La Casa Review

Concrete Details: La Casa in Columbia Heights Is a Rare Aesthetic and Policy Success 

Washington City Paper, Oct. 15, 2015

The best building that’s gone up in the District in recent months isn’t a swish law office or a deluxe condo tower—although you might easily mistake it for either of those things, with its double-height lobby and artfully layered facade.

La Casa, which reopened on Irving Street in Columbia Heights in December 2014, is housing for homeless residents. Not only that, but its 40 residents were chosen from the most vulnerable segment of the homeless population. Most of them lived on the streets for years, and many still grapple with substance abuse or mental health problems.

You would never know it from looking at their new home. And that’s the point.

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Photograph by Darrow Montgomery

The Mall as American Dream

Does America Still Want the American Dream?

Twelve years after work began on a $2 billion entertainment complex in New Jersey, is another giant mall still an appealing vision?

The Atlantic, Oct. 9, 2015

Driving north on the New Jersey Turnpike, past the proverbial smoke stacks and then across a brief interruption of marshland, a massive orange snout looms into view. Around the next bend, you see the cranes: not the marsh kind, but tall yellow-metal arms, five or six of them, perched beside the sprawling body attached to the snout.

The cranes are quiet for now. Their symbolism, however, broadcasts loud and clear. The American Dream mall and entertainment complex at the Meadowlands—the half-built behemoth that Governor Chris Christie called “the ugliest damn building in New Jersey and maybe America,” the mega-project that has lurched from failure to would-be rescue and back again—is finally going to be completed.

In 2017, its developers say, the American Dream will open with “the largest mix of indoor facilities in the world,” according to its slick website, offering millions of visitors “the ultimate family experience.” It will have 400 stores and restaurants, a DreamWorks-themed amusement park and waterpark, an indoor ski slope (that’s the orange snout), an aquarium, mini-golf course, and theater. The 4.8-million-square-foot complex will feature “the world’s first exclusive kosher food hall” and a giant ferris wheel looking onto the New York skyline.

For years, the big question in New Jersey was whether this thing would ever be built. The answer appears to be yes. So the question now is a different one: Does a giant shopping mall represent anyone’s American dream anymore?

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Hearing Loss in the City

What It’s Like to Be Hearing Impaired* in a Big, Dense City

An artist tackles the challenges of navigating dense urban areas with hearing loss.

CityLab, Sept. 18, 2015

The multimedia artist Trish Adams began losing her hearing in her mid-twenties. She now wears high-end hearing aids in both ears and continues to communicate through speech. But living in a big city—in her case, Melbourne, Australia—can still be frustrating.

After moving to Melbourne, Adams started noticing how intrusive various urban sounds could be: traffic roaring, car horns honking, music blasting, jackhammers drilling. Cities also give rise to chance social interactions, a large part of their appeal, but a source of stress for those with hearing loss.

To help others understand how she experiences her city, Adams created the exhibit Disconnections. Working with a psychologist who specializes in sensory processing and with the Creative interventions, Art and Rehabilitative Technology (CiART) lab at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), she made two video works, which debuted at the University of Melbourne in April.

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*Since this story was published, some people who are Deaf and hard of hearing have told me they take issue with the term “hearing impaired.” My apologies if I caused inadvertent offense.  

Why D.C. Teaches Kids to Bike

Why D.C. Wants to Teach Every Kid How to Ride a Bike

Starting this fall, all second graders in D.C. public schools will learn to ride in PE class.

CityLab, Sept. 1, 2015

Before the start of the new school year in Washington, D.C., as families were buying supplies and teachers were drafting their lesson plans, Miriam Kenyon was spending her days in a warehouse in the city’s Northeast quadrant, surrounded by bikes.

She and a group of volunteers were building them: Diamondback Vipers and Mini Vipers, 16- and 20-inch kids’ models. “They’re BMX bikes, so they’re really sturdy and they’re made for multiple uses,” explains Kenyon, the director of health and physical education at District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS).

All the bikes in the warehouse—a huge fleet numbering 475—had to be ready by the time the first bell rang on August 24. Once assembled, they were divvied up and shipped to elementary schools for a novel educational experiment.

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Cities and Child Care

How Cities and Counties Are Taking the Lead on Child Care

CityLab, May 19, 2015

America is waking up to child care as a major political issue. Back in January, President Obama discussed it at length for the first time in his State of the Union address. “In today’s economy, when having both parents in the workforce is an economic necessity for many families, we need affordable, high-quality childcare more than ever,” the president said, as parents around the country cheered (or shouted “Finally!” in exasperation).

Our child-care problem is really a cluster of them. First, there is the cost. On average, according to a 2014 report by Child Care Aware, parents of an infant in Massachusetts spend a shocking $16,549 per year for child care—that’s 53 percent more than public-college tuition. And Massachusetts is not an outlier: In his speech, Obama talked about a Minnesota family who spend more on child care than on their mortgage, which is not that uncommon.

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