Genie’s are, by mythological definition, very powerful. They can open cave walls, turn dirt into gold, and make carpets fly. They are also devious, granting wishes in ways that turn benefits into burdens – an autonomous force from whom, in exchange for letting them out of the lamp, we can demand short-term assistance but whose ultimate actions and effect are beyond our control.Read more
I am old enough to remember the “Whites Only” signs on the water fountains and bathrooms in the American South, the place from which South Africa learned about Apartheid. I remember the anguish my brother went through when he came out, and the contempt of Ronald Reagan and so many others about the ravages of AIDS to which my brother eventually succumbed. I remember the fear that we felt when friends had to suffer through dangerously illegal abortions, and the shock of later learning that so many women in several generations of my extended family had gone through that horrible experience to protect their families or themselves.
So, for the second time I have ended election night in tears, amazed and thrilled that the segregated, gay-bashing, female-stereotyping, culturally repressive society I grew up in had put an African-American man into the Presidency who openly called for the end of those patterns; a BLACK man and family in the White House!Read more
It’s the season for debates. Right now it’s the candidates. But soon enough the topics will include all the issues that elected leaders will have to deal with, from transportation to health care. Debates can be great reality TV: live, dramatic, with mythic overtones. And we seem to have a special reverence for debate. We believe that the clash of opposing sides raises the likelihood of finding truth. Our entire judicial system is based on this principle.
Of course, it’s not always true: as our grandmother’s correctly pointed out years ago, we are most influenced by the opinions of the people around us – our friends and co-workers. Psychologists now say that most people are committed to their own framework of values and assumptions and actually become more entrenched in their positions when confronted with countering facts. Even beyond all that, as every High School debate team and lawyer and political media consultant knows, presentation is often even more important than content; the side that dominates the interaction wins the argument.
This depressing truth has been powerfully displayed in this year’s political campaigns. Elections have always been full of distortions and insults. However, as political strategists increasingly incorporate lessons from advertising and media, their messaging becomes ever more sophisticatedly and powerfully manipulative. Our only defense, other than strict controls over campaign financing and hate speech, is to know the ways we are being tricked. Being angry is not enough – we need to find ways to fight back.Read more
Put more money into bicycling and pedestrian and railroad infrastructure, or less. Move forward from the current small steps towards sustainability (energy development, resource-focused, climate protective, land-use, and economic), or not. Build on the current stutter-steps towards rationalizing our wasteful healthcare system and providing universal access, or not. Increase controls over speculative financial markets, or not. Move cautiously on foreign interventions, or the opposite.
The coming elections provide as stark a choice as any in recent memory.Read more
Speeding, distraction, drinking, poorly designed intersections – a lot of things cause road accidents, injuries, and fatalities. But some of them have nothing to do with driving. Like guns. In a recent NY Times Opinionator piece, Mark Bittman drew on his old community organizing background and wrote, “Back in the administration of W., we looked for the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. That was the wrong place; they’re here at home.” And on our streets, where incidents of gun-involved road rage are on the rise.
The recent murders of Sikhs in Wisconsin and of “liberals” in Arizona have sparked another round of discussion about the danger of unregulated access to weapons. Given the current Supreme Court, it is unlikely that any limits will be imposed. But the way that groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving have changed cultural attitudes about buzzing around with a few under your belt suggests that we may be able to de-escalate road rage through similar methods. We need to make it as unacceptable to have a loaded gun in a car as it is to have an open bottle of alcohol.Read more
LEVERAGING PUBLIC SPENDING FOR MAXIMUM IMPACT: Do Multiple Goals Make Projects Better — or Unmanageable?
Keep It Simple. Focus. You can’t walk and tie your shoes at the same time. Projects are much easier to manage, and it is easier to hold project managers accountable, if there is a single and explicit goal. Transparency is vital to maintain public trust in government, and it is best accomplished when the line from spending to result is clear and straightforward.
On the other hand, life is complicated, everything is connected, and the need for improvement is enormous. Every project impacts its audience, and the world, in complex and multiple ways. Given the scarcity of funds and the magnitude of the problems facing us, doesn’t it make sense to leverage every opportunity to create as much positive change as possible – and to increase the odds of overall success by being explicit about each of the top priority goals even if they relate to different issues?Read more
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
Q: Why do people live in cities?
A: Because that’s where all the other people are.
It’s really wonderful that Mayor Menino has a special group of “urban mechanics” finding ways to put new information technologies to work for the city. Technology is very cool. And fun. And useful. And has a huge impact. I spent part of my life in high tech and even wrote a book ‘way back in 1996 called Civilizing Cyberspace: Policy, Power, and the Information Superhighway about how the emerging digital networks could be used to enhance or stifle democracy
But when it comes to the most important qualities of urban life, the future is behind us. I don’t mean that we should return to the disease-ridden, economically brutal cities of the past. Despite the Tea Party’s desire to dismantle our public safety nets and return to the competitive jungle of the pre-Progressive era, our world is much better because of the intervention of governments to provide clean water, require sewer systems, and to reduce the massacre of human wellbeing caused by unregulated markets. But there are important aspects of past urban life that are worth preserving or recreating that emerge from the presence of both cohesive neighborhoods and unstructured diversity.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