On Urban Planning or possibly somehow related topic

 

I have a dream… …that one day that the drivel I hear about urban planning will fall away and my notion of society’s priorities shall prevail, that those who go on about building design or those who lack the imagination to shed the false need for developers, shall wander into the Nevada deserts, their bones to melt in a brutal ozone-free patch of radiation.

 

“Why are you so angry?” the TSA employee said, as I waited in the pen.

 

It is one thing to confront the immense hypocrisy in discussions about, for example, immigration: The blather from the lips of the descendents of murderers and thieves who go on about how this continent is theirs, how they are landowners, how others might ruin the neighborhood. And it’s another thing to think in more practical terms about urban planning, gentrification and blight. A balance between degraded or dangerous structures or environments and sterile, gated communities may be more fragile and difficult to arrange than I may have realized. I wanted to know why I couldn’t single-handedly suppress the thugs, the crackheads, and the homeless shit-sprayers, keeping them at a long arm’s length from my particular doorway - while simultaneously banning the crispy-clothed google employees, the slick-backed-hair brokers, and the hedge-faced booty hunters from driving up the price of beer, introducing vintage furniture stores and sparking the purveyors of over-priced California cuisine.

 

I think it was the yuppie eradication project that said it best in a poster that was offered to the neighborhood some years ago, in which a lovely giggling couple enjoyed dinner and drinks over the caption: “Welcome to the mission – authentic tacos and blight.”

 

I recently stumbled on an installment of the replacement for journalism we now call the online forum or the internet chat – the subject on tap that particular afternoon was the attributes and circumstances surrounding a couple of building projects across the street from my house. Some were going on about design choices – others about affordability of much needed housing in the bourgeois paradise of our fair city. And lest we forget, it is a fair city, although it’s tempting to call it was because we hate our new neighbors or visitors. Of course I hated my old neighbors and visitors, but at least they were there before I. It only takes a journey of some days to somewhere else in the country to reunite one with the incentive to stay in San Francisco, but all the more reason to despair when people you don’t respect are in one’s way. The place is lovely no doubt and will probably survive so, despite the onslaught of the new building materials and the salivating real estate weasels. But despite how I admire them, I hate them still.

 

Look, I just want them to build things that I like - to accommodate people I respect. Is that too much to ask? Of course it is, because my whim is very narrow. Actually, I don’t want them to build anything. I thought the stuff we had was fine. Of course there have been plenty of lousy, inadequate, over-priced, shit-hole buildings, owned by assholes, here and everywhere else throughout history.

 

It comes to priorities: what are the stones on which we want to build society? The right claims it has to be real estate, and consumerism, finance and hi-tech ‘ideas.’ And they cling to trickle-down like the confederacy clung to slavery. Slavery as the ultimate low labor cost, is of course one step from outsource. But aside from the fact that a level of ‘enough’ wealth cannot be defined or endorsed by anyone, why can’t our goal be feeding our families and maintaining functional infrastructure, achieving something one might call ‘minimal footprint.’ The notion that we should think about a tact that is associated with principle, I realize, is thin ice. We appear to be locked to the idea that we deserve an ever-expanding standard of living, the thought that life should simply be mostly comfortable and reasonably consistent seems to be thought of as stagnation. It somehow doesn’t square that conservatives wouldn’t be interested in such simple stability.

 

No doubt, the counter argument involves the normal rap about how the ‘great’ nation cannot exist without great wealth, that great things cannot be constructed without serious profit – we simply would not have the resources to do the great things that we do without the great industrialists, now called entrepreneurs. Nevermind that the proverbial great wealthy white men of the nation relied heavily on slavery or low labor costs, stealing land and resources from the indigenous and the ‘third’ world and strong-arm ‘market’ arrangements. The current model involves thinking of some electro-doodad to replace that of last month and getting the Chinese to assemble it and exhaust the toxic fumes and remnants to their air and soil. The wage structure and pollution will catch up to us soon enough. The fact is when the Chinese realize they can have these latest ‘great ideas’ they will be able to bypass the hoards of American hedge-faced computer dorks, and we’ll really have an employment and wage problem. And although the right considers it to be alarmist, is also a fact that pollution is not confined within borders.

 

It’s likely that those with opportunity and resources have no interest in principles that don’t serve them. It would somehow be refreshing if they would at least admit it. The American ‘can do spirit’ seems hopelessly associated with trampling rather than stepping lightly. The American ‘natives’ apparently were known to step lightly and see where it got them.

 

Let’s just ponder something for a moment. If San Francisco were to ‘evict’ all but the somehow demonstratively small scale and indigenous ‘development’ funds and organizations, would the city just rot and fall into the sea? Would tourists stop coming to distribute their tourist dollars? Would no ‘much needed’ housing be built? And if it were really ‘much needed’, wouldn’t we with need arrange it somehow or other?

 

In the ‘forum’, someone referred to my corner as ‘seedy.’ Firstly, the corner is a little dirty, and essentially the end of a freeway off-ramp, which by definition is not going to be quaint or charming - but it’s hardly a bad neighborhood. Most migrants to San Francisco who make any comment about seedy, don’t know what a bad neighborhood is. And this is my main complaint: It is NOT acceptable to show up somewhere in your father’s BMW to pronounce that you intend to ‘fix’ a neighborhood by removing the seed. A significant human flaw is the inclination to believe someone who speaks with conviction, including an outsider who shows up to tell you what you need. Of course this is why those seeking office or to facilitate their cause, make a point of talking about their wife and kids and their long-term residence. There is also an exaggerated fear of out of town-ers, though most of us are migrants, some of us are courted, some resented.

 

It’s important to address the constant babble about how we need development and I’ll attempt to find some argument that involves something besides mere principles.

 

This is the normal tired argument of the right and the center: nothing in society will be accomplished if the private sector, in other words, rich fucks with expendable income, don’t supply us with an endless stream of their little pet projects. Some who may subscribe to this might try to pick examples of ‘developments’ of a purer philanthropic nature, but I would be surprised if the vast majority of buildings in a given city, that weren’t constructed for private clan use, would have been approached should there haven’t been a clear description of the potential profit involved, realized or otherwise.

 

At the heart of the left’s dream of transcendence of this criminal process, is an awakening of the less than brilliant, perhaps called the proletariat – an awakening that is certainly rare and slow to emerge, if even possible, but one in which people might realize, when things get really bad, that without even a clean bone dropped by the wealthy, they might have to get off their ass and do something useful. And this is an activity of sweat and may never show a profit, indeed may be by design in the red. And one needs to be with ear to ground, to be sensitive to a neighborhood to see the indigenous effort bear fruit. There is also the assumption that the public sector cannot construct worthwhile infrastructure, cannot come to proper decisions, will forever be corrupt, slow and working endlessly at cross purposes. In fact these issues do warrant discussion.

 

But at the heart of the right’s anti-government perspective is the constant fearful assertion that we must grab and grab and push and push because if we don’t someone else will. No one is truly selfless and noble and if you don’t do the screwing, the screw of another is lined up behind you waiting for its opportunity. Unfortunately this is born from some reality. The logic is that you must be an asshole because that’s the trend of the creature. The transcendence of human behavior means transcendence of humanity. The optimists among us might suggest that such an ability to learn in this way is a human attribute, perhaps unique to our species; the cynical among us might suggest that we barely recognize a morality and that we are perpetually adolescent, to superficially obey a morality only in the presence of a mother figure. We wouldn’t have transcended slavery if our oppression had been more intelligent and subtle, like the slavery we have today. It took the genius of Orwell and Huxley to take the lessons of the two first world wars, to describe the ‘better’ method to perpetually hold slaves by constructing systems like the illusion of choice, manipulating intelligence levels, creating perpetual fear of an ‘other’ and the need for perpetual war by fabricating enemies, and creating the perfect distractions of television and sedatives. But then if the methods of the powerful are more complex or sophisticated, they are in essence little changed for 65,000 years. And what is more natural than a mouse sniffing around on the ground for a crumb – we may prefer a clean white shirt and to stand on two legs, but are we more moral in our pursuits of our crumbs? The leftist will still take something that isn’t nailed down, albeit in the name of recycling.

 

Those submerged in the euphoria of the private sector seldom seem to admit that by design, the corporation is not held to the same standards as the public sector in relation to corruption and principle. This makes some sense – entities established for the common good with common funds should not go off behind close doors and scheme to exploit people and their lands, despite history. It is therefore marvelous that we allow corporations control government by buying elections, and without disclosure. And additionally we put up with the constant drivel about the private sector, the notion of the bonus motivation and it’s efficiencies. That said, certain sheep-like citizens and other desperados are known for statements of entitlement unwarranted. I have often marveled at the community (or the company town) that cries out at the company for moving or closing its doors; that the company owes the community to remain, to stay in business, to provide activity and wealth to the inhabitants that may have migrated there or who have no other source of income, this reaction despite the rather obvious design of corporations solely to achieve maximum profit. Though the milktoast among us go on about how the two, firm and workers need each other. But those who ‘run’ business are only able to consider morality if their hands are just dripping in blood, and when they are in a hole from which there is little chance of emerging, despite their $1000/hr lawyers. It is just a logistics detail to construct a PR department to explain that the corporation, the wondrous beacon, busy constructing the new world of leisure and wealth for all (never mind that it’s not their goal by design) and that the bin of butcher scraps they can throw out to the population if required, is merely an operating expense to be minimized.

 

The right would suggest that the DMV-type employees of the public sector could not possibly do the job properly or efficiently. I suppose I’m talking about the degree of flogging: it depends on how much you can push your workers to produce. The military has its hierarchy for a reason. A strong union by definition allows power via mass walkout, when workers are fed up. People who think they have a say in a project will express their whim regardless of merit, simply because they can. And office politics are fertile places for confrontation, arguing about things that don’t matter, etc. Consultants drivel endlessly about involving the worker bees in the management process, allow opportunities for the average operator of something to give feedback, and why not milk those who actually do work for efficiency ideas for which management can take credit at the next cocktail party for the shareholders, but (perhaps) I digress.

 

The issue is the business mantra that can be striped to its strategy, as Orwell described as pivotal to the success of repression: Individuals must believe they have a stake and a say in a system that probably exploits them and minimizes their cost. The brutal crush breeds resentment that will haunt the dictator sooner or later. And thus creating a system of ‘incorporation’ that provides the delicate balance of base monetary incentive and the carrot and stick bonus, (at least) the illusion of intellectual participation and self-destiny and military instructional clarity is thought to be required for the success of this panacea the right calls the ‘private sector.’

 

Why then the myth of the benevolent, father figure of the corporation? Are those begging at the gates of business, so helpless and of such large majority that without these institutions they would have simply no occupation, no opportunity, all doomed to beg and chew at each other in the gutters? Should there be no General Motors, no Becthtel, no Walmart to employ us, are we so inept and dim as to wither into a new plagued and frightening black forest of barbarians – what happened to this American can-do spirit and these entrepreneurs they go on about?

 

We may just treat rich fucks at the helm of grand capital as celebrities, we envy their wealth, their audacity, their indiscretions obscured or forgiven because we equate wealth with success. Wait – isn’t it? Well, wealth can buy you all the distractions and comforts to last a lifetime. And so what that you’re a bitter, repentant curmudgeon wishing you had a family or a family that doesn’t hate you for a few years before you need the morphine to extent that you no longer care. We can’t ignore the wealthy because they buy a constant blather presence in our face, on television or staring out at us in the supermarket checkout. The thing is that it is possible to de-legitimize someone by ignoring them, it’s just that many of us can’t seem to keep ourselves occupied with any thing more meaningful to eliminate the allure of following the lives of conspicuous consumers or the ill-behaved perpetual party-goers.

 

The entitled class is mostly the wealthy, those with access to the funds to engage the monstrous industry of construction and access to the backdoor ‘annals’ of political power, the avenues to circumvent rules and lubricate their whim. The right of course would say that this is appropriate, since the wealthy deserve it, via all their hard work and good ideas. Some go on about a middle class or the American family with their dream of homeownership when in discussion about the functionality of a real estate industry. I suppose this is operative to some extent, however I would contend that this system of milking people of their life savings (often as we have seen lately at their peril) is an immorality only one step less egregious than the immorality of the for-profit health ‘care’ industry and their procedure of milking all of us at death’s door, for every cent we have or don’t have. Of course the right would likely say you must work to pay for your shelter and your morphine – there is no moral imperative for society to supply you with this.

 

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I propose that individuals or small groups of people, those who may live in a given area know best and are just in controlling the types of structures they need. I wouldn’t argue that this is practical or particularly efficient, just that it’s the right thing to do. Part of my proposal suggests essentially that we prohibit people from buying property to do whatever the hell they want with it. No one will ever endorse this idea of course. Who decides who is worthy or who is a legitimate immigrant or community visionary? Me? I should hope, but I’m not careful what I wish for. I do suggest that it wouldn’t be so difficult to at least know which ‘foreign’ parties are just in it for the money: All of them. And critically, by ‘foreign’ I mean ANYONE who isn’t demonstrably committed and entwined in a community. If one has any intelligence and any ambition, seeks any effort to achieve a decent life for one’s children, such ‘proof’ should come easy, even if one merely shows up to help kids cross the street. Opening a ‘business’ does not suffice. A simple question can be asked and answered: If you disappear from the place you live, will three people notice? And by three people, I don’t mean three “salespeople” who enjoyed cashing your check, your landlord, your grocer and your doctor. I suppose it may be the definition of corruption: The procedure by which someone asks someone else to ‘vouch’ for them, and we may not be able to afford a justice system to check up on this. But if one is ‘worthy’, it should be easy to fit this criteria, demonstrably obvious that one is a contributing member of society, someone that would be missed by people at large, not just ‘profit’ organizations drooling at the sight of one’s wallet. It may be true that there are fewer such worthy people than I would like.

 

Even aside from the hypocrisy of any of us older or newer migrants announcing this policy, we would hear endless screaming about the tread over ‘American’ freedoms. Not to mention that most people are in a given area by accident, either by the accident of birth, the accident of love or lust, or the accident of opportunities or the lack thereof. So the fact of the matter is that no one is entitled to a place if everyone isn’t. It’s also possible that the google employee douchebags or kids paid by their parents to go to art school, the ones on the forum calling the street seedy or calling for much needed housing are legal migrants and US citizens for that matter, despite my unfounded assumptions about them.

 

Of course my ‘beef’ is mostly with the commercial real estate interests, those involved in building this much needed, a stone’s throw from my porch. Forgive me for not believing that developers are concerned with anything that is much-needed. They are neither concerned with design, tradition, city planning, nor housing a population – their concern is profit. The right would count them among the foundation stones of a wealthy nation, the engines of growth and progress. They are dragged into discussions about design or historical architecture context or urban planning as reluctantly as an oil company talks about the environment and their commitment is the equivalent of the PR department at Chevron. Corporations pour money into such departments only under duress of course – no one would spend ‘good’ money on campaigns to suggest that their activities are beneficial or benign if no one were constantly suggesting otherwise.

 

It’s not that the right hasn’t reviewed history and missed a marginally accurate conclusion about the nature of man – at least to the extent to observe a major and ancient trend toward acting in one’s perceived self-interest. The question is should society be a bowl of spoils in which the greedy and brutish dig, or is it even possible for us to regulate behavior and equalize opportunity for a majority. I’m of course referring to a transcendence quite likely beyond the strength of humanity, again; I really should broaden my interests.

 

My question has to do with whether a city could build what it needs without developers. It seems likely that people who live somewhere know that they need a grocery store, a children’s playground, a café and they don’t need a corporation to facilitate these things; they don’t need to be grand. By the way, the ‘luxury’ condos across the street are made of cement, pine, chicken wire and plaster. Is it possible for the people who are in a place (and there are plenty of people in every goddamn place) to arrange whatever structures they need? In other words, my dream involves, once again, nostalgia for a likely fictitious period of homesteading. Or a policy of limits for which no one will ever vote, wherein I get to decide when a building is excessive, opportunistic, unnecessary or poorly built. This is really not so far fetched in that such judgments are daily made by kings or city councils alike, it’s just that like everyone else, unless they are “crazy”, the decisions mostly hinge on ‘wealth generation,’ luring tourists, business interests or the elaborate hobbies of the rich. It’s possible that my math is just “off” and that nothing good and adequate could every come from the hands of the people who live somewhere – but now you wankers on the couch smoking weed and yelling about the ‘niners’ or sitting in the café pretending to write a novel, all have something to strive for!