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Cities, Neighborhoods, and Communities
#1
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Today is the 100th birthday of one of my favorite people ever - Jane Jacobs. In case you never heard of her, she was an author and activist who focused in urban studies and is very famously known for going against, and helping to bring about the downfall of, perhaps the most powerful man in NYC history - city planner Robert Moses (who is also a person I am completely fascinated by). But her work extended far beyond NYC, and the messages in her writings and her life can be applied to much more than just urban neighborhoods and communities.

I won't nerd out on you guys and give a lecture about urban development and cities, or NYC history and NYC contemporary issues, or Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs and all that, but this kind of stuff is a huge passion of mine. Rather, if anyone is interested in taking a break from describing the person above you and talking about what gets you hard, I'd like to start a conversation and ask some questions about what you think about your own cities, neighborhoods, and communities. You don't have to answer all of them, or any of them at all. But here are some questions to maybe get some ideas going:

How would you describe where you live? What is the general vibe of you area? Is it rural, suburban, or urban? Whats the pace of life?

What do buildings look like there? Are they old, new, a mix? Are areas mixed use, or restricted to one type of thing (residential, commercial, industrial)?

How do people act there? Are people friendly? Is there tension? Why is there tension? How diverse is your area? What is the street life like, or is there a street culture at all? On the streets do you mostly encounter people you know or strangers?

Would you describe your area as successful? What makes a neighborhood or community successful? Does your area seem to be in a place of growth, decline, or neither? How different is your area in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening, and at night?

What are the best parts of your area? What makes it unique, desirable? What are the biggest challenges you see facing your area or community?

Whats something that's changed that you miss? Whats something that has changed that you are excited about?

Whats your primary mode of transportation around your area? How much time do you spend on the street? Do you know your neighbors? Are there businesses in your area that you shop at? Do you feel connected to your community? Do you feel safe walking in your area? Why or why not?

If you could be the mayor of your area, what would you change? What would you fight to keep?

Do you feel optimistic about whats ahead?

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#2
How would you describe where you live? What is the general vibe of you area? Is it rural, suburban, or urban? Whats the pace of life?

It's a city alright. Very small, in comparison to what American cities can grow to. Constrained by geography it's the one place that never could and will never follow an orderly planification with straight streets and clear spaces. An amphitheatre of hills sorrounding a ridiculously slim bit of flat land in front on a harbor. People built where they could how they could. Vibe? That on an old-ish decaying city. The pace is normal for a city, tending to slow. Slower than most other places that are not rural or small towns.

What do buildings look like there? Are they old, new, a mix? Are areas mixed use, or restricted to one type of thing (residential, commercial, industrial)?

A bit of everything to be honest. There are modern buildings, XIX century Victorian is still pervasive in the "neat" places, Catholic churches (Spaniard and French), a Lutheran Church with a German School right next to it, etc, etc, etc, all of that also going back to XIX century styles, except for the Spaniard bits, those are older. Other than that a myriad of different houses that don't usually follow a repeated pattern....you know...just houses and they can be from yesterday or from 50 years ago, who knows. Industry is almost non-existent, it is mainly a residential and commercial city based mostly on port activity and then banking, commerce, tourism and education in all its levels (particularly concentrating most of the major colleges/universities in the area), along with housing a naval base. There's a coffee/tea products processing plant, a floating dry dock and a small scale shipyard.

How do people act there? Are people friendly? Is there tension? Why is there tension? How diverse is your area? What is the street life like, or is there a street culture at all? On the streets do you mostly encounter people you know or strangers?

Mostly in a friendly and relaxed manner. If you go to the ghettos, that are usually in the upper parts, things can go bad if you meet the wrong kind of folks concentrating there, but there's the poor folks who are nice are still around. It used to be better in this respect, poverty didn't imply criminal activity. Nowadays that is growing to be the rule in those parts.

No tension, except when someone is protesting against something, usually on labor day or on September 11 (we all know why). Soccer matches can be tricky when our local "hooligans" get out of hand. The worst thing of the sort I've ever seen happen was last year. But these things are far and apart from each other.

Oh there is a street "culture" yes, the "culture" of graffiti-ing everything in sight and drinking and partying cause apparently you don't have anything better to do. Let it be said here that I am proudly NOT a "street" person. There's also better things of course, street performers, small scale carnivals, music events blah blah blah.

Would you describe your area as successful? What makes a neighborhood or community successful? Does your area seem to be in a place of growth, decline, or neither? How different is your area in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening, and at night?

Successful? Hardly. It's barely able to retain its once great status even on a moderate level, it's constantly underfunded, always facing some kind of shit, earthquake, storm, massive fire, etc wrecking havoc. I see decline or at least stagnation. As different as any city when the sun is or isn't there.

What are the best parts of your area? What makes it unique, desirable? What are the biggest challenges you see facing your area or community?

My city is quite unique within the country, visually and historically. Late XIX century European inmigration shaped the local architecture you see today and its geography forces the unusual building process and street path, both facts leading to the unique visual aspect of the city with respect to the rest of the country. It's different than anything that colonial Spaniards or modernism and locations in valleys/river basins have left in other cities.

This historical and unusual aspect makes it worth to visit and know, along with the educational offer, which attracts a good number of the regional students (region = first-level administrative division in the country).

The challenges are many. The municipal administration is always lacking in resources and the chances for producing them are limited. Very little can be done in construction, large scale commerce and expanding the port sector because of the geography constraints and because a good part of the city is a UNESCO heritage site, so it's really hard to just modify and build anew. It also has height limitations for buildings due to a "view to the harbor" legislation. All of this and lack of space, means that both population (numbers and renewing) and economical activity remain stagnant without any easy way to overcome it.

Whats your primary mode of transportation around your area? How much time do you spend on the street? Do you know your neighbors? Are there businesses in your area that you shop at? Do you feel connected to your community? Do you feel safe walking in your area? Why or why not?

Bus and train, only as long as I have to (I spend more time out in the summer while I'm on leave), yes I know most of my immediate neighbours, yes I have pretty much everything I need within reach, no I don't feel connected to anything and I don't want to be either, yes I feel safe (then again I know where and when not to walk through), why? nothing has ever happened to me, not even a small bit of pick-pocketing. Of course, I'm aware of my sorroundings and wise enough to not walk on this or that place at this or that time.

There, only those...it's already taken me forever to reply.
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#3
[MENTION=23369]Boaxy[/MENTION]

Thanks for you thoughtful and detailed reply. It sounds like an interesting area for sure and its nice to read that you are involved and feel involved in the local community. I think thats missing in a lot of areas, that sense of community, and how powerful of an effect it can have on the quality of an area.

All I know about LA is what I've seen in movies and tv shows, which when I apply that logic to NYC and how we are portrayed, I know it means that I know nothing about LA. But I have an idea of it as being more sprawly than dense - would you describe your area as dense? It sounds like it from your description. And it goes against another stereotype that I had of LA, that you'd need a car to get around.

You also describe your area as a hipster. When I hear the word hipster, being from Brooklyn, I immediately think gentrified. Would you describe your area as gentrified or gentrifying?

Also - how long have you lived in that area?

A few more things:

Quote: It's very racially diverse, but also divisive. The asians do business with asians and thrive there. The blacks usually stay in inner city areas and circulate with themselves. The hispanics have their own area and intermingle with them, and the whites are basically neutral and they they to stay away from trouble.

I thought this was particularly interesting for a couple of reasons. NYC is a lot like this too - very diverse as a whole, but in a sense, very segregated. And there's all sorts of reasons why that is, which make sense why people would self segregate like that.

Maybe its also because I've noticed how you write about race and your experiences as a black american, but I found it interesting how you describe white people as being neutral. How do you mean? What about them makes them a neutral force in the community, and what is that neutrality in opposition to that you see in the other racial groups?


Quote:Yes there is street culture. A lot of bad comes with it, and I have been apart of it being black.

I guess with street culture I meant the culture of the street, as in like, street life and the sorts of people you run into. Are there like regulars that you see all the time, people you maybe greet in a polite way, or get to know more? Or is that how you meant it, and I'm just misinterpreting your answer?
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#4
[MENTION=23097]Insertnamehere[/MENTION]
Thanks for replying.. I know I was asking a lot of questions, but these have been really interesting to read so far (at least for me). I've asked you about your city before and I've looked at a lot of photos of it from when I drew that picture of it. As an outsider, it seems really appealing, but again, its not a place that I know much about at all. So thanks for sharing what you did.


Quote:Constrained by geography it's the one place that never could and will never follow an orderly planification with straight streets and clear spaces. An amphitheatre of hills sorrounding a ridiculously slim bit of flat land in front on a harbor. People built where they could how they could.

Thats a really well written description. If this were for a grade, I'd give you some bonus points for that.

Quote:Mostly in a friendly and relaxed manner. If you go to the ghettos, that are usually in the upper parts, things can go bad if you meet the wrong kind of folks concentrating there, but there's the poor folks who are nice are still around. It used to be better in this respect, poverty didn't imply criminal activity. Nowadays that is growing to be the rule in those parts.

Im curious why that could be a growing issue. But it sounds like a problem that a stagnant or declining city would naturally have. Poverty and crime.

Quote: No tension, except when someone is protesting against something, usually on labor day or on September 11 (we all know why).
No, actually I have no idea why people in Chile would protest on Sept. 11th. For real. Can you explain?

Quote:Let it be said here that I am proudly NOT a "street" person. There's also better things of course, street performers, small scale carnivals, music events blah blah blah.
Again, I guess I used the wrong word. Culture of the street... so yeah, Im not asking if you guys think you are "street" or if "street" people are in your area... thats all sort of coded language anyway, isn't it? I mean to ask like the culture of the street - so yeah, the street performers, carnivals, music events... thats more in line with what I meant. Graffiti falls under that too I guess. But yeah, the positive stuff you listed sounds really cool. Streets are made for more than walking - at least in my opinion. Does that stuff pop up organically?

Quote:Successful? Hardly. It's barely able to retain its once great status even on a moderate level, it's constantly underfunded, always facing some kind of shit, earthquake, storm, massive fire, etc wrecking havoc.
How do you feel about living somewhere that has such a threat of natural disaster? Have you been through any before?


Quote:Very little can be done in construction, large scale commerce and expanding the port sector because of the geography constraints and because a good part of the city is a UNESCO heritage site, so it's really hard to just modify and build anew. It also has height limitations for buildings due to a "view to the harbor" legislation. All of this and lack of space, means that both population (numbers and renewing) and economical activity remain stagnant without any easy way to overcome it.

I can see why those things can hold back a city to adapt to changing circumstances, but its also interesting that there's such a spirit of preservation there. I guess a great challenge for cities is how to balance those two things - how to keep a city alive and dynamic, while also preserving the character and history of a place. You'd think if the economy is based on the port and tourism and nearby universities that would be the right path... but it sounds like it requires a different sort of approach for your city.
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#5
[MENTION=21558]Emiliano[/MENTION]

Not sure what you were asking there at first.

Be it that it produced the greater share of the country's GDP (pre-Panama Canal years) or that it was impoverished or that it's just hangin in there like now, poverty has always been there, usually located in the higher parts. But recently, crime (drug microtrafficking, armed aggression) has taken a hold on those particular locations. Whether induced by poverty or using poverty as an excuse.

About the second question, I meant that we all here know why. 9/11 has been a rather complicated anniversary for 43 years.

About street stuff, yes it's fairly organic, sometimes sponsored and organized, even, by the municipal authorities. I don't take graffiti (nor most of people here) as any form of culture, especially since it seems to be directed at monuments, historical buildings and private property. The desire behind it seems to be no more than vandalization. An alternative and a solution to this has been to allot public spaces so people can do murals. These have been quite successful and aesthetically pleasing. Goes well with the overall colorful trait of the city.

Your last question, I've been through several serious storms and one major earthquake. My house still stands, thankfully, I've only had to go by without basic services on said ocassions for 2-3 days. You get used to these things.


Your last comment is very on point, but both tourism (in the form of passenger vessels) and port activities rely on size and space, both of which are lacking here. Since the opening of the Panama canal the port's activity dropped significantly and only recently within the last 20 years it has begun to find a niche in post-panamax ships trading with Asia-Pacific countries and increasingly large cruise ships that use it as a homeport for itineraries bewteen it and Buenos Aires/Montevideo.

The was decade long attempt to upscale the port to meet the demands of these new niches, thus enlarging the economic output that the port can give to the city, but the popular voices, complicated legislation and simply the lack of available space have made that project a near impossible task as of now.
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#6
Boaxy Wrote:New York probably isn't any better though, if not more defiant. Tongue

That really depends on where you are. I think of the biggest misconceptions about NYC is that it's just a big city. This is more like a city of many tiny neighborhoods, and each one is very distinct and different. It's very obvious when you cross from one into another. Just traveling a few blocks in NYC and it can feel like you're in a whole other country. So I mean how people treat you depends so much on where you're at, and if you're a face they recognize or not, or if you're clearly not from around there.

I've basically lived in two neighborhoods - the one I was born in and grew up in, and the one I moved to about 5 years ago. My old neighborhood is mostly immigrant and black, lower and working class, but pretty tight knit. When I walk around with my mom who still lives out there, it can take an hour to get 3 blocks because people are always stopping and chatting.

Where I live now is a neighborhood that's rapidly gentrifying. And even in the time I've lived here, I've seen a big change not only in the demographics, but in the behavior of the street. It's a mostly black neighborhood still, and is just blocks from the historically sort of artsy black neighborhood of Fort Greene. So you see a lot of old school people hanging out on stoops and with folding chairs on corners talking to people. But more and more young white people are moving in and there's less and less of that.

People get off the bus or their bikes and go inside. They are carrying whole foods bags, trader joe bags, not the black plastic ones from buying things in the bodegas or supermarkets in the area. You don't really see the new people hanging out on steps or participating in any aspect of the culture of the street. There's a group of guys that hang out on the corner playing cards - old guys, not like selling drugs or being intimidating or anything, and I heard them talking about how someone called the cops on them recently for suspicious behavior... So there's some major cultural misunderstanding going on here.

I wouldn't call white people in the area I live in as a neutral force. Not that gentrification is a straight up bad thing or that I'm saying that white people are aggressive or don't have a right to live in these neighborhoods. But I still wouldn't call it neutral.
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