Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Story of the Working Poor

Shhhh! This is a dirty secret that nobody likes talking about. Well, it's not really a secret, because there is information about the issue everywhere. More accurately, we are - as we should be - embarrassed by the glaring fact that, in our great nation of Canada, 1 in 10 people (nearly 3.5 million of us) live in poverty.These findings come from a report recently released by the Salvation Army, and the document also outlined the unfortunate statistic that 35% of homeless men in British Columbia are employed. Infuriated by such a grim forecast for our Olympic Nation? Not sold on the data? Well, you can email the Salvation Army's Territorial Public Relations Director, Andrew Burditt, at andrew_burditt(at) if you have any questions, comments or concerns.

Moving on...

Wow. 3.5 million. People. Canada. Employed homeless people? No wonder people from the developing world are so staggeringly disappointed by our Canadian communities when they visit. According to the Human Development Index, Canada is tied for fourth (with Luxembourg and Sweden - take that, Switzerland!) as the overall most desirable country in which to live. The World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the United Nations think we're doing a pretty good job of, well, being a society. Here's a pretty key problem with our society, though: according to a 2007 Statistics Canada report, "the income gap between rich and poor has widened over the past ten years and income inequality is greater in Canada than it is in most other developed countries." No kidding. When a quarter of Canada's homeless receive income from paid employment and an astounding 57% receive income from other sources like welfare (37%), disability (16%) or a pension (4%), I wonder how bad things have gotten in places around the world, such as Switzerland, the UK and the United States, where the income gap is even worse. What will it take for us to create a just and inclusive society - in Vancouver, Canada and beyond? Or do we even really want one?

Here's a breakdown of how some resident experts think things are going:

The Big, Fat, Stinkin', Global Picture: I dunno, Bill Maher doesn't usually steer me wrong, and he has some pretty important things to say about our global, American-influenced addiction to greed.

It turns out greed is not good. Too many people in Britain today are "professional, single and poor." In fact, a recent story by the up-and-coming news agency BBC suggested that the number of people living in poverty - the working poor - has increased by 300,000 since 1996. Someone who retires in Britain today is more likely than their parents to live out their days in poverty. With stats like these, should we really be "internationally developing" and offering advice to the developing world?

The Canadian Picture:
Look, Canada. Recent findings show that 89% of wealthy Canadians do not want hungry peasant mobs with pitchforks overwhelming their gated communities (the other 11% love a good fight, apparently). Chuckle if you like, but also be mindful of history. In my third year at Bishop's University, I wrote a paper called Whoa Buddy, where you goin' with that pitchfork? (Peasant Rebellions in Seventeenth Century France), and, while we're not quite at a pitchfork stage yet, some of the data and stories from my paper are unfortunately similar to some of the situations today - 42% of homeless men in the prairies are employed; many of them have pitchforks, I reckon. And if you think that putting an idea of poverty into context using seventeenth-century examples is ridiculous, well, I have some Somali pirates that I'd love to introduce you to...

"The homeless population is disturbingly large and even more disturbing growing in size, in scope and in its connection to mental illness," said The Honourable Michael Kirby, Chair of the Mental Health Commission of Canada. "Recent research shows 1 in 7 users of emergency shelters across Canada are children and almost a third of Canada's homeless are youths aged 16-24. Street counts of homeless people indicate their numbers have increased at an alarming rate." And keep in mind, statistics show that nearly a quarter of these people have jobs.

The BC Picture: A recent study by Simon Fraser University's Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction (CARMA) estimated that in British Columbia, the current financial cost to taxpayers for services to homeless people with severe addictions and/or mental illness is $55,000 a year per person. In contrast, providing these people with adequate housing and supports costs $37,000 a year per person. This saves taxpayers $211 million dollars a year in direct costs. A British Columbia shelter user put it in personal perspective: "In my case, I get enough money each month to live. I get over twelve hundred dollars a month - Old Age Pension, Canada Pension and supplement, so that should be enough for me to live on, but I'm having a terrible time trying to find affordable housing." Whether it's the Salvation Army report or a statement from the Ministry of Community or the Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction, the consensus opinion on how to tackle homelessness is with affordable housing.

The Vancouver Pre-Olympic Showcase Picture:
Recent findings show that homelessness in Vancouver has grown by about 250% since 1994. According to a 2008 "homeless count" by an SFU-led group of students, faculty and volunteers, there are nearly 15,500 homeless people in the Lower Mainland. If I were a businessperson in Vancouver, I'd demand affordable housing - and lots of it. Here's why: I strongly doubt that my employees who might pay between $650-$1,100 per month in rent are going to work for $8 an hour. I also don't think that employees who live in shelters or on the street are going to be incredibly motivated or engaged in my business. After all, it's in our business community's best interest to have affordable housing.

The 2010 Olympics are going to be the greatest advertisement for the city of Vancouver in the history of, well, the city of Vancouver. We even have a sexy, charming and downright nice Mayor! First, I hope this month-long ad is not a Harper-style attack ad. Second, when the world sees how beautiful it is here, I hope we have a strong enough commitment to social justice and not sell our city to the highest bidders from around the world who arrive, take-in the Olympics, drink the water, and commit to staying here no matter what the price. Vancity, we're less than a year away from a watershed moment - a tipping point - in our community's history. Let's not screw it up by being greedy...

So what are the next steps?
Well, I'm no expert like the high-paid staff at The Tyee, but it might be a good idea to explore some of the following five ideas:

  1. Get students and young people involved through SERVICE LEARNING initiatives early and often. By linking academic learning outcomes to personal and professional development within the context of community service, well, our young people will grow of leaders with a more comprehensive understanding of the social problems that, clearly, continue to cripple our supposedly sparkling communities.
  2. Talk about the problem.We need CITIZEN JOURNALISTS who have no loyalty to corporate sponsors to hit the streets with pens, paper, cameras, and good intentions (not to mention a sprinkle of idealism) to tell the stories of Canada's homeless in a way that will engage our entire community and motivate us to collaborate on all levels and solve the problem together. Or be vocal in a different way and wear a white Make Poverty History bracelet, just like in the picture!
  3. Put hippies, land developers and oil barons at the same table. Like I said, we need to solve the problem TOGETHER. Growing up in Merville, British Columbia has given me a soft spot for hippies, mostly because I've got some in me. But I kinda sorta don't really like them most of the time (editor's note: mostly, they are frustrating, as the staff at The Weekly Gumboot makes it a point to be positive and see the good in all people, places and things; even cannibals in Winnipeg watching American Idol). Ironically, hippies rarely compromise - with each other or with those they deem worthy of "enemy" status. They also aren't very well organized. Oil barons are very well organized. For the most part, so are developers. We all have a common interest for prosperity and the betterment of our community. They're just subjective perceptions of a different sort. Working against each other in silos isn't going to solve anything, though. We need ideas from everywhere to build community. Now pass the bong, man...
  4. VOLUNTEER. Barack Obama recently passed the Serve America Act. Rwanda has compulsory community service one Saturday per month. A recent pole in 24 Hours found that 65% of Lower Mainlanders do not want to volunteer. People. We can do better. And, as it turns out, we kinda have to if we want to be a global role model.
  5. Make SOUND CONSUMER CHOICES. From global to local, purchasing products that are made by people who make a decent, livable wage is still the greatest way for us to make a collective and powerful impact on how things are done in our local, regional, national, and global communities. Have you seen how amazing the architecture, food and service at the Convention Centre? It reveals our potential...
A final thought. The Human Development Index has three symbols that put a ranked country's position in context: a green, upward triangle means it improved from the previous survey, a blue line means it stayed the same, and a red, downward triangle means it got worse. In the rankings, there are a lot of green triangles, indicating that, on the whole, things on are planet are getting better. No matter what the panic mongering media tells us.

Things are getting better, sure. And yet we still have 3.5 million people living in poverty in, according to the Human Development Index, one of the best country's on the planet. Things could be a lot better a lot faster if we all get a little more involved. So there it is. The next move is yours, community...


Monday, May 25, 2009

"Ask me about my University"

So, Bishop's University's Principal, Michael Goldbloom, has asked alumni from the school to engage people in "a purple conversation." Here's a bit of a snapshot into the purple conversation (click on the link) we could have, you know, if you leave some comments and ask questions (ie. "John, it's hard to understand what you're saying because there's street noise and you talk too fast. What the hell are you saying?"). Thanks for your time. And raise a toast to Bishop's University!


EAT draws Vancouver Foodies from far and wide

This weekend food enthusiasts from across the Lower Mainland rallied at BC Place for free samples and demonstrations at EAT Vancouver, the city's annual food festival.

The event was interesting.

When we attended it was mobbed by thousands of people who packed into the exhibition floor. The event saw dozens of booths ranging from booths by the Shark Club (serving their supposedly gourmet mini-burgers) to Indian booths offering the usual cheap deep-fried pakoras and samosas as well as rich butter chicken. Nearby were dozens of vendors hawking assorted samples of chocolates, yogurt energy drinks, carbonated pear juice, free knife sharpening, and even free chiropractic consultations (what this had to do with food is beyond me).

On the wings of the exhibition was a cheese seminar that taught participants how to tell a smoked Gouda apart from an Elemental. On the other side of the arena was a jammed area with scores of wine taster sampling around a dozen commercially sold beers and wines.

The festival highlighted big time FoodTV stars like Iron Chef Rob Fenie, Ricardo Revicci, and Anthony Sedlack (who like Fenie, heils from Vancouver).

However, by far, the highlight of the event for us was Chef Louie, a first time visitor to Vancouver from Louisiana's New Orleans. Chef Louie probably weighed 250 pounds and had a gut that could fit a pair of watermelons. He proudly waddled about the stage, and candidly chatted with onlookers about everything southern - from the spices he was using to the aftermath of Katrina - while adding enough butter to make Fat Albert blush. The end result was a, unsurprisingly, delicious chicken cream pasta dish and a salty cajun spiced shrimp broth soup served with crispy French bread.

In true cajun fashion befitting a man of his stature, we left only after he had invited my pretty red-headed partner to come by his hotel for the next day or so for a visit while he was still in town. Talk about a "rich" end to the afternoon!

Friday, May 22, 2009

An hommage: the Kommunity of Quinlan

Kevin Quinlan is Gregor Robertson's Executive Assistant - aka Press Secretary to the Mayor - which (fun fact alert!!!) is the same position that Gordon Campbell held when he got started in politics. Does this mean that Kevin will be Premier of BC one day? Yes, it absolutely does. But that's not what this article is about. It's about Kevin being a stand-up guy. If I happened to be the Executive Director of a Gentlemen and Scholars Club (which I may or may not be) I would totally invite Kevin. Like I said, he's a class act.

Kevin Quinlan is also called "KQ". He also likes dinner parties. So, tonight (May 22), some of The Gumboot's contributors will be hosting a "KQ" themed dinner party in honour of our friend - and the guy who may or may not be secretly running Vancouver - Kevin Quinlan. But who is Kevin Quinlan? Nobody really knows. Well, readers, today is your lucky day, because I have created a Mad Libs-esque dinner-party-script for you to copy, paste, print, and perform; we (and you), the people, will get to decide who is Kevin Quinlan.

Hey, have fun with it!



Everyone knew that Kevin Quinlan loved X-Files. But no one knew that he would ever actually be an X-File. One ______________ (adverb) evening, Kevin Quinlan was hustling through some last-minute __________ (noun) in the ____________ (noun). Suddenly, there was a __________ (sound) on the ___________ (noun). Kevin opened the __________ (same noun) and, before him were two ________________ (plural noun). "Come with us," they said (that's right, they talk). "There are some ___________ (adjective) paranormal occurrences that we need you to help us investigate." Kevin __________ (past tense verb) at them for __________ (number) seconds and then _____________ (past tense verb) the ___________ (adjective) ___________ (same plural noun) into the dark evening. But, Kevin soon discovered, nothing was what it seemed! The ___________ (same plural noun) were reall aliens from ___________ (name of planet). Aliens using their paranormal ____________ (noun) were about to ____________ (past tense verb), thought Kevin. And, sure enough, they __________ (same past tense verb) him for ____________ (number) hours. Not only that, they also _____________ (past tense verb) in a(n) __________ (adjective) way for ________________ (bigger number). It was _________________ (adjective)! Kevin had never ____________ (past tense verb) so much in his life. A few ____________ (unit of time) later, Agents Moulder and Skully showed up and took Kevin's _________________ (noun). Then they took his statement. And that is how Kevin Quinlan became an X-File, not to mention the biggest __________ (noun) in history.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Learning from Pirate Communities - Treasure in the Classroom

As per usual, I'll do my best to tie this whole thing to pirates. So, readers, are you skeptical as to my ability to bring together pirates, a Web 2.0 classroom, discovery-based learning, buried treasure, and constructive criticism from one of my students?

Well, I challenge you to read on, my friends.

The Situation...

A few weeks ago I was asked to participate in the Sauder School of Business's e-learning "play day." Okay, it's not like they just called me up because of my stylish, gumbooty notoriety; I work in the school's Business Career Centre and manage the career component of the Early Career Masters program. Some wonderful and, I gotta say, pretty darn brilliant colleagues, Denise, Rob and Vivian, needed a classroom facilitator to, I kid you not, "walk the plank" and test out some of Sauder's new classroom technology. So, I stepped up and presented a career development workshop called Managing your Online Presence. It was sent to Denise a week or so before, and she infused it with technology and ideas that, well, basically made the workshop better. We were ready to roll.

I showed up to the coolest and most amazing classroom in which I've ever taught. Video screens and giant monitors covered the walls. Flat screen tvs were like bookends on the tables/desks. And the lectern was equipped with enough widgets, microphones, cameras, screens, and flashing lights to make Captain Kirk and James Bond horribly jealous. Two groups of students were participating. One group was located right in front of me at the Robson Square Campus, the other was "beaming-in" from UBC Point Grey. I was mic'd up. Palms were sweaty. The video feed went live. And I was thrown - albeit with amazing tech-support - into e-learning at the University of British Columbia.

Now, I'm tech-savvy, sure, but I gotta say that I was a bit out of my comfort zone during this experience. Live, streaming video beamed me into the Point Grey classroom as I went through my lesson. Using their laptops, students could race online to solve problems I gave them and conduct five-minute-research on questions I asked. There were iClickers (cool tools for ongoing, interactive engagement that is basically a virtual multiple choice test). There were headsets and microphones. Denise and Rob prepped me for using the Wimba Classroom (approachable, intuitive and in possession of several wonderfully distracting bells and whistles), and, when I inevitably hit a wall, they were there to help. Basically, Wimba allowed for a digitally collaborative classroom, where students could share ideas with instant messages, draft lists and presentations with a wiki/whiteboard and tackle assignments in small groups with the breakout rooms. Sure, it all got messy (headsets worked, then failed, then worked, but the student was in another room by that time; then everyone realized that they could draw funny pictures of me on the whiteboard!), but it was the first time any of us had seen this experience go live and, hey, we all saw the potential.

Teachers of the world. Students of today learn differently than you did; even than I did. It's getting more competitive to fill up postsecondary classrooms (let alone do it in a meaningful way with an engaged and responsive audience). So, if you are interested in (and hopefully excited about) seeing students use laptops in class for things other than updating Facebook, shopping online and/or various other endeavours to twitblog the interscape, keep reading and get ready to embrace some creative, student-led solutions to a nineteenth-century problem! Needless to say, with players like Vivian, Rob and Denise - not to mention internationally renowned faculty - Sauder is on the way to solving this problem.

Learning from Pirate Communities

So the story goes, pirate communities rejected "the system" in (or under) which they were expected to live. They also buried treasure. Let's explore these ideas.

In 1573, Sir Francis Drake - an English privateer or "corsair" who made life pretty miserable for Spanish merchants from Europe to, allegedly, Vancouver Island - collaborated with several French pirates and about a dozen escaped slaves - or cimarrones - and hijacked a Spanish mule train loaded with gold, silver and precious gems. According to Samuel Bawlf, Drake, his crew, Le Testu (leader of the French sailors), and the cimarrones smartly ambushed the Spanish traders at the Campos River, about "two leagues" from the town of Nombre de Dios. Working together, they kept quiet and, under their massive loads of booty, staggered to their ships, which were hidden in the mouth of the Rio Francisco. How much, um, booty were they staggering under? Well, "in gold alone the raiders had seized some 100,000 pesos (the peso was worth eight shillings three pence of English money)...and including gems and what silver they managed to recover, the total value of the haul was likely in excess of £40,000." And here's the kicker: Drake and his boys stole over 15 tons of silver. Obviously all of this loot couldn't fit on board their ships. So, they buried and hid the treasure in the forest around the Campos River. The point is that although stories like Treasure Island have romanticized the uncommon occurance of pirates actually burying treasure, it did happen, with Drake and Captain Kidd being the most notorious of booty-buriers.

A recent article in The Independent by Johann Hari suggests that modern day pirates, like their historic brothers and sisters, have rejected today's unequal, corrupt and punishing global "system." Hari cites the last words of William Scott, a pirate hanged in Charleston, South Carolina during the Golden Age of Piracy: "What I did was to keep me from perishing. I was forced to go a-pirateing to live." Fast-forward to 1991 in Somalia, where the country collapsed and, according to Hari, the worst-of-the-worst in the Western world saw this power-vacuum as a perfect opportunity to steal Somalia's food supply (over fishing) and use the region as a dumping ground for nuclear waste ("yes: nuclear waste," says Hari - cadium and mercury were also, allegedly, thrown in the mix). Hari interviewed Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the UN envoy to Somalia, who claims that "there has been no clean-up, no compensation, and no prevention." Recent findings also show than in excess of $300 US in shellfish is being stolen from the Somali coast by illegal trawlers. Yes, many - or most - of the pirates are gangsters. No, this doesn't make hostage-taking okay. But also keep in mind that life, the universe and everything is a subjective experience. And also recognize that a new system has emerged in Somalia, as, according to the independent Somali news site WardheerNews, 70 percent of of Somalis "strongly supported piracy as a form of national defense." Heck, another term for "Somali Pirates," according to the "Somali Pirates," is "the Volunteer Coastguard of Somalia." The old system failed Somalia, and people in the region need something different to sustain themselves.

Long story short. I argue that students - like pirates swashbuckling through societies in and around Somalia, Nigeria, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Singapore, and Haiti that no longer recognize their governments as part of a fair and equitable global "system" of organization - are rejecting the classroom system. They also like finding/discovering treasure.

"Make us Your Treasure Hunting Corsairs"

The above quote is from one of my students, Anton Rudenko, who also participated in the e-learning "play day." As educators, I think we've been forcing learners into a nineteenth-century paradigm for long enough. Now. I'm smart enough to know a good idea when I see one (they come from everywhere, you know). Anton has a good one:

"You can even consider presenting the whole career program to students next year as a game," he said. "It could involve a treasure hunt adventure for your students. They are corsairs and the treasure is their job. You can call it "career quest", and develop a point system with different activities worth a certain amount of points (gold coins?)." Hopefully he's kidding on the last part, but the young man keeps on describing this outside-the-box approach to career development. "Information interviews would be worth a lot of points. Each information interview would be a 'captured ship carrying a piece of the map that leads to the treasure.' So if you capture enough of them, you will eventually put the map together, and get the treasure." Multi-facetted, multi-levelled kinds of discovery, honestly, blew my mind. And then he brought it all home: "I think it's a pretty cool analogy. You can go crazy with this. But then of course you are running the risk of students getting addicted to the game and skipping lectures :-)" Well said and, hey, what would a note from Generation Y be without an emoticon?!

Great idea. It's got edutainment, experiential learning and is a student-driven collaboration with the instructor. Sure, there are kinks (ie. this pirate thing may or may not be desperately unprofessional and will need to be re-visited by a certain Editor-in-Chief one day soon), but it's something on which we can collaborate.

Here is why a student-centred, democratic classroom involving "treasure hunting" strategies is so important:

Equality: recent findings from an up-and-coming "newspaper," the Globe and Mail suggest that un-equal communities fail to flourish and meet their potential. The classroom is no different. Great ideas come from everywhere. Even from students. Belay that. Especially from students. There is so much information out there that we cannot expect a "balanced" and "fair" and, to be honest, "accurate" assessment to come for just one person and/or source. So, encourage them to plug-in, engage and explore the myriad of online resources that exist within the maze of pipes and tubes that is the internet. Pirates chose to be pirates, in large part, because a career in the merchant marine and/or Royal Navy was too authoritarian for them to flourish as people and professionals. Providing a student-centred, collaborative environment for our learners engages them on an, ahem, equal playing field.

Technology: this is a generation that has been bathed in bits. During the classroom technology "play day," there were moments when, in a split second, a picture or resource found online was copied by a student, pasted on the digital whiteboard, studied by the entire class (simultaneously at two campuses), and discussed by the group (simultaneously at two campuses). Amazing. These mediums allow learners to access and present information at lightspeed, which adds value - and dimensions - to everyone's experience in the classroom. Further, if educators don't embrace technology - as well as encourage students to embrace it - then it will be the medium they use to tune out from what we say. Sending them on "missions" or "quests" with their computers, phones and iPods is much more effective then telling learners to turn off their media and pay attention.

Discovery-based Learning:
I talk too much. Partly because I love being the centre of attention. Partly because, when it comes to career development, I'm emerging as an expert. Wow. Talk about a dangerous combination for a classroom, eh? No wonder students don't always pay attention for the full two hours of my workshops! Recent findings suggest that students today can't pay attention for very long (they've/we've taken breaks while reading this article to text a friend about the article, make a YouTube video, blog about the NBA playoffs, and purchase food/clothing/term-papers online). For true, pure engagement, we need to make them captains of their own ship and give them personalized autonomy that will allow them to customize their learning experience. Allowing them to discover their education for themselves is the key, my friends. Students should be pirates (Editor's note: wait, no, that's stupid. We here at The Gumboot do not in any way condone students or graduates to become pirates or embrace piracy). But think about Anton's multi-levelled, collaborative, discovery based concept of "the treasure hunt" as you take steps towards planning your next lesson. We provide the map. They discover the treasure.

Trust me. Pirates or not, when you push your comfort zone you'll have fun with it. And you'll learn a lot, too.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Gangs and Community of Chicago

When outright chaos exists, it's easy to forget that there is still a community of people who are connected by thousands of individual strands of commerce, dependency and power.

Nowhere is this illustrated better than in the Robert Taylor Projects of the late 1980s - the height of the crack epidemic. During that time, gangs ruled the people's world and the chaos of crack addition, homelessness, endemic poverty, and frequent violence turned the place into an inferno that defies the imagination of many middle-classers like yours truly.

It's a world where over 50% of people admitted to frequent or occasional crack use. Where young gangsters participated in voter registration drives financed by crack money. Where drive-bys during the community BBQ were a not-all-together infrequent experience. Where the local cops signed up at the precinct to participate in "raids" on gangster parties where they literally rob the thugs blind.

Where just about everyone was on some form of social assistance, the average take home yearly salary is $10,000 and it's not seen as uncommon for women to use sex as a way of keeping the heat on during the winter.

It's also a place where crack addicts, prostitutes, teenage gangsters tatted out and perpetually high and drunk intermingle with grandmas who cook collard greens and mac'n cheese next door to tenant hustlers constantly out to make a buck.

In his fascinating sociological study Gang Leader for a Day Sudhir Venkatesh explores this world and evocatively illustrates the depths of a vibrant and self-sustaining communal system which offers many of the same services we take for granted everyday.

One of the most interesting aspects of Venkatesh's story connects to the interdependence of community leaders, gangsters and residents. Due to the corruption of the Chicago Housing Authority and the general disinterest of many Chicago police in entering the area, many residents were reliant on the gang organization and local powerbrokers (like tenant housing presidents) for their well being.

Door falls off its hinges during a subzero Chicago winter? Better have a good relationship with Ms. Bailey (the well connected favor broker and building president) - otherwise you'll be freezing till the cows come home before the CHA processes your request.

Beat up your girlfriend cause your high on crack and think she's cheating on you? You don't need to worry about the cops if you live in Robert Taylor, but you sure as hell need to worry about the local gang members who's business, along with selling crack, monitoring (and taxing) the area's prostitutes, and all sorts of other illegal activity, is to also to keep law and order. Why? Because a safe environment is just good for business.

One of the most fascinating things about all this is the way that community forges itself out of anarchy to deal with people's most basic (and sometimes more complex) needs. The veritable and diverse black market and underground economy featuring the sale of everything from children's candy to car repair, from babysitting to crack processing facilities (read - your kitchen stove) shows just how people adapt to their environment's economic demand.

Most interesting of all is Venkatesh's examination of pooling of resources among young un-wed mothers who's partners were either involved in the local Black Kings gang and not around or had been involved in the Black Kings until a rival gang member had gunned them down.

None of the women had enough money to maintain all the necessities of running water, electricity, childcare, and (unsurprisingly in North America I guess) television. To solve the problem, they formed a collective - eat your heart out Lenin - whereby each paid for one thing and then pooled the resources with the others.

The result? You woke up in your apartment, sauntered over to Shironda's place to get your food from the refrigerator and eat breakfast, then skipped down to Lisa's apartment several doors down to have a shower. Finally you ended up at Clarisse's apartment where you plunked yourself in front of a TV. Indeed these communities were so vibrant and tightly knit that according to
Venkatesh, when the buildings were all slated to be torn down by the Clinton Administration, many families' main priority was to find a new home close by their neighbors to allow the effective continued pooling of resources.

Ultimately, the Robert Taylor projects were torn down and replaced by middle class condos. Their population dispersed to other poor and working class-black neighbourhoods in and around Chicago. However, their example of how community can survive in even the most hellish areas should give us a little hope - particularly when we're staring at the our own Robert Taylor in the streets and buildings surrounding Main and Hastings.