Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Walk of Nine Presidents

Posted by Deirdre Oakley, OLD SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO -- Walking around Old San Juan a colleague and I stumbled upon a row of imposing bronze statues of United States presidents. But we soon discovered that there were only nine. We began hypothesizing about why only nine, first by focusing on who they were: Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt (and his beloved dog), Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford, and Barack Obama.  An explanation eluded us until we read the introductory plaque, which we probably should have done in the first place. It turns out that this "Paseo de los Presidentes" on the south side of Puerto Rico's Capitol building pays homage to those sitting presidents who visited Puerto Rico over the years, President Obama being to most recent.

This led us to contemplate an even more perplexing question: why have only nine U.S. presidents visited Puerto Rico since it became a U.S. territory after the Spanish-American War of 1898? And why the huge time gap between President Gerald Ford's visit in the 1970s and President Obama's in 2011? That's a gap of about 35 years and spans the presidencies of Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush.

But Puerto Ricans are U.S. Citizens, although they cannot vote in the general presidential elections. In fact, at the unveiling of President Obama's statue in 2012, Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi said that while the Obama Administration has supported the territory with economic stimulus funding, he highlighted the fact that as U.S. citizens Puerto Ricans have limited voting rights. Pierluisi, who represents the territory in the U.S. Congress, is a supporter of Puerto Rico becoming a state so its four million citizens can enjoy expanded voting rights. Maybe then more U.S. presidents will visit.


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

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Dear Social Shutter readers, there has been a problem all day with uploading photographs to Blogger. We hope it will be fix tomorrow. As we do have our new weekly post. We are very sorry for this delay. Stay tuned!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Walkable City

Posted by Marcie Hambrick, XALAPA MEXICO -- A few weeks back one of the local news stations reported that Atlanta was recently ranked the 20th most walkable city in North America. I was shocked. I've lived in the Atlanta area for a long time now and walkability isn't something I associate with this sprawled out, traffic-congested place. But Xalapa, the capital city of the state of Veracruz in Southeastern Mexico, is perhaps one of the most walkable cities I have ever seen. The city was designed before cars came into existence so the streets are narrow and wind along the contours of the hilly terrain. In fact, it's so cumbersome to traverse these narrow streets by car most of the locals travel around the city by foot. And they can because everything they need it within walking distance.

The city has no fitness center and it doesn't need one. Navigating the hilly streets is akin to a rigorous hiking trip. And there is a park in the center of town where everybody gathers. It seemed to me that the daily walking created a strong sense of community. Being in Xalapa felt like a daily festival. People, already drawn out of their houses and cars, tended to linger in the park as an extension of the family home.  Venders would set up impromptu booths, and children played freely while adults socialized. 

Marcie Hambrick, MSW is a Doctoral student in Sociology at Georgia State University.  She also teaches sociology at Georgia Northwestern Technical College and is the Director of New Leaf Outreach Anger Management and Stress Solutions in Dalton. She can be reached at

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Living Walls Atlanta: Community Engagement Through Art but Ask the Community First

Posted by Chandra Ward, ATLANTA, GA -- On March 9th the East Atlanta Village, in conjunction with Living Walls Atlanta (LWA), hosted a block party which turned the village into an open art gallery for the public's viewing enjoyment.  The works on display ranged from knitted bicycles draped along the sidewalk from Knitterati, to large murals splayed against walls behind businesses and tucked away clandestinely between alleyways.  Local vendors were also present along the streets. As a matter of fact, in an outside market area these vendors were peddling anything from homemade soaps and natural beauty products, to clothing constructed from multiple pieces of recycled clothing.

LWA is responsible for a number of murals and street art that has garnered a lot of attention, both positive and negative, around the city.  One of the more controversial projects was a mural, which some of the residents interpreted as “demonic,” located in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Atlanta.  The mural, work of  Living Walls' artist Roti of France, sparked a firestorm of public debate which ultimately resulted in some residents painting over the mural with thick gray paint.

A member of LWA told me that the organization's purpose is to facilitate community engagement through art as opposed to outsiders inserting art into the community without community involvement.  Her take on the organization's purpose is perhaps an attempt to avoid the Pittsburgh “demonic” mural debacle.   The East Atlanta Village Block Party was a great vehicle for the vision presented by that member. It was a collaboration between LWA and  neighborhood businesses to create an event for the community. And, at least in part involved the community.

A project such as LWA is one which ignites the debate over how and by whom public space should be utilized.  As an artistic community intervention of public space LWA, I believe, helps to keep communities unique and people driven.  LWA helps to take a space or wall that would otherwise be ignored and forgotten, and replaces it with art that can spark social commentary or evoke a sense of awe that only nature and art can bring about in the public imaginary.  However, as LWA has learned, without community involvement despite the best of intentions, the same endeavors can spark animosity and distrust.


Chandra D. Ward is a Doctoral student in the Sociology Department at Georgia State University. She is also Social Shutter’s Assistant Editor. You can contact her at

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Tums in the City

Posted by Deirdre Oakley, ST. LOUIS, MO – Having a manufacturing plant in the middle of a city seems like a thing of the past. But not in St. Louis where Tums – yes those famous antacid tablets -- have been manufactured for the past 83 years at 320 South Broadway right across the street from the Busch Stadium. According to a 2010 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article, the five-story, city block-long plant is where 99.9 percent of Tums are produced. Its presence harkens to an inner city industrial past bringing a different kind of symbolic meaning to the timelessness of Tums and acid indigestion.

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