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getting together

I’ve come to see that in all of our identity, we have two different parts of ourselves. We have a consumer self and a citizen self. And that consumer self is spoken to and validated and nurtured from day one, so that muscle is really well developed. We all know how to be consumers; we know how to get online right now and get any product from anywhere in the world delivered to our door. And one of the things about familiarity is it can lull us into staying there. So we stay in this consumer realm.

Meanwhile, the citizen part of our self, our citizen muscle, has atrophied. I really see this when I show The Story of Stuff at public events. Somebody will almost always raise their hand and say, “What can I buy differently to solve this problem?” And I tell them, You know what? You can’t. Because the solutions that we need are not for sale. Even at Whole Foods.

Annie Leonard, on Marc Steiner and in Urbanite.

It’s no waste of words to say again that this is a most remarkable moment in American history. I’m very grateful to be here to see it.

My prayer is that President Obama is right, that something in us as a country really is ready to enter a ‘new era’ — not of rest & dubious reward but of responsibility.

A little New Urbanist economics, from former Winnipeg mayor Glen Murray in a recent interview on Smart City Radio — worth listening to all of.

Coletta  In this economic downturn, several U.S. cities have already asked the federal government for their own bailouts. What’s your opinion on that?

Murray  Uh I sort of share the perspective of my friend John Norquist, the former mayor of Milwaukee, who, uh, makes the point that — what cities don’t need is greater dependence on federal revenues in Canada and the United States. What cities do need is to really vacate tax room, and allow municipalities to have a more diverse range of revenue sources. Especially ones that aren’t as economically destructive as property taxes, which — property taxes is, is the sole source of revenue for most cities, the real huge disincentive to quality development. Every time you improve your building, even if it’s to green your building, make it more energy efficient, you’re getting hit with, with a penalizing tax. So property taxes are, are quite a brown form of taxation, ‘specially cause they, they really don’t tax land, they really are essentially a tax on buildings and the built environment. They don’t grow with the economy — cities are very smart about intensification, transit, walkable neighborhoods; property taxes don’t reward cities for smart investments, they don’t grow with the economy. So — we don’t have a good mechanism, what we do is we, we leave the burden of responsibility for fixing cities on the rate-payers and on the municipal treasury, and when they do get it right, they don’t get the revenue back that they need to sustain that level of investment, whether it’s in transit or, uh, transportation, uh, infrastructure or policing. In Canada, the system is so perverse that — you know, I, I own a business in downtown Toronto; we pay three hundred percent more property taxes based on the assessment system, and we’re near a rapid transit line, than we would if we were a business out in a commercial or industrial park, far away from transit, and greenfield development that was energy intensive and forced all of our employees to take cars and use a lot of infrastructure, rather than fairly low environmental uh footprint that we have being in a heritage building in a very dense part of town. So, the multiplier factors for taxing the kind of development that most official plans and most sustainability strategies say we want more of, we tax several times the rate in Canada, and we heavily subsidize low density, high energy-use, poor quality developments in greenfields. And, until we get that right, the tax guy or the city assessor are gonna drive the urban agenda, not the people who are doing sustainable regional planning.

A Jan. 1 op-ed in The Sun: thoughts upon the anti-sprawl agenda, going into 2009. This time we really really mean it, right?

A decade after the initiative began, what works and what doesn’t? What hasn’t worked, according to the Maryland Department of Planning, are efforts to reduce sprawl development. By contrast, the essential finding of a study presented at the 2007 conference of the National Center for Smart Growth is that state programs targeted to support existing communities and downtown revitalization promote more development and private investment in these areas, where the state wants new growth and development to occur. The list of successful downtown communities in Maryland is extensive and growing. . . .
   Let us suggest an alternative to top-down oversight over local planning and zoning. This alternative approach is not so driven by artificial statistics — such as land “consumption” numbers or statewide goals for land preservation — that have no real relationship to how people live. It is driven by the goal of making existing communities more attractive places to live, work and play.

Hm. Three easy-to-understand components, eh? Do go on . . . .

Forty-five Years

Conscience would not allow me to vote for him, but I feel a swell of gratitude with the outcome of this election, even so. It’s a great day to be an American. We need to pray that the Obama presidency, too, is a great presidency.

Briefly observed on the roadside this morning in Silver Spring: a lone figure, sandy-haired, bearded, in t-shirt & jeans, holding out toward passing traffic a small poster-board sign, red & blue lettering, reading,

If you love your MAMA
vote OBAMA

I’m pretty sure McCain can’t hope to generate any expression of support quite as warm & communal as this, no matter what he does. Who knows, though? National politics brings out all sorts of weird in people.

(Via Endlessly Rocking, via Boar’s Head Tavern.)

We have confused, as a society, wants and needs, and a lot of people have raised up their wants way above their needs and way above their abilities to support all those wants. . . . What we have got to do is get back to the basics in difficult economic times like this and explain to people that you will not wither up and die if you don’t have that wide-screen TV.

— Millard Fuller, formerly of Habitat for Humanity, speaking in Arkansas yesterday. From The Examiner.

Better perhaps if we leave out the ‘in difficult times’ part — and give some attention to just what basics should mean.

Excerpt from an interview with U. of Chicago psych. professor John Cacioppo about recent title Loneliness — the Diane Rehm Show on Tuesday. The DRShow guest host is Frank Sesno.

Sesno:  I’d like to go . . . to an email that came in even before the program began today, and this is a very interesting question that puts it in another context — so let me read, this is the email, this is from Amy in Vermont, and she writes the following: “I wonder how much of loneliness is caused by our lack of real community in this country. An older woman said to me that it was very difficult. While she was raising her kids all the mothers were home and spent time together daily. Now, she said, no one is home, and it is no fun any more. It seems to me,” Amy continues, “that this is true, that most people are off at work all day every day, then when they come home they have no interest in anything other than seeing their own family or watching television.” And she says this: “I think the way our society is set up, with everyone off at jobs forty-plus hours per week, with America’s emphasis on the individual, our innately selfish natures take over and we simply don’t want to deal with other people.” What do you think?

Cacioppo:  I think Amy’s — [pause] — quite prescient. The, uh, in the book we talk about the effects of these societal structures and changes in our society. Uh, in . . . in 1984 there was a social science survey that asked the question, “How many confidants do you have?” . . . and the most frequent response to that question was three. Uh, that question was repeated in 2004, and the most frequent response in two thousand and four was zero.

Sesno:  Zero!

Cacioppo:  Zero.

Sesno:  What happened?

Cacioppo:  I think Amy described, partly, what’s happened. We have an aging population — but we also have divorce rates being higher, we have work demands being greater, we have, um, both, uh, parents working — so children don’t have the same time, parents don’t have the same time, that promised leisure, hours that we were going to gain over the last several decades never was realized. If we just look at the number of people living alone, it’s increased thirty percent in the last several decades.

Sesno:  And there’s something else too, and that’s technology, it strikes me — we have a technology that has tended to pull us apart. And, you know, my kids can sit in their rooms on their cell phones, uh, they don’t have televisions in their rooms — rather purposefully I might add — but it doesn’t matter because if they’ve got a computer in their rooms — and I even fought that — they can watch, download, communicate, text. It, we, we’ve disengaged from one another, it seems, driven by some of this technology.

Cacioppo:  We’ve changed our family interactions as well. When I was a child, we had dinners together as a family; now we individually go out and catch a quick meal at the fast food stores. Technology, though — its relationship to loneliness and isolation is complex. The initial studies, where people were randomly assigned to have technology or not, uh, showed that, contrary to what the authors thought they were going to find, having access to the Internet increased loneliness. . . . But subsequent research has clarified that relationship, and it’s a little more nuanced than that. Uh, if the technology is used instead of face-to-face relationships, then loneliness, depressed mood increase. If technology is instead used as a way to connect — to reinforce, supplement, and lead to face-to-face relationships that are high-quality, then technology actually is associated with reductions.

Sesno:  So you could make the case that what we see with so many people now, through their social networking, their facebooks, their youtubes, their, uh, even texting with one another, however glancing those are, that that’s actually creating a form of human connectivity.

Cacioppo:  It is. But what people sometimes miss is that it’s not the number of such contacts. . . . Um, having a handful, one or two, good friends is all it takes to feel intimately connected.

Sesno:  You’re talking about the quality, then, of the relationship.

Cacioppo:  Right. It’s the quality, not the quantity. Study after study has shown it’s the quality of those connections. And we can’t maintain high-quality, meaningful relationships with many many individuals.

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