CityLab Daily: Trump’s Homeless Policy Gets a Controversial Boss

What We’re Following

No quarter: Robert Marbut Jr., the Trump administration’s pick to be the director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, has made a career out of the belief that “panhandling is a gateway to vice.” As a consultant, Marbut has spent the last decade repeating the claim that the overwhelming majority of money given to panhandlers is spent on drugs, alcohol, or sex. The problem is: No other homelessness experts have found any research to support such a claim.

Marbut has advised hundreds of cities and counties on his controversial “velvet hammer” strategy, a model for providing homeless services that places a policing-heavy emphasis on banning panhandling, placing homeless facilities far from urban centers, and providing food and shelter only as a reward for good behavior. CityLab’s Kriston Capps takes a look at Marbut’s past in Texas and Florida to see what he might bring to the administration: Here’s the Enforcer for Trump’s Punitive Agenda on Homelessness

Andrew Small


More on CityLab

Mapping an America Changed by Climate

With “The 2100 Project: An Atlas for A Green New Deal,” the McHarg Center tries to visualize how the warming world will reshape the United States.

Sarah Holder

In a Measure of Startup Diversity, U.S. Coastal Cities Dominate

Just four coastal areas of the country dominate on the Startup Complexity Index, a new measure developed by researchers at the Brookings Institution.

Richard Florida

Grocery Stores Near Seattle Are Getting Vertical Farms

QFC, a Kroger chain, has added mini-farms to two of its supermarkets and will roll out 13 more in stores around Washington and Oregon.

Hallie Golden

How ‘Indian Relocation’ Created a Public Health Crisis

The lasting health effects of “Indian Relocation” policies of the 1950s.

Linda Poon


I Call That a Bargain

(Cascadia Rail)

There is a new high-speed rail dream in America: A trans-national, ultra-high-speed rail line that could hit 250 mph and put Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver within super-commuting range. According to Washington state’s secretary of transportation, Robert Millar, such a train could be built to the tune of about $50 billion. While that may sound like a lot, it could be a bargain compared to adding a lane to I-5, the current north-south corridor linking the mega-region.

“[For] $108 billion we’ve got another lane of pavement in each direction, and it still takes you all day to get from Portland to Vancouver,” Millar said earlier this month. “Half of that invested in ultra-high speed rail and it’s two hours. That’s game-changing stuff.” On CityLab: The Case for Portland-to-Vancouver High Speed Rail


What We’re Reading

A transit hub for an all-corporate-sponsored San Francisco (New York)

WeWork will lay off more than 400 employees in New York (Quartz)

Philadelphia pharmacies loved OxyContin—until suddenly they didn’t (Philadelphia Inquirer)

Dog-walking apps fight state oversight (Stateline)

Forget the log cabin. Wood buildings are climbing skyward, with pluses for the planet (Washington Post)


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CityLab Daily: Dave Grohl Has a Pro-Rock Urban Policy Agenda

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What We’re Following

Smells like teen spirit: Plenty of towns want to be the next big music city. If Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl had to give city leaders policy advice for how to make that happen, it would be this: Look to the kids and make all-ages venues possible.

“There weren’t too many all-ages venues, so we had to make them or find them,” Grohl said of his upbringing outside Washington, D.C., during an interview with The Atlantic’s editor in chief, Jeffrey Goldberg. Speaking at CityLab DC, he recalled the live shows he attended growing up as pivotal to his development. Whether it was grunge in Seattle or punk and go-go in D.C., Grohl said a tight-knit community of musicians can inspire young people to try something creative. Read my write-up of Grohl’s interview on CityLab: Don’t Underestimate the Power of Your Local Music Scene

Andrew Small


More on CityLab

Uber’s Beef With L.A. Is Bigger Than Data

The ride-hailing giant is convinced that L.A.’s data-tracking tool is violating state privacy laws. But the stakes for its business go further.

Laura Bliss

Urban and Suburban Lifestyles Are More Similar Than You’d Think

A new study finds strong similarities in how residents of U.S. cities and suburbs spend their time—with one, counterintuitive difference.

Richard Florida

The Hidden Problem Behind Maternal Mortality

Washington, D.C.’s maternal mortality rate is twice the national average. But the problem isn’t lack of insurance. At least in part, it’s implicit bias.

Emma Coleman

Congress Could Give Cities an Official Role in International Politics

If the City and State Diplomacy Act becomes law, the Office of Subnational Diplomacy it creates would give cities a formal role in U.S. international diplomacy.

Chrystie Flournoy Swiney and Sheila Foster

What One Chicago Magazine Reveals About Gentrification

North is an expensively produced lifestyle magazine along the lines of Kinfolk or Monocle. Except it’s published by a Chicago real-estate developer.

Tanner Howard



What We’re Reading

What does community mean to black Americans? (New York Times)

A DIY initiative addressing the lack of sidewalks in Seattle becomes a city pilot (Next City)

ICE is rushing to open for-profit detention centers right before California’s ban goes into effect (Mother Jones)

Michelle Obama on white flight in Chicago: “Y’all were running from us” (Washington Post)

Don’t lecture California about fires. Look at the state’s climate action. (Curbed)


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Dave Grohl Has a Pro-Rock Urban Policy Agenda

Long before the city became known as an Amazon boomtown, Dave Grohl remembers the 1990 Seattle as a place that existed in a “little cultural biodome” of its own. “What did we have? Like, fish and Bill Gates and whatever.”

The Foo Fighters frontman and former Nirvana drummer headlined CityLab DC on Tuesday, talking with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg about how music scenes like the one that emerged in the grunge-era Pacific Northwest can become city-shaping forces. “Those kids were connecting to what was going on in a way that doesn’t happen often,” he said. “It happens just before a musical revolution.”

In those pre-internet days, Seattle was too geographically isolated to lure many national touring bands, forcing fans and musicians alike to go it alone and build their own distinctive indie-rock community. Grohl, who grew up in Northern Virginia’s Fairfax County, was a veteran of Washington, D.C.’s thriving punk scene when he arrived in town. “When I first got there, I hadn’t joined Nirvana yet, but I went to go see them play,” Grohl said. “What I noticed was the identity of the audience. They weren’t like spiked hair and chains and leather jackets. They looked like kids from trailer parks. They had like flannel shirts that they got at the Salvation Army and they wore like Converse Chucks and ripped-up jeans and they just looked like derelicts.”

But thanks in part to the breakout of Nirvana’s 1991 album Nevermind, Seattle suddenly became a brand-name music city; bands like Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains joined a gold rush for grunge acts, and the “Seattle sound” became a cultural phenomenon—and a marketing gimmick. “Designers started selling flannel shirts for $800,” Grohl said, “and it changed.”

The success of Nirvana launched a wide-ranging career for the onetime punk drummer; after the death of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain in 1994, Grohl swiftly founded his own band, Foo Fighters, which has so far released nine albums. Grohl also created the 2014 HBO series Sonic Highways, based on the band’s 2014 album of the same name. The show chronicled the musical histories of eight American cities—including New Orleans, Nashville, Chicago, and Los Angeles—that boast influential local music scenes. Among them is Grohl’s own hometown of D.C., whose eclectic musical identity can be credited to visionaries like Ian McKaye of Minor Threat and Fugazi, as well as go-go pioneer Chuck Brown.

At CityLab DC, Grohl was a tireless proselytizer for the community-building power of such local scenes. “Wouldn’t you love it if your city was famous for music?” he asked the city leaders in attendance. “A rich and vibrant music scene brings a lot of happiness. It’s like air—it’s important. You need to have that in your life just to remind you that life’s worth living.”

To foster such an atmosphere, Grohl also had a tip for the policymakers in the crowd: Create more all-ages venues. He got his start as a drummer by seeing shows as a teenager in D.C. clubs like the 9:30 Club. “It was a dump, but it was important to generations of people that found inspiration in that crappy little room,” he said. “People deserve to have an opportunity like that—for people to go to experience music, to learn how to play music, to share music with each other and build a community. Now when I talk about Washington, D.C., I’m proud of being from Washington, D.C. When I say I’m a musician from Washington, D.C., people think I’m a badass. And I agree.”

That echoed an idea that Frank Sirius, current leader of D.C.’s Chuck Brown Band, voiced earlier at the conference, where school music programs trained locals to play instruments and fed the city’s homegrown music scene. “I aspired to be like the guys I watched at the block party and clubs,” Sirius told The Atlantic’s Gillian White.

Even in an era of on-demand digital content consumption, Grohl is still a believer in the transformative power of analog musicianship and live performance. “What’s really inspiring is when you see an actual human being on stage with an instrument made of wood and wires, and one microphone,” he said, “and they do something so moving that you fall into, like, a romantic state of loving life, because people do great things.”

He talked about how, on a visit to New Orleans shooting an episode of Sonic Highways, he marveled at how spontaneous second line parades “just happened like wildfires in Los Angeles.” Every city, he insisted, should to find their own ways to let music play that kind of a role in daily life—and “let it walk down the street.”

“There are thousands of musicians in this city right now that could go on to change the course of popular music,” Grohl said. “They just need the opportunity to do it.”

Watch the full interview here:

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