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YouLam No. 2 – February 2020

Happy February. It is Black History Month! It’s also Leap Year, which means we have the opportunity to enjoy 3.6% more bad weather– and 3.6% more Black History!

W.E.B. DuBois, in his– and perhaps indeed the– seminal work of urban sociology, The Philadelphia Negro (1899), covers all aspects of black urban life in the City of Brotherly Love. He wrote:

“If in the hey-dey of the greatest of the world’s civilizations, it is possible for one people ruthlessly to steal another, drag them helpless across the water, enslave them, debauch them, and then slowly murder them by economic exclusion until they disappear from the face of the earth– if the consummation of such a crime be possible in the twentieth century, then our civilization is vain and the republic is a mockery and a farce […] a few plain propositions may be laid down as axiomatic: The negro is here to stay […] It is the duty of the white people to guard their civilization against debauchment by themselves or others, but in order to do this it is not necessary to hinder and retard the efforts of an earnest people to rise, simply because [whites] lack faith in the ability of that people.”

It’s almost as though these words have just as deep a meaning in 2020 as they did in 1899. I was reminded that a number of awardees of the Presidential Medal of Freedom have been trailblazers on the path of civil rights: Thurgood Marshall, the first black US Supreme Court justice, Cesar Chavez, Harvey Milk, Rosa Parks, MLK, and the three civil rights activists murdered in Mississippi in 1964 by the KKK: James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner. That Rush fricking Limbaugh was awarded the same medal by the current President of the United States must not dilute the contribution of the other names on that august list.

Onto more news!


The Detroit Policy Conference concluded without any major revelations. In the Chamber’s most recent issue of their Detroiter magazine, Bamboo founder and perennial [insert name of Detroit boosterism event] panelist Amanda Lewan’s one-word platitude about her take on the future of the city– “Innovation!” – seems to neatly summarize the manicured, banal suburbanism of the Chamber’s politics. TRU’s State of Transit event featured a colorful cast of transiteers at TechTown. A plan to store nuclear waste near Lake Huron has been defeated, thanks in no small part to members of the Saugeen Ojibway tribe. Chicago is still not sure whether it wants scooters. Ontario has new license plates. Tensions are mounting between the RCMP and protestors blocking Via rail lines over a proposed new pipeline.


President Donald J. Trump was acquitted of high crimes and misdemeanors, and promptly retaliated by firing one of the witnesses who testified against him. Casper is the latest disappointing IPO as investors are nonplussed at historic, sky-high market valuations.

Demolition of a blighted structure in Western Pennsylvania revealed a 19th century log cabin wearing a veneer of more modern siding– not something you see every day. The Boston Globe reports that the Amtrak Downeaster reported record ridership in 2019. New York City bans brokers fees, which promises to transform the retail market for rental housing. 

Protests over fare enforcement on New York’s MTA resulted in extensive vandalism. As I said in response, I’m gonna be the last person holding someone back if Jamie Dimon is getting dragged to the guillotines. And I’ve made it pretty clear that I don’t exactly worship the police. But why spray paint centenarian tile walls in a public train station? I mean, really. It’s not highway infrastructure. It’s public infrastructure. Direct your anger to something productive, like [redacted].

The poor tile at 155th St (From Twitter).


A spectre is haunting, uh, everywhere, it seems, with this coronavirus outbreak. While such a disease should be taken seriously, it’s also sparked some appalling instances of xenophobia against Chinese. Morgan Stanley says the economy will be great in 2020, while Mark Yusko and other hedge fund managers see doom and gloom ahead. Antarctica hits record temperatures.

INTER-GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE: NASA has regained communication with the Voyager 2 spacecraft after an apparent glitch, announced “by” the spacecraft on its own Twitter account. This is especially amusing given that Jack Dorsey was in diapers when the craft was launched.

THE MAILBAG: Carol, from Lancaster, PA, read my piece on Rockvale Square, an embattled strip mall outside my hometown. She wondered whether the decline in brick-and-mortar isn’t also a product of a changing workforce. Historically, in American heteropatriarchal society, women have done more of the shopping– not just groceries, but making all consumer purchasing decisions. Increased participation of women in the workforce since 1950 was a transition that was mostly complete by the time internet retail took the market by storm. The correlation, however, is interesting.

Got an exciting story from your neck of the woods?

Let us know and we’ll write about it in the next YouLam. Tweet: @handbuiltcity @nzorach

Nat Zorach

Nat M. Zorach, AICP is a city planner, community development professional, and MBA candidate at American University's Kogod School of Business, based in Detroit.

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