The Future of Cities Series: Why and When Gentrification Fail

For those who follow my blog, you know me as a freelance graphic designer and entrepreneur. Rarely have I donned my cap as an urban planner on any of my earlier posts; with a few exceptions like the one on Airbnb’s next move (story here). A slightly ambitious project this time around, where I’ll explore aspects of urban planning and urban design under the topics, ‘The Future of Cities’. I have absolutely no idea how long this series will last, but it’s definitely a subject worth exploring. Maybe I’ll even try to get a few other urban planners and urban designers involved in the discussion. We’ll see. For now though, I’ll start by looking at one “solution” that has bothered me throughout my decade-long career as an urban planner and consultant — gentrification.

What is gentrification? Well, depending on who you ask, they might tell you it’s the best thing to ever happen to any neighbourhood or city. And you know what; they’d be partly right, but not completely.

“Gentrification is a process of renovation and revival of deteriorated urban neighbourhoods with influx of more affluent residents, which results in increased property values and the displacing of lower-income families and small businesses.” – Wikipedia

It sounds spectacular for the housing and commercial developers, hipsters, and investors, but one of the greatest downside to gentrification is what it does to the character of a neighbourhood or city.

Put simply, gentrification is a lot like “Out with the old, in with the new!” approach to urban planning. Where planning fails to cater to what’s most important and that is preserving the character of a place.

We’ve all seen it happen to famous neighbourhoods like Harlem (New York City). A largely African-American neighbourhood that emerged from 1920s and 30s America to drive the cultural movement — the “Harlem Renaissance” that gave the world poetry, music, art, dance, beauty. Harlem’s had a tumultuous history that saw its people face poverty, violence, and suffering. Flash-forward to present, Harlem has evolved into high-end everything — housing, yoga studios, restaurants, coffee shops, and so on. It’s become the cookie-cutter approach to gentrification.

While this may seem like a good thing and in many ways, and it is, the downside to all this high-end lifestyle is that it can only be given by those from the outside. Those who were the original residents, whose families have spent decades in those neighbourhoods are quickly or slowly finding themselves on their way out. It’s just how the real estate market works. Fancy things mean everything else around it goes up in price. This spells great for the developers, politicians, and technocrats, but we can see who ends up the biggest losers. This is where gentrification fails.

Another classic example is the High Line project, again in New York City. It’s a fantastic project that exhibits how we can review derelict infrastructure and transform them into shiny new things and spaces to be enjoyed and savoured. In this case over six million people a year visit this space. In summary, the High Line project was an iconic railway-turned-park that has helped to catapult “a new era of landscape design”, according to one article.

Personally, the only failure of projects like High Line is not taking the steps to protect the future of the original residents in the surrounding neighbourhoods. There should always be the ambition to keep the character and authenticity of a place.

The failure of gentrification stems from not designing neighbourhoods and cities around people and their existing and future needs. Urban planning and urban design should encourage balance and equity where practical.

Here in Toronto, there has been pockets of gentrification throughout at least 25% of city in areas like South Riverdale/Leslieville, Trinity Bellwoods, the Junction, and St. James Town. Again, it’s more of the same — house prices skyrocketing (by 140 per cent), mom-and-pop eateries making way for new condominiums, little improvement in average household salaries for those at the bottom, Starbucks, restaurants, and bars (and maybe a yoga studio here and there). There’s still inequity and at the end of the day, those who are poor still get displaced by those with salaries between $65K to $99.5K.

From my previous urban planning experiences, it is tantamount that every city is a place to live, work, learn, and play. What pushes people out of a neighbourhood experiencing gentrification are increased prices and stagnant salaries. The lack of disposable income becomes a factor that works against them. The ideal scenario ought to be on that encourages employment opportunities and services within a commutable radius. Gentrification should be about elevating people’s lives and not just about generating profit.

When it comes to gentrification, here’s what should happen:

1. Engage multi-stakeholders (neighbourhoods, NGOs, politicians, developers) using workshops, vox populi, surveys, etc. and find out what their visions are for the future of their neighbourhood.

2. Get everyone to create the future they’ve envisioned using a multi-day design charrette with the help of urban designers, city planners, and architects. Gather all the pens, pencils, coloured markers and crayons, and paper you can find. It’s guaranteed to produce design ideas for master plans, artist renderings, and a brief or comprehensive report that can be disseminated to the public.

3. Focus on creating mixed-use developments with an emphasis on diverse housing solutions for those at the lower-end of the salary scale (working class). The great thing about design is experimentation. Costs can be driven down with alternate construction methods, building materials, and finishes (as well as by significant demand).

4. Attract investors by using derelict buildings, tax breaks, and other incentives on the contingency that they create employment opportunities for qualified locals.

5. Policy should then be introduced to promote neighbourhood preservation as new buildings are constructed; for e.g. mom-and-pop restaurants juxtaposed with “hip and trendy” restaurants.

The important thing leading up to and during gentrification is to consider people as people and not as statistics from a census. View neighbourhoods as neighbourhoods and not as prime real estate opportunities to drive prices upwards just to cash in on a bubble susceptible to bursting. Finally, every city should engage both its internal and external stakeholders. It is only through public-private participation and creative collaboration can sustainable results be achieved.

First Look at 'The Fate of the Furious' Trailer

The first trailer is here for the latest sequel in The Fast and the Furious franchise and it left me saying, “Daaammn!”

Vin Diesel reprises his role as Dominic “Dom” Toretto in the upcoming eighth film, The Fate of the Furious. [aka “F8”] Notably absent from the film is the late Paul Walker (Brian O’Connor), whose last role was in the box office smash Furious 7 (2015) of the aforementioned franchise.

A close-up shot of Diesel’s character Dominic “Dom” Toretto on location in Havana, Cuba

Here’s the premise of The Fate of the Furious:

“Dom and Letty are on their honeymoon, Brian and Mia have retired from the game and the rest of the crew has been exonerated. The globetrotting team has found a semblance of a normal life. But when a mysterious woman (Cipher) seduces Dom into the world of crime, he can’t seem to escape and betrays those closest to him. The crew will face trials that will test them as never before.”

This eighth adventure will take fans “from the shores of Cuba and the streets of New York City to the icy plains off the arctic Barents Sea…”, giving us an epic street race and more outlandish car chase sequences as the F8 team crisscross the globe.

The official movie poster for F8 – “Family No More”

The Fate of the Furious stars (in addition to Diesel), Michelle Rodriguez (Letty Ortiz), Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (Luke Hobbs), Tyrese Gibson (Roman Pearce), Chris “Ludacris” Bridges (Tej Parker), Lucas Black (Sean Boswell), Scott Eastwood (a law enforcement agent), Kurt Russell (Frank Petty), Jason Statham (Deckard Shaw), and Charlize Theron (Cipher). The film’s directed by F. Gary Gray (Friday, Straight Outta Compton, and The Italian Job).

F8 “revs” into theatres next Spring (April 14th, 2017) and is produced by Original Film and One Race Films and is distributed by Universal Pictures.

Phresh Movie Fact: The previous seven Fast and the Furious films (2001-2015) have generated a whopping $3.948 billion at the worldwide box office.

Casey Neistat Brings Pokémon GO to Life with a Little Help from Pikachu

Casey Neistat (filmmaker and YouTube vlogger) just did it again with this FUN new short film (Pokémon Go IN REAL LIFE)! “Riding” on the popularity of the latest (viral gaming app), Pokémon GO, with a little help from his YouTube collaborator Shonduras.

In the video, we see them execute a well-choreographed chase sequence through the streets of New York City (NYC) with Neistat dressed Ash Ketchum-like and Shonduras as Pikachu. We also get some viewer reactions and everyone (except two NYPD officers) seemed to have gotten a kick out of the whole thing.

Ash Ketchum and the lovable Pikachu

Since starting daily vlogging last April, Casey’s managed to create some pretty viral content including this YouTube video (SNOWBOARDING WITH THE NYPD). He’s also successfully managed to grow his subscribers from just over half a million, to fast approaching 4 million.

Pokemon Go - app
Pokémon GO logo and screenshot of the gaming app

I’m sure this new Pokémon GO video will be a hit and will only catapult Casey Neistat into the stratosphere of YouTube vlogging. If this isn’t a great example of guerrilla marketing, I don’t know what is! Pokémon GO will launch in Japan tomorrow (after a little snag) and it makes you wonder if this wasn’t all part of Casey’s plan to tap into that audience.

Keep up the great work, Casey! Enjoy the video. It definitely made my morning and left me laughing.

YouTubers Snowboard through the Streets of NYC

What do you do after your city has faced down one of the worse blizzards on record?! You take to the streets of course! Leave it to Casey Neistat to go snowboarding through the streets of New York City (NYC)!

If you’ve never heard of or seen Casey’s short films and daily vlogs, you can check out the blog I wrote on the super-talented storyteller. I’ll put the link below.

Who wouldn’t want to be out in that “winter wonderland”! I’ll tell you this much, this videos going to go VIRAL. Casey has found another winter…errr winner. Props to his partner in crime and famous YouTuber and Vlogger Jesse Wellens as well for this unforgettable collaboration.

It left me smiling from start to finish. Watch and enjoy!

Here’s the blog post –

Make sure you follow my blog! Thanks.

17 Questions with Copywriter and Branding Expert Alison Hess

Alison Hess is a talented Copywriter who has spent her career crafting “matchless voices” for internationally-known brands. You’ve probably even seen her work online, on TV, flipping the pages of a magazine or while riding the subway (for NYers). I first met Alison in Jamaica, while she was covering the country’s 50th year of independence, as well as all the excitement surrounding the 2012 Olympics for PUMA. I recently interviewed Alison to learn more about how she got into copywriting, her first project, her latest projects, and how she finds inspiration.

A Snapshot Profile of Alison Hess

Alison Hess is an award-winning copywriter, brand planner and creative director in New York City (NYC) who’s worked on some of the biggest ad campaigns with global brands like Subway and Nike. After working with a string of stellar agencies (like Opperman Weiss and Sylvain Labs), she’s returned to her roots as a freelancer.

Education: Williams College, Massachusetts, U.S.A.
Organisation(s) founded: Alison Hess, Inc.

Puma Basket
From the campaign for ‘PUMA Archive’ | Source:

The Phresh Interview

Phil Rodriques (PR): What’s your favourite quote/mantra?
Alison Hess (AH): I just read the best book I’ve read in years, A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara, and I loved this line: “…things get broken, and sometimes they get repaired, and in most cases, you realize that no matter what gets damaged, life rearranges itself to compensate for your loss, sometimes wonderfully.”

PR: Where did you study?
AH:  I studied at Williams College. It was pure liberal arts, which taught me to think. I majored in Religion and English, and had the luxury of spending four years reading. I did a poetry thesis. Nothing remotely practical!

Bacardi Brand-Cuba
From the Barcardi Brand Book | Source:

PR: What sparked your interest in copywriting, brand planning, and creative direction?
AH: My mentor, Benjamin Bailey, hired me in NYC, three weeks out of college, and I’ve been working with him ever since. I knew nothing of what I do before meeting him; he taught me everything.

PR: Can you remember your first copywriting project?
AH: The job with Ben[jamin Bailey] was at an ecommerce/catalog retailer that sold handcrafted things from around the world. Product descriptions, headlines, etc. were the first thing I ever wrote for a commercial audience. I loved it.

PR: Can you please name some of the biggest brands you’ve done work for?
AH: Nike, American Express, Bacardi, Puma, Levis, Comcast, Godiva, Chobani, Martini…lots. Plus some great Jamaican brands like ICWI, Jake’s Hotel, Jamaica Tourist Board, Cable & Wireless…

Jakes' Hotel-room
From the newly designed Jake’s Hotel website | Source:

PR: What’s the biggest lesson that you’ve learned in your 14 years as a copywriter?
AH: I’d say that every brand deserves a unique voice, and it’s worth it to take the time to explore and find it.

PR: What’s your favorite part about being a copywriter?
AH: It’s almost like being an actor with words.

PR: What drives your work ethic?
AH: I’m freelance, so the relationships I make feed more work.

PR: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given in your industry?
AH: Building a brand is part science, part instinct.

A proud sponsor of New York’s Fashion Week | Source:

PR: What have been some of your unexpected career hurdles to date?
AH: Sometimes it’s taking on too much work and not achieving any balance. Sometimes it’s chasing checks [cheques].

PR: What would you say have been some of your unexpected successes?
AH: I was in the right place at the right time working on Nike+ and unexpectedly won every award in the industry in 2007.

PR: What’s the best part about working as a freelancer?
AH: Choosing the projects I take on and the agencies I engage with. Essentially, I have agency.

PR: What aspects of a new project keep you up at night or make you the most paranoid?
AH: Just deadlines. And sometimes client presentations.

The award-winning campaign for Nike+ | Source:

PR: Where do you find the inspiration for each project?
AH: I look around. New York City provides a lot to notice. I also read, because I tend to write in the style of whatever I’m devouring.

PR: What was your latest copywriting project?
AH: I’m working on Comcast and Chobani right now.

PR: What advice would you give to aspiring copywriters?
AH: Learn to be flexible with your voice. It’s not how you want it to sound…it’s how it needs to sound for the brand. The first thing you should ask is: “Who’s the audience?”

PR: Is there anything else you would like to add?
AH: Look for a mentor. It was one of the best things I ever did.


The How You Living Interview Series: New York City

I wanted to try something new, so I created this interview series dubbed “How you living?!” that will feature glimpses of city living through the lens of some friends of mine. Hopefully 10 to 13 questions are enough. This week, we’re live from New York, New York where the buildings touch the sky and the city never sleeps!! Enjoy the interview and leave a comment using your Facebook or Twitter account!

Interviewee: André Haffenden
Location: New York City, U.S.A.

Photo credit: André Haffenden
Photo credit: André Haffenden

The Interview

Phil Rodriques (PR): Where are you originally from?
André Haffenden (AP): Born in Mandeville, Manchester, Jamaica. Spent formative years in Cross Keys, South Manchester.

PR: You’re an architect. What’s your favourite building in New York City (NYC)?
AP: Hmm, this is a tough question, because there are too many great buildings/structures here. I’ll just list a few that I admire, I don’t subscribe to “favourites” really. In no particular order: The Guggenheim Museum, The Highline, The 9/11 Memorial Pools, Apple Store (5th Ave. location), Flatiron Building [pictured below], The Cooper Union, Brooklyn Bridge (other bridges are awesome too)… I’ll just throw in the subway as well.

PR: Why did you move to NYC?
AP: Big city bright lights man. Mainly for my son and job opportunities.

Photo credit: André Haffenden
Photo credit: André Haffenden

PR: What’s the best part about living in NYC?
AP: Waking up every morning and upon inhalation, the stench of the city filling your lungs to capacity, constant reminder you’ve made it to NYC. Really though, there’s always something to do, something to see, something new… hard to get bored. And food.

PR: What’s the worst thing about living in NYC?
AP: Rent.

Photo credit: André Haffenden
Photo credit: André Haffenden

PR: Who’s the biggest celebrity you’ve ever walked by on the street?
AP: Probably Daniel Libeskind (Celebrity Architect), literally bumped into him on sidewalk downtown. Biggest that the popular culture might recognize was Lady Gaga (Singer + Songwriter).

PR: Where are the best places to eat?
AP: This question would have to be broken down by where you are in the city, by neighbourhoods. There are far too many great places to eat.

PR: Where are the best places to go for the nightlife experience?
AP: Perhaps the West Village.

Photo credit: André Haffenden
Photo credit: André Haffenden

PR: Where’s your favourite part of the city?
AP: I like the piers and the Highline. Central Park as well, although I don’t go there often.

PR: How do you get around the city on a daily basis?
AP: Mostly by subway; then buses, taxi, Uber.

PR: What’s the most horrific thing you’ve seen since living there?
AP: The aftermath of an apartment building explosion on the same street I live on. Even more horrific were the bigoted comments online about the incident.

Photo credit: André Haffenden
Photo credit: André Haffenden

PR: Tell us one stereotypical thing about New Yorkers that’s true.
AP: New Yorkers are ALWAYS in a hurry. Facts!

PR: What’s the one thing every visitor must do before leaving NYC?
AP: They must get out the way of people trying to go about their business, ugh. Then they should visit the Highline and 9/11 Memorial… try a restaurant in at least five different neighbourhoods, and most of all, go uptown.


Introducing One of My Favourite Filmmakers Casey Neistat

Like many of you, I spend parts of my days watching videos on YouTube. It never gets boring! There’s always something new.

I’m not really familiar with a lot of video bloggers, but the ones I do know tend to just sit in front of a camera and record themselves talking. That’s fine, if you’re into that sort of thing. I, however, appreciate people who are great and genuine storytellers and one such storyteller is Casey Neistat.

He’s a young filmmaker whose YouTube channel I’ve been following for a few years now since I first stumbled on this video entitled “Make It Count” posted April 9th 2012. Nike basically hands him some money to make them a movie about what it means to make it count, Casey opts for making his own movie on what it means. Personally I preferred his approach which was a trip across the globe capturing the moments as they went along until the film budget was spent.

Flash-forward to 2015, Casey makes a rather BIG ANNOUNCEMENT and as a fan, I had no idea what that could be. When I watched the video it was the greatest news I could ever imagined! His new plan outside of making films for his YouTube channels was going to be one vlog every day for a year or until he got bored. It was his big pivot of sorts for turning 34 and wanting to keep pushing his passion and his craft.

Film-making can’t be easy with all the footage that you have to capture then the editing, colour correction and adding of sound and music in the post-production phase. By the way, the music featured in every vlog Neistat puts out is always top-notch! I respect the quality that goes into the quantity of films he’s produced to date. It’s impressive and really motivates me to work on my own craft and try to explore various medium of expression.

Below is his latest vlog, which came as a bonus today and it’s a musing from the Farrelly Brothers known for movies like “Dumb and Dumber”. Casey’s film is 27 seconds long, but manages to show his talent and creativity as a filmmaker. Not sure what typeface he uses (outside of being a sans-serif), but it works especially, in upper-case letters. It makes me want to pick up my smartphone and start creating some films too. I doubt they’d be as good, but like everything else you just have to start somewhere.

You can subscribe to Casey’s YouTube channel or follow him via Instagram