Business News Opinion

OPINION: Sterling’s Discriminatory Housing Practices Should Have Been His Undoing

The other week the NBA finalized the forced sale of the Los Angeles Clippers from Donald Sterling to Steve Ballmer. The move comes after weeks of heated criticism of Sterling following his racially charged comments caught on tape to his young, mixed-race girlfriend.

This was not, however, the first moment of controversy for the billionaire owner. More significantly, is his history of racism with regard to the management of his apartment properties in California.

First, in 2001, he was sued by the City of Santa Monica for “harassing and threatening” to evict rent control tenants. Then, in 2003, tenants filed a federal lawsuit against him claiming discriminatory housing practices, which Sterling settled out of court by paying $5 million in legal fees and an undisclosed settlement to those tenants.

All of this was then followed in 2006 when the Department of Justice sued Sterling, once again, for housing discrimination against African American and Latino tenants. This DOJ suit was settled the following year for roughly $3 million, and was quickly followed by a civil lawsuit, filed by Clippers General Manager Elgin Baylor, claiming wrongful termination.

There were other instances of racism, but it is the discriminatory housing practices of Sterling that should be most significant to urbanists.

“Discrimination in the housing market has been crippling to the attempts blacks and Latinos have made to empower themselves economically. The worst examples are in the sales market — there’s a wealth of urban economic evidence showing how the inability to buy homes has affected the black-white wealth gap — but such behavior in the rental market is just as damaging,” Bomani Jones wrote for ESPN in 2010.

“Consider that, frequently, moving to a fancy neighborhood like Beverly Hills provides the best chance a family has at placing its children in decent schools, something we all can agree is pretty important.”

The zoning practices and transportation systems built in America throughout much of the 20th century facilitated the segregation of our communities, not only by income, but by race. These actions, many would agree, helped create dangerous inner-city neighborhoods with little academic or economic opportunity. Places where it is far easier to get a bag of chips or bottle of soda than it is to get fresh fruit or vegetables. Places that are violent and unhealthy.

As a society, we seemed to have condemned Sterling for the words he used, but pay little attention to the harsh realities tied to his racial discrimination as a landlord. As Jones says, these, not the words Sterling was caught saying, are what pose real and every day challenges for many racial minorities in America.

“People tend to think of the more annoying manifestations of racism, like how hard it can be for non-white people to get cabs in New York. But in the grand scheme, stuff like that is trivial. What Sterling is accused of is as real as penitentiary steel. But for some reason, that hasn’t qualified as big news in most places.”

Development News Transportation

APA14: Tactical Urbanism Laying the Groundwork for Safer, More Livable Cities

A common theme running throughout the APA’s 2014 National Planning Conference is how many of our planning tools, from parking policy to zoning, can accommodate a renewed thirst for urban living driven largely by Millennials and Baby Boomers.

Fifty years of auto-oriented city building is what planners largely have to work with in all but the historic neighborhoods developed before the ubiquitous spread of the private automobile. This situation has created a need to adopt innovative techniques to create people-oriented spaces where vehicle flow was previously the objective.

One concept derived from this movement is Tactical Urbanism, as explained by Valerie Watson from the Los Angeles Department of Transportation in a session called Creatively Transforming Streets for People.

The idea behind Tactical Urbanism is to implement small, realistic community-oriented projects that cumulatively, over time, can improve livability. For example, Watson said, one could shut down a street for a day and open it up to pedestrians, cyclists, food trucks and even set up a pop-up cafés.

Beyond the livability improvements, such activities also benefit from the power of demonstration from normal residents transforming a place to be more community-oriented. As has been seen throughout North America, these activities can often set the stage for more permanent fixes like parklets, bicycle corrals, extension of cafe spaces into parking spots and the creation of small plazas.

An example from Santa Monica combined this approach with public engagement was explained by Jason Kligier, of the City of Santa Monica. The event was called Pop-Up MANGo, which stands for Michigan Ave Neighborhood Greenway (MANGo).

The Greenway, Kligier said, would connect new and proposed bike lanes via Michigan Avenue in the city’s Pico neighborhood – a residential area through which cars tend to pass through over the posted speed limit. The new pedestrian and cyclist orientation would mean creating an inviting streetscape of sidewalks, calm roadways, increased trees and landscape.

The pop-up event in Santa Monica included the addition impermanent features like curb extensions, enhanced landscaping, places for impromptu neighborhood interactions, wayfinding signage and various traffic calming measures. Food trucks, music and interactive activities created a festival-like atmosphere for the more than 400 attendees.

When asked about how they felt about the installations, a majority of neighbors were in favor of the traffic calming measures.

Another way in which planners are working to make cities more livable was discussed in a session on Monday, where attendees learned about techniques in implementation of cap parks over highways. Not only do such efforts create green space in areas where there is little room to accommodate new parks, but they also reconnect neighborhoods that had been torn apart by multiple lanes of speeding traffic.

This movement toward reorienting roadways into more hospitable environments for other users was echoed further in sessions like Building the New American Streetscape, Transforming Streets and Reclaiming the Suburban Corridor, among others.

There are some hints of this movement in Cincinnati as well, including the city’s various on-street bike corrals, Walnut Hills Streetfood Festival, two-way street conversions, Second Sunday on Main, road diets and Cincy Summer Streets which will have its inaugural season this year.