Rethinking Community Engagement

Season 2, Episode 1

In episode 1, Allen Xu and Kate Cooney talk to Elihu Rubin, from the Yale School of Architecture about his work on the built environments of the 19th and 20th centuries. In thinking about the American landscape of wealth, poverty, race and space, a first step in mobilizing for new arrangements is to consider how a city’s current landscape encapsulates notions of place making from earlier eras.  These earlier era settlements live on in both the built environment and in the mental and emotional models of space in cities that structure the American mind.  Elihu Rubin’s work on critical heritage sheds light on how the past is both elided and selectively commemorated in building reuse. We also speak with Robert J. Shiller, Nobel Prize winning economist from the Yale School of Management, about his new book Narrative Economics: How Stories Go Viral and Drive Major Economic Events. Both of these conversations help us set up our themes for Season 2 of the CitySCOPE podcast.  We conclude with a snapshot of the conversations to come over the future 7 episodes of the 2020 season.

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1. For more information on the scholarship of our guests, click here:  Elihu Rubin and Robert J. Shiller

*Photo of Winchester Lofts, taken by Kate Cooney

Episode Transcript: 

Kate Cooney:

This is CitySCOPE.

Uzma Amin:

A podcast from the Inclusive Economic Development Lab at the Yale School of Management.

Evan Oleson:

Where we learn about what might be possible in our city by talking with others about what is happening in theirs.

Joy Chen:

Are we ready?

Allen Xu:

Let’s go.

MUSIC (K.Dub):

Elm City, what up?

Allen Xu (00:28):

Welcome to Season Two of the CitySCOPE podcast. My name is Allen Xu  and I’m a first-year MBA student here at the Yale School of Management. I will be your host for episode one.

Kate Cooney (00:41):

And I’m Kate Cooney, Senior Lecturer in Social Enterprise and Management at the Yale School of Management. What are we talking about in this season of CitySCOPE, Allen?

Allen Xu (00:50):

Well, we’re going to be talking about stories and how they shape the cities that we live in - for better or for worse. Last season was about the Opportunity Zones, which is a federal program that incentivizes investment in low-income neighborhoods in the United States. This season we’re going to zoom out and think about the geography of race, class, and place in the United States. We set out to explore how the patterns of inequality embedded in the geography are perpetuated by unseen forces, such as narratives, that shape cities and help us understand how their very makeups and composition have come to be over time.

Kate Cooney (01:32):

And by zoom out, you really mean on Zoom?

Allen Xu (01:37):

Yes. We would be remiss not to mention that all of our collaboration this season has been remote via Zoom due to the COVID pandemic. While, for a podcast, I guess it doesn’t really matter.

Kate Cooney (01:50):

That’s true. It’s actually worked out well, all things considered. The following eight episodes contain highlights of our conversations with researchers and economic development practitioners from all over the country as they share how the lessons from their cities can help us shape ours.

Allen Xu (02:07):

Why don’t we start with someone close to home here in New Haven? Professor Elihu Rubin.

Elihu Rubin (02:13):

I’m Elihu Rubin. I am an Associate Professor at the Yale School of Architecture and I have a secondary appointment in the Department of American Studies at Yale.

Allen Xu (02:22):

As Professor Rubin likes to point out, cities aren’t as stable or natural as we might believe at first sight. In fact, that’s how his work as an architectural historian came to be in the first place.

Elihu Rubin (02:36):

My work as an architectural historian and city planner really began with my desire to understand how it got there. Every building, every landscape, was a whodunit. How did this happen? What forces converged on this site to produce the built environment? How do we analyze the flow of capital, the forms of regulation and planning, the different levels of public policy, the different aspirations of the patrons or the users, the architectural or urban design concepts that were in play at that time to help produce the built environment? The idea there being that the built environment masquerades as being stable. It naturalizes itself by its very fact of being there. And my position is that that is a kind of lie. The built environment is unstable and it is contested. And I wanted to understand the contested forces that are reverberating underneath every single site. Excavating the past in order to understand what produced it. A lot of the work I’ve been doing on critical heritage is not only about how the sites are produced, but how they are used, reused, remembered over time. So once the object is there, let’s now trace its life. Part of it is acknowledging that places, buildings, streets… They’re not singular. They are plural. They are plural in the sense that they mean different things to different people at different times.

Kate Cooney (04:25):

One thing I love about teaching at Yale - besides the students of course - is learning from my faculty colleagues. Not just from their areas of expertise, but also from their approaches to teaching. One of the student assignments that Elihu has written about is having his students go on a derive, or drift. It’s a fascinating exercise and it surfaces for the students their own standpoint to the city. What he calls psychogeographies, or the emotional and mental landscape of associations that get triggered as one walks through a city.

Elihu Rubin (04:59):

One of the techniques that I got interested in in probing social space is drawn from a 1950s-60s, era French art group called the Situationists, a group of artists and architects and writers, multi-media, mixed media thinkers who, in many ways, took the city itself as the tableau for their artwork. So the Situationists would go off on derive, on drift, and they would attempt to chart the psychogeographical contours of the city, which I think they really did liken to almost like hydrological patterns. Different places where the flow is very strong and then little eddies that kind of circle off on their own. And part of it is just allowing yourself to open yourself to be as porous as possible to the full sensory emotional experience of the built environment and to take those perceptions seriously in what it means for sense of place.

Elihu Rubin (06:05):

And to me, there was a lot of draw out from this practice of drifting. Partly because it gave us license to get out of our regular patterns of mobility, in which we’re usually moving from one place to another for a reason. That’s one of the qualities of modern urbanism. We have to shut ourselves off from too much external stimuli or it would be very difficult to go through our daily lives. What I take from this, on the one hand, is I think you end up learning a lot about what makes places attractive and what makes them repelling. In fact, during a drift, you really need to honor those feelings. Is it the dappling of light through the leaves that’s drawing you down one street? Is it a sense of loneliness or neglect that’s repelling you from the other street? Is it the highway overpass that’s getting you to turn around and go backwards or, when you see the highway overpass, do you charge through to see what’s on the other side?

Kate Cooney (07:13):

This exercise is rooted in practices developed by a group of avant garde artists in Paris in the 1950s. Today, we might think more critically about who has implicit rights to the derive and who does not.

Elihu Rubin (07:26):

Part of what I’ve learned from drifting myself and from encouraging my students to go on derive is that drifting is a privilege. Walking through the city, in a sense, is a privilege because it implies a sense of entitlement to space. And you end up learning a lot about what are the social factors that enable freedom of mobility through the city. Depending on who you are or what your background is, you may perceive your own sense of mobility very differently. I think that’s important to recognize, too. Even just walking as an exercise of citizenship, it recognizes our mutual right to occupy the same space.

Allen Xu (08:13)::

So while drifting can uncover the city to the drifter, we have a much more nuanced understanding than perhaps the avant garde Situationists did in the 1950s of how the drifting itself is a privilege. Current events highlight this as we are recording the same month that Americans are grappling with the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, a black jogger who was killed while jogging through a neighborhood outside Brunswick, Georgia.

Kate Cooney (08:41):

In other words, while it may be true that cities can be places where open-ended explorations through undirected wandering might allow the drifter to shake off the monotony of the daily schedules of modern living and open to the spontaneous situations that emerge, either internally as one absorbs the sights and sounds or interactively as one engages with others on the street, it is also increasingly evident that the mental and emotional models of cities that structure the American mind are filled with landmines of fear and racial color lines that can be dangerous for people of color. Further, many Americans have a limited understanding of how it is that we got there.

Allen Xu (09:27):

And yet, as Elihu Rubin’s work also shows, selected parts of the past become mobilized as heritage elements in the marketing of the city to a new generation of urban dwellers.

Elihu Rubin (09:39):

One of the things we’re noticing today in the market for housing and building reuse is the emphasis on not only the physical preservation of buildings, historic preservation, but marketing those places to get the most leverage from its associations with the past. There are efforts to represent the heritage of these places in a way that flatters those who choose to live there. I don’t say this to criticize the people who choose to live in a historic loft building that has an association with a particular industry or the other. It’s to understand the marketing processes around loft living that have made it such an incredible housing phenomenon over the last several decades, but especially in the last decade or so.

Elihu Rubin (10:44):

Maybe one way to talk about this theme of how authenticity, nostalgia, and memory operate in the market for housing and building reuse would be to talk about particular branding campaigns for loft living. The one that jumps to my mind, observing a lot of what happens here in New Haven, Connecticut, is a place like Winchester Lofts, which is the buildings that had housed the well-known gun factory. Well, not just guns; they made munitions. They actually tried to convert to all kinds of different products, especially during peace time. But there is a way in which the working class heritage of artisanal production has been used to brand these spaces for sophisticated housing consumers who not only want to live in a loft setting… Even if they may not be artists themselves, they want to live in a loft-like setting because the sense of the past, the associations with this legendary company… They appreciate those associations.

Elihu Rubin (12:05):

I think that it’s part of a broader response… or it’s part of a broader process of gentrification, which has been in the works going on half a century now at least. Where those middle-class housing consumers who might otherwise be looking for single-family houses in the suburbs are drawn to the perceived authenticity of the age value of historic structures within the city itself. They’re drawn to these places as unique, as full of meaning that has accrued over time, and it expresses a broader disenchantment with the perceived vapidness of suburban landscapes. It’s part of a cultural critique of gentrification, that would be one way of thinking about it, where perceptions of authenticity and a kind of sanitized image of the industrial past is being used to draw in housing consumers. Part of the marketing of historic landscapes for market rate housing consumers as part and parcel to general desire to be in the heart of a diverse, active, dense, walkable urban landscape. The tension is with the people who are in the neighborhoods that are being targeted by gentrifiers. Those people themselves and the working class, ethnic neighborhoods that they have created over generations, are themselves fetishized often by gentrifiers who see those neighborhoods and the old stores and the bodegas and the different ethnic restaurants. Those with housing mobility see that as another source of authenticity that they want to associate themselves with.

Elihu Rubin (14:01):

I think that if you look at loft conversions, for example, you see a lot of very sophisticated marketing that is not only about the neighborhood itself and its past, but also the specific heritage of the business that were inside that building. It’s authenticity by association. You can help manage your own self-perception by making these kinds of housing choices. In fact, we’re always managing self-perception in the kinds of housing choices that we make.

Kate Cooney (14:34):

It’s an uncomfortable truth that the market for urban housing can be built upon nostalgia and a desire for connection to the industrial past of a city and the working class, while at the same time reduce the affordability of the city for working class families.

Allen Xu (14:52):

Exactly. And I think this is a good time to dig in further to a main theme of the season, which is that of narratives. Specifically, how the forces we’ve been discussing, which influence our perception of cities and their social and physical environments, congeal into narratives that have a real impact on how cities grow, develop, and thrive or not.

Kate Cooney (15:16):

One thing I’ve been thinking a lot about is the role of narratives in undergirding the kind of robust action from lots of different actors in a metropolitan political economy required to remake cities and their surrounding regions truly inclusive and equitable. So I was excited to hear about Bob Shiller’s new book, On the Role of Narratives in Economics.

Robert Shiller (15:39):

I’m Robert Shiller and I’m Sterling Professor of Economics at Yale.

Allen Xu (15:44):

We started by asking why he got interested in the role of narratives in driving economic behavior.

Robert Shiller (15:51):

I’ve been thinking about this for most of my life. I’ve always admired science and mathematics, but after a while, studying that for years, I became even more concerned that I was missing out on something that’s relevant to the phenomena we study. We divide the university up into departments and I think that the other departments can’t be excluded. We have these mathematical models that have error terms in them. None of the equations work perfectly. So something else is messing up the model and economists seem to be all right with that. Maybe it’s realistic. We’ll never know everything about all these relationships that we see in economics. But I thought that maybe the essence of some of the changes we see in the economy are really outside of our department. Humans don’t seem to be thinking about the things we ascribe to them. They seem to be thinking more personally in the form of stories. So I thought we have to study stories. That was the idea.

Kate Cooney (17:03):

One question you might have is how do you study narratives? Where do you start? How do you define them? One of the interesting things Bob shared with us is how the concept of narratives has changed over time.

Robert Shiller (17:16):

Well, I think the meaning of the word narrative has changed over the centuries. I do a lot of reading from the past to try to understand narratives and I find that if you search on narrative in the 18th century, you’ll get history books. They’ll say, “A narrative of the Mississippi Valley,” and it’s a history of that region. Especially in the 20th century, it came to mean something else extra. It’s about a story that has a moral or a lesson. A story that we keep referring to in our minds as almost a model or a script for what tends to happen. It’s our view of the world. It’s something that has spread by contagion. It’s not someone’s history of whatever. It’s somebody’s story told over the backyard fence, which really involves many more people and it’s harder to observe. But it seems like we’re getting to the point where we can observe some clues as to what the popular narratives are. That’s what I want to do is study how are people really thinking about issues related to the economy.

Allen Xu (18:35):

The book contains seven propositions of economic narratives, including the notion that a narrative can come and go over many decades. One that’s currently en vogue, the notion that robots will replace human workers, is actually an old narrative that mutates and reemerges in different decades.

Kate Cooney (18:52):

One of the things that you talk about is that something that can create a very potent narrative is sort of a constellation of ideas that get congealed into a narrative and then they can emerge in different eras in a mutated form. One of the examples might be the idea of robots taking our jobs. It’s one we’re in the grips of right now.

Robert Shiller (19:15):

The earliest reference I’ve yet found to that is Aristotle, who talked about the loss of jobs from new machinery. What new machinery was he looking at? Well, one thing was water power. They had water mills and it would grain wheat into flour without any humans. It would just run. Someone had to empty the grain. That saved on labor. It’s the kind of thing he was aware of. But you know what? It even goes further back sort of. There’s a robot in Homer’s Iliad. Believe it or not, it was a self-driving car. It’s called the tripod of Hephaestus. If you don’t believe it, look for the Iliad. It’s there. It drove on its own. But it was really a 19th century phenomenon when it became very prominent with the Luddites in 1811, who were weavers who were being displaced by automatic weaving machines.

Robert Shiller (20:14):

And it comes and goes over the centuries. I thought it was prominent in the Great Depression in the 1930s. It was actually a time of a lot of engineering progress and there were automated things appearing, but the public really reacted to it. And I think that was part of the cause of the Great Depression. Because people became very insecure feeling in their jobs and didn’t want to spend as much. So it brought the whole economy back. And then it became renamed automation in the 1950s and then again… Now, we tend to use the term artificial intelligence. That’s the scariest form of all because it’s not just replacing jobs like running a flour mill. It’s replacing your intellect. Your skills in writing.

Kate Cooney (21:06):

Another one of the seven propositions include the notion that narratives can peak and decline like an epidemic.

Allen Xu (21:15):

Well, that part certainly sounds familiar given all the epidemiological news around the new coronavirus. The spread of narratives isn’t just about stories or ideas, but rather, action. Stories about phenomena cause people to do things. To behave in a certain way. Whether or not the narrative accounts for motivations are actually accurate.

Robert Shiller (21:37):

I became very interested in epidemiology before the coronavirus. And it was a surprise to see it suddenly talked about by so many people. I thought I was the only person outside of the epidemiology department that knew these models, but now, everyone is talking about them. They talk about flattening the curve. That’s the epidemic curve. It rises for a while, peaks, and then it falls, and eventually, the epidemic kind of disappears. Or maybe even totally disappears. There’s been a lot of thought about that from the Medical School. Economists have theories about, for example, the relationship between unemployment and inflation. They write down models about what people are thinking about. But I found that… I don’t have a complete answer to how to understand. I read at this time of the coronavirus, we’re wondering if we’re going to get inflation. Or maybe not. We don’t seem to have a theory about whether it will be inflationary or not.

Robert Shiller (22:38):

I’m thinking that part of what makes for an inflationary environment is a public awareness of inflation and public feelings of emotion related to inflation. So if you go back to when the US had double digit inflation in the 1970s or early 80s, what were people talking about? It turns out that they weren’t talking about the Phillips Curve, which we lecture to our students. They never heard of that. They were talking about labor unions often and they were trying to put blame on labor unions for inflation. And they thought that the inflation was eating away at their lives. They didn’t repeat narratives about people getting a raise because of inflation. They repeated narratives about aggressive labor unions that led to the Ronald Reagan revolution. He was elected president in 1980. He was clearly anti-union. Very early on, he shut down the air traffic controller’s strike and fired the ones who didn’t show up to work. So he was aggressive. There was an underlying anger about inflation that made it emotional. That’s what narratives do.

Kate Cooney (23:51):

So just like the coronavirus, some narratives go viral, have a high contagion rate, and depending on what the narrative prescribes, it can drive certain kinds of action over others. The correct response to inflation, according to the narrative surrounding the 1970s inflationary pressures, were to reduce the power of unions.

Allen Xu (24:11):

Back on Winchester Lofts example, the narrative would have been something like this. Suburbia is for hollow, cookie-cutter types and any modern discerning professional has an appreciation for the density and heritage of an urban landscape, especially one rooted in craft and hard work. And so people literally pack up and move and sign leases for half-renovated factories.

Kate Cooney (24:37):

The book, Narrative Economics, by Bob Shiller also lists characteristics of viral narratives. Viral narratives are novel, but as the novelty wears off, their contagion declines. Or they include a mystery and that drives interest.

Robert Shiller (24:51):

I like to tell the Bitcoin story as a narrative because many people have been seduced it. They like the story so much. When I bring it up in class, the students suddenly wake up. They want to listen. What’s so good about it? Bitcoin was first created by Satoshi Nakamoto. That is the name that was appended to a blog around 2008, I think. And so people wanted to interview Satoshi Nakamoto, but they can’t find him. They can’t even find anyone who met him. How can someone start something like this and not ever be discovered by anybody? Apparently, he’d sent out emails signed Satoshi Nakamoto to prominent people in the community of computer programmers and explained that he would like to work with them. They did. Without ever meeting him in person. And now he’s suddenly disappeared. He might be a billionaire, because he presumably has some Bitcoins, but where is he? Why doesn’t he come out?

Robert Shiller (26:02):

Then, there are the Bitcoin imposters, the Nakamoto imposters, who claim that they were him. It just reminds me of the Delphine in France during the French Revolution. Or Anastasia in the Russian Revolution. There are people who claim to be her or him. And they get a lot of attention. It is a mystery story. Who is Satoshi Nakamoto and when will he surface? And how will we know it when he does? It’s just a lovely story. It was highly contagious. I don’t mean to demean Bitcoin. I think some kind of digital currency will probably happen. I don’t know whether it will be of the same kind as Nakamoto’s but I’ll tell you one thing, it probably won’t be that interesting. It doesn’t have as good a story. The Swedish Central Bank is talking openly about starting a digital currency, but it hasn’t gone viral. Nobody cares about the Swedish digital currency.

Allen Xu (27:04):

These are really interesting ideas. He notes that constellations of narratives can be more potent than just a single strain and that longer term narratives are more likely to have an impact on one’s view of the world.

Kate Cooney (27:18):

What about more generally? How should we be thinking about the impact of narratives on cities?

Allen Xu (27:24):

Elihu Rubin describes the lessons we’ve learned in urban planning from the urban renewal era, but wonders if we learned the right lesson.

Elihu Rubin (27:33):

On the one hand, I think there’s a powerful narrative that urban renewal was a disaster and that what we did by carving up the city with highways, by clearing viable neighborhoods as opposed to investing in those neighborhoods, that we made some really dramatic errors that are especially evident in a place like New Haven that received such a disproportionate amount of urban renewal funding per capita or per square mile of the city. And so the joining narrative is where we had single use, we want mixed use. Where we had single function districts, we want mixed use districts. Where we had a nine to five central city, we want 24 hour neighborhoods. So there’s a lot of narratives today broadly around the kind of reinvigorated, mixed use, 24 hour, transit, pedestrian/bike oriented urbanism that is going to help heal the urban renewal city, to help restitch the urban renewal city. This is why we see… The Downtown Crossing Project in New Haven is all about drawing the streets across the Oak Street connector to restitch in some sense. It’s kind of like this progressive narrative trying to overtake the dark side of urban renewal where we wantonly demolished and dispossessed in this way.

Elihu Rubin (29:03):

But the problem with that, in some sense, is that it repeats a confidence that we have the answer and, now, all we have to do is figure out how to deploy it. In other words, it risks repeating the same error of not really listening to people who occupy the spaces of a city in an everyday way. It’s replacing one religion with another religion. The narrative may be better in terms of some of its content, but we can’t stop listening. We can’t forget about that lesson that listening and storytelling is so crucial.

Kate Cooney (29:43):

One thing that is for sure, as Bob Shiller said when we wrapped up our interview with him, as humans, we have organized our actions in relation to narratives from our earliest history.

Robert Shiller (29:57):

One thing was the growing recognition that I got about how going viral matters and has mattered since centuries past… I was reading the Hartford Courant from the year 1765 and they had a reprint of an article that had first appeared in the New London Gazette here in Connecticut by Alexander Windmill. It was a letter to the printer, it said. That was a recession year, 1765. He talked about everybody’s saying the same thing about this. Everyone is saying what the problem causing the recession was there is no money. He doesn’t explain further, but he said, “I’ve heard people say that’s the problem. There is no money. I heard it said so many times.” He decided to try to estimate how many times it is said per day in the American colonies. Now there were only several million people in the American colonies, but his estimate was that that phrase was repeated 50 million times a day in the colonies. I thought, could that possibly be right? I think he was exaggerating. But maybe five million times a day at the peak. I think there was some kind of epidemic going on. Not of a disease, but of an idea. It hardly ever got written down, but it was observable, palpable, to people then. I think life is like that - human societies. Epidemics sweep through them all the time. Bad ones, disease ones, and epidemics of narratives that can sometimes be good and can sometimes reinforce our values.

Kate Cooney (31:43):

Human societies are shaped by epidemics of ideas.

Allen Xu (31:47):

I think that’s it exactly. Narratives… or stories really… giveth just as they taketh away. And so once we realize the profound ways in which our cities’ physical and social spaces are shaped by narratives, the name of the game then becomes how to actively recruit more inclusive narratives and thereby engender more inclusive growth.

Kate Cooney (32:10):

For decades, we’ve thought that the key to doing this is through community engagement - whether by inviting visions for the city from underprivileged voices, studying how a city’s assets and talent can drive its future growth, or understanding and interrupting historically destructive misconceptions. Community engagement is a common strategy for fostering inclusivity and economic development; but as we’ll explore this season, new models for community engagement that are designed to drive system change are needed.

Allen Xu (32:43):

Sounds to me like that could be the name of the entire season. Rethinking Community Engagement: Investigating the Role of Narratives in Inclusive Economic Development.

Kate Cooney (32:54):

Here are a few highlights before we close to give you a sense of what Season Two has in store.

Kate Cooney (33:00):

Anika Singh Lemar from Yale Law School.

Anika Singh Lemar (33:02):

One can imagine modes of public participation that, rather than present a free-for-all where people with more time, more resources, more money, more lawyers, win the free-for-all, that the public participation be better tailored to what we’re actually trying to do. So if what you’re actually trying to do is address wealth disparity and power differentials, then how would one craft a strategy that actually does that?

Kate Cooney (33:35):

Kirsten Delegard from the Mapping Prejudice Project in Minneapolis.

Kirsten Delegard (33:40):

The work that we are now doing with Mapping Prejudice, for me, was really motivated by this frustration I had with my hometown about the way that people talked about these racial disparities as though they were somehow peripheral to the main story, which was of this incredibly successful, progressive metropolis, but oh, by the way, it’s a terrible place to be a person of color.

Kate Cooney (34:06):

James Johnson-Piett. Urbane Development.

James Johnson-Piett (34:10):

So much of it gets back to what do you value, right? Because it’s not… Because if we just said what’s the easiest return, you could take cheap property, flip it, sit on it, or you could try to really change the model up a little bit. But there’s so many dynamics that have to happen to really make that second process work. So much of it is going to be conversations that haven’t happened before or haven’t happened at scale before. So the city has to decide where does it fit within that context? How do you have conversations that are going to be hard? They’re going to be really hard to have.

Kate Cooney (34:42):

Prabal Chakrabarti from the Boston Federal Reserve.

Prabal Chakrabarti (34:45):

When we began our first round of the Working Cities Challenge, we honestly didn’t know what we were going to get because, yes, the Fed is very known, but the Fed is not known for doing things like this. The funny thing is the building of the Fed, we have nine billion dollars in cash. Billion with a B. In cash. We’re not permitted to give any of that money away. And so we had to pull together a partnership and that was a good thing because we ourselves had to model the collaboration we were asking for. I think this is an important point. When you’re an institution trying to see something in another place, you need to be walking the walk yourselves.

Kate Cooney (35:24):

Eric Gordon from Emerson College and the Engagement Lab.

Eric Gordon (35:28):

What would that look like if we developed civic systems around that model? What would that look like if the way that NGOs or the way that government actually thought about its constituents and thought about the systems that it was designing for its constituents… What if they used the model of games? What if we created a system where people voluntarily step into? Wherein the goal of being in that system is to play, is to have the experience of being in that system. There is a value to allowing people to experience being within that system so that they can not only build trust among other people within that system, but also begin to understand the logic of the rules that are guiding them.

Kate Cooney (36:10):

David Dodson from Made in Durham.

David Dodson (36:14):

I think stereotypes die very hard and they are hardest to eliminate when you’re trying to advance the populations that are most distressed. One of the ways that the narrative has changed is through the direct exposure and experience that has come as we’ve improved work based learning in Durham. As employers actually get to see and experience - not be told - but to see the intelligence and contribution that young people from nontraditional backgrounds are able to show. They are invariably, positively surprised. But there have been several decades of disconnection and so it takes a lot of work to engineer enough real-time experience that the narrative shifts. But I think the narrative shifts out of proximity and out of direct experience with somebody who comes from a nontraditional background.

Kate Cooney (37:26):

Sarah Camiscoli from Integrate NYC.

Sarah Camiscoli (37:29):

My experience going through the public schools there was being the only Puerto Rican I knew besides my brother. I had a lot of questions about my identity and a lot of questions about language and culture and history and my own value in the space and how I could be a value outside of just assimilating to the norms and expectations of the school environment that I was in. If schools are a place in which we inculcate civic values and understanding of one’s self and one’s ability to contribute powerfully to society, how is it that a young, LGBT-identified Puerto Rican mixed woman is to understand how to properly utilize those tools to engage in society and provide my strengths if the things that are unique about me are not valued? I say that because I think that a lot of the times, this conversation about segregation and what our young people have shown us is misplaced to only talk about enrollment.

Kate Cooney (38:29):

When we set out to explore this topic and engage these guests, we did not expect to be having these conversations in the midst of a global pandemic.

Allen Xu (38:38):

But as it is, we are producing this podcast in the late spring, early summer of the COVID-19 pandemic and much about the structural injustices built into the US and global economic and political systems has come into even sharper relief.

Kate Cooney (38:54):

It’s an important moment to consider how to redesign for fairer, more inclusive cities and economies. It’s our premise that a crucial component of galvanizing communities to do the difficult work of undoing structural inequities is changing our understanding of how it is that we got here.

Allen Xu (39:13):

Stay tuned for Episode Two, where Charlie and Joy explore a case where commitments to community engagement that arose in the aftermath of urban renewal may in fact be the very thing hindering the development of an affordable housing supply. Hear all that and more on Season Two of CitySCOPE Podcast.


Alexandra Sing:

This podcast was recorded in our homes on Zencastr.

Stephen Henriques:

Created by Kate Cooney and the students of the spring 2020 Inclusive Economic Development Lab class.

Marisa Berry:

All engineering and projection by Ryan McEvoy and Kate Cooney.

Joy Chen:

Special thanks to Rhona Ceppos for administration support and to [Giana Montez 00:39:57] for assistance with Zoom.

Charles Gress:

Music from the album Elm City Trees composed and performed by the artist K Dub. For more information and show notes, visit our website at

Arianna Blanco:

Thank you for listening.

Music (K.Dub):

Look, I’m from a city that’s half pretty and half gritty. Ain’t too many cities rocking with the Elm City. Home of the blazers. Those were the days. When I played, all these fast breaks. We don’t need plays. We play on Sundays like we don’t need praise. We pressing all game like we don’t breaks. Look, no debate. Best team in the state. We flow like the Lakers back in ‘88. I learned to play crazy eights in the city that raised the kid that want to big. Like I want to be big. I really hate the way rap’s portrayed. I want to the kids in the Elm to see a different way. Because way back I knew that I would get some pay. Every day in the mirror trying to get some waves. I ain’t trying to push weight. I want to own estates. Putting on the state on my license plate. Elm City. All I need is some Elm City trees. Avoided the trap, now you know where I be at. Everywhere I go, I rep that 203. Yeah, I love my city, but I had to leave. All I need is some Elm City trees. Avoided the trap, now you know where I be at. Everywhere I go, I rep that 203. Yeah, I love my city, but I had to leave.