About Me

Currently a graduate student at the University of South Carolina, I study urban sociology and inequality. Originally from Western Pennsylvania, I am particularly interested in how changes in regional economic structures effect stratification and mobility opportunities, particularly for the working class. I also participate in the scholarship of teaching and learning.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Heard on a Recent Road Trip through Appalachia

I have been travelling a lot the last few months. In addition to several conferences, I have made several trips by car between SC and PA, visiting friends and family at home over the summer.  One of the things I enjoy about this trips is the chance to listen to some good music and some good stories. To reflect on all the things I have been thinking about, and to learn knew things through the radio programs I enjoy.

On this recent trip on a Sunday afternoon, I listened to more live radio than I usually do as I traveled through the mountains of West Virginia.  Often I will listen to podcasts that I have already downloaded, but I this trip I gave the live broadcasts more of a chance.  And I am glad I did. I heard a lot of interesting things from programs I don't listen to as much as others.

One very interesting program is Inside Appalachia. It has a small town feel, but encompasses several states.  The episode I heard featured a great NIMBY story about folks struggling with coal ash.  Growing up on the edge of Appalachia, and having relatives who are truly Appalachian, I have always been interested in this program. But this particular episode was good.

I also heard this great interview with director Kevin MacDonald about his move Life in a Day, which is a cool project.  He crowd-sourced video from all over the world from one day, compiled it and edited it into a movie. I am excited to see the result.

And a trip through the mountains would not be complete without some music.  Mountain Stage is often a great live music program. On this trip I happened to hear a good chunk of this episode, most of the songs the Steeldrivers performed. Listening to their music as I drove through the mountains just made sense.

Of course, all of this was heard over public radio.  There's been some debate about the value of government funding of public radio.  Here is a video of Fred Rogers defending PBS.  I think he said about all that should need to be said in support of public broadcasting.  (BTW, Fred Rogers was from western PA and produced his show there, too).

Good stuff.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Du[a]ling Quotes #2 - Cities in Competition

“Cities, like entrepreneurs, can lose out to their competition, go bankrupt, or simply be left behind in the race for economic advantage” (127). Harvey in The Urbanization of Capital, 1985.

“Cities, regions, and states do not compete to please people, they compete to please capital – and the two activities are fundamentally different” (42). Logan and Molotch in Urban Fortunes, 1987

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Leading the Rust Belt: Braddock and Mayor Fetterman

Well, I don't think I could claim to be blogging about the rust belt if I didn't have at least one post discussing Braddock and Mayor Fetterman.

For those that don't know, Braddock is a town along the Monongahela River, within the Pittsburgh MSA, which experienced substantial deindustrialization and population loss. In the 1950's almost 20,000 people lived in the town and now there's only about 2,000.  As much as you may here about Detroit's population loss, Braddock is a smaller scale version of the same extreme deindustrialization-population loss phenomena.

Mayor Fetterman moved to town and was elected in 2005. He looks like he can fix a Rust Belt town.  He is a character, and has demonstrated a commitment to finding unique ways of working to revitalize the community.

Here is a profile of the town and the new mayor. CBS Sunday Morning is one of my favorite news programs, by the way. My dad was a big fan, and watching this show has been a Sunday morning ritual as long as I remember.

Here is a conversation comparing some efforts in Braddock to those in a couple of other rust belt towns.

There are efforts underway to develop alternative fuel operations in the town.

There is also a mini-factory producing ceramic water filters to help developing countries.  One of the artists mentioned in this article, Richard Wukich, was a professor of my brother's.  He is passionate about ceramics, his students, and assisting both Braddock the folks who need clean water in poor countries.

Also, Braddock hosts a serious effort underway to develop a sustainable urban gardening program in the town.  The project also combines with a youth program, creating internships that give young adults hands on work experience.

Oh, and you may have seen these commercials:

Levi's has invested a lot in this campaign, including investing a lot in Braddock.  They have pledged to help build a new community center and give the community a million dollars over two years. Here is an article on the Levi's ad campaign made in Braddock, and the relationship between the town and Levi's.

There is some skepticism and criticism about this campaign.  But when they run ads like this about work, Pittsburghers (and many others) are going to identify with them.

Here is Fetterman on Colbert, discussing the ad campaign and changes to the town.

Interesting stuff for a town that may be the rustiest of rust belt towns.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Interesting Links, 7/26/11

When the magazine was still being printed, I was a huge fan of SEED Magazine.  Unfortunately, since they stopped printing a paper copy, I have had difficulty motivating myself to follow their work as much.  It seems that their bloggers are still hard at work, and the magazine is generating interesting content, though.  For instance, there is this article from last January where Herbert Gans argues for a restructuring of the social sciences.  Interesting.

One of my favorite SEED articles, ever, though was Lehrer's article on applying the idea of metabolism to the metropolis.  Lehrer is the author of one of my favorite books - Proust was a Neuroscientist.  This article, like that book, brings disciplines together to examine what we know about something - in this case, how a city functions.  Similar to an article I linked to in a previous post, this one examines West's approach to understanding the physics of the city. This article specifically looks at how the idea of metabolism might help us understand the city.  Here's some of the interesting stuff in the article: 
"Cities are like elephants. They get more economical with size... every city is simply a scaled version of the same city. In metropolis after metropolis, the indicators of urban “metabolism”—like the per-capita consumption of gasoline or the surface area of roads or the total length of electrical cables—scaled to an exponent of (population)0.8, which is very similar to the biological equivalent of (mass)0.75. This means that a city can double its population without doubling its resource consumption."

Moving on, it seems that some of the current unemployment problem may be attributable to skills mismatch, even among folks who've had some schooling after high school. 

The hubbub about the temporary closing of the 405 in Los Angeles last week remind me of this article I saw a while ago about how some cities are moving away from building new highways, even occasionally tearing down freeways.  It seems that some cities are finding it more cost effective to close a freeway than to maintain it. And as the author of the article notes: 
"This is the city planner's dream: Take out an underused freeway, open up land for new businesses or parks and magically more workers will move back to the city and property values will soar. So far, though, the results have been mixed."

And here are two interesting articles that have something to do with housing.  First, there is a house at which 2,000 companies are registered.  A new kind of urban density, I suppose.  

Next, how many people do you know who have experienced homelessness?  What sense do you have of homelessness?  Have you ever volunteered at a shelter, or heard the story of a homeless person?  Here is a great article about a project to bring young adults into contact with ex-homeless individuals.  This is cool stuff.

Since becoming active on Twitter and following individuals and organizations doing work relevant to urban sociology, I have been seeing some interesting stuff.  A call center moving from a blogger's home city to another city has him wondering if people, particularly local politicians should be thinking in terms of a new regionalism.  I liked this quote:
"Also importantly, metro regions don't necessarily need to conceive of themselves as businesses trying to "steal" market shares away from other regions. Indeed, under constructive regionalism, our cities (and their hinterland) could aim to create (vs. attract) wealth and well-being using their own resources (human, natural, agricultural, technological, artistic, etc.) in a way that is ecologically responsible, socially beneficial and economically efficient. I hope you will excuse the use of this old cliché, but there's not reason why we can't make the pie bigger (as opposed to serving smaller and smaller portions of the same size pie)."

Also found on Twitter and relevant to regionalism is this post comparing the economies of metropolitan areas to countries of the world (there is a cool map, too).

Finally, several films have been filmed in Pittsburgh recently.  I saw this trailer before the midnight showing of Harry Potter I attended, and while the movie looks iffy, the parkour scenes filmed in PNC Park look awesome.  But as interesting as these movies being filmed in Pittsburgh is,  it is  this one that is kinda a big deal.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Local Eats #2 - Rivertowne Pub, Pittsburgh, PA

Though I am not a full on foodie, I do appreciate good local food.  I'm often taking pictures of the good food I've had and letting other folks know about places I recommend.  So, I am also starting a series on this blog I will call Local Eats. I will share some pictures of unique local food I have had in this series. This will be the first installment in this series.

I was recently home in Pittsburgh visiting family. We decided to meet for a late lunch at Rivertowne Pub and Grille in North Hungtingdon on Route 30.  

Pittsburghers are known for the eastern European inspirations of their fare.  This usually means lots of butter, onion, and potatoes, as well as kielbasa.  Everything is prepared in some way that seems as if it will intentionally clog your arteries.  Our lunch was no different.

Since I hadn't been home in a while I thought I would start with what the menu called a "Yinzer Salad." For those that don't know, Pittsburgh has it's own dialect, called Pittsburghese.  Folks are known for saying "yinz" when southerners would say "y'all," and so now we affectionately call the most Pittsburgh-ish of Pittsburghers Yinzers.  Anyway, where I come from a salad means a bed of lettuce, covered with grilled steak or chicken, french fries, shredded cheese, ranch dressing, and maybe some tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions.  A more fancy salad would include a hard boiled egg and bacon, as well.

My dad and I split the Yinzer salad. This is what half of the Yinzer salad looked like:

With that refreshing appetizer out of the way, my dad and I moved on to something slightly more substantial.  We also split the Rivertowne Gambler. This is a burger topped with Pittsburgh's favorite, Kielbasa:

Both were delicious.  Both are great examples of how Pittsburgh does food.  

And, somehow, my heart continues to beat...

Friday, July 22, 2011

Some interesting links, baseball heavy, 7/22/11

If you're interested in place, All Things Considered's series "On Location" is pretty cool. This installment takes a look at the central Florida of The Yearling.

On the same day as the above article, All Things Considered ran this story about the old Tiger Stadium in Detroit.  It seems some fans and locals really want to maintain the place as a public park, but the city does not have the means to maintain or take on the liability.  People want public space.

Speaking of baseball, the Pittsburgh Pirates are currently in first place.  While PNC Park is consistently ranked as the best stadium in MLB, this is the first season the park has consistently sold out for Pirate games.  Here is a good article about how the town has rallied around the Pirates.  While I have been a fan for the last few years, and I can forgive those fans who are just now joining the bandwagon.  I know they've been busy cheering the Stillers and the Pens, and their current fervor makes up for not being around the last few years.  Also, that article includes a quote that echoes a sentiment I have heard many times from older folks in Pittsburgh - Pittsburgh is a baseball town.  It's good to see quality baseball being played here.  Pittsburgh's sports culture is intense and it is fun to be a part of it.

PNC Park is a great stadium.  If you go, I recommend sitting on the 3rd base side, giving you a great view of the downtown skyline.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Urban Excursions #1, Local Eats #1 - New Orleans, LA

This will be the first in a series on this blog called City Reviews.  Because this one, like many city reviews, will also include discussion of local eats, this will also be the first in a series called Local Eats.  I will be discussing cities which I have visited for some length of time, sharing my overall impression of the city as well as some recommendations or things to see and things to avoid.

I have visited the city of New Orleans, LA twice. Both times for professional conferences.  My first visit to New Orleans was in the Spring of 2009 for the Southern Sociological Society meeting.  I drove to the city with a friend, stayed in a downtown hotel, and spent Thursday night through Sunday morning in the city. My second visit to the city was for the Urban Affairs Association annual meeting in the spring of 2011.  On this trip, I flew to the city with a research colleague, and again spent a long weekend in the city.  You can read a story about a specific adventure my colleague, a friend we met, and I had on the last evening of that trip here.

First impressions:
As we drove into the city on the first trip, about 30 minutes away from the hotel, I suddenly realized that I was going to see first hand the impact of Katrina and the effectiveness of the rebuilding efforts just a few years after the disaster.  After driving across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, moving closer to the city, we saw lots of lasting devastation.  Billboards and metal signs that had fallen were still laying across parking lots.  Buildings were dark and missing windows, and houses were boarded up.  It looked kind of like a zombie apocalypse movie.  I felt like we had showed up a little too early for a friend's party, and they were still attempting to clean the place before things got going.  Closer to the city, and in the better, or more economically important neighborhoods, things were much cleaner and more polished. It was clear, though, that the rebuilding efforts had not reached everyone everywhere.

Once in the downtown area, things were much less apocalyptic.  On both visits to New Orleans, I found some great food and great fun.  The simple rule seemed to be to follow the advice of locals, and avoid Bourbon Street.

Things I liked:
First off, the food was as amazing as promised.  The places that made the most lasting impressions on me were Coop's Place, the Bulldog, and Cafe Du Monde.

On my most recent visit, while standing in line at Coop's place at 9:30 pm on a Friday night, watching a parade pass by, a local told my colleague and I that Coop's Place is the only place they would stand in line for.  Their food is great.  I recommend the Rabbit and Sausage Jambalaya, but everything else is great.

The uptown location on Magazine Street is the location of the Bulldog I have visited twice.  The Bulldog is interesting because it is a hip bar in a gentrified neighborhood with a great patio.  I swear, the two old guys sitting in the patio smoking cigars were the same two old guys I saw on both trips.  Maybe you'll see them there when you visit. The Bulldog has great food, I recommend the waffle fries and a draft Abita Amber.

The best thing about the Bulldog may be in the past.  A sly visitor used to be able to sneak a few pounds of crawfish from The Big Fisherman and enjoy them with a few of the Bulldog's beers on the patio. From my last visit, it seems they may be cracking down on this, though, so don't assume you're going to be able to do this if you visit.

While Cafe Du Monde is the place everyone goes to, I want to mention it for a couple of reasons.  Yes, everyone goes to it, but if you visit it at the right time, the crowds are not too bad. Also, if you're looking to enjoy New Orleans on a budget, one of the cheapest tourist experiences in the city is a a plate of beignets and coffee from Cafe Du Monde. I recommend stopping here around 11pm on one of your more leisurely weekend nights, like we did on both of my visits. The coffee and beignets serve as a a great nightcap, and the experience is better than any late night visit to a diner I have had.

I know there is supposed to be an awesome burger joint in New Orleans, and I've failed to visit it on both trips. Hopefully, next time I will.

Also, I don't want to give too much away, but if you ask the right local, they will tell you there is a street that runs at an angle from the end of Bourbon that is worth a visit. This street hosts jazz clubs and a nightlife that is a more subdued, but also more interesting, than anything on Bourbon.

Overall, I really appreciated the "feel" of New Orleans. In my experiences the locals are very friendly and helpful.  The architecture and history is great.  Walking around narrow city streets is fun. You feel as if you've been transported to Europe.

Things I wished I had avoided:

Bourbon Street is loud and in your face. Bouncers stand outside of many of the bars on Bourbon Street, cajoling you to enter their place. They shout things like "No cover!" as if their place is any different than the next. House bands cover all the songs you hear at wedding receptions. And they commit what I believe is one of the most awful musical crimes - playing Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" before midnight.  Bourbon Street is worth seeing once, I suppose, but it's just not my thing.

Also, I have had a couple not so great but overpriced Po' Boys. You gotta be careful where you eat. There are great establishments everywhere, but there are also tourist traps.

Lasting impressions:
Perhaps because I flew into the city on the second visit rather than drove in, but probably because the rebuilding efforts have moved farther along, things looked much better this past spring.  New Orleans hosts all the things you want to see in a city you're travelling to for fun - great food, interesting culture, and friendly locals.  I have spent more time in New Orleans than most other cities I have traveled to, and I would visit it again any time I had the opportunity.

And here is a postcard I sent from New Orleans.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Du[a]ling Quotes #1 - Education and Life Chances in the City

This will be the first post in a series called Du[a]ling Quotes. I'll be posting two quotes that are related in some way. Sometimes they'll be very similar, sometimes they will contrast a bit.

“Cities within the United States and more radically across the world are highly unequal in the life chances they offer residents, which in turn shapes those residents’ capacities to participate in the surroundings systems of power and privilege. Although the numbers have changed since the 1980’s, inequality among places persists in radical degree” (xi).
   -in Urban Fortunes by Logan and Molotch, 1987.

“The recent shift to a knowledge-based information economy has further accelerated the rate of investment in post-graduate education, research, and lifetime training. In advanced market societies, a critical responsibility of government is to ensure levels of education and training that not only will permit citizens to participate effectively in a growing array of complex markets but also will promote the sustained growth of income and the continued creation of wealth in a competitive global economy” (25).
   -in Categorically Unequal by Massey, 2007

Urban Image #1

This will be the first in a series I am going to call "Urban Images." In this series I'll share a picture or two of something that relates to my interests and reflect on it a bit.

I took this photo when was driving around Butler, PA with my dad when I was home over winter break sometime around January 2011.  Butler is the county seat of Butler County.  It is an aging mill town. This is one corner of a neighborhood in Butler known as the Island, one of the poorest in town.

I like this image because it looks so very rust belt.  The trees are bare, the vegetation on the ground is orange and dry. You can tell its winter. The houses are built close together, and close to the street, and they are aging as well.  I did not plan to take this photo, but as we drove past, I had to get out of the car and try to capture what I was seeing.  It looks like a seen out of the movie North Country or something.  This image makes he terrain look a little too flat, though. It almost looks like you're in the Midwest, but really, you are not.

Also, I like this image because of where it's at. You can't tell, but behind me is the County Courthouse, and the Main Street downtown area. Maybe 3 or 4 blocks up the hill behind me.  The jail, which is attached to the Courhouse, was expanded just a couple of years ago, and the thing, built on the hill, sort of looms over this side of the Island.

Reflection on the Strength of Weak Ties

I just want to take a moment to reflect on networking.  I was out with a couple of guys I know around town the other night, and I mentioned how I was setting up this blog.  We got to talking about social networks, and the conversation kept coming back to the idea of the strength of weak ties.

The original strength of weak ties concept and research by Granovetter is one of the most important and interesting topics in Sociology in the last few decades. If you’re unfamiliar and interested, you can read the original article here.

Basically, the idea is that your strong ties are certainly important. They are the ties that help you establish your identity and create your own unique personality.  Strong ties are the folks you hang out with the most.  They are the trusted friends who are there for you when things are difficult.

But, your strong ties can only help you so much. Because they are such good friends, both you and your strong tie friends know the same information. If you are looking or a job, you and your closest friends probably know about the same job opportunities.  If you are single and looking for a new person to date, you probably already know most of the people your close friends might recommend.

This is where your weak ties come in.  The folks who you know, but aren’t very close with, your acquaintances, they know about people and opportunities that you don’t.   So, you’re weak ties are the folks in your social network most likely to make you aware of new opportunities or to provide you with interesting information. 

People use their weak ties every day.  For example, when I learn about a new mountain biking trail I should try, it’s not from the guys I ride with every week. I learn about the trail from a friend of one of those guys, who lives another town over.   Often these weak ties aren’t even friends of friends; they may be folks who you get to know through organizations or work.

Another example of the strength of weak ties was shared by one of the guys in this conversation I was having the other night.  He explained that he was able to leverage weak ties when he convince the folks organizing an event at his favorite bar to turn the event into a donation drive for his favorite social service organization.  He said the folks in the organization and the folks at the bar would have never communicated about the bar’s event or about the organization’s need, but he served as that connection that brought the two together. 

For decades sociologists have written about the change in social patterns from the past to the present, from rural areas to cities.  A few weeks ago I was re-reading Richard Florida’s (2002) book The Rise of the Creative Class  In this book, he gave a more contemporary spin on the concepts of gemeinschaft and gesellschaft. He wrote:  “In virtually every aspect of life, weak ties have replaced the stronger bonds that once gave structure to society. Rather than live in one town for decades, we now move about. Instead of communities defined by close associations and deep commitments to family, friends, and organizations, we seek places where we can make friends and acquaintances easily and live quasi-anonymous lives. The decline in the strength of our ties to people and institutions is a product of the increasing number of ties we have” (7).

Of course, there are always debates about this transition. Is the social order falling apart? Is this “quasi-anonymity” actually bad for society? Don’t we need close friends?

My close friends are important to me. But my weak ties are as well.

Either way, people are becoming more aware of the importance of their extended social networks.  Because of arguments like this, we think about concepts like network diversity – the diversity of the individuals you interact with in your social network, or the concept Malcolm Gladwell refers to as social intelligence – your ability to navigate social interactions in a way that results in favorable outcomes for you.  Your skills alone do not always determine your success.  Often you need to operate on opportunities found in your social network by activating your social intelligence in order to convince others who provide an opportunity to invest in your skills.

And yes, here I am writing a blog as an attempt build my social network, and also to be appealing to any potential employer that finds my blog.  Yes I am doing this blog to be engaged with topics related to my research, and to produce interesting content.  But, I am conscious of the concerns presented in this article , I am working to promote myself, but hoping not to come off as too self-involved. 

.. and there’s a good meta thought with which to end this post.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

First things first...

First things first, I always love seeing this news.  Pittsburgh is certainly not perfect, but it is one of my favorite places.

I think this is a really cool idea.  I feel like I've been seeing more and more examples of folks finding use for abandoned spaces. All of them are interesting projects.  The music they've come up with is good, too.

As this article states:
"Urban population growth is the great theme of modern life, one that’s unfolding all across the world, from the factory boomtowns of Southern China to the sprawling favelas of Rio de Janeiro. As a result, for the first time in history, the majority of human beings live in urban areas. (The numbers of city dwellers are far higher in developed countries — the United States, for instance, is 82 percent urbanized.) Furthermore, the pace of urbanization is accelerating as people all over the world flee the countryside and flock to the crowded street."
... and this has inspired physicist Geoffrey West to try to "solve" the city. Lots of things to think about here.

Public transit really isn't my specialty, but there has been so much coverage of the 405 shutdown in Los Angeles.  Interestingly, L.A. is often rated as having one of the best public transit systems among cities in the U.S.  Here is an interesting Op-ed on the 405 situation.

This American Life is one of my favorite radio programs.  I'm waiting for a road trip to give this episode a listen.  I have heard good reviews, and since the whole thing is set in PA, a story involves professors, and it deals with shale gas, which is a topic everyone at home has been very interested in, I'm anxious to give it a listen.  

And, this being my first full blog post, I think I will give a shout out to one of my favorite photography websites.  Pittsburgh is pretty.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Hello world.

This is my first post.  In the future, my posts will be slightly more interesting.