Ahoy Ought Eight
Another year all but defeated, it’s worn and warm corpse ready to be hurled upon the mound of all those that fell before it (chronologically). I’ve been fortunate enough to spend this evening with members of my family, but I’m greedy for the company of family and friends elsewhere. Dearest East coast, perhaps we could spend this time next year together? I think it’s a date.
So what was that year that was?
Two cross-continental trips,
Second semester of my freshman year and first semester of my junior,
got hired as a mechanic at two bike shops,
killed my first wheel,
built my first wheel,
started a bike polo team and local league,
competed at the NACCC polo tourny,
rode my first century,
broke a bike frame for the first time,
bike bike bike bike and biked,
climbed Mt. Katahdin for the last time (for the foreseeable future at least),
read some books, some comix,
drew some but never enough,
didn’t create as much original artistic content as I could’ve (but who does?),
moved into my first apartment,
joined a wicked sweet gardening collective,
attended my first wedding of friends,
got into some awful trouble,
got into some great trouble,
and more, probably, I’m sure. Right?
So what to make of this year to come? What great wounds to inflict and songs to carol? We’ll see.
These late days of ‘07 have really slowed down the blog. As with any journaling process, I constantly find myself at risk for dropping the ball. Such is the case with my latest paper journal, the gaps between entries expanding exponentially. I’m not scheduled to write in there again until 2013.
So what’s new Jono? What do you do with all the time?
I’ve been at my mom’s house-in-progress in San Jose since the 23rd. Christmas and dinners and hanging out with grandma and shoe-shopping and all of that. I’ve also been holding hands and exchanging long complex protein strands with my brother. Does that sound gross if you don’t get the Simpsons reference?
We’ve been talking and stealing music. Good for the mind, good for the body. We drew together the other day, it was fun and I’d like to do more of it before we go. He is such an amazing artist, it’s really hard to believe we’re of the same spawning. He says the same thing about me though so maybe we’re just a pair of fools.
Writing’s not so easy when I’m here. I’ve started at least five posts in the past week, topics ranging from my desire to be a more active atheist to the unholy harmony achieved between the films Juno, Children of Men, 28 Days Later, and I am Legend. None of them have come to fruit though. Even this entry feels barely cogent. Amiright? I’ve got something planned for tomorrow though: a laundry list of the year that was.
Enjoy the end of it all. Kiss the right boys and girls at the right times. xoxo.
Cities, Cars, and our own Environment
Here’s another one of my final papers, dealing with the role of private cars in cities. A lot of the ideas I’ve expressed in previous posts, sometimes verbatim, so I’ll stick it behind a cut. Brain vomit away.
Cities, Cars, and our own Environment
Anthropology 116 Final Paper
In Solutions to Social Problems: Lessons From Other Societies, two of the fourteen sections stand out to me as being highly inter-related. An interest in environmental issues, social concernsc and sustainability as applied to the development of urban space led me to choose Section 11: Cities and Section 12: Environment. I believe that the application of a sustainable and holistic world-view to city-planning is not only advantageous, but is becoming more and more necessary. While both of these two topics are very broad, the articles in Solutions to Social Problems focus on specific examples of ways in which European nations have carefully applied strategies and designs to mitigate problems related to these topics.
A recurring focus in both sections was the questioning of the role and merit of the automobile as a central form of transportation. The article How Information Technology Fixed London’s Traffic Woes by Malcolm Wheatley describes the design and implementation of an electronic toll system in central London designed to reduce traffic while cutting back on harmful effects of congestion like pollution. Studies of congestion in London revealed that 85 percent of the people entering the central area did so utilizing public transportation. Motorists, being in the minority, would be providing funding to benefit all Londoners with the implementation of the toll system.
Dispite the large percentage of people entering central London via alternative means of transportation, such as public transit, on bike, or as pedestrians, there still remains a large number (over 150,000 every morning) who feel it is necessary to drive a private car. This stands testament to the fact that much of city-planning, especially in modern designs, is focused on the presence of the private car. In addition, the continued exodus of from central cities to suburbs and the resultant explosion of urban sprawl brings with it an increasing number of commuters, many of whom choose to travel by private car.
Living out of range of easy public transportation coupled with the desire for personal control of transportation leads many to believe that the only viable form of transportation is the private car. As central cities face higher congestion, even those who live within the dense city centers can feel as though having their own car is the only way to get around. If the routes between residential and commercial areas are designed primarily to serve cars the denizens will defer to that mode of transportation, even for shorter trips that could easily be made on foot or by bike.
By decreasing automotive congestion in central London, the city was able to not only reduce traffic an pollution, but to improve the situation for non-motorists by making their environment more conducive to safe and easy alternative transportation. By usuing the money collected from the automated tolls to fund other civic projects to benefit all Londoners, they have created a virtuous cycle.
In the article New Lessons from the Old World: The European Model for Falling in Love with Your Hometown, Jay Walljasper extols the value of vital and functional cities. By examining the long-standing civic successes of European cities, it is revealed that many exhibit a rich and lively public life and street culture, characteristics that feel lacking in many motorist-minded American cities. Cities like Amsterdam, Paris, Luxembourg, Freiburg, and Copenhagen all display a regional pride, and their citizens highly value their cities’ historical significance and modern cosmopolitan culture.
Some of the tactics used to vitalize these urban spaces include the compacting of residential developments, renewing neighborhoods as opposed to rebuilding, and the elimination of most automobiles from city centers. In Paris, nationalized development rights reign in “American-style” sprawl, and dense neighborhoods within and out of the city promote strong community identity, more efficient use of space, and alternative modes of transportation.
Existing neighborhoods are understood to have intrinsic value, and planners in Copenhagen understand that current residents may feel threatened by the increased property values brought about by new developments. As a result of this concern, funds are allocated to restore and renew current residential areas even though it may cost more than demolishing and building anew. These practices have proven that urban revitalization doesn’t always mean gentrification.
Narrower lanes for traffic, open squares, and prolific bike lanes all promote the role of central cities as “places for people”, instead of merely functioning as “conduits for cars”. Studying these efforts to calm and reduce traffic, it is important to recognize that many have mutual benefits for communities and neighborhoods as well. By providing open public spaces and an environment that discourages the private car, citizens find more opportunities to explore, enhance, and interact with their local environment.
In Section 12: Environment, Simon Romero’s article The $6.66-a-Gallon Solution discusses ways in which Norway, the third-largest exporter of oil, has managed to effect environmental benefits including a reduction in per-capita fuel consumption, decreased car ownership, production of more efficient vehicles, and reduction in emissions of greenhouse gasses. Taken in the context of the United States’ disproportionate energy use, accounting for more than a quarter of the world’s energy usage while representing less than a twentieth of the population, Norway’s fuel policies fly in the face of Western practice.
Despite the opposition of a vocal minority, the high taxation of the sale, ownership, and fuel of automobiles provides Norway with funding for large socially beneficial projects. By treating the private car as a milk-cow, Norway also manages to remain free of foreign debt and able to support its independence of the European Union. Lower car ownership and more expensive fuel also serve to reduce and calm traffic in densely populated areas.
Randy Cohen, author of New York Times Magazine column The Ethicist, recently appeared in a short video interview with Mark Gorton, of StreetFilms and The Open Planning Project, to discuss transportation ethics. Focusing on transportation in New York City, Cohen’s insights are easily applied to other large cities. Cohen argues that the private car undermines the happiness, health, and economic life of New Yorkers. While on a cultural, national, and social level we are capable of making wise policy choices, Cohen predicts that leaving decisions about the ethics of transportation to the individual will result in the continued purchase and usage of inappropriately large and inefficient vehicles, despite higher costs and the risk of increased harm to others in a collision.
Using a private car for daily transportation within a city like New York, especially when such excellent public transit and alternative modes of transportation exits, is selfish and morally indefensible, Cohen posits. What results is a city in which the inhabitants eventually cease to notice the myriad of ways in which the personal car undermines ordinary happiness.
One of the key points made by Mark Gorton is that the biggest problem is that of the city you can’t see. Gorton suggests that there is a massive capacity for improvement in the quality of life in the city, in the happiness of it denizens, in the promotion of street life and a unique cultural identity of city, and that it is tragic to be in a state of affairs where such important measures are not being maximized and where the failure to do so is so hidden from view. Gorton describes a winter in which the snow stopped almost all automotive traffic, and yet people took to the streets and experienced regularly congested areas in a new and revitalizing way; he recalls neighborhood parties and outdoor gatherings the night of the city-wide blackout when it became unsafe to drive. The Gorton presents is that there is an untapped potential for innately valuable human interaction that isn’t seen because of a current pernicious status quo.
The concept of “Negawatt Power”, as coined by Amory Lovins, can be applied metaphorically to this kind of situation. In terms of electrical energy production, negawatts are “generated” by increasing the efficiency of energy production, transmission, or consumption. Used as a measurement of reduced energy demand, negawatts increase the market supply of energy to combat growing demand, without the need for increased conventional energy generation capacity.
The auto-centric city discussed by Gorton and Cohen is highly inefficient at serving one of it’s primary purposes, which is to provide for meaningful human interaction. Instead of attempting to engender happiness through the accumulation of more stuff, via provisions for unrestrained consumerism and car-culture, those who design cities would do well to consider ways to improve the efficiency of the current paradigm.
A clear example of this is the intelligent application of bike lanes, pedestrian paths, and public transportation, along with judiciously locating residential and commercial areas to encourage the development of strong neighborhood ties. If few destinations are within easy walking range, and as a result private transportation is a must, something is wrong. By increasing the “walkability” of a living space the efficiency of daily life can be improved, costs to the environment reduced, and community fostered. This is the “generation” of social negawatts.
Another example of social negawatts can be drawn from three books published by Cristopher Alexander in the 1970’s. The Timeless Way of Building is Alexander’s account of an architectural methodology in which the occupants of a space draw the design from within themselves to form a democratic and decidedly human-built environment. In A Pattern Language Alexander defines the terms or “patterns” that constitute the building blocks and guiding principles of his method. The Oregon Experiment takes the previous two books and documents the application of their ideas upon the expansion of the campus at University of Oregon.
The design philosophy presented by Alexander is one that greatly enhances the ability of our environments to nourish and sustain meaningful human interactions. Designs like these don’t reduce the demand for happiness, they don’t themselves produce happiness, they instead more effectively allow for for the interaction of citizens in a way that elevates and encourages human interaction.
By reconsidering the way living spaces are designed and maintained, specifically in the way we cast the role of the private car in densely populated areas, it is possible to greatly improve the livability of a space, along with the quality of life of its inhabitants. To do so we must recognize the many ways in which decisions about our everyday lives shape our environment and effect the lives of our fellow citizens. Transportation is one area in which the potential exists to effect vast changes. By eliminating or greatly reducing the use of the private car, vast social, economic, environmental, and interpersonal benefits can be realized.
"Fred, I'm so sorry I-"
This American Life, episode 345: Ties That Bind. Download it now. Listen to the first act, “Fred and Barney”. Fantastic.
Emissions standards for some, novelty American flags for others?
Not even. Two takes on disappointment.
Disappointment, not surprise, marks the EPA’s denial of a waiver that would have granted California the right to regulate its own emissions standards. Part of a larger climate change action plan, and set to be adopted by seventeen other states upon approval, California’s GHG emission reduction strategy would have imposed harsher regulations on automotive manufacturers.
First question, how big of a financial hit would it be to the automotive industry if California’s standards were adopted, as opposed to the slower federal CAFE stadards? What’s the measure of the additional environmental and social damage done if we wait thirteen years to adopt a 35mpg (or should it be gpm?) standard, instead of only 5? I assume this cost-benefit analysis favors the few, wouldn’t you?
Second, how weak, nearsighted, selfish, and contemptible will we look to our children, children’s children, etc. (who will undoubtedly bear the environmental/social cost of the aforementioned calculation), if we wait around for the corporate and government climate change stalemate circlejerk to finish before enacting meaningful changes?
I wish embedding U-Tube clips didn’t give my css a nervous breakdown. Anybody want to tackle this debacle for me?
First off, a skellington and eyeball women kick out the jams in the animated video for Omodaka’s “kokiriko bushi”, directed by Teppei Maki. CHECK IT OUT, SRSLY. That ought to satisfy your daily Japanese Electropop requirements.
Second, the jolly Rrrojer writes to inform of the animation of Marjane Satrapi’s wicked comic Persepolis. It looks pretty sweet, if by sweet you mean a smooth animation based on the autobiographical comic of a woman who grew up through the Iranian transition from a secular society to an Islamic state. Sweet. The English voice acting cast is set to include the talents of Iggy Pop and Sean Penn. Sweet.
Fun with pencil and micron pen; a reproduction of Alfons Mucha’s classic print.
Re: "The Self and the Future"
Want to read what I think of Bernard Williams’ article “The Self and the Future”? Finals brain vomit after the jump.
Bernard Williams, in his article ‘The Self and the Future’, argues for a bodily criterion of personal identity. In support of this argument, Williams presents two variations of a thought experiment that produce two different and contradictory conclusions regarding criterion of personal identity. Williams then makes sense of these contradictory results by re-evaluating the conclusion of one of the conflicting thought experiment variations. After-which remains only the conclusion that bodily-continuity is a necessary condition of personal identity, founded on “the principle that one’s fears can extend to future pain whatever psychological changes precede it”.
Williams’ first variation on his thought experiment is referred to as a “body swap”, and this description indicates the expected intuitive response. It is proposed that two persons, similar enough in their capacity for expression of personality, were to undergo an operation that would result in “exchanged bodies” and would produce two affected persons referred to as A-body-person and B-body-person, based upon the physical body they inhabit after the operation. After the operation concluded, A-body-person would seem to possess all the mannerisms, memories, character, and entire mental state of person B, just as B-body-person would seem to possess the very same traits of person A.
In addition, the designer of this “body swap” operation offers options to persons A and B prior to the operation. A and B are given a choice, which is assumed they will make selfishly, about punishments and rewards to be inflicted upon the resultant A-body-person and B-body-person. One will receive a large cash reward, while the other will be subject to painful torture. If person A assumes that after the operation they will find themselves to be B-body-person, they would (selfishly) ask that A-body-person be tortured and that B-body-person be awarded the money. We can assume that person B would make the same self-serving decision, requesting that A-body-person be rewarded and that B-body-person be punished. Since the designer of the operation cannot satisfy both of these requests, one situation must be chosen over the other.
If the operation’s designer decides to give the money to A-body-person and painfully torture B-body-person, it will only satisfy the desires of one person. B-body-person, who will have the first-person memories of person A asking to have A-body-person punished and B-body-person rewarded, will find that the operation’s designer did not do what they remember asking them to do. Conversely, A-body-person will have the first-person memories of person B asking for exactly what was done. Since the operator brought about both what person B asked for prior to the operation, and what A-body-person remembers asking for, it is evidenced that A-body-person really is person B. The same can be said about the denial of person A’s request, and B-body-person finding they did not get what they asked for, thus confirming that person A is now B-body-person.
The same conclusion, that the identities of both persons A and B were transposed along with their mental states into each other’s bodies, can be drawn from other possible outcomes of the operation. For example, if the designer of the operation instead granted person A’s request while denying that of person B, if the designer told the participants before the operation who they intended to torture and who they intended to reward, if the designer withheld this information until after the operation, or when considering the expectations of the participants in regards to physical and psychological advantages and disadvantages of “swapping” bodies, it still follows that persons A and B now occupy each other’s bodies. Williams later refers to this intuitive conclusion as a “mentalistic” consideration of personal identity.
Another thought experiment is then offered, and is later revealed to be but a one sided variation on the same set of hypothetical circumstances previously described. In this variation, Williams presents the thought experiment in the first-person, and that is how it will be recounted here. I am told that tomorrow I will be tortured, and I fear this. It is certain that the person telling me this has the power to do so, and that the torture itself will be painful. My fear is one of certain future physical bodily pain, and Williams chooses physical pain as the subject of this fear as it is least dependent on belief or character. No matter any changes in my beliefs or character, I will still fear this future pain as pain inflicted upon me.
The person who has informed me of this impending torture also tells me that as I am being tortured I will not remember that they informed me of this pain in advance. I remain fearful of this unexpected torture though, as it is something I would not want to have done to me for the same reasons I would want to avoid expected torture. If the informant reveals to me that at the moment of torture I will have no memories of my life before that point, it will not quell my fears. Amnesia followed by torture is just as imaginable and frightening as unexpected torture, and forewarned torture as well. Even the knowledge that at the moment of torture I would possess a head full of false memories, none of which were of the warning of torture, would not make this future pain any less frightening. It also follows that if I had all the memories of someone else’s life at the moment of torture, I would still have very good reason to fear the impending painful torture.
From this account, Williams states that fear of future pain maintains, even if the pain is preceded by “certain mental derangements”. Because this is a fear of pain being inflicted upon one’s self, and is unlike feelings of empathy in response to the pain of someone else, personal identity must also be maintained despite the mental erasures, re-writes, and transpositions preceding the torture. This conclusion is “the principle that one’s fears can extend to future pain whatever psychological changes precede it”, and Williams refers to this conclusion as “considerations of bodily continuity” in regards to personal identity.
The two considerations for criterion of personal identity that Williams has drawn from the variations of his thought experiment, those “mentalistic” and those of “bodily continuity”, are contradictory to one another. Williams acknowledges this incompatibility and seeks to explain some important differences between the two variations of the thought experiment.
The first difference is that in the first variation, the thought experiment is told in the third-person perspective, as the operation is happening to two other people, while the second variation of the thought experiment is explicitly related to the reader via the second-person perspective, and thus any intuitive responses are formed in the first-person. According to Williams this forced first-person perspective may be necessary to allow for considerations of future pain.
The second notable difference between the two variations of the thought experiment is the omission of the second person (person B) from the second variation of the thought experiment, except for their “being the provenance of the impressions” transposed to my mind. Expanding on this point, Williams suggests that it may not be necessary at all, for the determination of the preservation of personal identity, for the status of a second person (person B) to be considered. This thought is applied to the first variation of the thought experiment as Williams retells it concentrating only on person A’s one sided experience.
Six situations preceding possible future pain are recounted, and throughout the first five situations it remains consistent with the considerations of “bodily continuity”, as presented as the intuitive conclusion to the second variation of Williams’ thought experiment. Person A is told of future torture to be preceded by (i) complete amnesia of person A’s memories, (ii) changes in person A’s character, (iii) the introduction of memories not belonging to person A, (iv) changes in character and the introduction of memories that reflect the identity of a different actual person, and (v) changes in character and the introduction of memories that are transposed to the brain of person A from the brain of person B who remains unchanged. Williams posits that person A’s fear of future pain will “reach through the change(s)” of situations i through v, remaining consistent with the considerations of “bodily continuity”.
It is only upon the consideration of situation vi, in which memories and characteristics are transposed to the brain of person A from the brain of person B while at the same time the operation is enacted upon person B in reverse, that the consideration of “bodily continuity” is challenged. Situation vi follows the same logic as the “body swap” variation of the thought experiment, which brings about “mentalistic” considerations. Williams states that if the “bodily continuity” consideration held fast through situations i through v, then it should require strong reasoning not to maintain in situation vi as well, thus admitting that the two contradictory considerations are difficult to separate. Furthermore, Williams criticizes lines of thought that would suggest that, within situation vi, person A exists ex post facto as B-body-person because B-body-person is a “very good candidate for being [person] A”. While this language and reasoning may be perfectly applicable in disputes of ownership or property, Williams believes it is wholly inaccurate for describing the situations at hand.
It is only by dismantling the first variation of his thought experiment, the one that first led to the “mentalistic” consideration, that Williams can arrange a single principle for the consideration of personal identity as it relates to the future self. Only because of an “artificial” order does the first variation achieves it’s seemingly straightforward conclusion, Williams argues. Instead of resulting in the actual transfer of two separate selves into each other’s bodies, the “body swap” was merely a situation that easily evoked that understanding. It would be possible for the designer of the operation to produce many different resultant situations, such as situation v, both A-body-person and B-body-person possessing the same memories and mental states (of either person A or B), along with many other variations.
It is only because the designer brought about a situation to which we were disposed to call “exchanged bodies”, Williams posits, that we have come across the “mentalistic” considerations. By this reasoning Williams puts forward that the consideration of “bodily continuity” is “positively straightforward”, as based on “the principle that one’s fears can extend to future pain whatever psychological changes precede it”.
The same reasoning that Williams applies to the deconstruction of the “body swap” variation of his thought experiment, that the situation presented was not actually the “effective experiment” but rather one that elicits the impression of effectiveness, can be applied to his acceptance of the “bodily continuity” considerations. For example, Williams omits the possibility that the “body swap” will result not in persons A and B finding themselves in different bodies than they inhabited prior to the operation, but rather that persons A and B will no longer exists, instead being replaced by two new people. These people, who we may call person C and person D, would possess the body of person A along with the mental state of person B, and the body of person B along with the mental state of person A, respectively.
To consider that the exchange of bodies or the transposition of mental states results in the formation of two new persons requires a consideration of personal identity that includes both the physical body and the mental state as criterion. This holistic consideration stands opposed to both the “mentalistic” and “bodily continuity” considerations, as they are both dualistic considerations of personal identity.
If this holistic consideration is applied to the second variation of Williams’ thought experiment, it may be revealed that the fear extended “to future pain whatever psychological changes precede it” may not be entirely accurate, as the person being tortured would no longer posses both the same combination of mental state and physical body they had when their torture was predicted. An argument that explored not just the “bodily continuity” or “mentalistic” considerations of personal identity, but considerations that considered both mental and physical states simultaneously, would perhaps lead to a better understanding of how fear of future pain relates to the continuity of personal identity.
James Kochalka draws a lot. It’s pretty hard not to bump into his work if you have even a passing interest in small press comix. I’ve never felt a strong urge to check out his stories before, but now I can’t stop reading his diary comic. In what can only be described as a stroke of marketing genius, he has just gone done made the entire online archive of “American Elf: the Sketchbook Diary of James Kochalka” available for free. Previously only available under a paid subscription, it’s no surprise that this giveaway has increased his readership. I stand testament.
Check it out if you’re a fan of Drew Weing’s Journal Comic, Jeffrey Brown’s sordid autibiographication, Donation Derby, Jeffrey Rowland’s Overcompensating, or satirical narcissism in general.
That transportation ethics interview sure has got me thinking of bigger pictures. Pictures of webs, pictures of currents, pictures of cycles and linear paths. I even made a flow chart on Tuesday, of things I think I’d like to think and write and speak and teach and fight about.
Let’s all take a ride on my train of though, shall we?
First off, one of the key points made by Mark Gorton was that the biggest problem is that of the city you can’t see. What I think he was getting at is the idea that there is such a capacity for improvement in the quality of life in the city, in the happiness of it denizens, in the promotion of meaningful human interaction, that it is tragic to be in a state of affairs where such important measures are not being maximized, and where the failure to do so is so hidden from view. He describes a winter in which the snow was too thick for cars, and yet people walked the streets in a new way; he recalls neighborhood parties and outdoor gatherings the night of the latest blackout when it became unsafe to drive. The idea that there is an untapped potential for the really good things that we don’t see because of a current pernicious status quo.
This reminded me of the concept of Negawatt Power, as coined by Amory Lovins. In terms of electrical energy production, negawatts are “generated” by increasing the efficiency of energy production, transmission, or consumption. Used as a measurement of reduced energy demand, negawatts could increase the market supply of energy to combat growing demand, without the need for increased conventional energy generation capacity.
So for example, turning off my laptop and unplugging its power adapter (which continues to draw power even if the laptop is off or unplugged!) when I’m not using it. If I hadn’t done this, let’s say it would have consumed 5 watt-hours of energy. By saving 5Wh I have effectively generated 5 negawatt hours. That energy is available instead to anyone else on the grid who might need it and the supply/demand ratio of the system has been improved. There is also now 5Wh less of a reason to build a new power-plant. A simple example, but a very important concept. Now what if we could apply the idea of negawatts, or “improved efficacy units” to other systems?
The auto-centric city discussed by Gorton and Cohen, I believe, is insufficiently efficient at serving it’s primary purpose, which is to provide for meaningful human relationships. Granted, cities are hotbeds of cultural and communally vital activities, but there is obviously much room for improvement. Now here’s the application: instead of attempting to engender happiness through the accumulation of more stuff, via provisions for unrestrained consumerism, car-culture, and corporatist croneyism, those who design cities (the denizens, politicians, civic planners, architects, city officials, community leaders, parents, teachers, etc.) would do well to consider ways to improve the efficiency of the current paradigm.
An example of this the intelligent application of bike lanes, pedestrian paths, and public transportation, along with judiciously locating residential and commercial areas. If few destinations are within easy walking range, and as a result private transportation is a must, something is wrong. By increasing the “walkability” of a living space you can improve the efficiency of daily life and reduce costs to the environment, community, and quality of life. You can “generate” negawatts of human happiness. Does this follow? Bear with me anyway.
In the 1970’s Cristopher Alexander published three books about building. The Timeless Way of Building is Alexander’s account of an architectural methodology in which the occupants of a space draw the design from within their own beings to form a democratic and decidedly human-built environment. In A Pattern Language Alexander defines the terms or “patterns” that constitute the building blocks and guiding principles of his method. The Oregon Experiment takes the previous two books and document the application of their ideas upon the expansion of the campus at University of Oregon.
I believe that the design philosophy presented by Alexander is one that greatly enhances the ability of our environments to nourish and sustain meaningful human interactions. Designs like these don’t reduce the demand for happiness, they don’t themselves produce happiness, they instead more effectively allow for happiness. They “generate” human negawatts.
"Morally Indefensible" Motors
Randy Cohen, author of New York Times Magazine column The Ethicist, recently appeared with Mark Gorton of StreetFilms & The Open Planning Project to briefly discuss transportation ethics. Take a look.
No Impact Man offers a blow-by-blow breakdown of Cohen’s ideas, and the Cranked Magazine blog offers some keen foresight into where this video leads. This is the kind of practical philosophy I want to study; the kind of ethical inquiry that actually cashes out at the end of the day. As much as I vent against the dominant automotive culture, I’ve never felt comfortable calling it morally bankrupt. Listening to Cohen though, he makes it seem much easier to divine. Granted the case of traffic in NYC may be a bit of an outlier, but I feel as though many of the points raised can be applied in less dense areas.
For example, Gorton suggests that “the biggest problem with the city based on the automobile is actually invisible. It’s the city you don’t see, the city that could be if it wasn’t that way.” What he’s moving towards is the idea that there are many systematic, and cultural edifices that in one way or another threaten the health and happiness of the people within, and that unfortunately these impositions upon quality of life are readily accepted as “the way things are”.
In a city like Chico, with an urban population of just over 105k people, I’d like to imagine we’re imbued with a bit more flexibility.
Urban planning is one field that is increasingly interesting to me, as it deals with the en masse day-to-day actions and decisions of a population and the profound impacts they have on each other and the environment. There aren’t too many mental degrees of separation between this and a world view reaching for a sustainable ethic.
Last night I snapped the rear seat-stay bridge on my bike’s frame. What this means is that the system of awesomely strong triangles that composed my bicycle has been reduced to a system of wet noodles and cheap chopsticks. Hopefully I can warranty the frame through Trek’s customer appeasement program, and get myself a new ride
In the mean time, I still need to get my pedal on. I took the time today to build up a rear wheel for my new old bike: a 1982 Atala with almost all Campagnolo ‘82 Super Record components intact powder coated blinding white. This vintage 10-speed was the bleeding edge of Italian racing technology a quarter of a century ago, and is one wicked sweet ride to this day. Lugged steel frames and friction shifting will never go out of style.
In contrast to the strict but fair 44x15t gearing of my fixed gear, the 10-speeds of the Atala make me feel like I have hollow bones. I will (less painfully) conquer mountains on this bike. I will explore the Pacific Northwest on this bike. I will grow hard on this bike. Amateur bike p0rn here.