Tuesday, September 2, 2008

EMS 620 ~ Class Numero Uno

Tonight we had our first class which largely focused on introduction, grading, reading materials, LMS, and an introduction exercise. It bears noting that this is a very large class (25), which kind of makes me feel like I am going to spend much of my time in the back taking notes, especially since it is so late at night. I am still very much in the phase that I find much of this discussion about sustainability to be overwhelming, so while I will try to be straight realistic in these digital diaries, some of it might become a bit defeatist in nature, just as a side effect. Also, I am only 10 weeks out of a skull fracture so I tend to get flustered when I forget words and am reminded I have memory issues. This is another reason why I will talk less in class, so much for that class participation grade after all. Aside from mention that my LMS photo makes me look like even Velcro poses a significant challenge in my daily life, the bulk of this post will cover the exercise and subsequent thoughts about it.

We were instructed to choose a city with direct meaning to us and list three things we like about it, three things we dislike about it, and five challenges (planning nature) this city faces by/in 2030. My A.D.D. kicked in when I was handed the paper and therefore, immediately wrote San Francisco (neighborhood: Castro) before listening to any of the rest of the directions. In hindsight, I should have chosen Las Vegas, where I am a homeowner as it poses far more planning problems, however, I lived in San Francisco for four years and feel the most ties to it. My lists reflected as follows:

San Francisco (Castro)
3 liked: urban, beautiful, higher levels of education
3 disliked: homeless, expensive, no real seasons
5 challenges by 2030: earthquake preparedness/consequences, population control, lack of affordability (decrease in diversity), chance in temperatures (extremes), change in sea levels

So maybe I short-worded it.... Oops. Then we were counted off into groups of 5 to discuss our lists as form of introducing ourselves to some classmates. My group contained the following students with the cities (major challenge noted):

Jaime: London (tube/congestion/sprawl)
Joanie: London (no specific challenge given - congestion)
Geoff: Philly - Go Phillies! (suburban sprawl leading to filth)
Beth: San Francisco (global climate change)
Estia: Crete (lack of education on climate pollution/systems)

The overall worries seemed to revolve around infrastructure constraints and how the current rate of urban growth could not contain or support these limits. My main focus/interest is food and water security and sustainable food systems and agriculture (It is my continuing education plan as a Registered Dietitian.). Therefore, when I brought up some points on overfishing linked to the destruction of certain waterways as well as a supporting role in the complaint for more economical food options (London), I definitely got a blank stare and almost a dismissal from a few people, which really worried me both because it is a huge global issue and because I can see that I clearly have an entirely different focus, philosophy, and interest set.

Then we got back together as a group to introduce our groups to the entire group. The challenges are summarized as follows:
Group 1: water, the cost of sustainability, and infrastructure
Group 2: immigration (jobs, racial tensions, social classes), crime (Camden - no joke), cities outgrowing transport options
Group 3: transit system/infrastructure, water pollution, overfishing (I'm putting it in anyway!)
Group 4: water, affordability, car dependency v. aging infrastructure
Group 5: Beijing issues, diversity exponents

There was a comment that these are intimidating issues to tackle, which I have to agree with, obviously. How to mitigate and adapt to changes such as sea level risings and infrastructure constraints will be large challenges for planners. Incorporating economic development into planning replacement of jobs which have become de-industrialized and therefore are now perpetuating a transit-oriented culture (live in one place, commute to another) is a challenge. Committing to a re-industrializing nature of local cradle to cradle production will take significant planning that may not be openly acceptable to a culture very entrenched and driven by the concept of ownership and "stuff." The move to decrease dependence on oil by moving small scale industry in a green sense to a less shipping intense arena will be an issue to focus on in the vein that the hidden costs of carbon are extensive and overlooked by the masses.

Personally, I have long been of the school that people should stop their complaints about oil prices unless they are willing to put their money where their mouths are. It is a market system, like it or not, and as long as there is some gashole in a Hummer who is willing to pay through the nose, we are all going to have to, so either get used to it, find another mode of transport, or run them off the road (here would be a side effect of living in Las Vegas). Take a look at Europe where petrol is exceptionally expensive. People have accepted that their cars need to be more efficient and often far smaller than American models and bikes, scooters, and mopeds are viewed with respect on the road. Aside from the United States, there are literally few other places on earth where the culture is so exploitative, uneducated, and spoiled. Just because you can have something does not mean you should. Unfortunately, we are in a culture of "stuff" and it seems like the few self-policers are terrifically drowned out. However, it can be said that if the public does not demand better options from the private sector businesses (in this case, automobiles, mobility), short of governmental regulation (which is often public v. lobbyist driven as well), it won't be commercially viable and therefore stands less chance of fruition. It is, after all, a free market and we are a free market society. So really, I support the concern of the rest of the class that infrastructure needs to be developed in a more efficient public method (trains, buses, ferries, etc.). Then when people wake up and are willing to shed their cars and oil dependence, there will be an option for them to rely upon.

So for the fun of it I will write a list for Las Vegas, where I technically reside.

Las Vegas (Summerlin)
3 like: living next to red Rock Canyon, Libertarian state, no humidity
3 dislike: lack of public transit, sense of entitlement that comes with gaming, crime from immigration
5 challenges by 2030: realistic water sources, immigration/new resident demands on water and power systems, smog and air quality, changes in desert extremes, struggle to make gaming environmentally compliant

I have to admit, where I live is beautiful. If you are visiting the Strip, look to the West and you will see mountains. That's where I live. And while we too have glorious billboards touting the quality show that is The Thunder From Down Under on the West side of town, it is still very different, thankfully.

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