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THE CITY – April 2018

THE CITY - April 2018

The More Things Change

Written by Christian Hazes, Staff Writer, and Phillip Morris, Editor-in-Chief

When empires fell their cities were ransacked and rebuilt in images to the liking of the conqueror. This city was raised as a monument to digitalization’s triumph over analog. Wires, sensors, and the gadgets people wore gave the city a nervous system to regulate itself, and the people living within it. With the only exception being the bad parts of town where it was deemed a bad investment to build the cybernetic infrastructure, and where few people could afford the latest smart devices. In this blindspot the government needed to be content with using aging smartphone data and social media posts.

The most basic, and constant, function of installing such a thorough network is monitoring the ebb and flow of the city’s inhabitants. In the morning large swaths leave the residential areas for the business districts, and in the evening they return. While the system can, and does track each individual, at these peak times people can find anonymity in the crowd as their individual dot merges with many others, so that to the human eyes watching them the traffic is only a continuous stream. On the weekends the movement of the dots was a bit more random.

Jennifer was glad for this weekend, as it was the first in a long while that she didn’t need to pick up an extra shift cleaning some high rise office or hotel. On top of that, not only was she free from work, but she was free from parental responsibilities as well. Emmie had made plans to meet up with James at his new place across town. Her’s used to be the hangout house until James’ dad got a  new job and moved the family to a “nicer” part of town. Jennifer didn’t mind where she lived, there were plenty of parks and things to do, besides, she’d grown up there. The only complaint she had was the concentration of unsavory types that had come in recent years. Everyone knew that if you wanted a chance of not getting caught doing something you shouldn’t, you’d better do it in the Dead Zone. Last year a condemned apartment building collapsed on itself after a meth lab hidden inside exploded. She wouldn’t have wanted that that to happen anywhere else either, but at least if there had been some city sensors in the area it might’ve been caught before getting that far.

That incident wasn’t on her mind today though. It was such a bright and sunny day that she was determined to enjoy it in a park. She got John out of bed with a kiss and the promise of a cheeseburger for lunch.

“You can lay about in the park just as easily as you can here” she goaded him. It was always a struggle getting him to go for walks, but he knew he needed it as much as she did.

John had dragged his feet when they first left the house, but by the time they could smell the park’s fresh-cut grass even he was getting into the idea of being outside. The park was a hive of activity by the time they got there. Kids occupied nearly every climbable surface with just a few adults sprinkled here and there. It was one of the few places in the neighborhood the city had wired so most parents were comfortable letting their children play there alone.

Some kids hit a baseball in their direction and John plucked it out of the air with ease before sending it straight into the glove of the closest young player.

“I should come back here with Emilio” he said, “Get him warmed up for the season.”

Jennifer hugged his arm tightly as they continued to walked. There was a snowball’s chance they’d be out here without her pushing them out the door.

John stopped suddenly and clutched his chest.


He tried to brace himself on her arm but his weight took them both to the ground.

“Help!” she screamed. Tears were already rolling down her cheeks, burning hotter than the yellow sun overhead.

Not much later something different was hovering over the couple. The defibrillator carrying drown had been dispatched before John had even registered he was in trouble. Miles away in a cold dark room, a computer had noted the change in his gait and vitals that statistically indicated an oncoming heart attack. The difference between life and death is often just a matter of minutes, maybe even seconds. Time is one of the most resilient adversaries, but technology had kept it at bay this day.

Jennifer accompanied her husband to the hospital when the ambulance arrived. She stayed with him even after the doctors said his sedatives would keep him asleep all night. The rational part of her brain knew that he would be alright and that there was nothing she could do to help, but irrationality is a part of being human, she was committed to staying by his side.  She called James’ parent to ask if Emmie could stay with them for the night. He could stay as long as she needed. Then she put her phone on silent so she could focus on being with her John in this moment.

The drone had got to them quick, and no lasting damage was done to his heart so keeping him sedated overnight was just a precaution, but she still remembered a time when routine hospital stays could end in death. As she looked out the window at the setting sun she was thankful those days were long gone.

She would’ve felt less at peace with how life in the city had changed, if she knew that not all technological advancements are for the people’s benefits. At least not people like her.

Photo by Josh Riemer

Cities have always benefited from a diversity in their population. Different people have different ways of thinking and those ideas intermingle to drive innovation and progress. Technology has also been a driver of progress, and those that manage this techno-, wired-, cybernetic-, smart-city believe technology is the only ingredient needed for progress.

While retirees were prone to complaining about the lack of privacy, and how they “couldn’t take a shit without the government asking if they wiped”, the majority of people in the city didn’t think twice about the tech integrated into the fabric of their lives.

Emilio was born and raised in the present era. For him, the idea of not being able to look up at least the basic details of anyone you just met was something for the history books. He couldn’t come to grips with how it would be to live in a city surrounded by total strangers.

“That must’ve been so stressful,” he said once in class while they were discussing civics.

“We didn’t mind”, his teacher told him. “When you wanted to know someone better you just had to ask them.”

Who had time for that? he thought.

That same thought crossed his mind again when James’ parents told him he’d have to spend the night because his parents were in the hospital. Who has time for that!

They tried to keep the mood light during dinner. They mentioned how Emilio’s latest growth spurt left him too long for his clothes. They promised that only very rarely did anyone die from a heart attack while in the hospital; not with the fancy monitors and algorithms double-checking the doctors. Emilio was old enough to know that rarely was not the same as never.

Emilio has made up his mind that he needed to be with his dad. Getting ice cream after dinner wasn’t enough to distract him. Neither was beating James at video games enough to calm his mind. While they were supposed to get ready for bed, Emilio told James his plan. He was going to sneak out when James’ parents went to sleep and make his way to the hospital.

Their parents might be angry with him sneaking out, “but, you know, it’s easier to say sorry than get permission.”

James didn’t try to stop him, cementing his place as the best friend, so he got into bed and pretended to be asleep while Emilio snuck out the window.

Emilio got a few blocks away before he realized he’d forgotten his phone. He knew the direction of his house, be the finer details were lost on him. He told himself he wasn’t scared to be alone in a strange part of town at night, but that’s not what the cameras saw.

The city was testing a new predictive policing strategy. After only a week it was already reducing crime in the neighborhoods it was deployed, not that there was much crime in the wired parts of the city to begin with. Still, there were much fewer calls about suspicious characters prowling around.

Emilio came to a corner that in no way looked familiar. He nervously glanced around for a clue which direction he should go. Miles away in a cold dark room, a computer picked up his nervousness and that he was suspiciously without a cell phone. It noticed him move towards the door of a house then change his mind when the front light turned off.

Emilio had just set off in what he was sure was the right direction when the police car rolled up behind him. A voice barked at him to stop. Emilio tried to explain what was happening. He told them to call his parents or James’, but the police weren’t inclined to listen. Besides, if the system told them to take the boy in that’s what they had to do.

Emilio was glad James hadn’t come with him because he cried when they put the handcuffs on. Then, to make matters worse, the police car was far from comfortable. Emilio needed to twist into awkward positions to keep from sliding around. He waited for an hour at the police station before their system synced up with the hospital’s to confirm his story.

When the officer’s escorted Emilio to his dad’s room in the hospital, his mom was asleep on a cot. Emilio would always remember how they didn’t apologize to him or her, and instead just explained how they system was still working out the bugs.

THE CITY - April 2018

Bridging the Urban-Rural Gap for Food Equity

Written by Abigail Hudspeth

Picture an urban city. You might envision skyscrapers, traffic, noise, bustling people, the city is alive. Now picture a rural town. In your imaginary town you might have a single main road, a sleeping dog on the corner of a café, and an endless expanse of surrounding crop fields.  These two pictures could not be more opposed. The growing distance between rural and urban areas extends beyond our imagination. In reality, this distance has major impacts on society, especially on the way consumers value food. With the growing divide between rural and urban areas, people are losing their connection to real food and the ancient tradition of farming, generating injustices in our food system.

Rural and urban areas are separated by more than mere geographic distance. A lack of public transportation between rural and urban for instance often discourages interdependence and travel. Moreover, the two worlds are separated in economic and political terms as well. The percentage of farmers in the United States has dropped from 30% in the 1920s to 2% in 1987 and has approximately flat-lined since. Today about 80% of the U.S. population lives in urban areas. As people migrate to cities, the tax revenue in rural areas decreases and with it the quality of schools, housing, and infrastructure. This exacerbates a cycle incentivizing migration to the cities and compounding economic problems. These economic struggles have indirectly led to the rise of political divisions. Beginning in the 1980s, Republicans in the United States sought support from the white, rural, and poor voters who historically had supported the Democrats’ welfare acts. By exacerbating racial tensions, the Republican party converted many of those living in rural areas.  These physical, economic, and political barriers drive a wedge between the metropolitan and the rural agrarian.

Even though the majority of the population who lives in urban areas finds it difficult to connect with people from rural areas, the rural agriculture provides everyone with a ubiquitous resource, food.  Farming over the 20th century transformed from being many small farms to a few industrial “specialized farms in rural areas where less than a fourth of the U.S. population lives”. Because of these changes, we are losing a vital connection to the value of real food. Can you picture a peanut plant? Did you know that cashews hang from the bottom of a large cashew fruit? Or that artichokes are actually the unbloomed flowers of thistles? Some of this unfamiliarity stems from never physically seeing the crops that produce the food. As we lose connection with agriculture, we also lose the knowledge and the respect that comes with it.  

Photo by Max Pixel

Our failure to appreciate nature’s gift has warped our perception of the value of food. We demand cheap food without taking into account the negative externalities of it. Government actions have only exacerbated consumer expectations for decades. The government shells out billions every year (16 billion to be exact) to farmers in the form of crop insurance. This helps minimize the risk of farming, but it also subsidizes certain crops making them cheap. Corn and soy are often recipients of huge subsidies, hence the reason soda, candy, frozen foods, and chicken nuggets (which are all derived from corn) are cheap as well. Not only do these affordable options drive the poor into obesity, but they also skew the value of food. Cheap food diminishes consumers’ appreciation of agricultural labor. Any visible reminder that could remediate society’s error, slips away as cities alienate from the countryside.  

The price of food is never cheap enough for the ceaselessly demanding consumer. Even I constantly bemoan my grocery bill. When I see a dozen free range eggs for 6 dollars, I don’t think about the value of the farmer’s work that brought them to me. At least, I didn’t use to. After working on a rural, organic family farm in Costa Rica, I gained a fresh appreciation for the labor a dozen eggs requires. Rising before dawn every morning, I fed and watered the 400 chicken, collected dozens upon dozens of eggs, meticulously cleaned each egg of bird droppings, blood, and feathers, and cared for the baby chicks. Each carton was packed with care and filled with the product of my toils. Selling a dozen eggs for about 4 U.S. dollars suddenly didn’t seem enough. I had leapt over the divide between urban and rural, and I gained an appreciation for farmers’ hard work. On the other side of a price tag, there are rural farmers making ends meet for their families. As the distance between grocery shoppers and farmers grows, so does the inequity between them.  

Creating inequality is not the only injustice caused by the rural-urban divide. While we lose sight of the value of real food, we create a culture of waste and animal cruelty. Throwing away a half-eaten plate of food is much easier without thinking of the glaring waste of water, soil, energy, and human resources necessary to bring you your dinner. As rural and urban populations separate, this glaring guilt fades into an abstract reality disconnected from the rest of society. In a similar fashion, meat CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) with their unventilated, tightly packed, squalid conditions, are purposefully placed out of sight of urban customers in the countryside. Maintaining distance is a purposeful decision by meat processing companies; a shopper’s conscience easily buys inhumanely produced meat, when they have never seen a CAFO with their own eyes.

Appreciating food for its labor costs begins with closing the social gap between rural and urban areas. As more people move to the suburbs and out of cities, this creates an opportunity for integration. Providing incentives for farmers to buy property near suburbs is a first step towards decreasing social barriers by decreasing physical distance. By blending the suburban with the rural, we can stimulate the rural economy and begin to reverse the process of urbanization. After knitting together a patchwork of farms and towns, we must sew together the divisions of community that come from political and economic differences. Community gardens have been used for decades to foster collaboration and a sense of unity. Community gardens also raise awareness about the value of food and provide healthy alternatives to the unhealthy cheap foods that flood the processed food aisle. Not only can community gardens be used to blend suburban and rural areas, but they can also be used in cities. Since farming in cities is impractical, community gardens compromise land scarcity with community awareness of agriculture. By increasing the proximity to agriculture we can reinstall appreciation for it. Community gardens are not the only way to increase agricultural awareness and practices in the city. Indoor farming is rapidly expanding in urban areas by refurbishing old warehouses. The most profitable type of indoor agriculture, aeroponics, grows high-value leafy greens and vegetables vertically in giant stacks of soilless plants under LED light. This precise technique cuts input costs by spraying plants with a nutrient mist and reducing transportation fuel because of its proximity to stores.

Knitting together our patchwork society sew together more than the physical divisions. We need government and business intervention to focus policy on bridging these divides. Reversing a process that took decades will take decades, but more is at stake than resewing the urban-rural quilt. By integrating rural and urban communities and fostering agrarian knowledge, we are protecting the integrity of the food and farmers we need every day.

THE CITY - April 2018


Written by Chloé Gregg, Staff Writer

Car horns and bicycle bells echo outside the tall beige walls surrounding the Wisteria Lane-inspired houses of the compound. Absorbed in a game of spies – which involves a lot of pranks on the guards surveying the residence. At times when the air is especially hot and sticky from the exhaust of engines, she notices the stomach-churning odor coming from the river. Like rotten eggs. Having lost track of time, she’s suddenly called by her mother to jump into the lime-green taxi waiting in front of the house.

“We’re going into the city today, remember?”

The city. Behind the pale compound walls she’d forgotten about the chaos outside. There were millions of people living out there, mostly crammed into tiny damp rooms among decrepit blocks of cement. Everywhere in the city, people had built walls.

The other morning as she crossed the impeccable green lawn that cushioned her house, and saw two neighbors walk out from separate homes, dressed in strict-looking black suits. They each stood silently on the edge of the pavement as they waited for their separate chauffeurs to arrive and take them off to work. Avoiding eye contact, they took a discrete look over the small patch of grass that divided them, then glanced back at their watch as quickly as possible. They never uttered a word. It seemed so strange because she knew their children, they were good friends. Most of the kids would meet up every afternoon after school and play hours upon end in the common gardens until dusk. The adults, however, always seemed in a hurry, eager to hide away once again behind those walls.

A lot of the things she saw made her fear the city. It seemed like a daunting and lonely place. Whenever she went with her mum to the markets, she’d see homeless people kneeling down, eyes closed, a handout, asking for some coins. People kept passing, treading on their blankets and shooting left-over cigarette buds directly at them. Afraid, but curious, she’d sometimes let her eyes linger on a missing limb or a strange deformation. It sent shivers down her spine. Yet, these images appeared to disturb no one else. Once again, it seemed as if people had placed walls, right there, in between each other, like masks of false reality.

Aside from a few parks, the city rose over her head like a giant concrete mass. Glimmering new skyscrapers popped out from the ground nearly every day and stole a little more of the sky. She’d only ever known it in one shade, gray. She remembered the last time she’d gone to visit her grandparents in the country. Her parents had told her to breathe in all the fresh air she possibly could to cleanse her lungs from urban fumes. She remembered the vibrant colors of the vegetable patch and the salty smell of seaweed on the beach. In the country, her grandpa would often take her to see the cows at the nearby farm. The neighbors lived so far away from each other, yet they all knew when she was back in town. People stopped her at the bakery to ask for news and smiled at every person they crossed when walking.

Back in the city, she never met a familiar face. There were so many people in the streets, walking side by side, yet they never seemed anything more than perfect strangers.

As she grew older behind those compound walls, she began to see the city in a different light. As a weekend escape in the city before exams left its mark. She slid through the metro’s doors and collapsed onto the closest seat, she felt the drain in her body and the thin mask of urban dust that had accumulated on her face. Not daring to cross anyone’s eyes, she sat staring blankly at the window’s safety warning sign. She shifted her gaze to find a new point to stare at, settling on a young man hoping onto the carriage with a guitar.

Walking from the station towards her house, she felt a sting in her chest thinking about leaving the city again. She realized now what it meant to her.

She liked the furor in the streets, the neon lights flashing faces that scurried by. She liked the thrill, the rush, the endless opportunities. Feeling limitless, the city was a drug that kept her going until dawn where she’d see emerging signs of life. Wondering what all these strangers were doing, in which bed had they spent the night? The fantastic cluster of all these parallel lives. She liked that feeling of alienness amongst the crowd. The unpredictable fate they all shared in isolation with one another.

She knew the city could be a lonely place, but seldom gave herself the time to think about it. The walls kept her in comfortable isolation. The perpetual circus of distractions kept her lonely thoughts at bay.

THE CITY - April 2018

What can Brown do for you?

Written by Christian Hazes, Staff Writer

“A wall of bullets comin’ from

AK’s, AR’s, “ayy y’all duck!”

That’s what momma said when we was eatin’ the free lunch

Aw man, goddamn, all hell broke loose

You killed my cousin back in ‘94, fuck yo’ truce!”

Kendrick Lamar – “m.A.A.d city”

The picture painted here is the perfect epitome of how many know Compton: crime, poverty and perpetual gang violence. Aspects that are all vividly chronicled by the many rappers that the city has produced. Accommodating roughly 100,000 inhabitants, the sunbathed city just south of Los Angeles was long seen as the most dangerous city in the United States. Not surprisingly, until recently the election campaigns for mayor always consisted of the same ingredients: get rid of drugs, get rid of gangs and get rid of (police) violence.

The major point on the agenda during last year’s city elections? Fixing Compton’s pothole problem.

That’s one hell of a U-turn. Although the city still struggles with crime, poverty, and unemployment, Compton seems to be heading in the right direction under the aegis of Aja Brown; the young, black, female mayor is steering the city towards a bright future.

Here are some lessons straight outta Compton.

“It’s funny how Zulu and Xhosa might go to war

Two tribal armies that want to build and destroy

Remind me of these Compton Crip gangs that live next door

Beefin’ with Pirus, only death settle the score”

Kendrick Lamar – “The Blacker the Berry”

The seventies of the previous century were, to a great extent, the catalyst of Compton’s problems in the years to follow. Crips and Bloods gangs started selling drugs and the police department responded with military tactics, showing a fondness for excessive weaponry. On top of the problems that already existed, a vicious circle of ever-growing street violence was the result.

It is not hyperbolic to say that solving Compton’s problems was, and still is, a Herculean task. Nevertheless, there is always someone who is up for the challenge. The redeemer of Compton came in the form of Aja Brown. Her mom grew up in one of the poorest districts of the city, her grandma was killed during a gang robbery, and she became the city’s youngest mayor ever in 2013.

Dealing with Compton’s infamous gang-related problems was one of Brown’s paramount priorities. An initiative was launched which allowed Bloods and Crips to hand in their weapons to the police. The hundreds of gang members who did, received money as compensation. In addition to this, Brown managed to get prominent Bloods and Crips leaders on speaking terms. Men who had refused to speak to each other for decades were brought face to face in a municipality building. Another important aspect of her gang intervention strategy was to focus on prevention rather than cure. For example, Compton’s youngsters receive education on how to refrain from succumbing to the art of peer pressure.  

From having 36 murders in Brown’s election year the number had dropped to 13 murders two years later, the lowest in over 20 years.

“Nigga, I was rehearsing in repetition the phrase

That only one in a million will ever see better days

Especially when the crime waves was bigger than tsunamis

Break your boogie boards to pieces, you just a typical homie”

Kendrick Lamar – “Black Boy Fly”

Being born in the city called Compton used to be seen as a curse: you were trapped, doomed to fail. So social immobility had been another adversary of Brown’s.

She started by battling inequality, thus shifting the power structures that existed in the city. Instead of the predominant white masculine elite, power had to be distributed in such a way that it reflected Compton and its inhabitants. Brown focussed on combining quality with diversity, herself being the perfect personification. She has multiple university degrees in the field of social and urban planning.

Brown is aware of the fact that she forms an exception; most “Comptonians” do not hold any degree at all. Still, she set about invigorating a sense of membership, enhancing the involvement in civic activity and increased transparency between residents and the upper echelons of Compton’s leadership. Which was the catalysts for a radical political purge, a thorough redistribution of power.

The fact that Brown is the first female mayor of Compton in over 40 years, according to her, could not have been a better example of why another one of Brown’s action points with regard to emancipation is justified and indispensable. Female leadership is invaluable according to Brown and, many girls from a young age on are being involved in societal projects that teach them relevant management and leadership skills.  

Compton is currently going through a profound metamorphosis. Gang affiliation, violence, crime, and squalor kept the city from maturing. But, Aja Brown has started nurturing the city. Besides reducing crime and bridging social gaps, police departments have been reformed, budgetary deficits and unemployment have evaporated, and social housing thrived. All part of an all-encapsulating 12-point action plan, designed to elevate Compton. Compton’s status quo of being eschewed is part of history now. In fact, ample people and businesses want to move straight into Compton in 2018.

Needless to say, it is not an easy task turning one of the most notorious places in the U.S. to a Garden of Eden. Hopefully, Compton is able to complete the metamorphosis. 

It seems that Kendrick was right after all: “We gon’ be alright!”