Diversity and Disability in Restaurant Criticism in D.C.

Last month, the Kojo Nnamdi show aired a piece on the lack of diversity in food criticism in Washington D.C and featured the following people:

Among the things discussed in the show were the differences between food critics and food writers, the lack of diversity in restaurant criticism, the democratization of restaurant reviews sparkled by the internet, why should universal design and cultural appreciation be part of a restaurant critic and/or review, and why is it important to have diversity among food critics.

The show was inspired by Laura Haye’s article in the Washington City Paper, The D.C. Region Doesn’t Have Full-Time Food Critics of Color. Why That Matters.

The conversation revolves around the benefit that diverse race and ethnicity bring to the table when evaluating a restaurant. Underlying the discussion is always present the unspoken fact that food critics are not perfect and, for that reason they can also not give a perfect evaluation of a restaurant or a dish. As objective as a critic may be, there is always going to be a filter depending on that person’s previous experiences and conceptions of particular foods and restaurants/ These conceptions are directly affected and molded by factors such as race, ethnicity, disabilities, social class, among others and it is naïve to thing that having a professional training will eliminate all those bias, especially when food critics have such different experiences at restaurants depending on, among other things, their skin color. This is specially true when critics evaluate things like service at a restaurant. I think this is a valuable discussion for any type of evaluation that involves the possibility of human bias (notice that this also applies to Machine Learning and AI evaluations based on human-generated data). Definitely a very interesting show which I fully recommend.

You can read the show notes and transcription here and listen to the piece here directly from your web browser..

You can subscribe for free to The Kojo Nnadmi Show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Himalaya, or wherever you listen to podcasts. While you are there, remember to check out our own podcast: UCS Podcasts – urbanculturalstudies, by Professor Benjamin Fraser from the University of Arizona.

Amazon in Arlington

An interesting topic in today’s world is the influence that large corporations have in urban areas. Amazon is present in many locations around the world. Amazon jobs were advertised: 210 at the time of writing. Mostly (if not all) are cities. Recently, the Kojo Nnadmi show featured this week its piece on Arlington called Amazon’s $20 Million Housing Deal. It talks about the pros and cons of Amazon’s presence in this city and how inevitably Amazon is changing some of the fundamental components of its makeup. A very interesting topic, indeed.

You can subscribe for free to The Kojo Nnadmi Show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Himalaya, or wherever you listen to podcasts. While you are there, remember to check out our own podcast: UCS Podcasts – urbanculturalstudies, by Professor Benjamin Fraser from the University of Arizona.

The City Podcast “… if you see a mountain, be suspicious. Landfill!”

Chicago Skyline – Photo by Erol Ahmed on Unsplash

The quote above in the title is from Professor Robert Bullard, pioneer investigator of environmental discrimination and father of the concept of environmental justice. He is one of the many interviewees in The City, a podcast by USA Today. The full quote is this: “Chicago is completely flat, so if you see a mountain, be suspicious. Landfill!”

The City is a journalistic reconstruction of the start of the illegal dumpsters in the city of Chicago. In this podcast, creator, host, and executive producer Robin Amer, and her team of journalists tell the story of how one of Chicago’s most prolific criminals (John Cristopher) dumped piles of debris in several black neighborhoods. Robin Amer focuses her attention on the “six-story mountain of rubble in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood” and its ties to an FBI operation (operation “Silver Shovel”) aimed to uncover political corruption in the city.

“The FBI called this new undercover investigation Operation Silver Shovel. “Silver” like the 30 pieces of silver Judas got for betraying Jesus. And “Shovel” like the bulldozers at John Christopher’s dumps.” – Says Aimer on Episode 5 where she continues to disclose how this FBI operation worsens the problem of unwanted waste in minority neighborhoods by protecting John Christopher as an informer while he still kept dumping in other neighborhoods, presumably without the FBI’s knowledge.

The podcast is not only well documented, but it also offers its listeners a chance to look at some of the concrete evidence used in the investigation, including some transcriptions, pictures and files. It is all available directly in the website under a link that says “DIG DEEPER”.

The City also has a VR/3d model of the North Lawndale neighborhood as it was in 1992. The model is available though the web or contained in USA Today’s app where you can use a VR set to explore the neighborhood. Alternatively, you can check the 3D map directly below by clicking on the play button and moving your mouse around. Make sure to click on the annotations bar that pops up at the bottom so you can get more information about the effects of this massive dump in the middle of a once clean and healthy neighborhood.

As an avid podcast listener, I recommend The City to anyone interested in urban issues, real stories, journalism and high quality podcasts. If you want to give The City a try, here is a 28 second trailer from the first season. The second season was recently released and I will write about it when I’m done listening!

A 28 second trailer from the first season of The City

You can subscribe for free to The City Podcast on ApplePodcasts, Spotify, Himalaya, or wherever you listen to podcasts. While you are there, remember to check out our own podcast: UCS Podcasts – urbanculturalstudies, by Professor Benjamin Fraser from the University of Arizona.


  • If you would like to learn more about environmental discrimination, make sure to read this article and visit Dr. Bullard’s website here.
  • If you would like to learn more about The City, I recommend this article by Mauricio Peña from the non-profit news outlet Block Club Chicago.
  • If you would like to know more about Robin Amer, you can find her website here.
  • Transcripts from the city are also available at the podcast website here.

Recent attacks on (some) smart cities in the US

Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

As I was listening this morning to one of my favorite tech shows, ‘Smashing Security‘, I realized I didn’t quite cover an important aspect of ‘smart cities’ in my recent post “Smart Cities and the Fourth Industrial Revolution“. While in my previous post I briefly touch on issues like privacy and the dehumanization of data, I did not explore at the issue of security.

With the large quantity of data generated in (by?) smart cities and all the computer systems put in place to make city life more efficient, also comes vulnerability. Smart cities incorporate technology to solve many urban conundrums such as parking spaces, traffic management, and even affordable housing, but making them secure is a big issue that will need to be solved fast.

On episode 142 of Smashing Security (I know I’m a little behind, but as a graduate student I do my best to keep up), the hosts of the podcast talk about the several ransomware attacks that smart cities around the US have recently been subject to. Twenty-two of these attacks happened in Texas in 2019 only! The attacks cause more than just data breaches; attackers are able to ‘hold a city hostage’ by freezing its cyber-infrastructure and impair people’s access to online services or even to retrieve important online documents like digital birth certificates, among other things.

When I heard this news, I didn’t know that Texas had 22 smart cities, least that they had been attacked. However, Smashing Security’s co-host Carole Theriault said something key about smart cities during the show: how smart is a smart city is a matter of degree. So how much cyber-infrastructure is in place and how much of it can be targeted because of its vulnerabilities is also a matter of degree. The podcast mentions a few more attacks than the ones in Texas and goes on in detail about what the attackers ask for in return and how these cities have dealt in different ways with these problems.

As I hope that this trend of attacks gets stopped soon, one thing I think is clear to me: while we are living in this time where cities are not fully ‘smart’, we need to start integrating cybersecurity best practices into our culture on all levels…

To listen for free to this episode of Smashing Security, you can follow this link, or you can find the show on iTunes, Spotify, Himalaya, or wherever you listen to podcasts. While you are there, remember to check out our own podcast: UCS Podcasts – urbanculturalstudies, by Professor Benjamin Fraser from the University of Arizona.


  • For a deeper discussion on the infrastructure of smart cities, you can check out this post and the references within episode 142 of Smashing Security.

005 – Los Angeles and Hollywood – Kooistra reads the Urban Sexual Economy through Films Novels and the Courts – Urban Cultural Studies Podcasts

UCS 005 Kooistra on Prostitution in Hollywood/Los Angeles: Films, Novels and the Courts Kooistra (13 August 2013)  Conversational interview inspired by scholar AnneMarie Kooistra’s article “The Harlot City?: Prostitution in Hollywood, 1920-1940,” forthcoming in the Journal of Urban Cultural Studies (1.1, 2013). Drawing on the titular nickname introduced by Carey McWilliams in 1927, topics range from specific films, novels and the famed ‘Love-Mart’ case of alleged ‘Hollywood madam’ Olive Clark Day to the theories of geographers Mike Davis/Edward Soja and historian Sharon Ullman–in exploration of the city’s modern urban sexual economy.

004 – Theory-Parkour – Lamb on Parkour, Architecture and the Body – Urban Cultural Studies Podcast

UCS 004 Lamb on Parkour, Architecture and the Body (12 August 2013) Conversational interview inspired by scholar Matthew Lamb’s article “Misuse of The Monument: The Art of Parkour and the Discursive Limits of a Disciplinary Architecture,” forthcoming in the Journal of Urban Cultural Studies (1.1, 2013). Pitched at a theoretical level (complementing the specific place-bound analysis of  Monument Circle in Indianapolis found in the article) discussion centers on the origins (and varieties) of parkour–an athletic engagement with the built environment (misuse through climbing, dropping, vaulting, jumping…)–and the conditioning of the body in place and as subject to architectural and urban forces.

[newer] eflyer – Journal of Urban Cultural Studies (Intellect)



001 – Valencia/Bilbao/Barcelona – Vilaseca on Street Art in Spain – Urban Cultural Studies Podcast

UCS 001 Stephen Vilaseca on Street Art in Barcelona Valencia and Bilbao Spain (28 June 2013)  Conversational interview inspired by scholar Stephen Vilaseca‘s recent article “From Graffiti to Street Art: How Urban Artists Are Democratizing Spanish City Centers and Streets,” originally published in the journal Transitions: Journal of Franco-Iberian Studies (8, 2012). Topics include: public space, graffiti vs. street art, artists Escif, Frágil and Dr. Case, Valencia, Bilbao, and Barcelona. [LINK TO ORIGINAL PUBLISHER]