DIY (Do-It-Yourself)? Its better to DIT (Do-It-Together). This is where you will find Dr. Pop “How-To” and “Why-To” instructionals.
Videos and Cartoons
This Dr. Pop DIT [Do-It-Together] shows you how to make a low-tech TV story scroll out of a cardboard box, some artwork, and some wrapping paper tubes and then provides a great example by Simone Andrews and Ingrid Cruz about the green economy and South Los Angeles.
Originally posted June 13, 2010.
A couple of months ago, some friends of mine organized a building session in their warehouse in London. The idea was to gather people interested in conceptualizing and building new rooms in their space. For this exercise, my friends invited Torsten Ottesjo, a Swedish architect and lumberjack, who builds beautiful structures such as this house:
Torsten thinks about architecture in a non-traditional way, preferring to build as he goes along without drawing blueprints beforehand. He starts by fixing one point in the room and building around that point, undoing and redoing as he goes, strengthening the structure and solidifying it as the lines become clear and as he decides its definite shape.
As a group for the weekend, we were invited to participate in this building method. In this case, we started with a pillow: we had to decide where the pillow would go in our room. From there we thought of (and built) the bed frame and then the floor, the walls, etc. Because we were starting from scratch we had to decide a few things – like where the head would rest – in order to anchor our other decisions. Otherwise, we would wander off into too many options and never get anywhere… which, happened a couple of times. When it did, we were invited to come back to what we knew – the pillow! and other lines we decided were definite along the way – and to continue on from there.
There were several topics I considered for this “How To” post for Dr. Pop. I used to be something of a shade tree mechanic and have installed a clutch, done the brakes, swapped out a water pump and even with my dad, Dikes, a real mechanic, rebuilt a ’58 Ford Fairlane. I’ve changed door locks, and done some minor plumbing tasks around the house, including replacing washers and even unbolted a toilet to replace the wax gasket for the waste pipe. Certainly one derives a sense of satisfaction successfully completing such endeavors as well as saving a few bucks.
I also eschewed writing a step-by-step retelling of how I once, after consulting an online source, replaced the drive belt in our clothes dryer. For it seems the fix-it I’ve done recently that has brought me great satisfaction was getting rid of a bothersome patch of bamboo in my Aunt Margaret’s back yard. This bamboo has crept over from her neighbor’s yard on the northern side of her house. While the neighbor has a back yard with an old pick-up and appliances, and seemingly not troubled by the bamboo sprouting willy-nilly on his side of the their common chain link fence, my auntie is not so charitable. Like kudzu, the bamboo stalks had begun to thrust their way further and further onto her property. Left unattended, the stuff would take over – and she has a sizable back yard that includes a grapefruit and lemon trees.
I stole the title from Michel de Certeau, and this isn’t a how-to exactly, more of a how do we, how can we? These days I feel like most of my skills have been swallowed up in endless research and writing. So I thought I would find inspiration today, and write about how we can experience the city.
Michel de Certeau writes “The ordinary practitioners of the city live “down below,” below the thresholds at which visibility begins. They walk—-an elementary form of this experience of the city; they are walkers, Wandersmanner…”
It feels elementary, to walk the city. In a place like London you step into a certain anonymity as you step out of your own space. You make your way through the city thereby creating space, creating the city, one of a thousand thousand others also walking, also inhabiting and creating. This is how we create space through our lives, use the city in ways never expected by those in authority and best of all, in ways they can’t see.
So how do we do it?
Take the time. Let walking become not just a way to get from here to there, but a thing in itself. It’s a slow way to get from here to there. Chose it.
Look around, breathe, experience, drink it all in, think deep thoughts, soak up atmosphere, talk to strangers.
Let the city build itself in layers. Every time you step outside you learn something new. I know I’m lucky to live here, where everything breathes of all the people who have walked here before me. Our steps intertwine, even if our lives do not. That means…
The internet, and most specifically social media-oriented websites, are great at being total time burglars. Meaning, you can lose a lot of time looking at pictures, “liking” what people see, say and do, in addition to watching way too many cat videos. As of lately, I’ve taken a keen interest DIY (Do-It-Yourself) projects around the house to de-stress and make my apartment a more cozy place after those long days at work. (Stress will be covered in another blog post) The newest tool that is feeding both my addiction to organization, cleaning, and DIY-ing is Pinterest.
Pinterest, as the name suggests, is a social media site where users can pin/”like” images and add them to a “pinboard” where they can categorized by the user according to interest, hobby, etc. For those who like to geek out on web analytics, Pinterest has a page (which you can also follow) dedicated to understanding how people use the site. It turns out that 80% of all users are women, but I digress.
HOW TO PINTEREST
1. SET UP AN ACCOUNT
2. CREATE YOUR PROFILE
3. CREATE A BOARD
Now this is the fun part. This is where you get to create, essentially, a folder or “board” to pin images that you like according to category. If you look at my profile, you can see that I have five boards:
A Conversation with Angela Caputo
Angela Caputo is an award-winning journalist with years of experience. Yet in many ways, she feels like she is just getting started, just beginning to learn the ins and outs of her craft. Despite her humility, she has gained a reputation for some of Chicago’s very best reporting on issues of race and poverty, focusing on the criminal justice beat since joining the Chicago Reporter in 2010.
In the following conversation, Angela talks about one of her superpowers that makes her an awesome narrator of the city and shares what it takes to gather and deploy large amounts of data.
How did you learn to work with data? At what point did that happen?
During my early reporting jobs, I did very little work with data. While at one of my first jobs, I remember going through files at the County Clerk’s office and reviewing them one tax payment at a time, calling them up by pin and logging them into a spreadsheet. It was very different than getting huge sets of data and doing analysis.
Most of my learning happened after joining the Chicago Reporter –– now I work with datasets that contain literally hundreds of thousands of entries. It is a big part of what our publication does.
I have learned a lot in the office. We teach each other what we know, and then just kind of muddle through projects. That’s really how I’ve learned. Somebody will introduce you to something, but the only way to learn it and get better is to make a lot of mistakes and to practice.
When you get a big database, how do you make sense of it?
Just playing with it, decoding it, cleaning it up, making sure that you’re not counting duplicates, figuring out the categories, breaking out the variables so that they line up into one thing. Simple data cleaning, getting rid of parenthesis, crunching it down to basic numbers, so that you can really compare the same thing. That’s all part of the process.
What’s an example of a really cool dataset?
One example is LEHD data, [Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics], which is really amazing. It has a geocode, which links it to a place, and it goes down to the census block, so it zooms in pretty deep. That data shows you what jobs are on each block, and where the people in those jobs come from. You can see how old the people are that work in the jobs, what they make, and the type of sector that they work in.
I used that data in a story on jobs and economic development in the heart of Chicago, in the downtown area, where one in 3 jobs in the city are located. There has been huge public investment in the downtown, so I looked at who is working there. I found that 86% of the job losses between 2002 and 2008 were among people who live south of 41st street.
The communities that already have the fewest number of jobs per resident; also lost almost all of the jobs that were lost in and around the Loop.
I have recently been commissioned to edit a book and sought some guidance from a dear friend of mine whom I once upon a time watched edit Gore Vidal’s articles alongside the man himself. (Best. Day. Ever.) Kasia Anderson, Associate Director of the Daniel Pearl Foundation and long-time journalist and editor extraordinaire for Truthdig, the New York Daily News (and others) talks us through the steps to being a good editor.
1) READ Know that there are different modes of reading when you edit a piece. Read the story at least once through with specific attention to technical details — e.g. grammar and spelling, paragraph breaks, and so on. Then read it again, focusing on stylistic edits and larger thematic elements. Then read it as a kind of proxy for the reader: Is it engaging? Does the lead grab you? And so on. It’s difficult, generally speaking, to edit all of these layers and levels of a story at the same time.
2) DON’T IMPOSE your writing style on the author of the piece you’re editing. You may not love her word choice or his turn of a phrase, but unless it’s a liability for some reason — e.g. clunky or inaccurate — leave it alone. You’re there to make that writer’s piece the best example of his/her own work, not reshape it into something you would have written.
3) SAVE THE WRITER You are there to save the writer from herself if you think the story meanders into too many tangents, takes too long to get to the point, is missing any semblance of a point, or is otherwise ineffective in some major way. Although writers rewrite their own work, and that’s a necessary part of the process, nobody can see his or her own blind spots by definition. An expert and extra pair of eyes is essential. Finally…
4) TALK TO THE WRITER about any changes that might strike him or her as conspicuous or anxiety-inducing when compared to the original draft. Ideally, the editing process should be a dialogue, and conflict, while sometimes unavoidable, can lead to fruitful collaborations that help both parties sharpen their skills and, most important, yield a polished final draft. Be open to push-back from the writer if it’s backed up well, and be ready to compromise if s/he is attached to some aspect of the piece you’re not crazy about — again, as long as it’s not inaccurate or overly problematic.
I like to think that my writing journey is just getting started, that my greatest growth and development is still ahead of me. My novels are yet to be written, my most truthful poems are yet to be drafted, and my dissertation is only just now starting to fall into place. Yet although I am still early on my path, I do believe I’ve learned a few things about how to communicate in the written form. What follows are my top 5 lessons as a writer, each obtained slowly over time, and largely without realizing it:
1 Writing is a way of exploring the depth and breadth of my awareness.
We all have unknown known’s in our lives, fields of knowledge that go largely beneath our own radars. Writing – whether crafting an outline or just throwing words on a page – is a way to get in touch with those fields of knowledge. It is an exercise that allows us to explore exactly how much we really know about a topic, revealing levels of feeling and awareness that often operate at subconscious levels. As we discipline ourselves to write, we are probing this awareness, testing these feelings, and become more conscious of this knowledge.
It turns out that when you’re working on a PhD, it becomes THE project, THE challenge, THE alpha and omega and immensity of weight that is always on your shoulders and it makes you unsociable and it makes you cut yourself off from everything and you should seriously think about doing one. I swore I would never whine about such a privileged position where reading counts as work, so hopefully I avoid it in what follows and I think it applies to any big project.
I had been warned, and sure I know the stereotypes. But I blithely ignored all the flashing red lights, thinking that I’m a wonderful sociable well-rounded human being who is involved in lots of things and the thought of being a hermit to work on a novel or discover the secrets of the universe I could contemplate, but to work on my thesis? Never. The thought of producing something that is long and boring and potentially not at all useful to struggle? Never. And yet, look at me now!
Look ma, top of the world! Yet here at one of the most elite institutions, it sometimes feels like the gasworks where Cagney met his glorious demise.
So there are a lot of difficulties in being an experienced activist in a youthful academia where seems like most people have never left the ivory tower, of trying to bring practice and theory and a whole lot of fury together, and still feeling like a angry poor kid amongst the rich while still being able to laugh at myself. Academia isn’t really meant for people like me, though it should be. Still, at this point, the main challenge is just to get the thing done. It’s hard to describe the weight of it really, it’s always looming and you always feel slightly guilty and you’re always behind. There’s the immense problem of money of course, living as a student is not at all fun after a certain point in life, particularly if you have family who are hurting – that just adds a whole other layer of frustration and helplessness to the one you get from not being able to buy new shoes and in a bad month, luxuries like coffee. Worst of all, your whole being is geared towards getting through these hoops where a few people are given this immense power over your career and your future. It doesn’t matter who they are or how lovely they may be, it is still a rather terrifying position. And infuriating after having been a successful community organizer. So finishing. That’s the thing.
One of my major works-in-progress over the past few years has been figuring how to move and transform the popular economics work that has been a central component of my organizing and teaching for the past 25 years onto and into online platforms and communities:
- To reach people who I’ve never met.
- To figure out what “place” means in these new spaces.
- To transcend the debilitating nature of conference calls for people like me who think in pictures;
and, because I am so disposed…
- For the sheer joy of what this offers to get my nerd on.
The Dr. Pop website is one such experiment –– especially our Do-It-Together cartoons and posts. So are the collegial and inventive monthly skype calls with my fellow bloggers in L.A., Chicago, and London; the Kickstarter campaign that is crowd-sourcing our first graphic novel, BIG WATER; and the Blocks and Lots zoning game [which is being adapted, as we speak, for another iteration of SAJE’s People’s Planning School].
Experiments all. Every one a collaboration, a prototype of sorts, always as much about learning as about teaching. Each presenting a challenge of figuring out how to balance and complement the digital with the inescapable benefits of face-to-face, in-person, encounters –– breaking bread, taking time and walks and talks together –– all the while realizing that our online communications are just as real and offer unique benefits as well.
At our last Dr. Pop retreat, we decided that we wanted to experiment with important content in a story-telling way, and decided to create a graphic novel to get into one of the biggest environmental equity problems in the world….
We were inspired by our neighbors and friends in the actual town of Maywood, CA, where water comes out of the tap the color of iced tea, and the contrast between their struggle for water rights and the surreal economy of designer water. Gary wrote a script, the team weighed in, and soon we were ready to rock and roll with our favorite cartoonist, Mani Manalhães, to draw up some fierce sequentials. The next steps was to plug in a great foreward, an afterward set of resources, and then publish the fabulous results.
We figured out that it would cost about $6,000 to pay Mani for his handiwork; for ISBN, copyright, and miscellaneous fees; and to publish a run of the graphic novel in hardback.
We (very) briefly considered dividing up the costs, but that would have caused us to forego other things — like food and rent and care of loved ones.
So we decided to take our project to the people. We had all supported our friends’ projects in the past by making a contribution towards their initiatives. We decided to crowdsource our project by launching a Kickstarter campaign. For those of you who are considering the same, here is a step-by-step account of what we did and what we have learned so far.
WHAT IS KICKSTARTER?
Kickstarter is one of several sites that are structured to help you reach out to others and ask them to support your creative project with a financial contribution –– a social network for small amounts of venture capital. Typical Kickstarter projects, like ours, seek to raise less than $10,000 (although there are a handful that have raised a million or more).
Here’s how it works:
All of us are eternally grateful to all of you who provided us with love and support for our first-ever graphic novel project, BIG WATER, which was also our first-ever Kickstarter Campaign.
The official Kickstarter backer count is 106, but in reality, with you online-payment-adverse-check-writers and the crazy-pool-our-resources-to-buy-a-$500-character “Patrick Scones” team, there were actually closer to 125!
Stay tuned for an update of this blog post on how we did our Kickstarter Campaign. We really appreciated the advice we got from Beverley Keefe and Kristen Schwartz, who were successful Kickstarter campaigners from days gone by, so we will pass forward what we learned on to you. Soon.
What makes people powerful? Is it the level of resources they wield? The amount of knowledge they possess? Or, perhaps, is it their ability to get lots of different types of people to come to a party they are throwing?
In this interview with Valdis Krebs, founder and chief scientist at orgnet.com. you will learn about the power of informal networks and personal relationships in shaping our world. Through a quick introduction to network analysis, Valdis shares powerful ideas that can help us understand society as well as our ability to change it.
As Gilda explains in the DIT video below, these ideas can lead to serious breakthroughs in everything from neighborhood organizing to global movement building.
Valdis, how did you become a social network analyst?
I actually started in human resources, as a systems person. From there I got into technology and began to notice how new technologies were changing society. They were shifting both what and who were important. And as society grew more complex, I saw that we increasingly needed technology to analyze society.
The software I developed was originally created for IT project management. Only later did it take on its current use. After working for a series of large corporations, I started my own business in 1995.
What keeps you excited about doing this work?
I really like taking on new and different applications for the work. For example, one day I received a call from a CDC epidemiologist. He thought that the TB data he had could be visualized through my network analysis method. So we worked together to see if that was true. Ultimately, his data was presented at a major public health conference and the room loved it.
Calls like that are the best, where someone says “I’ve got this situation and wonder if your method can help.” This is how I originally met Gilda, aka Dr. Pop. She wanted to map organizations and nonprofits working on housing in LA. Eventually one of her staff members, Andrea, got into the conversation and the original focus changed to understanding how LA slumlords were working. By analyzing slumlords’ connections and networks, Gilda and Andrea got a new research approaches to fuel their organizing.
This points to what I see as the secret of innovation –– taking something that’s known technology in one area, and applying it to another area where it is currently unknown.
Albert Einstein once said that “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
But at this moment, as we stare, overwhelmed, at the perfect storm of economic and environmental degradation, we are doing just that.
We all seem to agree that our economy is in a big mess and there is a lot of consensus that Wall Street is to blame. But when it comes down to doing something about it, we are pretty much resigned to moving the deck chairs around on the Titanic, confining even those futile, if expensive, actions to the passengers in first-class. We continue to feed the propagators, starve the victims, and kick people with good ideas to the curb (like Elizabeth Warren).
This is bad, but not as bad as the fact that we don’t agree that the global climate crisis even exists –– a state of affairs that is so maddening to Australian climate scientists that they were compelled to bust out a rap song (I’m a Climate Scientist) in their own defense.
What we really need now are tools that can help us re-discover and re-invent the purpose of the economy; to understand its necessary dependencies and responsibilities to the planet; and to debunk, once and for all, the myth that economics is a neutral math-based science.
While our cities are full of beauty and promise, they are also a battlefield of interests. City officials are often more concerned with downtown development than neighborhood survival, yet grassroots leaders refuse to be silent amidst the challenges facing their communities. Protests, marches, and creativity are all a part of their fight for a fair distribution of resources and opportunity.
The video above highlights some of the key organizing efforts of Chicagoans in recent years, with images from the cityscape as well as the frontlines. It features music from Grant Buhr, moving images from Sarah Jane Rhee and Jo Guldi, along with lyrics from Ryan Lugalia-Hollon.
Since BP’s Deepwater Horizon explosion this spring, over 5 million barrels of oil have spilled into the Gulf of Mexico. Animals, humans, states and entire industries have been devastated. Meanwhile, the conditions which lead to this catastrophe have gone largely unaddressed.
Off shore drilling is still seen as a legitimate way for us to meet our energy needs, and we continue to burn through unbelievable amounts of this finite fuel. What does this tell us about the world we live in today? For starters, it shows that the real crisis goes much deeper than any single disaster.
Our entire economy runs on the consumption of fossil fuels, a dependence which places us at the mercy of companies like BP and endangers the sustainability of life as we know it. This last oil spill is one overwhelming indicator that this way of life cannot last, that our culture and economy must change.
Fortunately, the change that we need so badly can begin in our homes, and it can begin with us. According to experts like Energy Savvy, the energy lost in the BP spill is roughly equivalent to the energy wasted every year by 75,000 homes. By weatherizing our homes and retrofitting our neighborhoods, we can start to take meaningful actions that reduce our dependence on oil. And weatherization is only one example.
In this video explaining the BP oil spill, Lisa See Kim and Ryan Hollon illustrate alternative routes to meeting our energy demands. Crude Awakenings points to changes we can make as a society to reduce our dependence on oil, whether that means changing where we get our food or investing in solar and wind power.
Whether these actions are supported the government or come from grassroots coalitions, what matters most is that they happen. For the more energy-efficient our world becomes, the less power Big Oil has over how we live our lives.
For more information on the problem and solutions check out:
Gulf Spill is Largest of It’s Kind, Scientist Say, New York Times
Energy Action Coalition is a coalition of 50 youth-led environmental and social justice groups working together to build the youth clean energy and climate movement.
Chicago’s Energy Action Network expands winter heating assistance services in neighborhoods and encourage residents to save money year-round through energy efficiency measures and programs.
Alliance for Climate Education educates high school students on the science behind climate change and inspires them to take action to curb the causes of global warming.
Farm Together Now is a new book (December 2010) by Amy Franceschini and Daniel Tucker who visited 20 urban and rural farmers around the country to provide a vision of real alternatives to oil-dependent industrial agriculture. We’ll let you know when the book is available, but meanwhile, you can check out Amy and Dan’s website.
This week I read in the paper that the Los Angeles City Council was awarding $18 million to finish a project that has been a redevelopment site in my neighborhood for years. The goal? To build a Costco. Then to build a Costco with a Home Depot on top. Then when both of those pulled out, to build a Lowe’s home improvement store, which is a lot like a Home Depot.
And that same week I received an email from the Los Angeles Public Library (News You Can Use) with their new schedule consisting of shorter hours and no longer being open on Sundays and Mondays.
Libraries in my mind, are the last of the great public sector products. They are safe spaces for children, for homeless, for women, for families, and for the curious of all stripes — not to mention they are full of books. And they are free. You can stay there as long as you like. All day if you want. They are peaceful.
And as the public sector has crumbled around them, many libraries have stepped up to fill the gap. Last year I read a headline that was something like “Head Librarian Bans Shushing,” for an article about Chicago, I believe, where the head librarian acknowledged their last-public-sector-standing-role and explained “We are the last community centers. People need to talk. We can’t tell them to be quiet any more.”
Although I don’t generally follow architecture awards, which tend to favor the male divas of that profession, I am excited to see that this year’s European Prize for Urban Public Space, is shared, with one of the two winners being the inventive Open Air Library in Magdeburg, Germany that was created by the residents themselves, built out of the debris of a demolished building, and is open 24/7 for people to enjoy the space and borrow books.
The partner winner is an Opera/Ballet house in Oslo, Norway that includes a ramp up to the roof which serves as a public plaza.
It is still not too late. Maybe our neighborhood Lowe’s can support a public plaza on its roof (instead of parking) or a public library at its base. Or something else that engages the idea of a public in exchange for our hard-pressed public investment. Something of value besides shopping.
Albert Lowe wrote such a useful comment on Andrea’s DIT article on How to Research a Slumlord, that I turned it into a post here. Thanks, Albert!
I have a couple of other suggestions about acquiring public data.
1) Figure out the best way to acquire public information
2) Familiarize yourself with the physical space that houses public records
Any researcher should familiarize him/herself with the public records and their offices. You may have the right to access public records, but let’s make it as easy as possible. Try visiting public offices (land records, tax records, planning records, court records, and housing inspection records are all maintained locally). Find out the staff’s day-to-day practices. They have to deal with jerks and entitled developers all of the time. Just being friendly, respectful and possibly flirty may go a long way before you threaten anyone with a lawsuit for denying you information.
Find out how these offices prefer to dispense information. They may have their own customized Public Records Act request forms or may require formal letters. If you need a quick and dirty form, try the Student Press Law Center. They have a FREE Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) letter generator set up for each State in the U.S. To start generating your own FOIA requests go to:
Most of us have a network of peers who do the same kind of work we do. Organizers know other organizers, teachers other teachers, non-profit directors other directors — you get the idea.
Sometimes its only those people who have walked more than a mile in our shoes whose opinion and ideas are the stuff we need to help us figure things out.
Even the fake mystery writer from the TV show, Castle, gets advice from real mystery writer poker buddies Michael Connelly, James Patterson and Stephen J. Cannell on how to solve his latest case.
I am fortunate and grateful to be part of a few such networks, including theSynergos Senior Fellows network which consists of people from around the world who have a lot of experience working on issues related to poverty and inequality.
Synergos has systematized an effective way to turn peers into advisers in a process that they call Real-Time Consulting. I have benefited from both sides of that equation (as a consultant and consultee) and I have also experienced the process face-to-face (at the Synergos annual meetings), as well as on a Skype telephone calls (and then, when the audio didn’t function well enough, in an online chat format).
Here’s a short video that describes the process. The article continues with some helpful links below the video.
In each of these cases, the same key factors made the system work, which I will share here in case you want to try it with your own network of peers. (Please let us know how it goes if you do).
The basic ingredients to Real-Time Consulting are:
1. A Peer Network
The first thing you need is a trusted network of peers whose experience and knowledge your value. This can be a formal network like Synergos, or an informal group of people that you pulled together to advise you on a problem. Trust here does not mean that you necessarily know the people well, but rather that you are confident that their knowledge and experience can inform your problem.
This year’s Community Scholars class is broken into five project teams, each working on some aspect of the theme of a green economy.
Last quarter we did a work-in-progress presentation to an audience of “clients” and other interested parties. All the content was great, but listening to five projects in succession is a little hard on an evening audience of people who have been working all day. People were engaged. But they were also tired and had difficulty sustaining attention to projects that didn’t involve their particular interests. Such is life.
So this time we are experimenting with a “gallery” approach, to create a more festive space that is more about conversations than presentations.
Here are the basic steps to the approach:
1. Start with a Clear Goal
Yesterday’s goal was for each team to get feedback from all of the other team’s in the class. The goal was to solicit constructive criticism to help us produce the best possible products for our clients — to give them the best possible value added.
This weekend was more infused with art and music than any other this year, and I’m hoping that this is the sign of a wonderful new trend.
Friday night: Heard the Chuck Boogie Trio at the Soul Sessions, Grand Star Jazz Club in Chinatown. Very, very nice.
Saturday afternoon: Wandered into the Folk Music Center in Claremont (photo right) after a friend’s graduation ceremony, a fabulous place, that lets you try out all their musical wares. And people do. The place is a friendly happy cacophony. It has history too – the store now has official status as a museum. It was started by Ben Harper‘s grandparents in 1958. Harper grew up in the place and you can easily see how it must have contributed to developing the soul of a musician.
James Rojas is an urban planner who devotes a lot of his time to translating the impenetrable maps and language of land use planning into a activities that are visual, tactile, and playful — the language of how we actually experience the world.
James’ basic goal is to create environments that elicit ordinary people’s ideas and solutions to urban problems.
“I’m always amazed by people’s ideas and solutions — its mind-boggling how many creative ideas people have.”
To James, ideas are the golden currency of city-building.
Here’s a 3-minute video that runs you through the process and its party spirit. A more detailed explanation follows as the article continues below.
Andrea Gibbons, among other things, established SAJE‘s Research Department with some path-breaking work that uncovered an invisible criminal slumlord empire just by digging into the information that surrounded a single building. Andrea was followed by Albert Lowe (aka Uncle Joe) who laid the groundwork for the Shame of the City reports that are referred to in our recent Get the Lead Out article. Both of their efforts contributed mightily towards the criminal convictions of two of L.A.’s biggest and baddest slumlords. Here Andrea share’s her 5-step method on how to research a slumlord, which is also summarized in the 5-minute video below.
So you wanna get down and dirty and research a slumlord?
I believe that each and every one of us has a right to a safe and secure, I’d go so far as to say cozy, place to call home. While I have not yet succeeded in making this a universal belief (and I do stress the yet), I will say there is widespread agreement that a landlord must maintain his building if you’re paying him rent. Given that most owners see our beloved homes as nothing more than income streams that are only hurt by maintenance expenses, this is always a cause of no small tension. There are, of course, those among the wider pool of investors who are out and out blankety-blanks. Buy me a drink sometime and I will tell you what I really think, especially as this post has nothing to do with the whys of slumlords, so don’t forget the larger forces at work here that also require attention!
Far too many of our people are forced to live with rats, roaches, peeling paint, mold, an absence of heat, raw sewage, leaking pipes… the list goes on, as does my fury. If you’re going to dig deep and put the hours in to finding out exactly who is profiting off of such daily assaults upon their tenants, then I would first recommend love and fury in equal measures. They will make up for your learning curve, and sustain you in your attention to numbing detail and bureaucracy.
And so! For the agony and ecstasy of corporate research in 5 “easy” steps (and my apologies that specific sources are American though the theory is the same everywhere), keep reading…
Know them up and down, backwards and forwards before you do anything, and I mean anything. Slumlords don’t like tenants or tenant organizers getting uppity, so be extremely prepared.
- Dig out those contracts, read them, find out exactly what you’ve signed up for if you didn’t already know. I’m afraid to say there are often some nasty surprises in there. Those lawyers know what they’re doing.
- Cities and states have different laws protecting tenants, find out which ones apply to you. All of them have basic requirements for building maintenance. At best you also have your rent control (which limits how much an owner can increase your rent), and you have your just cause eviction (which limits the reasons you can be evicted). If your town has neither, then it’s just down to you and whatever you can negotiate into your contract. Make sure you have back up, and check out Vida Urbana/City Life to see just how much tenants working together have been able to negotiate into collective contracts.
Knowledge alone isn’t power, I’m afraid. If it were my life would be much different. What knowledge does is allow you to use your power most effectively to place pressure where pressure will make a difference. You need to consider your options on how best to use it.
You can pressure the owner directly. For example when I worked at SAJE, we once took a tenant delegation to meet with their landlord’s pastor. That stopped the harassment and threatened evictions pretty quickly.
Another obvious target is the city or county, who are more likely to try and act effectively after you have built a picture of the landlord’s evil business operations and their effects on their tenants and community.
The picture below shows the kind of strategic information that maybe be useful and where the pressure points might lie, but don’t let this limit you! Every landlord and city is different. There are undoubtedly other possibilities.
The reason for creating a game is to make sure that the learning is interactive and fun. (As opposed to boring and dull, which, with all due respect to my chosen profession, is what comes to mind for most people when you say the word “zoning.”)
We needed to test our game ideas before we got too deeply into the time-consuming production work that online games require.
So we decided to start with a game that people can play face-to-face in a room. A board game.
After some back-and-forth experimentation we came up with a rough prototype and then play-tested it with a stalwart crew of smart, activist health promoters from Esperanza.
The results of that are best captured in the following conversation:
Rosten: So let me get this straight. You didn’t have any fun at all? Ever?
Enough said. So it was back to the proverbial drawing board. Or in this case — game board.
Unlike Rosten (and my daughter Chelsea, who beats me at any and all games) I am not a gamer. I like games like charades and scrabble because I like drama and words. So I clearly needed to get up to speed.
This is a followup to January’s DIT video and article on How to Make a Storyboard.
This time I’ll give deeper instructions by going into the details of a storyboard assignment that I used in my class. The information is provided in the short video below, as well as in a narrative form, which continues right under the video.
The assignment has three parts:
- Goals and Assumptions
GOALS AND ASSUMPTIONS
You can write out your goals and assumptions in a page or less. To do this, you will answer three basic questions:
- Rationale: What is the purpose, or rationale, for your project?
- Learning outcomes: What do you expect people to learn? What are the “takeaways?” The learning outcomes?
- Pre-Knowledge: Does your audience need any pre-knowledge — things they already need to know — in order to benefit from your product?
Here are examples of what a rationale might look like from three projects from the class:
Democracy is basically a system that lets people make decisions together.
The key to making that happen, besides lots and lots of meetings, is lots and lots of preparation.
The pay-off is: well-informed decision-makers, more effective meetings, and discussions that allow everyone to participate in the conversation.
Making informed decisions together is the ultimate Do-It-Together.
This post offers the first three in a series of faciltators’ tools designed to help you get this done.
There are 24 people in our Community Scholars class at UCLA. Some are students, some are faculty or staff, and some are community leaders and artists.
The purpose of the class is to produce popular education material related to “Green Jobs.” We spent our four weeks in lectures and discussion with experts about aspects of the problem. Now we need to break into working teams that will produce popular education products over the next fifteen weeks. Big commitment. High stakes for the participants.
To get those decisions started, last week we we had a three hour retreat where we engaged in the following exercises in sequence:
Instructions for these exercises are provided below, with their purpose and goal, necessary preparation and materials, and links and images to our experience. Read More…
Storyboards are a way to present the elements of a story in a sequence. They are used a lot by people who make movies and other media to help them “see” a story and how the pieces work together before they spend a lot of time and money on a project.
When you are working on a team, storyboards are one way to get people, literally, on the same page. Here is a 3-minute video on how to do that (the written-out version continues below the video).
Moving into 2010, Dr. Pop is taking a page from the DIY (Do-It-Yourself) book to offer our own particular brand applied to the real world of social change: Do-It-Together (DIT). Every month expect to see a “How-To” or “Why-To” instructional (sometimes mashed together) to help move our shared thinking and doing along.
This month’s videoblog on the 5 Elements of Great Storytelling is an example. Coming soon: Instructionals on “How (and Why) to Make a Storyboard,” “Simple Animation for Non-Animators,” and narratives about how collaboration really works here at Dr. Pop.
Dr. Pop is really about storytelling — about who gets to tell the story, how it gets told and how to figure out what the point is. In the economy and in life.
Here are the 5 Elements of Great Storytelling, presented with illustrations and examples from the Dr. Pop website and other favorites, presented in the videoblog below.
1. What does your character want?
2. What’s the hook?
3. Use dialogue and quotes.
4. The essence of drama is conflict.
5. Fulfill the promise.
For other resources on great storytelling, check out:
Smart Meme is an intriguing and intelligent organization for whom story-telling is the political strategy. Dr. Pop agrees. Their tagline? Changing the Story, of course. Smart Meme has a great website and a lot of good thinking to offer.
A Story is a Promise by Bill Johnson (who, according to Gary also does great workshops for fiction writers). Recommended here is the 1-hour DVD where Bill reads from a number of well-known books and talks about several popular movies “to take viewers into the heart of what a story is, a promise made to an audience, and a promise kept.”