March 15, 2013 at 11:19 am | In just_so | 3 Comments

From my breakfast perch, I can see a beautiful heritage house across the street. The lovely owner runs a home-based daycare.

This morning I watched parents in various makes of cars hurl themselves to the curb, gently and with apparent attention shepherd their children inside, …then run back nearly headless to the cars that would take them to their minutely scheduled lives:

To catch the train to work in Boston?
To take the highway to work in suburban office parks?
To go to a local job?

Where were they all off to, in such a great hurry?

Of course I remembered that I used to do this myself, before I (sort of kind of involuntarily) opted out of that rat race.

commuter rail train boston mbta



Last month I had one of those very blue periods where what should be a broad horizon shrinks down to a tiny speck that feels like a dark, dark hole in the ground.

I’m happy to report that my brain managed to adjust itself and I don’t feel entirely rotten at present. But these things do come and go, as many of you know. One of my sisters calls it having “das arme Tier” (except she’ll say it not in high German, but in an exaggerated Rhineland dialect, “dat aahme Dier”): that poor dear.

weathervane signage

You can have that damn poor dear, you see. And when you do, she’s going to make sure you feel that it’s like that. Exactly like that.

(Note for monolinguists: Tier means animal, here meant as creature. Dier is dialect: in the Rhineland, hard sounds tend to soften: t becomes d, ich becomes ish. In Berlin, on the other hand, pronunciation is harder: ich becomes the famous – infamous? – ick.)

I think it’s ironic that, just as “the poor dear” sticks with me (and to me, sometimes), I also have a special memory of another concept: the Lebenskünstler or life artist. He or she is a person who escapes constricting social norms and manages to live life on her own terms.

In a super-ramped up consumerist world, we may be forgiven if we conflate Lebenskunst (the art of living) with lifestyle and therefore as something we ought to be able to buy.

Money sure is useful (and a validation of oneself, if one is paid for what one does), but Lebenskunst is not just a lifestyle thing.

It’s mostly an attitude, a perspective, and a question of creativity.

In one sense, it’s about being able to count one’s blessings – although, again using my memories as an example, counting blessings or having an attitude of gratitude is something my tribe made fun of, often. Really often. Gratitude, schmatitude. Gratitude was for weaklings, and for optimistic fools who ended up being happy to tend their own gardens – instead of going out there and Doing Something Important. So we made fun. I’m not sure we really understood the corrosive effect on ourselves of our sarcasm. But I think we did it because we assumed that some things were basic social and human rights, and that it was ridiculous to be grateful for anything-and-everything. (People have argued about this for centuries.) I suspect, too, that sarcasm and gallows humor was also a shield – and perhaps a lance – against the poor dear. Today I’m more inclined to conclude that tending one’s own garden isn’t the worst of all possible worlds – provided you have your little plot, that is.

The Lebenskünstler is creative about gratitude, and uses it to build. She’s no hapless naif, or poor dear. He has a sense of style – and therefore a lifestyle – but isn’t a slave to consumption. She builds (creates) with what she’s given, and sometimes that’s the short end of the stick. No matter. It’s a matter of philosophy, and consolation. Most of all, Lebenskunst is about creativity and using what you’ve got.

bridge pilingsGive her half a chance, and my poor dear tells me I’ve got nothing. I have to tell her to shut her uncreative trap. My poor dear makes fun of the Lebenskünstler swanning about, the one who’s busy making plans and creating (largely imaginary) worlds.

The poor dear doesn’t want anyone actually to create anything. At this point I have to show my poor dear the door, although she’s feisty and incredibly difficult to shove away. But push I must, because my poor dear does nothing to help me get anywhere, or even help me get started.

She is the worst rat race in the whole universe because she makes me compete against her, which is no contest at all because she’ll triumph.

The Lebenskünstler must learn to subtract. Ask any sculptor and she’ll tell you that subtraction is as valuable a creative technique as addition. It’s time once again to give the poor dear a Lebenskunst make-over.

The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

March 10, 2013 at 1:55 pm | In links | Comments Off on The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)
  • More on the transportation bias (it’s pro-car and pro-vehicle speed):
    The weight of this hidden hand doesn’t fall on San Francisco alone. “Intersection LOS [level of service] is one of the most widely-used traffic analysis tools in the U.S. and has a profound impact on how street space is allocated in U.S. cities,” writes Jason Henderson, geography professor at San Francisco State University, in the November issue of the Journal of Transport Geography. As Henderson argues, it’s about time cities addressed the problem, and San Francisco is doing just that. It’s currently in the process of drafting a new sustainable transportation metric that will replace LOS and promote livability. Still, the fight is far from over.

    “Every city I’ve ever come across has some use of [LOS],” says Henderson, who has conducted an extensive review of LOS and is writing a book on the politics of mobility in San Francisco. “LOS and the privilege of the car is the incumbent. The way the political process is set up is you have to disprove the incumbent.”

    tags: transportation eric_jaffe atlantic_cities cars cities

  • Important article. The following is a quote from Victoria BC’s Todd Litman of the Transport Policy Institute. Amazing…
    Because it [a vehicle-based planning method] evaluates transport system performance based primarily on travel speeds, conventional planning favor faster but more costly transport modes, such as automobile travel over slower but more affordable modes such as walking, cycling and public transit. This tends to create automobile dependent transport systems which increases total costs.

    tags: transportation planning todd_litman atlantic_cities eric_jaffe cars automobile

  • Interesting article (and the usual vitriol in the comments). An aside: I had to laugh at the washing machines comparison (below) because it reminded me of a conversation between undergrads at UBC in 1981: One young woman (student) described renting a room from an older lady (yes, matron) in a really upscale Vancouver neighborhood. There was no washing machine in the house, and the older woman told the young student that she had objected when her husband wanted to buy her one back in the 40s. She told him, “If you bring that into the house, you’ll be wanting me to do the laundry next.” She always had someone pick it up and deliver. Now that’s an idea I can get behind. All these appliances at home also mean more work at home. Now back to the article:
    We’re used to the notion of sharing libraries, public parks, and train cars. But in many ways, American culture in particular drifted away from sharing as a value when we spread out from city centers and into the suburbs. Molly Turner, the director of public policy for short-term rental lodging website Airbnb, evokes the iconic image of Richard Nixon, in Moscow, introducing Nikita Khrushchev to the modern marvel of the state-of-the-art washing machine, available for private consumption in every American home. Beginning with the era of that washing machine, Turner argues, we forgot how to share.”

    tags: atlantic_cities sharing_economy economies emily_badger

  • Walkability. (But then again, the car’s not dead, either, and there are also signs that Millennials do move to suburbs when they want a bit more space to raise families. However, even those suburbs – which often are small cities ringing a larger metro – benefit from walkability…)
    There’s another important way that most suburbs remain suburban: They continue to lack walkable commercial districts, viable public spaces and public transit systems that allow people of all ages to be together without driving a car. Americans accepted this arrangement 60 years ago, when we valorized domestic life and stigmatized the street. Back then suburban kids played in backyards and culs-de-sac and their mothers spent most of their days around the house. These days, however, women work outside the home and children pursue their individual interests in specialized classes. Moreover, downtowns are desirable. People want to walk and shop and sip coffee on busy sidewalks, but suburbanites need automobiles to reach them. Walking requires driving, which means everyone winds up sitting in traffic or searching for parking.

    Suburbia sentences all those who move there to an unending series of car rides: to school, to work, to the train station. To the grocery store, mall, car wash. To soccer practice, tennis lessons, music classes. To the Olive Garden, movie theater, mall. To go to the city, to come home from the city—and preferably not during rush hour, though these days it’s rush hour most of the time.

    Suburbanites who have moved to the city are evangelical about their liberation from car culture. Parents are especially adamant about the virtues of city living, since they no longer spend afternoons and weekends chauffeuring children nor evenings praying that their teenagers don’t drink and drive. So are cash-strapped car owners who didn’t plan on spending $4 a gallon on gasoline and who know that in coming years $4 will seem cheap.

    tags: walkability playboy cities suburbs eric_klinenberg urbanism

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

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