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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Kansas City Citadel Project

UPDATE: Here is a link to a second post by Midtown Miscreant and the comments. Apparently they are very threatened by my comments and took it personal by trashing me as well as message. An old strategy - if you can't win on the message, shoot the messenger. I stand by my opinions and comments.

The Kansas City blog-world is buzzing about today's City Council consideration of funding for the Citadel Plaza retail development project. I don't know what the current plans look like, but I saw an iteration a year ago. It had failure written all over it. I know a thing or two about urban commercial development and know that if you don't build it for the right retail mix and pre-lease, no one will come and you will have a vacant bombshell on your hands.

The Citadel project is at 63rd and Prospect next to a busy highway where people would have to exit to shop, then get back on the highway. It is near a large hospital and medical center. It also is technically on the poor and minority side of town (though within a mile of affluent whites). Many ill-informed people think that Troost is still the official racial dividing line. It is more likely Paseo and perhaps, US 71/Watkins Highway. I put together this short demo to talk about retail trade strategy and a trade analysis of the area (which I am sure is having no bearing on the public sector decision making).

What really fries me is that commenters on the blogs are very self assured that this is a bad development deal because:
1. who in their right mind would shop in this neighborhood because it is has poor people and crime
2. why would white people shop in a black neighborhood?

Check out this post and comment thread (I have a couple of comments posted) at Midtown Miscreant who, for some reason, is seen as some kind of authority on this subject.
Midtown Miscreant
The ever popular TKC also has been running some great investigative posts on this subject, but this one brings out the best in the commenters.
Tony's Kansas City

Everyone who weighs in on this issue is very sure that this project will fail for reasons 1 and 2 above. No one is talking about any Economic Development analysis or retail strategy - which is of course what you need to be considering.

I am so tired of white people and middle class people making their pronouncements about poor people and minority neighborhoods. Most of them are so scared of these areas, they never go there. So their pronouncements are nothing more than their own fears as fact. Having lived much farther east in KC than this particular location, I feel I can say with some assurity - they are all full of crap. Yes, there is crime. Yes, there is poverty. Is the area as safe as the most affluent neighorhoods? Yes and probably safer. Crime in these neighborhoods is not random burglaries but often violence directed at specific people and activities. Read my most recent posts. DeShawn didn't get killed on the street. He got killed in a basement, where, if he had walked away from the situation, would not have died there.

People who don't live in these neighborhoods assume that they would be shot on sight, carjacked, and mugged if caught on the street. Anything is possible, but is it highly unlikely. You are as likely to be carjacked at the Oaks mall or have your purse snatched as you are on the eastside of KC. You are as likely to see a gun chase down Brookside Blvd. as you are down Prospect (and yes, both have happened in the last 2 years). It is these engrained perceptions and assumptions of truth that stymie investment in the urban core in KC, in Camden, and most other places. Bankers, commercial brokers, and others who "know" by looking at the same stats they look at for the suburbs, make decisions every day that reinforce their ignorance at the expense of the people who are trying to live in these neighborhoods.

I suggested on MM's blog post that if an IKEA were put in at the Citadel, it would be a rousing success, because despite what everyone "knows" about the area, the draw of an IKEA would outweigh their fears. Comments after mine amply demonstrate that. So if you want to ensure success for your shopping center, maybe Sweedish furniture is the way to go.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Guns part II


We get jaded by all the news that flies in our faces. Revolution in Iran and a young girl dies in front of us on YouTube. Another shooting in the ‘hood and a young man lies dead or is the shooter. Gun violence breaks out in a poor urban neighborhood and a child is killed in the crossfire. But this is personal. This is real. This is one of my kids. And now he is no longer here. How can this be?

I vacillate between disbelief, sorrow, and anger. My anger is the most productive emotion. I can try to channel my grief into an outpouring of anger that can be directed towards some cause. I have proclaimed that I am dedicating myself to the cause of changing the acceptance of the gun culture. I could adopt the cause of rallying against gun violence, but that is redundant. Guns can only be violent since that is their purpose. “Gun violence” is just a politically correct way of saying get rid of guns, as if to say “I accede to the right to bear arms, but am against the violence.” Bullshit. The attractiveness and appeal of guns has got to go.

Glorifying guns as an urban accessory is what I am against. I was in a park this evening and a little kid was climbing on the slides and jungle gym. He pulled out a gun – a toy one. It looked somewhat real. He brandished it with bravado. That is the gun culture we have to change. That is the glorification of guns that makes them irresistible to kids, teens, and young adults who feel the need to possess them and even use them. This little kid saw “play” in having a toy gun to pull on me. He showed me his swag’a. Who would buy a toy gun for a child? My mom did. She had a very cute picture of me as a little kid with a holster around my waist and my six-guns pulled. I had a cowboy hat on too. Bam-blam-whooosh. I got you and then I blow the smoke from the barrel of my gun. This is no longer acceptable behavior by adults to model for kids.

This is the face I won’t be seeing any more. He died because we couldn’t help him say no to guns.

Instead, we model to our children and to each other that guns are a necessity to protect our selves, our turf, our respect, and our property, even if we are under no real threat of attack. We model that guns are exciting and scintillating bringing an aura of danger to the situation. Damn right they’re dangerous. How is that exciting or appealing? We model that guns are an urban accessory, whether you are a sports figure, a movie star, a rapper, or a pimp – you need a gun. If you don’t carry it, you have someone carry it for you in the form of a security detail. Yeah, don’t mess with me, cuz I got heat. It’s cool and a sign of status if you are holding or are near large caliber weapons. We fail our kids every time those images are reinforced, because it says to them – guns are cool and necessary.

Friday, June 19, 2009

A bullet found one of our gentlemen

You could fuck around get shot die any day
Niggas die every day, all over bullshit, dope, money
Dice game, ordinary hood shit
Could this be cuz of hip hop music?
Or did the ones with the good sense not use it?
from: T.I., Dead and Gone

I learned yesterday afternoon that one of our Ivanhoe gentleman died from a gunshot wound. But unlike the street violence that is expected to snuff out the life of urban black men, DeShawn died in his basement when he and his friend were fooling around with a gun and it went off. No doubt he will be ridiculed in death for not dieing on the street.

I was devastated at the news. This is a kid that ate and slept at our house. I took him to school when he missed the bus. I took him to his community service on Saturday mornings so he could put his troubles behind him. He was a hustler for sure, but that's how you survive. He also worked hard at school and appreciated his friends when we had his back. When told of his tragic death, I refused to believe it. This could not be true. As the details kept coming across the line and into my ear, my mind could not keep up. This is a young person. This is not supposed to happen. I intervened in his life. Wasn't that supposed to protect him?

Ah, the fallacy of my white privilege came on full display. I, me, the privildged one, had cared about and been in the life of this young man. Ergo, he should be safe. Sadly, life in my neighborhood goes on and all my care and concern for this young gentleman and all the others I care about, will not protect them. It may help them make better choices and keep them out of some harm. But stray bullets are inanimate objects. Physics demands that once a bullet leaves the chamber, it moves until stopped by a mass. In this case, the mass was DeShawn - mass with a name, a twinkle in his eye, love in his heart, an expectation of his future - now as inanimate as the bullet that killed him.

I was getting on an airplane when the news came to me. I managed to get on the plane and then lost it. i was outraged and devastated. How, why, did this happen to our DeShawn. But as T.I. says so eloquently - it happens every day. Yesterday it happened to someone I know. Then I thought about how stupid could DeShawn be to fool around with a gun! What was he thinking? He died for nothing - not for dope, not for turf, not for himself. He just died.

But i won't let that be the end of the story. I don't want this to happen to anyone else. I didn't want this to happen to me - to have to get the news that one of my boys perished. I want to end the gun culture. I couldn't care less if guns are banned, registered, restricted. Let the NRA and the ACLU fight that out. What I want to do is end the culture that glorifies this weapon as some kind of accessory, as some kind of mystical item that has cache, that says it is cool to brandish a gun and that it gives you swag'a. I will not stand for DeShawn's death to be nothing more than dieing at the hands of glamour, dead because of the adulation given to this inanimate object, dead because he and his friend were mesmerized by the power in their hands and the rite of passage it portended if they possessed and carried it. DUMB ASS - WHAT WERE YOU THINKING????

I think I know what he was thinking and he was caught up in the gun culture. He was not plotting a stick up. He was not thinking, hey I need protection from a real threat. This was a symbol, an accessory, a statement of arrival. He wasn't earning his stripes in the street, he was just caught betwixt and between the street life he came in contact with every day and the other life his grandma, we, his teachers, and others were trying to show him. T.I. glorifies the life as a necessity - gotta protect whats yours. Put your hands on me and I gotta respond. DeShawn was not in that life, but he was on the fringes. So why not fall under the spell of the gun and see yourself ready if trouble comes. Trouble was all around him and he danced on the edge, flirting with disaster now and again. But the gun is a glorified object - casting an aura of invincibility, demonstrating life on the edge, and acting as a prop to secure your stature. Nobody will mess with me if I flash the steel.

Reminds me of a Buggs Bunny cartoon. Buggs and Elmer Fudd are going at each other and one picks up a stick, the other a small gun, then the other one comes back with a bigger gun, until finally, one of them rolls in a cannon. And of course it is all done at a high speed with compelling crazy music in the Loony Tunes style. It is hillarious. But it also speaks volumes about where a gun takes you. Hey, I flash mine and I am safe. Ha! Until the next guy flashes his Glock, and the next his auto weapon, and so on. There is no safety. But I will respect the need and right of those who feel they must carry a weapon for protection. But I contend it is a false assumption on their part that is born of the gun culture.

What I can no longer tollerate is the assumption that a gun is cool, is an accessory, makes a fashion statement, or is de rigour in the hip-hop world. THAT is the thinking that got DeShawn killed. It is the first step on thinking that sets you up to believe you are some kind of superhero, that you can dominate, that you can hustle and take, that you have status and position. That a gun will get you what you want. That's how the violence becomes contagious. But it starts with the gun culture. No more. Not on my watch.

I have to go bury my gentleman friend. I join the legions of family members and friends that have seen their young men and women become the physical mass that was the end of the physics chain that starts with a bullet in the chamber. I know there are hundreds of community groups around the country, maybe thousands, that say "stop the violence" "cash for guns" "outlaw guns" "alternatives to violence" "take back our streets" "night out against crime." There is a young man running for city council in NYC, Landon Dais, who is passionate about ending street violence where teenagers regularly get gunned down and die in the street. He has called for a vigil on Father's Day evening to commemorate a 15 year old who died. But they all are missing the larger point. It starts with the glorification of a gun culture. Their protests turn the victims into martyrs and their anger elevates the distinction between those who carry and those who don't . The dispassionate response from the street is "hey, these are the streets, and this is what you get - so carry or else."

We need to transform our conversation about guns and carrying and dying and the angst. I am prepared to be very dispassionate - because a gun is an inanimate object where I will not place my emotional investment. Until others understand that it is just an object of destruction that has no other purpose, we will continue this charade of glorification and status for guns. i don't want to outlaw guns, I want to make them inconsequential to our lives. So that when the next DeShawn sees one, he won't pick it up, won't become the mass that stops the bullet when it leaves the chamber.

RIP my lovely young gentleman.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

What to do with Camden's Northgate I?

So the CP has another story of political bluster on "fixing" Northgate I. I think the building should be demolished and stop putting bandaids on it. The city does not take care of the street in front of the building. It is in an awful location next to the toll booths (noise, polluted air), and then we wonder why people trash the place. Duh.

What are your suggestions for this building? Mold, bugs, rats, not well constructed to begin with. Can't just fix the plumbing and put bug bombs in apartments to get this thing straight. I think it is Camden's version of pruitt-igoe, the infamous St. Louis public housing hi-rise that was blasted years ago and became the poster child for other cities to do the same. We have so many abandoned units in Camden that could be rehabbed and in fact - done so with GREEN REHAB! Imagine - Camden becoming the green rehab center and all the Northgate people could be relocated. I vote to use our Camden stimulus money for this type of project.

People - Camden has got to get it together and get going!!!

See this link for example of affordable green rehab!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Worldchanging: Bright Green: Green Jobs Sector "Poised for Explosive Growth," Study Says

Worldchanging: Bright Green: Green Jobs Sector "Poised for Explosive Growth,"Study Says

Shared via AddThis

So how will Camden get on this big "green" gravy train? Who is pushing for economic development via stimulus funding in our city? We have people for labor, land for development, location for access; all we need is for the city and its partners to move on this opportunity.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Character Tango - Cooper's Poynt Elem.

Kids in our local Camden elementary school sing about their character. This is the good future of our community. It won't appear on the 6 o'clock news, it won't be profiled in the newspaper. But this activity deserves our attention every bit as much as the bleed and lead headlines that continue to demonize our city. These kids worked hard for weeks to put on a band, string, and choral show. Put some faith in what our future can be and support it. I'm a Big Sister at this school and you can volunteer in many ways to support our Camden kids. I'll post options and your suggestions for nonprofits and school volunteer opportunities. They deserve our time and attention. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Racism, Entertainment District, beware Philly - you are next

Let me pass on a bit of advice to my new Philly neighbors who are contemplating having a Cordish entertainment district built by the sports stadiums. It is the same advice people in KC got from their friends in Louisville who had the experience before KC did. Don't do it!

The Louisville Live and KC Live districts have both had the same fallout - Cordish demands a dress code that explicitly denies popular clothing worn by young African-American men. Period. In KC the Power and Light District (named after a local historic building)is now known as the Power and White District. No joke.

Last night, DJ Jazzy Jeff was performing at the P&L outdoor stage. 15 minutes after taking the stage he stopped the show and left. The KC blogs are buzzing that he was asked to leave because he played hip-hop music that was not appropriate for the "family oriented" P&L District. This is an over 21 entertainment area and this is DJJJ - a hip-hop legend. What did you think he would spin? Others are saying his mix was too hot and the sound system couldn't handle it. When he "refused" to turn it down, the management said he was out. Others are saying DJ got pissed and walked out.

You can read his twitter account of the event at @djjazzyjeff215 or read the dozens (and growing) other viral accounts of the situation. There is a boycott P&L district hashtag #boycottKCPL

The entertainment district was built with significant city tax funding and subsidies (tax increment financing backed by the city, not just the venue revenues) and Cordish has a rep already. No white T-shirts are allowed, no backward baseball caps, no sports jerseys (though plenty of whites are seen with sports jerseys and sports t-shirts), no saggy pants. I get that the investors want to keep some kind of standard so the white suburban folks don't get scared when the urban youth take over. I get that the privatization of city space is about making a safe zone for tourists where they feel comfortable away from the "mean urban streets." I get that the city feels they need to placate these investors so the city gets on the map with one of these entertainment districts. I've been studying this topic for my entire career (I'm a professor, get over it). What is going on in KC is an unjust use of tax dollars, in a city that harbors a history of extreme racial bigotry, where the city can't provide ANY entertainment space for young people of color. In the Eastside of KC - where there is a 95% minority (AA and Latino) population - there are no malls, no indoor movie theaters, no teen clubs, very few sit down restaurants where anyone can hang out, and then the city uses its tax dollars in this fashion.

Wake up Philly. You are next on this parade of racial bigotry when Cordish comes to town.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Police in Camden

Article in today's CP about protesters Thursday afternoon who called out the State Police that patrol in Camden for their brutal tactics. I have no idea whether the protesters have a legitimate beef or not. I have no idea if the State Police in Camden who patrol with the Camden PD are brutal or not. I don't generally see much police activity in my little corner of the city. But the validity of the protests is not the focus of my concern today.

I read 7 full pages of comments on this article - 64 posts when I read them. All but one or two were filled with judgment and spewed hate towards Camden, the protesters, the slanted anti-cop article author, and on and on. I'm betting that 99% of these comment writers, if not 100%, don't live in Camden and base their remarks on their own biased views that are inextricably linked to racism. I can just hear their responses now....doesn't matter if drug dealers are black, white, or purple - if they deal drugs, they are scum and deserve to be treated as such. Trouble is, there are very few white or purple drug dealers in Camden. They mostly are black and brown. Therefore, you have to understand the racial target that is embedded in the criticism. Drug violence is just a window dressing for these comment writers to bash people of color and Camden is a centralized location of people of color in which to do it.

Every day the CP has a race-based story in Camden - crime, public housing, unemployment, violence, school dropouts, arson, housing mess, etc. While these topics are not racially based topics, in Camden, they are necessarily going to be race-based. In a city that is 98% people of color, any story is based in racial overtones. Doesn't mean you don't report events. But the CP has some real responsibility here to be journalists when they report and provide context. Is another murder in Camden really news? Sure,it is. And when you get to point out the mean streets of this city as the context it becomes a feeding frenzy for the comment writers who spew the same crap daily.

This is a city, not a prison. Police in THIS city need to work to protect and serve, not patrol like prison guards. I feel sorry for the cops in Camden because they are put into an adversarial position by the way they are forced to do their jobs. They sit in cars, respond to calls, and function as anonymous guards. Of course their job is dangerous and of course they must treat all people on the streets as suspicious.

The question to be asked is why does this continue? Who is determining that Camden should be treated this way? And don't even think for a minute that this is the only way to do policing. Read the comments on the news stories. They reflect the powers that be that have determined that Camden must be kept in line by force (state takeover, state police, state COO). No one outside of Camden is stepping up to say let's try a different way. It's much easier to just bash the city relentlessly.

I see these protesters as people who are stepping up to say, let's try something else. They may not be eloquent as they say it, but they represent what no one outside Camden will allow.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Camden Mayoral election



Elton Custis (D) 192

Eulisis Delgado (D) 113

Dana Redd (D) 1,831

This was just the primary, but the winner won with just 1800 votes. The candidate will face 3 independent candidates in November. A similar outcome is expected. I don't know anything about these candidates - not because I don't care. I think it is obvious that I follow local politics. I am a resident of Camden and registered voter. I did not get one piece of campaign material in my mailbox. I did not see any articles in the newspaper about debates or candidate forums. Sadly, I did not vote in this primary. If I can't be motivated, why would anyone else? The fait a compli in politics in this town is destructive. People are not voting because they see no point. Efficacy must be at rock bottom here. If people were supporting the local ticket, they would go out and vote. People have been conditioned to believe their vote does not matter. And the straight ticket voting process in NJ is archaic and damaging to progressive politics. However, if that is what it takes to be taken seriously in Camden, then I would suggest that the Green Party get active here and slate candidates. It is the only way to enable alternative voices to competitively challenge the Democratic party slate. Not since I lived in Chicago have I seen such dominance of the "party" in politics. In other states the Democrats may dominate, but at least they hold wide open primaries and runoff elections so there is actually competition between candidates. Not so here.

A fine young Democrat ran for city council in Atlantic City yesterday. Dafiq Rasheed is a Rutgers, Camden student and a seasoned veteran of how NJ politics works. Unfortunately, he was slated on the losing ticket and, thus, lost his election. He even had friends say, I wanted you to win, but I didn't like the mayoral candidate at the top of your ticket. He was doomed before he even got started. Politics is not a team sport, but it is in New Jersey.

People in Camden have suggested that a GOTV (Get Out The Vote) effort is needed for politics in our city. But people need something to vote for besides the one slate on the ballot and the completely overwhelmed independent candidates. That's why another party is needed in Camden to challenge the Democrats and put light on the process. I'm a loyal Democrat and I have no interest in seeing Republicans run in Camden. I do believe, however, that we need progressive politics in Camden, more attention to candidates, and more voter participation. We won't see any of that as long as a straight ticket closed primary system is in place.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Camden residency part 2 - I stand corrected

From an article in today's CP:
Vega said qualified city residents should receive preference, but he called the current system "ineffective."

"Many of the new hires move out of the city after meeting the one-year requirement, so what is actually being accomplished?" he said.

Mitchell Sklar, executive director of the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police, echoed his point. If officers are just going to move once they're hired, "why go through the whole charade?" he said.

Unlike uniformed officers, the residency requirement is permanent for other employees in the city. There are some exceptions such as municipal positions that require professional licenses.

I stand corrected. In an earlier post I ranted about residency requirements and how people who are employed by the city should live here. Apparently, they do. I don't know where they live or which neighborhoods are housing them, but we have middle class, employed people in Camden. Apparently the police and fire fighters leave after they fulfill their one year residency requirement (according to the story - 35% of FF live here and 19% of Police live here - the rest, move out).

So if everyone at City Hall is living in Camden - then there is a core resident group to work with. I know other professionals that live in the city, scattered about. This info about CH workers adds credence to my Helsinki proposition. That the residents of Camden have been held hostage so long to poor conditions and being treated so poorly, that they are now blind to any avenues for change. If someone opened the door and said, here is your escape route - people would say - what door? I don't see a door. They become so conditioned to Camden being as it is that change is ignored, not seen, and invisible.

I just read about the growing gardening program that Children's Garden is fostering as a means to teach residents to grow good food. That's fantastic! Two neighborhood plans (N. Camden and Fairview) just got recognized by the state of NJ as exemplary efforts for sustainable development! Wow! Restart opened its new Culinary Center building in N. Camden and there is a lot of fix up going on in the row houses in the area. The building is still going strong in Centerville and the new homes built there are a shining beacon of what Camden can be. So good things ARE happening, but not enough. I was back in Kansas City the last week and saw a city that is hopping with activity. KC wishes it were more cosmopolitan, but its neighborhoods and residents are active and hosting events, festivals, charity walks, parties, etc. Crime is high there too and the streets can be mean. But life goes on.

So, where is the micro-life in Camden? Federal street? Fairview? Downtown? River Road? State Street? Haddon Ave? Where is the farmer's market? When is the next festival? What are all these middle class folks doing about creating a vibrant life in Camden? I'll post events if people clue me in!!