06
Nov
07

Redstar Urbanism

I’m chest deep in texts as I prepare for my general exams (3 weeks and 6 days and counting!!), hence the relative blog silence. Just now I finished reading the chapter “Los Angeles as Postmodern Urbanism” in From Chicago to L.A.: Making Sense of Urban Theory.* But perhaps more interesting to you, Redstar readers, is my own urban experience, observed with typical Redstar intensity as I extricate myself from my books at various intervals.

We begin yesterday morning, when I woke up to NPR telling me that the MBTA was about to undergo a major budget crunch, because its fixed rate on electricity costs was about to expire. Forgive me if I suggest they might have been prepared for this, and point them to the recently increased fares as a partial solution to their financial woes. It then took 45 minutes to travel the ~3 miles from my apartment to Kenmore Square, where my train abruptly terminated, due to a “medical emergency,” and I was reminded – again – of the unique decline in ridership the T is experiencing. Last night, after belatedly facing the truth that I’d never make it to my N.I.A. class after giving myself only 30 minutes on the T to travel the 5-6 miles between Cambridge and Newton, I disembarked in Cleveland Circle to see that the other refurbished storefront opening beside the forthcoming Citibank is a chain burrito place. Noting that it’s several facades down from Boloco, another burrito shop, I sent the M.A.S. a text noting that burritos (broadly defined) are Boston’s new pizza (we have two of those shops in Cleveland Circle already). Sigh. I had such high hopes for the ‘hood (I am pleased to see that Lint sells Paper, Denim & Cloth jeans, which Louis Boston told me two years ago were totally passe but I still love).

Fast forward to this morning (since my evening at home consisted of getting aggravated that my Comcast internet connection is still not working after Sunday morning’s power outage), where NPR now tells me that MIT is suing Frank Gehry for a faulty design of our egomaniacal Stata Center. Welcome to Cognoscente Celebrity Death Match. The wine and cheese is to your left.

After a morning N.I.A. class in Newton Center in which the group of us 8 or so white women put our jewelry in the middle of a circle in order to pay tribute to it (as symbolic of ourselves, according the well-meaning instructor), I headed off to vote. Having paid little attention to the candidates for the at-large City Council seats (Bad Planner!! Bad Activist!!), I voted quickly for the two non-whiteIrish-male incumbents and then tried to recall any distinguishing information about the remaining Flaherty, White, Connolly, etc. choices before me. I did my best, then headed off to school.

Later this afternoon I had lunch with another grad student and friend at a new Sebastian’s in Kendall Square, where we agreed the place was NY-ish in its varied and pricey health-conscious quick fare, but absolutely Boston in its enormous scale (easily two stores deep). Shortly after I introduced this friend, originally from the Midwest, to the term “Masshole,” which I used to describe myself – as I backed up out of a parking lot onto Mass Ave across on-coming traffic and into flowing traffic through a green light – and the other drivers who didn’t stop but just went around me as if they’re used to this kind of bullsh*t shenanigan (they are). When I came out of the library several hours later to move my car from its 2 hour spot into the now available parking lot, I passed a homeless man with “Yankees Suck” licenses plates on two of his shopping carts. And I thought to myself, this is my urbanism.

*For those of you who care, the “Chicago School” has been the dominant theory of cities and urbanism in urban sociology (my field) through the 20th century. It’s modernist idea of the city as an organic, unified whole around which regions and through which individual relationships are ecologically (vs. economically) organized (the latter especially along the black-white “color line”) has been contested – most recently – by the postmodern L.A. School, which proposes that cities and urban form are shaped and linked by a global economic restructuring that emphasizes flexible production, deep welfare state retrenchment, and the subsequent, oft-violent polarization of a homogenized capitalist elite living in technologically-linked-but-geographically-dispersed-privatized worlds atop a multi-cultural, insecure proletariat, with both groups relatively placated by the media-disseminated mythology that this hyper-privatized, hyper-consumer, hyper-polarized world is normative and desirable. (As you can probably tell, I’m still piecing together a working definition of the L.A. school, which is sort of its point.)

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