Opinion: Poverty and Geography. The Myth of Racial Segregation


• Published originally in Pacific Standard. Photo: Stefano Garau/Shutterstock.

Migration, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or sexuality (not to mention class), can be a poverty-buster.

• From innovation springs prosperity. This is the economic geography of today. Places with a high concentration of college degrees also boast the highest per capita incomes. But many metros aren’t so fortunate. Ironically, according to Paul Krugman, Americans are moving the wrong way. The mass migration streams from rich areas to poor, where the rents aren’t too damn high. Because innovation is a slave to extreme distance decay, prosperity occurs where the rich like to live. But what if innovation weren’t so dependent on close proximity? What if, indeed:

[Multinational enterprises] face an important constraint in expanding their geography of innovation – that of producing and transferring knowledge across borders. It has been 20 years since the classic study by Jaffe et al. (1993) on the localization of knowledge flows, as measured by patent citations. In the broader literature on spatial agglomeration, results from this study were interpreted as evidence that knowledge flowed more easily across spatially proximate – rather than spatially distant – agents. In other words, knowledge spillovers are largely local in nature. In subsequent work, Agrawal et al. (2006) examine the role of social relationships in facilitating knowledge flows by estimating the flow premium captured by a mobile inventor’s previous location. They find that knowledge flows to an inventor’s prior location are approximately 50% greater than if they had never lived there and conclude that social relationships, not just physical proximity, are important for determining flow patterns.

The “classic study by Jaffe et al. (1993)” dominates the discourse. For innovation, proximity is everything. “Agrawal et al. (2006)” falls on deaf ears. We must have innovation districts.

For all the hand-wringing about being in a super dense global city, a study of historical creative migration yields a surprising (if you haven’t read Agrawal et al. or its subsequent literature) geography:

Other findings show that despite the dependence of the arts on money, cultural centers and economic centers do not always coincide, and that the population size of a location does not necessarily point to its cultural attractiveness.

Emphasis added. OK, I’m highlighting the exception instead of the rule. However, “cultural attractiveness” is the variable in play. On the wings of migrants come innovation. Or, so Hurricane Katrina might have me believe:

The hurricane and its aftermath made plain the federal government’s inability to accommodate its most disadvantaged citizens, as well as the implications of hyper-segregation and concentrated poverty in our cities. But it also provided a rare opportunity for the most marginalized families: Although those displaced had little say in where they would end up, Katrina catapulted some low-income African American families out of neighborhoods characterized by high levels of poverty and into new, non-poor, and racially integrated ones with greater opportunities for socioeconomic mobility. Most survivors were relocated to cities such as Baton Rouge, Dallas, and Houston. Despite the nightmarish situation these evacuees traversed, new research suggests that hurricanes have the potential to facilitate long-run improvements in the economic and social standing of some of the country’s most vulnerable populations.

I’m sandbagging this one in hopes you will at least read the article. Migration, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or sexuality (not to mention class), can be a poverty-buster. As Michael Clemens taught me, migration is economic development.

Can You See Me Now?

A Performer with the GPS kit

A game of chase played online and on the streets.

Along with Botfighters, Can You See Me Now? is one of the first location based games. Online players compete against members of Blast Theory on the streets. Tracked by satellites, Blast Theory’s runners appear online next to your player on a map of the city. On the streets, handheld computers showing the positions of online players guide the runners in tracking you down.

With up to 100 people playing online at a time, players can exchange tactics and send messages to Blast Theory. An audio stream from the runner’s walkie talkies allowed you to eavesdrop on your pursuers: getting lost, cold and out of breath on the streets of the city.

Can You See Me Now? is the second major collaboration with the Mixed Reality Lab at the University of Nottingham after Desert Rain. As well as winning the Prix Ars Electronica this work was nominated for a BAFTA in Interactive Arts. It was developed during a long period of research and development in London and Nottingham exploring Global Positioning Systems and wireless networking. Steve Benford, Martin Flintham and Rob Anastasi from the Lab made particularly significant contributions to this work.

How to play?

Can You See Me Now? takes the fabric of the city and makes our location within it central to the game play. The physical city is overlaid with a virtual city to explore ideas of absence and presence. By sharing the same ‘space’, the players online and runners on the street enter into a relationship that is adversarial, playful and, ultimately, filled with pathos.

As soon as a player registers they must answer the question: “Is there someone you haven’t seen for a long time that you still think of?”. From that moment issues of presence and absence run through the game. This person – absent in place and time – seems irrelevant to the subsequent game play; only at the point that the player is caught or ‘seen’ by a runner do they hear the name mentioned again as part of the live audio feed from the streets. The last words they hear is the runner announcing their catch, referring to them by the name of the person they haven’t seen for a long time.

Using your arrow keys you explore the virtual city, all the while trying to avoid the runners. If they get too close you are caught and knocked out of the game. It is the simplest and most primal of playground games with the added twist of the players stretched across physical and virtual space.

Proximity and distance exist at five levels in the game. Firstly, any game of chase is predicated on staying distant from your pursuer. Secondly, the virtual city (which correlates closely to the real city but is not an exact match) has an elastic relationship to the real city. At times the two cities seem identical; the virtual pavement and the real pavement match exactly and behave in the same way.

At other times the two cities diverge and appear very remote from one another. For example, traffic is always absent from the virtual city. Thirdly, the internet itself brings geographically distant players into the same virtual space. It also enables those players to run alongside the runners as it streams their walkie talkie chat. Fourthly, the name of someone you haven’t seen for a long time but you still think of brings someone from the player’s past into the present: their name is spoken aloud by a runner on the distant streets of the city and exists for a seconds before fading into the ether. Finally, the photos taken by runners of the empty terrain where each player is seen are uploaded to the site and persist as a record of the events of each game. Each player is forever linked to this anonymous square of the cityscape.

With the advent of virtual spaces and then hybrid spaces in which virtual and real worlds are overlapping, the emotional tenor of these worlds has become an important question. In what ways can we talk about intimacy in the electronic realm? In Britain the internet is regularly characterized in the media as a space in which pedophiles ‘groom’ unsuspecting children and teenagers. Against this backdrop can we establish a more subtle understanding of the nuances of online relationships. When two players who know one another place their avatars together and wait for the camera view to zoom down to head height so that the two players regard one another, what is going on? Is this mute tenderness manifest to anyone else and should it be?

And alongside these small moments, there is a louder and more forceful set of interactions between runners and players based on insults, teasing, goading and humour. These public declarations seem to happily coexist with the private moments that appear marginal to the casual observer. Yet, this demotic discourse also can surprise: the online players understanding that the runners are tired, cold, struggling with the environment on the street can become a powerful emotion.

A player from Seattle wrote: “I had a definite heart stopping moment when my concerns suddenly switched from desperately trying to escape, to desperately hoping that the runner chasing me had not been run over by a reversing truck (that’s what it sounded like had happened).”

Artists’ statement


Can You See Me Now? draws upon the near ubiquity of handheld electronic devices in many developed countries. Blast Theory are fascinated by the penetration of the mobile phone into the hands of poorer users, rural users, teenagers and other demographics usually excluded from new technologies.

Some research has suggested that there is a higher usage of mobile phones among the homeless than among the general population. The advent of 3G (third generation mobile telephony) brings constant internet access, location based services and massive bandwidth into this equation. Can You See Me Now? is a part of a sequence of works (Uncle Roy All Around You and I Like Frank have followed) that attempt to establish a cultural space on these devices. While the telecoms industry remains focused on revenue streams in order to repay the huge debts incurred by buying 3G licenses and rolling out the networks, Blast Theory in collaboration with the Mixed Reality Lab are looking to identify the wider repercussions of this communication infrastructure. When games, the internet and mobile phones converge what new possibilities arise?

These social forces have dramatic repercussions for the city. As the previously discrete zones of private and public space (the home, the office etc.) have become blurred, it has become commonplace to hear intimate conversations on the bus, in the park, in the workplace. And these conversations are altered by the audience that accompanies them: we are conscious of being overheard and our private conversations become three way: the speaker, the listener and the inadvertent audience.


The work was premiered in Sheffield at the b.tv festival. Other venues include the Dutch Electronic Arts Festival in Rotterdam; the Edith Russ Site for Media Art in Oldenburg; the International Festival for Dance, Media and Performance in Köln; Gardner Arts Centre in Brighton; ArtFutura in Barcelona; the InterCommunication Center (ICC), Tokyo; Interactive Screen at the Banff Center, Canada; Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago; We Are Here 2.0 in Dublin; Donau Festival in Austria; In Certain Places in Preston; Machine-RAUM in Denmark; Picnic Festival in Amsterdam; Arte.Mov in Belo Horizonte, Brazil; ARCO in Madrid and at Tate Britain.

Can You See Me Now? is a collaboration between Blast Theory and the Mixed Reality Lab, University of Nottingham. It was commissioned for Shooting Live Artists – a strategic initiative by Arts Council England, BBC Online and b.tv/The Culture Company – in 2001 and was first shown at the b.tv festival in Sheffield on 30 November and 1 December that year. Subsequent presentations in Europe have been supported by The British Council and UK presentations in 2004 and 2005 are supported through Arts Council England’s Grants for the Arts programme.

As a writer, take full advantage of WordPress

Originally posted on Dream, Play, Write!:

WordPress is an amazing tool, and its power goes far beyond the “free” blog you may be using right now. If you’re serious about your writing, and about publishing and selling a book, there are many features you should be taking advantage of right now.

That starts with creating a professional site with “yourname.com” as the address.

Then, let’s add in some features:

  • A mailing list subscription form
  • Some social media icons so people can follow and share
  • A home page that showcases your book?or excerpts from your current project
  • An obvious way to your readers to buy your book

Even if you don’t have a book yet, let’s start generating buzz NOW.

I’ll be your personal guide as you navigate through the sea of options WordPress has to offer. Contact me today for one-on-one mentoring!

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Eight charts that put tech companies’ diversity stats into perspective

Originally posted on Gigaom:

The latest hot-button subject in tech, hotter even than ephemeral apps, is diversity. Or at least, if not actual diversity, the act of releasing employee diversity statistics. From Apple to Twitter, almost all the big names in Silicon Valley are doing it. Google fell first in May, and with some pushing by activist organizations the rest soon followed suit.

We’ve broken down some of the top players – [company]Apple[/company], [company]Twitter[/company], [company]Pinterest[/company], [company]Facebook[/company], [company]Google[/company], [company]Yahoo[/company], [company]Microsoft[/company], [company]eBay[/company], [company]LinkedIn[/company], [company]Cisco[/company], [company]Intel[/company], and [company]HP[/company] – comparing their overall gender and ethnicity demographics. Then we went a step further to look specifically at the tech and leadership roles. Where relevant, we also charted the demographic information of the U.S. labor force and the graduating computer science class.

Please note that the numbers in the company charts come from a range of sources — federal EEO-1 data, company blog posts, and annual corporate reports. In some cases, particularly diversity in leadership…

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An inconvenient truth: Does responsible consumption benefit corporations more than society?

Originally posted on Watts Up With That?:

From the University of Chicago Press Journals  |

responsible-consAre environmental and social problems such as global warming and poverty the result of inadequate governmental regulations or does the burden fall on our failure as consumers to make better consumption choices? According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, responsible consumption shifts the burden for solving global problems from governments to consumers and ultimately benefits corporations more than society.

“When businesses convince politicians to encourage responsible consumption instead of implementing policy changes to solve environmental and social problems, business earns the license to create new markets while all of the pressure to solve the problem at hand falls on the individual consumer. For example, global warming is blamed on consumers unwilling to make greener choices rather than the failure of governments to regulate markets to the benefit of society and the environment,” write authors Markus Giesler…

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Instagram’s New Hyperlapse App Makes Mobile Timelapse And Steady Video Capture Easy

Originally posted on TechCrunch:

Instagram is building new apps that aim to do more with mobile photography, and today they’re launching Hyperlapse (via Wired), which allows you to make timelapse videos using standard video captured with your smartphone camera on the fly. The Hyperlapse app launch closely follows the international launch of Bolt, Instagram’s Snapchat-style photo sharing app, but this one looks like it has more of the ingredients that made Snapchat such a success.


The app, which is due to be released at 10 AM PT today, offers iPhone users a way to make professional-looking timelapses without expensive photography equipment like pro cameras, steady-mounts or tripods, and takes advantage of image stabilization tech that makes use of movement data gathered by gyroscopes to mimic the effect of ultra-expensive motion stabilization software used by film studios, but using a fraction of the processor power to get it done.

One impulse at Instagram…

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Social Media Is Silencing Personal Opinion – Even In The Offline World

Originally posted on TechCrunch:

Social media is not living up to its promise of being an online outlet for discussion that mirrors our communications and conversations that take place in the offline world. In fact, people are less willing to discuss important issues on social media, than they are in real life, a new report from Pew Research Center has found.

It may seem like an obvious conclusion: of course, people are more hesitant to speak up with a contrary opinion when all their friends, family or colleagues feel differently. But there’s been little research that quantifies just how unwilling people are to take a potentially unpopular stance on outlets like Facebook and Twitter.

Pew refers to the this tendency to keep opinions to yourself, when you believe they’re not widely shared, as the “spiral of silence” – a term coined in the mid-70’s by a researcher studying the nature of public opinion.

“Some social…

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Hope for Emmett Square

Originally posted on Architecture Here and There:

Proposal for Emmett Square, in Providence. (DPZ)

Proposal for Emmett Square, in Providence. Biltmore Hotel (l.) and R.I. Convention Center (r.) are visible. (DPZ)

Years ago, the Miami architecture and planning firm DPZ, led by Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk (his wife), came to Providence again and again to help plan the revival of its downtown. Its last charrette, or brainstorming session, was in 2005. One of the proposals was to reconfigure Emmett Square, just off Kennedy Plaza, at the end of Fountain Street, where the Providence Journal (my employer) is headquartered. The proposal for Emmett Square, which is fed by some seven streets, turned it into a real square, but was unworkable at the time because (among other reasons) two new buildings were to be erected on Journal-owned land on Fountain Street – especially the parking lot next to the Biltmore Hotel and the green, snub-nose parking garage addition to the Journal that juts into the square – much better…

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Bike Sharing: Safer than Your Own Bike

Originally posted on Oscar Hokeah:

Citi Bike users ride through DUMBO, Brooklyn (Lars Klove/NYC Bike Share via Oh The People You Meet)

Last year, as New York City prepared to launch bike-share program Citi Bike, naysayers grumbled about the 10,000 additional bicycles soon to join the streets of the Big Apple. Fatalities, they warned, would skyrocket. Turns out they were wrong—way wrong. As reported by Reuters, there have been no fatalities associated with any United States bike-share program since Tulsa, Oklahoma launched the first in 2007. That’s 23 million rides and zero deaths. Crashes among bike-share users are also remarkably infrequent compared to cycling in general. According to Streetsblog NYC, Washington, DC’s Capital Bikeshare program logged only 64 crashes from 4 million trips taken between its launch in September 2010 and mid-2013 (or approximately 16 crashes per million trips). Compare this to DC’s general cycling data…

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