What a way to end the year! Traveling to New York City is nostalgic for both Jamie and myself, since we both lived there. Getting into the city as the day was starting made it easier to navigate using transit, and being on transit reminded us of how much worry is eliminated when people have a way to traverse without having to personally own it. Sure, there are highs and lows of sharing space with people, but there is an air of calm knowing that one will reach a destination without needing to take a personal vehicle. Leaving the airport, there are constant buses that are always full, and their usage is encouraged by the Metropolitan Transit Authority ticket machines that are available directly at the airport.
Because of our penchant for communal space, we stayed at the Blue Moon Hotel, which was inexpensive, near transit, and across the street from the Tenement Museum. Offering daily tours, the Tenement Museum is an almost perfectly preserved buildings formerly used for tenement housing. The buildings remained almost completely untouched between 1935 and 1988, despite being scheduled for eminent domain in a city where housing is at a premium. Built in 1863, there was neither running water nor gas in one room, let alone electricity, and tenants would gather water from outside to bring up while sharing outhouses near the buildings. In the early 1900s, renovations would include gas, running water, and electricity, and the museum was able to contact one of the tenants who had actually lived in the buildings before her family moved for work. While these buildings represent an important part of history, it is equally significant that these buildings were the homes of solely European immigrants, and survived the reign of eminent domain from the Reconstruction Era. In this way, only certain parts of history in the United States are deemed worthy of preservation, something which the guides affirmed when asked.
The most appealing aspect of this conference was that although there was a steady stream of established academics and seasoned professional, there were an equal number of informally educated activists and community organizers. The opening speaker stated that Hindsight began because the coordinators had been looking for urban planning conferences with a focus on justice, and had been unable to find one. Luckily, they were able to create one, and 2019 was the third year of the Hindsight conference. The conference began with a forum including April de Simone, the co-founder of Designing the We; Libertad O. Guerra, co-founded of the environmental justice coalition South Bronx Unite; and Rick Chavolla of the Kumeyaay Ipai Nation, moderated by Addison Vawters, an urban planner for the City of New York. During the forum, the speakers described their triumphs and frustrations with planning in light of the avaricious real estate industry and a society becoming more intolerant to various populations.
During the first panel, we were introduced to the Biking Public Project, a nonprofit that addresses how cyclists–with and without motors–are affected by the anti-bike sentiment throughout the United States. Helen Ho showed a trailer of a film that depicts struggle of food delivery workers in New York City, who struggle against high demand and little protection. While motorbikes are the most inexpensive and highly efficient method of getting from restaurants to residences, police enforcement has increased, forcing delivery workers to pay exorbitant fees to regain their vehicles. Additionally, workers are confronted with the immigration discussion in a time of heightened xenophobia. One of the workers was luckily able to attend and speak on her discomfort with the hypocrisy surrounding a demand for cheap labor and rules that public those who provide it.
In another panel, participants took on the question of what makes a queer space in a world that is becoming increasingly digital. What does it mean to define a space as queer when the liability has increased due to the rising acknowledgment of queerness? Because of how queer issues have been shaped, too many planners and advocates envision queer spaces as predominant White, which has been particularly difficult in a country where trans deaths have disproportionately affected people of color. The rise of digital spaces may mean the erasure of the queer identity in public spaces, meaning that the default resides in the dominant narrative.
Pittsburgh for Public Transit discussed how public transportation should be designed to serve the public rather than the real estate industry. Josh Malloy pointed out that the main goal of effective data collection is the payment of both activists and analysts. To that end, he was accompanied by the current intern with PPT, and they discussed how much effort is exerted with effective community engagement. In addition to an app, there were mixtures of paid workers and volunteers taking surveys at transit stops, covering most of the working class communities. Josh Malloy described how much easier it was to approach the city with data when most residents have traditionally been intimidated with powerpoints and graphs. Pittsburgh is in the process of creating its 2020 plans, and the hope is that the city will incorporate the data provided by this grassroots group.
When Decipher City travels, we are usually surrounded by paid professionals or academics who have a limited perspective on how their theories translate in reality. This conference is one of the better connections with people who actually have boots on the ground and are susceptible to the consequences of bad decisions. In the future, more professionals have work to do connecting with the people who are in the process of being punished or erased because cities are competing for those with high dollars instead of those with high stakes.