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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

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!”

THE CITY - April 2018


text by Dieuwertje Hehewerth, artwork by Marianne Theunissen

Every few months a glitch in the Amsterdam recycling system reveals itself. I know it to be citywide because it has been seen, and remarked about, at several addresses. Perhaps it’s not even a glitch. Perhaps it’s more of a loophole. Perhaps it is one shady company, dumping the by-product of their business at alternating recycling corners. But what reveals itself as something more than average company trash, is the content.

Every few months, on a Monday evening, the entire content of a home, complete with office files and family photographs, is (un)ceremoniously dumped on the street. Over the next 24 hours, before the trash services arrive, the site is excavated by the passing community. Serious middle-aged men with black vans park on the corner to scavenge for electronics. Proximate neighbors venture down to pick out antique drawers and chairs. Pedestrian art students pass by picking up mirrors, picture frames and canvases bearing amateur paintings in varying degrees of completion. What was once pure content now becomes pure form. A painting turns into raw material, an opportune canvas to repaint and reuse. Frames, once hard, protective edges of memories, now eclipse the photographs’ they were employed to hold. Severed from the narrative to which they belong, these objects quickly decline to mere usefulness, scavenged for their potential in a 24-hour window before entering their destined status as irretrievable, globe- clogging trash.

The word narrative stems from the Latin narrāre, formed from gnārus, ‘knowing’. With the ties between these objects unknown: the stories of how they arrived; what they represent; who gave what, and came when, and thought so, and laughed at, and was snapped – frozen in the photograph now bleeding in the rain behind a cracked glass frame. Without knowing this, the objects’ new composition frames them as a pile of ‘stuff’. The loss of their context transforms their narrative, the loss of their composer leaves them abandoned as a collapsed song, fragments to be picked up into new constellations the moment they hit the context of the street.

‘Stuff’, coincidentally, is a common term used by art students to describe what they make, and building a narrative – a critical reflection as to how, and what, and who, and when, and why they make the stuff that they do – is a necessary counterpart in art education.

One can almost locate an art academy merely by observing the movements on the street. Paying attention to the belongings of pedestrians, the closer one gets to an academy’s grounds, the greater the density of bodies married to stuff can be seen. A mattress curving over a pair of staggering legs; a long piece of timber bouncing in time to a striding shoulder; a dismembered chair offering an eye through which an alienated arm is a thread. Or perhaps it’s more of a loophole. A mar in the object’s original composition that allows it the possibility to be carried – for kilometers on end – to a new home, a new composition, a new train of thought.

Duchamp often substituted the word ‘artist’ with ‘author’, and the migration of these narrative-less objects towards studios might bolster this cross-pollinating flare. Rather than creating more stuff, these practices paint portraits of a glitching society through the fragments of constellations that are no longer there.

Jurek Wotzel THE CITY - April 2018

A City Grows Up

Written by Jurek Wötzel, Head Writer

When I moved to Leipzig as a child, the city was a dead end. Now, there are few places in Germany that investors have more faith in than Leipzig. It is a city on its path to adulthood. Yet, the results of its growth aren’t all bright and rosy.

Those who took to the streets in the fall of 1989 couldn’t have foreseen what the close future of East Germany would look like. The decade to come taught the liberated citizens of the GDR a lesson about unemployment, poverty, and exploitation. As state-owned factories and businesses were shut down one after the other, the harsh realities of a sudden change to a market-based economy forced many to leave Leipzig to seek a better future in the West.

By the mid-1990s, the city had shrunk to 440,000 inhabitants, whereas in the 1960s it hosted 600,000 people. The scent of economic decline was in the air, neo-Nazi youth were patrolling the streets, and the population was aging drastically as a large number of young people fleeing the city. But Leipzig was cheap. Even in its most expensive areas, the cost for a two-room apartment would amount to no more than 400 euros. Investors could buy beautifully renovated three-story houses in the architectural style of the Founding Epoch for cheap at about 250,000 euros.

The city turned into a paradise for students, artists, and musicians. In the 2000s, a small, but dynamic alternative scene developed and brought fresh energy. A vibrant squatter scene emerged occupying a large number of old, unrenovated houses. Soon, Leipzig’s anti-fascist movement grew and managed to reclaim the streets from the nazis bit by bit. The result was that by 2010 it was the fastest growing city in Germany with an annual influx of about 10,000 people.

With the growth came the hype. Leipzig, often called ‘Hypezig’, the ‘Better Berlin’ or the ‘New Berlin’, was increasingly put in the spotlight. At the beginning of this decade, rents were still incredibly low, there was plenty of space and the cultural offer was immense for a city of its size.

Cineding: a small cinema in Plagwitz, Leipzig’s West

Leipzig was home to an abundance of free open-air raves, small ateliers, political theatre groups, cheap bars, non-profit cinemas, you name it. Before I left Leipzig in 2015, I could feel that there was movement, with a new place or event to check out each week. It was a city in puberty.

That puberty stage of a city, when there is vibrant dynamism, is maybe the most interesting time. Whether it was Amsterdam in the 80s, Berlin in the 90s, or Leipzig in this decade – the spirit of the adolescent city is unique. Like a teenager, the city tries out different paths, sometimes they turn out to be crazy, sometimes brilliant.

An atelier in the “Baumwollspinnerei”, which used to be one of Europe’s biggest complex of cotton processing factories.

Now, three years later, things have started to change. Leipzig is growing up. Living space is getting rarer, especially for groups that are ‘unfavourable’ to landlords, like students, artists, and musicians. Much of the vacancies have been bought, renovated, and sold. The squatter scene is being driven out of the city, house by house.

Everywhere there are new condos: clean, white, luxurious apartment buildings that few locals can afford. The streets are being upgraded and the boroughs polished.

This is no surprise: the market logic prevents any city from being frozen in time. At one point, capital will flow, houses will be bought and society will be commercialized.

Those spaces that made Leipzig special are being crowded out of the city. The non-profit bars and clubs, the small-scale cinemas and theatres, the neighborhood ateliers. Opportunities for self-expression beyond economic needs are getting rarer. In short, the city is losing its spirit of freedom.

Take for instance the club scene. Westwerk, a non-profit club that hosted techno events on Wednesdays for a one euro entry fee closed, because the landlord can earn more money renting the space to a supermarket chain. While the Institut für Zukunft, Germany’s second most popular techno club according to the readers of Groove Magazine, recently struggled with noise complaints from neighbors. Nightlife sounds do not fit into the working person’s schedule.

The Kohlrabizirkus: its cellar is home to the Institut für Zukunft

Leipzig has grown into a city close to adulthood. Big corporations like Porsche, BMW, DHL or Amazon have settled in, and are continuously expanding. The business climate is exuberantly optimistic. Over the years, a dynamic start-up scene established itself in the city. Tourism has led to the opening a range of new hotels, mainly large international chains such as Hotel One or Novotel.

And that is good news, given that the region used to be Germany’s poverty capital just a few years ago. In 2017, unemployment was at 7.0% compared to 10.5% in 2013, the lowest level since 1991. In 2010, 27% of Leipzig’s citizens were susceptible to falling into poverty, compared to the 14% German average. That number is slowly decreasing.

Still, I look at the rapid development with a deep ambivalence. Could it be is possible to find a way to eternal urban youth? Then, cities could preserve more of their character, more of their dynamic spirit. They could develop into a better version of themselves, rather than just another version of the standard city.

I hope that Leipzig will find a way to sustain much of what made it what it is today. In that case, it can set an example for those cities that are yet to experience similar growth.