coffee and cities

cities, culture, tech
This Machine Kills Fascists

This Machine Kills Fascists

It’s hard to argue against the relationship between coffee and gentrification. Sharon Zukin, for example, writes about ‘pacification by cappuccino‘ and my new neighbor Andrew Papachristos writes about the interrelationship between crime and coffee. I’ll just say this for now: The Blue Bottle’s Kyoto style cold-brewed chemistry set of a machine made me come back five times in four days. I groveled to get my last cup before I headed out of town.

Finding delicious coffee should be added to either Kieran‘s or Andrew‘s ASA Bingo cards. Although I’m doing my best to reserve judgment on Atlanta’s coffee scene.

Coffee Shop, 1956

Coffee Shop, 1956

Tangentially (although coffeeshop-related), there is something to be said for catching a good museum exhibit. In my case, coming early to the ASA, I made it to a Robert Frank exhibit at the SfMoMA. Four rooms were dedicated to the four sections of The Americans. (Read Anthony Lane’s writeup here.) It was an incredible experience, and the narrative became overwhelming, if a little forced by the placards. I use RF via Howard Becker’s Telling About Society for my Media and Technology class, as his work is clearly sociological. He writes:

Robert Frank’s (…) enormously influential The Americans is in ways reminiscent both of Tocqueville‘s analysis of American institutions and of the analysis of cultural themes by Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict. Frank presents photographs made in scattered places around the country, returning again and again to such themes as the flag, the automobile, race, restaurants—eventually turning those artifacts, by the weight of the associations in which he embeds them, into profound and meaningful symbols of American culture.

Fellow museum compatriot, Patrick Inglis, reminded me of Walker Evans‘ style of taking surreptitious photographs of his subjects, and it got me thinking about technique a little more.

Update: A nice review of the 50 year anniversary of The Americans is here.

semi-public, semi-private space

cities, culture

In San Francisco for the ASA, I did a little scouting around and came across a bunch of ‘unaccepted streets’ thanks to a lovely local. She told me about how these are a ‘public right of way’ that has not been built according to city standards and has not been accepted by the city’s Board of Supervisors for maintenance. These are scattered all over the town, and the residents are required to take care of them. According to the San Francisco Public Works Code:

Residents of Penny Lane Arrange a Beautification Day

Residents of Penny Lane Arrange a Beautification Day

sec. 400.1. Owners of frontage responsible for removal of rubbish or debris from unaccepted streets that are unpaved. It shall be the duty of the owners of lots or portions of lots immediately adjacent to any portion of the roadway of any unpaved street, avenue, lane, alley, court or place, or any portion of any sidewalk thereof, in the City and County of San Francisco, none of which has been accepted by the Supervisors as by law or as in the Charter of said City and County provided, to maintain said roadways or sidewalks adjacent to their property free and clear of rubbish or debris. (Added by Ord. 16-71, App. 1/26/71)

The San Francisco Public Trust has a plan to make these spaces into ‘street parks,’ but what is interesting is that many locals have enchanted these places into their own: transforming them into public gardens, or making their own mosaic-tiled parking space. I was also fascinated by the little paths and stairs that weave around people’s homes, that have these lovely pockets in which residents have decorated them with flowers, art, and mosaics.

This stands in dramatic contrast with what I have always thought of as ‘privately owned public spaces:’ Corporate-held public plazas–in which landowners could build beyond their envelope due to a 1961 Zoning Plan incentive program–detailed in Jerold Kayden‘s excellent book. The NYC Department of City Planning reports:

Approximately 16 percent of the spaces are actively used as regional destinations or neighborhood gathering spaces, 21 percent are usable as brief resting places, 18 percent are circulation-related, four percent are being renovated or constructed, and 41 percent are of marginal utility.

While in San Francisco, I also hung out with Venice Beach urbanist, Andrew Deener, and he told me that his work touches on the Venice Canals, which exist in a way similar to SF’s unaccepted streets: this one-time aspiring Disneyland/Coney Island neighborhood fell on hard times, but is now a isolated bourgeois citadel thanks to these manufactured canals. Interestingly, like the unaccepted roads in San Fransisco, the City does nothing to maintain the canals, even though they are the only way for residents (and city services) to access their homes.

Scum River Bridge

Update (2/1/10): A nice little example of Urban Alchemy is in Astoria, where residents have built a bridge over ‘Scum River’ using a nearby broken bench. (This actually received an accommodation from the office of NYC Council Member Peter F. Vallone, Jr. January 25th)

twitter research


At the same time, there is some research being conducted by twittering, which can be seen here, and Richard Wiseman’s take on it can be read here. Also, from the data visualization file, here’s a nice image (although I’m not sure who the gray people are, and the ‘5 with more than 100 followers’ should probably ‘5 with more than 10 followers’ if this were at the scale the author makes it):

Dont get too excited

'Don't get too excited'

Update: More pretty data visualization about Twitter here.

music sales, cont’d

Swan Song?

Swan Song?

An Op-Ed piece by Charles Blow notes that analysts give the music industry 10 years:

A study last year conducted by members of PRS for Music, a nonprofit royalty collection agency, found that of the 13 million songs for sale online last year, 10 million never got a single buyer and 80 percent of all revenue came from about 52,000 songs. That’s less than one percent of the songs.

The NYTimes has a nice graphic on the fadeout.

The New Yorker has an article about ticket sales, TicketMaster and LiveNation, ‘The Price of the Ticket.’ Within, John Seabrook interviews Princeton Economist states that, there’s “still an element of rock concerts that is more like a party than a commodities market,” and that it bears resemblance to the gift exchange.

Related, here‘s a piece on how the publishing industry, as it exists today, is doomed.

you tube, money, and domestic violence


The ‘JK Wedding Dance’ bounced around the internet a few weeks ago… When I clicked on it, I didn’t recognize the people or the song, nor did I catch the interest in it. But I started snooping around about it when thinking about the Media, Technology and Society class. It turns out that a few people have thought about it. If I told you that it was a brilliant money generating video, you might think that it was viral marketing a la these Levi’s commercials. But it’s not. The song is Chris Brown’s ‘Forever,’ and it’s popularity has skyrocketed one year after the release, the iTunes downloads hit #4, and #3 on Amazon’s MP3 list (Amazon sells MP3s?).

YouTube searches for chris brown forever

YouTube searches for 'chris brown forever'

YouTube’s business blog notes:

This traffic is also very engaged — the click-through rate (CTR) on the “JK Wedding Entrance” video is 2x the average of other Click-to-Buy overlays on the site. And this newfound interest in downloading “Forever” goes beyond the viral video itself: “JK Wedding Entrance” also appears to have influenced the official “Forever” music video, which saw its Click-to-Buy CTR increase by 2.5x in the last week.

Part two of this story is that Chris Brown has been in the press more for his domestic abuse. (Click here for a sobering statistic that over half of Boston teenagers think that Rhianna was to blame for the incident). When I found the JK Wedding website, this issue was not lost on them. They write:

We hope to direct this positivity to a good cause. Due to the circumstances surrounding the song in our wedding video, we have chosen the Sheila Wellstone Institute. Sheila Wellstone was an advocate, organizer, and national champion in the effort to end domestic violence in our communities.

Even if the bride didn’t get into the dance too much, I do give them both credit for this. The Sheila Wellstone Institute is here.