Vierkantrohre

Vierkantrohre
Vierkantrohre
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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.

Is Creativity Dying? or Everything that Happens Will Happen Today

I sense that in the long run there is a greater value for humanity in empowering folks to make and create than there is in teaching them the canon, the great works and the masterpieces. In my opinion, it’s more important that someone learn to make music, to draw, photograph, write or create in any form than it is for them to understand and appreciate Picasso, Warhol or Bill Shakespeare — to say nothing of opry. In the long term it doesn’t matter if students become writers, artists or musicians — though a few might. It’s more important that they are able to understand the process of creation, experimentation and discovery — which can then be applied to anything they do, as those processes, deep down, are all similar. It’s an investment in fluorescence.

his is from David Byrne’s Journal, an installment about how much money goes into opera and how private funders would rather pay for glamorous, self-indulgent stuff than things like education.  I was really surprised to read this paragraph. I didn’t think Byrne would feel this way about education. I guess I always felt that my writing classes weren’t as effective as my reading the classics. Some people can write poetry or a novel because they’ve read so many. They have an innate sense of how things should sound and feel because they have immersed themselves in the works of others. But Byrne’s last sentence about experimentation as a skill applicable to anything really makes sense to me.

We attach creativity too much to Crayola and kids crafts. It’s a childhood thing, and we are not supposed to think outside the box unless we want to be regarded as ten year olds. Maybe this habit of educators to teach what has been done instead of how to do something is more destructive than I thought. Personally, the works in which I have tried to emulate another writer’s accomplishment have fallen flat. I wanted to say something with my writing, to grasp ideas too big for my abilities. I was forced to read Candide before I was taught to understand what it was doing. After my grammar class, where I learned half I know about writing, I understood literature, nonfiction, and even poetry a thousand times better than before.

When I paint something or sew or crochet or draw, I feel kind of immature and the comments I get don’t help against this. I just feel the need to create, and I know other people have creative talent they are not tapping into. Just try. People are so afraid of sucking at what they do, or they are so convinced they have no talent, that they think creating is not worth it. It is so worth it.  It’s alarming the low self-esteem I’ve encountered in almost everyone I talk to.

A similar situation was with my boyfriend, who has started an incredible blog, finally. He was so convinced he couldn’t do it, but he has more to say than anyone else I know.

Nothing I’ve created has been fantastic. Everything is mediocre by most standards. But it’s a gift and a skill to dive into something and just try it and to boldly make mistakes. I am thankful for every creative soul out there. David Byrne is one of them.

The real problem with our economy right now is not that we don’t have enough money to do what is necessary. It’s that we’re not doing what is necessary. We have so much potential that we’re robbing from each other by sitting in front of the TV. There are solutions, you can think them up, you are worth something to the world around you.

I wanted to post about the absurdity of our society, how at 12:30am when I’m driving home from work, I have to sit at a red light, by law, even though there is not another soul on the road. It just struck me as a symbol of what this country’s coming to. We created all these laws that made sense at the time but they have no flexibility for when the situation changes. What if someone did get creative and wanted to open up a store or an art exhibit in an old warehouse? Too bad. Zoning says they can’t.

It’s more than just having faith in a system, it’s letting the system be an unnecessary prison around you. People have found ways to work around laws, to manipulate them to their favor, with good and evil results, so it’s still very possible to fix things without proposing a bill to the House.

My main point: we’re sucking at living right now. And we totally don’t have to. Once you realize you have things to say and do, that you’re not a talentless piece of crap, that people like you and even love you, that you have nothing to lose, you can do a lot. That’s my Christmas Wish for everyone. (“And damn anyone who calls this sentimental” to quote Jack Ridl.)

I will stay in Michigan

I am staying because blighted neighborhood is not a death-sentence label. 20 years can change any place. We have full control of our urban environments. All we have to do is organize.

Grand Rapids is a beautiful city.

I’ll be paying close attention to Robert Israel’s plans for Bridge Street in the coming years.  The problem I stated in my last post about being able to do anything with enough money can also be a solution.

Five Ideas to make Grand Rapids more Liveable

or Livelittleable.

I’m having a blogstorm kind of day. Some days, the urban planning blogworld overwhelms me and I ignore it, but today I patiently sifted through my Google Reader and found so many good ideas.

I wanted to apply them to my home city.  Grand Rapids has a sizeable downtown but probably 4 or 5 times more land dedicated to suburbs. Streets like East Beltline and 28th Street and Plainfield suffer incredible blight and traffic problems, mainly because they’re stuck in the 1950s. There are so many suburbs that walking anywhere for many residents is impossible. Division Street looks like hell in most places. Homelessness is rampant.

But back to the good ideas. Heere are five I’ve read about today that could work in Good Ole GR:

1. Google Maps should include Bike and Transit directions/estimations. And they are working on it. Chicago’s Transit Authority is set up so you can google directions that find the best combination of subway and bus transit to get to where you need to be. I used it all the time in Chicago. Grand Rapid’s bus system is used  and functional, but it’s not practical for quick trips. Aside from most buses having half hour between stops, it’s hard to know which routes to connect to get where we need to be. Google Transit has four cities from Michigan participating (Ann Arbor, Holland, Lansing, Detroit) but not Grand Rapids. Come on now!

As for bikes, there are plenty of trails in Grand Rapids, and one brochure that tells you where they all are. But what if you could use trails to get places? What if they were used for more than just recreation? The trail by my house on 28th and Eastern connects me to Division street in a much safer (and more pleasant) way than using 28th. If we had the trails on Google Maps, we could measure distance, map routes, and with our buses’ bike racks, fluidly use bike and transit instead of cars.

2. LEED-ND for new neighborhoods. LEED-ND is the newly approved system for neighborhoods, grading them on diversity, walkability, and green infrastructure. It’s like LEED for buildings and done by the same company. With Grand Rapids still expanding, this could be a good tool to create more neighborhoods where people actually want to live (real estate demand is proven to have moved from suburbs to walkable neighborhoods). So if new neighborhoods get to market themselves as LEED-ND Platinum instead of garages with rooms in the back, maybe we’ll get more residents and more money flowing around.

If you don’t believe me about walkable places, look at Woodland Mall. That place was failing once Rivertown was built. It was seriously suffering. But then the Bar Louie/Red Robin/Cheap Theatre/On the Border square popped up and the mall is doing great. So great, that Barnes and Noble wanted in on the action, reversing the trend of big box retailers moving farther and farther out into the boonies (like TARGET). Yeah, it’s still a mall surrounded by a sea of parking lot, but at least it’s showcasing the success of a good common area.

3. Bypassing Suburb Roads. Plans for an Oregon suburb to make it more connected really excited me, especially since the connections were not for cars.

The point of this is to cut down the distance one would have to walk or bike to get somewhere. The mess that is suburbs-on-a-map would not be less of a mess, however.

4. Better bike parking is an overlooked need when thinking about alternative transportation. I can easily bike to Meijer for most of my needs, but I don’t usually because there’s nowhere to put it. The Artprize-featured tree bike racks are not only made and designed locally, but they provide parking and shelter for bikes while not being an eyesore.

Talk about a community identifier. Bike parking is so easy and cheap. It takes one parking space for a car to park roughly ten bikes.

5. Using the River. At Green Grand Rapids, an idea charrette I attended in May, I loved the ideas of better farmer’s markets, bike lanes, and storm water management. I shot down the white-water rafting on the Grand River idea, though, because when it was lined up with other ideas, it didn’t seem as important. But as I walked up and down the Grand River during Artprize, I realized how beautiful parts of the riverside are. The park off of Monroe is nice, and there’s a waterfall by the pedestrian bridge. But there’s no reason for people to be by the river except for to walk. What if we did use it for canoeing or kayaking or white water rafting? Or energy?  Is it possible? I have no idea. But it could add to a list of things to do in GR, and generate more revenue.

The bottom line here is that we all know how badly this state is doing. But leaving isn’t the solution. Time for new dreams. What are your ideas?

Blog Action Day: Climate Change

I can’t think of a more relevant topic than Climate Change for Blog Action Day 2009. Last year, it was poverty. I think my post on that is still on here somewhere. If you search for October 15, 2008, maybe?

Many people have asked me if I think global warming is real. The question exhausts me. I have no idea if it’s real. I haven’t done the research, really, and there’s so much propaganda on both sides. BUT. It’s a genius strategy for getting people to comply with environmental regulations and lifestyle changes–not even the scare tactics but the tax incentives and green jobs. It’s a huge impetus for many changes, touching every industry in America. How do we drive less? How do we waste less? How do we be more sustainable? How do we do all this while still invigorating our economy?

The idea of Climate Change, as I said, is a genius way to get America back on its feet. After the Great Depression, we had WWII and also the mass production of the automobile and the idea of the nuclear family and private property to recharge the economy. Were those ideas false? Maybe. Does it matter? It can’t matter.

I have a feeling we are in some environmental danger, and action needs to be taken. But climate change is not the only motivation for these changes. I see it more as an excuse. For example, in the planning world, people are saying that better planned communities will allow people to walk and bike and use public transit more, which would reduce their carbon footprint. But there are so many other benefits to this lifestyle – health benefits, social benefits, economic benefits – and I don’t see why these are ignored. For the aging generation of legislators and county officials who believe in climate change like they believe in Santa Claus, what is the climate change incentive going to do for them?

Don’t play the silly game of political debate. What I mean is that it really doesn’t matter if it’s scientifically real, because the idea has become so big that it is real, and it’s affecting everything already. I just want everyone to look beyond the politics of climate change and see if the solutions have other benefits. If they do, why not support them? This nation is far too polarized and it’s really too bad, because a lot of exciting things are going on.

My Top Ten ArtPrize Entries

We in Grand Rapids are waiting to hear who made it in the top 10 in Artprize. Voting ended last night and the B.O.B. was buzzing with last-minute viewers. I wanted to post my top 10 personal favorites–of what I’ve seen, mind you, which isn’t half of what’s out there.

10. The Car Chase – It makes you feel like you’re part of a Fantasy-Action movie scene. The women in the water are surprising and the flying insects are delightfully scary.

9. Triangle by Deborah Hyde – This piece is a quilt. I have never seen a quilt like that. Not only is it a beautiful image, but it’s intricately done. I don’t know. Something about it strikes me.

8. Clasp of Hands by Suzanne Jacobs John Forsythe – I love seeing a bronze sculpture that isn’t a bunch of kids saluting the American flag or reading books on a bench outside of a library. This one is just beautiful. The hands found throughout are mysterious and the angel-woman at the top is gorgeous and broken, her wings out of place. Love it!

7. Loss by Tad Mckillop – This one got an emotional reaction out of me. I have no idea what hydrocal is but the statue was life size and unmoving, just as the concept. How many of you have felt like that woman? I guess I love sculpture – especially the ones that look mythological and human at the same time.

6. Saugatuck Portrait Collection by James Brandess – This choice might seem unlikely to you, but if you went and saw this while a certain woman was there, you got to experience an overwhelming explanation of how interconnected all of the people in these portraits are. She started explaining the project and then went into a 15 minute spheel, pointing at a person, explaining them, pointing at another person, explaining their connection, and so on, while knowing all of their names and life stories. And when she was done, she said “So, you can see that everyone in Saugatuck is connected and it’s quite remarkable” as if she had only given 2 examples instead of fifty. I was amazed. And I love Saugatuck. It’s a great little town.  I love the Red Barn.

5. Time Cannot Exist Without Memory by John Magnan – We sat on this oversized bench the other day and I felt like a little kid again. Exactly the point. I like the concept behind this art. I like it when artists use simple concepts and let you sit on their pieces. Haha.

4. The Secret of Three Dimensional Ultraviolet by T. Mikey – He had two pieces in the B.O.B. and the first one I saw was the Wizard of Oz, which of course won me over immediately. I like these pieces because they use an unusual medium and frankly they look trippy. It does Alice in Wonderland justice by making it trippy/creepy, which the book totally is.  And then I think of Wizard of Oz, and I realize Baum may have been on drugs.

3. R. Temus by Norma Randazzo – This one had beautiful detail and I like the homage to Artemus–and that she wears a fur coat. Her arrows are beautiful! Reading the artist’s statement and, well, everything she wrote, she seems like an interesting person.

2. A Line through the Center of Space by Gary Pennock – In the basement of the B.O.B., one corner was really dark and surrounded by a partition. I went into it and looked down a tube and was sucked into another reality, never to return. Or, that was my experience. I loved this piece, it played this constant noise and made you feel like you were experiencing infinity. If I’ve ever told you about my infinity dream, this was the closest thing to it. Quite an accomplishment there.

1. The Sharing Tree by Michael Glenn Monroe – I met this artist and he gave me a children’s book he illustrated and his wife wrote. It was adorable. I am forever partial to children’s art and felt it needed to be on here. The tree isn’t necessarily children’s art, but it definitely accommodates them.

AND

Rise Up Grand Rapids by Charlie Brouwer – I had to put this one on because it’s my great uncle’s work!  I love that the ladders are borrowed and that from a certain angle, my church looks like it’s growing out of a nest of ladders. I love the mindfulness of the state of Grand Rapids and Michigan in general, the hope it embodies, and the truth it speaks that we can only get out of this mess by helping each other. It is not sentimental or Barney-esque or mushy gushy or “gay,” I won’t let it be. It’s vital to our survival.

Both of these works are in Cathedral square and were the first ones I saw. This is by far the best thing to ever happen to Grand Rapids. It’s like a miracle. Grand Rapids has felt like a real city this past week, and now that we’ve seen what it can be, we can work toward the reality.

Follow Up: What I'm Doing about my Last Post

Negative thinking is dangerous. After my last post about how hard the job market is right now, I slumped into a mini-depression and my thinking spiraled down the Negative Tunnel. Not good.

To get out of these spirals, I recommend changing something. You could change your outfit, your activity (take a walk?), setting, volume (scream “STOP!” at yourself), or even your mind.

I chose to change my setting: I went to the library!

This did not get me out of my bad “I’ll never find a job!” mood–at least not until I got back from the library with six books, three about urban planning, and three about job-hunting. Here’s the one that helped me immediately.


How to Find Those Hidden Jobs by Violet Moreton Cooper

The career services at my college quoted this book in one of its handouts.  It follows the patterns of many career-help books by helping you find your skills, etc., but the way it’s written changed my pattern of thinking about job-finding. The routine I’ve sunken into for finding jobs isn’t bad, but it hasn’t worked yet and there are still many other tips to try. For someone like me who isn’t specialized for a specific job, it helps me learn the vocabulary to talk about myself to employers. Though I don’t have a ton of work experience, I do have skills that I’m sharpening every day just by living my life to its fullest.

See? Wasn’t that more uplifting? What’s going on in your mind and spirit is more important than your wallet.

Green Gathering and Idea to Incubate

Tonight I am going to the Green Gathering in Downtown Grand Rapids.  It’s at Harrison Park Elementary School and they will be talking (and voting?) on what projects are our priority…white water rafting? Bike lanes? Farmer’s markets? I’ll let you know how it goes.

My idea to incubate (and what better place to incubate anything than a blog?) is starting a project where people sign up and commit to walking or biking to any destination that is under 1.5 miles away. It seems small (litttlllleeee) but depending on where you live, it can be a huge HUGE challenge. Our grocery store is 1.3 miles from home, but I would never think to walk there, mainly because there are no sidewalks on the entire stretch of 28th Street–the most direct route. However, if I take Alger, a residential street, the walk is much safer and more pleasant. Too bad that rerouting makes the trip 1.9 miles. But that’s a perfectly lovely bike ride. If you’re completely out of food and need about 12 bags of groceries, a car is perfectly acceptable because you can’t bike with that many groceries. All kinds of loopholes. In my hypothetical project, I’d leave it to the participant’s best judgment.

I walked to the post office today, and it was a mile away. It was great, except that I was lugging two boxes on the way there and on the way back, it was windy and rainy (good thing I had an umbrella). I’m still so glad that I did it. The point I want to come across is that we, as a city, want to walk and bike again. We want to be seen walking, we want it to be safe for us to walk, we don’t want to be ignored by cars and developers. We want sidewalks. If people start walking to their closer destinations, even though there may not be a sidewalk and they have to trek through a huge parking lot, it will add to the shift away from cars. Also, we could experience just a little bit what it’s like to not have the privilege of owning a car.

These kids know how to WALK
These kids know how to WALK