Thursday, April 30, 2009

Some food for thought on downtown revitalization

Here's some news stories germane to our projects:

How to get big retailers into constrained downtown spaces--like BordersBooks in downtown Baton Rouge in the article here.

How to target specific stores for downtown that offer something different from the 'burbs.

And two "Smart City" stories from NPR:

How connecting a city through greenways can increase civic engagement.

And how to design parking downtown.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Earth Day Celebration Saturday the 25th at Sankofa Gardens

The annual Sankofa Earth Day Fest is this Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at Sankofa Gardens, 1561 Tulane St., Shreveport, LA 71103. There'll be plenty of green living festivities, including community garden planting, "edu-tainment," music, games, and food!
The event is free and open the public. For information, call Leia Lewis at 318-230-2892.
(Sankofa Vision, Inc. is a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to celebrating and cultivating the art, culture, and community life of people of African descent.)
Just FYI, my family attended this a couple of years ago and loved it. Much recommended!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Apologize for Segregation? Why Bring it Up? It's Not Happening Anymore.

For nearly 100 years Jim Crow laws mandated racial segregation. I described in a previous post, Larry Griffin's talk at Centenary on April 16, and his description of how other societies have recovered from eras of widespread and deliberate civil and human rights abuse.

In speaking of that time here, Griffin said: "Segregation was the law of the land, and most southern whites, politicians and ordinary citizens alike, resisted, too often with violence, any challenge to it. ...We in the region were very much a people divided, divide here by race. I need only allude to the horrors of African American life in the segregated South, the daily humiliations and degradations and fear; the systematic, routinized exclusions; the hint, or more than the hint, of violence to be unleashed at any time for any reason or for no reason at all. Unfortunately, death came all too frequently to the South: more than 4000 black folk—true figures will never be known--were lynched by white mobs during the time of Jim Crow. So, again, we were, in the mid-1960s, a people divided, a quarter to a third or so of the South’s own without much in the way of economic comfort, physical security, or political voice."

Griffin noted how other societies have healed from such pasts by installing into power those who'd been oppressed, by conducting trials, leading truth and reconciliation commissions, issuing apologies, or paying repatriations.

One thought people might have with regard to apologizing for slavery or segregation is this:
"Why should bring it up? There's no segregation anymore. Aren't we creating differences between people that don't exist? Why apologize for something that isn't affecting anyone?"

And it doesn't make sense to apologize for something that isn't affecting anyone in the first place. If I make a mistake, but correct it before it affects anyone, I wouldn't apologize.

So, if we're all treated equally now by race, why bring up the past?

First, we all behave differently towards people based on race (as well as on gender, attractiveness, age, etc.) even when we think we don't. It's common for whites to think racism doesn't exist anymore. And that's natural. It's impossible to see all the subtle differences in our behaviors towards others.

In fact the research is overwhelming that racism still exists today, though it's not necessarily not the kind of racism that any well-meaning white person would perceive. For example, am I conscious of how race affects who I'd hire for a job? No. But the evidence is indisputable that they do affect those choices, even for your average, well-meaning white person. In one experiment whites were much less likely to call someone with an who'd sent in job application if they had Afro-centric name, even when everything else on the resume was exactly the same. Would I do that? Odds are that I would, even if it's subconscious. Just as I treat people differently by their age, obesity, attractiveness, disabilities, status, even when I don't think I'm doing it.

So, racism is happening, and apologizing for the original inequalities that led to current prejudgements and assumptions, might help us be aware of them and reduce our racism.

The other reason we should apologize for segragation, even though happened decades ago is because it lives on today in terms of black and white differences in wealth. The endowments that old universities and colleges have built, the capital that long-standing companies have accumulated, the wealth, and even opportunities and advice that families have handed down over the generations, all amount to resources that African-Americans were systematically excluded from amassing themselves. Non-African Americans today are effectively sitting on a bigger pile of resources than African-Americans, and that difference began illegitimately.

The examples are right in front of us. In a city that is half black, for example, Centenary College's custodial staff is predominantly black, while it's faculty is all white. There's a tendency to think such patterns are the result of voluntary choices: we chose our career paths, don't we? how hard to try in school? or who we associate with? One of the people I associate with is my dad. I didn't chose him, and I ended up a lot like him. He's a sociologist and--what a coincidence--I happen to be one too. So our social networks aren't a result of choice, and they've got important consequences.

Neither I, nor my father would be exactly where we are today if the competition had been a little stiffer at any point along the way. When he was applying to colleges in 1953, his black counterparts in segregated schools in North Carolina couldn't hope to compete with him equally. Nor could my African-American counterparts in Massachusetts twenty five years later. For example, I got plenty of invaluable advice from my dad on how to navigate the course from high school to a professorship. That's advise you don't get if your dad was kept out of that same experience.

Do I feel guilty about it? No. I didn't design segregation. Neither did my dad, mom, granddad, or any of my ancestors. Could they have done more to work against it? Sure. Could I have done more? I now see that I sure could have. And I regret that. And that's what I'd apologizing for, personally. I'm sorry I've never admitted to myself how my own advantages were traceable, in part, to segregation. I just didn't see it. Now that I do, I'm going try to own up to it; to admit that I've achieved what I have only partly because of my smarts and effort. A lot of what I have is due to my race. (And for that matter, come to think of it, my gender, my sexual orientation, my looks, my height, my non-disability status, etc.)

But I don't feel guilty. I will feel guilty, though, if I don't apologize. And if I don't help guard against our society making the same kind of mistake we made in segregation.

When we make mistakes that hurt other people, we apologize for them. And we hope those people will accept our apology to mean we'll guard against making that mistake again in the future.

We know segregation was a mistake, and that it's still hurting people today. So let's be honest about that. It might help us be aware of similar mistakes we make in the future, and for those who've been hurt by our mistakes to trust our intentions to not repeat those mistakes.

A number of institutions have apologized for slavery--the University of North Carolina, the University of Alabama, and Wachovia Securities, to name three--but none have apologized for segregation.

Let's lead the way, here in Shreveport. For Shreveport to be the first city, or Centenary the first college, would be something to be proud about, wouldn't it?

In my next post, I'm going to suggest a paragraph that we'd presumably sign as an apology.

Summary of "What do Southerners do about a difficult past?" talk given by Dr. Griffin

"The Past is never dead, it's not even past." - William Faulkner

If we keep in mind the truth of that statement by one of the south's great writers, we'll be able to answer the call to action issued by Dr. Larry Griffin, one of the south's great sociologists, at Centenary this past Thursday.

I know a lot of people couldn't attend, being in the middle of a work day and all, so for those of you are interested me to sum it up. I'd then like to propose something, inspired by his analysis.

Dr. Griffin began with a quote from William Faulkner, about how the past makes us who are, and how contemplating it can make us wish we were someone else, and lead us to ask for forgiveness.

Dr. Griffin described how growing up and going to college in Mississippi in the 50's and 60's was a formative experience, but it's taken him a while to realize how that's so, for better and worse. He said it has taken him a long time to get where he is today: giving a speech like this at a place like Centenary.

Dr. Griffin first pointed out that many societies have made transitions from illegitimacy to legitimacy. Those societies have to peace with a past of violent oppression and injustice.

A common feature of societies that have successfully completed transitions is that the previously oppressed take their turn in power. This has not happened in our region. Whites maintained political control after slavery, and immediately after the end of segregation.

Societies such as Poland after communism, Chile after Pinochet, Guatemala after the death squads, Cambodia after the Khamer Rouge, and South Africa after apartheid have also used mechanisms aimed specifically to restore faith in the goodness and justice of the society.
  • Public trails of especially culpable individuals
  • Truth and reconciliation commissions offering public forums for confessions and requests for forgiveness
  • Apologies of organizations for their complicitness in the injustices of the previous era
  • Reparations paid to ancestors of victims
Dr. Griffin argued that the south has not completed its transition, but he pointed out that there appears to be an increasing awareness of the need to do so. The University of Alabama, the University of North Carolina, and Wachovia Securities have all issued apologies for their complicity in slavery. No organizations have apologized for Jim Crow segregation.

A key part of Dr. Griffin's talk was reminding us of the grim past for which our society and its organizations might want to apologize. For example, we might want to collectively apologize for the over 4,000 African-Americans who were lynched, or for the daily humiliation and degradation blacks had to suffer through segregation.

So, should our society, as a whole, apologize? Should our state? Should our city? Our historically white universities and colleges? Companies?

In my next post I'll talk about why we'd want to apologize for something that happened a long time ago, doesn't seem relevant today, and might appear to only make things worse.

As always, feel free to comment.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Centenary Talk Thursday on Race and Responsibility Open to the Public

On Thursday, from 11:10 to 12, in the Whited Room of Bynum Commons at Centenary College, Dr. Larry Griffin, the Reed Professor of Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, will be giving the following talk that is open to the public:

"Race, Memory, and Historical Responsibility: What do Southerners do with a difficult past?"

Larry Griffin is not only one of the most published and celebrated sociologists of his generation, he's also a down-to-earth, funny, engaging speaker.

Please join us on Centenary's campus next Thursday to address an issue of importance for all of us.

Next meeting: Tuesday the 14th, 8:20 to 9:30

Per our every other Tuesday schedule, we'll meet next Tuesday, the 14th, at Centenary Square, room 206, at 8:20 a.m.

First half of the meeting:
- We'll update news on the bike route work.
- I'll be proposing a civil rights history route, in light of Dr. Griffin's upcoming talk.
Second half of the meeting:
- We'll talk about a downtown revitalization project that our downtown team can get their teeth into. E.g., create a vision, identify spaces, recruit space users?

"Velo Dendro" Biking Tree Tour of the City Previewed

Troy Messina, Steve Godfrey, Loren Demerath, and Maurice Loridans have all previewed by bicycle the "Velo Dendro" Biking Tree Tour of the City that will be offered in November. We've drawn it in red among the other bike routes we're proposing signage for that are drawn in blue.

View Bike Routes in a larger map

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Good meeting today with Goody Clancy's Ron Thomas

Ian Webb and Loren Demerath met today with Goody Clancy's Ron Thomas to learn from him whatever we could that help us. Ron also wanted to learn from us what our projects are, what our expectations for the planning process and outcomes are, and who we thought it would be good for Goody Clancy to talk to as they prepare to contribute to the city's comprehensive master plan. It was very good meeting, Ian and I thought. Details to come!

Mapping Bike Routes

We had a good meeting this past Tuesday on our project of posting signs of recommended bike routes throughout the city. Next Tuesday we'll update our work on that, and move to downtown development issues.

Dan Marcalus has accepted the call of duty in refining our bike route map. Our goal is to make a map we can give to the city and ask that signs be posted indicating recommended routes.

We may want to think about using MapMyRide instead of Google Maps. Below is a bike loop of historic sites in Highland, made by Dan.

And here is the map of various routes I've made using Maurice Loridans' personal map of routes. Among the additions we can make, besides additional routes, are notable sites, destinations, and sign and route placements. (I think there's a limit on GoogleMaps to 100 lines or items per map though.)

View Larger Map