Archive for October, 2011

On Public Space and Protest

Interesting article from the New York Times Sunday Review examining the idea of public space in the Occupy Wall Street protests. Zuccotti Park, the protesters’ base of operations over the past month, is a private park, aptly enough, named for a corporate leader.

Much as it can look at a glance like a refugee camp in the early morning, when the protesters are just emerging from their sleeping bags, Zuccotti Park has in fact become a miniature polis, a little city in the making. That it happens also to be a private park is one of the most revealing subtexts of the story. Formerly Liberty Park, the site was renamed in 2006 after John E. Zuccotti, chairman of Brookfield Office Properties, the park’s owner. A zoning variance granted to Brookfield years ago requires that the park, unlike a public, city-owned one, remain open day and night.

This peculiarity of zoning law has turned an unexpected spotlight on the bankruptcy of so much of what in the last couple of generations has passed for public space in America. Most of it is token gestures by developers in return for erecting bigger, taller buildings. Think of the atrium of the I.B.M. tower on Madison Avenue and countless other places like it: “public” spaces that are not really public at all but quasi-public, controlled by their landlords. Zuccotti in principle is subject to Brookfield’s rules prohibiting tarps, sleeping bags and the storage of personal property on the site. The whole situation illustrates just how far we have allowed the ancient civic ideal of public space to drift from an arena of public expression and public assembly (Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park, say) to a commercial sop (the foyer of the Time Warner Center).

The article misses an opportunity to elaborate in greater detail about the commodification and privatization of public spaces, but that’s been documented in other places, albeit not for most mainstream audiences. At the very least, these protests are provoking some important and overdue debates.

Categories: Media, Urban space

Business Minded

Again, the New York Times comes with an insightful portrayal of Los Angeles, this time centering on the city’s economic woes. Joel Kotkin, who seems to be everywhere these days, hammering home his predictable talking points, appears, as does  Austin Beutner, the city’s former first deputy mayor and chief executive for economic and business policy.

 Half a century ago, Los Angeles was a dominant economic force in various respects, with its formidable military contracting industry, for example, and a garment trade that rivaled that of New York. Today, unemployment in Los Angeles County is 12.5 percent, one of the highest rates among the country’s major metropolitan areas. The recession walloped industries like manufacturing and retailing that have traditionally been strong in the city.

Now, Los Angeles is more like an “Athens by the Pacific,” Joel Kotkin, a professor of urban development at Chapman University, has written, comparing the city to modern-day Greece. But dysfunction can breed innovation. As Los Angeles works to solve its economic woes, it could provide a road map for other ailing metropolises, said Austin Beutner, the city’s former first deputy mayor and chief executive for economic and business policy.

Comparisons with the current incarnation of Athens? Ouch. Not even on par with Dallas–even worse:

Mr. Kotkin says he thinks a different approach to attracting jobs — one that focuses on the city’s small, local communities, as opposed to its vast size — would be more fruitful….

Mr. Kotkin says that to achieve growth in an economy like that of Los Angeles, “you’ve got to grow it from the ground up, nurture its roots — in the small factories, in people’s houses,” Mr. Kotkin said. “L.A. can never again compete at the megacorporation level. It can’t compete with Dallas.”….

This phenomenon can be seen all across Los Angeles, where new restaurants, shops and other small businesses are started by the children of immigrants looking to meld their ethnic heritage with their American upbringing and education — the food-truck revolution being just one example.

The prominent obstacle to growth, according to the author: bureaucracy.

Categories: Los Angeles, Media

Going Home

Categories: Uncategorized

Hallucinogenic Qualities

It warms the hardened cockles of my heart to see that folks are still approving psychedelic research experiments such as these anachronistically wonderful studies. In yet another example of the turgid obviousness of the reporting and design of some drug studies, the Journal of Psychopharmacology says that psilocybin changes people's personalities, making them more open to their environments, an "unprecedented" finding.

People who had mystic experiences while taking the mushrooms were more likely to show increases in a personality trait dubbed “openness,” which is related to creativity, artistic appreciation and curiosity, according to the study in the Journal of Psychopharmacology. The change was still in place a year later, suggesting a long-term effect.

“The remarkable piece is that psilocybin can facilitate experiences that change how people perceive themselves and their environment,” said Roland Griffiths, a study author and professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at Johns Hopkins University of Medicine in Baltimore. “That’s unprecedented.”

Aside from all the shocking-just-shocking revelations of this study, this paragraph draws greater scrutiny.

Openness is one of five major personality factors known to be constant throughout multiple cultures, heritable in families and largely unvarying throughout a person’s lifetime. The other four factors, extroversion, neuroticism, agreeableness and conscientiousness, were unchanged by being dosed with the hallucinogenic mushrooms, the study found.

A Google search yields little background for this assertion, which of course was not described in the original article, and the article itself seems to be hidden behind a paywall. I’m curious to know what study decided those five factors were present in multiple cultures and the science behind that research.

Categories: psychedelia