Sunday, July 26, 2009

the other "10"

I first wrote about Street Soccer USA on October 12, 2008 when the US team made up of 13 homeless men and women were on their way to the Street Soccer World Cup in Melbourne, Australia. Founder Lawrence Cann now runs Street Soccer USA out of HELP USA in New York, an organization whose primary mission is seeking housing for the homeless, but which recognizes the need to be flexible and responsive to the changing causes of homelessness. In recent years, they have also added early childhood education, after school, and mentoring programs. When research began to show domestic violence as a primary cause of homelessness, they created support centers, shelters, and scholarship programs. With rising unemployment rates, HELP USA has begun developing job placement and vocational training programs. And, of course, they are the new home base for Street Soccer USA - "Soccer for social change...ending homelessness through sports."

The US Cup, where the finalists for the team that heads to the World Cup will be chosen, begins in 5 days. According to Lawrence's statistics, the program has an overwhelming success rate. "Since 2005, 28 of our 32 National Team alumni have moved off and stayed off the street since being part of SSUSA. And to date, over seventy-five percent of the participants change their lives for the better including securing full-time jobs, long-term housing, and freedom from addiction and mental health afflictions."

This year the Street Soccer World Cup is in Milan beginning September 6th. It costs $1000 per team member to travel and participate, it's roughly 10,000 miles to get there, and they need $10,000 total to fund the trip for the team. All equipment is donated and most of the programs are run by volunteers. Once the final players are chosen August 2nd at the US Cup, they have two weeks to purchase tickets, meaning the deadline to raise funds is August 15th.

Utilizing the significance of being a "10" on the soccer field - being a leader on the team - and the multiples of 10 listed above, Street Soccer is seeking donations in $10 increments (though more is always welcome) to reach their $10,000 goal. So far they've raised $1,181.

In LA at least, and probably in many towns across the country, you can't even see a movie for $10, get a good glass of wine, or eat a hamburger anymore. For those of you living in a city with a competing team - Ann Arbor, Atlanta, Austin, Charlotte, Charlottesville, Chicago, Fort Worth, LA, Minneapolis, Montgomery County, New York, Richmond, Sacramento, San Francisco, St. Louis, Washington DC - $10 is a small gift for someone else doing the hard work of life affirmation, self-esteem reinforcement, socialization, and caring for your neighbors in need. For those who live in cities without a street soccer team, Street Soccer needs your input and support to grow and expand further.

So, here's my idea. Say a group of you and your friends decide to go see the new Harry Potter movie this week. In LA, that's about $12 a person, $20 a person if you want to see it at Grauman's Chinese Theater in the new moving D-box seats. You know pretty much what's going to happen - there's some magic, some special effects, the good guys win and I hear Harry finds a girlfriend. Skip the movie, send $10 each to Street Soccer, and go home and play a game of Scrabble instead. Not only do I guarantee it will be more fun (particularly if you play with Nassau Boulevard rules), but you get to talk to each other, to have quality interactive time, and you can appreciate both friends and home and the qualities each provide that you simply can't imagine living without.

To be a number 10, or to read more about the program, click here.
For information on HELP USA, click here.
To become a fan of Street Soccer USA on facebook, click here.

A brief follow-up on the 826LA fundraiser regatta that I mentioned last week. The winning team, Ink Invasion, raised $2,100.23 in support of literacy programming at 826. The second place team from GOOD magazine raised $2,067.54. I attended the regatta which consisted of costumed paddle boaters circling the Echo Park lake being cheered on by fans and strangers, mostly cutely dressed twenty-something Echohipsters. In sunny LA fashion, it was a perfect afternoon of tanning, crazy sunglasses, and smiles. According to the website, it looks like over $25,000 was raised! Congrats to 826LA and all the participating teams.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

It seems everyone is talking about infrastructure. For someone who has spent decades trying to get people to see the road as something other than a utilitarian space, it's an exciting change of focus.

Robert L. Reid in January 2008's "The Infrastructure Crisis" defines infrastructure as "that vast system of highways, bridges, airports, rail lines, pipelines, power lines, dams, waterways, water treatment plants, parks, schools, and other publicly owned or publicly regulated facilities that make it possible for Americans to enjoy what is widely regarded as the highest standard of living in the world." His "Special Report", published in the online magazine of the Society of Civil Engineers, is a response to the now much-publicized Report Card for America's Infrastructure which graded the "condition and capacity" of our fifteen primary infrastructure systems.* The star student was solid waste (landfills, recycling) with a C+, meaning +/-78% of all engineer-evaluated solid waste systems were in good working order. Bridges were next with a C, Parks and Recreation and Rail each received a grade of C-, and everything else (other than an Incomplete for Security) was D-rated or below.

This less then mediocre status of our national networks typically goes unnoticed until a system failure occurs. At the local level, that can be as small but inconvenient as a downed power line or a traffic detour for road repair. At the regional or larger level that can mean chronic airline delays or the collapse of a major connector bridge. As I say in my recent article in Places magazine, "Infrastructural Optimism", we expect the visible components of our infrastructure to construct our cities formally and symbolically as well as functionally. On roads in particular, "In addition to providing access, streets establish a sense of order and hierarchy, orient us within urban networks, and, at the neighborhood scale, operate as spaces for social connection." The loss of the functional, formal, and symbolic - as in the collapse of levees and flood walls from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita - raises the system failure to the level of catastrophe.

New Orleans is most certainly a primary example cited when considering the sorry state of our public works, yet seeing the Gulf disaster as an infrastructural failure is often muddied by the compounded catastrophes of nature, government inaction, media, and human loss. Infrastructure failure was but one slice of that awful pie, one that seemed unfortunately inevitable against the mounting and compounding of odds. Yet a more isolated event like the collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis where 13 people died and over 100 were injured can be seen as a direct result of lax standards of maintenance, upkeep, and replacement. As cited in numerous reports, the I-35W bridge was noted as "structurally deficient" since 1990, yet "engineers with the Minnesota Department of Transportation did not believe that the bridge was in danger of imminent failure" (Reid).

Said Patrick J. Natale, ASCE's executive director when addressing the 2007 ASCE Annual Civil Engineering Conference (as quoted in the same article) “Years of deferred infrastructure investments and maintenance and [the] failure of public officials to act on infrastructure needs place the public at risk and hinder our country’s economic growth and competitiveness. It is a true crisis.” According to the ASCE report card, an investment of $1.6 trillion over a five year period is needed (as of 2007) to adequately address the already existing deficits of neglected infrastructure.

Reid makes an explicit argument, category by category, of the growing needs in miles traveled, flights taken, energy used, security demanded, etc. Where China and India spend 9% and 5% of their GDPs respectively on infrastructure, US spending had dropped to a paltry 2% when he wrote his essay in January of 2008.

As Stephen Flynn, author of The Edge of Disaster, argues, "the only way to solve the nation’s infrastructure problems 'is with presidential leadership that uses the bully pulpit to help make the repair and maintenance of our infrastructure a national priority.' In January of 2008 this seemed a near impossibility, and now, just a year and a half later, we have the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, part of which aims to invest $150 billion in new infrastructure, enacting "the largest increase in funding of our nation’s roads, bridges, and mass transit systems since the creation of the national highway system in the 1950s".

The fear, of course, like the TARP and a million other good intentions before it, is that these billions will go to shovel-ready projects without them being truly shovel-worthy. Referred to in the press as the new WPA, it is most certainly the hope of architects, urban designers, landscape urbanists, and planners that what comes from the Recovery Act and the new Infrastructure Bank takes into account a design-consciousness not seen since the WPA combined necessity with creativity to produce a built legacy of projects that were intended to fulfill functional needs and lift the spirits of a suffering and sluggish populace. These ambitions are finding their way to the surface.

The June 14th issue of the New York Times Magazine was entitled "Infrastructure!* (it's more exciting than you think actually)" and is filled with musings on high speed rail, prisons that work, hybrids of power and public space, and datatecture, all illustrated with line drawings by Christoph Niemann that are playful, thought-provoking, and fun.

The kick-off story is on the new I-35W bridge, replacing the one that collapsed in August of 2007.** The new Minneapolis bridge is both good looking and smart, using temperature sensors to control the application of antifreeze and imbedded devices that monitor corrosion, cracking and potential overloading. According to the Times article by Henry Petroski, thse smart additions increased the cost of the bridge less than 1% and will ultimately save money, not to mention possible lives.

Manuel Castells and Laura Burkhalter recently published "Beyond the Crisis: Towards a New Urban Paradigm" which calls for a reconsideration of zoning; a broadened selection of mobility options including layered roads for streets, bikes, and transit; a reinvestment in public space; a reconfiguration of housing prototypes; and - one option that is appearing everywhere - a new look at green space, particularly urban farming and community or home-based agriculture. On that last note, see such great solutions as Fritz Haeg's Edible Estates: Attacks on the Front Lawn, LA's Fallen Fruit, or any number of recent articles on guerrilla gardening. Another of my favorites, a road-garden hybrid, is Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis's truck farm, covered last weekend on KCRW's Good Food. After making the documentary King Corn, they turned their work vehicle into a mobile food provider using green roof technology, soil, and seeds.
Small moves, yes, but so was the first pc.

John King, writing for the San Francisco Gate, is following initiatives that turn inactive lots, often stalled by the current financial crisis, into productive alternatives. Some are home to temporary sculpture exhibitions or parks, farmer's markets, or event locations. One particularly brilliant proposal by Doug Wildmon of Friends of the Urban Forest aims to connect empty lots with youth programs to run urban, profit-generating tree farms. The city loses CO2 and blight and the kids gain profit and experience. Win win.

REBAR, San Francisco based inventors of park(ing) day (coming up in September again!) created "The People's Public Works", a "carnival midway with infrastructure as the theme." Says Rebar's John Bela quoted by John King in "Designers who see more than an empty lot":

The pit would offer an array of ad hoc nooks where people could explore the nuts and bolts of city building. Explorers might encounter a workshop on pothole repairs, celebrations of public servants, participant games and artists-in-residence - all amid surplus piles of such urban arcana as backhoes and orange cones.
Ideas are changing a lot faster than concrete or steel. If we can sponsor a more participatory infrastructure, people might take more ownership in the conditions around them.

Nirvana for people like me. Infrastructure is in -- way, way in.

So, what can YOU contribute? Of course you can follow along at, where they are fulfilling their commitment to web-based transparency by posting state-by-state and project-by-project funding allocations. You can communicate with state and national officials and be a voice in the debate regarding the prioritization of projects, pushing for quality, sustainability, and creativity over the status quo.

Or, if you're a design professional or a design student, you can enter the WPA 2.0 competition. In full disclosure, I'm working with cityLAB on this competition, but that doesn't make it any less of an exciting opportunity to present your best ideas to a stellar selection of architects, engineers, and landscape architects including Liz Diller (of the newly opened High Line), Walter Hood (the hippest Landscape Architect around), Stan Allen (Princeton Dean), among others. Registration closes this coming Friday - July 24th - and digital design sketchbooks that present schematic proposals are due August 7th. There is also a student competition - WPA 2.0 (SE) with a fall schedule - registration closes October 16th, entries due November 2nd. All finalists will be invited to a symposium in Washington DC on November 16th where jurors, finalists, policy makers and members of the public will join in debate on the most innovative ideas presented for the next generation of infrastructure projects.

So, if you're interested, see our website, join our mailing list, or follow us on Facebook.

The competition has generated global buzz. WPA 2.0 has been on blogs from Japan to Spain to Sweden, and all over the US, geographically and disciplinarily. I can't wait to see what the world's most ingenious minds create.

Until then, I'm hitting the road.

One local note: Next Sunday, 826LA, a non-profit organization that helps students 6 to 18 years old improve their literacy and writing skills, is hosting its annual paddle boat regatta in Echo Park to raise money for its tutoring programs. More information is here.

Infrastructure meets altruism. Hope to see you all there.

*aviation, bridges, dams, drinking water, energy (national power grid), hazardous waste, navigable waterways, public parks and recreation, rail, roads, schools, security, solid waste, transit and wastewater

** This article revises the level of needed funds over 5 years from 1.6 to $2.2 trillion, meaning the billions in the stimulus package still falls far short.

Monday, July 13, 2009


I've been working on this entry on and off for three weeks. In that time it has started and stopped and grown, veered, screeched, righted itself and changed direction, but never really gotten anywhere. Near the beginning it took on the theme of 'survival' as I read more and more about General Motors, the growing jobless and homeless, uprisings in Iran over the recent election, and a girl who fell from the sky and lived to tell about it. What does it mean for us to survive (as an economy, a political system, a globalized world, an individual)? And, more importantly, where lies the line when surviving turns to thriving, or vice versa?

Then, amongst these global questions, came a rash of high profile deaths - literally. First David Carradine, under the most exposing of circumstances, then Ed McMahon, who could no longer be saved by the cash rich and taste poor Donald Trump. Then Farrah, who seemed to be resisting her cancer by playing it out in a made for TV movie with the hopes of a happy ending. And then, within hours of her death, the King of Pop.

Unlike the others, Michael Jackson's death is rapidly transforming into a new and greater form of survival. The gaps in his home life are being filled in by previously absent film clips of a near normal dad playing chess with a near normal child -- except this marble and gilded chess set cost nearly $90,000 and the two year old, shockingly blonde child is wearing a white satin tux. His musical life, which was heading down what some people thought was a comeback dead end, has magically and beautifully been resuscitated. What a bittersweet treat it has been these last two weeks to rediscover the sound of his musical innocence in the air all of a sudden like dandelion seeds. Or to remember again the flood of altruism and awareness that "We Are the World" initiated.

Think back. Angelina Jolie, queen of global star causes today, was 10 when those 45 artists led by Michael, Lionel Richie, and Quincy Jones responded to the famine in Ethiopia with their greatest, creative arsenal. The single sold 7.5 million copies in the US alone, 3 million in album form, and went on to raise over $63 million for African famine relief. The door might have been cracked open by Band Aid and Farm Aid, but "We Are the World" was as much strategy and scheduling miracle as song.

I remember seeing the video for the very first time and recognizing immediately the intentional musical merging of black and white, pop and soul, old stars and new. There is a democracy to the voices through the structure of duets, singles, duets, chorus, and the alternating intensity of crescendos and lightness. No line is completed by a single singer, but started by one, shared in the middle, finished by a second. Stevie Wonder joins Lionel Richie, Paul Simon completes the thought; Kenny Rogers joins in, then takes over. Tina Turner, her usual rowdiness deferred to God's great big family, is paired -- magically, surprisingly, beautifully -- with Billy Joel, channeling a long lost John Lennon perhaps -- you know love is all we neeeeeeeeed.

Then, the chorus starts in quiet, shiny solo -- a toe tapping, glove wearing, angelic sounding Michael Jackson at his not-yet-old and not-still-young best self. We are the world, we are the children, we are the ones who make a brighter day so let's start giving. And as he glitters in brocade jacket, eye shadow, perfectly shaped curls and delicate, high pitch voice, you really believe that it makes complete sense - that we ARE the children, that we ARE the world, that we CAN make a brighter day if we just start giving. Jackson's voice is not heavy with intensity or emotion like everyone else's is, he's simply calm, silvery and certain.

His seraphic chorus floats over to Diana Ross, who briefly takes the lead, then Dionne Warwick mixes with Willy Nelson (!), joined next by Al Jarreau, and then the great, gravelly voice of the Boss, who looks 25 years old, fresh from New Jersey, if he's a day. Kenny Loggins meets up with Steve Perry (Steve Perry!?!) who's joined by kiss-on-my-list Daryl Hall, Huey Lewis, and Cyndi Lauper (who supposedly had to redo her part because her clanging jewelry made so much noise). White, black, blonde, red, afroed, mustached, smiling, grimacing, loud, soft, famous. Cyndi Lauper's yeah yeah yeah yeah-s capture perfectly the sense of individuality expressed solely in service of the far more magnificent and significant collective.

Bob Geldof had tried to duplicate his "Do They Know It's Christmas?" fundraising single with US stars, but, much to his frustration, it never materialized. As quoted in a March, 1985 article in the LA Times, reflecting on the "We Are the World" recording, "I shouldn't have had to call them in the first place. After they heard what we did with Band Aid...., they should have been calling me. I don't care what they had to do, even if it meant canceling shows. Lives are at stake."

Somehow, that's just not how we seem to work. Go to central London for any length of time, stand in the ruins of John Soane, and you realize, in cold hard stone, America is an adolescent nation by comparison - not yet old but not quite still young. In some ways, it is a huge relief, just to see how far we have come in so short a time. Perhaps it is our capitalist democratic frontier roots, but we don't flock to the cry of necessity so much as wander slowly towards need like a light, a kind of 'build it and they will come' mentality of altruism. "We Are the World" was a success because it was so good, not because it was such a good idea.

Forty-five artists participated in "We Are the World" and at least 50 others who expressed interest were turned away. Prince never showed up; Pat Benatar and Madonna were otherwise engaged. When Quincy Jones sent out the demo tapes he also included the now famous directive to "check all egos at the front door". The fact that that happened was as much of an accomplishment as simply getting 45 of the most famous singers of the mid1980s in the same room at the same time, happily.

People die all the time, shocking and sad as it may feel, but those who are famous are often displayed - in life and in death - as role models and stereotypes for the rest of us. Who do we want to be like, who do we see as influences, who do we shun? In this media saturated world, we are quick to judge what is given to us shallow, free, and often unfiltered. If the comeback "This Is It" tour would've been a disaster, would we ever have returned to the innocence of "I'll be There"? What is survival for each of us, and how do we make certain that we do our best to not live at that low limit, but to thrive as individuals in support of the larger collective?

Is it true, as a friend of mine recently reminded me, that "every man's death diminishes me" (MVF via Ernest Hemingway via John Donne)? What are we to make, then, of this month of loss, ending not so insignificantly with Dr. George Tiller being gunned down by a hypocritical pro-lifer? What are we to make of the deaths in Iran, the willingness to sacrifice for the cause so much bigger than oneself? Maryam, a 36-year-old woman flashing peace signs to passing cars and yelling for her candidate, says to a TIME magazine reporter, "Let them beat me. My country is going to waste. What am I in comparison?" Or of those in Iraq still, and Afghanistan? Somewhere between Maryam, Dr. Tiller, and Michael Jackson -- but not equivalent to any of them -- lies the balance we are willing, and able, to fight for. No, we are not embarrassed, nor should we be, by our individual successes and accomplishments, but as I've told many aspiring and talented students, it's not what you have, it's what you do with what you have that really matters. It's not where you go (Harvard University or Santa Monica State, New York City or Tulsa), it's what you do once you get there that counts.

We must be the world, without being the whole of the world. We must be the children, without being children. Our better day must be a better day for everyone, large and small, young and old, black and white, gay and straight, disco, pop, blues, country, and techno -- and everything in between. Life all of a sudden seems very short, and simultaneously infinite, beautifully eccentric, and very, very full of possibilities.

See the video here.
Read the LA Times article here.
Read the Wikipedia entry with stories, participants, and disputes here.

The image is my diagram of the first verses and chorus of "We Are the World", the way duets and singles lead, overlap, part, and rejoin. As an architect, it's the way I make sense of things.