Thursday, October 27, 2011

Grad School: What Do I Do There?

Many may have wondered what I actually do at grad school (many have not wondered this).  So I thought I would present a few things that I've worked on. Generally, I've found that you can do whatever you want at grad school, and still I've chosen fairly boring topics. Let me convince you of their merits! 

Last semester I was looking for a tactic that would help declining cities deal with mass amounts of vacant properties.  I found that Genesee County, Michigan (where Flint, Michigan lies) has a lot of vacant properties, as you can imagine.  To deal with this they formed a Land Bank. What does that mean? 

Land banking is a way for cities and towns to organize all their vacant (foreclosed, abandoned, all of it) into one place and to have ownership of it.  By gathering all these vacant houses, commercial spaces, and vacant lots into one organization, it would be easier for people to buy these things and the county would have less to deal with.  

Also! When someone else buys them, the new owner will pay property taxes (hopefully) on them.  Property taxes are the main way that cities get money, so this means the more property tax revenue they can generate, the more garbage they can pick up, the more firemen/women they can hire, the longer they can have the library open.  

As you can see from the graph, the population of Genesee County could not be falling any faster. Because people are leaving so quickly, they have way more housing that people that need it, created a huge problem with vacant properties. I won't even bring up the housing crisis because clearly thats a whole other issue.

The Genesee County Land Bank was created in 2002, and you can see from the graph below that even though people are leaving as fast as they possibly can, the county has managed to increase its revenue from property tax because of the land bank.

Ok, so land banking has not made Flint, Michigan into a thriving metropolis, but it has managed to mitigate serious negative effects that go along with incredible population loss!

So! If you are just itching to buy a $100 vacant lot or $10,000 house, check out their site! 

Also, if you were really enticed by the above graphs, feel free to read my whole paper about it!  PDF or word doc.
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Friday, October 21, 2011

Video: Spencer Owen, Scinematica.

Woah, cool. Here's a music video I made in 2003 with Spencer Owen for his song Scinematica. This is from when it first became normal to me that people in my life spend so much time in their bedrooms recording pop music on multi-track tape machines!

I was really interested in Spencer's process which I tried to reflect in how we made the video. As I understood it, his approach to composition was rooted in a kind of real-time feedback recording practice, as though he was improvising in ensemble with himself through the tape machine.

So for the video I configured three multi-media environments for Spencer to discover and utilize.  He entered each space and the song began to play.  I imagined this event as the visual extension of his multi-tracking process.   The video is a simple cross cutting between the first-take in each space.

And yeah, it's been a while since I've made a music video.  This one is from my first year out of high-school.   For the last while I've forgone the camera when making this kind of experience with a person.  But this ability to keep and share the work with lovely and non-present people like you makes the camera a temptation again!

If you have any photos, media or diary-entries about projects and activities we've done together email them to  Thanks!

Stay up with Spencer Owen:
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Friday, October 14, 2011

Ashley, Singing to the Baby

I recently had the pleasure of returning to Kansas City for a couple weeks to do some work. Well, really it was supposed to be one week. I had just finished a new checkout process for Harry J. Epstein Co. And I was brought out to start-up another website for a niche auto-industrial supplier in Kansas City, KS. Anyway, after an intensive work-week-long visit, I was supposed to fly back home to Brooklyn. It was Saturday. Biking up the alley from You Say Tomato to my mom's house, I was struck by the first color and fragrance of fall. Leaves were crunching with gravel under my tires as sunlight peeked through to the backs of houses. It was such a euphoric moment. I thought to myself, why am I doing anything but this? I thought of all the friends I hadn't caught up with and all the events KC Kids had brewing for the coming week. So I decided to hit reset, and give myself a second week in Kansas City.

Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts
Attending the Public Opening with J. Ashley Miller

by Jori Sackin and Pat Vamos
Site-Specific feature film at The Strand Theatre on Troost

Pat and Jori made a feature-length site specific movie-going experience called Space Thang for a one-night-only event at the Strand Theatre. The Strand on Troost is Kansas City's oldest operating movie theatre. Generally they only show adult pictures. It's just three blocks from my mom's house. But I'd never go by that way, because the neighborhood erected a permanent road-block to divert traffic. I'm proud of everyone who spends time in parts of the city where common knowledge says we're not supposed to go.

The event was a wild success with 150 people in attendance. That's a lot for a theatre with fewer than one-hundred seats. I imagine that people were sitting on the floor. Everything began with a musical performance by the band Mary Fortune, followed by MK12's short film "Follow the Sun" as a trailer. Vamos' DVDs, Sackin's paintings and Space Thang t-shirts took the place of the usual merchandise for sale in the lobby.

The fresh context of the situation gave Sackin and Vamos license to produce animations and found-footage collage that weren't suited for everyone, but that just about everyone came out to enjoy.

Idris and Amanda's Live-In Restoration Project

MEGA BOG + KUSIKIA from the Pacific NW
Shortly after extending my visit, I found out that our friends Erin, Zach and Shelby from the grey mountain sound of Seattle were on tour with Kusikia, trying to find a show in Kansas City. Rita Brinkerhoff, Drewcifer, the bands and I scrambled a little bit and somehow everything fell gracefully into place. The mysterious house show that resulted with Blondie Brunetti at Ruby's Sofa King Swing HQ had such a rich and encouraging mood. It was one of my very favorite shows.

My default approach to problem solving is to ride my bike around for three hours and talk to government officials. When I heard the Mega Bog show was looking for a venue, my first thought was to have it at Kaw Point.
This spot where the Missouri and Kansas Rivers join a) can be seen from space, b) has multi-pass historical significance, and c) gives an emblematic view of Kansas City as a City on the Water. The natural panorama becomes backdrop to an outdoor amphitheater with bathrooms, electricity and seating for 500.

I spent half a day figuring out how to book a show there. It turns out it's really easy. Just contact the Friends of Kaw Point. Your show is why they built the park. Shows durring daylight can be reserved free of charge. After dark, you need to have some form of security guard present.

The show at night would be such a beautiful show. It might be lit by oil lanterns in the river-bank grove, with the city glimmering on the confluent surface all around.

To Reserve the Stage at Kaw Point Contact:
Dwayne Knott, Secretary, Friends of Kaw Point
(816) 868-5343

The 816 Bicycle Collective NEW BUILDING
The 816 collective held their 5th Annual Benefit with music, food and friends in fancy dress. The big news was the unveiling of their plan for a new bicycle transportation complex at 31st and Cherry in a set of adjacent buildings they recently purchased. The buildings are a big restoration project. The complex will house 816 Bike's community bike shop and public programs. It will also provide leasable office space that will co-locate several of Kansas City's bicycle advocacy groups. This community space could be as significant to the 31st street corridor as YJ's has been for the crossroads.

More to come: I'm working on a post just about this plan.


Now it's not that I don't like living in Brooklyn. In fact I feel like I've gotten my second wind here. I just like both New York and Kansas City. It has been hard to live here, like it's hard to learn a new subject. You start from the beginning. And even after a year, I'm still working to make a way of life here that's really me, that brings me closer to my Total Maximum. I guess you might say, "When does that ever stop?" Growing up in Kansas City, I was attracted to people who knew you didn't have to live in New York or LA to have world class fun. And it is harder to find those people in New York or Los Angeles. But maybe I'll let loose my criteria a little bit, let myself change and find new ways to share fun ideas. I'm not done yet! And I don't think I could leave without figuring it out.
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