Thursday, July 31, 2014

Life In Between

Life In Between        F.Z.

This book discusses how it is to live as an "average" person and as a "fat" person, with the caveat that "fat" here is used as a descriptor, not a negative. It is simply an adjective, like "tall," "short," "thin" or "blue eyed." There is no value judgment about size implied in its usage.

The writer talks about different stages in her life when she was heavier and when she was slimmer. The only time she veered into "sort of slim," territory, she tells us, is when she was 12 years old, 5'6, and went down to 123 pounds when she had a bad case of bronchitis (during which time she was nursed and loved back to health by her grandma, mom's mom).

She also discusses her mom's eating disorder and the fact that her mom was one of the five percent for whom dieting mostly worked. Her mom was constantly on a diet and made her feel like a pig when she was eating, it turns out, like most teenagers. Of course the writer dieted, and  kept yo yo dieting herself up to 250 pounds, then down again, then up. Until she figured out that it was in her best interests to stop dieting.

But she talks about the times she was "slimmer." To her surprise, there did not seem to be as much difference as she had imagined in the way people treated her when she was "average" sized. She started to realize, slowly, that perhaps it was most important for her to feel better about herself no matter what she weighed.

The lesson took years, but started to sink in. Slowly.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Bronx Utopias

"Amalgamated Housing to First 
Houses: Re-defining Home in America" 

Memories and details exist in blogs, films,exhibits and projects, and of course in this thesis by Emma Jacobs (Columbia University, 2009). But the subject badly needs an actual book, narrated by someone who has been there, lived there, felt it.

Oh..hmm. A work of fiction might work even better, one that captured the flavor of the Amalgamated Houses (short for Amalgamated Clothing Workers' Union Houses). 
They came into existence in 1927, enabled by the New York State Housing Act of 1926, but born previously in the mind of Abraham Kazan, not only the "father" of cooperative housing in the USA, but also the initiator and creator of other Coop housing projects in NY. 

There are no book length bios of Abraham Kazan, either.

In a way, this is shameful. In a way, it's kind of nice to see that there are still important biographies to be written.

There is a wonderful project that is entitled "Bronx Utopia" which describes and houses photos of the four progressive Coop projects built in the Bronx in the 1920's, but each merits a volume of its own:  The Amalgamated Houses, the Allerton Ave/Workers' Coops, the Sholom Aleichem/Sholem Aleykhem Houses and the Farband Coop.

This would be the tour I would give...

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Death and Life of Great American Cities (by Jane Jacobs) - 2

The Death and Life of Great American Cities (by Jane Jacobs) - 2

In the first part of this blurb/essay, I wrote briefly about some of the contributions that Jane Jacobs made to city/urban planning. She argued for diversity of use, short blocks, judicious planning to achieve the maximum diversity of use possible in a neighborhood. She detailed the complexity of city life, with each participant playing a part in what she labeled the ballet of neighborhood life and usage.

Thus her greatest contribution to urban planning, by far, was the emphasis on complex thinking. In other words:  instead of considering each variable in turn as having an/one effect on each other variable, we should think instead of all variables not only influencing every other factor or variable, but that they a) change all the time b) influence every other variable and new ones we may not see, with the effect growing exponentially, the more variables they affect (which in turn introduce other variables, etc. An infinity helix, not just a double.)

A not-very-complex example of complex thinking follows.

Example:  The Bright Company wishes to build a bank on 5th Ave. and 25th Street.

Simple One Variable Thinking:  People will bank there.

Complex Thinking: There are already five banks in the neighborhood. They all open and close at the same hours. It might be better to house an all night cafe there because there are only three cafes in the adjoining ten blocks, and three of them close at nine. Thus there would be "eyes" on the street later at night, when the banks have shut down and most of the stores have closed. The neighborhood will be safer. This in turn will attract more people into the neighborhood and perhaps even during the day, making the neighborhood safer during that time period as well, and furnishing the population and density for, say, a new theater, which will in turn attract more business to inspire a new all-night restaurant and perhaps cause one of the cafes to stay open until midnight instead of nine.

In other words, Jane Jacobs actually understood the way cities work. They don't function in a vacuum. They function as living organisms which are receiving new cells and energy daily, hourly, by the minute, sloughing off old cells and creating new energies.