The Flow of Life (Academic)

The “flow of life” is not an altogether well-known or widely-used term. Yet, it springs up in many forms throughout art, literature, psychology, and theory. It may surprise some that a high-quality explanation of the importance of the flow of life in our built environments comes from film theory. In his book, Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality, Siegfried Kracauer, a significant realist in film theory canon, writes about how a street may be a symbol of life for the film screen. Life, in the context of Kracauer’s thinking, is “still intimately connected, as if by an umbilical cord, with the material phenomena from which its emotional and intellectual contents emerge,” and the flow of life is a material continuum that “extends to the mental dimension” (Kracauer 1960). The street, then, is a “place where the flow of life is bound to assert itself.” This metaphor refers mainly to city streets, where many pedestrians and “anonymous crowds” flow by with their unknown stories and possibilities for chance interactions.

The concept of the flow of life has, in many manifestations, become central to urban design. It may be called the vibrant street, the public realm, or the pedestrian corridor.Various stakeholders know the benefits of a place that encourages the flow of life: the businesses surrounding it will flourish, the street itself will be a destination for the city or town, and people will have a place to walk and exercise. Streets have historically been the source of the flow of life, yet streets have changed dramatically as a concept, especially in modernized, Western, car-centric culture. The transformation of streets from public realms to automobile corridors has robbed society of a connection to the flow of life that is crucial to individual and communal well-being. Subconsciously, we as a society have dealt with this loss in a myriad of ways, including the upsurge of social networking and its design, which recently has morphed into a virtual flow of life. To explore this pattern, I will examine three areas regarding the “flows of life” in Ann Arbor: Liberty Avenue, Stadium Boulevard, and the Facebook live feed. I will then explore the question of whether we still need urban space and the physical flow of life, and if it is still feasible for the United States.

Liberty Avenue, mostly developed in the mid-19th Century, reflects the traditional pedestrian commercial corridor. Before cars were invented and widely used, streets were for pedestrians and public transit, and enclosed by two walls of storefronts and institutional entrances. Much like a hallway, the street is a passage from one’s starting point to one’s destination. However, because the street belongs to everyone, it allows for stopping, pausing, talking, rioting, performing. Liberty Avenue, from curb to curb, is about 30 feet wide and has sidewalks about eight feet wide on each side. That is a ratio of roughly 2:1 road-space to path-space, with intermittent parking lanes as a buffer between car traffic and pedestrian traffic. Short blocks facilitate the pedestrian’s mental connection to the other side of the street as an opposite wall and an accessible destination. On a Friday night, Liberty is bustling with pedestrians, bicycles, and cars. Rush hour and happy hour occur simultaneously, the latter group exhibiting much more enjoyment than the former. Main and Liberty is a site for much outdoor seating for the many restaurants, which diners choose over inside seating if weather permits.

Stadium Boulevard serves as a commercial corridor and as a conceptual boundary for Ann Arbor along its west and south sides. It is zoned to accommodate automobile uses, such as gas stations, oil changes, and drive-through restaurants. The curb to curb width of Stadium is more than 60 feet, while the sidewalks are the minimum standard of 5 feet wide. This is a ratio of 12:1 road-space to path-space. Its blocks are about a half-mile long, roughly ten times longer than those on Liberty in the downtown area. Though there are many destinations along Stadium, including restaurants, they are mostly accessible by car. It is not enjoyable for the pedestrian to stroll down Stadium, as the long setbacks of the businesses and long blocks create a boring experience, and the 40-mile-per-hour traffic decreases perceived and actual safety for the pedestrian. Any flow of life occurring on Stadium is from the cars; this is too homogeneous of a source to be edifying or entertaining.

Stadium Boulevard is an illustration of what happened after the second World War, as many young couples settled in suburbs, intentionally cut off from the noise and mess of inner cities. It was a status symbol to have a car, a yard, and a television, and if you wanted your fix of public life, you drove downtown for a few hours. Petula Clark’s lyrics to the song “Downtown” describe this phenomenon exactly:

When you’re alone

And life is making you lonely,

You can always go downtown

When you’ve got worries,

All the noise and the hurry

Seems to help, I know, downtown

Just listen to the music of the traffic in the city

Linger on the sidewalk where the neon signs are pretty

How can you lose?

The lights are much brighter there

You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares and go

Downtown, things’ll be great when you’re

Downtown, no finer place for sure,

Downtown, everything’s waiting for you.

Downtowns and vibrant places soon became a destination and not part of everyday life. Downtown was great to visit, but not to live in. As the 1960s wore on, and demonstrations for civil rights and against the Vietnam war arose and became violent, even more faith was lost in the street as public space. Policy and marketing clung to the comfort of car-only streets. Highways and corridors continued to gain prominence, and walking became a last resort. This sequence of development, dissipating communities into developments and individual parcels, resulted not only in race but class segregation, building fear among Americans of people from different walks of life. Not having a place where all classes roam equally deprived Americans from exposure and practice in living civilly together.

Indeed, Stadium Boulevard, a commercial corridor, was victim to this time in planning. Though the street has moderate residential density in its vicinity, its storefronts turn away from these neighborhoods and towards the wide street, looking over substantial parking lots. Recently, Stadium was updated with sidewalks and bicycle lanes, the latter of which is not used so often. Though the sidewalks do accommodate daily pedestrians, these amenities do not increase the pedestrian’s connection with the businesses lining Stadium; they simply allow the pedestrian to move through just as the vehicles do. Streets like Stadium have a flow of life, but not an audience, unless it is a “metro cruise,” a gathering of car enthusiasts, who either drive up and down the corridor, or park at a location to admire the other cars. Conversely, Liberty Avenue is almost inhospitable to vehicles. The storefronts open immediately to sidewalks, and the lack of bicycle lanes rarely stops the cyclists from riding through. The residential density in Liberty’s vicinity has easier access to these buildings, but one can argue that economic access to these living spaces is quite limited. Ann Arbor’s living prices correlates inversely with distance from campus and downtown. The closer you are to the center, the higher your rent will be. So, for many, streets like Stadium are home and streets like Liberty are destinations.

Facebook emerged as an online college social network in 2005. Six years later, it has over 800 million users. It encourages virtual contact with the user’s social circle from “real life.” Starting out as a flipbook of profiles, Facebook has morphed into a live feed of status updates, links, videos, and photos. Social networks emerged as a way to connect those not spatially related, but interest-related. Facebook does not operate this way. It gathers together people who know each other from work, school, church, family, friends, though, theoretically, these listed places are the original gathering spaces. Because people often live far from where their work, school, church, family, and friends, Facebook serves as a third place as described by Ray Oldenburg, who points out that people in America are less likely to leave home casually because it involves planning and travel of long distances (Oldenburg 1989). So, if one feels disconnected or isolated, she can log onto Facebook and experience, to a limited extent, what is “going on” in her social circles and in the world. Scrolling down the live newsfeed is similar, safer, and easier than strolling down an actual street, bustling thoughts, ideas, reactions from many different entities.

The political demonstration and protests that happened on the streets of many cities in the 1960s are still echoed by today’s youth, who see reasons to use their free speech in this way. Surprisingly, the Internet, instead of replacing physical demonstration (and occupation) in public spaces, has helped to organize these social uprisings. The online petition, an early version of online political action, still circulates the Internet, but does not make the dent that the recent “Occupy Wallstreet” protests have made on the collective psyche. When broadcast television and radio were our source of the outside world, there was far less interplay between authorship and readership: the broadcasters were an authority, deciding what flow of information came through the speakers and on the screen into our homes (Zeng et al. 2010). Today, when all users have the ability to share, write, and pass on the information they choose, all types of dissenting opinions arise. People feel less separated by class and more separated by ideology. They create their own spaces.

As people gain deep habits of relying on the Internet for their needs, how do urban designers proceed? Do we continue building cities that illustrate an impression that physical space does not matter anymore? Or do we build cities the way they used to be built, before technology and media became a replacement for the flow of life, risking an impression of nostalgia and impractical design? How do streetlights, benches, pavers, and storefronts compete with the glowing screen of the iPhone in the hands of most young people? Is anyone safe to assume that anything will appeal to the masses ever again, or has the Internet created a place for our imaginations to organize their own flow of life?

Current development (often disregarding much thought to urban design) will often ignore the possible “wants” of the markets, and simply serve the needs: a continuation of the modernist pattern of building for function over form. Allan Jacobs and Donald Appleyard argue against this on humanistic grounds: “A city should have magical places where fantasy is possible, a counter to and an escape from the mundaneness of everyday work and living” (1987). The response to this need?  Privately-owned magical places. Sorkin writes about Disneyland as a “concentration camp for pleasure,” a physical manifestation of the media’s perception of urban life at its best, an absurd product of the devices we have used to escape from urban public spaces (Sorkin 2007). He asserts that this replacement for urban life is stripped of accidents, unpredictability, opportunity, and, ultimately, an authentic flow of life. Our boring everyday worlds and our controlled fantasy lands reflect our anxiety, a point underscored by Richard Weinstein:

The interchangeability, predictability, and ordinariness of this urban landscape also offers comfort and security to a mobile population, anxiety ridden in the pursuit of profit, pleasure, individual self-definition, and the control of chance. Yet the ordinary, common, and conforming still contribute to this anxiety by a tense relation to the singular, individual, and privatized (Weinstein).

We have built a nation to calm our anxieties, which are possibly related to our isolation, but find that the predictable, interchangeable landscape does little in this regard.

Perhaps it is social media that can help us rebuild public spaces usable to everyone. Governmental entities and transportation authorities have both experimented with the use of social media to get feedback, and arguments for and against its equity have sprung up in reaction. Though the people without means or ability to use social networks will not have input in this way, it still gives those unable to attend public meetings a say in how things are decided. On the social side of things, applications have emerged that allow the Internet user to “check in” to the places they are in reality, so that they can represent where they are in actual space to their social network. The desire to display one’s life and its activities upon an Internet social network gives a fascinating clue to our cultural tendencies. Before the 20th century, this public display of life was often the default of lifestyles. People had to go out into the public streets to retrieve the goods and services they required, and they were bound to run into people they knew, as well as to be watched and to watch others. Though we still go out for errands and goods, the space through which we move to get them is much more anonymous and sometimes quite deserted. As a response, people both broadcast their life’s activities on social networks and intentionally go to public spaces to “people watch,” an activity often regarded as somewhat creepy, though it likely has been happening for much longer than we think.
A question that all researchers in this field run into is this: what happens to society as we as individuals turn inward to our private life? Perhaps this loss of society, community, and citizenship not a new problem at all, as stated in Tocqueville’s Democracy in America as quoted by Weinstein in The First American City:

Each person, withdrawn into himself, behaves as though he is a stranger to the destiny of others. His children and his good friends constitute for him the whole of the human species. As for his transactions with his fellow citizens, he may be among them, but he sees them not; he touches them, but he does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone. And if on these terms there remains in him a sense of family, there no longer remains a sense of society. (Tocqueville 1835).

Tocqueville made this observation long before the more obvious signs of individualism, such as suburbs, personal computers, and private automobiles took place. Thus, it may be erroneous to assert that rapid advancements in technology has ruined public life–perhaps the cause of our fragmented social lives is written in our very Constitution: a reactionary response to the ideology of Europe, and an implied rejection of community in the search for individual liberty (Weinstein 1996). What we have today in terms of community and society is a product of what we used to have, not a loss of it.

Though this country was born and raised to be individualistic, community springs up between the cracks in the asphalt of our parking lots. Though we can video chat from hand-held devices, we still travel to see each other in person, to hug, to shake hands. Though we can sign online petitions and send e-mail blasts to demonstrate our political messages, we still gather in public spaces, paint signs, yell, and sing. Though our own zoning codes have forced the flow of life out of our cities, placed it in cars, and sent it 7 miles per hour on the highway to nowhere, people still yearn for it. We should have no doubt that if we build places for people again, the people will gather, exist, wander, and meet in those places. And the places will record our histories, will be carved out by our flows of life, constantly moving, changing, affecting, making a mark.

Works Cited

Clark, Petula. Downtown the Greatest Hits of Petula Clark. Buddha Records, 1999. CD.

Jacobs, Allan B., and Donald Appleyard. “Toward an Urban Design Manifesto.” The Urban Design Reader. By Michael Larice and Elizabeth Macdonald. London: Routledge, 2007. Print.

Kracauer, Siegfried. Theory of Film; the Redemption of Physical Reality. New York: Oxford UP, 1960. Print.

Oldenburg, Ray. “The Problem of Place in America.” The Urban Design Reader. By Michael Larice and Elizabeth Macdonald. London: Routledge, 2007. 139-48. Print.

Sorkin, Michael. “Variations on a Theme Park.” Ctools, University of Michigan. Print.

Weinstein, Richard S. “The First American City.” The City (1996): 22-44. Ctools. University of Michigan. Web. 18 Nov. 2011.

Zeng, Daniel, Lusch Hsinchun Chen, and R. Shu-Hsing Li. “Social Media Analytics and Intelligence.” IEEE Intelligent Systems (2010).

The Flow of Life

The topic of Flow of Life started in my head as a thesis idea for my Urban Design Theory paper, but I realized how personally relevant it is, and I also missed writing on this blog. So here: BLOG POST!

I was writing a paper for Film Theory class about the importance of setting in film, and Arnheim writes about the “flow of life” that the street represents in film. Cinema is when film seems to capture humanity. Streets are a rich resource for cinema, as you’ll notice in many films including It’s a Wonderful Life and Cleo from 5 to 7.  It is the character’s public space, a stage for interaction with the rest of the world, just as the home is the stage for interaction with the nuclear family.

I remember at certain points in my childhood, on beautiful Saturday afternoons, when it felt like I was cut off from the rest of the world, like the town was empty because everyone was at the football game (kind of like U of M yesterday). There was plenty to do at my house, I’m certain. But nothing could be satisfying, because I felt isolated. My nuclear world wasn’t enough; I was needing mental stimulation. I remember wishing to be where everyone was.

This is a standard feeling of isolation. I still get it often. It feels like staying home alone on a Friday night, which is never desirable unless you’d had a long and stressful week and you need a moment’s peace. The film Pulse kind of captures this feeling. It’s a horror movie where pretty much everyone starts dying. (From seeing a ghost I think. It was J-horror.)

I’m starting to think we built a nation that structurally does not support a happy life. Extreme. But to think streets used to be a source of stimulation, social gathering, chance meetings, etc. when they are now a source of boredom-tears from being stuck in traffic jams, or a source of road rage towards other drivers who didn’t use a turn signal. We go to work (which has varying degrees of awfulness for everyone), then we drive home (which we have control over, and we decorate to our liking, and we maintain our closest relationships). Work and Family. Running into friends is not probable, and must be planned.

For me, this is a comforting pattern most of the time, as I have social anxiety. Boy, is it easier to drive, to stay home, to stay away from the downtown and the crowds of pedestrians.  To have control over who I see and when. But I pay for it in these feelings of isolation, in my lack of face-time with friends. I am not afraid to call new people to share a cup of coffee. I am afraid of having that actual cup of coffee with the new friend. It’s a new relationship and those have unknown paths. They may not work out. They are unpredictable. Just like the street. I want to burrow beneath my covers when I’m feeling anxious about this.

Facebook has become a complete replacement for the street as a source of the flow of life. Slowly, as we know, Facebook morphed from a stalker-ish profile collection for college students to a constantly-running feed of updates, photos, and links from people you know (and from businesses, musical artists, nonprofits, political figures, etc.). When we need stimulation, to catch up with friends, to feel a little less disconnected from the world, to talk about something from the news, we go to Facebook.  We can control this flow of life and which aspects of it we want to subscribe to. We can do it in our pajamas and type things we’d never say and stay safe. You can’t get hit by a car in your house. Usually.

I know this argument gets made, in some form, almost daily. That Facebook can’t replace face-to-face interaction and blah blah blah. It’s bigger than that. Facebook is a symptom of the major problem. That we don’t know how to be communities anymore, and that we have no daily connection to each other. That we literally don’t have the physical structure for this. That we need each other, collectively, publicly, anonymously; we need that place where anyone can show up, anything can happen, a flow of possibilities, opportunities to celebrate life quietly (or loudly) as a species.  We were robbed of this, and we should claim it back.

How Men and Women Cripple Each Other

I think about gender roles a lot.

I’m very proud of my Lady Gaga post and it was written out of love for my two transgendered friends. Transgenderism is interesting because it proves that the difference between men and women is more than physical. When a person born with male parts knows that she is a female, who can contest that?

Now that I’m at University of Michigan, I think about what it means to be a woman. Now that I’m getting married in 8 months, I think about what it means to be a wife. My favorite wedding blog (A Practical Wedding), which isn’t really about centerpieces and wedding trends but more about the psychological transition from singlehood to marriage, had this excellent post about being a wife and mother. It’s about a book Elizabeth Gilbert wrote about female roles in the family. This part was reeeeally illuminating to me:

“She talks about her mom quitting a career that she loved, because her father couldn’t handle not having her home to take care of the kids and the house.”

I hear this kind of thing a lot. That men are so invested in their careers, they need their wives to take care of everything else in their lives (the home).  Meg goes on to write

“I worry when I hear about most of us* doing the bulk of the chores around the house. Not because we have to, but because we want to (“I just care more about cleanliness than he does, so I need to take responsibility for that.”)”

She also writes about how we praise women who sacrifice themselves for their kids. There’s the general idea that our society completely depends for its survival on mothers’ sacrifices, yet we don’t put any real value on this. The post is about women losing themselves, “having to scrape bare the walls of their own souls” in order to serve their families. This is not what God meant by giving. Giving is supposed to edify the giver and the receiver.

I hear about it a lot; I hear about men who never learn how to cook a meal for themselves, men who claim they don’t know how to clean or do other domestic things. I saw a guy pushing a stroller the way people walk their bikes – to the side of his body, with one hand. They don’t want to associate themselves with feminine “tasks.”

(Please grant me my generalizations, because there’s truth to them)

Is this because of how men are “wired” biologically? Or is it a cultural cripple?

Let’s flip it around. I hear women in my class, all the time and EVERY DAY, apologize before giving their opinions. I see my classes dominated by men, I see men with wedding bands who never talk about their wives but talk about getting married as a check off the list.  I hear insensitive remarks in general, not even just about women, that go unnoticed. Women are crippled in academia, and probably in the work place (I haven’t had a legitimate fulltime job – don’t get me started on my cleaning job with Maid to Order). When women cross over into “man territory” they seem to have to assimilate to mannish mannerisms. When men cross over into “woman land,” they get called “sensitive” and sometimes, by immature people, “gay.”

I want to tangent on my last sentence. I think this is hugely relevant right now.  Anywhere in the media where a guy is acting strange, dancing, or being generally comfortable with himself, he gets a lot of “you’re gay” thrown at him.  Anywhere a guy alludes to anything feminine, a joke has to be made about it. Sometimes I think that men are more crippled than women. They’re emotionally crippled. They’re so afraid of being seen as gay or feminine, which are synonymous with weak, that they force themselves along “safe” constructs of manhood. They have to dress a certain way, like certain things, not say certain words, all out of fear of being like a woman.

Being like a woman, like our mothers who taught us much of what we know and did so much for us, that’s the greatest fear for a man.

What does that say about actually being a woman? It sort of says that it’s a necessary evil. It says we are making sacrifices just by being who we are. It says that we need affirmative action and protection because we have it so hard or because we’re weaker.

What does this do to our work? It removes the elements we think are “feminine” – sensitivity, holism, empathy.

What does this do to friendships? It makes women compete against each other and boy-girl friendships unnatural (“you guys should date already”).

What does this do to children? It teaches them that they should only be a certain way, and if they vary from that, society will punish them. Hence, to the ones who bravely cannot help but be themselves, it means a lifetime of unnecessary troubles.

What does this do to the church? It gives us a false picture of who God is. It masculinizes God, the creator of sexes. And God is all-powerful, so we then associate (subconsciously) power with masculinity.  (My favorite priest pointed out that part of the curse in Genesis is that men will have power over women. The curse of patriarchal society.)

Finally, what does this do to marriage? To make marriage work, we have to either break the mold or buy into it. Both have extreme repercussions.  One makes society constantly question us, the other continues the cycle of men and women crippling each other.

I’m not against societal structure. Clearly I’m not – otherwise, I would not be entering the institution of marriage. I just think we should be growing up, in a way. Maturing. Transcending these norms and accepting each other and ourselves for who we are. Admitting our weaknesses. Enabling each other to do what we really want to do.

Everyone should read that post from A Practical Wedding. Tell me what you think.

Physical Community and Internetworking

With the Internet being the primary way I communicate with people, and having grown up this way, I have to wonder why I care about the physical community around me so much. I can find people who have the same tastes, beliefs, ideals as I do on-line.

That’s the same argument that Randall O’Toole (he sure is) in his awful book called the Best Laid Plans or something like that. He was all, “why are planners all concerned with communities? We don’t need that anymore because we have the internet.”

Oh, okay.

The creation and extensive use of craigslist.com shows the marriage of physical community and internetworking. (Did I just make up a word?) Here, people can anonymously sell things, hire people, lease apartments, and post missed connections. People like it because it’s safe. You don’t have to have any contact information on any of your posts. They even finally have gotten better spam protection.

I think craigslist is a good start, but the same idea is going to have a different looking and working website in the future. It is great that it categorizes by location, but what if each neighborhood had its own forum? On Facebook, my neighborhood has its own page–but it only has 80 fans. You know more than 80 people in my neighborhood have Facebook.

Neighborhood pride went out when platte developments came in. Of course, I have met people who actually do know all of their neighbors. But in my neighborhood, one that had an annual block party only 15 years ago, this aspect is gone. Maybe an internet forum for neighborhoods defeats the purpose–we could simply knock on peoples’ doors and say hi, couldn’t we? In a span of ten years, it has become more easy and safe for people to post on a website than to initiate in person.

This confused post shows how big we’re going to have to dream as internet integrates more and more deeply into our lives.

Racism in Urban Planning

When driving through a city, people will say an area is blighted when they see houses that aren’t spiffy and a lot of black people walking around.

Taking my own advice from my “Reclaim your surroundings” post, I looked at my city in a new way and realized that this isn’t the case. These neighborhoods don’t need to be New Urbanised or even revitalized. At least not in the way we’d want to do it as planners or architects. When I drive up Eastern to Franklin, Hall, and Wealthy, I see people honking at each other out of greeting, people walking, people talking on street corners, people saying hi to each other. It’s a habit to look at this and say “oh they’re walking because they can’t afford a car.” But in reality, they are living a life I keep dreaming and writing about on this blog. Taking the bus. Walking places. These aren’t negative things.

Grand Rapids is still pretty segregated. I think there is racism on both sides. There are two different cultures going on. The white culture looks at old houses and wants to repaint them and make the neighborhood artsy and gentrified. Is it really necessary?  I’m not saying stay in your suburbs. Oh gosh, no. I got lost in a suburb section last night while driving home from work. Horrifying.

Are suburbs the new projects?

So this is the New Year and I feel tons different. TONS.

F irst things first, before I forget: there is an electric car in Grand Rapids that looks like a silver cylinder that drives around Easttown a lot and I have seen it on Plainfield at midnight one night this past fall. If you know anything about this or the owner please contact me! When I saw it, it was a very dark night and I thought it was an airplane without wings. Further sources have told me this is a bad description.

Sorry to contradict Ben Gibbard’s sentiments but I am feeling TONS different from my last post, which was written last year. Now I don’t know how to even phrase the ideas going around in my head.

A conversation I had the other day with a Taoist summed everything up: by playing part in this political game we are distracting and impeding ourselves and our kids from dreaming.

Good.is, and online magazine, features many solutions and rarely rants or fosters useless anger about problems. Another plus: it is not high on itself, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously.  Their Ideas for Cities series makes you think outside the box, something we sorely need to do right now.

If you think about it, America is very young. We are a little over 250 years old. We were born yesterday. There is no reason to stick to anything that isn’t working for us.

I can translate the questions from my last post into ideas. For example: Why don’t we know our neighbors? I guess I meant this as a rhetorical question but it’s more effective if you try to answer it. What if instead of calling police about loud music, we confronted our neighbors politely?  Do we not think people will comply if we had even the shallowest of relationships with them? More rhetorical questions, but it’s more what I meant.

What if instead of waiting for crime to happen and then arresting and imprisoning people thus ruining their lives forever, we sent in interveners, who basically distract and dissipate a bad situation?  We do this with our kids all the time. All the time. When I cried/whined as a small child, my dad would hold me up to the mirror and I would see myself and start laughing. It’s not that hard to distract someone from what they’re doing, especially when they’re in a drunken rage.

(Side note on crime: the public eye is the best non-violent weapon against crime in a densely populated place. Rural areas don’t have a public eye. That is why guns are so valued out there, because if a girl is getting gas alone in the middle of nowhere, who is going to step in if no one sees some rapist approaching her? And how are we so sure crime won’t move to sprawling places as they become more and more dilapidated?)

If police officers walked the streets of a city again, they would be preventing more crime. Here’s why I think so: a police officer in a car has a literal barrier from the neighborhood around him; he becomes anonymous. When we see police cars, we think of their targets, which are usually speeding cars and drunk drivers, we don’t think of them as interveners in a house break-in.  A police car comes and goes in a neighborhood. A strolling officer lingers for ten to twenty minutes. And the citizens get to know him, too. He becomes a presence and everyone feels safer and more connected.

We don’t even need to leave intervening and patrolling to the police force. We can do a great deal of that on our own.  When I was in college, my boyfriend of the time told me that he heard a guy yelling at his girlfriend repeatedly in a very abusive manner. After some minutes of this, there was heard the voice of a very loud, very friendly sophomore who said “Hey! Whatcha doin’ out there?!” in a tone of loud curiosity without a hint of even threat. This dissipated the situation completely. When we intervene, we give people a self-awareness they didn’t have a moment before.

The crime issue is the issue with the most viable solution in my eyes right now.  Our issues with food, unemployment, homelessness, and the environment have livelittle solutions to them but will need huge reworking to deal with, and this change will happen beyond most of our lifetimes.

And it will happen, and change will happen in your life. Because at one point, we all decide to stop distracting ourselves and to live our tiny insignificant lives. Everything that happens to you in 2010 will be important in ways no one will ever recognize– not even you. The best you can do is live in your moment, appreciate the scope of your world and your mind, and to invite others into it.

If we start thinking like we’re going to be okay, maybe we’ll finally realize that we already are.

The Actual Top Ten of Artprize

Well, the list is out. I realize none of the items on the list are on my list…I expected that. Some of them really surprise me though. That open water one came out of nowhere.  I haven’t seen about half of them, so that gives me more to look at!

My writing about Artprize has gotten me a lot more readers. Thanks for visiting and please bookmark me, as I write about goings-on in Grand Rapids often. I deeply love this city!  This past week has made me realize how truly overlooked and beautiful it is.

Why Grand Rapids needs Bus Rapid Transit

It’s been embarrassingly long since I’ve posted. I’ve been doing some cool stuff with GVMC. For the past two weeks we have been going around to different townships and planning out how we’d want future populations to be allocated (10 acre lots? Suburbs? Towns?).

We’ve also been doing stuff with Brownfield money, and today after an interesting conversation, I’ve realized how important the Silver Line was.

The Silver Line was a proposed bus route that would run up and down Division, a main corridor of Grand Rapids. It’s also a crumbling corridor. Division has a rep of vacant buildings, XXX stores, and homelessness. It got voted down, and everyone I know was saying “they already have a bus, and no one new would use it.”

What didn’t get communicated, back in May, was that this bus-line was more than a bus-line. It was going to be fast–it’d have its own lane, control over traffic lights, go as fast as a subway. It’d essentially be a subway but in bus form. Commuters could take this bus rapid transit to work downtown, instead of driving themselves up and down US-131 every day (which, by experience, I KNOW gets really bad during rush hour).

Along with bringing hundreds of people downtown, where they don’t have to worry about parking, this line would make the surrounding properties tons more valuable. With office-job people commuting and looking out the window at stores, this ignored street would not be ignored anymore, by default.

The government has already given us money to rebuild and clean up contaminated and blighted sites along Division. The structure is already there–it is a walkable street with churches, clubs, restaurants, and infrastructure. All it needs is a new face.

Imagine Division Ave becoming like State Street (that great street) in Chicago. It would add a whole new dimension to Grand Rapids. It would connect towns south of Grand Rapids, too.

The main point is, you older people with families may want a big yard and no people around, but that kind of landscape alone sucks the economy dry. You’ve forgotten the young people, who want a place that’s a place (so many have left Michigan for Chicago, what does that tell you?), these young people who become young professionals who almost drive our economy. No wonder Michigan is doing so poorly, all the legislation supports penny-pinching families! Where’s any thought to any other age group? We need our places back.

But all of that rested on a BRT line, which all of you voted down. Tsk tsk tsk.

This Is Why I Miss the Bush Years

I’m so glad products like these still exist, and I hope the Christian Culture never dies!  Obama’s a huge threat to the Bible belt. We no longer have a president assuring us that the paradox of calling our nation Christian AND free  just doesn’t exist.

We are hereafter dominated by liberal organic hippie green culture, something that may be equally laughable in ten years.

This would have been my role model as a 10 year old. Had it been around back then.
This would have been my role model as a 10 year old. Had it been around back then.

I love it all. It makes me so happy!