Sunday, January 30, 2011

Pay Phones Remain on Every Corner in One American City

Posted by Deirdre Oakley, NEW YORK, NY – Pay phones began rapidly disappearing from city streets in the mid-1990s when they were deregulated under the U.S. Telecommunications Act and cell phones had become more affordable and small enough to fit into a purse or pocket. I don’t think I’ve come across one working pay phone in my last four years in Atlanta – even on the Georgia State University campus; nor my three years before that in near-suburban Chicago.

No so in Manhattan. There, the pay phone is alive and well. In my brief trip to the Big Apple last fall what I thought was a near extinct feature of the city street seemed to be thriving on every corner. And they worked.  My curiosity about this rare urban vestige drove me to check for a dial tone whenever I came across one. Of course my inventory wasn’t particularly scientific, but I can confirm that I discovered working pay phones all over town – including the Upper West and East Sides; Harlem, SoHo, the East Village, and Alphabet City. Some of the phone banks I encountered even had internet access. People were using them too – either to make a call or to write something down in the booth while on a cell phone. So if you forgot to charge your cell, your dog chewed it or your cat hid it; or, you accidentally dropped it in the toilet, or are late on the bill, or ran out of minutes, Manhattan is the place to be…as long as you have change (typically no ATM cards are accepted).

What’s behind this seemingly contradictory locally-based phenomenon in an era of wireless, instant, and germ-free telecommunication? Well, if you think it’s because New Yorkers have rebelled against the cell phone think again. According to a New York Times article by Jo Craven McGinty, one of the primary reasons for the stubborn survival of the NYC pay phone is advertising. The sides of pay phone booths have become lucrative street-level billboards. Companies peddle their products on them to the tune of over $60 million in advertising revenues per year, with almost $14 million going to the city.

There are detractors who think pay phones are taking up too much room on NYC’s sidewalks. Well, so are street lights, parking meters, bus stops; newspaper and advertising kiosks, not to mention all those needed garbage bins. If only other American cities could have been this creative with their dwindling pay phone stock.

Deirdre Oakley is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Georgia State University and the Editor of Social Shutter. You can contact her at To view more “Pay Phones Remain on Every Corner in One American City” photographs log on to our Facebook page.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Beauty of the Chase

Posted by Angie Luvara, RALEIGH, NC -- If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the music industry through my endeavors as a photographer, it would be this: it’s NEVER as glamorous as outsiders think it is (well, maybe until you reach true superstar status). Many performers we idolize have less-than-ideal “day jobs”, struggle to make ends meet, sleep in packed hotel rooms on tour (or in vans), often have to choose between losing their less-than-ideal day job or missing a performance, hardly sleep, and hardly eat—to name just a few of my observations (and experiences!)
Recently, I had the pleasure of watching Jabee finish up recording his latest album at producer Commissioner Gordon’s studio. I arrived at the address I was given, a house in the Boylan Heights neighborhood near downtown Raleigh, and walk into Gordon’s bedroom/studio. Sitting on Gordon’s bed were Jabee, another artist, and another photographer. Gordon sat at his desk, which was piled with laptops, keyboards, headphones, and other musical equipment. The recording booth, tucked in the corner of Gordon’s room behind the door, was surrounded by heavy cloths hanging from the ceiling to block outside noise— lime green cloths that looked as though they were found in Gordon’s mother’s attic, where they had been sitting in a box since the 70’s.  Stapled on the wall that Gordon and one of his roommates shared was a large piece of foam, in hopes of blocking some of the sound from traveling through the entire house.
Out of this bedroom/studio I witnessed firsthand amazing music being made. I’m pretty sure that, when people listen to Jabee’s Lucky Me, they would never believe that this Hip Hop album was recorded in a Boylan Heights bedroom .  The music industry, like other creative endeavors, is full of people chasing their dreams. With following your dreams comes financial strain, the stress of balancing “day jobs” to pay bills while still dedicating time to the goals that consume your heart, and pumping much of the hard-earned money from your “day job” into a craft that may or may not ever pay you back. Out of those conditions are born studios with ‘70s d├ęcor, makeshift “soundproofing” that likely irritates all the neighbors and, thankfully, amazing music for us to enjoy. There most certainly is beauty in the chase, but it definitely is not glamorous.

The printed cloths surrounding Commissioner Gordon's recording booth extend from the ceiling to the floor.

Jabee leans over a stool in the bedroom-studio to make last minute edits to his lyrics.

Jabee transfers lyrics from his notebook to his phone so they will be legible while recording in the booth.

Jabee writes new lyrics on Commissioner Gordon's bed, as Gordon looks on in the background.

Jabee recording in the booth, which sits beside Gordon's collection of vinyl records.
Angie Luvara is a photographer and Managing Editor of Social Shutter. You can view more of her photography at To see more photos of Jabee recording in Commissioner Gordon’s studio, visit the Social Shutter Facebook Page. To learn more about Jabee visit

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Is the Black Mecca Losing Its Color?

Posted by Deirdre Oakley, ATLANTA, GA -- Tomorrow is Martin Luther King Jr. Day and celebrations will be in full swing all over Atlanta, his birthplace, and a city wholly identifying with his Civil Rights legacy. Known as the Black Mecca, or most recently as BET’s ATL, and Tyler Perry’s ATLwood, Atlanta’s reputation is one of African American opportunity. City Hall has been Black-run since the 1970s and more than 60,000 Black-owned businesses are located here. The city’s six historically Black colleges along with Georgia State University produce more Black graduates than anywhere else in the country. So the name fits well – how many other U.S. cities can boast such impressive post-Civil Rights credentials?

However, in recent years Black Mecca has become a lot whiter. New information from the US2010 Project (drawn from the American Community Survey) indicates that since 2000 the city’s white population has increased by almost 10 percent (from 31.3 to 40.8); while its Black population has decreased a little bit more (from 61.6 to 50.1). At the same time, Atlanta’s surrounding suburbs have experienced declines in the white population (from 77 to 63 percent) and an upsurge in the Black population (from nearly 19 to 26 percent). While moving to the suburbs typically implies greater economic prosperity, these trends do not. Atlanta’s suburban poverty has increased by three percent (from 8 to 11) at same time as city poverty has decreased by seven percent (from 28 to 21). The emerging geography is one of urban core revitalization along side near-suburban decline. This is happening in other U.S. cities like Boston, Chicago and New York as well, although none of them have ever laid claim to the Black Mecca label.

So why has Black Mecca lost some of its color? The Olympic Legacy Program initiated massive redevelopment as Atlanta prepared to host the 1996 Olympic Games, including the elimination of public housing. Spurred by the Games, real estate developers flocked to the city, as many Black working class residents were forced to leave.  Older apartments and homes belonging for decades to these moderate income residents appeared to morph into luxury condos and lofts for “in-town living” overnight. But then came the housing bust. Now the city is littered with half empty and half finished high end real estate slowly falling into ruin.

Private real estate developers aren’t the only contributors to a whiter Atlanta – ironically keeping MLK’s legacy alive as played a role as well. Congress established the Old Fourth Ward, MLK’s childhood neighborhood, as a National Historic Site in 1980. Since then the social fabric of this famous historically Black neighborhood has been noticeably altered because the National Park Service bought up old homes and land surrounding MLK’s memorial. On Auburn Avenue MLK’s birth home as well as the surrounding properties have been refurbished and attract a steady stream of tourists, although no one lives in them. On nearby Edgewood Avenue empty and for sale commercial buildings sit, not unlike parts of Detroit. In fact, Detroit 1-8-7, a new TV cop series, was filmed right there on Edgewood.

For more on the US2010 Project click here

Deirdre Oakley is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Georgia State University and Editor of Social Shutter. You can contact her at To view more Is the Black Mecca Losing Its Color?” photographs, log on to our Facebook page.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

On the Roads of India

Posted by Adrienne Miller, CHENNAI, INDIA -- There is a magical dance on the roads of India, where lines are painted but no one sees them.  Side mirrors are folded in to avoid breakage as vehicles slide by each other within a hair’s breadth, miraculously without a scratch. It is like choreographed chaos, with breath-taking beauty, spectacular color, abject poverty, and lots of dirt.
Two lanes easily fit five vehicles.  Honking is the rule for passing, as no one uses their mirrors.  No one blinks an eye at the sight of a camel herd pulling their cargo carts, nor does anyone object to driving around a cow sleeping in the road. We traveled through cities and villages and continually witnessed this dazzling dance created by people, cows, goats, camels, dogs, oxen, monkeys, three-wheeled bicycles, motorized taxis, cars, trucks, mopeds, motorcycles, scooters and busses. Hiring a local driver is highly recommended.
As a photographer, experiencing India’s highways and byways was like being a ‘kid in a candy store’.  The photo opportunities were constant and everywhere.  I took over 1000 pictures. In years past, this trip would have cost me more in film developing than the travel itself.
Each day, I marveled at the agility of the drivers of all types of vehicles, especially the ‘family scooter’.  Designed for two, these tiny vehicles frequently carried families of five.  The riders were always strategically placed for balance and the women passengers’ long, flowing attire was always carefully folded about their legs as they sat side-saddled.
We racked up many miles on the road -- from Chennai (formerly Madras) on the southeast coast, to Bangalore, the “silicon valley” of India in the center of the south, to the southern-most tip of Trivandrum where the Bay of Bengal to the east, the Indian Ocean to the south and the Arabian Sea to the west, all meet.  From there, we continued to Hyderabad followed by Kanpur in the northeast, then on to Agra and the Taj Mahal, Fatehpur Sikri, Jaipur (the Pink City) and finally to New Delhi.   Every place we went had its own unique charm, challenges and personality. But all shared the one continuous theme of India: people, people, everywhere with their amazing methods of transportation.

Adrienne Miller has a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology from Georgia State University and works in Development at a nearby university. She’s traveled all over the world taking photographs of everyday life.  She was a freelance photographer before returning to college to complete her degree.  You can contact her at To view more ‘On the Roads of India’ photographs log on to our Facebook page.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Social Housing Mosaic

Posted by Deirdre Oakley, DELFT, THE NETHERLANDS -- There are 2300 residents of 40 nationalities living in Delft's Poptahof social housing neighborhood. Many more have come and gone since Poptahof was built more than 60 years ago, benefiting from its affordable rents. Similar to public housing in the U.S., social housing is government-subsidized with the primary purpose of ensuring that families and individuals with moderately-low to low incomes have housing that they can afford. Unlike the U.S., however, the Dutch system is based on universal access to housing and seeks to prevent residential segregation of the country's many minority groups. Supported by federal policy, local housing authorities around the U.S. have been tearing public housing down in response to a variety of issues such as a deteriorating building stock, urban blight, and poverty -- forcing residents to relocate. Concerns about Poptahof's aging building stock and fears that it might fall into social decline, prompted local authorities to begin revitalizing the community. But residents are not forced to leave. The phased redevelopment plan means no one loses their home. And those who wish to move are given a rental subsidy to do so. Current U.S. low income housing policy could be vastly improved by following the Dutch.

Deirdre Oakley is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Georgia State University and the Editor of Social Shutter. You can contact her at To view more 'Social Housing Mosaic' photographs, log on to our Facebook page.