Why Cities Matter

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Tim Redmond is editor of 48 Hills, the official publication of the San Francisco Progressive Media Center and a faculty member of the Urban and Public Affairs MA program

Rebecca Solint, the author of Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas and Nonstop Metropolis: A New York Atlas, notes that if you take a map of the most walkable areas in the US and superimpose a map of the presidential election results, you see a pattern that many of us have been talking about for a long time:

We don’t really have blue states and red states. We have cities, and we have areas outside of cities. And in cities all over the US, even in the most conservative states, you tend to get more liberal voters.

This is not a trend that fits with the coasts, or the “elite” areas like San Francisco and New York. Jackson, Mississippi has one of the most progressive mayors in the country.

No: It has something to do with urban life, with what happens when you walk out the door in a city.

Cities are places where people who don’t look like each other, don’t sound like each other, don’t worship like each other, don’t think like each other interact on a daily basis. In great cities, residents are more likely to learn to live with diversity, to celebrate it instead of fear it.

Cities are also becoming the most important political players in the world today. Great cities are eternal — Rome, London, Paris, Cairo, Moscow, Beijing … they have outlasted a long list of empires and national governments. And they will outlast many more.

And as the United States government becomes more and dysfunctional, cities are emerging as the policy leaders, the laboratories of democracy. Local government is — by necessity and choice — taking on more and more of what the federal and state governments used to do.

And as that happens, there are massive challenges. In San Francisco, the wealth that has emerged in recent decades has gone almost entirely to the very top. Poverty and homelessness are epidemic. The middle class is squeezed out.

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We see the same patterns in other big cities, in the US and elsewhere. As we are becoming increasingly a world where people live in cities, the policy problems that once beset the White House and Congress are playing out on our streets, in our backyards.

That’s part of what we talk about in the Masters of Urban and Public Affairs program, and what I will be covering in my classes on Issues in Urban Public Policy this fall. Our students are brilliant — and every time I teach this class, I think: the next generation of urban leaders are coming from here. And it gives me constant hope.

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Traveling with the Esther Madriz Diversity Scholars to NYC

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Janelle Nunez (’19) is a participant of the Esther Madriz Diversity Scholars cohort that went to New York this January.  Here she shares her reflections on this transformative trip

 

During the University of San Francisco’s winter intercession, the Esther Madriz Diversity Scholars (EMDS) got the incredible opportunity to spend a week in New York. Prior to their travel, this living-learning community spent a semester exploring issues of diversity, inequality, and social justice through the lens of hip-hop. The four elements of hip-hop (MCing, DJing, B-boy/B-girling, and graffiti writing) were examined as well as the fundamental relationship to the network of youth subcultures. From the origins of hip-hop music as it began in the Bronx neighborhoods to the multi-billion dollar business that it is today, the EMDS students analyzed this incredible journey as a means to better understand their conception of “resistance”and “social justice” that has engulfed our nation’s history. Now that you have a better understanding of who EMDS is, let me introduce myself and take you to New York on this recent adventure.

My name is Janelle Nunez and I am currently a sophomore at USF. I am a History major, Chemistry minor, and pre-med. Like many of my fellow cohort members, I have a passion for social change and have a love for hip-hop. What makes the EMDS experience so unique amongst many examples, is that all us of come from various walks of life. Our cohort has members from Southern California, the Bay Area, Chicago, and Latin America, each of us with diverse majors as well. You take all that diversity and put them together and it makes for well rounded perspectives that were applied to our New York excursion. The New York trip was an amazing experience and I know the members from my cohort who were able to take part in this will agree. However, there were three events that my cohort and I were able to participate in that exceeded all of our expectations, and that was the Art as a Weapon conference, the visit to the BOOM!Health center, and the discussion at the Apollo Theater, “Where do we go from here?” Let’s explore these experiences.

Art as a Weapon

On one of of our last days of the trip we attended Art as a Weapon, an all day conference that discussed a variety of topics on the use of art as a form of activism and healing. The conference agenda included a morning keynote address, two workshop sessions and a closing panel. One of the workshops I attended was called “Happened Yesterday, Happening Tomorrow.” This session discussed the Black Lives Matter movement, and looked at the historical context of police brutality, and racial profiling. In this small intimate setting, our groups conversed about how artists have responded to injustice with the use of poetry and performance. We were put into small groups and together made a collaborative art piece of poetry that we later shared with the larger group. What struck me most from this experience, was the realization that historically, police brutality against people of color has been an ongoing battle. From the first graphic images of Emmit Till to the case of Trayvon Martin, history doesn’t necessarily repeat itself but it sure does rhyme.

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(New York City) We are Esther Madriz Diversity Scholars

BOOM Health 

Our visit to BOOM!Health in the south side of the Bronx, introduced us to a full range of prevention. This one stop shop, provides syringe access, health coordination, housing, behavioral health, legal and advocacy services to over 8,000 communities in New York. After having one-on-one conversations with their employees, it was inspiring to see their hard work and dedication even when they left the building. The center actively works to fight the viral HIV and hepatitis illnesses that can severely harm those who are active drug users or at risk for HIV/AIDS. While we were there, my cohort and I were also trained in opioid overdose prevention. It was beautiful to see how the organization prioritized the dignity of its everyday members who receive services and made their facility a comfortable place to call home. BOOM!Health is a family that works for its communities’ unique needs.

Apollo Theater: Where do We go from Here?

Lastly, our time spent at the Apollo Theater during M.L.K. weekend discussing “Where do we go from here?” celebrated the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King. Here EMDS students were able to engage in dialogue about inclusion and what that means for our future. The Black Lives Matter co-founder Opal Tometi and Shaun King, a social justice journalist, were a part of a panel that we got to hear from. It was an empowering afternoon with poetry renditions with a theme was about igniting hope. The speakers reminded me that this country is more than our president. It is about us—the people that create power and movement for change.

Thank you for joining me in this experience of social change.

Interested in becoming an Esther Madriz Diversity Scholar? Applications for next year’s 2017-18 EMDS cohort are due on February 28, 2017. Apply here

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