Thursday, August 27, 2009

Advertisers continue to distance themselves from Beck

Comments from advertisers recently distancing themselves from Beck:

“As mentioned before, Applebee’s regularly evaluates where our advertising appears,” said Miles McMillin, a spokesperson for Applebee’s Services, Inc., in an email to “We strive to reach our diverse group of consumers in many different advertising venues. We do advertise in programming where various opinions are debated as we believe discussion about issues important to our country is very valuable. We expect this discussion to be respectful. As also pointed out earlier, we have not purchased advertising time on the Glenn Beck show specifically. However, at this time, we have asked that our advertising that appears on FOX News not be included on the Glenn Beck program.”

In an email conversation with, Joseph L. Goode, Senior Vice-President of Global Media Relations for Bank of America, confirmed that a statement posted on was authentic and that any advertisement placed on the Glenn Beck Program was an error and they would take steps to correct it.

“We don’t advertise on Glenn Beck’s show anymore,” said Charlie Sahner, a spokesperson for Vonage, in an email to

“I can confirm the authenticity of the statement published, said ValĂ©rie Moens, Senior Manager of Corporate Affairs for Kraft Foods Inc., in an email to “Kraft Foods has made the decision to stop advertising on the more politically extreme programs on all networks. In recent years, there has been a proliferation of shows with extreme content, including on the political front. These shows often are controversial and do not align with our company or brand values. That’s why we have made the decision to stop advertising on the more politically extreme programs on all networks.”

“We’re not an advertiser, that I can’t tell you [sic],” said Tom Forsythe, Vice-President of Corporate Communications for General Mills, in an email to “It’s not necessarily in response to your campaign. The action has much more to do with the content of the program...Upon hearing your request, I made sure that that was true. But it should have already been true because of the nature of the show.”

In a phone conversation with, Jon Gieselman, Senior Vice-President of Advertising and Public Relations for DirecTV, Inc., confirmed that their ads should not be running on Glenn Beck’s program. “We have actually not purchased national advertising from Fox News during his show since August 3rd, and right now we don’t have plans to purchase media in the future,” Gieselman said. “We have already clarified our position with Fox News.”

“To be clear, the Glenn Beck program has never been part of our advertising effort,” said Frank Colangelo, Director of Advertising Research for Travelers Insurance, in an email to “Any Travelers advertisements that ran during that program in the past were due to commercial placement mistakes by Fox News. In fact we have a standing “no buy” policy with regard to the program and we have confirmed that fact with Fox News.”

“We’ve discontinued our advertising on this program and don’t plan to resume,” said Scott M. Peters, Chief Marketing Officer for Regions Financial Corporation, in an email to

“Our company, SAM (Store and Move) has complied with your request and “The Glenn beck” show has been put on the “do not air” list for SAM,” said Nicole Henkel, a spokesperson for SAM (Store and Move), in an email to

“While our distributor controls advertising, we have no plans for ads on this [Glenn Beck’s] program,” said Hank D’Ambrosio, Vice-President of Administration for Bell & Howell, in an email to “As I said to you in our conversation and reiterated in my conversation with our distributor, in our 102 year history, Bell and Howell has never been involved in politics or in anything that could be construed as discriminatory in any way and never will.”

Monday, August 24, 2009

Gentrification and the Paradox of Affordable Housing

By Andres Duany

Such thinking raises obstacles to the revival of American cities. At the very least a distinction must be drawn between areas that require support for affordable housing and those that need quite the opposite. Real estate in some cities, such as San Francisco and Manhattan, has become too uniformly expensive, and they are clearly in need of affordable housing. But cities such as Detroit, Trenton, and Syracuse could use all the gentrification they can get. The last thing that they need is more affordable housing.

Gentrification, on the whole, should be the best of news, for there is nothing more dysfunctional than a monoculture of poverty. As Reuben Greenberg, the Police Chief of Charleston –who happens to be a black American - has said: “Urban problems are caused not by poverty, but by the concentration of poverty.” Gentrification, which is the trend to re-balance the concentration of poverty with the tax base, rub-off work ethic, and political effectiveness of the middle-class, is the very thing indicated for the improvement in the quality of life of all residents. It is the rising tide that lifts all ships.

Implied in the activists’ opposition is that gentrification is artificially induced and that it is controllable. Both of these notions are, with few exceptions, fallacies. Americans have attempted a few induced gentrifications--using the power and resources of government to revitalize decrepit parts of cities. Two famous examples are the harbor area of Baltimore and of the West Side of Manhattan. The catalyst in both cases was a major civic investment. One was the building of Lincoln Center in the early 60’s, and the multitude of entertainment, sports and cultural venues that were supplied to Baltimore Harbor. But in both, as well as in other cities, it was an expensive proposition and the results were slow to take hold. So there haven’t been many induced gentrifications. Examples of spontaneous ones however, are legion.

Spontaneous gentrification takes off without municipal intervention. New York has undergone a continuous sequence--beginning with Greenwich Village and proceeding to SoHo and all the subsequent Hos. Elsewhere, it is today hard to believe that the real estate of Georgetown, Beacon Hill, Charleston, Santa Fe or Nob Hill was ever down; but so it was, before spontaneous gentrification. South Florida, in just twenty years, has witnessed the gentrification of Coconut Grove, Miami Beach, and the scrappy old town of Key West. As it happens, all of these transformations were driven by individuals discovering the excellent urban qualities of each place. The government caught up later to take credit, and to interfere with the natural cycle, for better or worse.

The process of spontaneous gentrification begins surreptitiously, when a first wave of the poor but savvy discover the urban quality of a hitherto decrepit area. These are usually students, artists, perhaps gays, and other self-marginalized social groups. Such folks have been characterized by sociologists as the “risk oblivious.” They demonstrate with their creativity and sweat that old lofts and townhouses are habitable, indeed charming. They transform ratty bad-food joints into ratty good-food joints. The first wave constitutes a social rather than an economic or physical gentrification.

By the time the corner stores are stocking olive oil, the area is noticed by a second wave, which is characterized as the “risk-aware.” These are people with the ability to invest financially in renovation, not just with sweat equity. They expect to secure loans, and therefore must satisfy the building codes and permits that the first wave probably ignored. This includes a group that is pervasive among baby boomers, those who crave the bohemian lifestyle while actually being as securely employed as the conventional old bourgeoisie. This cohort is now an economic, but not necessarily a physical, gentrifying force. They like the place to look rough and edgy, even as it becomes more expensive.
The third wave which follows is “risk adverse.” This group is led by conventional developers who thoroughly smarten up the buildings through conventional real estate operations—physical renovation, improved maintenance, and organized security. Their clientele has been characterized by Manhattanites as “dentists from New Jersey” with all that that implies.

In all cases, induced or spontaneous, once gentrification begins, it is a chain reaction that tends to continue. The difficulty with any attempt to intervene, supposedly on behalf of low-income residents, is that, at its source, urban gentrification is organic. Its motive force is the great urbanism itself: the well-proportioned streets; the good mix of activities in useful building types, a certain architectural quality. And these days the allure is intensified as the promise of the suburb is undermined by traffic congestion and the banality of sprawl. Good urban areas are rare and, in contrast to sprawl, more appealing than ever. This is naturally reflected in their market value.

To control this through policy undermines the intelligence of urbanism when many have a say. What spokesmen for the poor insist on calling gentrification is actually the timeless urban cycle of a free society organically adjusting its habitat. And among the participants in gentrification are the owners who receive better prices for their homes, allowing them to afford other ones that they prefer elsewhere. And for those who remain, there is a general improvement in quality of life. In fact, the only clear losers may be the poverty advocates who have their constituency diluted. The evidence of this is that it is the leaders who complain of gentrification; rarely the residents themselves, who may have much to gain.

This is not a question of whether affordable housing should be available. To that, the answer is a clear affirmative. Society has its poor but it is necessary to make the distinction between the provision of affordable housing and its retention. These effects, while related, can be separated for discussion. It is a paradox that the retention of affordable housing may be more difficult to achieve than its provision which is well in hand through subsidy of the private sector, or entirely supplied by government as an extension of public works. The market also provides affordable housing in the form of older, out-of-date, building stock. The urban decay that supplies it is no less integral to the organic urban cycle as gentrification. Cities with such housing stock typically are portals for immigrants. These "Chinatowns" or "Little Havanas" are economic incubators. They represent affordable housing in its ideal form: the "old neighborhood" that is fondly recalled by the foes of gentrification. These inner city neighborhoods however, are not permanent as they were usually built originally for the middle-class and it is their quality that eventually attracts subsequent gentrification. They are, in fact, only recovering their intrinsic value; they are reverting to their origins, not just being “taken away” from the poor.

Can anything be done to keep the existing housing stock from becoming expensive? This is very difficult to accomplish. In fact, it’s not easy even to agree to make affordability a political objective. Because spontaneous gentrification is not to be confused with the clearly horrific practice of neighborhoods being razed for redevelopment, as happened in the H.U.D. era of the sixties and seventies. People sell their property willingly in the open market and those who sell do so at higher value than they had been able to achieve before gentrification began. If one were to remove the owners’ right to market value, they would react violently. To artificially restrain resale value in order to keep housing affordable is unfair to the poor. Why should others who own buildings profit handsomely for their perspicacity, while the poor are prevented from doing so? Life is unfair enough for low-income people without their well-intentioned overseers denying them their just profits.

The people know this. In one neighborhood of small houses that was supposedly fighting gentrification, we were asked to avert a sharp rise in housing price. We dutifully proposed limiting building size, based on lot size. In planning terminology, this technique is called controlling the floor-area ratio. The measure we recommended would have prevented the existing houses from becoming large enough to accommodate yup expectations: additional family rooms, mega bathrooms and superclosets would not have been possible. When the depressing effect of this technique became clear, the public posturing disappeared soon enough; the participants in the planning process would have none of it. These may have been poor people but they were, after all, Americans. When the proposal was rejected by acclamation, only those unaffected, the activists from outside the neighborhood, were surprised by the outcome.

We then proposed more subtle techniques that could be used to maintain some of the existing residents in place: To allow the creation, legally, of one or two ancillary units behind the existing small houses that could be available for rental. We wrote new codes that would allow small-scale services, such as the care of a few elderly persons, child-care, laundry out of a house, for example. These strategies involve supporting the sort of income generating businesses that already occur throughout poor neighborhoods, illegally. They are the mutual support system that was dismantled with the H.U.D. demolitions of the 60s and 70s and subsequently eliminated by the application of suburban-style codes inappropriately to the traditional city.

But the question remains: Can anything be done to prevent gentrification? Yes, there is one proven, if craven, technique that’s effective in holding down prices. It is to give people bad design. As gentrification is essentially the value of real estate seeking its proper level, most places that gentrify are good enough for the gentry. Places that resist gentrification are those where the housing is of poor design, or the quality of the urban space mediocre. So the most certain technique for permanently preventing gentrification is to provide dismal architectural and urban design. This is not facetious. The Federal Government inadvertently tested this effect in the process of providing affordable housing at two distinct periods. One was during the First World War when the U.S. Housing Corporation built fifty-five projects in cities where the expanded defense industry required it. This housing, while inexpensive, consisted of traditional houses and rowhouses skillfully designed by first-rate architects. Today, most of it is still in good shape, much of it having gentrified over the years. This is in stark contrast to the second model, the housing that the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (H.U.D.) produced in the 1960s. This time it was designed along the then-fashionable socialist models that our modernist architects so admired in Europe. Most of it soon decayed and persists in remaining so, despite multiple renovations over the years. (For the record, it has fared just as badly in Europe. It was clearly not the fault of H.U.D. but of the architects who advised them.)

A side-by-side comparison of this phenomenon is provided by the pair of housing projects called Seaview in Bridgeport Connecticut. One, today, is a delightful little village about 80 years old and in perfect condition. The other, barrack-like, is less than 30 years old and, despite being less than a decade away from its last renovation, is again trashed. Experimental, modernist design is indeed a proven technique for keeping housing in the hands of the poor. Fortunately, the new highly successful H.U.D. program, called Hope VI, provides only traditional housing, the very opposite of the experimental 1960 “projects” that socially self-destructed and are now being demolished by HUD itself.

There is an additional difficulty. The provision of affordable housing today is vehemently opposed by the middle-class. Is this simple prejudice? Is it fear or crime? In fact, there is a statistical basis for the relationship between crime and poverty, so it is difficult to deny that those who fear affordable housing are just categorically prejudiced. In fact, it is a necessary first step to acknowledge that the manner in which affordable housing is provided causes problems. If it is done, as has usually been the case, in very large groupings, then the opposition is not wrong in their fears. Affordable housing to be socially sustainable must be provided in small increments. Ten percent is a good rule--imagine only two townhouses amongst twenty others and you can deduce that this is imperceptible – particularly if the buildings are indistinguishable in architectural syntax from middle class housing.

There are currently such policies to promote the intermixing of subsidized with market-rate housing. In Montgomery County, Maryland, builders of new subdivisions are given strong incentives to sprinkle affordable units among middle-class ones. Such housing is maintained in small ratios, and it looks like the market-rate housing nearby. This program seems to work very well indeed; we have designed one such project, called Wyndcrest, in Sandy Spring, Maryland and can attest to its success.

And one may ask: if there is such a strong need, why is affordable housing not provided by a market-driven economy? One answer is that our housing industry is not operating in a free market. It is trammeled by building and planning bureaucracies that prevent its smooth operation. In the past, people could build for themselves. A self-help system used to provide housing through sweat equity; and so it was that this continent was colonized. But there are now a myriad of regulations that, in the pursuit of eliminating bad housing, inadvertently has eliminated the supply of affordable housing. Today, only licensed professionals can design, permit, and build housing. The resulting beurocratic friction makes housing for the poor available only with artificial supports. Thus the possibility of housing oneself has been taken away from the individual to become the responsibility of government or alimonisary organizations. It is another instance government solving a problem that it created.

We should note that certain “code-free” zones do exist, whenever the government looks aside while regular people make underutilized places habitable for themselves. That is how the “risk-oblivious” broke into the housing market in SoHo in the 60's. This method can be replicated in many older American cities where the upper stories of commercial buildings are typically underused or abandoned. They are empty because to renovate them, the building codes require a thorough upgrading to current code standards. Much would-be affordable housing is illegal because it lacks a few inches of stair width, or fails to conform to some other ideal. A more sensible application of building codes would allow that, if a building satisfies the code valid at the time that the building was originally constructed, then it is not forced to meet the new code requirements when renovated. This simple rule change would allow the renovation of old housing stock at reasonable prices, by eliminating unnecessary and expensive "upgrading to code". New Jersey has one such law and it has contributed to spectacular comebacks of Jersey City and Hoboken.

So what is the fuss over gentrification about? Perhaps it is that community leaders cannot bear the self-reliance of the incoming middle-class, nor can they accept the dilution of their political base. But theirs is a swan song. Middle-class Americans are choosing to live in many inner-city neighborhoods because they have urbane attributes that are not available in conventional suburbia. And as it becomes increasingly obvious to the American middle-class that it is badly served by the suburban habitat, they are discovering the older, more functional and pleasant urban model.

The only permanent solution to overgentrification is to assure that new development in greenfields are authentic urban places so that the older ones don’t become overvalued through scarcity. A national housing policy should include the creation of traditional neighborhoods instead of sprawl, it should eschew a narrow focus on affordability and it should avoid limiting the ability of people of modest means to build for themselves, it certainly should not prevent them to profit from the natural appreciation of their neighborhoods.

Author ID: Andres Duany is a partner in the Town Planning firm of Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. He was co-founder of the Congress for the New Urbanism and co-author of the recently published Suburban Nation. The ideas presented in this paper do not necessarily represent the ideals of the Congress for the New Urbanism.
Unpublished paper, Nov. 2000,

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Environmental threats contaminate our health and prosperity

Heart disease, cancer and respiratory illness are three of the top four deadliest health threats in America. They account for more than half of the deaths in the nation and all three have an overwhelming impact on black communities.

Blacks visit the emergency room for asthma at three and a half times the average rate that whites do, and die from it twice as often. Mortality rates for cancer are higher for us than for any other group and heart disease is the most fatal illness in the black community. Many of us have friends or family members battling these diseases, and far too many of us know loved ones who have lost those battles.

There is another common trend here: all of these illnesses have been linked to environmental causes. Pollution in our air, land, and water are connected to our greatest health challenges. African Americans - who are almost twice as likely as other Americans to live in cities - breathe in more air pollution related to asthma and heart disease. High-traffic urban areas are blanketed by smog, doubling the risk of premature birth and raising the threat of developmental disabilities in children. Poor and minority communities often live in the shadow of polluters and face exposure to disease causing chemicals in their land and water.

These health threats don't travel alone. Building schools in polluted areas means our kids fall behind by missing days of class with asthma or other problems. The poor who get sick because of toxins in their neighborhoods are the same people who typically seek treatment in emergency rooms. That drives up health care costs for everyone and hurts the entire economy.

And environmental challenges hold back economic growth. At a recent meeting of national black business leaders, I heard understandable concerns about the costs of environmental regulations. But what about the costs in lost productivity from employees calling in sick, or staying home with a sick child? What about the costs for small businesses that pay higher health insurance premiums because their workers are at greater risk of chronic diseases? When environmental degradation keeps businesses from investing, economic possibilities are limited. As a result, crime and violence are higher, often drug use is rampant, and the vicious cycle continues. What have we taught our young people to value, aspire to, or take pride in when they see that their communities are unclean, unhealthy and unsafe - and that the people around them seem unconcerned?

Our country is vigorously debating the future of health care, clean energy and climate change. We can bring affordable coverage, clean energy jobs, and healthy environments to black communities, but only if we act with the fierce urgency of this moment. We should fight for these new opportunities the same way previous generations fought for the opportunities we have today. The health and prosperity of African Americans, now and in the years ahead, depend on our work to create clean, safe environments in the places where we live, work, play and learn.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

4 main ways the proposed reform will provide more stability and security to Americans

First, if you don’t have health insurance, you will have a choice of high-quality, affordable coverage for yourself and your family — coverage that will stay with you whether you move, change your job or lose your job.

Second, reform will finally bring skyrocketing health care costs under control, which will mean real savings for families, businesses and our government. We’ll cut hundreds of billions of dollars in waste and inefficiency in federal health programs like Medicare and Medicaid and in unwarranted subsidies to insurance companies that do nothing to improve care and everything to improve their profits.

Third, by making Medicare more efficient, we’ll be able to ensure that more tax dollars go directly to caring for seniors instead of enriching insurance companies. This will not only help provide today’s seniors with the benefits they’ve been promised; it will also ensure the long-term health of Medicare for tomorrow’s seniors. And our reforms will also reduce the amount our seniors pay for their prescription drugs.

Lastly, reform will provide every American with some basic consumer protections that will finally hold insurance companies accountable. A 2007 national survey actually shows that insurance companies discriminated against more than 12 million Americans in the previous three years because they had a pre-existing illness or condition. The companies either refused to cover the person, refused to cover a specific illness or condition or charged a higher premium.

We will put an end to these practices. Our reform will prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage because of your medical history. Nor will they be allowed to drop your coverage if you get sick. They will not be able to water down your coverage when you need it most. They will no longer be able to place some arbitrary cap on the amount of coverage you can receive in a given year or in a lifetime. And we will place a limit on how much you can be charged for out-of-pocket expenses. No one in America should go broke because they get sick.

Most important, we will require insurance companies to cover routine checkups, preventive care and screening tests like mammograms and colonoscopies. There’s no reason that we shouldn’t be catching diseases like breast cancer and prostate cancer on the front end. It makes sense, it saves lives and it can also save money.

This is what reform is about. If you don’t have health insurance, you will finally have quality, affordable options once we pass reform. If you have health insurance, we will make sure that no insurance company or government bureaucrat gets between you and the care you need. If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan. You will not be waiting in any lines. This is not about putting the government in charge of your health insurance. I don’t believe anyone should be in charge of your health care decisions but you and your doctor — not government bureaucrats, not insurance companies.

The long and vigorous debate about health care that’s been taking place over the past few months is a good thing. It’s what America’s all about.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Tavis Smiley on Wells Fargo

In this economic climate we continue to be reminded every day that there is no perfect company. Part of the process of accountability is making sure that companies are taking steps to do the right thing, and that includes appropriate outreach to communities of color.

Our relationship with Wells Fargo began in 2005 as part of its commitment to increase financial literacy among African Americans. Those efforts included free wealth-building strategy seminars designed to help prepare attendees for their families’ futures through credit management, home ownership, investing and entrepreneurship.

[…] The partnership with Wells Fargo focused on building personal wealth, which for most Americans begins with buying a house. We partnered with Microsoft to provide information on access to technology and closing the digital divide. Our partnership with Kaiser Permanente provided consumers with information on living a healthy life.

[…] All of these programs have been free and open to the public. And, at no time has The Smiley Group, Inc. nor yours truly served as a spokesperson or representative for any company.

Regarding our 10-year history of organizing the State of the Black Union (SOBU); Wells Fargo has been one of a number of companies to serve as a sponsor. Given the fact that Wells Fargo has been an industry leader, they have partnered with many African American and Latino national civil rights organizations on various community initiatives. In addition, countless numbers of community-based and grassroots organizations across the country have been supported by Wells Fargo as well. Wells Fargo currently is not a sponsor of TSG or Tavis Smiley Foundation programs or events and will not be a sponsor for SOBU for 2010.

Finally, our mission at TSG is to empower and speak for the underserved. As such, TSG always will support any official and credible investigation of allegations of any company accused of disrespecting communities of color with discriminatory practices. It is our hope that in the most multicultural, multiracial, multiethnic America ever, communities of color will get the respect they deserve.

Wells Fargo Home Mortgage Joins With Tavis Smiley

From a 2005 press release:

WASHINGTON, Aug. 25 /PRNewswire/ -- Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, the nation's leading originator of home loans to ethnic minority customers, has joined forces with talk show host and author, Tavis Smiley; and several financial affairs experts to provide free Wealth Building Strategies Seminars in eight cities across the country, including Washington, D.C. Additional seminars featuring other popular panelists also will be offered in 12 more cities, nationwide.

"African-American households had $656 billion in earned income in 2003, an increase of 3.9 percent over the previous year*," said Jackson Cosey, senior vice president of emerging markets, Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. "The Wells Fargo Wealth Building Seminars will teach attendees the best route to make their income work for them over time through homeownership, investments and credit improvement while simultaneously helping them plan for their financial futures."

The free day-long events will feature interactive sessions and one-on-one meetings with financial experts, real estate professionals and Wells Fargo home mortgage consultants who will share information on building generational wealth and family financial security. In addition, the Wealth Building Strategies Seminars will include a keynote address by Tavis Smiley, the first person to ever simultaneously host signature talk shows on both the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) and Public Radio International(PRI).

Other cities on the Wells Fargo Wealth Building Strategies Tour include Los Angeles, Richmond,Va., Dallas, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Chicago and Baltimore.

"All families dream about home ownership,college education, world travel and more but may not know the best steps to becoming financially independent,” said Smiley. "I am thrilled to be a part of the Wells Fargo Wealth Building Strategies Seminars tour because I truly believe this event offers attendees the fundamental tools they need to make their dreams a reality."

The Wells Fargo Wealth Building Strategies tour is just one of many initiatives that showcase Wells Fargo's commitment to its customers and the African-American community. Other programs include the African-American Business Services program which supports economic development in the African-American community and their Afro-centric branch designs which reflect the local African-American community and celebrate its heritage.

Wells Fargo Home Mortgage is the nation's No.1 retail mortgage lender, the No 1, lender to low-to moderate-income and ethnic minority customers, and one of the country's leading servicers of home mortgages. It operates the country's largest mortgage network from more than 2,300 mortgage and Wells Fargo banking stores and on the Internet. Based in Des Moines, Iowa, it services loans for over 5 million customers nationwide.