Saturday, July 12, 2014

Let's Talk about Race, Gender and Politics.

Let's Talk About Race, Gender and Politics.

Today, I read a Plain Dealer article that should have been great news. Freddy Collier, my former colleague and one of my mentors, was appointed as Cleveland's City Planning Director; however, as I paged down the article from the introductory sentence, past the conclusion, arriving at the comment section, I became dismayed to the point of tears. Why? Nowhere in the article was there coverage about Freddy Collier's achievement as the first black planning director for the city, nor did it list his merits, accomplishments, or qualifications as the chosen candidate. It seemed to me that the conversation of blackness was skimmed over by the author in order to meet his quota as a writer to cover the news.

It's about the blackness.

What does blackness have to do with the City of Cleveland's politics? By blackness, I am inferring to anyone who is not a typical image of power in the American psyche. In a historically poor city like Cleveland, there are more people who fall into the category of the other than who fit nicely into the image of the elite. As such, the disproportionately unbalanced decision of power rests with those who have little in common with those they serve. The unfortunate result is the perpetuation of unbalanced power, the continuation of poverty, crime, and disinvestment. Moreover, in Cleveland, there is a glamorization of pedigree so that those who would mostly likely benefit from a shift in the power-paradigm are those who help secure the status quo. A catch 22.

It's about pedigree.

As the article displayed, politics as usual in Cleveland are rounded out by an expectation of pedigree. This pedigree can be gained through familial wealth or ivy league degrees. Hunter Morrison, a former planning director, has been overheard as being candid about his privileged upbringing and his commitment to breaking down class barriers through inclusive planning and design. Collier, who joined the City under Morrison's direction, gained his planning experience through Morrison's guerrilla-style methodology. For example, during the Citywide Plan 2020, Morrison encouraged the planners to get on bikes and ride the streets of Cleveland in order to plan bike routes, a no-nonsense approach to planning.

In this manner, how else would a planning director understand a city without experiencing it? Collier, born and raised on Cleveland's east-side Buckeye neighborhood, he graduated from St. Benedictine High School and went on to attend Cleveland State University where he earned his Bachelor's degree in Urban Studies. After starting a career in banking and growing a family, Collier was recruited to serve on the planning team for the last citywide plan. Realizing his need to further his education, Collier returned to graduate school, on his own dime, through an on-line program, while working full time with the City and raising his three children. He successfully earned his Master's degree in Public Administration Management from an accredited higher learning institution in 2011.

In his fifteen years with the City, Collier has worked his way from City Planner, to Chief City Planner, to Deputy Director, and Director of City Planning. He has worked to build community involvement into planning, as well as strengthening planning within development as a whole. His focus and approach to planning includes a dedication to healthy neighborhoods. In 2012, he garnered the City more than a 200,000 dollar grant from the St. Luke's Foundation for a two-year pilot project called Healthy Hough, which will create a template for inclusive healthy planning strategies that could be replicated throughout the city. Moreover, in 2013, he secured funding and organized a strategic redesign for the Planning Commission that included a in-house workshop to capture the planning staff's vision for the direction of the commission.

Not only does Freddy Collier understand what it means to rise above adversity, but he is quick to express his humility and appreciation for the opportunity and mentoring he has experienced throughout his life. Collier accepts every chance to give back to his community, as well as volunteers his time to speak with youth about the significance of planning to their quality of life.

Taking inspiration from his wife's career as a nurse, Collier works to integrate healthy initiatives into planning. He understands the challenges and barriers for some of Cleveland's most hard-pressed neighborhoods, and he sees the faces of the residents rather than a wash of color. This is the type of pedigree Cleveland needs.

Why I am telling it like it is.

As a multiethnic white female, raised in a predominately black neighborhood by a single-mother, from blue-collar roots, I have intentionally chosen to use the terms black and white. I am blunt about my upbringing as well as my position on the social reality in this city. I have opted to use color as the framework for this conversation, because politics is a discussion of color.

In Cleveland, we can count the number of black mayors on less than one hand despite a growing majority of residents. We can trace the conversation around black council representatives with notations of scandal, lack of polish, or some other method of discounting their talents. Why? Because in Cleveland, politics is a story of blackness.

Politics is framed by a giant black line of privileged and disadvantaged. Those who fall on the side of privilege often have very white faces with very blue-blooded backgrounds, as Cleveland was founded by puritanical white people. In a historically poor city, those who remain in some of Cleveland's most impoverished and under-served communities happen to have, by average, a very nonwhite appearance. However, in the United States of America, we tend to have this idea of freedom and opportunity, as well as the ability to overcome adversity to achieve great success. In Cleveland, we promote the successes of gentrified neighborhoods full of middle to upper middle class transplants, but we ignore the successes of Cleveland's own?

Consequently, for the last fifty years, federal statutes have attempted to provide equal opportunity in order to overcome this institutionalized classism and racism. Why? Because, like Morrison, collectively, we understand that privilege is best achieved by being shared, but we still opt to live ignorantly to perpetuate the discrimination that runs amok. Without creating the potential for a high quality of life for all, we are not likely to have much of a quality of life ourselves.

Yet, I decided to write this article, because I am tired of seeing racial, class and gender discrimination silently perpetuated in media. I was upset by the media coverage, as well as the mindless commentators on the singular Plain Dealer article that failed to acknowledge the significance of the appointment. Shouldn't we be promoting stories that demonstrate the American dream, pictures of diversity, and examples of inclusion?

Its about opportunity.

Referencing the article, the author concluded his take on the situation by saying he didn't know which direction Collier would bring Cleveland's planning. I would counter that I think that direction is quite apparent to anyone who is not a stereotypical white male. I would argue that Freddy Collier's appointment as Cleveland's City Planning Director is the direction. Maybe in some not so distant future, this means that the first female planning director may be even appointed.

If we stop to discuss the story of blackness in this city, maybe the quiet undercurrent of racism, gender discrimination, class separation, and the on-going need to include under-served communities in order to promote a higher quality of life for all will be heard.

To see the original article that inspired this post:

Fortunately--The Call and Post published this article:

Which Mr. Litt followed up to his original article with this: 

Saturday, October 20, 2012



noun \ˈstü-ərd, ˈstyü-; ˈst(y)rd\

Definition of STEWARD

: one employed in a large household or estate to manage domestic concerns (as the supervision of servants, collection of rents, and keeping of accounts)
: a fiscal agent
a : an employee on a ship, airplane, bus, or train who manages the provisioning of food and attends passengers
b : one appointed to supervise the provision and distribution of food and drink in an institution
: one who actively directs affairs : manager

Friday, October 19, 2012

Cleveland Museum of Natural History: Whats war got to do, got to do with it?

Architecture is reaction and prediction.

Preservation is about documenting and explaining the architecture; thus, what the designer and client was reacting to, and what the designer was predicting.

Recently in preservation, there is an increased interest in mid-20th century, whereas twenty years ago the rising interest was vernacular urban neighborhoods. Furthermore, fifty plus years ago the interest was recreating Colonial America, and one hundred plus years ago, it was about saving the original colonial history.

We could speak globally about preservation or conservation trends, but we are just going to stick with the US, and particularly, Cleveland, Ohio.

2012 Cleveland Museum of Natural History

Now, yesterday I was able to attend the Cleveland Museum of Natural History's Building with Nature Symposium. It was an eight hour lecture on sustainable, assumed to be sustainable, architecture. Why did the museum put on such a symposium you ask? Well, they are planning to build a new "statement" campus.

Great right? Construction in Cleveland means jobs and progress, right?

Well, not entirely so great for me, the preservationist.

As I sat in the audience, I looked around thinking, "Well, I guess all the literature I read about preservation being left out of the sustainability conservation is true," because there was no preservationist on the lecture panel. Not. A. One.

The audience was shocking thoughtful, many questioned the new green gizmo case studies with skepticism and hesitancy to adopt such a standard. Many questioned, why they weren't seeing indigenous materials?

My reaction to the presentations were--stop.

Stop and consider the building you have.

In sustainability, we talk about doing more with less.
Then doing more with less must include starting with what you have?

Yesterday and this morning, I took the task of researching popular opinion on the existing Cleveland Museum of Natural History, built between 1958-1961. Anyone over the age of forty-five winced their eyes and issues a death warrant for the building because of aesthetics. Anyone under forty-five had a less abrasive opinion on the building, they wanted to see it live. One of the unknowing test subjects, over the age of fifty, had no opinion, because the building didn't really every stand out in their memory.

The building, the architecture did what it meant to: react to a post-war, Cold War, nuclear period of time, where interior space was the purpose. The building, the brown brick veneer, blended into its environment so well, that many people didn't really notice it. The building, that houses a natural history collection, didn't obtrude between the interior happenings and the exterior world.

I don't know about you, but a building, built after nuclear fear for a natural history collection, probably shouldn't be the "statement".

2008 Fentress Architecture, Proposed Renovation & Expansion

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Dealth of Possiblity

When I came across a glossy flyer for the proposed demolition and expansion of "urban" garden space at the Dunham Tavern, I was taken a back. My favorite potential re-use project was Photoshopped, however poorly, out of the image. Yes, the recently demolished reinforced concrete modernist industrial building on Euclid was my favorite reuse prospect in the city of Cleveland.

As I shared my discontent with colleagues in City Planning and Landmarks, I received some perplexed expressions and some shaking heads of agreement. Why was this architecturally uninteresting building of interest to a historic preservationist?

In preservation we argue to save context, but somehow, if the context isn't pretty enough or backed by financial gurus, we easily dismiss the resources and issue its death warrant.

Today, I found a local blogger, Daniel DeAngelo, who shared my frustration.

In his blog entry, DeAngelo shows examples of what the Dunham Tavern project is attempting to accomplish. But in his examples, he shows why the project is ultimately faulty.

The example of Philadelphia's Rittenhouse Square made me giggle. Cleveland's Midtown is NOT Philadelphia's Rittenhouse Square. Now, we are not haters, we are realistic. In DeAngelo's article he states, the Rittenhouse Square location has been desirable since the 1800s. This is simply not true of MidTown.

Trying to use urban gardening and demolition of buildings as a solution to disinvestment has short-lived benefits and long-term devastating effects. Simply look at MidTown and the Hough neighborhood to find examples of why demolition spurs further demolition. Some of the late Councilwoman Fannie Lewis' mcmansion solutions sit abandoned and boarded next to vacant lot after vacant lot with random old buildings isolated in a sea of vacant lots.

So, the building has since been cleared, the vacant lot remains. The Dunham Tavern now stands alone in an artificially created historic environment.

Cleveland, what are you? Where you not an industrial giant? Do you not want to rebuild with new industry?
If so, then stop demolishing the buildings that will be home to this revolution.

The embodied energy of the 6611 Euclid Avenue building was equivalent of 607304 gallons of gas.
While the demolition alone cost 864000000 worth of gallons of gas.

For a firsthand look at the demolition and celebration, see:

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Business of Heritage.

In June 2012, I participated in the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Preservation Leadership Training held in Beaufort, SC. Part of the experience included me growing up, growing aware and believing in myself as a preservation leader.

I received mixed responses when I told people about applying for the training. As with most of my experiences, I was told, "who do you think you are to be applying for such a 'high level' training, you are just beginning your career," to, "I wouldn't have thought you would apply for something like that, because you aren't really an affiliate of the Trust," to, "I am surprised that you would want to pay money for that," and my most favorite, "you're not a preservationist." Well, I was accepted by the Trust, I was able to pay my way, and the training has been complete for over a month now. I even have the paper certificate to prove my successful completion, but what did I really gain?

Aside from gaining self confidence and belief in myself as a professional, I gained experience working with strangers in an unfamiliar city, and I gained experience being creative with numbers. I gained knowledge of the unfamiliar city, culture and people. I became more determined to remain open-minded and objective. I began to believe in the ability of true teamwork.

I would like to thank the members of the Purple Team for being true beings with purpose and dedication. For some, the trip to Beaufort would have just been a vacation, but for us... it was a trial and tribulation.

Believe in yourself, and you will find yourself surrounded by others who feel likewise.

Material, Material, Who is the Fairest of Them All?

Harriet Estel Berman blogged about the topic of documentation with reference to artistic works. She states:

"Photographic documentation (including video and film) can be especially important when working with alternative or unproven materials. While the temporal nature of the materials may be a critical characteristic that makes the work interesting, the documentation may be the only aspect that survives for posterity.  A photo clearly establishes exactly how the artist visualized the work, fresh - before it ages, degrades, or disappears."

When it comes to conserving the built world, preservationists have been combating the cycle of deterioration with photographic documentation for over a century. The WPA era brought about the HABS/HAER project, and numerous other film ventures. The City Poem emerged as a moving story of depression era Americana.

But, preservationists continue to fight the urge to document alone, despite the relative success of such endeavors.

Public history has hammered into the preservation psyche for several decades. Social history and the American vernacular remains a prevalent piece to contemporary preservation, as mounting environmental concerns continue to nag professionals. For some, the "preserve at all cost" mentality is wrought with elitism and a classicist mentality, which includes the preservation and focus of social, public history. As Americans clamber to produce revisionist histories, the environmental concern is pushed onto the back burner.

Now, this post is not arguing that social history has no place in preservation, but it is arguing that preservation is a material based discipline.Shouldn't preservation be focusing on the conservation of material rather than narrative?

The photo document is strong evidence. In some cases, a picture is worth a thousand words, or a thousand vernacular structures that have been severely altered. If preservationist accept that some buildings are meant to meet the bulldozer, document accordingly, then perhaps efforts can begin to focus on more substantial issues, like carbon footprint and the lagging job market.

The author of this post has surveyed and written over 400 histories of buildings across Cleveland, Ohio. Sometimes, the picture is the best story. Sometimes, the building is just a building. The real cost to community is focusing on revisionist histories.

Time rights past wrongs, but only through education and progress of the individual.

Human beings, tribal animals, truly can never be appeased by one history.

We can learn from photo documentation, and it costs far less than attempting to stabilize a sinking neighborhood. We can archive, preserve and make certain that these images are protected. We can't guarantee the same to failing neighborhoods, and a historic designation doesn't always save the most threatened unless effort is unleashed in numerous ways.

Environmental consciousness allows preservationists to promote their cause, inspire others, and conserve object. Social history is still important, but sinking precious financial resources into such endeavors most often does little. Photo documentation is a tool to be used cautiously. One can document "progress". One can argue the preservation of vital resources, and the integration of new techniques to further sustainability communities.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Clyde Alexander Patterson

Today I had the opportunity to page through a box of paper collected by Clyde Alexander Patterson.

He taught at Kent State University in Architecture and Environmental Design.

He led numerous historic building surveys in Cleveland during the mid-late 1970s.

Now, a box of paper sits in the attic of City Hall, as well as, his personal briefcase.

I will be posting some of his publications on effort to promote work done before the advent of the internet that now can gain public access through digitization.