Saturday, December 29, 2012

Safety in the City: PRIDE Atlanta

Posted by Desmond Goss, ATLANTA, GA -- Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, urban areas in the United States have conjured an image of refuge for socio-political groups who find themselves on the fringes of mainstream culture. It's no surprise, then, that gay men, lesbians, bisexual, and transgendered individuals (GLBT) have flocked to cities around country, in search of new opportunities emerging from a relaxation of the discrimination that may have restricted their life chances in their hometowns – many even fleeing explicit oppression, hate, and threats of violence. In this regard, the city can, in some ways, be seen as refuge. Southern cities are especially interesting for examining this phenomenon, as they tend to be separated by greater distances than Northern cities. Thus, places like Charlotte, Tampa --  and particularly Atlanta -- become oases for the GLBT individuals in surrounding rural communities. Atlanta boasts the highest population percentage of gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals (15%) out of all southern cities, only outpaced nationally by San Francisco and Seattle. Atlanta is also consistently ranked high on magazine and gay rights agency lists for most gay-friendly places to live in the U.S.

Nowhere can the community empowerment made possible by urban liberalism be better understood than GLBT pride festivals. Atlanta Pride Festival, like others in urban areas around the world, is an annual celebration of groups who transgress traditional gender and sex norms, and a political statement suggestive, not just of acceptance, but of pride in one’s sexual identity as well. For one weekend, every year in Atlanta's Piedmont Park, hundreds of local venders, corporate sponsors, and advocacy groups set up booths around the lake catering to the thousands of festival attendees. The weekend culminates in a parade with a march of floats down Peachtree Street. Regardless of the activities that take place, pride festivals offer GLBT individuals a chance to recharge their connection to the gay community, thus reaffirming their sexual identity, and providing reassurance that cities like Atlanta are indeed safe places for self-exploration and expression.

Desmond Goss is a Doctoral Student in Sociology at Georgia State University. He can be contacted at

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Car Culture Exclusion

Posted by JooHwan Kim, ATLANTA, GA -- As an international student from Korea, I find the pedestrian-unfriendly, car-centered street system in Atlanta strange.  In Seoul there are footways (sidewalks) on both sides of the street everywhere you go. However, in Atlanta sidewalks seem rare. Sometimes there is no distinction between the space for pedestrians and the space for cars. Signs warning careful driving for the protection of children imply that they play on the streets. In this sense the street becomes a space both for children’s playing and for car-driving. The absence of sidewalks or the non-distinction between space for people and cars creates a tension that is downright dangerous.

This car-centered street system also demonstrates the unequal power relation between car users and pedestrians. The absence of sidewalks, crosswalks, and non-distinction between spaces for people and cars convey that those streets were initially designed to prevent pedestrians from accessing certain neighborhoods. Therefore such areas become enclosed spaces. “No Loitering” signs reflect exclusion: those without cars are not allowed.

In fact, those with limited access are the people who do not have their own cars. Atlanta's car-centered-street system excludes lower income people who cannot afford a car, most of whom must take risks everyday negotiating streets without sidewalks.

JooHwan Kim is a Doctoral Student in Sociology at Georgia State University. He can be contacted at

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Cool Tropical Shade of Old San Juan

Posted by Deirdre Oakley, OLD SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO -- Known for its Colonial-era forts, government buildings and monuments, as well as a port frequented by both cargo and cruise ships, Old San Juan certainly thrives on tourism. Most of the tourist foot traffic trends towards the forts, located on opposite sides of the Island; and the high-end shopping and eating destinations along the newly developed waterfront. So tourists miss the well-planned cool tropical shade of the city's less traveled streets. 

Narrowly-designed streets lined with buildings that have roof-top overhangs and balconies on each floor, shade residents from the hot tropical sun. Walking along these streets I was struck by something you just don't see in American cities these days: open windows and balcony doors, as well as no air conditioners. It was pretty typical to see residents sitting by their open windows, talking, playing cards, or just watching people like me walk by. On streets where the buildings did not provide adequate shade, trees and other foliage were present. In fact, if you look at most of the photographs in this essay, you see -- among many other interesting social phenonema -- shadows of shade.

I happened upon this one older gentleman, who did not want his picture taken, sitting outside of his ground-floor apartment feeding a cat. We got to talking, and I asked him about the shade. He gave me quite a long planning design history of the city that included purposeful shade. Then he told me something else interesting: all feral cats in Old San Juan are captured, neutered/spayed, given shots, and then released to the city streets. He claimed that this is why the city has no cockroaches, mice, or rats. I didn't ask him about the dog relaxed under a nearby car, and why he was feeding the stray kitty ordinary cat food. But it was a great story that I really wanted to believe, and the animals in question looked extremely content.

Deirdre Oakley is the Editor of Social Shutter and an Associate Professor at Georgia State University. She can be contacted at

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Grain Elevator Canyon

Posted by Deirdre Oakley, BUFFALO, NY -- The devastation of deindustrialization is evident all over the Rust Belt, but the miles of massive empty and decaying grain elevators along South Buffalo's waterfront make for a breath-taking canyon-like panoramic, one that's both sad and magical. Kayaking through the meandering Buffalo River with the elevators looming on either side is a favorite trip for many local kayakers. "It's almost as if you can hear echoes of all the workers from days gone by," said one. "You really get a sense of just how enormous they are looking up from the water," said another. 

There are parts of this waterfront that have been earmarked for historic preservation, including the former headquarters of Bethlehem Steel. Yet the sheer number of empty structures makes it almost impossible to engage in comprehensive redevelopment. So the grain elevators sit for kayakers and passersby to marvel over, as well as serving as canvasses for graffiti artists, and occasionally, for teenagers to climb around in, some tragically falling to their death. 

Ironically, however, there are some interesting new activities emerging out of this grain elevator canyon -- ones that create a striking and hopeful juxtaposition between industrial decay and Green innovation --  like wind farms and wind surfing. With 50 mile per hour winds occurring regularly, this waterfront is a boon for both. The giant wind mills were installed by Wind Steel in 2007 and can provide enough electricity for 75 percent of the nearby City of Lackawanna. And for the wind surfers? Well, wet suits are a must, and I wouldn't go out there without a life jacket because the currents are strong and mercurial. But for those who want to catch some really good wind gusts, or environmentally-sound electricity, Grain Elevator Canyon is the place to go.

Deirdre Oakley is the Editor of Social Shutter and an Associate Professor of Sociology at Georgia State University. She can be contacted at

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Social Movements in Action: Rallying Against Fort Benning's School of Americas

Posted by Chandra Ward, FORT BENNING, COLUMBIA, GA --November 16-18 marked 22 years of organized protest against the School of the Americas (SOA) based at Fort Benning.  This “school", which trains Latin American soldiers in covert military operations, has existed since the 1940’s, and is allegedly responsible for the rape, murder, kidnapping and other atrocious attacks against thousands of Latin American citizens.   For example, according to the SOA Watch website, in 1989 the murders of six Jesuit priests and a teen at the Central American University in San Salvador were carried out by soldiers, most of whom were graduates of the SOA.  The victims were labeled as subversive due to their questioning of, and opposition to, the government’s socio-economic structure.  This event was the catalyst for organized resistance against SOA. Since that time, many have traveled across both state and national borders to Fort Benning's gates to tell their stories and stand in solidarity with others for peace.

SOA graduates return to their Latin American countries to serve as part of the State Police.  Carrying out the will of repressive regimes, the skills taught at the SOA are used against union organizers, human rights leaders, members of clergy, and anyone else who is seen as threat to the interests of those in power.  The U.S spends billions of dollars in their efforts to promote democracy in foreign countries, yet ironically, we train soldiers on our own soil to return home and commit undemocratic atrocities. Among other things, the violence carried out by graduates can be linked to protecting U.S multi-national corporate interests, such as those of Atlanta-based Coca-Cola. The SOA protest movement is truly multicultural and international.  Annual protest attendees have included notable names like actor Martin Sheen and politician Dennis Kucinich.  There are a lot of hippies, veterans, and college students from both secular and progressive Christian colleges (yes, they do exist), as well as radicals and progressives from every walk of life.  Over the three day annual convergence there is a march, a rally, a vigil, and many workshops held by the organizations that participate in the event. 

This year marked my second time attending the SOA protests, despite the fact that I have lived in Georgia most of my life.  Ironically, I didn’t hear about the SOA until I moved to Texas. 

Chandra Ward is the Assistant Editor of Social Shutter and a Doctoral student in Sociology at Georgia State University. You can reach her at