“Home” resources

What does “home” mean? When is “progress” a step backwards? If we are building for a community in need, we must consult the community to see what it values. What about co-housing – sharing resources?


The Pruitt-Igoe myth. Housing project in St Louis.

Surviving Progress. Overconsumption, environmental collapse.

The Human Scale. Architect Jan Gehl. Cities for people – human sized, meant for livabilit

Tomorrow we disappear. India slums rehab. Doing for people (the poor) versus doing to people.

Commune. About Black bear ranch. Features Peter Coyote

Urbanized. Documentary by Gary Hustwit about design. “Who is allowed to shape our cities, and how do they do it? And how does the design of our cities affect our lives?” (from the description)

Blackout. “The lights went out and all hell broke loose” – about the chaos that followed the July 13, 1977 New York City blackout. Haves and have-nots.

“10 that changed America” – 10 homes, parks, and towns that changed our nation. Urban design, relationship of environment upon the people who live in it. Shaping people by where they live.

A Convenient Truth: Urban Solutions from Curitiba, Brazil


“Pocket Neighborhoods: Creating Small-Scale Community in a Large-Scale World” by Chapin, Ross

“A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction” by Alexander, Christopher W.

“Microshelters: 59 Creative Cabins, Tiny Houses, Tree Houses, and Other Small Structures” by Diedricksen, Derek

Crazy hair – on poverty.

You know those people that you can look at and tell they are poor? We have several of those in the library. Some seem one month away from homelessness.

There’s a new lady who has started coming in who this describes. I’m going to call her Tommie. She only gets videos, and they are for herself and her husband. She is short and wears leftover clothes and has hair that is wild and stringy. Recently she held out her hands and showed me her French manicure. This was her Christmas present. She was really excited about it.

I was a bit conflicted. It was beautiful work. It was the one beautiful thing she had done for herself. She would have done better if she had gotten her hair treated so it didn’t look so wild. Her hair is a white person’s equivalent of an afro. It isn’t as thick or as tall, but it is very wavy. It looks like she hasn’t put conditioner in it in ever.

Of course, she doesn’t have to. There is nothing saying that people have to manage their hair, exactly the same as people don’t have to wear makeup or shave. But if they don’t do these things, they will get judged as different or as dirty. I understand this all too well. I don’t wear makeup or shave my legs, and I understand the social lines I’m crossing when I do it.

One of my coworkers thinks she and the friend who drives her to the library are both dirty. I don’t think they are. I’ve never noticed a smell coming from them. We have plenty of patrons who smell very badly. Sometimes the smell is best described as a blend of cheap cigarettes, the sweat that comes from lack of showering and a diet of convenience store foods, and ferrets. They too get only DVDs, and the cases come back reeking of this poisonous cocktail.

Then again there are people who are aware of how they smell and they try to cover it up with perfume that is very strong. As much as I dislike strong body odor, I prefer it to the perfume because it doesn’t set off my asthma.

Back to Tommie. I can only imagine what it was like for the tech who did her nails. That is literally hands-on work. Our counters are pretty deep, so we don’t have to touch anybody. We also generally don’t have to deal with them for long. Doing someone’s nails is another thing entirely. Maybe the tech doesn’t even think about this. She does this all day long. This is her normal. But for me to have to hold someone’s hands while working with them would be really strange.

Don’t get me wrong – Tommie is a nice person. Simple, but nice. I just can’t imagine spending a lot of time in close proximity with her.

It was also weird because getting your nails done is a very girly act, and there is nothing girly about Tommie. Sure, she is female. But she doesn’t seem to care about it at all. Maybe I’ll see her in a different light once winter is over and she stops wearing that immense grey puffy jacket. Maybe she will wear something pretty and colorful. I doubt it.

She reminds me a lot of a friend I had in high school. I’ve talked about her before. That friend who I was assigned to for her good, not mine. That friend who had no friends. Perhaps that is why I notice her, and why I’m curious/concerned about her.

I had suggested that she ease up on the constant diet of movies and she assured me that she soon was going to get books because she needed to study for her GED. I wasn’t surprised. This just seems to be such a cliché all around. If you want to stay poor, drop out of school and watch a lot of movies.

American Untouchables

There are people in India who were known as the Untouchables. It was a caste. If you were born into a family of Untouchables, you were an Untouchable. You were the poorest of the poor and you weren’t even considered a person. There was no chance of ever bettering your lot – that was just the way it was. Nobody challenged this system for many years because the people who it bothered had no voice in the system, and the people it benefitted created the system.

We too have a system like this, but we don’t talk about it. If you are born poor in America, there is a pretty good chance you will remain poor. Sure, we talk about the American dream, that anybody can become anything. Through determination and hard work you can achieve your goals. We have as President right now a man who was born to a single mother and is of mixed race. That is pretty Untouchable by American standards. That start virtually guarantees poverty and being kicked around by the system. But he went to school and worked hard. He had drive and incentive and became a lawyer, and then a politician. I don’t really care what you think about his policies. What I’m impressed by is that he went from a very low position to a very high one.

Anybody can do this. But first, you have to believe in yourself. You have to put a value on yourself. And then you have to work hard towards a goal.

There are two ladies who have just started coming to the library. They are dirt poor. You can look at them and tell they are poor just by looking at them. Their clothes are ratty. Their hair is wild and unkempt. Their teeth are crooked and stained. Their speech is substandard.

I’ll call them Jackie and Diane. Jackie has to drive Diane around because Diane has an ID only. Diane’s husband is chronically ill and stuck at home. Diane picks up movies from him. It is always movies. Movies are the staple of the poor at the library.

We have a lot of DVDs at our library. Not all of them are movies. Some are TV series. Some are documentaries. The poor rarely get anything educational, and they even more rarely get books.

When they do get books they get romance if they are female, and it is usually low-end romance like “urban erotic fiction” and stuff like the “Grey” novels. The plots are the same in all of these. The story says that you, as a female, are nothing, and will remain nothing until you get a man, who will treat you badly and then leave you, so you will then be less than nothing.

These selections guarantee that the person will stay poor. They guarantee that the person will remain exactly where they are. They are escapism in name only. If they truly want to escape they will better themselves by getting material that is educational. But first they have to see themselves as worthy of escaping.

We may not have an official caste system in America, but we sure do have a self-enforced one.

Living wage

There is a lot of debate these days about a “living wage”. People who work at McDonald’s and Wal-Mart want to make more money. This is true for all of retail and fast food.

There was a lady who said that she has worked for McDonald’s for ten years and she doesn’t make enough money to feed her children or buy them shoes. She showed up at a board meeting and confronted the president and demanded a raise. She got arrested.

Before we get upset about this and think that upper management is saying “let them eat cake” let’s stop for a moment.

When did working for a fast food restaurant become a career? I remember when I was growing up that it was something teenagers did to make a little spending money and to learn how to be a good employee. It was a first job. It wasn’t meant to be a full time for the rest of your life thing. As a manager, that would be different. But as a front line clerk or a cook, no. It is supposed to be a job that you have for summer, or a year at most, and then you move on.

And if McDonald’s or Wal-Mart employees start making $12 an hour at a job that requires nothing more than a high school diploma and very little skill, then does that mean that everybody else is going to get a raise too? Then everything will just cost more, and we will be right back where we were. People talk about how cheap cars were back twenty years ago. But so was everything else. And we all made less. It is all the same ratio of money in to money out.

Raising the minimum wage won’t fix anything. Let’s raise our expectations. Let’s figure out a way to help people determine what they are good at early on and encourage them to seek training in that. Vocational education is a good thing. Not everybody has to be a doctor. The world needs plumbers and electricians and auto mechanics. The world needs teachers and physical therapists. The world needs people who know how to do something well, and that something needs to be something that they enjoy. Let’s not encourage people to stay in a dead-end job by giving them more money. Let’s encourage them to set their sights higher.