Travels to Europe: 3 months in 3 minutes

10.17.2014



"Many a trip continues long after movement in time and space have ceased. I remember a man in Salinas who in his middle years traveled to Honolulu and back, and that journey continued for the rest of his life. We could watch him in his rocking chair on his front porch, his eyes squinted, half-closed, endlessly traveling to Honolulu." — John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley

Ceilings

10.11.2014

Istanbul, Turkey
June 2014

Amusements

10.09.2014

Spreepark
East Berlin, Germany
Abandoned 2001, arsoned August 2014
Photographs taken July 2014

'Tiny House Plays' arrive at Boneyard Studios

9.30.2014


"For Emma" in the Minim House. (Ryan Maxwell Photography)







Last weekend, Pinky Swear Productions kicked off the first performance(s) of their Tiny House Plays, five one-act "playlets" staged in the tiny houses and outdoor spaces of Boneyard Studios. Explains the Washington Post

"The bright minds at Pinky Swear Productions thought it would be fun to stage a cycle of brief new plays in the wee homes. Each show is short—15 minutes or so—and set in one of the often ingeniously efficient little units, several of which are actually being lived in part time. The audience is split into small groups and shepherded from station to station to see playlets about love, death, aging and coping."

On Friday, we had the privilege of joining the actors, playwrights, production crew, and the friends and family of Pinky Swear for a lovely dress rehearsal, hopping from set to set for a wonderfully diverse collection of plays, all developed by local female writers. I can't really offer an impartial review, of course—how could I not absolutely love seeing the Matchbox transformed into the lovers' cabin of "Josie, June, and Death," or be more-than-a-little moved by the break-up taking place in the Minim House's "For Emma" as we come to terms with a tiny house break-up of our own?

"Josie, June, and Death" in the Matchbox. (Ryan Maxwell Photography)


Impartial or not, the quirky, clever plays—"sweet, funny, and sad"—were a treat to witness, and totally worth a three-weekend displacement from my home as the show runs its course. Of course, they're also a living, breathing example of what we're all about at Boneyard Studios: awesome events, free space for artists, big silly dreams that always seem to work out.

Oh, and you can check 'em out yourself for much less than a three-week displacement from your house—just $20, every cent of which goes straight to Pinky Swear and its army of hard-working (and really lovely) actors, playwrights, and the dozens of other people, props, and port-a-pottys they need to make these Tiny House Plays run. Remaining showtimes Saturday & Sunday, 10/4, 10/5, 10/11, and 10/12, 1PM, 3PM, 6PM, and 8PM. Tickets here.

"Big Bread" in the Pera House. (Ryan Maxwell Photography)

Liberalism & gentrification (& tiny houses?)

9.29.2014

Washington, DC; March 2011.


A friend passed along this, and it was one of the best pieces on the oft-studied and oft-misunderstood topic of gentrification that I've read in some time (also, local; also, note how the mobility of tiny houses on wheels can actually mitigate a lot of the capitalist ills that arise from the landed gentry discussed). Emphasis added.

***

Liberalism and Gentrification, by Gavin Mueller
Gentrification isn’t a cultural phenomenon — it’s a class offensive by powerful capitalists.

When I want to examine the limits of liberal ideology, I look for class struggle; when I want to find some class struggle, I simply step outside my door. You don’t have to live in Washington, DC, like I do, but it helps. 

Like a lot of cities, Washington is really two cities in the same space. We’ve got “Washington,” the place of popular imagination, gleaming white marble monuments and 
Aaron Sorkin speechifiers, the mostly-from-out-of-town professional class keeping the rusty wheels of state administration turning.

We’ve also got “DC,” the city distinct from the operations of the federal government, made up of “residents,” who are mostly poor and mostly black. These two cities are locked in a one-sided war of attrition, with affluent “newcomers” and their local allies conducting clear-and-hold operations against their less well-heeled neighbors. I can watch from what 
Forbes magazine, that barometer of bohemianism, has labeled the sixth-hippest neighborhood in the US, where I live.

This is gentrification, which, if you’re reading this and live in a city, is a process you’re caught up in. There’s a violent side of gentrification — think Rudy Giuliani and his “
broken windows” alibi for crackdowns on petty crime. But there’s a softer side to this war as well, the liberal project of city governance whose patron saint is the activist Jane Jacobs, author of Death and Life of American Cities.

In the face of rampant suburbanization and slash-and-burn urban renewal, Jacobs emphasized the attractions of urban life in all its diversity, revealing the support networks that lent resiliency and quality of life to neighborhoods otherwise deemed undesirable. She was also a fierce critic of the monumental architecture of public housing, in favor of the historic charms of low-density buildings. Jacobs’ once-revolutionary ideas are now liberal urbanist common sense: pedestrian traffic, mixed-use development, a heterogeneous mix of architectural styles, businesses, and people. My city councilman’s slogan, “
A Livable, Walkable City,” comes straight out of the Jacobs playbook, and it is difficult to find it objectionable.

However, as urban sociologist 
Sharon Zukin has pointed out again and again, Jacobs’ aesthetic insights can’t make up for her avoiding of class realities. Lambasting “planners” while ignoring the far more powerful real estate developers, Jacobs’ polemic has been turned against even her prized East Village neighborhood, a site of rapacious gentrification stretching back to the 1980s.

As Zukin remarks, “What Jacobs valued — small blocks, cobblestone streets, mixed-uses, local character — have become the gentrifiers’ ideal. This is not the struggling city of working class and ethnic groups, but an idealised image that plays to middle-class tastes.”
In the absence of true diversity in income and ownership, a simulacrum can be easily substituted. In my “up-and-coming” neighborhood in Washington, the superficially eclectic mix of bars and restaurants are owned by the same developer.

Zukin points out that Jacobs’ fondness for buildings ran roughshod over the actual people who made up the neighborhood. A line from the excellent gentrification documentary, 
Flag Wars, set in my hometown of Columbus, Ohio, makes the point clearly: “I just feel bad for the houses,” intones a somber yuppie, as he gazes upon the dilapidated buildings in which his neighbors reside. Moved by this sympathy, he and his cohort of gentrifiers pressure their poorer neighbors by anonymously reporting housing code violations.

Liberal support for gentrification was a contradictory and even an embarrassed thing not too long ago. Carol Lloyd’s 1999 Salon article “
I’m the Enemy!” sees the writer joining an anarchist-flavored group trying to mount opposition to the dot-com yuppies invading San Francisco’s Mission District, before it dawns on her that she herself is a gentrifier. But things are changing.

One advantage to living in DC is that these liberal niceties are being quickly thrust aside: here the word “gentrification” has lost its pejorative sense, ceasing to scandalize the yuppies who proudly reclaim the term as they “reclaim” homes and neighborhoods from the communities who have lived here for decades.


Such bald-faced attitudes stem from dire inequality in cities like the nation’s capital, and the profits to be made from it. In this respect, Washington is a good case study in the uneven development at work in cities across the country. It’s always been a starkly unequal place here — slave labor built the Capitol building — and census data reveals the biggest gap between rich and poor in the nation.


Within Washington city limits, 15 percent of families earn $200,000 or more a year, 15 percent exist below the poverty line. Washington has one the highest percentages of college graduates (46 percent) and one of the highest rates of functional illiteracy (33 percent). Poverty is entirely racialized: the median income for a white household is over $100,000; for black families it’s under $40,000. In the poorest neighborhoods,
HIV infection rate approaches double-digits, and like every other indicator of inequality, it’s only getting worse.

The speed and rapacity of Washington gentrification lets you see clearly who’s responsible, without 
Richard Florida nostrums about “creatives.” We don’t have creatives. We have bureaucrats and IT workers with a few more years of beards and bong hits in them, and really, isn’t this what most “creatives” are? The sheer expense of living in Washington, and the squareness of your average fed worker, mitigates against the hipster bohemianism we’ve come to associate with the first wave of “neighborhood revitalization.”

Gentrification has always been a top-down affair, not a spontaneous hipster influx, orchestrated by the real estate developers and investors who pull the strings of city policy, with individual home-buyers deployed in mopping up operations.


The first installment of DC gentrification began as the smoke lifted after the riots following Martin Luther King’s assassination. Large parts of the black areas of the city (at the time, everything east of 
Rock Creek Park, including what is now “downtown”) were burned. With the fear of urban insurrection hanging in the air, property values plummeted, paving the way for local real estate magnates to snap up hugely lucrative portfolios.

Developers succeeded in getting the city government and banks to assist in their purchases, promising community projects, like homeless shelters and hospitals, that they rarely delivered before they flipped the property. Often it was enough to throw chump change into Mayor 
Marion Barry’s re-election fund, or fly out some city council members on a junket to the Virgin Islands, to secure lucrative city projects and advantageous loans. Now the big operators, like Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, simply bypass the city government: according to broker Jerry Coren, when it comes to DC real estate deals, “Politics is really not essential.”

By the 1980s, funded by huge amounts of capital, including millions in overseas investments, DC’s characteristic architecture, the soulless mid-sized cube of office space, had replaced the eclectic mix of local businesses around the White House. Currently the area’s fortunes are managed by the 
Downtown DC Business Improvement District, a cabal of property-owning hacks who talk Jacobs-style beautification in the interest of pushing property values higher.

Among their tactics: implementing mandatory fees to price out small businesses; hiring non-union workers to pick up trash and check parking meters; encouraging crackdowns on poor and homeless residents to push them out. The Downtown DC BID was one of the first organizations to raise an alarm about Occupy DC’s encampment in McPherson Square. The BID’s president, Richard Bradley (who gives himself $70,000 raises while squelching efforts by BID employees to unionize) pressured the National Park Service to evict Occupy from the very first week, and continued to insist on a police response throughout the entire occupation.


Today, government-abetted gentrification has trickled down to small home buyers. Forget your fairy tales of urban pioneers bravely staking out territory in the urban hinterlands — at every point, this has been a takeover planned by large business interests who fund their projects with tax abatements. 
In Columbia Heights, developers dropped a Target into the middle of a neighborhood stricken by violence and poverty to jumpstart capitalist development. Real-estate values soared, and speculative condo developments — cubes again — began to replace single-family homes, in spite of a bit of residual gunplay at the metro stop.

The construction of a trolley line (of dubious utility, but just try to convince a yuppie that a streetcar is pointless) flagged my own neighborhood for skyrocketing property values, precipitating a rush that has become a steady churn of property circulation. For-sale signs have the lifespan of a mayfly before the realtor sets a smug “GONE!” on top of it. The house across the street from me has been sold each year I’ve lived here.


Real estate is practically recreation in DC — go to a bar and instead of gabbing about local sports (few yuppies grew up with Washington’s teams, and feel little loyalty to them), people chat about the up-and-coming neighborhoods, where the deals are, which neighborhoods have undergone the most drastic change. And which are still “scary” or “sketchy.”


It’s important to understand what’s going on here. A powerful capitalist class of bankers, real-estate developers, and investors is driving gentrification, using a mixture of huge loans (to which only they have access) and government funding to push land values higher.


This leaves DC’s professional class with a choice. If their household income is in the six-figure-range, they can generally secure mortgages in gentrifying neighborhoods, buy property, have low-wage workers fix it up for cheap, and ride those property values into a secure position in the middle class. Or they can pay exorbitant rent until they move back to Peoria. Not much of a choice. If they buy, they’re putting everything on the line, albeit a line that, in this city, has only gone one way in the past decade.


The median price of a home in 2000 was around $150,000. In 2009, it was over $400,000. Home values went up over 10 percent in the last year. If you’ve got a $400,000 house, you just made more than the median income of a black family, just for belonging to the propertied class.


Tying up your assets, your middle-class future, in home values does something to people.
It alters their interests. It sutures a professional class, of liberal and even progressive beliefs, to the rapacious capitalist expansion into the city. The people who move to gentrifying areas tend to have liberal, tolerant, cosmopolitan sympathies. But they are aligned materially with reactionary and oppressive city restructuring, pushing them into antagonism with established residents, who do nothing for property values. Behind every Jane Jacobs comes Rudy Giuliani with his nightstick.

This produces racism. Racism isn’t just a bad feeling in your heart, as a liberal believes when she insists that she isn’t at all racist. It’s a force that emerges from the pressures of maintaining one’s own position, and the resentments that spring forth from this process. It produces fear and hatred of the poor for being poor, for having any pretense of being on equal footing with the propertied. It is a hatred for the potential threat to the property values which underpin a tenuous future among the professional middle class: blackness.


This bubbles up into everyday life in all sorts of ways. At a cookout in a gentrifying Northeast neighborhood, I watched as a guest, a nice man with a nice job and a nice family, became increasingly incensed by some black teenagers riding mopeds through the alley. Their bikes were loud, but they did nothing to us, said nothing to us. And yet he seemed to resent their very presence: he glared, he muttered under his breath.


It was not only that these boys 
existed, but that they enjoyed themselves unapologetically, in full purview of the gentry. They didn’t shuck and jive, they didn’t cower, and they didn’t stay quiet. His rage grew every time they passed by, his fists clenching and unclenching at these children who were born in this neighborhood, who dared to have fun to his face.

This rage is a counterpart to fear: the man was angry at himself for being afraid. 
Frantz Fanon, writing about his experiences as a black man in white Paris, gave a diagnosis apt to this day: “The Negro is a phobogenic object.” Young black bodies have been mass culture’s symbol for irrational, savage violence for decades, for centuries. And so the whites fear them, and this fear can manifest as anger, as callousness, as hatred. And yet, Washington’s rate of violent crime against whites is lower than the national average. White skin is quite literally a protection from harm. But it doesn’t insulate your property values. That requires extra vigilance.

The fact is, these phobogenic boys have much more to fear from the whites living alongside them. We can leverage state violence against them — we can call the cops.
On message boards, police officers urge gentrifiers to report any “suspicious activity,” which includes legal activity such as walking, talking, and standing. Smoking weed in the alley? Call the cops. A group of teenagers talking loudly? Call the cops. Litter? Call the cops, just whatever you do, don’t actually approach people! State repression is the solution to all problems.

Locals lament that boys as young as thirteen can’t be given “adult time” for petty theft and vandalism. In the era of mass incarceration, “adult time” could mean a decade or more of rape and torture in America’s overstuffed gulags, to be released forever marked as an enemy of the propertied classes, practically destined to end up behind bars again. As bell hooks 
remarks, “black folks associated whiteness with the terrible, the terrifying, the terrorizing. White people were regarded as terrorists, especially those who dared to enter that segregated space of blackness.” And so we are.

The liberal discourse on gentrification has absolutely nothing to say about finance or prison, the two most salient institutions in urban life. Instead, it does what liberal discourse so often does: it buries the structural forces at work and choreographs a dance about individual choice to perform on the grave. We get tiny dramas over church parking lots and bike lanes and whether 7-11 will be able to serve chicken wings. Gentrification becomes a culture war, a battle over consumer choices: gourmet cupcake shop or fried chicken joint? Can we all live side by side, eating gourmet pickles with our fried fish sandwiches? Will blacks and whites hang out in the same bars? wonders Racialicious.


The problems of gentrification always boil down to those of mutual tolerance (and so, poor black people often become “racists” intolerant of yuppies); the solutions, therefore, reside in personal conduct and ethical choices. In “
How To Be A Good Gentrifier,” Elahe Izadi offers such helpful pointers as saying hello to your neighbors and not crossing the street to avoid them. After all, if you’re going to participate in the expulsion of poor people from their communities, you might as well be civil.

Every liberal account of gentrification ends with the same question, with which gentrification chronicler Will Doig helpfully titled one of his columns: “Can gentrification work for everyone?” It takes a conservative pundit, Jerry Weinberger, to reveal the bad faith behind this question by 
answering it:

The fate of the dysfunctional and fatherless black underclass is likely to remain grim. Like their brethren across the country today, they’ll be invisible to both political parties, and in DC, they’ll be confined to pockets of murder and mayhem, with no one to look after their interests.


He then concludes with a shrug, pointing out that an interracial couple, symbol of liberal progress, lives next to him. Liberal gentrification articles love to traffic in these vignettes about how “complicated” Washington gentrification is, because some of the propertied are black themselves.


Recently, the 
Atlantic published an article on the history of gentrification in the U Street corridor of DC that ran over 4,500 words. Large financial interests merited two of them. The rest was the typical shambling, rambling piece about restaurants rising from the ashes of the 1968 riots, of the fascinating existence of the nonwhite petty bourgeoisie, of Obama eating a sausage at local mainstay Ben’s Chili Bowl. In short, it had nothing new to say. Nevertheless, it had to keep saying it, for 4,500 words. The repression of urban class struggle can never be total, and it weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the liberal gentry, surfacing again and again in hand-wringing op-eds.

“What choice do I have?” ask the liberal gentrifiers, if you press them a bit. “This is the only place I can afford to live!” This sums everything up perfectly, puncturing the bubble of individual choices that make up liberal politics.


You have no choice; everything’s been decided ahead of time. If you want the American dream of a middle-class life with a home you own in the city in which you work, you have few other choices than to join the shock troops of the onslaught against the urban poor. Align with big capital and the repressive state in the conquest of the city, and maybe you’ll have enough equity to send your kids to college.


Sure, you may feel a bit of guilt, but when it comes down to it, you’re still calling the cops at the slightest provocation. After all, it’s not just trendy bars and cafes at stake — it’s the yuppies’ privileged position in ruling class administration, one of the dwindling means towards any semblance of economic and social stability in this time of crisis. The gentry weren’t drafted into this army, but they didn’t exactly volunteer.


Marx called the violent expropriation of the poor from their lands “
primitive accumulation.” The term conjures a one-time sin, in the distant past — Adam Smith called it “originary accumulation.” 

However, primitive accumulation accompanies capitalist development every step of the way, wherever valuable land meets valueless humanity.

In the early days of America, before Washington existed, nothing short of genocide would suffice. Today’s colonization requires little more than a low-interest mortgage and 911 on speed dial. In the face of this slow destruction of the urban poor, liberals have only one question: can’t we have fried chicken and cupcakes, too?

Epilogue

9.25.2014

Bergen, Norway; August 2014.
Five months ago, I set out to see the Old World—to take the trains of Europe from end to end and see as much as I could in between. And for three months, I did just that; I traveled far and I saw much: the thirsty palms of Barcelona and the twisted spires of Tallin, the haunting closes of Edinburgh and the many minarets of Istanbul, the Old Stony Bridge of Mostar and the ancient fjords of Bergen.

Such nature: those Norwegian fjords, certainly, but also the uninterrupted Romanian countryside, the grassy Alps of Austria and the calm Croatian coastline. I found beauty in the golden Scottish Highlands, and Moher's jagged cliffs, and on every last lilypad-shaped island surrounding Stockholm. In the quiet trails connecting the old towns of Cinque Terre, and the great plains of France, and the turquoise lakes of tiny Slovenia.

Such cities: cities where people lived—cities with sprawling altstadts free from the ridiculous rumble of cars. Cities with all the charm of fairytales and all the splendor of childhood dreams: castles and drawbridges and narrow cobblestone alleyways, ramparts and walls and great big boulevards. Ljubljana, Munich, Berlin. I saw the great cities of the ages; I saw Paris and London and Rome, and Prague and Budapest; I saw Vienna.

Such people: friendly locals and friendly travelers alike. I met hundreds of good souls, and some mean ones, and a whole lot of people just trying to make it by somewhere in the middle. I met friends kept for an hour, and others for a day, and some I hope to keep for as much life as I have left. I saw old pals in England, made new ones in Marseilles, in Bruges, in Doolin, in decaying train stations and sparkling coaches and crowded hostels. I slept on the couches of kind strangers; I was poked awake on the cold benches of surly ones. I learned a few customs, and a few rough words when I could, and I learned a whole lot of things I could never possibly express with the words, rough or smooth, of any human language.

Five months ago, I set out to see the Old World—and now I'm back, and busier than ever. Finishing up the Matchbox. Cooking. Baking. Fermenting, preserving, pickling. Learning: how to be back indoors, how to stare at a computer, how to live on much less than my income provides and maybe stop doing all of that very soon. Learning how to (finally) fix a bike flat. I bought a skateboard, built a skateboard, started learning how to skateboard. Learning the best way to treat bloody ankle scrapes caused by learning how to skateboard. Learning that I am (and have always been) genderqueer.

I started taking an improv class. I started painting, or maybe started trying to paint. I started really making an effort to get to the climbing gym and learn some proper climbing technique. And of course, I've started planning for my next big adventures—a kayak and an unnamed island, a bicycle and the Japanese coastline. Meanwhile, new adventures have found me. I left behind my tiny house community in May and came back in August to find it in ruins, the short-sighted work of a friend-turned-landlord, landlord-turned-slumlord. I'll soon find myself part of a tiny house community-in-exile, and I've spent a lot of time grappling with that: the uncertainty, the loss, the betrayal. And a whole lot of time looking for new land.

Five months ago, I set out to see the Old World. I came back, and things are different: some good, some bad. But hey, thanks for sticking with me during that adventure and this one—their ups and their downs—and for those many more to come. <3

Vienna, Austria; June 2014.
Istanbul, Turkey; June 2014.

Munich, Germany; June 2014.


Environmentalists

9.24.2014

People's Climate March
New York, New York
September 2014







It's a fact that humans are grossly accelerating the amount of carbon dioxide in the air, the warming of the planet, and the frequency of catastrophic natural disasters. Those who reject this science are called climate change deniers.






It's a fact that the single leading cause of anthropogenic climate change is animal agriculture. The growing, feeding, maintenance, slaughter, refrigeration, packing, transportation, consumption, and disposal of animal products accounts for over 51% of greenhouse gas emissions. Those who reject this science are every bit as much climate change deniers.





It's a fact that marching down a street won't save the planet ... nor will handing out pamphlets or recycling plastic bags. It's also a fact that no amount of action on the part of political leaders—cap-and-trade, the end of fossil fuel subsidies, tremendous investment in renewable energy—can bring the environment to manageable stasis without measurable sacrifice on the part of the people. It's a fact that the single most impactful way to reduce environmental harm, politically or personally, is to transition to a plant-based diet.





These are the facts of political science and economic science and natural science, and the nice thing about science, says Neil deGrasse Tyson, "is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."





This isn't an omnivore-shaming screed—just a gentle reminder that pointing the finger at Wall Street and Capitol Hill and the United Nations is a convenient way of passing the blame. Environmentalism doesn't mean simply liking the environment; it means being willing to fight for it, to change one's behaviors, lifestyle—even diet—for it.




It's your planet or your cheeseburger. Scratch that: it's our planet or your cheeseburger. Me, your grandkids, the drowning people of the Maldives and the typhoon-whipped survivors of Southeast Asia. Or that cheeseburger, just for you.





I'll love you, whomever you are, no matter how many more cheeseburgers you eat. I promise. I'll love you and I'll respect the limits of your will and I won't say another word about the 9.5 pounds of greenhouse gases released or the 53 gallons of water used in the production of that quarter-pound cheeseburger.









Just please, don't call yourself an environmentalist with a mouthful of ground beef and pepperjack.

Fair enough?

---

By the way, I have a long-standing offer still in effect: try going vegan or vegetarian for one month, and I'll buy you a dinner or one big bag of groceries. No questions, no strings—just shoot me a message and let me know.

√Čire

9.06.2014

Doolin, Ireland
August 2014










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