Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Exchange Programs

"The Projects" or public housing projects are, "owned and operated by local public housing authorities for occupancy by low- and moderate-income households. The federal government covers the costs of development and the sizable share of operating and modernizing costs not covered by tenant rent payments."

While the federal government providing housing to the poor is a good idea, the notion of concentrating a society's poor all in one location leads to a concentration of social problems. Many have spoken out against the negative effects of the projects, including two teenaged boys who live in a Chicago Housing Project and their documentary entitled Remorse. In 2005, when the Chicago Housing Authority tried to revamp their image with their CHAnge ad campaign, it was hijacked and mocked by a CHAos copy-cat who hoped to put the spotlight on the existing problems with CHA.

The projects have been a sad story about social design. Huge, high-density apartment buildings are located behind the walls of huge interstate highways, segregating the poor from the rich. Consider how Interstate 35, known as the NAFTA highway, cuts through the heart of Austin, separating the affluent University area and entertainment district from the poorer communities (Texas loves their freeways, and watch out any environmentalists who "devastate" their plans).

Newer programs offered by the HUD include tenant-based assistance which "allows eligible households to select their own units in the private housing market and receive a subsidy to cover part of their rent." Programs like these echo the belief that "the best way to improve social conditions tomorrow may be to improve the circumstances and life prospects of low-income children today." Programs which actually help children in terms of their performance of school are those which help their recipients to work, AND subsidize thier income in order to elevate their economic standing. It's not a matter of seizing a recipient's welfare once she gets work, it's about continuing to give her subsidies to help pay for child-care and housing so that she can help her family out permanently. It's about raising children in a safe neighborhood, rather than a high-density slum where drug and gang activity are high, slums hidden away from the rest of the city by insurmountable highways.

* * *

I was thinking of welfare families today as I had lunch on campus. I thought of how much they benefited when they had the opporunity to change their environment. I thought of them as walked two blocks from my building to the little truck that sells sandwiches. While I waited for my sandwich, among the group of men that always people the line of the truck, I looked up when I saw a woman approach the truck to buy a sandwich. In all the times I'd bought sandwiches from the truck, I'd never seen a woman.

My computer science building is located in the heart of the science building quads on campus. I can throw a stone to buildings in which research into self-healing materials, theoretical bio-physics, rocket propulsion, and nanotechnology take place. Women are underrepresented in all these buildings.

Back when I worked, I remember riding on what had been termed, "The Nerd Bird." The early morning flight from "The Silicon Forest" to "The Silicon Valley" generally consisted of men and their laptops headed to whatever conference was taking place in San Jose that week. One morning, I counted three women on the flight, excluding the flight attendants.

I am not suggesting the my environment is anything like the projects. I'm thinking about the general concept of human environments. Our environments are important to our well-being. Our environments tune who we become as people. I'm constantly in an environment of at least 90% men. For the most part, I don't pay attention to it. But sometimes, I look up from my little desk, and I wonder, "What the hell?"

I was wondering about the purpose of having all of the science buildings concentrated in a single place on campus. It makes sense, I suppose. As a science major, I'm going to be taking classes mostly related to science, and I don't want to have to go very far to get to class. In many universities, like my undergrad, this isn't a problem since all the buildings are within visual sight of each other. But for universities such as the one in GradShitTownVille, this is a factor. It also helps for related research groups who want to collaborate. I wouldn't want to walk 20 minutes to a research meeting every week.

Still, I wonder about the benefits of being surrounded by, say, the law building and the art building. At some point, many of the lawyers, the artists, and computer scientists are going to have kids. When they suggest vocations to their children, they will do so based on their own biases. Ever notice how many computer science females have at least one parent who is a programmer?

There are all kinds of vocation biases, many which are perpetuated by the media. For example, I think all lawyers look like:

Yeah, laywers are just a bunch of uptight dorks that wear Ann Taylor sweaters. I would never tell my child that she could become a lawyer, unless of course I saw a bunch of lawyers who seemed like cool, normal people.

Similarly, the general public thinks all computer scientists look like:

It would be impossible to simply move all the buildings around on university campuses. But when the oceans rise 3-5 feet and my campus is a flooded swamp, and after 1 in 3 people die from avian flu, and our society finally gets to the point of rebuilding everything, we may consider how university campuses are designed.

Overall, I think the computer science community would benefit from some kind of exchange program, where we send out representatives to public forums so that people can see how normal and cool we really are. Other groups have tried, but guys like this aren't really helping us.

* HUD program descriptions taken from here.


DC said...

That's it, I'm taking an art class.

RussianViolets said...

Hee hee.