[I'm going to be unavailable for several weeks, so these semi-weekly updates are going to go on hiatus until sometime in August. But they will resume then.]
If we take seriously two propositions about the contemporary media landscape -- that visibility is key to driving policy, and that virtual spaces are at least as important as traditional print outlets if not more important -- then it follows that online visibility for poverty and homelessness are critical to focusing public attention and crafting compelling policy solutions. I've talked about the wired-but-homeless before, but here's a different twist: courtesy Computer Sim Games, I recently found out about Alice and Kev, an experiment in The Sims 3 involving a poor and homeless family (a father and a daughter) whose creator/player is attempting "to help them survive without taking any job promotions or easy cash routes." And blogging the experience, of course. I find the unfolding story oddly compelling -- not because it is a "realistic" depiction of homelessness or poverty, of course, but because it is among the most creative uses of virtual spaces to raise awareness of these issues I have seen. Yes, it's fascinating to see people using Second Life for stakeholder conferences, and the kinds of "apps for democracy" that people are coming up with are quite innovative. But homeless sims? That's a special kind of creativity.
Speaking of policy, lots of intriguing things seem to be happening around urban policy and planning in the past few weeks. This Brookings report indicates that the populations of cities nationwide continue to grow, perhaps as people flock inwards from the suburbs in search of the employment opportunities afforded by economic diversity -- and the opportunity to cut their commute-times. How convenient, then, that the 2010 budget contains funds for a number of new inter-agency initiatives, including a renewed focus on sustainability and the revitalization of neighborhood networks. Perhaps we are seeing the instantiation of what Rob Goodspeed calls "the new normative planning," characterized by a commitment to "high density, mixed-use urbanism" and a real move away from the automobile-dependent landscape architecture of suburbs. That architecture, as we have learned, is implicated in a variety of problems, from impoverished inner cities to the need to import food from long distances away -- with a correspondingly high carbon footprint. Maybe mixed-use city spaces should press urban gardening even further, along the lines of this recent initiative to allow beekeeping within the limits of New York City. Or maybe the lessons of Will Allen's urban farming operation should be taken to heart. In any event, the kinds of cities that are being envisioned and developed will not look like the cities of the past, and with any luck, they will not be beset by the same problems of persistent poverty.
As food pantries across the country continue to report an increase in client visits, it is heartening to hear of local and federal initiatives to keep feeding families with school-aged children during the summer months when the school-year free and reduced lunch programs are on hiatus. It's heartening to hear that the G8, a summit meeting often known for a focus on macroeconomic stability, has committed to a multi-year initiative to combat global hunger. And it's deeply heartening to hear of local initiatives like this book club in Boston, primarily made up of homeless men. Such humanizing moments should not go unacknowledged or forgotten; working for the end of poverty also, and perhaps ultimately, means working for the end of a refusal to acknowledge the humanity of others, and what more human activity is there than getting together in a small group to discuss a topic of mutual interest?