Feeling Safe vs. Being Safe

As much as I am an empathetic person, I also value efficiency, facts, research, and evidence. Stumbling upon new evidence or research, I want to share it with others and apply it to my work. I want to improve things.

It’s frustrating when the data isn’t enough. People are not driven by facts, research, or evidence. This is not from a lack of intelligence; it is just human nature. We are driven by the primal instinct to survive; that is, to stay safe. Our bodies and brains don’t distinguish actual safety with the feeling of safety, however. Think of how baggage checks changed after 9/11, and every terrorist attempt thereafter, leading to the banning of such common items as shampoo. These restrictions cost a lot of money and time, and are not actually making us safer. Someone can cause great harm with their bare hands alone. Couldn’t resources be better spent? Peoples’ fear of flying in general is irrational, as Oliver Burkeman observes in his 2012 book The Antidote:

“You’re vastly more likely to be killed as the result of a car crash than an air crash, and vastly more likely to die of heart disease than at the hands of a violent intruder. But if you react to news stories about air terrorism by taking the car when you’d otherwise have taken a plane, or if you spend time and energy protecting your home from attackers that you could have spent on improving your diet, you’ll be letting your biases guide you towards a greater feeling of security at the expense of your real safety.”

This was one of the frustrating aspects of working in planning and public communications. What do you serve, a feeling of safety or actual safety? Why do we overcompensate? I think it’s more about sending a message–that’s what we have to do in a broken world where people are insecure and band together in their insecurities. What has helped me is to realize I am one of these people. I am blind to facts, too, and I act on instincts that don’t make sense. We are human and we waste time and energy—total efficiency is impossible, and that’s okay.

We can feed the fire of perceived safety and perceived improvement, and we can also help each other understand what’s really going on. We’re not aiming for perfection, but progress.

Ridiculous Statement of the Week

We don’t want sidewalks. Sidewalks will bring crime.

This is something planners hear (way too many times) when at public meetings for suburban neighborhoods, meetings proposing sidewalks to be built where there are none.

I’m going to try to back up this comment for the people who have said it, since they skipped about thirteen steps in faulty logic to come to this conclusion.

  1. Sidewalks allow pedestrian access.
  2. Pedestrians are only pedestrians because they can’t afford cars.
  3. Poor people can’t afford cars. So they walk (for miles) to the outlying suburbs to shoot people randomly and steal stuff, but only if they hear that suburb has sidewalks.
  4. IF we have sidewalks, we WILL get invaded by outsiders and crime will rise at an alarming rate.
  5. Don’t even get us STARTED on apartment complexes. That’s just asking for low-class or black people crime.
  6. As long as we’re all in our cars, we’re all safe.

Sidewalks are public amenities that enable people to walk through a neighborhood without sharing the road with cars.

Sidewalks provide space with a buffer from traffic for children to ride their bikes on safely.

Sidewalks make natural exercise more possible.

Sidewalks send a signal: Yes, you can walk through here. Yes, we are actual people and not machines who drive everywhere. Yes, we have souls.

On average, cars kill 39,000 people a year.


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.

A Remind for You. And Me

Don’t forget that art keeps this world going. That the kids who end up playing music are not fools, they understand something about life.  When you got chills hearing Susan Boyle blow an audience away on TV–that’s only the tip of the iceberg of what art can do for you. A good film can make you look at yourself as if you hadn’t seen a mirror in months, and you are suddenly foreign to yourself.  A good song can make you cry. Think about that. That music can have physiologic effects on us. The hairs on our arms rise in response to the art we experience. It moves us to feel. It is deeply important to the world’s survival, and don’t let anyone make you forget that.


Jesus’ words out of context

I’m really glad a West Michigan church renamed itself “.thepoint” Wow. What a long-lasting, strong foundational name for a church. Way to change with the trends. Except we all know that the point is a direct allusion to the 1960s cartoon movie featuring the music of Harry Nilsson. Watch Here.

You know the verse everyone points to to assert that Christianity is the only way? “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me.”

Why do we think that Jesus means no other religion is the way to God except through him? He was talking to a bunch of Jews who probably had never heard of Buddhism, Hinduism, or any of the religions Christians say are B.S. He was talking to people who were following 600+ laws in hopes of getting to Heaven. How do we know that this is a condemning statement and not an invitation to be set free from the law? What if it really means, “you can’t get to God by what you do. Trust me instead.”

Where do we get off telling people who goes to heaven and who doesn’t? This isn’t even about heaven. It’s about living in a heavenly way. Being happy. It’s a daily struggle, like the chick busting his way out of an egg. But you can do it. You can totally do it!

The Monster Woman Post – Lady Gaga

ne of the first things I heard about Lady Gaga was about the rumor that she is not a woman. This is supposedly from a picture from her tour, a very blurry picture, but I know that it comes from the fact that Lady Gaga does not follow any rules of being a woman. She broke out as a pop star in bizarre outfits and shamelessly objectified herself in her incredible music videos with exquisitely produced music videos. Many did not know what to do with her.

I, too, was intimidated by the Woman until I saw an interview with her. Two people I know have said the same thing. No wonder people wondered if she was a woman or not. She didn’t look or act like one. Maybe she isn’t one. She doesn’t fit into the mold we’ve built for women or men. It’s kind of insane how much that throws us off.

Her new video for the song “Telephone” dispels any of those rumors in an explicit way. Beyonce’s in this video, too, but she seems kind of like a sidekick than a collaborator.

Now what am I really talking about with these rules and stereotypes and expectations the media and culture puts on us? Isn’t it just cliche? Isn’t it just being feminist to talk about it?

I keep seeing this magazine in the doctor’s office I clean, and for some reason no one will throw it away. I will if I see it again. It’s old anyway.

There’s not much to Jennifer Aniston…she hasn’t had a very strong career, but even I feel bad about this front page. Identifying her by a man she was with five years ago?  Even the small blurb about Haiti on the top suggests they have a lot more material to work with in our world than creates the need for defining a burned-out actress by her ex.

This is the world into which Lady Gaga has forced herself. It’s been a quiet few years for the female singers. Rihanna sort of shook things up with her amazing haircut, and Beyonce just shook. Taylor Swift became America’s Sweetheart.

But after I listened to her albums and saw her videos, I began to see myself in a different way. I noticed how I walk with my head down when I’m in public, that I always think about how gross my body is, and that I’ve been letting fear get to me and define me, and moreover that the culture I live in encourages these feelings. After reading those beauty magazines which have one article that tells you to love your body and on the next page five tips for a bikini body.

The whole my getting engaged thing has amplified all of this. There are assumptions and expectations that come along with deciding to spend the rest of your life with one person. Some of them are ridiculous as wearing a certain 3000 dollar stone on your finger. Or wearing an immaculate white, strapless dress and being given away like a possession by your father. Or taking professional pictures and having them put in the paper as if the general public cares.
When I listen to her (incredible concept) albums and watch her (works of art) videos I don’t think any of those things subconsciously anymore. She brings them right to the surface, poisons, and kills them. I see my own beauty in her beauty. I want to climb mountains and change things and be fearless. She is beyond fierce and beyond beautiful and beyond woman.

I keep hearing negative things about gays and transgender and bisexuality but I have two transgender friends and they transcend more than gender. They transcend all of these (cliche) chains that we are held back by in living this life. They don’t ask me why my fiance didn’t empty his bank account on a piece of jewelry. They don’t complain about women’s PMS. They don’t need to talk about cars or sports or hunting to feel secure. They don’t need to put anyone down for their differences. Because they’ve embraced themselves, more than anyone else has. We all need to come out of the closet. We all are hiding our real, curious, wild, beautiful selves.

This is why the term “feminism” isn’t enough to describe Lady Gaga’s movement. Sometimes feminists feel the need to wear suits and be cruel and mean to other women to feel powerful. The real power is seeing yourself for who you are, accepting that, and seeing no reason to not be kind to everyone. Because people, men and women, are cruel to other people out of insecurity.

But we don’t need to be nice. Being nice about things is tolerating ideas we know are false. Why don’t we, instead, accept each other.  Let’s do away with tolerance as an idea. Burn it.

This is not the Madonna movement. We don’t have to dress like Gaga or even approve of or promote her art. We just have to see it as it really is, so that we can see ourselves as we really are.

Is Lady Gaga a Woman?  Yes.

How Local News Could Be Better

I have always been encouraged to watch the news at 5. Sometimes I do, but most days I can’t spare the emotional expense. Every day, there is a story about a crime, a murder, or a deadly accident in Grand Rapids. Yes, it’s good to know about these things. I guess. It’s good to be daily reminded that there’s bad things in the world, and then offered no way of helping the situation or preventing future ones, the way we could if our local news served us better.

Billboards advertising different news channels keep calling their news “stories.” Bringing you the story. I don’t want a story. I want the news. I don’t want a narrative. Because the narrative of West Michigan right now is that our economy is failing, crime is rising, and living is getting more and more expensive. There are about three million ways to write Michigan’s story, and I’m not a fan of this one. It’s too pessimistic.

As news anchors put your focus on an unfortunate incident that happened on Fuller, they put less and less accent on future local polls and elections, and they don’t give us the information or resources to be well-educated on the issues featured. What if they posted “stories” of peoples’ efforts to fix things? Why do these Grassroots Grand Rapidian Superheroes have to use Twitter and Facebook to get their projects going?

I feel that it’s perpetuating a prejudiced and racist theme. Neighborhoods shouldn’t be called “bad” based on these stories. Places can’t be bad. There is no wicked city. Sodom and Gomorrah symbolize wicked culture and evil ideas, which form a structure that can be seen and felt when we enter a certain place. What’s really more dangerous than your neighborhood is your media. What is it really telling us?

Showing the snapshots they do of the neighborhoods of Grand Rapids and the stuff that happens in them really gives details and evidents of overarching trends locally and nationally. That is what I’m starting to notice about the news. But does everyone notice this?

And, as I mentioned in my Bus Rapid Transit post, why did no one fully understand what the Silver Line was?  Why did a bill get shot down two years ago that would have supported GRCC financially? The only ones voting in local elections are people who hate taxes. Taxes are vital to our way of life. They must be carefully allocated, and not be the reason to vote down a new project.

Top Ten Ways to Get Over your Complete Worthlessness, Uselessness

I feel so surprisingly relieved after leaving a LinkedIn group called “Recent Grads-09.” Every discussion was about how to interview well, top ten ways to get a job fast, top ten things you’re doing wrong, how to write a fabulous resume, blah blah blah. It was stressin’ me out to read that stuff.

I’m going to be real with you. Even if you perfect every single detail they tell you about being hired, you still may not get a good job. You’ll probably get a sales job where they want you to be that way. Whatever job you land by doing all that stuff will be the job you jumped through hoops for. Congrats. We love guys in business suits and short hair who are so charming. Those make great employees.

I’m just glad I’m going into a field where it is experience and personality that matters most. A field where if you did do everything those websites tell you to, it would look like you were overcompensating for whatever you actually do lack.

I’m just feeling really cynical about that job stuff because it makes people feel like crap. This is not how it’s supposed to be. You’re supposed to just do what you’re good at and make a living off of it. We’re not meant to sit in cubicles doing BS work for BS companies that are, in the end, useless.

How many times did I pretend to these kinds of companies that yes, in five years I want to be working at their firm? I was finally honest with NHA last week, telling them I want to be an urban planner. Sorry. Not going to lie to you just to get a job. If it’s not a good match, it’s not a good match. Someone else can have it. I’d rather be cleaning offices where they know I don’t want a career in it and they’re okay with that.

Another thing I hate about this career training stuff is that at the end of all of it, they say “but it’s really networking that gets you the job.” And it’s true. You gotta know people. That’s how I got my internship and my job. And guess how little my interview skills mattered with both of those?

Kim's Wednesday Rant: Questions

hy do Presidents not write their own speeches anymore?

Why do we not vote for the people who are writing the speeches?

Why do we blame another political party for failing at things we already knew weren’t going to happen?

Why do our kids’ schools suffer when the economy goes bad? Why do taxes get cut from things we need most?

Remember that last scene in It’s a Wonderful Life? Can you picture that happening in your neighborhood?

Why don’t we know our neighbors?

That’s all for right now.

The Problems with Conservatives and Everyone Else

I’ve been experiencing random run-ins with conservatives under the guise of “truth-spreaders” lately. I have nothing against or for the conservative thought pool other than it’s a thought pool. I just wanted to make this clear. I just think that right now, the loud ones are making poor choices and the smart ones are nowhere to be found.

Firstly, when you assert the morality of something you are not spreading truth. Truth is a complex and elusive concept, and no writer or radio show host has grasped it enough that you can cite them carelessly when debating online over democracy and freedom.

Second, if you believe in your governmental system then you absolutely must stop tying in your Christian beliefs with your conservatism. There is no reason to try to make this country the way it was when it started, or to have it stand for what the early settlers believed. We cannot be a Christian nation, and if you love democracy you should realize that. Isn’t being Christian as a person enough?

Thirdly, I’d like to dismantle all of this by saying that the problems we face in America are too complex to be solved by this bipolarized national war between liberals and conservatives. To constantly attack the other side does nothing for anyone, and to assimilate yourself to one huge party of thought limits your mind because you are not questioning what you are being told. In this game we call politics, we are bred to jab each other with facts, Bible verses, examples, counter-examples, and insults to prove the other person wrong and feel better about ourselves. It is not about wanting solutions anymore. It is a colossal waste of time. To bring politics to our jobs, our childrens’ educations, and our churches is silly and immature, if not incredibly sinful. Don’t be conservative just because your dad is, or because you’re proud of your upbringing. If you really want to live individualistically in this nation, you better start thinking for yourself and be smarter about the media you subject yourself to. Figure out your opinions about something and vote likewise.

With each new president, half of the nation settles on being angry for the next four years, taking every new legislation as an attack on the opposing party, and trying to convince people of what they believe without any success. Liberals did it with Bush, conservatives do it with Obama. The last time we were united was for about an hour on September 11, 2001. Whoever created this political system we have has really succeeded at distracting the public from seeing what’s really going on.

Another point: We vote for political leaders who think like we do and promise to do what we want them to do. Political leaders make every decision based on what their constituents want and place value on. Therefore, each person in this system is serving a mass majority feeling and people are only really voting for themselves. This is truly a democratic success in some ways, but the problem is that general masses of people tend to make bad decisions. And political leaders become puppets who will never reveal how they really feel about something. One person’s brilliant idea will be snuffed by this system, and everyone is waiting for a solution to come from someone, but there is no one person anymore. We in Michigan are waiting for the economy to get better without thinking about what that will look like, what it will require of us, and what creative ideas we can think of to solve this. We are simply sitting here complaining about it while defending the government that causes these problems to continue.