Student blog of the Stanford University Urban Studies Department

Monthly Archives: May 2011

Welcome to Pyongyang


See more photos by Charlie Crane here.



Streets and their Names II


Part II.  Part I of Gerad’s post can be viewed here

This was perhaps a representative issue—since the end of Apartheid, newly empowered groups have sought to express their own perspectives of South African history.  For instance, the new Freedom Park in Pretoria, the Apartheid capital, reaches back 3.6 billion years to present the story of “humanity” in South Africa.  The most striking element of the park, I think, is the Wall of Names, which is a memorial to all those who died in the context of South African conflicts.  In this space, those who died during the Anglo-Boer War (renamed for this space as the South African War—perhaps to represent the passive involvement of black Africans) are memorialized alongside those who died in the struggle to end Apartheid—think Chris Hani or Steve Biko.  

No doubt, becoming a poly-centered society that makes a point of celebrating the validity of its many cultures has been the tactic utilized by the government to give voice to those oppressed under Apartheid and to foster a condition and relationship of equality.  However, this celebration of difference may be precisely what is causing the perpetuation of the they/them pronoun usage.  A Google-search of the word “Essenwood” yields a bevy of results including theEssenwood Guest House and the Essenwood Market (click on the pictures; notice anything?).  These spots, frequented by whites and white tourists, just become further separated from the realities of the poly-cultural South Africa.  Perhaps places like the Essenwood Market become (or remain, by the looks of it) bastions of white privilege in an otherwise hostile environment, becoming less and less open to discussion and, ideally, ideological change.

On the other hand, what is to be expected after outsiders appropriated land and power through Apartheid?  Renaming street signs in Durban is a reappropriation of the space stolen and named by Africans of European descent.  Street signs are not sites of memory, but they are objects of memory, history, and heritage.  To Theo, the name Essenwood represented the memory of his childhood.  To the parties that renamed the road, Stephen Dlamini represents the memory of a struggle against oppression, and the heritage of union empowerment under the Apartheid regime.  I wonder:  do the three guys know who Stephen Dlamini is?

You can read a short biography of Stephen Dlamini and the other figures for whom street signs were renamed in Durban here.


Modes of transportation


I had the pleasure of hearing Kyle Lee-Crossett perform this poem, “Modes of Transportation,” at the Stanford Spoken Word Collective’s spring show on May 20. Lee-Crossett is a sophomore majoring in English with a focus on urbanism and technology.

About this piece, he told Urbanter: “‘Modes of Transportation’ is a poem about creating meaning in the ways we choose to move through space. Before I cut it down to its final form, the poem also spent more time looking at urban studies-style questions like, ‘What are the differences between how maps and books describe places and people’s experiences of them?'”

With permission, the poem is published below. More of Lee-Crossett’s urban-landscape poetry, including a piece “about what it means to be at home in a city,” is here, on the collective’s blog.

Modes of Transportation

By Kyle Lee-Crossett

We hadn’t looked at the map in a long time,
but we weren’t lost. Emily and I were going to visit a museum perched
at the tip of the coast
at the end of a straight line street that began in the heart of the city.
Read more of this post

Talking Trains, Bikes, and Honors Research with George Carollo


Earlier today I met with George Carollo, a senior in Urban Studies with a self-designed concentration in Urban Design and Architecture. We talked about his recently completed honors thesis, which he will be presenting at the Urban Studies Honors Thesis Colloquium on Thursday, June 2nd. Thanks for taking the time to share your experiences with Urbanter, George!

Urbanter: What is the topic of your research?

 George: I looked at what motivates people to cycle in conjunction with mass transit. Specifically trains, and even more specifically, the Caltrain and BART.  I wanted to know which factors were most important in determining whether someone brings his or her bike along on the train. The variables were grouped in three categories: commute facts (such as distance), demographics (such as gender), and attitudes/preferences (such as environmental consciousness).  I conducted about 600 surveys on the trains and 7 in-depth interviews to try an find patterns among these variables.

U: What led you to choose this topic?

 G: Personal experience both with riding the trains in the Bay Area and cycling for recreation lead me to this question. I’ve taken the train plenty of times, but I began wondering why I didn’t take my bike on the train. Biking after getting off the train seems like a pretty hassle-free option for getting to one’s final destination, but it is not the norm—why not?

U: Describe of the week before it was due in one word?

G: Costly. By the final week I was done with my paper and only had nitpicky editing to do with commas, missing letters and spelling errors. I was at the point where I couldn’t catch them myself because I had read the paper too many times so instead I offered the freshman in my dorm ¢25 for every error 😀.  

U: What part of the process was most rewarding? 

G: I used both qualitative and quantitative data and I had a high point with each. For the qualitative data, collecting it was the most rewarding part. It was great to connect with the cyclists on the trains over this common interest.  For the quantitative data, is was really rewarding, as well as a relief, when my number crunching was done.  When I first put the stack of surveys on my desk and began data entry, all I could think was “I hope this turns into some sort of valuable statistics.” Thankfully the regressions did turn out some interesting numbers and it really was rewarding to see those results after all the time I’d put in.  

U: What was the biggest surprise you encountered in doing your research?

G: I was surprised by how smoothly the train surveys went and how willing people were to help me out.  I was only turned down about 15 percent of the time and in general, people were really friendly. It might have had something to do with the fact that the respondents were stuck in the train cars—they couldn’t exactly escape me—but even still, I was pleasantly surprised.

U: What advice do you have for others planning on doing capstone research?

G: First, narrow the focus of your question as much as possible. I did narrow my topic by location, but I learned that there might have been other methods for narrowing—like focusing on the effect of distance rather than considering multiple variables. On a different note: take as many research and skills classes as possible, and take them as early as possible. Also maybe take more than your think you need. If I’d had GIS skills before taking Preparation for Honors Thesis in junior year I definitely would have incorporated mapping into my research.

U: What are your plans for next year?

G: I will be co-terming next year in Civil Engineering’s “Sustainable Design and Construction” program. I’m hoping it will give me a better sense of the field I want to enter after Stanford.  Also, this summer I will be working with a national transportation, planning, and engineering firm so that I can expand on what I learned through my honors thesis. 

This is one in a series of Urbanter interviews with Urban Studies honors thesis students. 


Helen Kwan watches a small town become world class



I recently met with Helen Kwan, a senior in Urban Studies concentrating in Urban Society and Social Change. We talked about her recently completed honors thesis, which she will be presenting at the Urban Studies Honors Thesis Coloquium on Thursday, June 2nd. Congrats, Helen!

What was the topic of her research?
The 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Kentucky. It was a case study of how a host community responds to mega event.  The main findings were these large-scale projects are specific to each community and dependent on the type of event, who is running it, and the amount of citizen collaboration. Lexington was interesting in that it didn’t place a bid to host the Games—the state did, which passed along the responsibility of infrastructure improvement to local government.  This allowed city improvements that had been stalled to be given a much higher priority and finally get put in place.  Helen saw that the Games had lasting political, social, and physical legacies.  Political figures that weren’t running on any platform related to the Games are associated with the successes and failures of the event because of how dominant the project was for local government. Controversial land use decisions have resulted in an empty lot in the middle of downtown that was supposed to be the site of an enormous hotel.  On the other hand, downtown Lexington now has great public spaces for entertainment, farmers markets, and a horse park that is capable of hosting huge horse and trade shows.  Unlike the largely-abandoned facilities in Athens following the Olympic Games, the facilities are appropriate to Lexington and will continue to be used in the future.

Why did she choose this topic?
Most important to Helen was picking a topic that was personally relevant to her.  Since coming to college, she has become more interested in Kentucky culture and more involved in state-pride, and she knew how symbolic the Games were for Lexington.  The FEI World Equestrian Games are held every four years, and had never been hosted by the United States, so it was emblematic of Lexington’s position as the “Horse Capital of the World.  Helen was not previously familiar with or interested in horses, but this topic gave her a way to connect to her community and observe the response to such a large-scale event. 

Her description of the week before it was due in one word:

What part of the process was most rewarding?
The process of data collection was the most interesting.  She was able to talk to people about their experiences and what they thought about the changes the city was undergoing.  Helen did her research through an internship with the Lexington Downtown Development Authority and got to work closely with the executive director, who was able to connect her to many stakeholders like business owners and transportation experts.   Wishes she could go back and ask clarifying questions because in research collection it’s hard to know what’s important. She also sought out more critical viewpoints of the project.  These varied conversations were very rewarding in that she got to interact with those who the project would be affecting instead of solely focusing on the academia and theory behind community organizing.

What advice did she have for juniors/sophomores planning on doing research?
Don’t overcommit yourself and know what you’re getting yourself into.  Meet with advisor often and set deadlines for yourself, because writing a thesis involves a good deal of self-motivation. Get to know others doing honors theses and meet with them (she and a friend had “transcribing parties,” for example).

Plans for next year?
Helen is coterming in Communications and plans to finish in the Winter. She will also be an RA in Roth. 


This post is part of an Urbanter series spotlighting Urban Studies seniors and their honors theses. Contact Helen at hkwan007@stanford.edu. Contact Urbanter at urbanter@gmail.com



Streets and their Names


This is a two-part post on issues of naming rights in Durban, South Africa

Part I

On a packed train back from Muizenberg, I had a conversation with a white South African that must have been about my age.  I asked him why it was so crammed, and he replied, “I guess they like to go to the beach on their days off.”

A few weeks later in Durban, I met a group of white South Africans in their twenties.  We (myself and two other students at BOSP Cape Town) spent the majority of the night with Martin, Chris, and Theo jawing, joking, and learning about their perspective on the new South Africa.  Martin answered the phone in Afrikaans at one point, so I asked Theo if they were all three Afrikaans.  “Do not call me Afrikaans!” Theo replied.  Chris, the intellectual, just shook his head.  Martin was the only Afrikaans, and he took offense to Theo’s terse reply exclaiming, “Don’t call me English.”

At the end of the night, they offered to give us a ride back to our hostel. Directions were a bit complicated because of the street name changing process in Durban that has been happening since 2005.  Our hostel was on Stephen Dlamini Road, but I couldn’t name it without looking at the map the hostel gave us.  This angered the guys again; “No, no, no!” they said in unison.  Theo added, “It’s called Essenwood Road.”  The difference in names was only time: “They’ve changed the names of all our childhood streets; it’s ridiculous.”  I had seen street signs blacked out with spray paint along the road, but I hadn’t yet realized why.  And while I don’t think these three were responsible for it, their comments were enlightening.



Senior Emily Jones looks beyond the statistics


Emily Jones ’11 remembers the anger and curiosity she felt when she learned about single-room occupancy hotels (SROs) in San Francisco.

“It felt like this was the city’s way of keeping San Francisco’s poorest residents out of sight and out of mind, and that really angered me,” Jones says. “Two years later when it came time to develop a research project for Urban Studies, I knew that I wanted to focus on learning about SROs by going beyond the statistics and really getting to know some of the people that call SROs home.”

That research project turned into a recently completed honors thesis for Jones, an Urban Studies major from Saratoga, Calif. Advised by Professor Donald A. Barr of Human Biology, Jones aimed to put a human face on the SRO experience and inform service providers through her thesis.

In an email interview with Urbanter, Jones, 22, shared her tips on thesis-writing, the rewards of her project and where she will take her academic and extracurricular interests next year.

Jones, whose Urban Studies concentration is urban society and social change, has interned at the Orosco Group, a private developer in the Monterey area run by Patrick Orosco ’98, a former Stanford Urban Studies student, and at Mid-Peninsula Housing, an affordable-housing developer. At Stanford, she is the founder and past president of ASPIRE, the Association of Students Promoting Innovation in Real Estate, and a resident assistant in Branner. Jones was twice a teaching assistant for Urban Studies 113, “Introduction to Urban Design.”

Urbanter (U): What is the topic of your research? Read more of this post



Theme picks

Take a look at these possible themes and vote below.


Sustainable Transportation Seminar: An Interdisciplinary Wonder

Last Friday Gerad blogged about the challenges inherent to interdisciplinary programs. The Urban Studies program deals with an issue rather than a discipline, and it is often difficult to fit professors trained and classes developed within a narrow discipline to encompass the major’s range of interests.  This Friday, however, I would like to provide an example of an interdisciplinary forum that reinforces the need for the collaborative format. The forum, “The Sustainable Transportation Seminar on Systems and Policies” is not an official subset of the Urban Studies major, but is extremely relevant to theissue we study.  The seminar is hosted by MS&E (a fellow interdisciplinary program) and is open to the public every Friday from 2:30 to 4 in Y2E2 RM101.

During the first meeting, we all introduced our area of work or study.  The breadth was astounding from professors in civil engineering, to members of the Stanford Energy Club, to director of Stanford’s P&TS, to graduates at the law school. Every meeting features a different presenter, who is usually the world’s leading expert in his or her niche of sustainable transportation, followed by at least an hour of informal question and answer.  I say niche, because while these people are experts about their topic it would virtually impossible to know all there is to know about the interdisciplinary issueof sustainable transportation.  Without fail, the question and answer period has supplied the group and, more importantly, the presenter with a fresh perspective on the day’s topic.  Someone from another discipline predictably offers up a comment to which the presenter responds, “I hadn’t thought of that. I’m excited to run through my tests again with that adjustment in mind.”  You may think that world experts (and they truly are) should have thought of everything.  This puzzled me after the first couple seminars, until I realize that a majority of the academic world operates in disciplinary spheres, which rarely overlap.  This seminar is special…Urban Studies and the other IDS on campus are rare.  I wasn’t aware that urban studies was something I could take for granted, but after witnessing the excitement in the seminar interactions, I see my mistake.

Today’s seminar (5/13) was a bit more action packed than normal and solidified my appreciation for the interdisciplinary aspect.  The group of us met at the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford (the CARS lab) for a presentation on GM’s new Chevy Volt.  We were greeted by opening remarks from former Secretary of State and Secretary of Treasury, George Shultz. What does he have to do with the Chevy Volt? Well, nothing directly although he was on the Board of Directors at GM during the 70’s (man, this guy’s got a packed résumé).  He was really there for the same reasons that everyone else came to the presentation—sustainable transportation is just as much an engineering issue as it is a political issue, as it is a social issue, as it is a economic issue and so on. I’m beginning to see that some issues require great minds that don’tthink alike.     

~Taylor McAdam