Posts by Author: Gregory Scruggs

Plaza Heralds New Era of Afrocentric Development in Seattle Neighborhood

 Painters with Seattle-based mural non-profit Urban ArtWorks put the finishing touches on large-point lettering announcing the Imagine Africatown Pop Up Plaza. (Photo by Gregory Scruggs)

Destiny Harris was one of over 200 volunteers who turned out on Sunday, July 8, to paint the walls and parking lot of the Midtown Center strip mall, a large parcel being redeveloped in Seattle’s historically-black Central District.

“I see my neighborhood getting torn down every day so I decided to help my community around me,” said Harris, who attended elementary through high school in the Central District. “It does feel more empowering to show people that we can build our community back the way it was.”

Once one of the only areas in the city where black families were permitted to buy homes or rent apartments, the Central District has faced a ton of change over the past few decades. The area’s black population dropped from a peak of over 70 percent in the 1970s to less than 20 percent today. The remaining black community itself has also changed, with Ethiopian restaurants just as likely examples of black-owned businesses as soul food spots.

At the Midtown Center parking lot, volunteers painted a kente cloth motif, referencing African diasporic roots extending from formerly enslaved persons to newer neighborhood arrivals from Ethiopia and other East African countries. Local artists painted “IMAGINE AFRICATOWN” on the walls facing the kente cloth parking lot. A collage of photos submitted by nearby residents covers the top of a “community coffee table” on the lot. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan came to cut the ribbon on the pop-up plaza on Saturday.

Destiny Harris, who did her primary and secondary schooling in Seattle's historically-black Central District, adds a splash of green to the block-sized paint job at Midtown Center. (Photo by Gregory Scruggs)

The Central District’s black residents will be making their historic legacy and remaining presence known in a more permanent fashion, thanks to new design guidelines and community-led efforts to develop properties in the neighborhood, including the Midtown Center strip mall.

Africatown, a community land trust that owns 20 percent of the Midtown Center property, received a $1 million grant last month from the Seattle Office of Planning and Community Development. The grant promises to advance the land trust’s efforts to develop affordable rental, homeownership, and business opportunities in the Central District. Community land trusts are specialized nonprofits that take ownership of land usually for the purpose of renting or making housing or commercial and cultural space available for ownership at permanently affordable prices.

The intersection where Midtown Center sits, at 23rd and Union, once found itself at the center of the city’s gentrification debates after a flashy legal pot store opened on the same corner where police once harassed young black men who sold cannabis pre-legalization. The episode earned the area the label of “the most controversial block in Seattle.” (The store, it turns out, is owned by a Jewish businessman with his own roots in the Central District, which was a Jewish neighborhood before it was a black neighborhood.)

Founded by K. Wyking Garrett, a third-generation Central District resident, Africatown wants to reclaim the history of a neighborhood jazz scene that nurtured both Ray Charles and Quincy Jones, while also incorporating the thousands of immigrants from East African countries who have settled in the Seattle area in recent decades.

The stake in Midtown Center is the second property in the Africatown’s portfolio, which also includes a partial ownership stake in an affordable housing development a block away, on the former site of the first black-owned bank west of the Mississippi.

Future developments in the Central District, by Africatown or others, will all be subject to new city-approved design guidelines that call for Afrocentric design standards for projects in the neighborhood.

“Africatown is pioneering this [approach],” says urban planner Nmadili Okwumabua. “The architecture will preserve their presence, the culture, the history, the story.”

Based in Atlanta, Okwumabua came to Seattle in July to give a lecture as part of a weekend effort to solicit design ideas for Midtown Center from local residents. Attendees talked about Afro-diasporic food, music, and festivals as amenities they hope for in the new development. Okwumabua made the case that brick and mortar is just as important as the arts and food.

“Architecturally it’s important that Africatown include [African influence] in their buildings — not just the festivals, the food, the music — the buildings as well,” says Okwumabua. “A thousand years from now archaeologists will ask who were these people and why did they do this?”

Meanwhile, Africatown’s resident engagement has already yielded design changes for Midtown Center from the for-profit developer who controls the other 80 percent of the property, including paving patterns and an art wall inspired by the recent mural installation; a proposed media wall on the public-facing corner with content covering neighborhood history; and increased public space that will give neighborhood residents a place to congregate like they customarily have at that corner of the property. (The for-profit side will also include over 400 units of affordable housing.)

Revealing a collage of photos submitted by local residents. (Photo by Mujale Chisebuka)

There remains some neighborhood concern that this 80 percent of the Midtown Center property not owned by Africatown, which is further along in the development process, won’t have commercial tenants that reflect the needs of the remaining black community. At a recent design review meeting, Lake Union Partners, the developer of the 80 percent, publicly committed to offering below-market rents to recruit black-owned businesses in the smaller retail spaces while charging a chain drugstore at or above market rate on the corner to subsidize the lower rents. But no leases have been signed, yet. The block is slated for demolition by the end of the year.

Although Africatown lags behind the faster pace of the for-profit developer, the non-profit group continues to build momentum. On Saturday, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan cut the ribbon on the July mural and street furniture installation, formally christened the Imagine Africatown Pop Up Plaza. Perched alongside the city’s now ubiquitous blue-and-white land use signs heralding a new development, a new sign catches the eye with architectural renderings inspired by the fictional cityscape of Wakanda, from the comic-book-turned-blockbuster-film, “Black Panther.” Its message reads: “Coming Soon.”

 

Rocking the Billion-Dollar Boat in Seattle

On an April evening, with skies clear enough to signal the end of Seattle’s winter gloom, Seattle City Council Member Kshama Sawant strode to a podium in front of the Amazon Spheres, a biodome for employees that has become the architectural symbol of the company’s massive downtown campus.

Sawant’s background — she grew up in Mumbai and studied computer engineering — is similar to many of the software engineers employed at Amazon, the world’s second most valuable corporation. Some of those employees peered curiously from mezzanine windows as protesters beckoned them to join the rally, held in support of a new local tax on large employers, the proceeds of which would directly fund affordable housing in a city whose homelessness crisis has reached unprecedented levels.

Other Amazon employees played with their pooches in a company-sponsored dog park only a few feet away from the rally, trying to ignore chants of, “Ho ho, hey hey, Amazon has got to pay!” Tourists snapped selfies in front of the cashier-free Amazon Go next door, while rally speakers decried how the company paid zero federal taxes last year while receiving a $789-million windfall from the newly reformed tax code.

“Every square inch of this city is starting to be a space that only the very wealthy, only the billionaires, only the most massive profitable corporations can inhabit,” Sawant yelled into the microphone.

Seattle house prices and rent-burdened households have soared ever higher, and the metropolitan area now has the third largest homeless population in the country. The consulting firm McKinsey & Company estimates that the region must spend at least $410 million annually to stem its homelessness crisis, which was declared a civil state of emergency in 2015.

“Are we going to accept this?” she asked. The few hundred before her waving signs roared back, “No!”

“That is why our movement to tax Amazon and other big corporations is gaining ground,” she said.

Today, the Seattle City Council is expected to vote on implementing the so-called “head tax” for companies grossing more than $20 million a year, taking direct aim at big-revenue tech firms — chiefly Amazon — that have made the city their home. The tax, which would charge a company approximately $500 annually per employee, is expected to raise $75 million a year for affordable housing and homelessness services. On May 11, the Council voted 5-4 to reject a watered-down, more business-friendly proposal by Mayor Jenny Durkan, which would have charged $250 per employee and raised about $40 million per year. Mayor Durkan has indicated she may veto the bill in its current form.

Kshama Sawant speaks at an April rally in support of the so-called "head tax."(Photo by Gregory Scruggs)

The business community vociferously opposes the tax. Amazon itself recently made its biggest public political move in Seattle when the tech giant announced a construction pause on a new tower and signaled it may sublease Seattle’s second-tallest office building instead of filling it with its own employees, all pending the outcome of the vote.

Construction unions, fearing lost jobs, have packed city council hearings to oppose the tax, while homeless advocates insist the money is desperately needed as people die on the streets. Although Amazon is not a sympathetic character in Seattle, some homeowners have banded together in a show of neighborhood activism to protest the city’s desire to collect more revenue when they don’t believe existing funds are making a dent in the rising number of unsheltered people.

The heated debate around the tax has sharpened some divisions and created at least a few new ones, most notably between the corporate behemoth, Amazon, and the city with which it has become so closely associated. Somehow, Sawant has made her way to the center of it all.

A Socialist Awakening

Sawant was born in Pune, India and had a middle-class upbringing in Mumbai, with a family she describes as “protective and loving,” while also “apolitical and math-oriented.” The omnipresent suffering on Mumbai’s streets, she says, planted the seeds of her political awakening.

“I was obsessed with the question of poverty, injustice, and oppression from a very young age,” she said in a recent interview at City Hall. “But I was frustrated with the answers I got of why poverty exists.” Arguments that the poor didn’t work hard enough, for example, she found ludicrous.

“Human society has more than enough resources to solve this problem,” she said. “Was there a logical explanation?”

Sawant mulled those thoughts after she received her bachelor’s from the University of Mumbai in 1994, and then pursued a career in IT, first in India and then in North Carolina at the now-bankrupt Nortel Networks. As her philosophy on poverty and injustice continued to evolve, she enrolled at North Carolina State University to pursue a doctorate in economics. In 2006, she moved with her then-husband, another Indian software engineer, to a Seattle suburb, where he worked for Microsoft. She defended her doctoral dissertation, “Elderly Labor Supply in a Rural, Less Developed Economy: An Empirical Study”, in 2009.

That same year, she moved inside Seattle city limits and began attending political meetings while teaching economics and statistics at local colleges. “I was looking for somebody who could confirm my analysis that obviously poverty and suffering of the kind that we see — caste oppression and sexual violence — is not endemic to human society,” she said.

Around the time she became a U.S. citizen (in 2010), Sawant stumbled upon a Socialist Alternative Party meeting in Seattle. “It offered me exactly what I was looking for: a Marxist critique of capitalism and an argument for a different kind of society,” she said.

Ironically, as her first marriage fell apart, Sawant took up the cause of marriage equality as an activist within the Socialist Alternative Party, helping to organize marches in support of the cause (which Washington voters eventually approved, in November 2012).

2011 proved to be a pivotal year. Labor unions took over the Wisconsin State House. Sawant recalls seeing the occupiers wave Egyptian flags, which stuck with her as evidence of a growing solidarity between workers’ movements in the U.S. and abroad. And Occupy Wall Street gained traction, with Seattle hosting its own encampment, first downtown and then on a plaza in front of Seattle Central College, where Sawant taught. She claims to have played a role through her union, American Federation of Teachers Local 1789, in bringing the protest to the college.

She did not sleep overnight at Occupy Seattle, but visited daily, building relationships and learning more about the causes joined under the Occupy banner. She recalls showing up with carafes of hot chai on the cold, rainy night that Occupy Seattle’s camp moved the several blocks to her community college.

The next year revealed the limits of outsider activism. “Occupy was such an inspiring movement and then suddenly you had the Obama re-election year and no political alternatives were being offered,” she said. “Movements die a slow death by not having a political avenue for the movement to build itself.”

Spurred by that desire for alternatives, Seattle’s Socialist Alternative Party debated running a candidate for city council in 2013. Sawant argued vigorously in favor, and was surprised when the local party chapter nominated her to be the candidate.

“I was not eager in any way,” she said. She feared her foreign name would be unpronounceable and her Indian accent would turn off local voters. As a self-described introvert, she was anxious about the kind of public scrutiny that comes with running for office. That anxiety was well-founded. After she called for protests during Trump’s inauguration, her office was inundated with racist, xenophobic, and misogynistic threats.

With a strong ground game, deep base of volunteers, and an influx of small-dollar donations instead of typical big-donor checks, Sawant upset four-term incumbent Richard Conlin, somehow overcoming an eight-percentage-point polling deficit on that election day in 2013.

The Fight for $15, and More

Sawant’s campaign posters offer a simple checklist: $15/Hour. Tax the Rich. Rent Control. Stacks of the red posters are always at the ready in her office. Her door is always open to community organizers. After a recent interview, staffers mobilized to join a standoff over a city sweep of an unsanctioned homeless encampment.

In 2015, Sawant achieved her first checklist item when Seattle became the first major U.S. city to set a $15 per hour minimum wage. The “fight for 15” spread to cities nationwide and became a fixture on the presidential campaign trail — during the Democratic primary, at least.

Labor union members are divided on the head tax. Some want big business to pay their share; others, such as ironworker Adilson Correia, fear the measure will prompt companies to disinvest, costing jobs. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

“Putting [the $15 minimum wage] on the national political map was a massive, historic victory,” Sawant says. “It represents a transfer of wealth of $3 billion from the bosses to the workers.”

Sawant calls the head tax proposal the “new fight for fifteen” and hopes this kind of big-business tax will spread, especially to potential Amazon HQ2 cities. (Denver already has a head tax; Chicago is considering reimposing one; Mountain View, Google’s hometown, is also contemplating such a tax.)

“That’s why the stakes are so high,” she said, and why Amazon has reacted so publicly with its plan to halt construction, a move that successfully divided organized labor on the issue and led a local ironworkers union to drown out Sawant at a rally in early May.

“We don’t question [the workers’] worry,” she told Next City a week after that rally. “Shame on Amazon and Bezos for holding their jobs as a club against all working people who are struggling for affordable housing. There is no financial compulsion that Amazon is facing to do this. They are simply doing this as a scare tactic. They are engaging in extortion.”

But the “fight for fifteen” aside, Sawant’s track record on other legislative priorities has had fewer victory laps.

Tax the rich? Washington’s Supreme Court quickly shot down a municipal income tax that tried to dodge a state constitutional ban.

Rent control? That’s still illegal under state law. But as part of a patchwork “tenants’ bill of rights,” she introduced legislation that clamped down on move-in fees and required minimum rental upkeep from landlords (a process that got her sued for defamation when she nicknamed the bill after a notorious local slumlord). She also proposed an ordinance requiring landlords to pay relocation assistance if they price out tenants.

Legislating on Her Terms

On the head tax — what has proven to be the highest-stakes legislation yet in her career — Sawant supports but did not sponsor the bill in the form that will be voted on today. Particulars of the current bill arose from the recommendations of a March report prepared by a 17-member city-sanctioned progressive revenue task force.

“Sawant isn’t a sponsor of the bill and is not guiding the [head tax] conversations,” Council Member Teresa Mosqueda said, via e-mail.

Sawant said that she declined to co-sponsor the bill because it asks for only half of the $150 million annually that the coalition Housing for All insists is necessary to adequately address the housing and homelessness crisis. But she also said she heard one of the co-sponsors threatened to withdraw support for the bill if she co-signed. None of the bill’s four co-sponsors answered queries about the bill’s sponsorship.

Former city council member Tim Burgess had an explanation for the tension among sitting council members. “There are two personas of Kshama Sawant. There is the private, one-on-one persona that you see which is kind, respectful, and considerate,” Burgess said. “And then there is the public Kshama Sawant and the public is definitely belligerent, loud, forceful, and denigrating to those who take a different position.”

Although Sawant served alongside Burgess in city council for four years, she was the lone dissenting vote in a council decision that made Burgess the mayor for 71 days last year, to fill a vacancy left by former Mayor Ed Murray’s resignation in the wake of a child sex-abuse scandal.

Burgess, who considers himself a centrist, said that his professional relationship with Sawant was “essentially non-existent.”

“There was not the kind of give-and-take, back-and-forth that happens between all the other councilmembers,” he said.

Sawant dismissed such criticism: “That your primary role is to get consensus behind the scenes? No.”

None of the eight other sitting council members agreed to comment for this story.

Kirsten Harris-Talley, another former council member who recently chaired the city’s progressive revenue task force, feels differently. Harris-Talley served on city council for two months last year to fill Burgess’ vacant seat when he became interim mayor in place of Murray. Her short tenure on the city council included budget negotiations that involved working closely with Sawant.

“She is extraordinarily easy to talk to and very pleasant,” said Harris-Talley, who had the office next to Sawant’s. “She’s really clear, bold, and declarative. A budget process is challenging and there was back-and-forth all the time.”

Burgess fears Sawant’s confrontational style may backfire. “She has used the Socialist Alternative rhetoric of ‘tax the rich’ and go after Amazon,” he said. “Other council members don’t appreciate [that kind of rhetoric] and don’t agree that’s the right approach to build support for public policy, especially in the tax area where willful compliance of tax measures is so important.”

About Sawant’s rhetoric, Harris-Talley also disagrees. “She has a very direct, almost British style of commentary, which I think for American parliamentary process can feel a little overly acute. But I don’t think that’s actually the case,” she said. “There is a robust form of conversation that produces directness, emotion, and humanity in deliberation.”

Still, Burgess insists on more cordiality inside city council. “Where it crosses the line with me is when it becomes disruptive,” he said. “Kshama’s staff members — city employees — will be in city council chambers encouraging people to disrupt the council meetings. That’s totally wrong.”

Although her style may rankle fellow council members and alienate middle-of-the-road voters, Sawant also inspires admiration from supporters, emotion that was visible at the April rally and at other public events along the way to the May 11 vote.

“Kshama Sawant is the type of leader we need not just in Seattle, but in the nation,” said Stan Strasner, a Seattle substitute teacher, after attending one of last week’s city council hearings on the head tax. “On issue after issue, she’s on the right side.”

All Politics Is Local

Sawant’s focus on big issues may come at the expense of neighborhood politics. In 2015, Seattle switched to a district-based system. Sawant went from holding an at-large seat to being re-elected to represent District 3, which encompasses renter-heavy Capitol Hill, the historically black and rapidly gentrifying Central Area, and wealthy Montlake and Madison Valley, bastions of single-family homeowners.

Sawant herself owns a 114-year-old mortgaged house in the Leschi neighborhood with her current husband, Calvin Priest, a Socialist Alternative organizer. She reported a net worth of $270,000 in the most recent election financial disclosure forms.

Political analysts believe her district is safe, but her bold stands have captured the attention of international socialist movements. She traveled to Berlin and Dublin just in the several weeks Next City was in touch with her office for this story. Can she balance this higher international profile with attention to such granular constituent concerns as park maintenance and pothole repair?

Burgess, who in his time on the council was an at-large member, said he received regular complaints from District 3 constituents who felt they got little traction from Sawant’s office. “She travels a lot giving speeches and building support for her political party,” he said. “Rightly or wrongly, [Sawant’s office] did not seem to think constituent services were that important.”

Next City reached out to several community organizations in Sawant’s district — some of whom are still bitter about a recent restructuring of city-to-neighborhood consultation — and received a mix of responses. Knox Gardner, a community leader who voted for her twice, complained that he never sees her around the neighborhood, that he’s gotten no traction on a dispute with the transportation department over a curb project, and that she does not respond to neighborhood festival invitations.

“She has not pivoted AT ALL to actually being a DISTRICT representative,” he wrote via Facebook Messenger. “For actual ‘pothole politics,’ she is beyond useless.”

In contrast, the Capitol Hill Community Council feels she can balance both her district-specific and citywide responsibilities. Officers there told me that her fight for citywide issues such as homelessness and housing affordability helps their neighborhood with its most pressing needs.

“It is true that she is concentrating on the big issues. But really, what could be more important than solving the homeless issue?” asked Diane Snell, a Sawant donor and voter who serves on the board of the Leschi Community Council, in Sawant’s own neighborhood.

Sawant cites her efforts to expand a utility discount program and secure compensation for small businesses affected by a road work project as examples of her attentiveness to constituent services. However, at least one of those small businesses publicly disputes that Sawant was a helpful partner.

“I have no doubt in my mind that we can always do better,” Sawant said. “We approach all political questions with humility, working endless hours, completely dedicated to this work.”

In a district where resentment against Amazon runs high, a successful head-tax vote may propel her to re-election in 2019. At the same time, her perceived indifference to neighborhood concerns may prove her undoing, especially in the face of the head-tax backlash that has caused Seattle civic discourse to reach a boiling point — a discourse in which Sawant has deliberately turned up the heat.

“All of us are finding it hard to live in this city and it’s becoming a playground for the wealthy,” she said. “The real boiling point that we should worry about is the question of who gets to occupy urban spaces. What has reached a boiling point is the absolute un-liveability and unaffordability of this city.”

Our features are made possible with generous support from The Ford Foundation.

 

The Missing Link in Seattle’s Streetcar System

A Seattle Streetcar stop along the First Hill line, with Yesler Terrace under redevelopment in the background. (Photo by Gregory Scruggs)

On a typically rainy Tuesday morning, a group of commuters huddled under a glass shelter along a median in a traffic-calmed street, waiting for the Seattle Streetcar’s First Hill line. Among them was a physician’s assistant, who expressed her disappointment at Mayor Jenny Durkan’s decision late last month to pause further construction on a downtown streetcar extension.

“It’s really too bad because this is so much more efficient and cleaner,” says Susan, who asked that her last name not be used because she was not authorized by her employer, a local hospital, to speak to the media. “It’s always full, people love it, and I would hate to see it downsized in any way.”

The 2.5 mile-long First Hill line opened in 2016, connecting neighborhoods on the edge of downtown like Pioneer Square and Chinatown to Capitol Hill, the city’s densest residential neighborhood, via a major cluster of hospitals on First Hill. But, like a metaphor for a divided city, it does not connect with the 1.3 mile-long South Lake Union line, which opened in 2007 and serves the Amazon campus.

The two lines combined averaged between 4,000 and 5,000 riders per month in 2017, according to a Seattle Department of Transportation database.

A proposed extension, called the Center City Connector, would connect the two lines, and also serve key downtown destinations like the ferry terminal, Pike Place Market, and the Seattle Art Museum. The transportation department projected the extension would nearly quintuple streetcar ridership to 20,000-24,000 per month.

The project broke ground earlier this year, but ground to a halt on March 30. The mayor cited a cost discrepancy between the Seattle Department of Transportation and King County Metro, the transit agency that operates the streetcar. In an internal memo, the agency suggested that operating the expanded network would cost 50 percent more than what the department claimed publicly, because of higher staffing needs. The city indicated it will conduct an independent review of the streetcar project, which itself could add millions to the final cost.

The consequences of delaying the expansion worry transit activists like Seattle Subway, a grassroots group that was instrumental in the voter-approved passage of a landmark $54 billion regional transit package in 2016.

In a petition to the mayor, Seattle Subway notes that the federal government has already allocated $75 million to the Seattle Streetcar, money that can’t be redistributed to some other transit project, and that turning down the funds may jeopardize a host of other regional transportation infrastructure priorities currently on the table with the Federal Transit Administration. It’s happened before: when Seattle voters turned down federal dollars for a mass transit system in the 1960s and ’70s, the funds ultimately went to Atlanta, a decision many see as the original sin of greater Seattle’s woefully inadequate public transportation network.

“The Center City Connector will be easy-to-understand, street-level transit that will create a rapid connection between major tourist destinations and small, minority-owned businesses in the International District,” says Keith Kyle, executive director of Seattle Subway. “[The extension will also] create a permanent transit link between the city’s largest public housing complex, Yesler Terrace, and downtown Seattle, the largest job center in the Northwest.”

Yesler Terrace, the first racially integrated public housing complex in the U.S. when it opened in 1941, is currently undergoing a complete redevelopment, transforming from two-story tract housing to dense high-rises, with the First Hill line running right through the center.

The Seattle Department of Transportation has an explicit racial equity and social justice policy supposedly guiding its transportation decisions. A department spokesperson did not answer whether halting expansion of the streetcar ran afoul of those policies, but did say, “Existing streetcar lines connect to local and regional buses rail lines that provide access to, from, and through Seattle.”

Meanwhile, Amazon has subsidized the South Lake Union line to the tune of millions of dollars. The Urbanist, another advocacy group, called on the tech giant to plug the fiscal gap for the Center City Connector. An Amazon spokesperson declined to comment on the proposal, but did confirm Amazon’s purchase of an additional streetcar and a decade’s worth of operations payments.

The mayor’s streetcar decision was the first in a flurry of mobility moves over the last two weeks as Seattle prepares for a so-called “period of maximum constraint” from this year through 2021, after a waterfront viaduct is demolished and buses are kicked out of the downtown transit tunnel, but before the light rail system extends to a major hub in north Seattle. After putting the pause on the streetcar, the mayor floated congestion pricing as a viable option but then also pushed back a promised downtown protected bike lane by two years.

The dizzying pace of decisions has left some transit activists’ heads spinning, like Beau Morton of the Transit Riders Union, which advocated for the city’s low-income transit fare.

“While Transit Riders Union members are divided on the streetcar, personally I think this is a pretty concerning development and just one among several delays and cancellations of transit and bike projects that has me wondering what exactly is going on with Move Seattle [a voter-approved transportation levy] and [the Seattle Department of Transportation],” Morton says.

 

Rio City Councilor Marielle Franco Was Also a Transit Activist

The late Marielle Franco, second from left. (Credit: Institute for Transportation and Development Policy)

A little over two weeks have passed since Rio de Janeiro city councilor and former Rio Human Rights Commission member Marielle Franco was shot and killed along with her driver in what authorities believe was a targeted assassination. Since then, protests and memorials have engulfed Brazil in honor of 38-year-old political rarity: an openly queer, black single mother, born and raised in a favela.

The hashtag #MariellePresente has gone viral and black cultural luminaries like singer Janelle Monae, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, model Naomi Campbell, writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Black Lives Matter movement co-founders Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi have signed an open letter calling for a full and independent investigation into her death.

The global outcry over Franco’s death has rightly focused on her criticism of the police on human rights grounds. She had been serving on a city council committee looking into the recent federally-ordered military takeover of the Rio de Janeiro state police department and had called out a specific police battalion on her Facebook page for three murders in the Acarí favela three days before unknown gunmen tailed her vehicle as she left an event on women’s empowerment. Brazilian media has reported that the ammunition found at the scene was sold to the federal police in 2006, furthering suspicions that the police were behind her killing.

But Franco also doggedly pursued another topic in her all-too-brief term in office: public transit.

Franco was originally from the Maré, a favela community wedged between two highways, not far from Rio’s international airport. When she earned a scholarship to study sociology at the prestigious Catholic Pontifical University in Rio’s affluent south zone, that meant an hours-long commute on multiple buses to and from her classes.

“She told me once how she discovered an entire other city when she began her studies,” says an advisor, who preferred not to be named because Franco’s assassins are still at large, via WhatsApp. “She didn’t even know how to get [here] at first!”

The advisor says Franco recounted how sometimes she and other passengers would have to disembark and push the buses when they stalled.

“Lots of experts talk about mobility from a technical and efficiency perspective,” the advisor says. “She spoke from daily lived experience about how this technical debate exists separate from women’s demands and from a democratic perspective on urban mobility that takes into consideration the favela as part of the city.”

During her 14 months in office, she helped draft legislation banning public bus companies from relying on the driver to also collect the fare. (Brazilian buses commonly have a second employee on board responsible for fare collection.) She also authored legislation that legalizes the mototaxi profession, one of the key forms of transit serving hillside favelas’ narrow, winding streets.

Her biggest effort, however, was around women’s safety on public transport. Her campaign, Assédio Não É Passageiro (Harassment Isn’t a Passenger), called for the city to fund public education efforts, provide hotline numbers for reporting sexual harassment, mandatory training on unwanted sexual attention for transit operators, and fines for bus companies that don’t follow the law.

“Harassment and public safety are the principal problems that women face with regards to getting around the city,” says Clarisse Linke, director of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy’s Brazil office, whose studies on the issue backed up Franco’s public campaigning.

Linke was instrumental in making Franco a keynote speaker at the institute’s international conference last year, in Santiago, Chile, where I interviewed her after we took a bike tour of the city with local cycling activists.

“We were putting together a program with a focus on social inclusion, so I thought it was important to have people from Latin America that were black and legitimate representatives of the people,” Linke says.

Linke calls her “an illuminated person” full of “integrity.”

“Marielle’s legacy will be the visibility she gave to these topics. We can’t ignore them,” Linke says. “The people who make policy in Brazil historically are privileged people like me, you, all of us. She showed us it was essential to give a voice to those are not privileged. She was a guiding star for all of us who were close to her.”

 

Municipal Financing Is Adapting to a World of Bigger Cities

This week, planners, policymakers and urban practitioners from across the world are gathering in Kuala Lumpur for World Urban Forum 9. This story is part of Next City’s coverage of the Forum. For more stories, visit our World Urban Forum 9 page here.

As the dust settles from the first World Urban Forum since the adoption of the New Urban Agenda, a trillion-dollar question looms large: How will the world pay for the UN’s ambitious vision of sustainable cities?

While no economist has ever put a price tag on the 20-year quest to implement the New Urban Agenda, a 2015 report called “The State of City Climate Finance” estimated a $4.5-5.4 trillion need in urban financing at the global level. With very few financial pledges made in Quito during Habitat III, it’s clear that countries will not be opening their foreign aid wallets to fully foot the bill.

That’s a major bone of contention for city leaders, like Quito Mayor Mauricio Rodas, who feels a special responsibility to deliver on the New Urban Agenda as the leader of the summit’s host city. “The New Urban Agenda bestowed local governments with greater responsibilities they didn’t have in the past, but [national governments] didn’t bestow them with the necessary funding resources,” he told Next City at World Urban Forum 9.

So Rodas is taking matters into his own hands. Last December he announced a goal of zero emissions from public transit serving Quito’s old city, the world’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, which he hopes will be a pilot project for climate retrofitting historic districts around the world. To get there, he has been in talks with development banks and aid agencies about developing a fast-track line of financing for such projects.

“The idea of having a direct relationship with international development banks for financing could be a way to overcome a potential obstacle to reach financing if you have to go through the national government for a guarantee,” he said.

That’s the kind of creative thinking that gives hope to Sameh Wahba, who runs the World Bank’s urban program. Their financing strategy has also evolved post-Habitat III.

“Our [new] thinking comes from the realization of the limitation of our resources relative to the magnitude of the challenge,” he said. “The fact [is] that the cities needs are getting larger. Our money is no longer anything but a catalyst to larger financial flows.”

To that end, he cited the Bank’s efforts in Dhaka East to turn a flood-prone quadrant of the Bangladeshi capital into a planned urban expansion. But a bank loan alone won’t pay for the expensive new embankments and other hard infrastructure. Instead, land value capture will finance the project—the newly developable land will be worth a lot of money that municipal authorities can tax.

“By reducing the [flooding] risk you can further densify this area and create a larger development potential,” Wahba said.

Dhaka East, where a World Bank loan is just a start to get the fiscal ball rolling, is an example of the World Bank’s approach in its new City Resilience Program, which was announced in December at the One Planet Summit in Paris. Twenty-six cities, from Accra to Panama City, are poised to receive these catalytic World Bank loans.

Once the pump is primed, Wahba is confident that the private sector will invest to turn sustainable urban infrastructure plans into reality. Even though business and banking leaders were more likely spotted in Davos at the World Economic Forum than in Kuala Lumpur at the World Urban Forum, Wahba sees plenty of interest from pension and sovereign wealth funds in making a profit off of new, serviced urban land where there was once something rural.

For urbanization, he said, “There is a major demand from the private sector.”

 

Municipal Financing Is Adapting to a World of Bigger Cities

This week, planners, policymakers and urban practitioners from across the world are gathering in Kuala Lumpur for World Urban Forum 9. This story is part of Next City’s coverage of the Forum. For more stories, visit our World Urban Forum 9 page here.

As the dust settles from the first World Urban Forum since the adoption of the New Urban Agenda, a trillion-dollar question looms large: How will the world pay for the UN’s ambitious vision of sustainable cities?

While no economist has ever put a price tag on the 20-year quest to implement the New Urban Agenda, a 2015 report called “The State of City Climate Finance” estimated a $4.5-5.4 trillion need in urban financing at the global level. With very few financial pledges made in Quito during Habitat III, it’s clear that countries will not be opening their foreign aid wallets to fully foot the bill.

That’s a major bone of contention for city leaders, like Quito Mayor Mauricio Rodas, who feels a special responsibility to deliver on the New Urban Agenda as the leader of the summit’s host city. “The New Urban Agenda bestowed local governments with greater responsibilities they didn’t have in the past, but [national governments] didn’t bestow them with the necessary funding resources,” he told Next City at World Urban Forum 9.

So Rodas is taking matters into his own hands. Last December he announced a goal of zero emissions from public transit serving Quito’s old city, the world’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, which he hopes will be a pilot project for climate retrofitting historic districts around the world. To get there, he has been in talks with development banks and aid agencies about developing a fast-track line of financing for such projects.

“The idea of having a direct relationship with international development banks for financing could be a way to overcome a potential obstacle to reach financing if you have to go through the national government for a guarantee,” he said.

That’s the kind of creative thinking that gives hope to Sameh Wahba, who runs the World Bank’s urban program. Their financing strategy has also evolved post-Habitat III.

“Our [new] thinking comes from the realization of the limitation of our resources relative to the magnitude of the challenge,” he said. “The fact [is] that the cities needs are getting larger. Our money is no longer anything but a catalyst to larger financial flows.”

To that end, he cited the Bank’s efforts in Dhaka East to turn a flood-prone quadrant of the Bangladeshi capital into a planned urban expansion. But a bank loan alone won’t pay for the expensive new embankments and other hard infrastructure. Instead, land value capture will finance the project—the newly developable land will be worth a lot of money that municipal authorities can tax.

“By reducing the [flooding] risk you can further densify this area and create a larger development potential,” Wahba said.

Dhaka East, where a World Bank loan is just a start to get the fiscal ball rolling, is an example of the World Bank’s approach in its new City Resilience Program, which was announced in December at the One Planet Summit in Paris. Twenty-six cities, from Accra to Panama City, are poised to receive these catalytic World Bank loans.

Once the pump is primed, Wahba is confident that the private sector will invest to turn sustainable urban infrastructure plans into reality. Even though business and banking leaders were more likely spotted in Davos at the World Economic Forum than in Kuala Lumpur at the World Urban Forum, Wahba sees plenty of interest from pension and sovereign wealth funds in making a profit off of new, serviced urban land where there was once something rural.

For urbanization, he said, “There is a major demand from the private sector.”

 

How Politics Derailed a Small Town’s Embrace of Its Migrants

This week, planners, policymakers and urban practitioners from across the world are gathering in Kuala Lumpur for World Urban Forum 9. This story is part of Next City’s coverage of the Forum. For more stories, visit our World Urban Forum 9 page here.

Tiny Sala, Sweden, is a quiet place 75 miles northwest of Stockholm, home to a famous medieval silver mine and not much else. But in 2015, the 12,000-person town became one of the many experiments across Europe in how to integrate a sudden influx of newcomers.

In the throes of the migrant crisis that saw hundreds of thousands of desperate refugees and asylum seekers from Africa and the Middle East make treacherous journeys to reach a perceived safe haven in Europe, Sala became the new home of about 165 adults and families, and another 300 unaccompanied minors. Most hailed from Syria and Afghanistan, and didn’t speak a lick of Swedish.

Sweden, a self-proclaimed “humanitarian superpower” with a track record of embracing refugees, received the most migrants per capita of any European country in 2015. All this goodwill has led to glitches, however, and at times the Scandinavian nation of 10 million people has struggled to process so many unexpected new arrivals.

But in Sala—which was chosen to receive the migrants because one of its local hotels was not being used at the time—the process went smoothly. Carola Gunnarsson, who has been mayor since 2003 and who spoke at a special session on migration at this week’s World Urban Forum, was part of the welcoming party. As she managed the arrival of her town’s newest residents, she came away with a vital lesson.

“You have to start the integration process from the first day,” she said.

That meant first making the newcomers feel welcome. Groups from local churches, civic clubs, and soccer teams came to the hotel every day bearing toiletries, toys, and sweaters for the cold Swedish weather. Volunteers played with the kids and taught them local handicrafts. Swedish language lessons began almost immediately. “I was very proud,” Gunnarsson said. “The whole town embraced them.”

The job quickly turned to the nuts and bolts of integration: How to turn these newcomers into productive members of society. Within three weeks, the children were in school. Adults had jobs working in local small businesses. Before long, some of the refugees were even members of the local soccer team. “It was a uniformly positive experience at this stage of the situation,” the mayor said.

Then, the rules changed. Amid rising anti-migrant sentiment in national politics, the Swedish Migration Board decided to move all of Sala’s migrants who had not yet found permanent housing to a location further north. Supposedly, it would be cheaper and more efficient to house everyone in a single encampment. Then asylum seekers lost the right to work until their visas had been processed, which can take up to three years. Suddenly, the migrants who had found jobs at local farms and businesses in Sala were out of work, and budding schoolmates, teammates, and colleagues were isolated from each other.

In a blink of an eye, Sala’s experiment in successful integration of migrants was dissolved by the national government.

“I’m frustrated because I think there’s a place for them in Sweden and in my municipality,” Gunnarsson said.

Sala’s experience is by no means the case for all of Europe, and Gunnarsson readily admits that a smaller town like hers can more easily mobilize the community to come out and help a relatively small number of incoming migrants.

Mannheim, Germany, by contrast, has absorbed 10,000 migrants from southeastern Europe in the last eight years. As a data-driven city leader, Mayor Peter Kurz is less convinced about the salutary effect of migration. “We don’t have the data [to show a positive impact],” he said. “What we see are the challenges—people in the welfare system, people unemployed.”

But Gunnarsson remains steadfast that the Sala experiment was on the right track.

“The government needs to change the rules for us at the local level so we can take responsibility for asylum seekers,” she said. “I see them as the workforce of the future.”

 

The UN’s Top Environmentalist Isn’t Afraid of Cities

A couple in Beijing takes a selfie on one of the city's rare "blue sky" days. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

This week, planners, policymakers and urban practitioners from across the world are gathering in Kuala Lumpur for World Urban Forum 9. This story is part of Next City’s coverage of the Forum. For more stories, visit our World Urban Forum 9 page here.

There may be better known climate evangelists like Al Gore and Bill McKibben, but in the clubhouse of environmentalists with the ability to effect real change, there may be no more prominent figure than Erik Solheim. As the head of the United Nations Environmental Programme, the former Norwegian minister has one of the world’s foremost bully pulpits to talk about the importance of environmental action.

For centuries, cities have been seen as environmentally destructive, choked with air pollution and industrial runoff. And while many still struggle with the ecological repercussions of bad development, others—even famously polluted Beijing—appear to be turning a corner, implementing greener policies and building for a more sustainable future. Today, in fact, it’s often said that cities are the world’s best chance at averting the catastrophic effects of environmental decline. At World Urban Forum 9, Next City checked in with Solheim to find out whether he agrees, and how an environmentalist views the future in an increasingly urbanized world.

Are urban dwellers the best environmentalists?

There’s a lot of truth in that. You can much more easily use most transport systems if you live in a city. It’s much easier than having a private car. People also tend to use less energy, because it’s more energy efficient living in a building where a lot of the other people are living.

Former UN-Habitat Executive Director Joan Clos was fond of saying “urbanization is a tool for development.” Do you think that urbanization is also a tool for environmental sustainability?

The huge global population can only be accommodated by most people living in cities. If you take Africa as an example, where we have the most rapid population growth, people have to be distributed. There are huge environmental benefits by urbanization.

But most importantly with this strong global trend towards moving into cities, we need planned energy-efficient cities with mass transit systems and a good system for garbage. There are huge opportunities for people moving to cities. And no nation will move into prosperity without urbanization. We should not at all be afraid of urbanization.

Is there a flip side to urbanization’s role in environmental sustainability? Groups like C40 claim that cities are responsible for the majority of the world’s carbon emissions, which is why they argue cities should be the ones to act first. Is urban living with economic growth compatible with a low-carbon lifestyle?

It’s absolutely compatible. The idea that we can defeat environmental problems while stopping economic development and growth is completely flawed. In the developed part of the world, we have had a basically complete de-coupling of all polluters, except the climate polluters, from economic growth. Norway has doubled their GDP in the last 20 to 30 years, while pollution is less.

As natural disasters increase in frequency, cities seem to be abandoning mitigation talk and focusing more and more on climate adaptation. Should mitigation still be just as important as adaptation?

It should be, and it is. The most amazing fact at the moment is that the price of solar, wind and other renewable energies can now compete with coal anywhere in the world, and in America there are five times more jobs in the solar than in the coal industry. China and India are shelving a huge number of planned coal plants, simply because they can go solar. Next month, Prime Minister Modi in India will be launching the global solar alliance, and President Macron of France will try and drastically reduce pollution in big cities to improve air quality. But it’s very good for climate at the same time. There’s no choice to be made between adaptation and mitigation. You need to do both.

I’m hearing less mitigation talk from cities, though, and more focus on adaptation.

I want to challenge that opinion. It’s exactly opposite of what’s happening in huge parts of the world—in China and India, close to 40 percent of humanity—so what’s happening there is of incredible importance. Look at the number of cities now moving into electrical mobility and bike sharing. In Norway, one-third of all cars sold are electrical, 50 percent of all cars are electrical plus hybrid. Europe is moving into restricting private cars, like Mayor Anne Hidalgo in Paris. Ten years back in Paris, there were motorways along the Seine.

There’s a huge move, maybe as much driven by the ambition to make cities green and livable as by climate issues, but that’s fine. China is drastically reducing coal, which, again, I think is more motivated by livable cities and less pollution than it’s about climate, but the result is the same.

Do you have a vision for what cities will look like when they’ve abandoned this kind of fossil-fuel infrastructure? There are two gas stations in sight of each other along the commercial corridor closest to where I live in Seattle, and everyday I walk by wondering if they will still be there in ten years.

I’m fairly sure they will not be there, because you see a drastic and rapid movement towards electrical vehicles. All car makers in the entire world, whether it’s General Motors, Ford, Volkswagen, Toyota, or the Chinese, they’re all making electrical vehicles. At the end of the day, it will be government action and city action that defines how fast the transformation comes, because you need charging stations, market regulations, and price incentives. But I think it will come very fast, just that some cities will do it first and then when that happens, all will follow.

Sometimes of those moves leave people behind, though. The Port of Seattle is facing a walkout because truck drivers—largely immigrants earning near minimum wage—view tighter emissions regulations that require more recent engines as a cost burden that’s putting them out of business.

More often than not, this is a completely false idea. Electrical mobility is, throughout the lifespan of the car, cheaper, and in the future it will be much, much cheaper.

But we pay for this technology upfront at a higher cost.

Upfront costs may sometimes be higher, and that may sometimes be a big issue for low-income people, but that’s just a matter of organizing the financial market so that you pay over time.

There will always be resistance to change—that’s been throughout history. Nokia went from the biggest phone maker to the tenth biggest in a year and a half because they didn’t believe in smartphones. Those that try to oppose this change, they’re going to lose. If people in some parts of the U.S. oppose the change, the market will go to China, India, or to other parts of the U.S. You need to embrace change, but change in such a way that it will take care of low-income people.

 

Singapore Is Creating a Subterranean Master Plan

This week, planners, policymakers and urban practitioners from across the world are gathering in Kuala Lumpur for World Urban Forum 9. This story is part of Next City’s coverage of the Forum. For more stories, visit our World Urban Forum 9 page here.

Yingxin Zhou works as a mining engineer in a country with no mines. He’s from Singapore, a city-state of 5.6 million residents spread over just 277 square miles. “We don’t have gold, oil, or diamonds,” he said at this week’s World Urban Forum 9. “But we mine something equally precious: space.”

The central government of Singapore, which sets ambitious goals for economic growth, envisions the population growing to 6.9 million by 2030 in order to keep up with GDP objectives. That means fitting another 1.3 million residents on an island three-fifths the size of New York City.

Singapore has been reclaiming land from the sea since independence, but that’s proving increasingly unsustainable in an era of global climate change and sea-level rise. So where else to go?

Underground.

The country has been moving as much as possible below ground in recent years to free up space, making it a global leader in the underground urbanism movement. Beyond the obvious — like a subway system — a short list of assets that government planners have moved underground in recent years include the world’s largest district cooling system, a water reclamation system that conserves every drop, and even ammunition for the Singapore Armed Forces. Oh, and the country is doubling the size of its rail network, adding another 113 miles by 2030, all underground.

Singapore has invested $188 million in underground technology R&D and reformed its land laws so that homeowners own only the underground space up their basement. This allows the government to use the deeper land without facing private property issues. It’s even working on an underground-space master plan. Prioritizing underground infrastructure despite its higher upfront cost upends some traditional notions about how to build.

“The default option for all utilities is underground,” Zhou said. “If you do not go underground, you must argue for it.” That kind of attitude would be music to the ears of those who lost their electricity during last year’s U.S. hurricanes, as American municipal utilities have been gun-shy about investing in more resilient — but more expensive — underground power lines.

Singapore is at the forefront of a global trend as rising urban density forces cities to think creatively about how to carve out additional space. For a city like Singapore, even putting something like a freight train on the surface seems like a waste of valuable real estate. So the city has built a 23-mile tunnel system to move goods between two aboveground industrial estates.

“When we get 20 hectares of land back, people will be more accepting of the idea of getting our city back from the infrastructure that has strangled it,” argued ARUP engineer Mark Wallace.

Space-starved Hong Kong, where there is no more flat land and height restrictions are hampering further verticality, is another early adopter. The city was honored at last year’s International Tunneling Association Awards for its proposed network of underground caverns that could store everything from cars to data centers to wine.

But Wallace looks to Scandinavia, where land is plentiful, as the progenitor of the underground space movement. Helsinki has been digging into its stable bedrock since the 1960s and was the first city to create an underground master plan as part of a strategy to combat sprawl — why grow out when you can grow down? In the Nordic cold, the subterranean warmth has also helped heat underground swimming pools. From hockey rinks to a church, the Finnish capital is home to an entire underground city, which also doubles as a training ground for the Finnish army should the Russians invade again. (To be fair, Montréal has had an underground city since 1962.)

While David Bowie’s character in the 1980s cult-classic “Labyrinth” sang that he wanted to live underground, humans aren’t exactly bats. Scandinavia has also been at the forefront of regulations for workers confined to underground spaces, mandating 30-minute aboveground breaks as part of its local labor regulations. Hong Kong, where Wallace is based, isn’t so kind. There, he said, the attitude is that spending hours underground “is part of the job and it just becomes second nature.”

Wallace also said there are human-centered design guidelines that can help alleviate the monotony and claustrophobia of underground spaces. The kinds of best practices that he promotes as chairperson of the Advanced Research Centers for the Urban Underground Space are vital.

“If you are going to build underground, you should do it properly,” he said. “Tall buildings are dead easy to take down. The underground? Not so easy.”

 

Reliance on Google Maps Street View Could Create an Urban Digital Divide

A Google Maps depiction of Arroyo Sarandí in Avellaneda

This week, planners, policymakers and urban practitioners from across the world are gathering in Kuala Lumpur for World Urban Forum 9. This story is part of Next City’s coverage of the Forum. For more stories, visit our World Urban Forum 9 page here.

Residents of Avellaneda, a working-class suburb of Buenos Aires with a busy port, have been complaining for years about pollution and trash clogging up the Arroyo Sarandí, a stream that snakes through the town and has fallen victim to heavy industrial use along its banks. But people live along the banks, too, part of the informal populations that dot the Argentine capital’s metropolitan area in so-called villas misérias.

In post after post on YouTube, local blogs and community media document the precarious nature of life in wooden shanties alongside the toxic creek, which is prone to flooding and where noxious gases can cause vomiting.

But you wouldn’t know any of that if you took a Google Maps Street View tour of Avellaneda. A team of researchers at The New School in New York and the University of Buenos Aires used Avellaneda, home to over 300,000 people, as a case study in what they call the emerging “urban digital divide” between places visible on the platform and those that are not.

Try touring any of the streets where residents complain about the deplorable environmental conditions next to their homes, and the yellow humanoid icon that serves as the Google Maps Street View avatar won’t enter. At some of the few formal street crossings of Arroyo Sarandí, much of which has been paved over, Google Maps Street View shows at worst a dry streambed and, at best, a muddy, but clean-looking river.

“You will never know what is really happening in the bad parts of the city,” New School professor Margarita Gutman told Next City during this week’s World Urban Forum 9, an event where optimistic visions of data-driven cities are on full display.

At a time when Google Maps Street View can even display remote trails in Yosemite National Park, Gutman and her team of researchers worry that the Silicon Valley cartography tool is leaving behind people who live in the urban shadows.

“Google Maps Street View is crucial because it is a proxy to the formal city,” she said, and one with increasing relevance in academic circles that can inform policymaking. Recent groundbreaking research used machine learning and Street View to accurately predict U.S. socio-economic demographics based on the make and model of cars parked in front of people’s houses. MIT is using Street View to map out urban expansion. Google itself has cross-checked air quality and pollution monitors against its Bay Area footage.

But with an estimated one billion people living in urban informality throughout the world, fully one-seventh of humanity is at risk of being left behind in the high-tech era of AI and machine learning.

In cities where Google has already sent its famous camera-equipped cars, even highly visible places remain largely out of view. In Rocinha, Rio’s largest favela and a community with many of the trappings of the formal city, Street View shows just two main roads, but not the thousands of alleys where the bulk of the community’s several-hundred-thousand residents live. And it’s not as though the technology doesn’t exist. The tech giant’s “Trekker” backpack offers a camera equipped for two-legged rather than four-wheeled exploration.

Meanwhile, in cities where Google Maps Street View has yet to train its lens, like Nairobi and Mumbai, the precedent set in cities like Rio and Buenos Aires doesn’t bode well for counting in places like Kibera and Dharavi.

All this concerns Gutman because of increasingly prevailing attitudes among urban professionals that metrics and measurement define municipal priorities — call it the Michael Bloomberg effect for his famous dictum: “In God we trust. Everyone else, bring data.”

Describing this attitude, Gutman cautioned, “What is not visible doesn’t exist, and if it doesn’t exist, we don’t have to take care of it.”

 



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