Sesame Street, Gentrified

from NY Mag.

Streaming video has resurrected a number of old television standbys, none so universally beloved as Sesame Street, now available on both iTunes and Netflix. Besides providing ample opportunity to search for gay subtext in Bert and Ernie’s 40-plus-year cohabitation and admire Bill Cosby’s seventies ’fro, the show’s evolution is also an anthropological study in urban children and their changing environment.

The Intro

The opening credits used to show candid scenes from drab city streets. Now the show opens with a child’s colorful, spick-and-span chalk drawing of a cityscape.

(Photo: Jim Henson Productions/The Kobal Collection)

1974: Kids play stickball in graffiti-sprayed concrete parks and run through an overgrown field of weedy, brown grass.

1994: Kids play in a clean, tricked-out playground with a little pool, and cartwheel in fields of fresh, well-maintained grass.

The Set

When Sesame Street began, its creators deliberately made the sets look like the inner city to appeal to poorer children. By the Giuliani administration, that had changed.

1974: Bits of trash are on the ground. Laundry dries on fire escapes. The stoop is fit for a garbage monster in the seventies.

2008: By 2008, Feist sings about numbers in front of a much cleaner façade. Oscar’s trash can is conspicuously tidier.

The Content

The show’s content has always been educational, but the messages, subtle and not so subtle, have also changed with the times.

1974: Long before the child-obesity crisis, Bert and Ernie learn to share their cookies with zero discussion of trans fats.

2011: Leela, an Indian character, teaches Elmo about the benefits of proper yogic breathing and stretching.


Australian housing is too expensive. So why can’t we talk about it?

from The Guardian.

Wages have not kept pace with the increasing cost of housing – but if you’re looking for someone to blame for our housing shortage, look no further than our political class

Housing affordability is one of the most important issue for voters this Australian election. Problem is, the major parties don’t want to talk about it.

According to Auspoll, 84% of Australians believe housing affordability is an important issue, compared with 68% who want cheap high performance broadband. But in spite of voters wishes for greater housing affordability, the issue is kept it off the media agenda. Why? Because the housing shortage was created by our political class.

In 1967, the average annual income was $2,964 and the median house price in Melbourne was $9,400; the income to house price ratio was 3.2 to 1. Contrast this with 2010 where the annual income was $51,610 and the median house price in Melbourne was $555,000; the income to house price ratio was 10.8 to 1. Is it any surprise we’re complaining?

Wages have not kept pace with the increasing cost of housing. We have been in a period of wage stagnation since the 1980s. Real wages under Labor declined by 1.53% from 1983 to 1992. That certainly has not helped affordability for the working classes. Wages turn out to be the thing that buys goods, so if wages decline, the only way to overcome the problem of real demand is to increase the credit economy – as is reflected in the explosion of household debt from 1987.

There is also an intergenerational dimension. Unemployment for those who are aged 15 to 19 and are not in schooling is at 25.1%; there are few unskilled jobs openings. Other segments of Gen Y do not have it any easier. 1 in 5 people aged 15 to 24 in Melbourne’s west are looking for jobs that aren’t there. Furthermore, 24% of undergraduates cannot find jobs after they graduate. The unavailability of entry level jobs makes it difficult for a Gen Y to get a foothold in the housing market. This is the first generation to never have a growth of public housing in their time.

Nor is it easier for those who receive some form of government assistance. Students at universities are expected to pay a ridiculous amount on rent while studying full time. The ANU has allowed a private company, UniLodge, to use its land to build accommodation for 1,500 students, charging them $238 a week in rent. UniLodge was funded through the Labor government’s National Rental Affordability Scheme. Youth Allowance is only $407.50 a fortnight.

finally, there are also more than 105,000 people who are officially homeless in Australia – which is the most extreme measure of the lack of housing.

Government policies of both political parties have left us in this mess. The astronomical housing prices are caused by a lack of supply of housing. We know we had a significantly more affordable housing 40 odd years ago. But how did the shortage appear? And who does the shortage benefit?

You can blame the government for refusing to play an active role in the provision of housing. Between 1996 and 2007, the number of public housing shrank by 32,000 while the population grew by 2.8 million. There are 173,000 people on public housing waiting lists. Only 5% of Australian housing is public, compared to 20% in the UK.

Most the public housing we have was built between 1945 and 1980 when the Commonwealth State Housing Agreement provided Commonwealth funds for returned soldiers, war widows, new migrants and other locals. This kept housing prices around that 3 to 1 income to house price ratio. The agreement ended in 1996 under John Howard.

When governments stopped funding, new social housing prices exploded. This was exacerbated by privatisation of housing stock held by state departments by both Labor and Liberal governments. Both sides of politics have since the 1980s slashed housing budgets and sold off property.

Furthermore, both parties have held off from releasing land, creating a shortage. This decreases supply and increases prices. Those who benefit from the higher real estate prices are the banks that finance mortgages with larger premiums higher interest rates over a longer period of time, and developers who enjoy much larger profits.

The policies which are claimed to make housing more affordable – like the first home buyers grant – do nothing but enter more people into mortgage. The grant shrinks the deposit gap, allowing more people to access mortgage to enter the housing market. This encourages banks to loan to customers who would otherwise not be able to afford a loan greater amounts of money in the bank’s pecuniary interest. This binds workers to a ridiculously high debt.

It is a helpful reminder than the two major parties’ pay masters have a say in the matter of keeping Australians hocked up to their eyes with debt. In 2011-12, banks donated $1,702,536 and property developers $513,113. This is compared to unions at $200,000.

Who do you think has the ear of power?

YUPPIES OUT! Living on the front line of gentrification in Brixton

from New Statesman.

On Monday hard-hatted bailiffs evicted 70 squatters from six Victorian mansion blocks on Rushcroft Road: my road. Is this really the price that must be paid for low crime rates and organic bread?

Delicious but deadly? The upmarket end of Brixton market – Brixton Village.

It was a Monday morning. It started not with a knock but with a battering ram: the crash of the bailiffs claiming their prizes.

There were crowds of them, hard-hatted, here to evict more than 70 squatters from six Victorian mansion blocks along Rushcroft Road: my road. Some had been living in the buildings for decades – quietly, their windows shrouded with sheets. We barely knew they were there.

The local authority, Lambeth Council, has plans to sell the buildings to developers for an estimated £5.5m – half of them earmarked for affordable housing – and for that, it needs them empty.

But the forced evictions became a flashpoint in a community that has changed almost beyond recognition in the last five years. Locals gathered in the street, catcalling as the first of the residents were bundled through the doors. Bins were set alight, windows broken, walls spraypainted. “YUPPIES OUT,” they spelled out, one letter at a time. Then “BURN THE BAILIFFS”.

It was a startling scene in an area now more commonly noted for its independent shops, the covered market, an art deco lido. There are pop-up restaurants and a Zaha Hadid-designed academy school, and it is regularly described in the property press as ‘up and coming’ or ‘on the way up’ or with other terms of bouyancy.

It is a poster-child for urban regeneration, much transformed – on the surface at least – since the troubled times of the eighties, when an alienated populace rioted in the streets and the nineties, when the name “Brixton” became synonymous with drug and gun crime. Certainly it is almost unrecognisable from the Brixton of even five years ago.

When I first moved here I was permanently penniless, a part-time photocopier with ink-stained hands. I found a room in the loft of a grand old house on Brixton Hill, sharing the kitchen with a friend and three invisible bachelors who kept to themselves. It was fun, lively, but best of all cheap.

Nightclubs were accessed through chicken shops, evangelists thronged the streets with their loudspeakers, the church yard functioned as an all-night social club for the down and out or simply insomniac. Once a man in a HMP Brixton jumpsuit politely requested that he accompany me to the nearest cashpoint (“What?” I asked, confused. Then when I realised I was being mugged, very gently: “Oh, no, thank you.” He did not press the issue).

Since then Brixton’s rise has been gathering momentum, overtaking me even as I clamber up my own career ladder. Take out shops closed, to be replaced by organic bread shops and wine merchants. Around the corner, a vegan cupcake shop.

It has not been a comfortable transition. Many feel alienated in an area they have lived for decades as the community identity is drowned out by this new concept of what Brixton is and means.

Inevitably, prices have risen. The average Brixton property now sells for £430,000 – up 25 per cent in a year, according to estate agents. Locals are displaced by the professionals, the monied, the university educated – pushed further from the centre or forced to work longer hours to keep their homes.

Meanwhile, pawnbrokers are springing up almost as quickly as the cafes: Sell your gold! Instant cash! Loans in minutes! Lambeth Council’s housing list is now so overstretched it has suggested it could rehome homeless families 75 miles away in Margate, quite literally bussing the poorest out of the borough.

Bubbling resentments such as these can build up. Pressure releases in unexpected ways. Earlier this month, a bailiff was shot and seriously injured while attempting to evict a former nightclub bouncer from his home.

When Foxtons, the estate agents, opened on the high street in March, it was targetted by vandals. “YUCK,” they wrote across the plate glass facade. And “YUPPIES OUT” again, the most common refrain. It became a symbol of gentrification – the ‘Hoxton-isation’ of Brixton, as the local blogs call it – and was forced to hire in bouncers. Last night a police van was parked outside the office, just in case the anger spread from Rushcroft Road across the square and through the windows.

This community which was so proudly inclusive and multicultural now feels uncomfortably stitched together. And never more so than today, as heavy set men affix metal shutters across the windows of my neighbours on both sides.

Like it or not, I was one of the yuppies that moved in. Our own block was squatted until 2003 when it was sold to a private developer, my landlord. My flatmates and I are conflicted: we miss old Brixton. But didn’t we help form new Brixton, spending our money in the new shops, drinking in the pop up bars. And isn’t crime lower, isn’t the coffee better?

In any case, I’m moving out. I spend the night of the evictions packing my belongings into a borrowed car, uncomfortably aware of the contrast of my shuttling up and down the stairs with my bags and books as on all sides the contents of the squats are dumped unceremoniously from the windows onto the street below.

It’s late night by the time I finish. Outside it is still hot, humid – sultry as a Tennessee Williams novel – and the sky is streaked red and pink. Some would call it sunset; others, sunrise.

Government selling off social housing properties

from The Brisbane Times.

The state government is set to dispose of more than 200 properties in its social housing portfolio.

The properties, a mixture of houses and blocks of land, have been put up for sale across the state, and include homes in Logan, Monto, Thursday Island, Morayfield and Stafford.

Currently, 22,000 households are on the waiting list for state housing in Queensland.

The government said the sale was part of a regular assessment of “its stock portfolio and property realignment” and was part of the housing department’s “strategic asset management process”.

The opposition, however, has accused the government of a “cynical cash grab”.

Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk said the government was “constantly attacking working class families” at the same time its ministers and the premier were “lining their pockets with appalling pay increases”.

Squatters in Manila clash with police over gentrification project


Squatters in Manila clash with police over gentrification project

Thousands of people living in slums in Manila have fought fierce battles with police, who are trying to evict them from their homes in order to make way for a multi-billion dollar project to turn the area into a new business district.

As police moved in to the 72 acre site, residents erected barricades, and fought back the police using rocks, nail bombs, and bags of faeces. The police repeatedly charged the barricades with batons and teargas, but without success.

Of the 10,000 families housed in the area, 8,000 have already been relocated (violently removed) over the last two years, since the government signed a huge deal with a leading real estate company.

Many of the residents are migrants who earn poverty wages, and have lived in their homes for over 30 years. The site that the government are proposing to relocate people to is many miles away from Manila, their families, and their jobs.

In a typically callous statement, the minister responsible for the project claims that those refusing to vacate their homes of several decades are “Professional Squatters”, and militants who are agitating for a better relocation package, and that “they will not be tolerated, and dealt with accordingly”.

El Barrio Tours (Gentrification In East Harlem) Trailer

An in depth look at the phenomena of gentrification as seen through the change in the largest Puerto Rican neighborhood in the 50 states; East Harlem. Join Congressman Charlie Rangel , Edwin Torres, writer of Carlito’s way, and a host of neighborhood activists, residents, and small business owners, as they debate the past, present, and future of their beloved Barrio.