Thursday, August 28, 2008

People, please, don't watch CNN!

A probing analysis of why Wolf Blitzer is the single biggest ass-clown on t.v., and why CNN, MSNBC, Fox (obviously), and the networks interfere with knowledge acquisition by obsessing on the absurd conflict-drama of the convention. Been saying it the entire election cycle: CNN is not news. It's something between Sally Jessy Raphael and a gossip circle.

UPDATE: A good tidbit from NPR's media analyst on how t.v. pundits just don't know when to pipe down and what the real reporters are paying attention to.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Ever wonder what NYC learned from the Robert Moses-era?

Gotham Gazette has a good run-down on the city's land-use process and the myriad controversies surrounding it: in short, it's byzantine, political, and highly contentious.

Errol Louis, Daily News columnist (and a former professor of mine at Wagner) convincingly makes the case that the complex process through which the city changes its face is the product of decades of political compromise intended to balance community interests, city-wide interests, and intelligent planning principles--in other words, to offset the vast powers that rested in the hands of Robert Moses for most of the 20th century.

The Gazette describes the issues raised by this process in the context of the changing face of NYC in the post-industrial Bloomberg years.
All of these changes represent the new New York, one that has shifted from industrial and manufacturing to finance and services. To accommodate that shift and the population growth that has occurred with it, the Bloomberg administration has rezoned one sixth of the total land in the five boroughs -- more than the last six administrations combined...

Such impressive numbers, though, conceal a growing unease in many parts of New York. Advocates in some neighborhoods fear the administration is fueling gentrification by giving developers a relatively free hand in working class neighborhoods, while simultaneously protecting more affluent areas from larger-scale development.

Many people in affected communities claim they haven't been a part of the process -- their voices are left out on the policy fringe, teetering on the edge of irrelevance. In response, some planners and politicians hope to boost the community's role in the land use process.
Three major blocs are represented in the land use process: 1) the community, via the Community Board; 2) the "people," via City Council; and 3) the Mayor, via the City Planning Commission. The first group represents the affected neighborhood, the latter two the broader interests of the city. But the process is anything but fluid, and some say anything but democratic. The CB's input is non-binding and reactive by design, and Council's role, Gotham Gazette argues, has largely been that of a rubber stamp.

"Right now, it's from the top down. The administration and the city planning determine the zoning,"the article quotes Councilmember Tony Avella, the city's most prominent community-oriented development advocate, saying. "I want it to be from the bottom up." (Of note: graffiti on Carlton and Dean near Atlantic Yards endorses Avella for mayor.)

But the article presents the important, often overlooked counterpoint to a heavily community-based planning process: "Most experts, including Been of the Furman Center, do not think communities should have veto power -- most agree the city would then have no waste transfer stations or other controversial necessities."

I waded into land use issues in my long Rockaways zoning article published in City Limits. There I found a common story: a community in desperate need of a careful, inclusive planning process felt themselves the object, rather than subject, of the forces changing the face of NYC.

Obama's urban agenda

The Dem. candidate has used the DNC to issue his revised urban agenda, reports the WSJ.
The wide-ranging plan contains bedrock Democratic principles, pledging to increase funding for affordable housing, raise the minimum wage to $9.50 by 2011, triple the income-tax credit tied to that wage and fully fund the federal No Child Left Behind policy for schools.

Centerpieces include creation of a new White House Office of Urban Policy and the restoration of billions of dollars cut from community block grants, a key source of funding for cities.

In a nod to one of the mayors' top priorities, Sen. Obama would open a national bank, seeded with $60 billion over 10 years, to finance road, bridge, airport and other public-works projects in metropolitan areas. The bank would be modeled on the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., with an independent board of directors.

Sen. Obama says his administration would shift urban-policy making to so-called smart-growth strategies that synchronize transportation, commercial and housing needs for entire regions, rather than following the tradition of focusing first on fighting poverty and crime. He would fund $200 million in annual grants to develop "regional clusters," such as the high-technology-focused area known as the Research Triangle in North Carolina.

McCain's plan, such as it is, sees crime as the major impediment to healthy cities and calls for a "surge-type strategy" to clear the path for investment, specifically praising Giuliani. It sounds a bit like Gotham to me.
"You go into neighborhoods, you clamp down, you provide a secure environment for the people that live there, and you make sure that the known criminals are kept under control," he said. "And you provide them with a stable environment and then they cooperate with law enforcement."
For obvious reasons, Obama senses a dominant advantage on the urban policy front - but as Drum Major Institute argues, this is all the more reason to expect and demand more than Obama's earlier, vague commitments to urban funding and growth.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Fallows on the debates

The Atlantic has a great article by the brilliant James Fallows dissecting the primary debates in both political and media and media terms. It's a must read for anyone who watched the debates and was in the least-bit dismayed by the hacky media approach--game show and gotcha questions, absurd hypotheticals, playing the favorites, and process over policy questions.

Atlantic also does a good job integrating video. It's a slick production.

Of particular interest is how Fallows treats Tim Russert, who was one of the worst violators and probably set the trend (especially because he was smart and informed, unlike say Wolf Blitzer).

Let's hope those in the MSM (I'm officially a blogger now ;) reads Fallows' article closely.

Turf wars among 99 cent stores

The NYT reports on how cheap goods bazaars in NYC are adapting to the economic slowdown--by undercutting competitors, selling the crap no one else sells, and classic bait and switch.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The economy is everywhere, man!

We’re in a recession (maybe).

Whatever you call it, people are in a bad way. The causes are complicated. Both everyone and no one is to blame. In any case, the future doesn't look so good.

Reporters are at least are having some fun with it.

We’ve all seen the typical housing article: a financially-shaky homeowner, often black or Latino, gets pulled into a loan they can’t possibly afford by some shady lender who knowingly ensnared the borrower, often leaving a once-hopeful community in ruins.

What started as a housing crisis has become much more. Journalists across the country are heeding the call, documenting the major story of our times in myriad strange ways. Here’s a sampling of some of the more interesting articles that have caught my eyes.

Speaking of eyes—the New York Times reports that rates of corrective eye surgery has gone down because of the economic slowdown. And if you’re still in the market for plastic surgery, apparently now’s the time to avoid the long lines.

The recession will rock you in ways you didn’t know. Better ration your popocorn at the movies next time. Actually, just get used to rice and beans.

Disaster creates opportunity, especially for us entrepreunerial Americans. The new bootleggers have already emerged, with a pandemic of gas-motivated crime and smuggling sweeping the nation. And all those stores in poor neighborhoods and guys whose jobs make them jerks seem to be doing all right for themselves.

We live in a self-conscious, media dominated age. Some of us are already asking: who’s the next Dorothea Lange? And what would Bob Dylan have to say about this mess?

If you’ve come across any bizarre or particularly illuminating economy stories, send ‘em my way. I’ll keep my eyes (uncorrected, sadly) open.