How to Kill a City by Peter Moskowitz

In cities across America we are seeing the negative effects of gentrification and how it has the potential to destroy culture, heritage, and displace long time residents. People are being priced out of homes, forced to "drive until they qualify." This phenomenon may seem relegated to high population centers like New York City and the tech hubs in California, but it lies in struggling communities like Detroit and New Orleans as well. No city is protected from the results of increased investment and spending.

Peter Moskowitz aimed to unearth the problems surrounding gentrification in our cities through four case studies: New Orleans, Detroit, San Francisco, and New York City. One of the first sentences of the book gets at a dilemma that many of us face, being both the gentrified and gentrifiers. As a society, we are continuously shifting, moving from city to suburb and back again. We may be the ones priced out of a neighborhood in one area, but them when we move into the next, we are pushing someone else out. Moskowitz describes it as "a losing side and a winning side in gentrification, but both sides are playing the same game, though they are not its designers." 

It is hard to pinpoint the problem of gentrification. If it were easy we could have fixed it by now, but no one individual person, company, or decision creates the negative results. The problem stems from years of racial housing policy traced back to the government programs that were designed to help Americans like FHA. While I knew about these kinds of ingrained racial policies that dictated where people could live, I did not stop to think about how the planning policies that I work with every day have that same effect.

Moskowitz explains that "a municipality opens itself up to gentrification through zoning, tax breaks, and branding power." We zone property to allow high density housing, not stopping to think about the affordable housing that will be demolished in its path. What replaces it is market rate ($1200+ units in Minneapolis) and above units. If we are going to allow for more density, we should hold developers to a standard of affordability that does not have a sunset of 15, 20, or 30 years. 

So how do we keep people in their neighborhoods and cities? How do we stop natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina from displacing thousands of native New Orleans that are unable to return to their family homes thanks to the new development that prices them out? The answer is unclear. In a session at the International Making Cities Livable Conference this week someone suggested  making our cities nice, but not too nice. If we improve the public realm too much, development will be quick to follow, snowballing until you are left with a city like New York, too expensive to live in because the richest have bought up all the condos as real estate speculation.

The closing thoughts the author offers is that he became more involved in fighting for his neighborhood in New York City and through that felt more connected to the place he lives. This is important because so often we retreat to our digital worlds and forget that real interaction has no substitute. Being involved in your city has a profound effect of changing how you view not only your place in the network, but how others fit in. Gentrification may not be ending, but I feel that the more connected we become with our neighborhoods and cities the better it will become. 

Mega Tech: Technology in 2050

Mega Tech: Technology in 2050

Bullets that can move around objects in air, self driving vehicles, drones filling the sky, a neural interface connecting your mind with the internet, and farm equipment that can be sent out to work your field while you are on vacation. These all seem like ideas from a fiction novel, but many of them will be realized by the year 2050. As a planner, I often look twenty years in the future to make predictions and make plans for the best possible growth patterns. The book, Mega Tech edited by Daniel Franklin, looks out more than thirty years to suggest what the future could hold.

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Design with Nature by Ian McHarg

Design with Nature by Ian McHarg

Cities all across the world are realizing their mistake in covering up natural features to construct bigger and better communities. After decades of building over rivers and streams, dredging wetlands for lakes, and sprawling across prime agricultural land, we are finally seeing the devastating impacts. The solutions to these problems are already being implemented, quicker in some municipalities than others, but they have at least started to make progress unearthing the natural features that have long been suppressed under the concrete jungle.

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Evicted by Matthew Desmond

Evicted by Matthew Desmond

As a city planner working with a rental licensing program I found Evicted by Matthew Desmond to be an eye opening and insightful book on the life of both renters and landlords. Desmond tells the story of the rental climate of Milwaukee in 2008 and 2009, just after the housing market collapsed and rents soared through the roof. While the situations Desmond wrote about in the book occurred almost ten years ago, they still proliferate throughout the U.S. today. 

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Genius of the European Square by Suzanne H Crowhurt Lennard and Henry L Lennard

Genius of the European Square by Suzanne H Crowhurt Lennard and Henry L Lennard

Imagine yourself seated on a patio overlooking a large public square. You are enjoying evening drinks with some friends before you run a few errands on the plaza on your way home for the evening. While you are seated, an old acquaintance happens by on their way to pick up a few groceries. They sit down and join in the conversation for a little while, watching their child play at the fountain a short distance away. As the sun sets everyone pays their tab, says their good byes, and heads off in different directions. 

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If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland

If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland

As a result of a recent preservation battle to save a 117 year old house in Minneapolis I began looking into the life of a former local author, Brenda Ueland. She was born in Minneapolis in 1891 and passed away at the age of 94 while residing at 2622 West 44th Street. It was this home that caused a controversy because the new owner set his sights on demolition in favor of more dense residential construction. The neighborhood was outraged that the City would let the last remaining tie to Ueland go, altering the area in a significant way. The City Council voted for the developer, against the decision of the Heritage Preservation Commission.

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The Permaculture City by Toby Henemway

The Permaculture City by Toby Henemway

To those like myself who did not know what permaculture was before coming across this book I will give a quick summary. Permaculture principles include both natural and human ecosystems. While it tends to be thought of as a system for designing gardens, it can be applied to a range of human activities that are both physical and non-physical. The permaculture flower is composed of ten human needs: water, shelter, waste, health, spirit, community, justice, livelihood, food, and energy. The flower, and the cities it represents, function properly when the relationships and connections between the parts is considered. Most strategies look at the sum of the parts only and loose the valuable connections that underlay the system.

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