Archive for the 'New York' Category


Resources, Not Just Role Models

I wanted to get to this one prior to Thanksgiving…

Research shows that children in New York City public housing academically underperform compared to non-public housing peers.  The scholars cite the absence of “role models” and potential presence of immeasurable “differences” between these families and the rest of us. Man, if these kids had a dime for every “culture of poverty” explanation for their achievement gap…

Behavioral explanations emphasize that a lack of “role models” and social networks brought about by “concentrated poverty” lead to unequal outcomes between poor people and an abstracted middle-class cohort (one that might include university researchers, perhaps?) Yes, crime and widespread incarceration of able-bodied men from poor urban communities robs kids of potentially engaged fathers (who also could provide relief for overburdened mothers and grandmothers). But few are mourning their lost wages as a key explanation for the grinding poverty and lack of mobility here.

Public housing is the “shelter of last resort” for the poorest Americans – mostly single moms, children, elderly and disabled. More than half of these kids in NYC live below the poverty level; the average annual household income is about $22,000. Although typical rents are less than $5,000 per year, these figures and adjusted estimates by anti-poverty advocates suggest that after meeting basic needs,these families with greater health and childcare requirements are getting by on less than $400 per month. So should we be surprised that kids fall behind by the fifth grade? Or don’t finish high school or take longer to do so because of the immediate economic or care-giving needs at home?

Culture of poverty arguments obscure the tangible resources required for the effective parenting and mentoring alleged to be absent in the projects. Look at Groundwork, the non-profit mentioned as assisting two young women to succeed at school. Its family and child programs, beyond just “modeling” proper behavior, provide books; music, arts and sports programs; field and camping trips; literacy training; tutoring; test prep; paid internships; financial incentives; parent support groups; mental health services and preventative healthcare; and income supplements. These kids and their parents now have access to the stuff that most middle-class families get through high performing suburban and private schools or their checkbooks.

We tend to use culture of poverty theories to wash our hands of investments in poor communities. (Those teenage girls are just going to have kids anyway; those boys are just going to turn to drug dealing. It’s what they know; what can we do?) Or, we use them to justify marriage support programs rather than drug law reform or alternative sentencing projects. (If they would just get married, he’d stay away from all that criminal behavior!) We’d be better served as activists if we responded critically to the paucity of resources in the projects and the schools – the money, activities, and services that help parents raise their kids and give kids a safe and nurturing environment. An environment, that is, from which role models grow and shine.


if i can make it here

I can make it anywhere!

or so I sing to myself from my tenement hotel room on W. 47th in Times Square NYC.  You might normally know me as the sensible “creative class” thirty-something who visits her Northeast Corridor friends and families in their urban condos and co-ops – attractive hetero lawyers, docs, non-profit execs, and finance types and their cherubic kids – ages 3 months and up. (and if there’s more than one, they’re usually spaced no more than 2 years apart.  It’s all very orderly.)

But these kids have left me homeless – guest-room homeless, that is.  As my friends turn into moms and dads, their spare bedrooms become kids’ bedrooms; pull-out sofas and futons are relegated to basements (have you heard the patter of little feet overhead??) or stashed in corner spaces without doors.  My best friends in the Bronx recently converted the “spare” bedroom fully into the office & playroom; my best friend in DC is converting “my” cheery, yellow guest room into a baby’s room by this spring.  Isn’t it sad for Redstar, no longer finding the accommodations to her liking when she takes her appreciative, it’s-been-awhile-and-I’m-passing-through show on the road?

Tonight turned out to be a particularly precarious evening.  My old college roommate now on Long Island has 2 kids under 2, and they sleep through the night sporadically.  My Upper East Side cousin’s fiance is on-call overnight tonight, and likely to be delivering medical instructions over the phone from their living room until the wee hours.  And I’m operating on a sleep deficit after multiple conference nights and a pull-out-sofa-&-ill-child-up-till-all-hours experience last night.

Fortunately, this is NY, where a guy I dated once (briefly) believed that you could get anything for a dime.

Like this place. (Ok, maybe a few dimes)

portland-square-hotel This is a budget hotel undergoing “renovations,” and offering clean rooms, private baths (or shared), free wireless internet, and an extremely convenient location.  I left the L.I. suburbs late this afternoon with my PC over my shoulder and dragging my suitcase behind me.  An hour later I was coming up out of the subway in Times Square, feeling like a movie heroine straight out of Kansas arriving in the big city, alone and brave, ready to sing/dance/act her way to fame and fortune.  The “renovations” in my hotel turn out to be some urn-like sculptures in the lobby, some electronica music piped over the speakers, a mod shower curtain, and clean white linens that contrast with the gray institutional carpet with the iron burn in it in my lockbox of a room.

psh-bathroom psh-room

My grated window looks out onto a firescape in the building shaft, and reminds me of the “city” set at Universal Studio in Orlando.  My small fluorescent bulbs around the room buzz as they glow.  It’s generally very quiet – except when my next-door neighbors open their mouths.  (In that Duane Reade bag above?  Ear plugs.)

But noisy neighbors be damned!  I’m so amused with my self-imposed exile to the frenzied heart of the city that I keep smiling alone in my room, enjoying the solitude within these four walls.

I moved to NY in July 1997 at 21, with a job but no place to live.  I stayed in the same L.I. suburb that week too, then crashing with a friend who was living with her mom until she figured out what came next after college.  On Thursday night of that first, long week, in order to go out for drinks without worrying about trains, I checked into a budget hotel in Murray Hill even more cramped than this one.  I vaguely recall a twin bed, and real fear but elation staying alone in this new, enormous, overwhelming city.

It feels so familiar yet newly adventurous now, seeking refuge from toddlers in a neighborhood I quickly learned to avoid and scorn as a “New Yorker.”  In my final years in the city, drinking in the Irish bars over here with a friend and her actor-husband’s crowd gave me a new appreciation for those whose livelihoods depend on this tourist mecca (and yes, one set of my parents are those that like to see “a show” when they come to NY – musicals only, please).  But it was always about them.

Tonight, I’m playing the part of Ana.

Don’t forget – you knew me when.





don’t forget me when i’m gone…

…as I couchsurf my way around New York City, on the latest “meet the new babies” tour. (Welcome to your thirties, ladies!)

Flew in last night from New Orleans, am on Long Island, headed to Manhattan in a few hours.

i’m fatigued from the travel and the less than ideal slumber conditions, so talk amongst yourselves in my absence.

Suggested topic:

Annoying people at the airport who use too many bins going through security.  If your stuff’s in a bag, the bag does not need to go in a bin!!!  Enough with the bins already!!

Harumph. <flounces off>


Beyond Obama

I love this video shout-out from Bertha Lewis, Chief Organizer of ACORN, thanking non-profits, labor and bloggers for supporting ACORN and fighting back against GOP voter suppression efforts:

I love it for the last message, directed at NY voters, whom she encourages to vote for Obama (if that’s their choice – Redstar) on the Working Families ticket.  Bertha:

Vote change like you mean it people!  Don’t get lost in the Democratic sauce…




9/11 Photo Essay

Showcases the recycling of World Trade Center steel in memorials around the U.S. Photos of memorials begin on slide four.

Every once in awhile in late summer/early fall the weather is so beautiful here in the Northeast that it reminds me of the picture perfect weather in New York City on Tuesday, September 11, 2001. I’ve told my 9/11 story at my old blog, but the upshot is that I lived in New York but several miles (or 40 minutes by train) from the site, was waiting to start a job the following week that unknowingly turned out to be directly related to post-9/11 recovery, was awoken that day by a phone call from my soon-to-be-stepmom in Boston that my dad was ok (I didn’t know he’d been in Lower Manhattan that morning on business), ended up driving to the Amtrak station in mid afternoon to see if my dad was safe there (we knew he’d made it out of downtown but weren’t quite sure where he was), that the drive down took me an unheard of 15 minutes because the streets were so empty, that the drive home took almost an hour because what traffic existed was headed up and away from the disaster and out of town, that the line to donate blood at the blood bank near my apartment stretched around the block, and that I was in shorts and a “Minnesota” t-shirt all day because the weather was. so. beautiful. Except for the smoke curdling up into the sky several miles away. I watched coverage until the wee hours of the morning and then slept one of the deepest sleeps I can remember in my life, so much so that when I woke on September 12 it took me a minute before I remembered the world had changed the day before.

Continue reading ‘9/11 Photo Essay’


Tent City U.S.A.

After 7+ years of Bush, our economy is in the worst shape since the Depression.  Tent cities are even in the public consciousness.  These developments point to the consistent, callous pattern of government neglect and abdication of responsibility under the Bush Administration, who, along with a GOP-led Congress, put into overdrive the worst trends of three decades of government devolution. 

Take my favorite example of New Orleans, where a flourishing Tent City should come as no surprise to anyone following post-Katrina recovery trends.  One of the worst travesties of the destruction of public housing in New Orleans is the grossly inadequate replacement of subsidized housing units in the proposed mixed-income developments.  Only one proposal – Lafitte – includes one-for-one replacement, in part because one of the development partners, Enterprise Community Partners, knows first hand the success of this model from past public housing renovation in Seattle.

A significant number of developer/do-gooder transplants to New Orleans hail from affluent cities like Boston, New York, San Francisco and Seattle, which tend to have highly competitive, sophisticate and activist affordable housing development sectors.*  They bring these high-capacity models of affordable housing development with them to New Orleans.  Yet, several fundamental problems in New Orleans impede their replication. 

Obviously, all cities have unique socio-political cultures and different demographics.  That New Orleans is a distinctive place in the nation cannot be overstated.  Second, the political economy of New Orleans was weak prior to the storm, and is in tatters now.  Most of the non-profit and civil society actors in the city are trying to fill a serious void left by the financially eviscerated city government.  Third, and most problematically, the massive displacement of the poorest and most vulnerable, the overall whitening of the population, and a corresponding shift to a more conservative, middle-class urban politics, makes alive and well the spirit of Rep. Baker’s (R-Baton Rouge, LA) comment

“We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did.”

This spirit is driving local and national decision-making behind affordable housing development in post-Katrina New Orleans. 

At the conference I was at in NOLA two weeks ago, in a panel on affordable housing development tenant activists routinely questioned the featured scholars, researchers and developers on the issue of displacement.  It came up over and over again, no matter how strenuously the panelists tried to frame market-based housing solutions as an overall positive for cities and low-income residents.  Cities like Boston et al. are not acting out of any unique urban altruism to retain low-income households, but out of political necessity (votes) and reality (suburban political power and NIMBY-esque zoning + federal funding for cities for low-income populations).  When one of the poorest cities in the country like New Orleans sees a silver lining in Katrina displacing a significant percentage of its neediest tenants all at once – versus the slow trickle generated in other cities in the last twenty years – you can be damn sure the political elites will do everything in their power to keep those folks out. 

They owe a big thanks to the GOP-dominated government we had until 2007, who denied the HUD and Medicaid funds that could have flowed to properly shelter, care for and bring home these families after Katrina.  Actions like this reflect the same spirit behind the massive funding cuts to HUD and HHS Programs and the complete absence of regulation of the housing and homeownership boom that contribute now to rising rates of foreclosures and homelessness nationwide. 

A national pollster at the NOLA conference talked about widespread Katrina fatigue, accompanied by a sense of “we’ve got our own problems now.”  No doubt.  I just hope that as we turn inward to deal with local economic insecurity and crisis, we all remember that post-Katrina New Orleans was never the exception, but the harshest of realities for our country. 


Reading Lists

I’ve updated my blogroll, especially the Politics category, but also some overdue additions in my Feminist links.  Check ’em out.  Introduce yourself.  Make friends.

I’m spending some time with the fam this evening (currently blocking one of my mom’s dogs from the box of Cheez-its beside me as I type), and will be back tomorrow.  In the meantime, here’s some links to what I’m reading:


Who Represents the Progressive Movement?

Periodically Speaking;

Count WHOSE Vote?;

“White” Like Who?;


Generation Gap.



The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears;

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao;

Bargaining for Brooklyn: Community Organizations in the Entrepreneurial City;

and Justice & the Politics of Difference.


Happy reading.

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