OUR NEW EXTENDED FAMILIES: How the Built Environment and Public Services Shape Social Relationships and Democratic Government
“Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.” “I should have called it
Something you somehow haven’t to deserve.”
Death of the Hired Man, Robert Frost
The two most important things about relatives, my mother used to say, are that you don’t get to choose them and that they take care of each other. Back in the day, when most families were extended, you had no choice about going to grandma’s for Sunday dinner and you simply accepted that Uncle Al was loud, that Aunt Sarah was obnoxious, that Cousin Bob told bad jokes, and that each of the other people in the room were just who they were. There was no option – family was your world: for some of us, a significant part of our social life was the regular meeting of our “cousins’ club.” At family gatherings, you learned not only that everyone was different but that it was possible to tolerate those differences and still share a meal – one of the fundamental understandings that underpin both families and democracy.Read more
THE OCCUPY MOVEMENT AND ADVOCACY: Movement Building, Institutional Reform, and Organizational Development (Part I)
Grass roots movements are the soil from which advocacy eventually grows. As I write this, it’s not clear if the current wave of “Occupy Wall Street” groups will continue expanding to new cities, or if the arrests in NYC, Boston, and elsewhere have capped its growth.
For all my admiration of the Occupy movement, for all my hope that it grows and spreads, I have no illusions that it will amount to much in the short term. The movement is appealingly non-specific, although energized by enormous creativity and personal sacrifice. At the same time, I have no doubt that it is the most important progressive political event of the past several years; the first major opening in left-of-center political space since post-Obama election disappointment sucked the life out of the remnants of the civil rights, anti-war, environmental, women’s, youth culture, and other movements that energized his campaign. It may be incoherent and ephemeral, but it is a significant crack in the ground underneath the marauding right-wing forces.Read more
Short Answer: No money is being lost or returned.
Short Explanation: Congress “appropriates” less money than government is “authorized” to spend. States have great freedom to allocate the appropriated funds among different programs. States typically use as much as they can for roads. Massachusetts has the dubious honor of spending the lowest percentage of any state or territory of its Transportation Enhancements (TE) authorization and other programs typically used for bike/ped facilities.
For bike/ped-favoring programs such as TE and Congestion Mitigation/Air Quality (CMAQ), the disproportionate allocation process creates an “unobligated balance” between the authorized ceiling and the obligated (to be eventually spent) amount. This “authorized-to-obligated” gap accumulates every year. Every now and then, Congress cleans up the books by “rescinding” some of the unobligated amounts. States have great freedom in deciding which programs’ unobligated balances are used for the rescission – they typically use the bike/ped programs for this purpose.Read more
UPDATE on TRANSPORTATION ENHANCEMENTS in MASSACHUSETTS: From Hope for Better to Concern for Worse….?
Winning isn’t everything; but being last should be embarrassing. The Transportation Enhancement (TE) component of the federal Surface Transportation Program (STP) is the major source of federal funding for pedestrian/bicycle facilities and rail-trail conversations. A recent post pointed out Massachusetts’ worst-in-the-nation status in percent of potential-to-actual money spent on TE projects.
The post applauded the (slightly) simplified application process MassDOT was instituting for TE projects as well as the creation of financial incentives for the state’s 13 regional transportation planning groups (MPOs) to approve TE projects. It also approvingly noted the criteria that MassDOT was considering using to evaluate TE project spending, giving priority to projects that would connect high-population areas or close gaps in existing bike routes.Read more
Is the media’s job to reflect unpolished reality back to us? Or to help us interpret the reality hidden in the chaos of daily events? Or to convince us of its own version of reality? Usually, no matter how sincere a media producer’s claims of journalist objectivity, it’s a combination of all three.
(Actually, as my publisher once told me, back when I was a magazine editor, our ultimate job was to attract desirable eyeballs so that he could then rent them out to advertisers. If I could get the desired audience through quality material, so much the better for our reputations and the world. But if it took something else, from a business perspective, that was ok, too.)Read more
The worlds of Program Directors and Advocates often intertwine, as the later are often hired to serve as the former. Even though Advocates typically want programs to be expansive, open ended, and systemically transformative while Program Directors can only survive by limiting their span of accountability, both groups have an interest in program success.Read more
Grand visions and long-range analysis have enormous power to frame issues and create an actionable context. But they don’t lead to anything unless operationalized by specific, preferably simple, do-able steps forward. When I’m consulting with organizations on strategic planning I say that they need at least 2 solid action ideas in each of these three categories:
Symbolic – things that may not make a big difference but send key messages.
Quick– technically easy, low cost, very visible, preferably non-controversial and begin to actually change things.
Fundamental – the more complicated and challenging, long-term, but foundational changes that make a significant difference and create a new context for future actions.
So, in an effort to follow my own advice, here is the first of two posts, this week and next, describing concrete actions listed along with the city or state agency most capable of implementing them. This is my list – please suggest others!Read more
Probably no one fully understands all the intricacies of transportation funding decision-making. Federal law, regulations, and funding levels set the context – although those are all interactively influenced by the desires of and power relationships among key interest groups, as well as by the electoral pressures felt by elected officials. The same dynamic exists at the state level, with the political sphere extending from the state house both upward to federal allies and down to municipal leaders.Read more
Creating change requires awareness and good intentions. It also requires muscle.
Massachusetts now has a long list of laws and regulations requiring the transformation of our transportation system from car-centric to multi-modal, from speedways to pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly “complete streets”, from polluting to clean, from energy-wasting to sustainable, from green-house-gas emitting to climate-friendly, from disease and obesity facilitating to active and healthy.
But it’s not clear how much muscle all the new laws and regulations provide for those who seek to create the 21st century transportation system our political leaders have promised, either in mass transit or in road design (which is the focus on this post). Transportation Secretary Jeff Mullan seems committed to change and MassDOT has begun a major civic input effort. But little has yet been done to change the existing transportation decision-making process to give increased leverage to groups with a stake in moving away from our car-centric status quo.Read more
The Three Legs of Transportation Reform: And Why MassDOT Has To Start Standing On At Least Two Of Them
The debates leading up to the passage of the 2009 Transportation Restructuring Act had three themes:
- Organizational & Operational Reform:
- Creating a unified transportation authority that took a systemic approach and ended the infantile (and wasteful) feuding among the Turnpike, Highway Department, MBTA, Regional Transit Authorities, Mystic Bridge, and other transportation agencies.
- Systemic Transformation:
- Begin transforming our car-centric, imported fossil-fuel dependent, polluting, obesity-enabling, and increasingly dysfunctional transportation system into something better able to help Massachusetts meet the challenges of the current century.
- Financial Stability:
- Ending the funding shortfalls that have left every part of our transportation system unable to maintain current infrastructure, provide appropriate customer service, or meet growing demand.