugh when Fischlin conjures “a nightmare world in which sound is pure and essential, divorced from its social and political contexts, meaningful in its abstract and metaphysical potential but irrelevant in what it has to say to the here and now of daily life.” Of all the actual nightmares transpiring on the planet, Fischlin’s scenario seems rather mild, even attractive.
In fact, social systems that demand art be “relevant” are precisely the ones that have ushered in nightmares. Cornelius Cardew, the British classical composer (1936-1981), denounced his mentors and flushed his talent in order to spread the gospel of Mao Zedong: “There is no such thing as Art for Art’s sake, art that stands above classes, art that is detached from or independent of politics.” Even if one agrees, it’s quite a leap to conclude, as Mao and Cardew did, that the vanguard party has the right and the duty to declare war on individual expression.
“It’s the first time the state has ever done anything like this,” said Richard Josephson, director of planning services. State planners have had the legal authority to draw up a statewide development plan since the 1970s, he said, but have never acted on it. Now, though, amid signs that Maryland’s Smart Growth laws and policies haven’t slowed the spread of suburbia over the past 12 years, state officials are dusting off that unused planning tool. “If we continue [developing] at the rate we’re going, we’ll use up 560,000 acres in the next 20 years,” Josephson said. That’s nearly equal to all the land in Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties combined, he noted, calling it “staggering to think about.”
The demographic profile of suburbanites today deviates significantly from the stereotypical imagery in the popular media of affluent dual-parent households — driving child-filled minivans through predominantly white, often gated, neighborhoods. Furthermore, recent historical scholarship is bringing to light the ways in which socioeconomic, ethnic, and racial diversity have always been characteristic of suburban settings, despite generations of commentators who assumed otherwise. Historian Becky Nicolaides points out how the scathing mid-century critiques of Jane Jacobs, Lewis Mumford, and William Whyte created “a recognizable cultural icon that lives on even in the popular culture of our own day.” She cites the “hellish ’burbs” depicted in recent films like American Beauty and the popular television series Desperate Housewives. Despite these persistent stereotypes and critiques, a close look will reveal that there is a great deal of demographic diversity within suburbs and, with retrofitting, increasing diversity in physical patterns as well.
. . . Kevin Kruse and Thomas Sugrue, editors of a 2006 anthology entitled The New Suburban History, set out to “challenge an older scholarship that looks at the history of suburbs largely internally and, instead, examine the ideological, political, and economic issues that bound city and suburb together in the postwar world.” Essays in the book pay special attention to the lesser-known histories of blue-collar, African American, Latino, and Asian suburbanites and consider how contentious political debates over such issues as taxation, school busing, and immigration have played out in suburban contexts.
. . . It is hardly coincidental that suburbia’s history is being revised at the same time that its physical fabric is getting retrofitted. Major changes are afoot and these new histories help urban designers working in suburbia appreciate the rich, layered complexity of these places.
From Retrofitting Suburbia, which I finally got a copy of recently, and which I’m not getting enough time to read.
I’ve come to see that in all of our identity, we have two different parts of ourselves. We have a consumer self and a citizen self. And that consumer self is spoken to and validated and nurtured from day one, so that muscle is really well developed. We all know how to be consumers; we know how to get online right now and get any product from anywhere in the world delivered to our door. And one of the things about familiarity is it can lull us into staying there. So we stay in this consumer realm.
Meanwhile, the citizen part of our self, our citizen muscle, has atrophied. I really see this when I show The Story of Stuff at public events. Somebody will almost always raise their hand and say, “What can I buy differently to solve this problem?” And I tell them, You know what? You can’t. Because the solutions that we need are not for sale. Even at Whole Foods.
It’s no waste of words to say again that this is a most remarkable moment in American history. I’m very grateful to be here to see it.
My prayer is that President Obama is right, that something in us as a country really is ready to enter a ‘new era’ — not of rest & dubious reward but of responsibility.
Coletta In this economic downturn, several U.S. cities have already asked the federal government for their own bailouts. What’s your opinion on that?
Murray Uh I sort of share the perspective of my friend John Norquist, the former mayor of Milwaukee, who, uh, makes the point that — what cities don’t need is greater dependence on federal revenues in Canada and the United States. What cities do need is to really vacate tax room, and allow municipalities to have a more diverse range of revenue sources. Especially ones that aren’t as economically destructive as property taxes, which — property taxes is, is the sole source of revenue for most cities, the real huge disincentive to quality development. Every time you improve your building, even if it’s to green your building, make it more energy efficient, you’re getting hit with, with a penalizing tax. So property taxes are, are quite a brown form of taxation, ‘specially cause they, they really don’t tax land, they really are essentially a tax on buildings and the built environment. They don’t grow with the economy — cities are very smart about intensification, transit, walkable neighborhoods; property taxes don’t reward cities for smart investments, they don’t grow with the economy. So — we don’t have a good mechanism, what we do is we, we leave the burden of responsibility for fixing cities on the rate-payers and on the municipal treasury, and when they do get it right, they don’t get the revenue back that they need to sustain that level of investment, whether it’s in transit or, uh, transportation, uh, infrastructure or policing. In Canada, the system is so perverse that — you know, I, I own a business in downtown Toronto; we pay three hundred percent more property taxes based on the assessment system, and we’re near a rapid transit line, than we would if we were a business out in a commercial or industrial park, far away from transit, and greenfield development that was energy intensive and forced all of our employees to take cars and use a lot of infrastructure, rather than fairly low environmental uh footprint that we have being in a heritage building in a very dense part of town. So, the multiplier factors for taxing the kind of development that most official plans and most sustainability strategies say we want more of, we tax several times the rate in Canada, and we heavily subsidize low density, high energy-use, poor quality developments in greenfields. And, until we get that right, the tax guy or the city assessor are gonna drive the urban agenda, not the people who are doing sustainable regional planning.
A Jan. 1 op-ed in The Sun: thoughts upon the anti-sprawl agenda, going into 2009. This time we really really mean it, right?
A decade after the initiative began, what works and what doesn’t? What hasn’t worked, according to the Maryland Department of Planning, are efforts to reduce sprawl development. By contrast, the essential finding of a study presented at the 2007 conference of the National Center for Smart Growth is that state programs targeted to support existing communities and downtown revitalization promote more development and private investment in these areas, where the state wants new growth and development to occur. The list of successful downtown communities in Maryland is extensive and growing. . . .
Let us suggest an alternative to top-down oversight over local planning and zoning. This alternative approach is not so driven by artificial statistics — such as land “consumption” numbers or statewide goals for land preservation — that have no real relationship to how people live. It is driven by the goal of making existing communities more attractive places to live, work and play.
Hm. Three easy-to-understand components, eh? Do go on . . . .
Conscience would not allow me to vote for him, but I feel a swell of gratitude with the outcome of this election, even so. It’s a great day to be an American. We need to pray that the Obama presidency, too, is a great presidency.