Wednesday, November 30, 2011


UC-Berkeley land architect Louise Mozingo argues for letting go of pastoral capitalism and embracing a sustainable urban form that enhances our democracy — and stopping the subsidizing of sprawl by local, state, and federal incentives would be a good place to start to make the necessary changes:
In metropolitan areas across America, corporate campuses for research and development units proliferated and top executives ensconced themselves in palatial estates like the Deere & Co. Administrative Center outside Moline, Ill. Meanwhile, branch offices, small corporations and start-ups found footing in the office parks that lined suburban highways and arterial roads, like those of Silicon Valley in California and the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina.

Born in an era of seemingly limitless resources, this pastoral capitalism restructured the landscape of metropolitan regions; today it accounts for well over half the office space in the United States.

Yet suburban offices are even more unsustainably designed than residential suburbs. Sidewalks extend only between office buildings and parking lots, expanses of open space remain private and the spreading of offices over large zones precludes effective mass transit.

These workplaces embody a new form of segregation, where civic space connecting work to the shops, housing, recreation and transportation that cities used to provide is entirely absent. Corporations have cut themselves off from participation in a larger public realm.

Rethinking pastoral capitalism is integral to creating a connected, compact metropolitan landscape that tackles rather than sidesteps a post-peak-oil future. This requires three interrelated strategies. State and federal governments should stop paying for new highway extensions that essentially subsidize the conversion of agricultural land for development, including corporate offices. Existing infrastructure needs maintenance and renewal, not expansion.

Apropos of that, the latest piece from KJZZ's fantastic series on remarking the southwest's culture of sprawl gives a nice case study of one company's relocation from the burbs to a pedestrian-friendly area, once again focusing on corporations and their employees with the public:
So these days, Hsieh is no longer just thinking about cubicle density. He is thinking about urban density.

“It turns out that the same principles that work for improving company culture actually work for driving productivity and innovation in a city,” Hsieh said.

In 2013, Hsieh is leaving the suburbs and moving everything downtown. He is taking over the city hall building in historic downtown Las Vegas, a quirky, gritty neighborhood north of the Las Vegas strip. Right now, the area is mostly known for its aging casinos, government buildings and a smattering of pawnshops.

But downtown is also home to the city’s arts district and a few hipster friendly hangouts. The neighborhood is one of the only pedestrian-friendly parts of Las Vegas, and has been a focus of the city government’s revitalization efforts. It will welcome a new performance arts space and a few new museums next year.

Hsieh is hoping to continue to build on that energy and help make downtown Las Vegas a vibrant, urban hub. The idea is to build a community for the 2,000 Zappos employees who will be working downtown, as well as other hi-tech and Internet-based companies he hopes to draw to the area.

“In an urban environment, suddenly every cafe and bar and restaurant becomes an extended conference room,” Hsieh said. He hopes new eateries and sidewalks will serve as the backdrop for serendipitous interactions among the new downtowners.

Thinking about sustainability and revitalizing the built environment was on Kaid Benfield's mind, as well:
When we think of “sustainability,” we usually are considering the viability of a place or action into the future – as my friend Steve Mouzon puts it, “can we keep it going in a healthy way into an uncertain future?” But I increasingly think that, when we consider that nourishing the human spirit is just as important as conserving natural resources – we humans are part of this ecosystem, after all – the continuity implied by sustaining something may need to relate to the past as well as to the future.

Preservationists know instinctively the importance of connecting to the past and maintaining a legacy as we go forward. But the integration of the past into the present and future is the hard part. In the case of the built environment, how much do we save and what do we do with it? What do we preserve as is, what do we alter and/or adapt, and what do we allow to be demolished? I’ve written before that both preservationists and environmentalists must be discriminating and wise in asserting our values. If we push our principles to the maximum without awareness of the consequences to other important societal values, we risk losing our credibility, among other things.

Jesse Ausubel has been optimistically writing about it for years, but are we really in a moment of dematerialization and decreased consumption? Of course, should it be true, what is still worth remembering (as John Sterman's carbon bathtub study reminds us) is that decreased rates of consumption still result in increased overall consumption over time — not to mention that past history still matters:
[A] lot of environmental impacts are cumulative. Even if we are destroying less rainforest each year, we are still reducing the amount of rainforest left for future generations.

Similarly, those carbon dioxide emissions accumulate in the atmosphere. We cannot escape our polluting past. China’s emissions of CO2 today may be the world’s largest (and 15 times those of Britain). But if you tagged every molecule of the gas in the atmosphere according to its origin, there would still be more up there from Britain than from China.

On the topic of reducing emissions and decarbonizing the economy, Andy Revkin labels a new study in Science that finds that “technically feasible levels of energy efficiency and decarbonized energy supply alone are not sufficient” to reach deep GHG cuts by 2050 as “straight talk,” leading to the inevitable blog wars between Revkin and Joe Romm. Yes, decarbonizing the economy will be difficult, but it needs to happen. The longer we wait, the harder it is. Time to start moving now, and creating the inertia to get things moving faster into the future. And it'll take more than just technological fixes.

What is and should be our relationship to animals? It's a question that has vexed many a moral philosopher from John Stuart Mill to the most prominent environmental ethicists of our day like Peter Singer, Holmes Ralston, and the wonderful Dale Jamieson. The Chronicle this week publishes two thought-provoking essays on the subject. First, Kathy Rudy calls for a re-assessment of how we think about animals:
For animal rights to become a mainstream movement, advocates must change the way the public thinks about animals. "Women's rights" does not mean the same thing in every pocket of feminism, nor does "gay rights" or "civil rights." Those terms point to orientations around social change, not specific, agreed-upon agendas. Indeed, inside each of those other movements, arguments and conflicts abound; what holds them together in the public eye, though, is a fairly general cultural acceptance. The same thing needs to happen for animal rights.

Let's step back from the rational principles employed by many animal-advocacy philosophies to examine the emotional and spiritual connections that, for many, produced the desire for change in the first place. Stepping back allows us to ask different questions about our relationship with animals: What mechanisms of language sorted all living things into only two categories called "humans" and "animals"? What practices in capitalism rendered some animals as killable commodities? What religious practices gave only some of us souls? What scientific data render some animals as wild and others as domesticated? What stories support the view that animals could and should be exploited for human benefit? And what, exactly, counts as exploitation?

How do we interact with and connect with real animals, and how do those connections reflect (or not) current ethical thinking about animals? How well are our relationships with animals reflected in culture today? Do these stories adequately portray the way we feel with and about animals? When and under what circumstances do we get our relationships with animals "right," and how can those examples serve as a model for treatment of other animals? Examining the ways that emotion, connection, and stories have constructed our current world can build new strategies for change.
And in the other essay, Justin Erik Halldór Smith takes the long view, invoking how humans have separated themselves from the animal world over recent millennia:
Before and after Darwin, the specter of the animal in man has been compensated by a hierarchical scheme that separates our angelic nature from our merely circumstantial, and hopefully temporary, beastly one. And we find more or less the same separation in medieval Christian theology, Romantic nature poetry, or current cognitive science: All of it aims to distinguish the merely animal in us from the properly human. Thus Thoreau, widely lauded as a friend of the animals, cannot refrain from invoking animality as something to be overcome: "Men think that it is essential," he writes, "that the Nation have commerce, and export ice, and talk through a telegraph, and ride 30 miles an hour, without a doubt, whether they do or not; but whether we should live like baboons or like men, is a little uncertain." What the author of Walden misses is that men might be living like baboons not because they are failing at something or other, but because they are, in fact, primates. Thoreau can't help invoking the obscene and filthy beasts that have, since classical antiquity, formed a convenient contrast to everything we aspire to be.

The best evidence suggests that this hatred of animals—there's no other word for it, really—is a feature of only certain kinds of society, though societies of this kind have dominated for so long that the hatred now appears universal. Until the decisive human victory over other predatorial megafauna several thousand years ago, and the subsequent domestication of certain large animals, the agricultural revolution, the consequent stratification of society into a class involved with food production and another, smaller class that traded in texts and values: Until these complex developments were well under way, human beings lived in a single community with animals, a community that included animals as actors and as persons.

In that world, animals and human beings made up a single socio-natural reality. They killed one another, yes, but this killing had nothing in common with the industrial slaughter of domestic animals we practice today: Then, unlike now, animals were killed not because they were excluded from the community, but because they were key members of it. Animals gave themselves for the sake of the continual regeneration of the social and natural order, and in return were revered and treated as kin.

The uber-rich are getting richer and richer, and paying less and less in taxes:
The tax burden on the nation’s superelite has steadily declined in recent decades, according to a sliver of data released annually by the I.R.S. The effective federal income tax rate for the 400 wealthiest taxpayers, representing the top 0.000258 percent, fell from about 30 percent in 1995 to 18 percent in 2008, the most recent data available.
It's enough to make you think that perhaps we should increase the tax burden on the wealthiest of the wealthy, says Paul Krugman:
Once upon a time America was a middle-class nation, in which the super-elite’s income was no big deal. But that was another country.

The I.R.S. reports that in 2007, that is, before the economic crisis, the top 0.1 percent of taxpayers — roughly speaking, people with annual incomes over $2 million — had a combined income of more than a trillion dollars. That’s a lot of money, and it wouldn’t be hard to devise taxes that would raise a significant amount of revenue from those super-high-income individuals.

For example, a recent report by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center points out that before 1980 very-high-income individuals fell into tax brackets well above the 35 percent top rate that applies today. According to the center’s analysis, restoring those high-income brackets would have raised $78 billion in 2007, or more than half a percent of G.D.P. I’ve extrapolated that number using Congressional Budget Office projections, and what I get for the next decade is that high-income taxation could shave more than $1 trillion off the deficit.
Raising taxes and having the kleptocrats forgo a drizzle of truffle oil on their gold-dusted extinction platter special of bluefin and caviar probably won't hurt them too much, but it probably would be useful to help pay for the growing number of subsidized school lunches:
The number of students receiving subsidized lunches rose to 21 million last school year from 18 million in 2006-7, a 17 percent increase, according to an analysis by The New York Times of data from the Department of Agriculture, which administers the meals program. Eleven states, including Florida, Nevada, New Jersey and Tennessee, had four-year increases of 25 percent or more, huge shifts in a vast program long characterized by incremental growth.
And those shifts towards greater reliance on food aid are just another reminder of how much the middle class is struggling to maintain any semblance of economic security:
More than 20% of the nation faced this condition in each of the three years spanning 2008 to 2010, a sharp increase from 14.3% in 1986. Some 62 million Americans faced economic insecurity last year.

Many of the people who suffered in the economic downturn are in the middle class.

"The middle class is facing much more instability and health care [cost] risk than a generation ago," Hacker said.

The Great Recession is also prompting deep losses among the insecure, with the median drop in income for this group hitting a record 46.4% in 2009.

Hacker, who launched the Economic Security Index with a team of researchers last year, looks at three measures to determine insecurity: major income loss, out-of-pocket medical expenses and the lack of savings. He considers available income to be money left over after paying health care costs and debts.

Cathy Davidson expands on her earlier blog post about the campus Occupy protests as a “Gettysburg Moment” in an open plea to college presidents, and explicitly connects growing economic insecurity and inequality, rising costs of education, and increasing debt with what we are seeing students protest:
What is this madness? The justification for calling in the police is typically to "maintain order" or to preserve "safety" or "security" or "health." But surely violence is a distorted response to the desire for "order," "health," and "safety." And it is certainly incommensurate when dealing with such minor crimes as camping overnight on university property.

Is this really what university leaders want for our campuses? Where are today's leaders who will take the moral high ground and side sympathetically with the rising tide of students who are Occupying Higher Ed and protesting what all of us—and university presidents more than anyone else—agree is a national crisis in higher education?

The issues students "occupying" our campuses are protesting, however, are not just student issues. They are widespread economic and social problems that, statistics confirm, hit the students' generation particularly hard. Those include the radical economic disparity between rich and poor that leaves a depleted middle class, a compromised future for productive and satisfying work, escalating educational costs that burden students with impossible debt, declining support for public education, and the irrelevance of much of the current educational system for 21st-century challenges that today's students will face tomorrow. There's not an administrator in America who isn't rattling off that list when talking to alumni groups or legislators


Students are not the enemy of administrators and faculty unless we invite them to be. Students, parents, faculty, administrators, and alumni should be banding together to fight for higher-education support and higher-education reforms, including such things as limitations on student debt. Instead, by sending in the police, we make enemies of allies. Watch the Davis video, and you see the seeds of that destructive turn.


We need prominent, articulate leadership that concedes that students putting their bodies literally on the line are also raising profound issues about the future of education, which is to say the future of our nation. We don't just need better "procedures" or "task forces."

We need Lincolnesque moral fervor that honors the courage of young students who have put themselves in peril, to date with remarkable self-control and self-organization. And with the awareness that the education they support is rapidly becoming something only the elite—1 percent—will be able to afford.

Our students are not wrong in the content of their protests on behalf of education. Calling the police does not solve their problems; as we have seen too often, it can foster violence—with an ever-more-imminent potential for tragedy.

Please, dear college presidents, stop sending for the police. Our students face a difficult future. This should not be a time to beat them up, to spray them with mace or pepper juice, to kick and hit them. On the contrary, in the brochures and in the Web sites advertising our campuses, we promise that we will inspire students to "change the world." Isn't that what these students are trying to do?
Bittman on reaching more consumers with local agriculture.

Some fun with satellite imagery. I may have a master's in geography and, from time to time I do fancy myself to be more advanced at remote sensing than a pure novice, but apparently I'm awful at identifying images that aren't already georeferenced — through sheer lucky guessing I was only able to identify 15 of these images correctly. (h/t Miller.)

A federal judge trashes the SEC's agreement with Citigroup. Why he was right to do so.

A pretty visualization of how Kahneman and Taversky's prospect theory has been cited through the academic sphere.

The new, absolutely magisterial album from The Roots, undun, is streaming at NPR.

I've said it before, but my favorite musical discovery of the last few years has been Tuareg rock (oft-called “desert blues”); perhaps the finest exponents of the genre, Tianriwen, appeared on Colbert last night:

Heather's Happy Link of the Day™ for today: John James Audubon’s Birds of America, digitized.

And finally, even I can share a fun link:

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