Adrienne Arsht Resilience, Strong Towns and Disasters

Swiss Army Knife, James Case, The knife was my first experience as a kid with the joys of survival, made even better by it being useful and slightly dangerous. I still have mine from the Virginia Beach A&N store.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – We all like to be prepared. It’s the Boy Scout motto, Be Prepared. And what does that mean? The story with scouting founder Lord Baden-Powell was that the phrase meant to “be prepared for any old thing.”

Often “any old thing” comes at us, and we are not prepared. TV weathermen and reporters tell us to fill our cars full of gas well before a hurricane, and to keep three days supply of food, and to have key personal papers in a safe place, and to keep a well-stocked medicine cabinet. Terribly sensible stuff.

We know this, and yet as we see our news, hardly any are ready. Indeed, those who prepare well are marginalized as reality show “preppers”, sort of wing nuts who seem to be hoping for the worst as we secretly admire their pluck and grit. But that is not the reality; hundreds of thousands of people were and are Boy and Girl Scouts, and Bear Grylls, friend to the Royals and Presidents, is celebrated even as we do not follow their advice.

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The Useful Rural Economics of Dr. Wilson Gee of UVA

My father’s discussions of life at the University of Virginia in the mid 1950s often involved parties and social life, and the overall scene, from William Faulkner to periodic visits by Louis Armstrong and other jazz and big band greats.

I learned some important style issues from him as well; pants should not drag onto a shoe, button downs should never be too starched and a tuxedo is called a “tuck” not a “tux.” Continue reading

Ivan Illich’s Convivial Legacy

Austrian thinker and Catholic priest Ivan Illich, largely forgotten today, predicted and legitimized a critique of capitalism and socialism that is still relevant. Illich, who illustrated the destructiveness of consumer and communist Western culture as it was in the 1960s and 70s, seems to today to be a visionary who understood the downside of “progress” as it was and is defined by bureaucrats and the establishment.

His book Deschooling Society took on the education establishment, and he had equal contempt for the medical establishment, both of which upheld lifestyles that in the end were harmful to people. He was, it seems, an unwitting part of the Catholic social justice movement, but was able to rise beyond the dogma with a critique of World Bank do-gooderism echoed by Robert Lupton’s Toxic Charity. Tools For Conviviality (Harper & Row, 1973) was the book that tried to give Illich’s way of moving forward, calling “conviviality” the ability to use tools to create your own God-given vision of the world. Continue reading

Sensible Approaches to Passenger Rail in the U.S.

By John from Southern Maryland, USA - VRE V09(RP39-2C), CC BY 2.0,
View of VRE by Wikipedia Commons by John from Southern Maryland, USA – VRE V09(RP39-2C), CC BY 2.0

Every few years, federal, state and local planners lay out outlandish plans for high speed rail networks that never seem to go anywhere, or go over budget. Florida’s SunRail loses millions, and does not even go from downtown to the Orlando airport. There should be a caveat to all government regional rail projects; if it does not connect the airport to downtown and other main destinations, DO NOT DO IT.

Perhaps the last great large government plan for rail that was wildly successful was D.C.’s Metro. It connected all major places in D.C., and has been a catalyst to development there. While not high speed, it was and is popular with customers, although it is worn, tired, under-capitalized and sometimes unsafe. Amtrak has had success in a few select areas, including the Northeast Corridor Acela and Auto-Train, from Virginia to Florida. Continue reading

Post-Colonial Structures Offer Unique Benefits

Royal arms in St. George’s, Jerusalem, Israel, from Government house during the British Mandate

The subject of Brexit and the European Union offers an enormous opportunity for the U.K. and Commonwealth, despite the obvious anxiety of a country having to renegotiate its trading relationships.

That Britain is leaving the European Union is an odd thing for the former greatest colonial power in the world. The irony is that when the Empire was unwound after World War II, British bureaucrats had to devolve dozens of colonial power relationships that it ruled. Today, the Brussels boot is on the other foot, as Britain seeks to extricate itself from its unwittingly gained colonial master, Brussels.

Britain took the devolution of power seriously in its colonial realm. It most cases, Britain left with dignity, and in many cases, and quite archaically, kept the Queen as head of state. In the case of Israel, it turned over the future of Palestine to the United Nations. The U.S., when it left the Philippines and Panama Canal Zone, also turned over power in a dignified way. This is a practical matter; if you want good future relationships with that former colonial power, you devolve power in a clean, elegant, and respectful way. This precedent was set by Lord Mountbatten, who when faced with the prospect of losing India, sent them to independence with great dignity. Brussels would do well to understand this, as Britain will forever be located next Europe. Continue reading

Honeywell, Star Wars and the Future

The left image shows the New Horizons spacecraft during testing at Kennedy Space Center in fall 2005. At right, New Horizons lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Jan. 19, 2006. Credit: NASA

ELLENTON -Heading into get coffee at Dunkin Donuts, I decided to go in, rather than drive through. In Florida, all morning fast food eateries are social institutions; the retired folk who inhabit these places each morning turn them into veritable salons of conversation. I had other plans, bringing in my laptop. But the sun was in the corner, and I sat in one of the comfy lounge chairs next to Steve, a retiree.

He had worked at Honeywell in Clearwater; his job was rocket and space guidance systems. We talked of the recent nine year trip of the New Horizons craft that took the first, in depth photos of Pluto, and is now heading to a distant object still. One of his main projects was a missile defense system. When it was proposed, it almost did not work. At Honeywell, dozens of engineers worked for years with the system, which was pejoratively nicknamed Star Wars and also became technology that is the Iron Dome that protects Israel. Continue reading

Re-reading William Whyte’s The Organization Man

whyteThere are a handful of non-fiction books I come back to again and again. These are sorts of books that each time you go back to them, you find something new, and seminal. They express ideas that were influential later on, and were first expressed there in that particular way.

When talking about cities and urban planning, favorites are books like Jane Jacobs’ Death and Life of Great American Cities, Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language, Michael Porter’s Competitive Advantage of Nations, Lee Kuan Yew’s From Third World to First and Chester Liebs’ From Main Street to Miracle Mile. Each of these books, mostly about cities and economics, speaks about how to improve the human condition, or observes something important and special about where we are today, and where we need to go.

One book that seems to be resonating with me today is William H. Whyte Jr.’s The Organization Man. Whyte, a sociologist and urban theorist who wrote books and articles about the way cities work, wrote The Organization Man in 1956, at the height of the 1950s expansion of the U.S. in the Eisenhower era. Interestingly, the book came out in 1956, the same year of Sloan Wilson’s famed critique of corporatism, the novel Man in the Gray Flannel Suit.

What Princeton-educated Whyte describes so perfectly is the advent of a post World War II culture that was completely alien to the American way of life as it had been known  up to then. Whyte, who was called Holly, noticed that our American individualism was in the process of being destroyed. He saw it decades before many others, and put it in the context of something larger than the liberal/conservative or capitalist/socialist argument that was going on then, and continues to rage now.

The dust jacket, still present on my worn 1956 edition, reads, “The old precepts of the Protestant Ethic, to which he still gives lip service, simply do not jibe with the kind of group life he has to live. Intellectually, it is not the defects of organization life that cloud decisons for him, but its very beneficence. To resolve his doubts, he is constructing a new faith, a social ethic that would make morally legitimate the increasing power of society over him.” Continue reading

Fighting for Our Institutions & Preventing the Next Sweet Briar

CH1S6zAWIAAyBaNThe effort to save Sweet Briar College succeeded; it has been a wake up that a well-funded, well-respected and well-financed historic college could be taken to the brink by a greedy, incompetent board. No one thought anyone would have the gumption to do such a thing, and almost pull it off. Certainly people can be incompetent, but this went way beyond it.

The day before the announcement of the settlement with the Attorney General, Elizabeth MacDonald of Fox Business wrote a long, factual research piece on Sweet Briar that put all the other facts in perspective, and told exactly how the board ruined the school, and offered some explanations and ideas for the future. It is an important piece that anyone who cares about education should read. Continue reading

A Modern Bill of Rights, or Obvious Rights We Have Lost

originalphoto-493403833.622519-1.jpgIn the current climate, implicit rights that were once easily accepted have fallen by the wayside.

Two decades ago, if we had known the government would have the right to listen to all of our telephone calls, or control whether we can dig a well, or what color to paint a house, we would have screamed and resisted. Snooping on telephone calls was rare (except when I was 9 years old on our “party line” in the country); wells were seen as necessities and color control for houses was something seen only in the occasional nationally important historic district or special resort city. Continue reading