Monthly Archives: January 2023

Interview with John Gilderbloom, winner of the 2022 Robert and Helen Lynd Award for Lifetime Achievement

Against the Odds: The Real Power of Science, Data, and Facts to Win Progressive Victories

John Hans Gilderbloom is a Professor in the Graduate Planning, Public Administra- tion, Public Health, and Urban Affairs program at the University of Louisville. Dr. Gilderbloom is considered one of the most influential figures in urban affairs with an emphasis on sustainability, housing, health and transportation. His fingerprints are all over cities throughout the world. As the winner of the 2022 Robert and Helen Lynd Award for Lifetime Achievement, Dr. Gilderbloom has graciously agreed to be interviewed for our newsletter. Thank you, John, and congratulations!

I am a gunshot survivor. I am grateful to be alive.  But I prefer to let the enemies of science know I have learned to thrive.  The gunshot resulted in a partial loss of eyesight and hearing, and balance issues.  I have post-traumatic stress disorder, despite years of therapy.  Before the shooting, The Nation magazine in May 1979 quoted a letter stating that powerful people in the real estate industry were going to “neutralize me” if I continued to advocate for renter rights.  I was told I would never survive, yet 43 years later I am thriving with energy, passion, joy, and love.  I persisted.  

Surviving a gunshot made me fearful but also brave, angry, determined, passionate, and stronger.  I was traumatized and because I thought I didn’t have long to live, I worked hard.  Even now, I continue to be threatened by people who don’t like my research and have had to relocate several times to protect myself.  The threats, though frightening, emboldened me and my team to continue doing research.  The Metro Louisville police have investigated several plots against me, and the District Attorney is currently prosecuting someone who is critical of my work and wrote menacing messages on social media stating he wanted to “beat me into an unrecognizable pulp.”  

Amitai Etzioni, the eminent sociologist, once asked a colleague who had received tenure what his plans were for the future.  When his colleague responded that he could now do whatever he wanted, Etzioni scolded him and told him to do something useful.  I am humbled to receive the American Sociological Association lifetime achievement award in Urban and Community studies.  I consider myself an example of a sociologist at a non-elite university doing something useful.  I think we should use our training in numbers, methods, and statistics to challenge the propaganda, pseudo-science, and falsehoods of the wealthy and powerful who are driven by their own selfish interests.   

In 1976, I earned my bachelor’s degree in sociology and entered graduate school at the University of California, Santa Barbara trained in an array of statistics, evaluation, and methods.  I was working as a graduate summer intern in the California Office of Housing and Community Development under Governor Brown.  The legislature had just passed a bill banning local adoption of rent control and the governor planned to sign it into law.  I was asked to analyze the impact of rent control.  My analysis showed that rent control was not going to have a negative effect on the quality and quantity of rental housing, but would provide improved maintenance, plus a modicum of rent relief and protection against unfair evictions.  

The governor vetoed the bill, citing my report and the lobbying of labor unions and Tom Hayden’s Economic Democracy group.  Landlord lobby groups were furious.  I was a hero to tenants and traveled the country organizing tenants for rent control from West Coast cities to Chicago, Baltimore, and New Jersey.  I self-published a book, Rent Control: A Source Book, through Foundation for National Progress, the publisher of Mother Jones magazine.

The book was recognized by the media as the “Bible of the renters’ rights movement.”  It featured a model rent control law and elegant and powerful short essays by prominent urban writers such as David Harvey, Richard Appelbaum, Dennis Keating, Michael Stone, Chester Hartman, Peter Marcuse, James O’Connor, Cary Lowe, Emily Paradise Achtenberg, John Atlas, Thomas Angotti, and others.  It enraged the billion-dollar real estate industry.  

The lobbyists representing real estate interests complained to the Reagan administration, demanding that they ban federal block grant funds going to any cities that had regulations covering rents and environmental protections.  The National Homeless Coalition, led by Mitch Snyder, asked me to review their proposed legislation and assertions that regulations cause high rents and homelessness.  My team methodically destroyed their claims, showing the reports to be filled with falsified data which was unsupportable (two of our articles were later published in the Journal of the American Planning Association).  I, along with advocates for the homeless, then went to the Federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) headquarters and met with Secretary Jack Kemp’s executive staff, and President Reagan  quickly withdrew support for the legislation.  

Today, rent control laws have been enacted in West and East Coast cities and efforts are underway to enact them in middle America.  My team and I continued to publish peer-reviewed articles and books on rent control that contradicted economists who claimed the “free market” is the best tool to create affordable housing.  We also documented the dreadful housing in Communist countries like Cuba and Soviet Union.  Our research continued to be validated and the greatest compliment we received was during the COVID-19 pandemic when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) adopted our proposals for rent and eviction controls.  My work on rent and eviction controls sparked a movement in the West in which millions of tenants have saved billions of dollars.

I am also known for my work on disability rights, designing housing and neighborhoods that provide freedom of movement. We urged then-President Bush and his associates to propose the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to mandate access to bathrooms, schools, airplanes, restaurants, and workplaces for persons with disabilities. My research team argued for a redesigned city that provides people with disabilities greater access to public transportation, housing, businesses, and recreational and sport facilities.  Planning Magazine declared my research on the disabled the needed data and justification for passing the ADA. Later, I was awarded a Republican Congressional medal for promoting freedom and prosperity for those with disabilities.    

Louis Brandeis was a powerful Supreme Court Judge from Louisville who embraced science and made the famous statement that, in seeking truth, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”  That’s why I named my research center Sustainable Urban Neighborhoods (SUN).  SUN brought in $3.5 million dollars in government research and leveraged $100 million dollars in housing and neighborhood development.  We used the work of Jane Jacobs, Oscar Newman, and Andres Duany as a guide to make housing safe, healthy, prosperous, and sustainable.  

As sociologists Holly Whyte and Harvey Molotch argued, encouraging investment in empty lots, abandoned buildings, and new affordable housing will provide confidence for further investment in poor neighborhoods.  As sociologists Holly Whyte and Harvey Molotch argued, encouraging investment in empty lots, abandoned buildings, and new affordable housing will provide confidence for further investment in poor neighborhoods.  We have done two major funded research projects on HOPE VI and have been champions of its positive  impact on the poor..  We have also created partnerships with non profits to help design and lobby roughly 1,000 affordable houses both newly constructed and renovating abandoned houses.  We have also advocated for calm streets and converting multi-lane one way streets into two way that creates greater prosperity, health, and safety in poor neighborhoods.  Finally, we have advocated for beauty of historic preservation by organizing chromatic colors on buildings which spark neighborhood rejuvenation. As sociologists Holly Whyte and Harvey Molotch argued, encouraging investment in empty lots, abandoned buildings, and new affordable housing will provide confidence for further investment in poor neighborhoods.  We have done two major funded research projects on HOPE VI and have been champions of its impact.  We have also created partnerships with non profits to help design and lobby roughly 1,000 affordable houses both newly constructed and renovating abandoned houses.  We have also advocated for calm streets and converting multi-lane one way streets into two way that creates greater prosperity, health, and safety in poor neighborhoods.  Finally, we have advocated for beauty of historic preservation by organizing chromatic colors on buildings which spark neighborhood rejuvenation.  Anti-gentrification activities too often promote segregation over integration. 

But perhaps my most consequential research has been showing the connection between pollution and shortened lifespan.  Roughly 12 years ago, Louisville’s mayor announced in a report that 60,127 people living in the West End (2/3 of whom were black) lived 10 to 12 years less than people living in more affluent neighborhoods.  The mayor blamed it on culture of poverty: guns, poor nutrition, drugs, and smoking.  Nothing was mentioned in the report about the 44 chemical factories, coal-fired power plants, and liquor distilleries that contribute to Louisville having some of the dirtiest air in the nation.  My research team obtained data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) measuring four kinds of pollution, which was used with the Toxics Release Inventory reports to connect the dots between pollution and low school proficiency scores, shortened lifespan, higher rates of COVID-19, poor housing equity, and neighborhood deterioration.

We also found that Louisville became one of the biggest contributors of greenhouse gases of any U.S. city.  We published a short piece in the New York Times and Social Policy to bring awareness to this tragic situation.  I have published this work in Harvard Journal of Primary Care Review, Lancet, International Journal of Strategic Energy, and Environmental Planning.  

As a result of this research, the University of Louisville received million-dollar donations from people aligned with polluting industries to fund an institute that would not bring attention to the city’s pollution problem.  A smear campaign was launched against me, and an attempt was made to silence researchers in other environmental centers.  This was alarmingly similar to what happened in 1962, when chemical companies in Louisville launched a smear campaign against environmentalist Rachel Carson because her book, Silent Spring, brought attention to the dangers of chemical pollutants, especially DDT.  In my case, the university arbitrarily closed SUN and another environmental institute and deleted SUN’s website, which included reports on environmental racism, housing regulations, and disability.  Despite winning the Favorite Teacher and COVID-19 Hero awards this year, as well as other teaching awards, I was removed from teaching core courses in Planning and Sustainability, which I have taught for 32 years.  Although they have tried to silence me, I won’t back down.

My research has brought about progressive, inclusive, empowering, and sustainable practices.  I am proud of making policy recommendations that have improved the lives of tenants, including the disabled, elderly, and poor.  My research has been used by activists, elected officials, policymakers, and various local, state, and federal bodies, both in the U.S. and abroad.  I worked with the White House and Secretary of Housing and Community Development on national housing and environmental policy, removing urban blight and replacing it with revitalized housing. 

What is the secret sauce for winning these victories in tenant and disability rights?  How do you make polluters accountable for thousands of premature deaths and the destruction of neighborhoods?  Apply rigorous statistics and methods to an urban problem.  We conducted primarily large sample comparative and longitudinal studies.  Our research was grounded in the work of Emile Durkheim, who studied how suicide rates differed by place and religion.  The cross-sectional analysis of Roger Friedland, Harvey Molotch, Gregory Squires, and Richard Appelbaum was also influential.  While this research was important and illuminating, today a wealth of data can be accessed from the EPA, CDC, walkability studies, police crime reports, traffic studies, and other sources.

 Neighborhood Associates, a nonprofit organization in Washington D.C. under the direction of civil rights leader, Bobby Austin, has provided me with an opportunity to raise money to continue my team’s research (  I intend to teach my Planning and Sustainability courses via Zoom to people around the world and produce two books: Toxic Cities and Habits of Livable Places.  In the words of Rachel Carson in her epic book, Silent Spring, “People have the right to know.”  I would like to thank my team of graduate students and my many co-authors, especially Gregory Squires, Richard Appelbaum, Wesley Meares, Joe Feagin, Stella Capek, and Ellen Slaten.  It is such joy to be doing something useful.

Interview with Albert Fu, winner of the 2022 CUSS Teaching Award

Albert Fu is a Professor of Sociology at Kutztown University. As both an urban and environmental sociologist, his research examines the intersection between built and natural environments. Dr. Fu is also interested in how “culture” creates, defines, and controls space. At Kutztown, he regularly teaches Principles of Sociology, Sociological Imagination, Social Inequality, Urban Sociology, and Environmental Sociology. As the inaugural winner of the biannual CUSS Teaching Award, Steven Schmidt reached out to Dr. Fu to discuss his teaching, and we’ve included his responses below. Thanks for participating in our interview series!

Who (or what) inspired you to become a teacher? Did you have any classroom experiences earlier that influenced how you teach now? 

I have had so many great teachers (at all levels) over the years that have impacted my teaching. A story I often share with students is how my high school English teacher Mrs. Karen Harwood recommended that I be moved from the regular curriculum to the honors/advanced placement curriculum – despite not being a 4.0 student. In this way, Mrs. Harwood had a massive impact on my life, and I think it’s essential to pay it forward as an educator. It’s important to look out for creativity and curiosity beyond traditional grades. 

I’ve had many experiences that shaped my teaching. A particularly important one was UC Irvine’s “Humanities Out There” program. As an undergraduate student, I was able to work with students in the Santa Ana School District and get my first chance to teach (or at least facilitate discussions). This prepared me for being a teaching assistant in graduate school and shaped my teaching later. Another important one was my first full-time job out of graduate school. It was at a community college – Delaware County Community College outside of Philadelphia. You learn humility teaching traditional and non-traditional students during the Great Recession! Some college-aged students had to leave their previous university to be closer to home. Some older students lost their jobs and now needed a degree. This certainly made discussing topics like school, employment, and inequality thought-provoking.

In addition to teaching at a wide range of American institutions, I’ve taught overseas – specifically in Ethiopia and Turkey. Again, experiences like that remind me to respect the knowledge students bring into the classroom. 

Can you describe your approach to teaching community and urban sociology? What is your teaching philosophy?

I want students to think about their physical and social surroundings. I see myself as a scholar of the built environment. This impacts how I teach urban and environmental sociology courses. Something I’ve done (borrowing from Susan Freinkel’s Plastic: A Toxic Love Story) is ask students to log all the plastic things they’ve touched throughout the day. Students are often amazed at how much that stuff surrounds us! Sometimes, it’s just the little things that unlock the sociological imagination.

In terms of style, I try to keep it casual. You never know when something will spark a discussion with students. I’m a pop culture nerd. I was name-dropping Riri Williams whenever I taught Eve Ewing’s work a good few years before Wakanda Forever came out. Similarly, I often recommend a podcast interview with production designer Hannah Beachler, who created the Wakanda we saw in Black Panther. This has led to discussions of fictional cities of all sorts.

Going back to deploying students’ imagination, I give my urban sociology students a short writing assignment where I provide a hypothetical scenario such as NIMBYism, a new infrastructure project, or homelessness. In each scenario, I list various actors or parties that might be involved. The students must imagine how they might address the problem and people’s concerns. The papers are really fun to read. So much creativity from students!  

Do you have any favorite materials or courses to teach? 

This is a tough one! When I teach urban sociology, I typically have students pick from a list of books to write a report and, later, a longer paper. Since we’re close to Philadelphia, students respond well to Elijah Anderson’s The Cosmopolitan Canopy. However, I’ve also had Amin Ghaziani’s There Goes the Gayborhood, Marcus Hunter and Zandria Robinson’s Chocolate Cities, Matt Desmond’s Evicted, and many others. What I like about this assignment is having a diverse array of student papers to read! 

In general, I try to mix it up in all the courses I teach. That said, I have a bunch of re-assigned time as faculty union president. So, I’m down from a 4/4 load to a 2/2 load. This has meant more intro-level courses and fewer specialized seminars. One of the things I like about introductory courses is the ability to illustrate the breadth of sociology as a broad discipline. Short assignments such as picking an ASA section and explaining why it was chosen give me a sense of student interest in various topics or subfields.

Can you talk about a particularly memorable experience while teaching?

I have recently tried to get my students into the community much more. Kutztown University is located near Reading, Pennsylvania. It’s an old Rust Belt city about 1.5 hrs. from Philadelphia in Berks County. Like many cities, organizations such as Berks Nature, a local conservation organization, and the Berks County Community Foundation, are doing things that can inspire students.

That said, something impactful and memorable to me as an educator is seeing all the amazing things my students are doing after graduation. When I say amazing things, that includes simply living fulfilling lives. 

Interview with Jessica Simes, co-winner of the 2022 Robert E. Park Book Award

Jessica Simes was the co-winner of the 2022 Robert E. Park Book Award for her book, Punishing Places: The Geography of Mass Imprisonment. CUSS publication team member Kyle Galindez reached out to Jessica to discuss the genesis of her book and what is next for her research agenda. Thanks, Jessica, and congratulations again!

What were the main findings of your research?

Punishing Places addresses a fundamental question at the intersection of urban and punishment research: How do place-based disadvantages and residential segregation shape patterns of incarceration in the United States? While mass incarceration has mainly been theorized as the result of macro-level policies or micro-level discrimination, place is an under-appreciated meso-level mechanism of high imprisonment rates and racial disparities. To fill this gap, I apply spatial analysis to administrative records with unprecedented geographic detail that include all prison admissions in Massachusetts spanning 20 years. I contextualize this analysis with U.S. county-level jail and prison admissions data, as well as interview data. I leverage these data to expand our understanding of mass incarceration in three key ways. First, I demonstrate a historically new and nearly universal shift in the location of high incarceration rates from large urban areas to small cities, suburbs, and rural communities. Second, I show why mass incarceration must be conceptualized as a legacy of racial residential segregation in the U.S. I find remarkable consistency in Black and Latino neighborhood incarceration rates despite recent geographic shifts in prison admissions and emergent trends in incarceration rates within white neighborhoods. Finally, I argue that existing measures of mass incarceration fail to capture its broad consequences for community well-being and social inclusion; I thus reconceptualize it as a form of community loss, and draw from environmental science to define a concept of punishment vulnerability.

What motivated you to study this research topic?

I have always been deeply committed to understanding how places structure access to advantages and disadvantages in U.S. society. However, when I began to read the sociology of punishment literature, I found that few had considered how place shapes contact with the criminal justice system, particularly outside of major U.S. cities. I wanted to attend to that gap by showing how a focus on neighborhood and community-level conditions and local incarceration rates might sharpen our understanding of the historic rise in incarceration as well as racial inequality in the criminal justice system.

What surprises did you find as you conducted your fieldwork/study?

When I initially began this project, I expected that the places with highest incarceration rates would be found within large cities—the places that have received the greatest research and policy attention. I was surprised to find that neighborhoods and communities outside of, and in some instances, far beyond large population centers, are deeply affected by mass incarceration. This led to a change in my research trajectory, and specifically, a focus on small cities as important sites for understanding urban and community social processes and policymaking more broadly.

How do you plan to build on this work in the future?

We know that place matters, but how does it matter, and how does attending to that question offer new tools for ending mass incarceration? In a new project I will use computational methods to identify a diverse array of place-based mechanisms that may be driving variation in rates of and disparities in incarceration across time and space, including local housing discrimination, wealth gaps, segregation, instability, public housing, environmental toxins, evictions, enforcement practices, and electoral politics. This project will also examine incarceration as one of several criminal justice exposures that may affect social inclusion and community well-being among non-incarcerated community members, as measured by voting and mortality. This project will refine how we conceptualize incarceration and reorient conversations about mass incarceration’s effects, broadening the scope to consider how potential harms extend to the community members and neighbors of incarcerated people.

The book has also afforded me new opportunities to collaborate with local and state agencies on the development of place-based approaches to housing and economic development intended to redress the legacies of policing and incarceration in communities across Massachusetts. I hope to strengthen and expand these kinds of collaborations and develop more pathways for research to have direct policy impact.

Interview with Kiara Wyndham-Douds, 2022 Graduate Student Paper Award Winner

Kiara Wyndham-Douds, an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Washington University in St. Louis, was the winner of the 2022 Graduate Student Paper Award. Kiara’s innovative research agenda examines mechanisms that create and sustain racial inequality in contemporary American society. Their current research focuses on the intertwined nature of race and space to investigate the spatial production of racial inequality in suburbs. We reached out to ask them to discuss their research, and we’re including their responses below. Thanks to Kiara for participating in our interview series!

What were the main findings of your paper?

My paper – “The Diversity Contract: Constructing Racial Harmony in a Diverse American Suburb” – examines the dominant racial ideology in a highly racially diverse and affluent suburb of Houston, Texas, called Fort Bend. I conducted 109 in-depth interviews with residents and community leaders and found that, rather than adhering to colorblindness, the dominant racial ideology identified in other settings, residents adhered to what I call the diversity contract, a local racial ideology. Key elements of the diversity contract include the belief that the community is racially harmonious and has no racial inequality. Residents also contend that the community is racially exceptional and morally superior to other places. Though seemingly race conscious, the diversity contract ultimately functions to obscure racial inequality and uphold white domination.

What motivated you to study this particular research topic?

Theoretically, I’m interested in how systems of racial domination are created and upheld across different kinds of places. Racial diversity has mainly been studied in urban communities, but I wanted to know what kinds of dynamics exist in diverse suburbs. Personally, I grew up in Fort Bend and experienced the diversity contract firsthand. I didn’t have that framing or terminology for it before doing this study, but I knew that something distinct from colorblindness was going on there and wanted to understand it better.

What surprises did you find as you conducted your study?

Although I entered the field interested in racial beliefs and ideas, I wasn’t prepared for just how clear and widely shared the narratives of the diversity contract would be in the community. As soon as I began interviews and ethnographic fieldwork, I heard them everywhere! This clear expression of the community’s “story” about itself was an important preliminary finding that shaped my subsequent data collection. I was also surprised by a set of consistently used narratives and metaphors about suburban living. In Fort Bend as well as a second suburb that serves as a comparison site in the book I’m writing, I was struck by the way suburbanites discuss life “in the bubble” (but that’s another paper!).

What impact do you hope that your findings will have?

I hope my work helps show the ways that racial domination is upheld through different mechanisms and with different language in different places – including in highly racially diverse communities that claim to be racial utopias. This reality is not news to many residents of my study site – particularly residents of color – who know it through lived experience, but I hope my analysis is useful to community residents fighting for racial equity there and in communities like it. And theoretically, I hope to convince people that racial ideologies are fundamentally spatial and encourage investigation of ideologies in other kinds of places!

How do you plan to build on this work in the future?

My fieldwork led me to a broader interest in the production of racial inequality across suburban space. I’m exploring this through new projects on municipal incorporation, zoning ordinances, and suburban developers.

Interview with Xuefei Ren, Co-Winner of the 2022 Robert E. Park Book Award

Xuefei Ren (Michigan State University) was the co-winner of the 2022 Robert E. Park Book Award for her book, Governing the Urban in China and India: Land Grabs, Slum Clearance, and the War on Air Pollution. CUSS publication team member Kyle Galindez reached out to Xuefei to discuss the genesis of her book and what is next for her research agenda.

What motivated you to study this research topic? 

My first two books—Building Globalization: Transnational Architecture Production in Urban China (University Chicago Press, 2011) and Urban China (Polity Press, 2013) focused only on Chinese cities only. While working on these projects, I began questioning whether China’s urban experience is as exceptional as specialists often argue. I decided to incorporate a comparative perspective into my work and turned my attention to the urban experience of another enormous, developing country—India.

What were the main findings of your research?

My book challenged two prevalent views on urban governance in China and India. The first is the state-capacity perspective—the view that China’s urban governance is defined by powerful local governments, and India’s by fragmented local authorities. The second concerns regime types—the view that the key differences in urban governance in the two countries can be explained by a country being authoritarian or democratic. I critique these views as reductive and propose an alternative thesis. 

I argue that urban governance in China is territorial in nature as it is anchored on territorial institutions; urban governance in India, by contrast, is associational because it is based on alliance building. The reasons for these disparate approaches, I conclude, are rooted in each country’s historical and institutional development in the longue durée

Post-reform China inherited from previous eras a set of strong territorial institutions (such as the hukou system and dual-track land ownership) and introduced new territorial policies (such as Special Economic Zones) to spearhead urban development. India, lacking strong territorial institutions, bases its urban governance on associational politics, as actors from the state, the private sector, and civil society form contingent alliances to promote policies and projects.

What surprises did you find as you conducted your fieldwork/study?

At the theoretical level, the territorial logic of Chinese urban governance is a surprising insight. It is rarely discussed in urban China studies, which tend to focus on the local state capacity only. It’s an insight that came out of the comparison. 

On the policy level, I was surprised by the imbalance in information and knowledge among Chinese and Indian policy makers. Many Chinese officials and business people simply don’t know much about India. When Chinese officials take international “study tours,” most of them choose to visit the U.S. and Europe. If they knew more about India, they would find many points of comparison to be illuminating and meaningful. On the other hand, Indian policymakers and business leaders know a lot about China. They are very aware of the pitfalls of the Chinese model of development—high levels of inequality, over-investment in infrastructure, unsustainable land-based municipal financing, dominance of state capital, and the large rural-urban divide.

How do you plan to build on this work in the future?

As a University of Chicago-trained urban sociologist who has been studying cities in the developing world, I want to connect the fields of American urban sociology and global urban studies. Building on my research on China and India, I have extended my comparative work to North American and European cities. I’m working on a project about the “global rustbelt”, examining culture-led revitalization in Detroit, Harbin (China) and Turin (Italy). I’m also working on a new project related to the pandemic, with colleagues in Canada and South Africa. We want to study how Chicago, Toronto and Johannesburg differently responded to the pandemic and how the pandemic has affected the most vulnerable neighborhoods in these three cities. 

Studying Racism and Capitalism in Cities Webinar

City & Community is excited to host “Studying Racism and Capitalism in Cities” on Thursday, February 16, at 6:30PM (ET). Differing from webinars we have hosted in the past which have been tailored to junior scholars, this event launches a new virtual panel series on topics within the journal’s scope in which more established scholars share their experiences and intellectual journeys with the intention of both guidance and information.

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