Urban Justice

Urban planning, housing, transportation, the privatization of public space and the criminalization of people of color and poor people.

Bringing Back the Black

When the United States Census Bureau released its first 2010 census data for California in early March, the news that got immediate attention in the Bay Area was the steep drop in the number of African Americans in the city of Oakland in the last 10 years.

According to the data, Oakland’s African American population plummeted from 142,000 (38 percent) in 2000 to 109,000 (28 percent) in 2010. Even if you included all mixed-race (a new category this census) Oakland residents with some Black ancestry—something which often happens in real life—the number of African Americans in Oakland would only increase by 9,000, or two more percentage points.

Both of the Bay Area’s daily papers emphasized the de-African-Americanization of Oakland in their census coverage. The Oakland Tribune story was headlined, “Census: Blacks Leaving Urban Core For East Bay Suburbs,” while the San Francisco Chronicle led with “25% Drop In African American Population In Oakland.”

Los Angeles Coalition Wins Health Clinic and Jobs from Developer

When you walk into the yellow building of the Esperanza Community Housing Corporation in Los Angeles, you are greeted by bright paintings done in the Diego Rivera and José Orozco muralist styles. This office and the brick warehouse down the street, which houses the UNIDAD[1] Coalition are the sites where one of the first community benefits agreement (CBA) fully funded by a private developer was negotiated.

“This agreement with Palmer provides South LA residents with health services, jobs, affordable housing, small business development, and transit-oriented development (TOD) planning—all desperately needed in this historically underserved community,” notes Paulina Gonzalez, executive director of SAJE.[2]The developer, Geoffrey Palmer, calls his own projects “fortress-like” and in 2003, pleaded “no contest” to criminal charges of illegal demolition.[3] His ornate, market-rate (high-rent), Italian-named complexes are designed to draw affluent professionals to the urban core. In 2009, Palmer won a case in the California Supreme Court against the City of Los Angeles’ attempt to mandate affordable housing in his luxury developments. Despite his political and economic clout, the UNIDAD Coalition[4] and a team of community lawyers[5] was able to negotiate a groundbreaking deal with Palmer in just over three months over the Lorenzo Project, which includes:

The Oakland Renaissance: A Blessing for Some

If the cultural arts are only used as a tool to generate wealth, cities like Oakland run the risk of creating a system of haves and have-nots, which only exacerbates existing problems.

In February 4 this year, a long-dormant block on Oakland’s 14th Street came alive as throngs of people—newly-elected Mayor Jean Quan and City Councilmember Desley Brooks among them—flowed out the doors at the Joyce Gordon Gallery for the opening reception of “Aerosoul 2,” a Black History Month event honoring African American urban calligraphers and style writers (otherwise known as graffiti artists).

Down the street, another gallery owned by Gordon was showing blown glass art by Aziz Diagne and further down, the recently reopened Events Center was holding a live rehearsal by the youth group, Pop Lyfe.

At the same time, just over a mile away, members of Oakland’s international street dance phenomenon, Turf Feinz, were wowing astonished crowds with gravity-defying moves at the Oakland Museum. And in the Uptown district, a large crowd had gathered to view a 100x100 foot projection installation known as the Great Wall of Oakland. Just south of that, public art and music performances, gallery openings, and burlesque shows were engaging hundreds at Oakland’s monthly Art Murmur.

Europe's "Living Cities" Model Coming to the States

Porta Palazzo market in Torino. ©2009 Brian Collier

In October 2010, Living Cities, a collaborative of 22 major funders, brought together the mayors of five U.S. cities in Detroit to announce a significant new investment program to support revitalization and economic development in their communities. The host city received over $20 million in grants, program-related investments, and loans that will be invested in the Woodward Corridor under this initiative. The investment is intended to be more than yet another infusion of desperately needed cash. It is meant to herald a new integrated approach to reinvestment and redevelopment that could serve as a model for other cities.[1]

It is a strategy that integrates economic development, community development, housing, and transportation in one neighborhood or area. While relatively new for the United States, European cities have been taking an integrated approach to planning for years and can offer valuable lessons despite differing legal and political structures. In particular, older, industrial cities in the United States, which are addressing staggering challenges due to declining population, high vacancy rates, and distressing unemployment and poverty levels, might find inspiration on the other side of the Atlantic. A number of European cities faced with similar challenges over the past two decades have had marked success in revitalizing their economies and attracting and retaining residents.

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Chicago School Trains Inner City Youth for Manufacturing Jobs

The 2007 founding of the Austin Polytechnical Academy, a public high school on Chicago’s Westside with a focus on college preparation and careers in engineering and manufacturing, began with the closing of a candy factory. Brach’s—the largest candy manufacturer in the world at that time—was threatening to move production to Mexico and eliminate more than 2,100 jobs following a series of misjudgements by the company’s new owners.[1] In other words, the company’s desire for short-term profit was going to create long-term job and income losses for the workers and their community—a common enough scenario all over Chicago and the rest of the United States.

In 1990, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) Local 738 and the Garfield/Austin Interfaith Action Network (GAIN), approached the Center for Labor and Community Research (CLCR) for help with research and strategy to tackle a problem in their community. Assured by the knowledge that Brach’s was still a viable company despite recent crises, CLCR, IBT, and GAIN spearheaded the Save Brach’s Coalition, which organized about 100 Chicago and Westside community, civic, and religious organizations.[2] Although their efforts did not prevent Brach’s from closing its Chicago plant in 1996, it placed a magnifying lens over the critical role of manufacturing in local economic development and quality of life. Unlike any other sector, manufacturing generates middle-class incomes, creates five new jobs in related sectors for every manufacturing job created, and increases the local tax base because most manufacturing companies are domestically owned, privately-held, small businesses.[3]

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Equitable Growth: Turning Diversity into an Asset

The face of America is changing. Any day now, more than half the babies born will be nonwhite. In the past decade, people of color accounted for 92 percent of our total population growth—up from 65 percent in the previous two decades. California, Hawaii, New Mexico, Texas, and the District of Columbia already have nonwhite majorities, as do nearly 50 metropolitan regions. At a time when much about the future is uncertain, our demographic future is clear: by the year 2050, we will be a majority people of color nation.

Our growing diversity can and should be a source of strength in an ever-globalizing international economy, but this cannot happen without a significant change in course. Inequality is at an all-time high and racial disparities in income, wealth, health, education, and opportunity are wide and persistent.

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San Jose Flea Market Faces BART Expansion, Displacement

In many ways, the council’s initial failure to recognize the economic and social benefits of the flea market speaks to the historical invisibility of immigrant entrepreneurship.

Called La Pulga or “the flea” by the region’s Spanish-speaking communities, the San Jose Flea Market has been a South Bay community institution for more than 50 years. The 120-acre open air market is the largest in the nation and attracts over four million visitors annually. For Mexican, Central and South American, Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, and South Asian immigrants, it has provided a one-of-a-kind opportunity to incubate small businesses offering an unparalleled variety of affordable, culturally-specific goods and services.

In 2007, the Valley Transportation Authority in Santa Clara County released a Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Report on the planned 16-mile extension of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train line from Fremont to San Jose. Its northern most stop would be located on Berryessa Road right by the flea market. Shortly after the report’s release, the owners of the property where the flea market is located hired a consulting firm to draw up plans for an upscale mixed-use residential and commercial development. Then, without informing the vendors, the owners appealed to the San Jose City Council to change the site’s zoning designation to allow for development, and received it—given the potential for new housing stock along the BART extension corridor—thus paving the way for the flea market’s closure.

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