Monday, December 18, 2006

Massive Change

I am happy to report that I had the chance to visit the "Massive Change" exhibit currently running at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) in Chicago, IL (USA). I knew that the exhibit would be a kick for local tree huggers and advocates for sustainability, but was surprised by its lack of (a more pronounced) narrative on what steps individuals could take beyond thoughtful acts of recycling, using sustainable goods, conserving energy (in all its forms), and general support of communities, endeavors and organizations which promote a more humanist approach to living and commerce.

Don't get me wrong, Massive Change is an exhibit that is more than worth going to see-- especially if one has done little or nothing to examine (reflect, really) how our western lifestyle over the last 75+ years needs to adapt to not only environmental changes, but how the global industrial community should address changes (and needs) the world over. We can't (as humans) afford to worry just about our own personal circumstances at the expense of everyone/everything else around us. At least-- that is, in part, my analysis of what Massive Change is trying to get people (in particular, Americans/Westerners) to consider.

For those of us who have sought out green products (whether it is green vehicles, energy saving light bulbs, etc.) or those for whom sustainability has been a conscientious choice, not too much in the exhibit will be new. But to those who might just now be getting started in understanding the sustainability "movement", and how technology and social choices ADD or detract from the "greater good", this exhibit is a solid starting point. (I especially liked the multimedia exhibit area where everything from WalMart's low cost goods made by low-wage workers, to commentaries on how corporate greed actually works to quell innovations that could bring resources & technology to poor and grossly under-served communities at a fraction of the price and hassle of current systems and models.)

I was encouraged that the exhibit highlighted innovations which seek to assist and improve the quality of life, and to eradicate curable diseases whose solutions languish not from a deficiency in technology & science but are due to a deficiency of political & social will. Massive Change highlights the POTENTIAL for initiatives that could afford us our current lifestyle (or better) without sacrificing resources and human capital in the process.

Some of the items from "Massive Change" of particular note include:

- A section on innovator Dean Kamen (Deka Research) and his many ground breaking systems, including a portable energy and water purifying system called "SlingShot". The device is about the size of a washing machine, making it very portable and attainable. Unlike some of the NASA derived water purifying technologies that take a lot of electricity to run (and are 10-15x larger in size), the Kamen device is self-contained, self-sustaining and could make even raw sewage completely safe to drink. The NASA systems are nearly useless in an emergency situation where power, access to petroleum (to run the generators & engines) and portability are issues. (Think of how the Deka device singularly could change life in parts of India, Africa or even how it could have helped Katrina victims in the Gulf area. Then ask yourself who is behind the blocking of products and innovations like the SlingShot, and who stands to benefit from the SlingShot's absence.)

Dean Kamen is probably best known for his invention of the Segway Human Transporter and for the wheelchair that can climb stairs. (The TV cable channel Sundance is running a great program highlighting Kamen's work, called "Iconoclasts".) [ Update 8/19/07: Visitors to the Chicago area can rent Segways and tool around the beautiful lakefront downtown during the non-winter months. A neat way to try out a Segway !]

Kamen's water purifier reminds me of the product LIFESTRAW which, for about $2 to 3 (USD), can make otherwise bacteria laden water drinkable. (I don't recall if Lifestraw was in the exhibit or not...)

- A Section on the City of Chicago and its Green Building initiatives (i.e. use of roof gardens, energy codes & policies, wind power technologies, etc.)
- A display on Alternative Fuel Vehicles & Electric cars: including the Gem Car (an electric, low-velocity vehicle) and other cars and prototype technology. (I don't recall any mention of the Tesla Motors car--even though Tesla is scheduled to have [correction] a showroom in the Chicago area.)

It would have been great to see visitors come away with (more specific) resources as to where and how we could be active participants in moving the technology and initiatives forward, instead of waiting for it to be served (up) to us as goods (and services) to be consumed. However, I realized that having a sense of "initiative" is not a thing that is innate to the majority of contemporary society.
One can only hope, tho'..

Massive Change is only at the MCA through December 31, 2006. So, hurry on down there ! The exhibit is set to travel around the nation. Check the web site for exhibit dates and locations.

© 2006
Topics: Green Issues, Sustainability, Technology, Science, The Arts

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Volkswagen Dresden Factory

Volkswagen's Transparent Factory (Die Glaserne Manufaktur)

For all you Diecast / Matchbox car collectors
, check out this Volkswagen automobile factory in Dresden, Germany. The VW management team and marketing department made the right call when they chose the architectural firm who designed thi
s showcase. The glass display tower where the newly fabricated cars are stored recalls Matchbox hobby display imagery in no uncertain terms. The factory was opened a few years ago and tours are open to the public. Volkswagen's luxury car, the Phaeton, is manufactured at this plant.

With VW's sagging US sales, and high US VW price tags, it's easy to see why VW's overhead might be a bit bloated (as compared to Japanese manufacturers.) I don't know what the Detroit Ford and GM plants look like, but I am guessing they are nothing like the VW plant in Dresden.

But style does count for something (in my book). And the design for this factory is quite impressive on first glance (for those who admire good industrial design).

Although the plant has been open a few years, I thought I'd post the photos here because like my beloved Mac[intosh], I know VW enthusiasts are a (relatively) small group here in the States. (I sure do miss my VW...)

The VW enthusiast forum has posted several high quality photos of the plant and has more information on the plant's design, the manufacturing process, tours, etc. (Be forewarned, there are several photos, so it
may take awhile for the VW Forum page to load.) The Dresden plant even has its own website where you can learn more about the factory and see more pics.

Check out both websites. It's a lot of fun -- even if you don't drive a VW.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Open Source - Freedom to Innovate

Now that the "World Rock, Paper Scissors" competition is settled for the next 12 months, there's no better time than now to use the RPS metaphor in proclaiming that Apple [Computers] cover, smashes and cuts Windows [OS]. My friends and family members know I'm a Macintosh user (23 years and counting), and that I avoid all things Windows-related when possible. With the intention of providing a public service, I am taking this opportunity to tell the handful of tightwad internet surfers who have never heard of Open Office software ( that they would do well to sign on to the Open Source movement and ditch the crappy Windows Office Suite of mediocre programs in favor of OpenOffice.

Open Office software has gone through several incarnations the over the years (and has been published under other names). Only more recently has it gained a reputation as a feature packed, stable, comprehensive alternative to Microsoft Office software.

Oh, and did I mention Open Office software is FREE?

Open Office is a suite of Business and Productivity software apps that include: a word processor, presentation, vector drawing, spreadsheet and database programs (replacing MS Word, Excel, Power Point, etc..) No need to worry about compatibility. Open Office can open existing MS Suite documents, and works on various platforms and operating systems, including Windows XP, Mac OS X, GNU/Linux, Sun Solaris. I've created documents in OO and then opened them in MS Word or Excel without problems. The programs are available as a free download. If your internet connection is slow, you can buy a copy on CD or DVD for about $4.95 (plus shipping) from one of the official OO distributors. That beats paying $265-325+ (USD) for a program that often crashes.

For more on the "Open Source movement", check out the GNU / Free Software Foundation (FSF) website.

If I've got to work on a windoze machine (from time to time), at least I don't have to use the equally crummy MS software.

Topic: Technology, Macs

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Green Machine: Tesla Motors Electric Car

Not Your Daddy's Electric Car

From the Green Files: Tesla Motors has rolled out its first 100 all-Electric vehicles and is quickly approaching the 200th. Thank goodness someone with engineering know-how is taking a stab at the archaic petroleum based automotive business model. Treehuggers have known for years that electric cars have been a viable reality in spite of sabotaging efforts from Detroit and petroleum companies worldwide. (Google the 2006 Documentary, "Who Killed the Electric Car?")

Enter California based Tesla Motors' ( all-electric sports car that goes from 0-to-60 in 4 seconds with a top speed of around 130 MPH. (That 0-60 stat beats a Lamborghini..) It's a 2-seat, open-top, rear drive roadster. It puts those aardvark looking Priuses to shame. The car is designed & engineered in the USA, but built by Lotus Motors (under a contract agreement w/ Tesla) in the UK.

Quoting from the website,
"Because it has no clutch and a very wide, flat torque curve, the acceleration of the Tesla Roadster is much more available to enjoy: just step on the accelerator and go - no matter what speed you are driving, no matter what gear you are in, the acceleration is instantaneous."

Other Tesla highlights include:
- 248 HP; 13,500 RPM
- Zero Foreign oil requirements; Zero Emissions
- Goes 250 miles on a charge
- 2 Speed Transmission; 4-wheel Disk Brakes w/ ABS
- Has a Solar Panel option (for charging), Neat !
- Soft or hardtop option
- Has a port for your iPod (it better at that price !)
- available in 12 colors
- the car can't be hot-wired (so they say..)
- Lots of standard features like Heated Seats & AC, Alloy wheels; Air Bags, Cruise Control, etc.
- Meets Federal DOT requirements for Insurance & Registration

Tesla Motors Service Centers/Showrooms include:
San Carlos, CA (corporate headquarters), New York, Chicago, Miami. If anyone sees one around Chicago, email me !

The Downside: These cars go for about $100,000 USD (or about 1-7/8 Hummers). Hey, but remember when the basic calulator back in the 1970s set you back about $250 and only added, subtracted, divided and multiplied?

Time to go get a lottery ticket..

Topic keywords: Green Issues; Design; Electric Cars.

Thursday, November 02, 2006


As a grad student, I had a chance to study a fair amount of vernacular & iconic architecture. But I have to admit that this particular nod to the "built-environment" slipped by me. While surfing some of my favorite design websites (and I'll be posting those links here soon too), I came across the site It's the brainchild of a guy named Roger D. Beck who has built, lived-in and researched the topic for the last few decades. He's amassed hundreds of photos of these mobile domiciles dating back to the early 1970s and has self-published a book with almost 400 photographs of various mobile bus and truck homes. This gives new meaning to the term "Mobile Home "-- don't it?

I found myself unable to look away, not unlike gawking at a roadside accident. It speaks less to architectural design, imo, than it does to the need for some among us to have the ability to move about freely. It's interesting stuff (from that viewpoint), just the same.

I'm including a link here not so much to encourage like projects, but for the mere spectacle of it all, and as a way to consider how sense of place [home] reconciles with human wanderlust. My Beautiful Shanty, indeed.

There is so much to post.. Hang in there with me people... I've got some interesting stuff coming.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Ultimate Gated City: What Happened to Black SF ?

The "Golden Gates" to the City of San Francisco (by Shanty Minister)

Having lived in California's Bay Area when I was a student at UC Berkeley, I always knew (as an outsider) that the so-called progressive culture in a city known as the home to hippies, was anything but welcoming to different cultures. Afterall, the larger context is still that of an America where issues surrounding race affect all aspects of daily life.

My experience with San Francisco (SF) included the observation that a substantial portion of San Francisco's poorer citizens seemed concentrated in high rise public housing complexes, and not so much diffused --nor concentrated, in other neighborhoods (as is the case in other major cities). I didn't see much economic diversity within the SF city limits as it related to African American neighborhoods (in the plural being the key distinction)-- not like one experiences in other urban centers, like Chicago, New York, LA, or smaller cities in the south, northeast and southeast. There was an obvious socio-economic segregation in San Francisco -- often by race. In a pseudo politically correct Bay Area, no one (in polite society) dared call it segregation. But that is what it appeared to be, most noticeably shaped by race.

There was always an uneasiness for me about San Francisco. The fact that a major international City like San Francisco rolled up its welcome mat around midnight, always seemed to me a not-so unintentional way of controlling who came in and out of the City. [See info on SunDown or sunset towns.]  In the early 1980s, public transportation shut down (more or less) between San Francisco and just about all of its surrounding communities. For people without a car and cab fare, it amounted to a curfew. One had to be out of [SF] town by a certain time, lest you be stranded, literally, on the streets of San Francisco.

Even when accessing San Francisco by car, it always struck me as odd one had to pay a toll to get past the "gates".
I always viewed this as the price of admission to the city and all its implied connotations. It's not like one can easily walk into San Francisco. (Yes, I know it's surrounded by water, and all that implies regarding access.)  For a City whose major industry is tourism, why wouldn't access into the City be encouraged, as a means to encourage new visitors and as a means to stimulate economic vitality? If one lived in or were visiting Oakland or Berkeley, there was no easy way to walk across the City limits from parts outside of SF. Surely, this was by design.

The limited schedule for BART [Bay Area Rapid Transportation] did not provide 24-hour access. San Francisco was no city, it was a sunset town.  San Francisco was a sunset town for those who had not yet achieved '80s yuppie-dum
, and to those without trust funds. As a native Chicagoan (and frequent visitor to a 24-hour New York city), there was something very un-democratic about this. This was San Francisco in 1987. But these were only gut feelings of mine. I never bothered to actually check the actual census demographics. My mistake. I left the Bay Area in 1987, in part, because I knew San Francisco did not welcome all people after dark, and I resented it as an urbanite and as a city planner.

Fast forward to August 2006, when I came across an article published in "San Francisco Magazine", written by Jaimal Yogis.

An excerpt from "What Happened to [B]lack San Francisco?"

"... Census figures show that from 1990 to 2000, while San Francisco’s overall population increased more than 7 percent, the number of people who listed their race as African American fell from 76,343 to 58,791, a decline of 23 percent, more than any major city in the country has experienced. The black population has been decreasing steadily since its peak of 96,078 in 1970; since then, the percentage of San Franciscans who are African American has dropped from 13 percent to 8 percent. Local residents swear that Bayview–Hunters Point was about 80 percent African American in 1970. Now, the percentage has dropped to 45, which means there is no majority African American neighborhood in San Francisco at all.

Partly it’s the city’s extraordinary real estate market, which is pushing nonwealthy families of all races out of San Francisco. In a city with little room to expand, median home prices hovering around $800,000, and an affordable housing quota that lags 5,000 units behind official state and local targets, it is only natural that residents who can never expect to afford a home—or those for whom the only way to make any real money is to sell a home they bought cheaply years ago—are leaving. San Francisco has also become a city where manufacturing jobs have steadily been replaced by professional jobs requiring high levels of education, which low-income African Americans are less likely to have. The resulting stats are disturbing. The median household income for blacks in San Francisco is about $30,000; for whites, it’s $63,000. But the streets of Bayview–Hunters Point teem with alternative theories. This is ethnic cleansing, some people say. ..."

You can check out the rest of Yogis' 2006 article here.

[Update 2013:  Even today, as an architect that works in the Affordable Housing sector, the new & remodeled housing I see happening in San Francisco where there are communities of non-white dwellers, are most often tax payer supported dense, high-rise developments -- often clustered in specific neighborhoods.  The housing that I am seeing built are not scattered-site developments, but the high-rise, dense, segregated prototypes that were a failure in the 1950s and '70s.  Only, these new 2012/2013 developments target senior Asian and latino persons.  African Americans aren't even being considered as a potential demographic for this latest crop of housing in SF.  BTW, I am also seeing low-income persons being clustered in mid-rise developments by race in the Seattle area too.  - Shanty Minister]

©copyright 2006, 2013, SM ShantyWorld,  All rights reserved.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Lack of Diversity in Architecture

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) released its "Demographic Diversity Audit Report" for the profession back in December of 2005 . However, because the report didn't seem to get the kind of attention it deserves (and because this kind of information isn't published annually), I am reposting highlights here. (See the AIA website for more information on this topic.)

Holland & Knight, LLP (a diversity counseling company) prepared the audit for the AIA.
You can read more about the methodology and findings as prepared by Holland & Knight (H&K) and issued to the AIA. I'm making the link to the H&K Report available, because I think it sheds even more light on the topic (and its implications for the profession.)

The American Institute of Architects Summary and Review 2005 Demographic Diversity Audit Report DECEMBER 2005 (report)

"According to the United States Census 2000 Special Tabulation, there are 192,860 architects in the United States. Of that number, 20.3% are women, 2.7% are Black, 5.6% are Hispanic, 6.3% are Asian, and .3% are American Indian.

The major limitation to the value of the data collected by the Census Bureau is that the Census Bureau relies on self-identification [Shantyworld emphasis added] in determining whether a person is an architect, and given the 192,860 figure compared to NCARB's 2004 figure of [only] roughly 101,179 [U.S.] architects, the Census numbers are grossly inflated. The inflated numbers are likely due to unregistered and unlicensed design professionals referring to themselves as architects.

The AIA's membership includes approximately half (52,000) of all registered architects in the United States, and the AIA collects and maintains demographic information on most of them.
[ShantyMinister's Note: It is actually illegal for a person in most US states to refer to themselves as an "architect", and to use the term with/to the public in marketing materials, business cards, letterhead, etc. unless the person holds a State license to practice architecture. Violators can (and often are) charged with Class 4 felony if they misrepresent their licensure status to the public.]

Other, and .45% identified as American Indian, versus the demographics of the profession based on 2000 Census data, which are 85.1% White, 2.7% Black, 5.6% Hispanic, 6.3% Asian, and .3% American Indian.

There were notable differences in the rates of AIA membership between the various racial/ethnic groups and across gender. Thirty-five percent of Blacks, 30% of Hispanics, 32% of Asians, 38% of American Indians, and 39% of Others were not members of the AIA.

Highest degree attained. The vast majority of respondents had either a B. Arch. (45%) or M. Arch. (36%). Only 5% of respondents had an accredited pre-professional architecture degree as their highest degree attained and 4% had a graduate degree in another field of study.
Female respondents (42%) were most likely to hold a M. Arch. as their highest degree attained, while male respondents (48%) were most likely to hold only a B. Arch.

State of Practice: Based on the number of respondents, the states with the highest overall representation of practicing architects were California (12%), Texas (8%), the D.C. metropolitan area (encompassing the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia) (8%), New York (7%), Illinois (5%), and Massachusetts (5%). This geographic distribution is consistent with the geographic distribution of architects generally according to the 2003 NCARB Survey of Registered Architects.

Licensure/Registration: Overall, nearly two-thirds of respondents (64%) were licensed/registered. Of those survey respondents who were not licensed/registered (36%), 84% said they intended to seek licensure/registration. However, whereas 69% of White respondents were licensed/registered, only 45% to 48% of respondents of every other racial/ethnic group were licensed/registered, with no appreciable difference among the various racial/ethnic groups.

Primary Reason for Not Practicing: Over one third of overall respondents (35%) not practicing or not intending to practice architecture as a career identified "other" as their primary reason for not practicing. The second most commonly cited reason for not practicing was "professional dissatisfaction" (20%), comprised of "lack of job satisfaction" and "erosion of the architect's role in the building industry," followed closely by "compensation" (18%)."

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) published an article (July 2003) on its findings regarding the drop-out rate of women architects from the profession. The survey responses from practictioners in the RIBA research has some parallels to the AIA findings. (See the RIBA web site for more information.)

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Olympic Washington PARKing Lot

On Wednesday (Sept 20, 2006), Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley announced that Chicago's Washington Park would be the site for the proposed Olympic Stadium for the 2016 Olympics. YIKES !!

Washington Park is on Chicago's southside, just southwest of The University of Chicago. (Chicago Crain's photo)

Apparently, the announcement came as a total shock to the City Councilmen whose district(s) will be largely affected by the plans, in particular Ald. Arenda Troutman (20th ward). (Chicago Tribune story.)

Daley's staff contacted the aldermen only a few hours before the Wednesday afternoon press conference. What's more disappointing is that the Aldermen didn't seem to take offense at being left out of even the most preliminary of planning meetings as it relates to Olympic development and their constituency. Business as usual in Chicago.

I'll reserve my final judgment on the Stadium plans until Daley's committee presents them publicly, but I'm not hopeful nor encouraged by this announcement. To this planner, it just doesn't seem to fit. I don't think PARK space should be developed into stadium space. A park ceases being a park when it has concrete/steel/plastic or otherwise large man-made elements introduced where greenery use to exist.

The proposed 91,000+ seat Stadium is suppose to be a "temporary" structure. After the 2016 Olympics, the Stadium would be converted into a permanent 10,000 seat multi-use venue. Of course, Chicago has to first convince the Olympic Committee that the games should be held here in 2016.

However, should The Games come here, I see Washington Park turning into Washington Parking Lot. The parked cars (and buses and cabs) will be the only "PARK" in Washington Park.

- Who will be able to see any of Washington Park's landscaping after a 91,000 seat stadium, all the parking, and nearby support services are built around the stadium?

- How do you build a temporary parking lot that accommodates tens of thousands of people ?? (You close all the streets leading up to and through all nearby neighborhoods, and pave over all the grass and green space, and you don't tell the neighborhood residents nor the Alderman how you're going to do it --that's how. )

- And just how many 50-75 year old trees are going to be cut down to erect this "temporary" stadium? No such thing as temporarily cutting down 50+ year old trees.

Consider the massive concrete and paved areas required to service the existing 61,000 seat Soldier Field in nearby Downtown Chicago. Chicagoans are familiar w/ the sea of concrete paved parking lots surrounding Soldier Field. Just where are 30,000+ plus cars/visitors going to park in Washington Park? --which is bound to have substantial nearby (semi permanent) parking. Are multi-level parking structures consistent w/ a "Park" setting ?

Not to mention that fact that the arterial streets surrounding and traversing the area are woefully tight/under-sized for the traffic volumes that would be generated by such an international event like the Olympics. Just ask Hyde park / Garfield / 55th St residents..

If you think the Dan Ryan construction has fouled up the commute, Southside residents can start to look forward to the Olympic Washington PARKing lot starting in 2011.

And Southside residents should worry about eminent domain issues and PUBLIC land being grabbed for private development and private profiteering. I mean, this is a public park-- not private land that can be sold (or even leased long-term) to well-connected developers and fat cats for private gain (i.e. profit). Southsiders, be forewarned.

Let's hope that The Washington Park Advisory Council (led by President Cecelia Butler ) has substantive input during the entire process. Chicagoans and Southside residents need to speak up loudly about this one.

Parks provide a release from dense(r) urban life, man-made forms, and provide some modicum of tranquility for urban dwellers. Once the "Park" is gone, you won't get green space and the openess back. Some things should not be for sale (or lease).

[ And after the Dan Ryan project, does anyone think that this will open up opportunities for Chicago's non-majority business community ? ]

Saturday, September 16, 2006

A World Without Shanties

Wow, so much to talk about...

Topics I'll try to tackle in the coming months (in no particular order):

Architecture News
- potpourri of all things architecture related.

Like check out this fabulous wood viewing perch structure in the small town of Aurland, Norway. (photo, above left) The Aurland Look-Out, designed by Architects Todd Sanders (Canada) and Tommie Wilhelmsen (Norway). A marvelous example of great design & engineering. Visit the sites for more photos.

Great Design Finds
- this might include fabulous industrial design, a great new building/structure; a product or innovation; things that might make life easier; and fun stuff. If you know of a great find, send me a note !

Hideous House of the Month
(a.k.a. Latest Real Estate Scam of the Month, or Over Priced Building of the Month) - self explanatory. Something that's new(er), that's poorly built or is unsafe. Basically, this includes something otherwise insulting to the senses.

Feel free to send in/post your recommendations (include a photo). I'll need help compiling this one. Let's learn from mistakes made by others. Since poor taste is something that is prevalent the world over, this blog will never run out of examples and laughs to share.

Which leads me to a secondary topic under this heading: The need for Appraisal/ Real Estate pricing reform. I am always surprised that a significant portion of a house is valued (in our American system) based primarily on its location than the true (current) value of the labor and materials to erect the structure.

It seems to me, there ought to be two prices listed for American real estate:

1) the actual replacement price to build a like structure --should disaster hit, and
2) the cost to be in that location (which includes a social valuation for the size and type of lot). Hmm, maybe if broken out in such a manner, this could lead to all kinds of constitutional challenges. I could be on to something...

I suggest this because, I've seen plenty of buildings that if located in an "urban" area, might only be appraised at $120K. But then place the EXACT same structure in a predominantly white community and the value is three fold. Same shanty, different street. At its core, this seems spectacularly unfair (and ripe with discrimination of all kinds).

Similarly, I'm always baffled by people who pay $300-400K for a small, dilapidated shack in the suburbs.
If people want to pay more to be in a certain location, the real cost should be tied to the location (as a line item identifiable cost)-- not the actual cost to build the structure. [Fat chance getting rich people to buy into this approach.. but I thought I'd put it out there for others to consider..]

Under this system of valuation, you'd have one price for the land (and by inference, its location valuation), and another for your insurance and taxes upon which the structure is to be appraised. Oh no, such an approach might actually lower the premiums paid to the insurance companies and lower your taxes. Rats !

All this to say that the wealthy have hoodwinked & manipulated the working classes for centuries with this perverted western system for real estate valuation. (Hey, our system of laws were devised by land owners -- not the common working man.)

Lies My Contractor Told Me - As an architect, I haven't had a single project where the Contractor hasn't lied about something. Contractors always lie. It must be part of their DNA. Sometimes the lies are small, but annoying just the same. Other times, they were HUGE lies that could have compromised safety (or even destroyed the structure completely).

Basically, I'm talking about contractor nightmare stories. This is the side of construction HGTV and DIY networks don't like to focus on. I will post true construction stories here for all to learn from. Feel free to send me your construction nightmare stories.
Maybe we can get a contest going...(more on that later. But don't post proper names, phone numbers and addresses.. I'll have to delete those so we don't all get sued.) If you want to complain about a contractor, please do so to your local State's Attorney, Better Business Bureau and to Angie's List. Let's avoid lawsuits stemming from this site. )

Chicago & the Big Box Ordinance
- which is really all about working people needing a liveable wage and the lack of affordable housing (the world over). It just so happens that some Chicago Aldermen decided to heap their general discontent with the aforementioned on an easy target: WalMart. Wal-Mart, for many, represents the corporation that most completely represents bad corporate behavior (bad choices, really) when it comes to fair treatment of workers (here and abroad), true diversity (across all job positions), and slave-wage pay scales for product suppliers located outside the USA. ["Slave wages", a true oxymoron.]

See the AFL-CIO's take on Wal-Mart.
The secondary issues (which by no means are unimportant) include: Corporate largesse-- Growing corporate influence, control, wealth & greed; the general lack of US corporations feeling a greater responsibility to the communities and customers who made them profitable; monopolies & corporate consolidation.

Katrina / Gulf Coast ReBuilding Efforts
- Check out's Disaster Profiteering on the American Gulf Coast Fact Sheet. The Federal Response to Katrina: A National-- but predictable disgrace.

Plus, more to come! I've got so much ground to cover.. I can't post everything in the first month. Post your suggestions !

Sunday, September 10, 2006

It's A Brave New Shanty World

Welcome to My New Blog...Created on this day, 9/10/2006 because:
a) I have wanted to post architecture/planning/ design/social commentary and info for years, but (like many others) was too lazy/unmotivated/overwhelmed to know when and how to start.
b) because for years, I've been waxing on to my friends, clients and family members on various design, environmental and social issues with preacher-like fervor.

And lastly, c) created because I had some time to kill one Sunday. (This seemed like a moderately better use of my time... or maybe not. Time will tell.)

Anyway, pick whatever lame excuse you want.. I'll have plenty of excuses to try to slip past readers in the coming months and years.
Mostly, I want to discuss and share info related to Architecture, Urban Planning & Design -- perhaps with Socio-economic factors included for context. That allows for a pretty wide ranging discussion.

After 11 years on the internet, with membership in various Usenet groups, I figured I might as well try to spread my Shanty propaganda to a broader audience. (Architects are performers, you know..)  
I predicted various architecture/ construction / housing trends long before all the Johnny come-lately social pundits-- but had only my half-interested friends and family as corroborating parties to my insightful rants and late-night predictions.

Of course, some "predictions" aren't really so insightful. They are there for the taking by anyone with common sense and an understanding of American culture, economics and the human condition. 

For example, take the Go-Go Housing Boom of the 1990s (pre - 9/11/01).
What goes up, must come down.

OK, so that was not that tricky a trend/outcome to predict. However, what many people failed to recognize was that the grossly inflated (over valued, really) housing prices of the last 15 years actually will have a long and destructive impact on not just the real estate/housing & construction industries, but on the long-term economic health of the affected communities and the nation in general. (I will provide more facts to support this thesis in future posts, including links to data, economists, planners and others who share my conclusions on this subject.) 

 Anytime a house built for $180,000 sells for $850,000 (to a couple that earns a total of $110K per year), while real wages remain essentially flat (or decline in some cases), a housing bust has to follow. (That was one of my predictions that I was referring to earlier.)

But how do you convince yuppie dot com stock purchasers who have as-yet to sell high, that what you are saying is true (prior to the dot com stock collapse)? Saying, "I told you so" has such a sore loser, wish I had-your stock options tone to it. You just hope that your friends and family members who spent $400K for a $185K house don't have the need to liquidate/sell when the value goes through the downswing. On the other hand, for a community and a nation to right itself and get back on course, the correction HAS to happen-- even to your friends and family members.

Typical oppositional reply:
"Hey, who cares about that socialist/communist crap, Minister Shanty? I got mines.  It is your problem if you are too stupid to figure out how to get yours. A society that ensures its CITIZENS have decent housing and health care would be too much like the welfare state of the pre-Reagan years, or worse, like a "failed" Cuba or the former Soviet Union."

Answer: Well, no shanty is an island to itself.

The problem w/ the Go-Go Housing boom of the 1990s has more to do w/ the growing income/wealth gap between the upper and the working middle classes, and the lack of affordable housing than not wanting a portfolio to appreciate. We can't all afford to drive BMWs in a capitalist society-- at least not in the present American system, can we?

It's hard out here for a Maryland (or worse, Washington, DC) white collar pimp to buy a $450,000 house (median house price in a decent area) for a family of 2 or more on $75,000/year. Before the recently proposed minuscule raise in the Minimum [slave] Wage, the rate will have remained at $5.15/hour since 1995 -- an outrageously immoral rate (and duration) for a nation as wealthy as the USA.

What do you expect from a nation that built it's public and private wealth largely on slave labor?
It's not What You Make, It's What You Keep -

Sins of Omission: Over last 15 years, the mainstream press, construction & real estate media kept reporting that Housing starts were up, yet failed to notice/report/investigate the corresponding trends affecting household wealth and real earning power for the average American remained largely flat, or declined. Instead, the year 2000 saw a new era in social, national and foreign policy: The Happy Talk Era. If you don't hear bad news, did anything really bad happen (to us or to the nation)? In my region (the Midwest), home foreclosures were at an all time high (per capita). If housing starts increase by 1-3%, while home foreclosure rates double or triple in a region, what really is happening is a (re)distribution of wealth -- not just now, but perhaps for a generation or more. (And don't forget-- the bankruptcy laws were also changed in the last year.)

...but then, as one family member keeps telling me: a substantial portion of Americans are stupid and thus, cannot connect the dots on this nor most any other complex issue. Are we so doomed?

Since one's home/real estate is the primary way (most) Americans build family wealth (and pass it on to successive generations), do laws that shift/change/alter who and how wealth is accumulated affect the long term social fabric of a community, its economy and of a nation? Of course, I say they indeed do-- for the worse.
Yet few (in architecture, planning, finance, government, etc.) seemed willing to actually push an agenda which would serve to avert or quell the affordable housing shortage and the lack of real income growth among the working class and the working poor.

Instead, over the last 15 years, the top 2% of American households increased their net worth, while the American middle-class grew smaller and foreclosures, personal debt and bankruptcies reached an all time high for many Americans in the modern era.

The tragedy of Hurricane Katrina served to expose many social, private sector and governmental policy shortcomings -- at least expose them more plainly to those who have been uninterested and unwilling to look at what has been happening for quite some time. Surely folks who drive imported luxury cars and who live in their suburban starter castles didn't think poverty in America had been eradicated or that all social economic ills can be solved by the introduction of a Starbucks in every neighborhood?

Perhaps this blog will serve to document any future predictions, trends, remedies or concerns-- at least as I see 'em. I'm not a good typist and admit to being a so-so speller and editor.   So, I'll give you a pass on typos, and please extend to me the same courtesy.

I will delete / block spam, racist, hateful and untruthful posts from visitors to as I see fit.

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