Urban renewal began back in 1915?

This week in North Philly Notes, Dennis Gale, author of The Misunderstood History of Gentrification, recounts the history of gentrification (you probably don’t know).

Gentrification—the physical, economic, and social transformation of poor and working class neighborhoods primarily by middle- and upper-income people—remains one of the most controversial topics in urban studies today. A simple Google search of the term turned up nearly ten million hits. By the time that I began researching gentrification in Washington, D.C. in the late 1970s, I had already witnessed its unfolding in Boston. Like most observers, I thought that a new trend was underway. At that time, America’s cities were in crisis and millions of middle-class people were leaving them for the leafy suburbs. The conventional wisdom was that poverty, racial strife, and crime were undermining American urban life.

Although gentrification was far outweighed nationwide by neighborhood decline, it raised hopes that not all middle-class households were abandoning cities. With more research, I learned that gentrification was not a new phenomenon. In fact, its earliest U.S. origins date to about 1915. The Misunderstood History of Gentrification, reframes our understanding of this trend’s origins, its interaction with public policies, and its evolution from “embryonic” to “advanced” gentrification. The critical role played by a burgeoning national historic preservation movement is also documented.  

What we now know as gentrification first gained momentum in Boston, New York, Charleston, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C. a century ago. In each city, an older neighborhood experiencing disinvestment began attracting newcomers who renovated aging housing and generated renewed interest in inner city living. Perhaps believing that this trend was a mere flash in the pan, observers referred to it variously by terms such as “remodeling,” “regeneration” or “revitalization.” Since the late 1970s, when it became widely known as “gentrification,” online searches of that word have misled people into assuming that the phenomenon itself first appeared at that time. In fact, it dates back sixty years earlier.

Gentrification confounded conventional wisdom—i.e. that once physical neglect, economic decline, and poor and minority residents appeared, older neighborhoods would inevitably spiral downward to the status of “slums.” As official thinking went, only by tearing down slums, relocating their residents and businesses, and building anew, could such places become viable communities. But early gentrification demonstrated that renovation and reuse was not only a feasible alternative, it helped create one of the most desirable neighborhoods in each of the five cities in which it first appeared. And with time, it spread to other neighborhoods in those communities. Moreover, wherever it emerged, the process evolved with little, if any, government financing or bureaucratic administration.

But there’s more. By the late 1940s Congress grappled with the urban crisis by enacting the Urban Redevelopment program. It stipulated that cities could receive federal funds if they completely demolished and cleared older neighborhoods, displaced most existing residents and businesses, and rebuilt with modern architecture and infrastructure. The subtext was clear: only by destroying a neighborhood, could it be “saved.” Gentrification’s lessons—rehabilitating older structures, retaining their historic architecture and scale, and developing a diverse mix of existing and new residents—were written off as a recipe for failure.  

Even after Congress revised Redevelopment, renaming it Urban Renewal, the insights gained from early gentrification were largely ignored. Meanwhile, over the 1950s and 1960s, gentrification was gradually spreading. And opposition to Urban Renewal and other issues led to civil unrest in dozens of cities. Reacting, Congress scrapped the program in the mid-1970s and federal funds were targeted for housing rehabilitation, neighborhood reuse, and greater socioeconomic and racial diversity in declining areas. The new policies rejected large-scale demolition and adopted others that were more compatible with the “reuse and rehabilitate” dynamics of gentrification.

The first American cities in which gentrification surfaced were all located on the East or Gulf coasts. By the 1960s and 1970s though, the trend was metastasizing to San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Toronto, and Vancouver. Public officials were realizing that gentrification posed one essential part of a new strategy to revitalize the nation’s cities. By that time, hundreds of millions of dollars had been misspent on Urban Renewal—money that could have been used to rehabilitate neighborhoods for a combination of new and existing residents and businesses. As The Misunderstood History of Gentrification shows, the relationship between gentrification and Urban Renewal is widely misunderstood today.  

Gentrification demonstrated that not all middle-class people were fleeing cities. It showed that some were eager to live in mixed income and culturally diverse areas. The challenge for public policy has been to find ways to build and maintain socially and economically vibrant communities. Gentrification is a necessary, but not sufficient, ingredient in the revitalization of America’s cities. President Biden, his domestic policy advisor, Susan Rice, and his nominee for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Marcia Fudge, are well advised to heed the lessons about urban growth and change evolving over the past century. Avoid policy myopia at all costs. The story of the nation’s cities didn’t begin in 2021. In short, history (still) matters.

Considering electric vehicle initiatives

This week in North Philly Notes, Rachel Krause and Christopher Hawkins, coauthors of Implementing City Sustainability, consider the administrative complexity that local governments face to implement sustainability efforts.

Between President Biden’s announcement about replacing the federal government fleet with US-made electric vehicles, General Motors’ recent plans to eliminate the production of light-duty cars and trucks with tail-pipe emissions by 2035, and a few well-placed super bowl ads, electric vehicles are experiencing an upswing in popular attention.

This timing, which parallels the United States’ recommitment to international climate protection goals, is not a coincidence. An estimated 17% of the country’s total annual greenhouse gas emissions come from light-duty passenger vehicles, making their decarbonization essential to achieving larger mitigation efforts. A transition away from gas-powered cars and trucks, along with a simultaneous transition towards clean electricity, is considered by many to be the most feasible route to decarbonizing the transportation sector.

Articles on the future of electric vehicles frequently lead with statements of imperative and possibility only to follow with a litany of challenges that need to be overcome prior to meaningful progress. To a degree, this post follows that typical format, but focuses on a single under-examined consideration: the administrative complexity that local governments face during efforts to implement policies and integrate infrastructure supporting the widespread use of electric vehicles. For example, the setup of a relatively standard city-wide vehicle charging system would likely require on-going collaboration from members of local planning, transportation, and public works departments, not to mention the elected and top managerial leadership who establish general priorities and allocate resources accordingly. The scope of actors and complexity of their interactions would be significantly greater in cities aiming to facilitate electric vehicle integration in a manner that is broadly inclusive and equitable.

In Implementing City Sustainability, we examine the administrative challenges associated with implementing initiatives that necessitate the active input of multiple semi-independent units across an organization. Electric vehicle initiatives are one example (of many) where fuzzy boundaries of responsibility, the presence of externalities, and a potential lack of departmental buy-in can stymie progress on organization-wide goals.

In the book, a case study of the City of Oakland, California provides relevant insight around the implementation of a broad electric vehicles initiative. From the outset, it is worth noting that sustainability efforts in Oakland prioritize equity. Led by “Sustainable Oakland,” a small unit within the City’s Public Works department, programmatic priorities aim to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions in ways that also address the city’s historic and racial inequities. This approach is explicitly spelled out in the city’s Equitable Climate Action Plan (ECAP). In this context, the city’s vehicle electrification policies have focused on ensuring that the approximately 60% of Oakland residents who live in rented multi-family units will have convenient access to charging infrastructure. This availability can in turn facilitate a locally robust used car market for electric vehicles, making them a financially and logistically viable option for a much larger segment of the population. 

In 2017, Oakland’s city council passed an ordinance requiring that all newly constructed multi-family and non-residential buildings include charging infrastructure for plug-in electric vehicles. Extensive conversations were held with renters, property owners, developers, and utility company representatives prior to this ordinance’s final drafting and passage. Its successful implementation, guided by the ECAP, will rely on the active cooperation of multiple city departments. Although implementation logistics and cross-departmental collaboration are often not headline-grabbing topics–at least not when they are working correctly—they are key to the achievement of many sustainability initiatives, including those related a wide-spread transition to electric vehicles.

Implementing City Sustainability delineates four paths forward that cities can use to successfully chart their way through the adoption and implementation of integrative sustainability strategies. Whether it is designing and implementing a plan to make electric vehicle charging stations available to apartment dwellers in Oakland, improving the energy efficiency of large commercial buildings in Orlando, or establishing green infrastructure in Kansas City, how cities organize their sustainability efforts to obtain cooperation from the range of involved partners is integral to success.

The News of New York City’s Death is Greatly Exaggerated

This week in North Philly Notes, Francois Pierre-Louis Jr. and Michael Alan Krasner, two of the coauthors of Immigrant Crossroads, write about immigrant groups in Queens, New York.

Since the advent of COVID-19 and the exodus of affluent New Yorkers to the suburbs, some people have predicted that New York will no longer be the city that never sleeps. Our book Immigrant Crossroads has shown the contrary, documenting and analyzing the many fascinating dynamics of community and political activism in this unique borough.

For immigrant families that had endured the four years of the Trump administration living away from their loved ones, the Biden presidency brings new hope and renewed optimism that what Queens was already showing to America will continue. That the vibrant growth exemplified by the borough of Queens and temporarily impeded will flourish again.

Since the 1990s Queens has become the urban epicenter for contemporary immigration—a place that boasts immigrants from 140 countries. While Manhattan drew millions of tourists and mega-rich condo buyers, the city’s four other Boroughs saw the influx of working- and middle-class newcomers from every continent. Places that used to be unattractive to developers and commercial interests suddenly became prime real estate and desired places for immigrants and the middle class to live. Queens led the way in this transformation from being an enclave dominated by the white working class to being perhaps the most diverse aggregation of human beings on the planet. Queens has become an epicenter of  immigrant striving, and activism, presenting an alternative to the nativist vision pursued by Trump’s  propagandists and enforcers.

Hollowed out by white flight, in the 1980s and 90s, New York City’s outer Boroughs have been revitalized with the influx of new immigrants from Asia, Latin America, Caribbean and Africa. Neighborhoods such as Flushing, Bayside, and Laurelton have emerged as the epicenter of New York City’s Asian American community. Within a decade, Flushing has become one of the city’s major commercial and banking center for the Asian community. Corona and Jackson Heights became destinations for those from Latin America, and Astoria became the home for Russians and Eastern Europeans and those from the Middle East. All across the borough of Queens, immigrants remade blighted neighborhoods into thriving communities.

As major economic developments took place, new forms of immigrant activism emerged in Queens’ other neighborhoods, a process that is remaking the social, cultural, economic, and political fabric of the city. Take the case of Corona, East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, and Flushing where seventy-five percent of the residents are people of color. When the City announced in 2012, that it would give away portions of Flushing Meadows Park to private developers as a way to revitalize the local economy, a coalition of community-based groups and faith-based organizations created the Fairness Coalition of Queens to fight the Bloomberg administration’s economic development agenda. Forcing the cancellation of a sterile soccer stadium and other mega projects, the Fairness Coalition asserted its own power and priorities to call attention to the need for affordable housing and the checking of rampant  gentrification.

A similar pattern has developed in national immigration politics. Drawing on a heavily foreign-born population (One-in-two residents in Queens are foreign-born, ranking it second in the nation for percentage of foreign-born residents), activist Dreamer organizations have lobbied successfully for state legislation and led the fight for similar action from the federal government. Among the first set of actions by the Biden Administration are a rash of executive orders and a far-reaching legislative proposal to not only undo Trump’s harsh anti-immigrant policies but to usher in human pathways to immigrant inclusion.

Pioneering efforts on health care accessibility, an issue made salient by the Covid crisis also began in Queens where two city-wide immigrant advocacy organizations successfully organized to pass the Language Access in Pharmacies Act in 2009 and in 2012 mandating pharmacies provide comprehensive translation and interpretation services to patients with limited English proficiency.

As these examples suggest, the true impact of the recent surge of new immigrant groups is complex, contradicting partisan stereotypes and xenophobic pandering. Serious scholarship from varied disciplines reveals the richly textured contributions that resurgent nativism has sought to obliterate. Our volume demonstrates that being an Immigrant Crossroads has led New York City to flourish and suggests a path that the entire country would do well to consider following to revive the national motto, “Out of many, one.”

Celebrating Black History Month

This week in North Philly Notes, we celebrate Black History Month with an entry highlighting some of our African American Studies and Understanding Racism titles, which are available at 30% off by using promo code TBHM2021 through 3/31/2021.

Black Identity Viewed from a Barber’s Chair: Nigrescence and Eudaimonia, by William E. Cross Jr., revisits the author’s ground-breaking model on Black identity awakening known as Nigrescence, connects W. E. B. DuBois’s concept of double consciousness to an analysis of how Black identity is performed in everyday life, and traces the origins of the deficit perspective on Black culture to scholarship dating back to the 1930s. He follows with a critique showing such deficit and Black self-hatred tropes were always based on extremely weak evidence.

Do Right by Me: Learning to Raise Black Children in White Spaces, by Valerie I. Harrison and Kathryn Peach D’Angelo, invites readers into a conversation on how best to raise black children in white families and white communities. For decades, Katie D’Angelo and Valerie Harrison engaged in conversations about race and racism. However, when Katie and her husband, who are white, adopted Gabriel, a biracial child, Katie’s conversations with Val, who is black, were no longer theoretical and academic. The stakes grew from the two friends trying to understand each other’s perspectives to a mother navigating, with input from her friend, how to equip a child with the tools that will best serve him as he grows up in a white family.

Biz Mackey, a Giant behind the Plate: The Story of the Negro League Star and Hall of Fame Catcher, by Rich Westcott, is the first biography of arguably the greatest catcher in the Negro Leagues. A celebrated ballplayer before African Americans were permitted to join Major League Baseball, Biz Mackey ranks as one of the top catchers ever to play the game. Using archival materials and interviews with former Negro League players, baseball historian Rich Westcott chronicles the catcher’s life and remarkable career in Biz Mackey as well as providing an in-depth look at Philadelphia Negro League history.

Civic Intimacies: Black Queer Improvisations on Citizenship, by Niels van Doorn, maps the political and personal stakes of Black queer lives in Baltimore. Because members of the Black queer community often exist outside conventional civic institutions, they must explore alternative intimacies to experience a sense of belonging. Civic Intimacies examines how—and to what extent—these different forms of intimacy catalyze the values, aspirations, and collective flourishing of Black queer denizens of Baltimore.

God Is Change: Religious Practices and Ideologies in the Works of Octavia Butler, Edited by Aparajita Nanda and Shelby L. Crosby (forthcoming in June) explores Octavia Butler’s religious imagination and its potential for healing and liberation. The editors of and contributors to God Is Change heighten our appreciation for the range and depth of Butler’s thinking about spirituality and religion, as well as how Butler’s work—especially the Parable and Xenogenesis series—offers resources for healing and community building. God Is Change meditates on alternate religious possibilities that open different political and cultural futures to illustrate humanity’s ability to endure change and thrive.

The Great Migration and the Democratic Party: Black Voters and the Realignment of American Politics in the 20th Century, by Keneshia N. Grant frames the Great Migration as an important economic and social event that also had serious political consequences. Keneshia Grant created one of the first listings of Black elected officials that classifies them based on their status as participants in the Great Migration. She also describes some of the policy/political concerns of the migrants. The Great Migration and the Democratic Party lays the groundwork for ways of thinking about the contemporary impact of Black migration on American politics.

The Man-Not: Race, Class, Genre, and the Dilemmas of Black Manhood, by Tommy J. Curry, is a justification for Black Male Studies. He posits that we should conceptualize the Black male as a victim, oppressed by his sex. The Man-Not, therefore, is a corrective of sorts, offering a concept of Black males that could challenge the existing accounts of Black men and boys desiring the power of white men who oppress them that has been proliferated throughout academic research across disciplines. Curry challenges how we think of and perceive the conditions that actually affect all Black males.

Mediating America: Black and Irish Press and the Struggle for Citizenship, 1870-1914, by Brian Shott, explores the life and work of T. Thomas Fortune and J. Samuel Stemons as well as Rev. Peter C. Yorke and Patrick Ford—respectively two African American and two Irish American editor/activists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Historian Brian Shott shows how each of these “race men” (the parlance of the time) understood and advocated for his group’s interests through their newspapers.

Labor unions and national reform

This week in North Philly Notes, Dominic Wells, author of From Collective Bargaining to Collective Begging, considers how labor unions will fare under President Biden.

Labor unions have been on a steady decline for decades, but with the Biden administration there is a renewed hope in the labor movement for a reverse of the trend. Joe Biden has promised to be a pro-union president, proposing to strengthen the right to organize and to hold employers accountable for violating labor laws. 

Although there is no doubt a Biden administration is good news for organized labor, there is good reason to question whether Biden’s pro-labor agenda will come into fruition. Democrats have been promising to protect collective bargaining without delivering on those promises for years. While in office, President Barack Obama promised to join the picket line if American workers were being denied their rights, but when historically pro-union states in the Midwest began stripping away collective bargaining rights, Obama left his picket sign in his closet. 

The strength of organized labor today is in the public sector, which is largely governed by state legislation. In my book, From Collective Bargaining to Collective Begging, I analyze the expansion and restriction of collective bargaining rights for public employees from 1960 into the 2010s. I show that there was a time when republicans, at least at the state-level, viewed collective bargaining in the public sector as a legitimate practice. Faced with consistent strike activity from public employees, republican governors and state legislatures were willing to support collective bargaining. Pressure from unions and provisions that prohibited striking helped make collective bargaining legislation bipartisan in many states. 

By the 2010s, bipartisan support for labor unions was nearly nonexistent. Republican state legislatures, with the help of model legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), led efforts to weaken public employee unions. In From Collective Bargaining to Collective Begging, I analyze two of the most high profile cases in stripping away the rights of public employees, Ohio Senate Bill 5 and Wisconsin Act 10. These cases demonstrate how labor unions can be successful (or unsuccessful) in protecting their rights and the Ohio case shows that, though unlikely, a bipartisan coalition to protect collective bargaining is still possible. 

Victories for labor unions in the 21st Century have mostly equated to protecting their own existence. There have been few legislative victories expanding rights in recent years. One of the rare successes for organized labor was in Nevada, where rights were extended to state employees in 2019. Outside of formal bargaining rights, teacher unions won raises and other favorable legislation following strike efforts in West Virginia, Arizona, and Colorado in 2018.    

A Biden administration is certainly better for organized labor than the Trump administration, in the public sector and private sector. It means labor unions will have a seat at the table again. It means a more labor friendly National Labor Relations Board. It means there will not be a national right-to-work law. However, if history is any indication, it is unlikely that there will be any national legislation expanding collective bargaining and the right to organize. These battles will likely continue to be fought in state legislatures. Biden is proposing federal guarantees to the right to bargain for teachers, firefighters, and police officers, but his administration and the new Democratic Party controlled Congress will be focused on the public health crisis at the start of his term. If major labor reforms at the national-level are going to happen, they will need to happen in the first two years before Democrats likely lose their slim majorities in at least one chamber of Congress. There is reason for members of the labor movement to be hopeful for national reform, but as a member of a public employee union myself, I will not be holding my breath. 

Books for the Inauguration

This week in North Philly Notes, we showcase a half dozen of our political science titles in honor of the inauguration.

We recommend Good Reasons to Run, edited by Shauna L. Shames, Rachel I. Bernhard, Mirya R. Holman, and Dawn Langan Teele, about women and political candidacy, because Kamala Harris became the first female vice president.

The editors and contributors to Good Reasons to Run, a mix of scholars and practitioners, examine the reasons why women run—and do not run—for political office. They focus on the opportunities, policies, and structures that promote women’s candidacies. How do nonprofits help recruit and finance women as candidates? And what role does money play in women’s campaigns?

We recommend The Great Migration and the Democratic Party, by Keneshia Grant, because it shows the political impact of Black migration on politics. (Grant focuses on three northern cities from 1915 to 1965)

The Great Migration and the Democratic Party frames the Great Migration as an important economic and social event that also had serious political consequences. Keneshia Grant created one of the first listings of Black elected officials that classifies them based on their status as participants in the Great Migration. She also describes some of the policy/political concerns of the migrants. Grant lays the groundwork for ways of thinking about the contemporary impact of Black migration on American politics.

We recommend We Decide! by Michael Menser for its investigation of and insights regarding participatory democracy.

We Decide! draws on liberal, feminist, anarchist, and environmental justice philosophies as well as in-depth case studies of Spanish factory workers, Japanese housewives, and Brazilian socialists to show that participatory democracy actually works. Menser concludes his study by presenting a reconstructed version of the state that is shaped not by corporations but by inclusive communities driven by municipal workers, elected officials, and ordinary citizens working together. In this era of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, the participatory democracy proposed in We Decide! is more significant than ever.

We recommend Democratic Theorizing from the Margins, by Marla Brettschneider, for its clear account of the lessons and theories of democratic culture

Democratic Theorizing from the Margins lays out the basic parameters of diversity-based politics as a still emerging form of democratic theory. Students, activists, and scholars engage in diversity politics on the ground, but generally remain unable to conceptualize a broad understanding of how “politics from the margins”—that is, political thinking and action that comes from groups often left on the outside of mainstream organizing and action—operate effectively in different contexts and environments. Brettschneider offers concrete lessons from many movements to see what they tell us about a new sort of democratic politics. She also addresses traditional democratic theories and draws on the myriad discerning practices employed by marginalized groups in their political activism to enhance the critical capacities of potential movements committed both to social change and democratic action.

We recommend Rude Democracy, by Susan Herbst, about how civility and incivility are strategic weapons on the state of American democracy, given how polarized our country has become.

Democracy is, by its very nature, often rude. But there are limits to how uncivil we should be. In the 2010 edition of Rude Democracy, Susan Herbst explored the ways we discuss public policy, how we treat each other as we do, and how we can create a more civil national culture. She used the examples of Sarah Palin and Barack Obama to illustrate her case. She also examined how young people come to form their own attitudes about civility and political argument. In a new preface for this 2020 paperback edition, the author connects her book to our current highly contentious politics and what it means for the future of democratic argument.

And we encourage readers to look for our forthcoming (in March) title, Furthering Fair Housing, edited by Justin P. Steil, Nicholas F. Kelly, Lawrence J. Vale, and Maia S. Woluchem. This book analyzes federal policy to advance racial equity in housing and neighborhoods.

Furthering Fair Housing analyzes multiple dimensions of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule, which was the most significant federal effort to increase equality of access to place-based resources and opportunities, such as high-performing schools or access to jobs, since the 1968 Fair Housing Act. The editors and contributors to this volume identify failures of past efforts to increase housing choice, explore how the AFFH Rule was crafted, measure the initial effects of the rule before its rescission, and examine its interaction with other contemporary housing issues, such as affordability, gentrification, anti-displacement, and zoning policies.

Temple University Press’s Annual Holiday Give and Get

This week in North Philly Notes, we cap off this unusual year with the staff at Temple University Press suggesting the Temple University Press books they would give along with some non-Temple University Press titles they hope to receive and read this holiday season. 

We wish everyone a happy and healthy holiday season!

Mary Rose Muccie, Director

Give: This year, in hope for and anticipation of a time when we can once again roam freely, I’m giving City in a Park: A History of Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park System, by James McClelland and Lynn Miller. Pick an area of the park, learn its history, and set out to experience the beauty of a big part of what makes Philadelphia special.
Get: When I saw Black Hole Survival Guide, by Janna Levin, on one of those “best books of 2020” lists I was immediately intrigued. Rather than a how-to for 2020 and 2021, it’s a fun and accessible description of what black holes are and what they mean for the universe. 

Karen Baker, Associate Director/Financial Manager

Give: I would like to give Philadelphia: Finding the Hidden City by Joseph E.B. Elliott, Nathaniel Popkin, and Peter Woodall because my son-in-law has discovered their website and is very interested in touring all the hidden locations in the book.
Get: I would like to receive The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish because I love her humor and find her story to be inspiring.

Aaron Javsicas, Editor-in-Chief

Give: Philadelphians know our city boasts a number of French influences in our arts and built environment, but Salut! France Meets Philadelphia will tell you the full story, from early Huguenot settlers seeking religious freedom, to the Ben Franklin Parkway, to Philly’s French restaurant scene which has been among the best in the country. It’s also an absolutely gorgeous book filled with beautiful color illustrations, making Salut! a can’t-miss gift. 

Get: I’m curious about The Blind Light, but Stuart Evers. A novel of Cold War fear, paranoia, and class inequality in England, it might not sound like the uplifting escape one would wish for this year. But as the Times review points out, historical fiction can offer a reorienting perspective on our current struggles, and it’s — what, reassuring? bracing? — to recall that 2020 is certainly not the first time we’ve stared global destruction in the eye. 

Shaun Vigil, Editor

Give: Chia Youyee Vang and Pao Yang’s Prisoner of Wars : A Hmong Fighter Pilot’s Story of Escaping Death and Confronting Life is at the top of my “to give” list. A book that is truly vital, Prisoner of Wars is both accessible and essential to the wide reading public outside of scholarly writing, making every single page count in telling its deeply impactful oral history.

Get: I am hoping to see Hannah Eaton’s most recent graphic novel, Blackwood, under my tree this season. Eaton’s debut graphic novel, On Monsters, was equal parts hauntingly human and fantastic, so I can’t wait to see how her second work utilizes her singular illustration style in a new story.

Ryan Mulligan, Editor

Give: The Defender: The Battle to Protect the Rights of the Accused in Philadelphia tells the story of one of the country’s leading public defender offices. Unlike most states, Pennsylvania leaves it to its counties to fund its public defender offices, leaving Philadelphia’s public defenders to fight for the life of their office alongside the lives of its clients, achieving breakthroughs on both fronts that pioneered the future of justice reform across the country. It’s perfect for readers interested in how law and order has arrived at this point, what we have overcome, and what remains.
Get: Thanks to the dystopian overtones of the past year and the trouble of making meaning and enjoyment after so many sources of both have been shut off have had me thinking often of the traveling artists of Emily St. John Mandel’s post-apocalyptic novel Station Eleven. She has a new novel, titled The Glass Hotel, that I’d love to check out.

Kate Nichols, Art Manager

GiveModern Mobility Aloft: Elevated Highways, Architecture, and Urban Change in Pre-Interstate America by Amy D. Finstein. Having formerly lived in both New York and Boston for extended periods of time, I loved seeing the photographs and reading the text as I worked on the book.
Get: The Overstory by Richard Powers. (Although in full disclosure, this has been in my possession for some time. My reduced attention span over the last few months has me reading mystery thrillers. Any recommendations….?)

Ashley Petrucci, Senior Production Editor

Give: Health the Commonwealth because it is historical but relevant to the current moment.
Get: Henry James Turn of the Screw because I watched The Haunting of Bly Manor and liked it.

Ann-Marie Anderson, Marketing Director

Give: I’m chocolate, you’re vanilla.  I’m black and you’re white.  As children, we learn distinctions based upon what we look like. As adults, we sometimes act upon those distinctions subconsciously and judge people, even children, by what they look like. To help parents, teachers, or anyone interacting with black children, I’d give Do Right By Me, a book that reads like a primer on raising black children in white spaces.  The resources the authors provide in their thoughtful exchange will guide in the development of potentially healthy life outcomes and provide some necessary tools to help black children and their caretakers navigate this biased society.
Get: I hope someone gives me Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok. I’ve heard it’s a gripping portrait of a Chinese immigrant family, filled with mystery and secrets—just what I need to fill the time. 

Nikki Gallant, Marketing Assistant

Give: Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right, by Michael Smerconish, because my family is a huge fan of CNN. When I found out Michael Smerconish had a book with the press, I immediately ran to my dad to tell him. He is also from Doylestown, PA, which is a short drive away from my hometown.
Get: I love classic British Literature and believe that you can never go wrong with a classic for the holidays. I want to read Emma, Sense and Sensibility, Wuthering Heights and Mansfield Park. I would also love the rest of Patti Smith’s books that I have not read. 

Irene Imperio, Advertising and Promotions Manager

Give: With lively photos and club histories, Life, Liberty, and the Mummers feels like the perfect gift this year for transplanted Philadelphians and for those missing the parade this year. 
Get: I’m hoping to get Amboy: Recipes from the Filipino-American Dream to supplement my mom’s “add a little ___ if you like” or “just add ____ to taste!”

Gary Kramer, Publicity Manager

Give: Given that we all want to getaway this year, Getting Away from It All, Karen Stein’s book about vacations and identity seems most appropriate. It explains how we are who we want to be when we don’t have much responsibility other than to ourselves. And that can’t be any timelier in these stressful days.

Get: I just received Bryan Washington’s novel, Memorial, which I am planning to read over break having enjoyed his short story collection Lot earlier this year. So if someone wants to get me Swimming in the Dark, by Thomasz Jedrowski, I’m anxious to read it next!

Protesting Inequalities across America

This week in North Philly Notes, Heather McKee Hurwitz, author of Are We the 99%?, reveals her findings about the Occupy movement and lessons for contemporary activists:

The nearly constant activism of the 2010’s is one indication that more Americans recognize how profoundly inequalities shape our society. Their protests demonstrate frustration about inequalities and demand social change.

The #MeToo movement exposed the hushed experiences of women in the entertainment and media industries and a range of other contexts. Women tweeted en masse to reveal the harassment they endured, which harmed them and stunted their career advancement.

The Black Lives Matter movement has made undeniable Black persons’ disproportionate experiences of hardship and violence. In neighborhoods across the country, groups are marching against police brutality. They are confronting the racism interwoven in their organizations in order to pursue racial justice.

The Occupy movement, which started in 2011, kicked off widespread conversation about class inequality when people left their houses and camped overnight in their town squares—some for months—to demonstrate for economic change. They revealed how the 1% thrived while the majority of families were suffering from the Great Recession. The movement argued that anyone who was not the 1% had a reason to come together. They advocated stricter banking regulations. They argued for taxing the 1%. They protested for relief from student debt. They popularized universal health care. Striving to create changes toward greater economic justice, they called themselves, “We are the 99%.”

Looking back on the last ten years of activism, and nearing the 10-year anniversary of the Occupy movement in 2021, Are We the 99%? examines the diversity of experiences in the movement by analyzing the stories of especially brave women and genderqueer persons from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds. By studying dozens of protests and meetings, and reviewing movement newspapers, flyers, blogs, and other archival materials, Are We the 99%? synthesizes lessons from which anyone concerned about inequalities can learn.

While “the 99%” sought to be an innovative inclusive frame to unify a wide range of people, Are We the 99%? reveals the infighting about this 99% identity. By lumping everyone into one big class, some participants argued that the 99% framing erased the particular experiences of women of color, indigenous persons, and other groups with a history of enduring many kinds of inequality (not just based on class) and who had long been advocating for social change.

When the movement’s message focused on a gender-blind and color-blind definition of class inequality, individuals left the main movement organizations. They formed separate subcommittees to address a more holistic view of class as grounded in and inseparable from other forms of inequality – especially sexism and racism. Groups like Women Occupying Wall Street, Decolonize, Safer Spaces, and Occupy the Hood put forward ways of understanding economic inequality as intrinsically intertwined with racism and sexism. Detailed in the book, they created unique protests and brought Occupy to new communities. These and other groups that emerged from within the movement—and supported Occupy—but also critiqued and opposed aspects of the movement – advocated feminist and racial justice-oriented changes to the main movement and society broadly.

Even in Occupy, a progressive social movement, activists themselves recreated some of the gender, race, and class disparities that they were seeking to change. Yet, especially feminists acted quickly and used a new (at the time) tool—Facebook and Twitter—to address the disparities.

Although years before #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, some Occupy activists called for an excavation of racism and sexism from within the Occupy movement itself.

As seemingly more Americans than ever before evaluate how inequalities profoundly shape our society, Are We the 99%? and its free companion instructor’s guide and student study guide open up conversations about activism against disparities, when that activism falls short of addressing complex and intersectional forms of inequality, and suggests ways to improve inclusivity and diversity in activist and other organizations.

On the highway to grandmother’s house? Lessons from early automobile landscapes

This week in North Philly Notes, Amy Finstein, author of Modern Mobility Aloft, considers how American cities used elevated highways as major architectural statements about local growth and modernization in the early 20th century.

Ah, the winter holidays; that time of the year so often defined by highway car-trips to see family and friends—at least pre-COVID-19. Even as many stay home this year, the basic idea of that pattern—easy mobility—remains a cornerstone of modern American identity, and one indebted to a century’s worth of choices about making landscapes accommodate the scale and pace of the automobile.

As an architectural historian, I wondered if there was a way to measure this automotive shift in the history of the built environment. Historians have documented the design and societal evolution of automobiles and car culture; design and planning scholars have detailed the evolution of streets, roadside landscapes, and Interstate highways as interventions supporting our collective automotive enthusiasm. However, most of these examples thrived outside of city centers. Were there architectural projects that brought the prowess of mobility to bear on the physical landscape of existing American cities?

I found part of the answer to this question in my hometown of Boston, MA. From the 1990s through the early 2000s, the city endured the famous “Big Dig,” an enormous public works project that buried and threaded a tunneled 10-lane highway beneath a still-functioning elevated highway, eventually deconstructing and replacing the elevated highway (the Central Artery) with a surface network of public parks. For the fifty years before the Big Dig, the green steel of the Central Artery had provided a mechanized and looming presence in city streets, unabashedly pronouncing the importance of car travel while simultaneously failing to meet the capacity or speed demands of its automotive users. This, I thought, was a landscape that dramatically demonstrated the arrival of automobility in Boston, and the complexities of its lasting impact. Thus, the genesis of Modern Mobility Aloft was born.

With Boston’s Central Artery as my starting point, I honed in on two other examples of constructed roadways whose physical presences and legacies varied from that in Boston: Chicago’s classically-decorated and still-in-use Wacker Drive, and New York’s West Side Elevated Highway, an Art Deco hulk torn down in the 1990s. All three of these examples were designed in the early twentieth century, but faced hurdles about aesthetics, route, and cost that delayed their implementation; and that ultimately provoked their later reconsideration. Modern Mobility Aloft argues that these constructed roads synthesized architecture and engineering at the scale of the American city, and announced the importance of modern mobility to drivers and streetgoers in prominent visual and experiential terms. The book connects debates about design and transportation across disciplines, showing how the infancy of the automobile age laid the groundwork for landscapes and challenges that linger with us still.

Here are some things that can be learned from studying early urban elevated highways:

  • Before federal highway legislation, many highway initiatives originated locally to respond to local concerns for socio-economic and physical progress.
  • Early 20th century architects, engineers, science-fiction writers, and municipal leaders shared enthusiasm for utopian visions of multi-level streets weaving between and through soaring skyscrapers.
  • The insertion of elevated highways in existing cities became one way of realizing pieces of these utopian schemes.
  • Elevated railroads foretold some of the organizational, visual, and experiential problems of elevated highways, but did not dissuade planners from pursuing them.
  • Architects design more than buildings: high-profile designers planned highway superstructures, on-ramps, guardrails, sculptural reliefs, light fixtures, and balustrades.
  • Connections matter: design and transportation consultants brought similar ideas from place to place, spreading certain patterns across diverse landscapes.
  • Architectural modernity can be conveyed by many different visual languages.
  • The examples in Chicago, New York, and Boston define a pattern that is also visible in many other American cities.
  • Early elevated highways foreshadowed patterns of automobile prioritization and social displacement that came to characterize later federal road-planning approaches.
  • Impacted cities still sport the vestiges of early elevated highways—with varying incarnations of automobile dominance, architectural denial, and visible scars defining 21st century urban landscapes.

So, in many ways, American cities served as the testing grounds for new ideas about modern transportation, architecture, and urbanism. Early elevated highways combined these concepts in singular forms. Before highways stretched across the national landscape, they soared above individual cities, providing exciting yet contradictory visions of expected futures.

Recalling public health efforts in Pennsylvania

This week in North Philly Notes, Jim Higgins, author of The Health of the Commonwealth, looks back on past epidemics.

By the last half of the nineteenth century, science began to unlock the secrets of infectious disease, most importantly that bacteria and viruses were the cause. No cures for human infectious disease emerged until the 1890s, when antitoxins for diphtheria and tetanus debuted. Even without cures for most infectious disease, public health efforts made remarkable inroads at the turn of the twentieth century in Pennsylvania and across the nation. 

As The Health of the Commonwealth neared its final edits, the new coronavirus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic was on the move. Even the barriers posed by the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, which I suspect millions of Americans depend upon, if unconsciously, to keep a dangerous world at bay, delayed the virus by only a matter of hours once it got aboard a transoceanic passenger jet.

 

The responses of the citizenry in the midst of an epidemic varies. Many quiet people in quiet corners cooked food for neighbors, checked on friends, took care of family, and generally soothed unsteady nerves. Most of those stories went unrecorded in our history. Most go unrecorded today, too. At the same time, there has always been resistance to modern public health measures in Pennsylvania. During a smallpox vaccination effort in 1906, parents allowed their elementary school aged children to parade the streets of Waynesboro, Franklin County with an effigy of the commissioner of health, which they kicked, spat upon, and ultimately burned.  The city council of Allentown declared in late-1918 that the flu, which was just beginning to infect people in the city, was actually nothing more than a “regular” cold. Homes, they suggested, should be kept warm to avoid catching these widespread, severe colds, even as the same councilmen were preparing that day to deal with a severe coal shortage throughout the region. Many people just tried to go about life as if nothing were amiss. Just push through it, they seemed to think, through the years and through the typhoid, smallpox, polio, and HIV tragedies. If one continues to go through the motions of life, eventually the threat will pass and (provided one survives) the stout-hearted (or delusional) person who ignores the presence of an epidemic will…what?  I’ve never been able to figure that part out. I guess the best I’ve come up with is that people who ignore epidemics satisfy a psychological need for control. Or because they are terrified. Sometimes, like now, politicians can harness an epidemic as a vehicle for meeting political ends. It happened in 1918 when Pennsylvania’s response to the flu became a major political issue in the 1918 senatorial race.    

But I’ve got news for you. The way people react to widespread disease outbreaks is nothing compared to the changes that have sometimes followed in the wake of epidemics. A single typhoid outbreak in the obscure town of Plymouth, Pennsylvania in 1885 led to the creation of the state board of health. Twenty years later, another typhoid epidemic in Butler, Pennsylvania led to the creation of the state department of health. Five years after that, Pennsylvania possessed the most aggressive and powerful state health department in the nation. 

On a broader note, the standard narrative for both prohibition and women’s suffrage is that after years of agitation, both efforts finally bore fruit nationally in the period 1919-1920. The war helped accelerate both social efforts. During the First World War, many voices demonized alcohol production because it directed labor, grain, and coal away from the war effort—and because the beer industry was dominated by people with German names. We have forgotten that in late-1918, in Pennsylvania and beyond, the alcohol industry was hit with hammer blows by public health officials who closed saloons and banned alcohol sales as an anticrowd measure in the face of the epidemic of flu. In Pittsburgh, the fight over alcohol sales involved military officials and threats of a near-martial law. The alcohol industry lost a great deal of sympathy during the epidemic. In the case of women’s suffrage, a long, bitter fight for the right to vote was pushed to a quicker successful conclusion by the war. Perhaps the flu epidemic offered national sentiment a final shove. Hundreds of thousands of women volunteered in emergency hospitals during the epidemic. Many were middle class and unacquainted with blood and pus and the sounds and sights of dying. Across Pennsylvania, newspapers, politicians, and civic leaders lauded the work of the state’s women and memorialized those who died with a prominence never before seen in American history.   

I really don’t know—nobody knows—whether the video of George Floyd would have sparked the response it did in the absence of COVID-19. But if the response to systemic racism continues, we might look back on a moment, in the midst of pestilence, when certain things changed in our society. I can’t predict exactly how America will change after COVID-19 fades, but if the history of epidemics teaches us anything, then changes are afoot.    

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