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The Last Stop in Brooklyn

Getting out was essential but I was stuck in Brooklyn until I could plot my escape…

There was no such thing as “diversity” in white, working-class Bensonhurst in the 1950s. Only the Jews and the Italians.

My tribe descending from Yiddish-speaking East European immigrants who settled in cramped tenements and worked in the schmatta trade of Manhattan’s lower east side.

Moving – after the war – across the East River to apartments with bedrooms and bathrooms; a 50 minute commute to “the city” on the west end line of the BMT. Sharing the neighborhood with Southern Italian Catholics, a few Irish and fewer blacks and Puerto Ricans who worked for – but rarely lived among – us white “ethnics.”

My father drove a cab six days a week and my mother typed for a living. We weren’t poor but sometimes for dinner my mother would serve macaroni with ketchup. Sally and Irv enjoyed themselves occasionally – they played penny poker with friends on Saturday night, she watched Liberace, he watched the Yankees, and now and then they would go out for “Chinese.”

But much of the time they were frustrated and miserable. Irv was known to friends and cousins as “easy going” and – though he didn’t drink – could “snap” and do a lot of damage. Sally was always worrying and felt ashamed of her divorce in the 1940s. Her daughter, my “half” sister, twelve years older, lived with us and hated my father (for good reason).

I was acting out at home – yelling, cursing and defiant – and in junior and senior high: cutting classes and on my way to becoming an official “truant” and dropout.   In the grip of adolescent anguish, by 14 I would ruminate incessantly about girls, particularly the local Italians, whose appeal was intensified by a taboo that would prevail into the 1970s and beyond.

Even my pre-pubescent preferences leaned in that direction, stimulated by those lusty Italian ladies of Bensonhurst. Cleavaged, tight-skirted and toe-nail polished, they seemed more overtly libidinal than the Jewish women in the neighborhood. My fascination was a distraction from family problems and a way to imagine my escape.  I enjoyed other diversions, as well: scooting around the corner to play punchball or pedaling my bike to the Cropsey Avenue Park or buying an egg cream – for twelve cents – on Bay Parkway and 86thStreet.

Rivalries erupted from time to time between the Jewish and Italian boys. I was involved in some of these courtyard fist fights. Though the violence was minimal (no weapons: just a few punches in the face, a headlock and then a submissive “I give.”), these neighborhood battles would not only contest virility but would reveal an ethnic-based class resentment.

While many of my Italian peers became very successful academically, professionally and financially, it was the Jewish kids who were most eager to leave the old neighborhood (this is decades before the borough became trendy for Gen X bohemians). This ethic of upward and outward mobility, built into Jewish cultural DNA, has fashioned a Jewish-American Diaspora – from Hester Street to the “outer boroughs” to the upper west side, Hempstead Long Island, Southern California and points in between.

For a time, I resisted the traditionally available route for a smart Jewish kid to get ahead.  Depressed and anxious, I was flunking out of school.  Developing instead the style of free spirit, a malcontent and a wanderer; a persona which required that I reject my parent’s values with a simplistic, snotty and condescending critique of them as vacuous and conventional.

This fit right in with “generation gap” rhetoric and prevailing notions of liberation pulsing through the counter culture in 1967.  I could distance myself from my painful past and pathetic parents, disparage their “material values” – appalled, for example, by their choice to cover their sofa with clear, thick, sticky plastic – and fashion myself as superior.

It would take awhile before I would better understand how my parent’s lives shaped my political values. By my late teens I saw as merely incidental the fact that they had joined the ranks of  New York’s unionized civil service. My father was forced out of taxi driving by his health, becoming a clerical for the state insurance fund; my mother putting her fast fingers to work for the city’s board of education.

But a lonely 17-year-old had no time for such reflections.  On nights when I had trouble sleeping, I would slink out of my parent’s apartment to wander the streets. There was always the faint hope of an exotic sexual encounter, but most of these three-in-the-morning outings were a time for thoughtful solitude.

Walking past the Coney Island Terminal – the last stop for Brooklyn-bound trains from Manhattan – just a few blocks from the Atlantic Ocean and the famous Boardwalk, Aquarium, Cyclone and Nathan’s, I was ruminating over my academic circumstances.

In a few hours, I would be starting a new high school. (My parents and I had, in fact, deserted Bensonhurst – but only barely – relocating a few neighborhoods south to Brighton Beach which, ten years later, would take in thousands of Soviet émigrés and gain national fame as “Odessa by the Sea.”)

I stayed up all night, walked along Surf Avenue as far as “Seagate,” (one of America’s oldest gated communities on the western edge of Coney Island) and – somewhere along the way – decided to stop screwing around in school.

I could tell this was a big deal.  Later in life when I started to chart these pivotal events, I would mark my Surf Avenue expedition as the first of many.

That semester in Lincoln High I stuck to my resolve, dropping bookkeeping and merchandising, flipping back to a college prep curriculum, re-taking failed classes – geometry, biology – and planning an extra year in high school.

Though I would finish Lincoln with a weak overall record, my academic performance improved substantially the final two years – enough to let me shop around for a college which would recognize my potential.

The last stop on my exit from Brooklyn would be the NYU psychology clinic for nine months of analytic psychotherapy with a grad student who would later become a successful New York analyst. Nowadays, concerned and proactive parents who detect problems in their kids are quick to refer them to psychologists for therapy and psychiatrists for medication. But this was my initiative and I jumped at the chance to see a “shrink.” Twice a week I rode the subway into lower Manhattan and – for 50 cents a session – began what would be decades of various forms of psychotherapy (including a brief period in which I aspired to be a therapist myself).

Coincidentally – and ironically (given my ultimate career choice) – in 1970, the NYU psychology clinic building was located at 23-29 Washington Place which, 60 years earlier (then known as the Asch Building) was the site of the Triangle Shirt Waste Factory fire which killed 146 immigrant garment workers – mostly young Jewish women.

I didn’t find out until years later that the building held such enormous historical significance; that this epic tragedy – which triggered fire code and workplace safety reforms across the country – took place at the spot where I was preparing for my life as an adult.

Though oblivious to quite a bit happening around me (preoccupied with, among other things, overcoming my awkwardness with girls), I was however starting to absorb some of what was going on in the world.

I could recount stories here about my cultural and political “awakenings” – tying my personal development to iconic historical events: the M.L. King and Bobby Kennedy killings, Woodstock (I was there), the Democratic National Convention police riot (I wasn’t there) – but I’ll save for another time my detailed reflections on this period in American culture and politics. Hasn’t enough already been said about how sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll changed our lives?

Though I was linked to prevailing counter-culture sentiments – appropriately appalled by the War in Vietnam and other U.S. “atrocities” – my political views were confined (or should I say restrained) by a mainstream liberal tendency that I’ve maintained to this day.

Sure I was impressed by Ivy League SDSers taking over the dean’s office – I respected their dedication to social causes (and the fun they seemed to be having). But my own working-class resentments may have been surfacing in reaction to what was then perceived – not always correctly – as the “privileged” student protesters of American middle class families.

My working-class “liberal populism” reflected my parent’s political values pretty closely (though I couldn’t know this at the time).  One example would be my lack of resistance to Hubert Humphrey in the 1968 presidential.  The “no difference” argument didn’t hold as I lined up happily with New Deal Labor Dems to try to beat Nixon.

I also took an intense interest in the reform movement in Eastern Europe against communist totalitarianism.  While I assume most American liberals and radicals at the time aligned with Czechoslovakians in their protest against Soviet tyranny, I felt a particular affinity for the young reformers.   My revulsion to Soviet Communism was sealed for life when Russian tanks and troops crushed Alexander Dubcek’s Prague Spring.

I don’t want to make too much of all this – I was just a kid – but I always felt a slight pull to the political center and couldn’t quite wrap my head around radical-chic notions about the Panthers, Mao or a range of utopian ideas espoused by elements of the new left. Though I might have looked like one, I was not a revolutionary.

Twenty years later, I would find a very nice fit within the American Labor Movement, navigating comfortably among the so-called old guard and the new generation of union militants.  I would develop a revisionist view of Sally and Irv, less critical of their values and more appreciative of how a few extra dollars in their pockets – thanks partly to the New York public sector unions – could make a big difference in workers’ lives.

I would also take on a more balanced – you could say compromised – view on the potential for personal transformation and social change.  Economic conditions do shape peoples lives, but individual choice enters the mix.  America – at its best – gives you a shot (at least it used to) and you make of it what you will.

As a Brooklyn, working-class, Jewish American – introspective and inclined toward progressive (but practical) politics – I feel lucky to have come as far as I have.

I’ve spent my life trying to overcome an agitated mother and angry father.  By 10, I was bratty and foul-mouthed; by 13, sexually-fixated and withdrawn; by 16, defiant and delinquent.  To compensate, I would develop very subtle behaviors to conceal my feelings of isolation.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  By the end of the 1960s, these formations were incubating.  In the 1970s I would work on my narrative: success on my own terms and an ongoing struggle for American justice and personal salvation.

I would also figure out that blaming parents or “society” for low self-esteem – even if it opens the door to self-acceptance – can only take you so far.

More Unwelcome News for the California High Speed Rail Project

Decidedly, early June has not been the best of times for the California high-speed rail project.

On June 2, came a new poll showing that fifty-nine percent of voters would now oppose building high-speed rail if the measure were placed on the ballot again. Sixty-nine percent said that they would "never or hardly ever" ride the bullet train if it were built. (USC Dornsife/LA Times survey). The poll made news throughout the state, and indeed nationally. The public was treated to headlines such as "Voters have turned against California bullet train" (LA Times); "California high speed rail losing support" (Bloomberg); "California high speed rail doesn’t have the support of majority of Californians" (Huffington Post); "Voters don’t trust state to build high speed rail" (CalWatchdog) and "Poll finds California voters are experiencing buyers' remorse" (Associated Press).

Then, on the heels of the poll, came news that Central Valley farm groups have filed a major environmental lawsuit asking for preliminary injunction to block rail construction slated to begin later this year. Plaintiffs include the Madera and Merced county farm bureaus and Madera County. Still more agricultural interests in the Central Valley are reportedly threatening to sue.

The Sierra Club, traditionally a loyal supporter of Gov. Brown, announced it was "strongly opposed" to Brown’s proposal to eliminate California environmental (CEQA) requirements for the high speed rail program and its Central Valley construction project. The Brown administration has made its proposal despite a solemn promise to the legislature by the Authority’s Chairman, Dan Richard, that they would never try to bypass CEQA ("We have never and we will never come to you and ask you to mess with the CEQA requirements for the project level").

The multi-billion dollar HSR program is exactly the sort of large scale public works project that CEQA was designed to address, wrote Kathryn Phillips, Sierra Club’s Director in a June 5 letter to the Governor. "By removing a large-scale project such as high-speed rail from full CEQA coverage, the proposal grants the state a status that suggests it does not have to fully and seriously consider and mitigate environmental impacts. ... In the interests of the environment and in the interest of rebuilding public support for rail in this state, we urge you in the strongest possible terms to abandon the proposal to weaken environmental review for the high-speed rail system," the letter concludes.

Nor was this the end to unwelcome news for the Brown administration. A series of editorials and opinion pieces by some of California’s most influential columnists has reinforced the public’s growing disenchantment with the bullet train project and with the Governor’s stubborn determination to defy public opinion.

In a June 3 commentary,  the Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters, a longtime observer of the legislative scene, refuted the Governor’s attempt to compare the high speed rail project with the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. Both projects, the Governor had said in a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the bridge, took much political courage and foresight, and both will go down in history as remarkable gifts to posterity.

"Nice try, Governor," wrote Walters, but the comparison is misleading. The need for the Golden Gate crossing was clearly demonstrable and the bridge used revenue bonds to be repaid with bridge tolls. The need for a bullet train, on the other hand, "exists only in the minds of its ardent backers" and the Governor assumes that the federal government will finance nearly two-thirds of the project’s cost—an assumption that is nothing more than wishful thinking. Asked Walters, if the train is as financially viable as Brown and the Authority insist it is, why wouldn’t they do what the bridge builders did — float revenue bonds to be repaid from the train’s supposed operating profits. "Public works projects make sense when they fit well-documented needs. When they don’t, they are just political ego trips," Walters concluded.

Daniel Borenstein, columnist and editorial writer for the Contra Costa Times, came to a similar conclusion. In pushing for the bullet train, he wrote, Gov. Brown is motivated by a quest for a legacy. But, the columnist warned, while the Governor strives to be remembered like his late father for the capital projects he leaves behind, he could derail the November tax measure by his "reckless exuberance for spending billions on high speed rail." "Does he really want to anger [the voters] when he needs them the most?" Borenstein asked.

Perhaps the most devastating criticism of the Governor’s high speed rail initiative came in a June 8 editorial in the San Jose Mercury News, one of the Bay Area’s most influential newspapers. Entitled "High Speed Rail Plan is Delusional" the editorial has been syndicated in a number of Bay Area and Los Angeles Sunday papers. Follow this link to read it at the Mercury News website.

Counting Trees in San Diego

Recently, I came across “Taking Inventory of County’s Trees” in the San Diego Union Tribune, an article that describes Robin Rivet’s “ambitious effort to map every urban tree in San Diego County”. Rivet is an urban forester-arborist at the Center for Sustainable Energy California and she ”aims to quantify the value of all local trees and make a statement about a huge but often underappreciated resource.” My concern is that this article may be alerting San Diegans to more regulations, costs and loss of property rights coming our way.

Through California’s legislative sustainable development and smart growth initiatives SB375 and AB 32, look for the implementation of ‘urban forests’ to be another area of focus by the State of CA and environmental NGOs to significantly reduce GHGs by 80% to below 1990 levels by 2050.

“The website keeps a running tab of the trees’ “yearly eco impact.” The nearly 300,000 trees listed as of Thursday, according to the site, have reduced 19,622,883 pounds of CO2 from the atmosphere, conserved 83,213,745 gallons of water, conserved 8,502,988 kilowatts of energy, and reduced 46,244 pounds of pollutants from the air.”

This project is being funded by CalFire. Why? Details in the CalFire AB32 Scoping Plan for Forestry reveal that CalFire is looking to assess CO2 sequestration in all forests and range lands across the state in order to mitigate GHG emissions. Capturing a map of San Diego County’s canopy becomes useful data to the state of California that is about to launch their highly controversial and lucrative Cap and Trade auction in November. The CalFire AB32 Scoping Plan states:

“Unlike engineered projects or measures that reduce emissions at a point source (e.g. stack or tailpipe), the forest sector sequestration benefits are accrued through tree growth over large areas of the landscape, including urban areas. With such a large land base carbon benefits need to be accounted for in average stocks (amount of carbon stored).”

Not only has the state of California legislated the reduction of GHG emissions through AB 32, it is mandating General Plan changes via SB375. SB375 is requiring municipalities (MPOS) to update their Regional Transportation Plans (RTP) and local land use plans to “reverse sprawl” with the intent of mitigating GHG emissions. Through the forest sector, CalFire suggests that if landowners saw the economic value of carbon sequestration, they would resist selling their land to developers and choose to participate in the carbon off-set market instead.

“The creation and maintenance of carbon markets for forest carbon, both
voluntary and compliance-based, will increase sequestration by providing
landowner incentives to increase carbon stocks on their ownership. The value of
carbon at $10/t is sufficient to interest landowners in changing their management
practices to increase carbon storage. Updating the current California Climate
Action Registry (CCAR) Forest Protocols can create the opportunity for a larger
number of forest landowners to participate in carbon offset markets. The success
of these markets will depend upon quality of the carbon that is being sold, which
will depend upon the accounting principles applied in development of forest
protocols used to verify and register carbon sequestration projects.

Other incentives include providing landowners reduced tax or regulatory liabilities, which will encourage the retention of working forest landscapes, instead of land division and development. Additional opportunities may exist for subsidies or carbon taxes/fee revenues collected and reinvested in carbon sequestration projects.”

The CalFire AB32 Scoping Plan for Forestry is full of useful information that can help us to understand and assess future regulations that might develop from their global warming mitigation and adaption schemes.

“Tree planting under the urban forestry strategy has direct overlap with the goals
of the “Cool Communities” strategy in the Land Use sector to encourage the development of communities that have lower surface temperatures. Urban tree planting may also have overlap with the Land Use sector strategies for “Landscape Guidelines” and “Smart Growth”. In addition, the forest sector Reforestation mitigation measure would require developers to provide 1 to 2 acres of reforestation as mitigation for every acre lost to development when converting forest land to other uses.”

Based on what I know about sustainable development and smart growth, I propose we watch out for the adaptation portion of this urban forestry implementation plan in San Diego.

How the Tobacco Companies Should Spend Their Money

Once again, in the debate over California’s Proposition 29, the tobacco companies seem to have all the money in the world, even though relatively few people smoke nowadays. Under the circumstances, I don’t shed much of a tear for them.

  1. They could put on their packs, in type as large as the health warning, “DISPOSE OF PROPERLY – PUT BUTT BACK IN PACK”. Or, they could include a little plastic bag with each pack, of the kind that we insist dog walkers carry – no one crusades against dogs as a health hazard, and the way we deal with solid dog waste is the way we should deal with cigarette waste. It’s amazing, in a society where so few people supposedly smoke, how much litter is composed of butts. In fact, one reason I took up smoking cigarettes at the advanced age of 59 is precisely that I wanted to be able to practice what I preach, and show that it could be done. A stupid reason for starting smoking? Well, is there an intelligent reason for starting smoking? I don’t think so. I mean, if the beer companies can put on their cans “Dispose of Properly” so can Altria, or whatever it’s called.
  2. They could take back filters and recycle them into something, paying us a penny per filter, like we already do with certain kinds of glass bottles and cans. Surely all those filters can be used for something. And surely the tobacco companies have enough money to be able to support some research on this subject. And, for those who wish to keep the penny in circulation (the Canadians are phasing out theirs, and no coin in common use in Europe is worth that little) here’s a use for it.
  3. Tobacco taxes could be used to support the supplemental health insurance system, for those who have trouble affording health insurance, because their product does burden the health care system. I’m not in favor of a “public option,” necessarily, so I don’t know how it is to be worked out. Maybe an “assigned risk pool” like with auto insurance. Anyhow, tobacco should not be the cash cow for everybody’s favorite cause, as it seems to be now. Cigarette smokers and rich people – not much overlap between the two nowadays – are the “other people” or “not me” whom we feel free to tax heavily.
  4. I never want to go back to the days of indoor smoking, with the possible exception of some bars (not restaurants) in colder or more extreme climates. (I still find the idea of smoking with food, or with anything but water, beer, coffee, or bourbon, disgusting.) The companies could chart and promote “smoking patios,” which are places where you can have your alcoholic drink and smoke at the same time, as people like to do. Amusing to British people are the restrictions on taking one’s drink outside; if you can’t smoke inside, and can’t drink outside, only on these patios do the two universes intersect. Here in my own community, the individual bars are allowed to choose whether their “patios” (which you have to enter from inside, not from the street) allow smoking, or not; some do, some don’t, depending on their clientele.) And, apartment complexes that ban smoking in their apartments could have an outdoor space in the courtyard, where you can also take your drink. It encourages certain people to leave their rooms and their video games and come out into the courtyard or street and be reasonably social. Another reason why I don’t want to return to indoor smoking. Public and street life is encouraged by banning it. The New Urbanists ought to take a note of this. And if people are trained to not drop their butts on the ground, the aesthetic and litter aspects of the vice can be minimized. Smoking cigarettes, given the hazards, is something of an extreme sport; I have no problems with it being mainly an outdoor one.
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Thoughts on High-speed Rail and Buses

I’m back from a California trip – beautiful state, beautiful weather, completely dysfunctional government.  For example, even with massive fiscal problems it’s still trying to build a vastly expensive high-speed rail line from San Francisco to San Diego. On a related note, a private group is exploring building a Houston-Dallas HSR line with no subsidies of any kind. I’m totally okay with private efforts.  I’m probably even okay with a little eminent domain to get the right of way at a fair price. I hope they can make it work.

Here’s a great alternate perspective on HSR: a TED talk on the value of perception and psychology vs. economics and technology.  Go to the 6:12 point to see a great example of the Eurostar train, where they spend a vast amount of money to reduce travel times by 40 mins, when for 90% or 99% less money they could have improved the experience instead and actually gotten higher rider satisfaction.  I believe the absolute same principle applies to bus vs. rail, whether intra- or inter-city: spend 1% or 10% of the same money improving the bus service and get higher customer satisfaction than the rail line would generate.  (hat tip to Karl)

And Greyhound is doing just that, learning from Megabus and upgrading their service with wifi, power plugs, and nicer seats with more leg room.  With that kind of service option available at say $30 one-way within the Texas Triangle, how many people do you think would pay $150+ to go on HSR?  On second thought, maybe nobody should mention this possibility to the Texas HSR group…  ;-)

Architecture Critic Paul Goldberger on Silicon Valley, San Jose, and Apple

Last week Paul Goldberger, Pulitzer Prize winning architecture critic for the New Yorker and Vanity Fair, sat down with Allison Arief of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) in downtown San Jose to discuss the state of 21st Century urbanism with a focus on Silicon Valley. Though admired the world over as the preeminent center for technological innovation, Silicon Valley has never been known for its great architecture. Goldberger suggested that this reputation could’ve improved had Apple not missed the mark with the design of their proposed Apple Campus 2 building in Cupertino.

While acknowledging that Apple is probably the best design company at the moment, Goldberger asserted that the company’s design abilities end with small consumer gadgets and fail spectacularly at the urban level. Calling the Norman Foster designed building for the new Apple Campus a ‘beautifully designed donut or spaceship’, he lamented the lack of context and connection to anything around it. Speaking to an audience that included members of San Jose’s city government, Goldberger suggested that Apple missed the opportunity to take the reins to help transform San Jose by relocating at least some of its operations to help its long struggling (and subsidized) downtown.

The reality is that most of the big tech companies in the Valley, not just Apple, have an extreme indifference to place-choosing to locate operations in suburban office parks. This has much to do with the history of Silicon Valley planning as it does with the nature of tech companies, which tend to employ legions of introverted computer engineering types and go to great lengths to remain insular and secretive (Apple taking this to the extreme). Perhaps it also makes perfect sense that rather than even acknowledging the true urban environment, companies whose primary business is creating the virtual world in which we increasingly experience public life take an active stance on turning their backs on the city.

Yet for those still interested in experiencing the delights of pre-Information Era, pre-21 Century urbanism, there is always San Francisco not far up the road.  Goldberger made the point that the handful of tech companies who do choose to locate their operations in the city probably have a different mindset than those that stay in the Valley. Twitter being the prime example of the moment- the micro blogging site just leased 400,000 square feet of space on a long-maligned section of Market Street. Up in Seattle, Amazon recently announced its plan to build three new 37-story towers in the downtown area, which the proposal’s architect said is “not about building a corporate campus, it’s about building a neighborhood.”

So even though not every tech company is averse to the city, the Richard Florida argument that high urban density is a prerequisite for innovation and creativity is a bit of a stretch, as the economic success of suburban Silicon Valley continually disproves. Near the end of the discussion, Goldberger suggested that deliberately designing space for innovation might be a bit too self-conscious. This implies that rather than design, factors such as human resources, access to capital and a culture with openness to trial-and-error matter more than the traditional urban hardware of cities.

Adam Nathaniel Mayer is an American architectural design professional currently based in China and California. In addition to his job designing buildings he writes the China Urban Development Blog. Follow him on Twitter: @AdamNMayer.

84% of 18-to-34-Year-Olds Want To Own Homes

A survey by TD Bank indicates that 84 percent of people 18 to 34 years old intend to buy homes in the future. This runs counter to thinking that has been expressed by some, indicating that renting would become more popular in the future. Much of the "home ownership is dead or dying” comes from short sighted trend analysis in which home ownership data begins with the start of the housing bubble in the late 1990s. The latest data from the Bureau of the Census indicates that the home ownership rate in the first quarter was 65.4 percent, the lowest rate since 1997. In fact, however, before the housing bubble, homeownership hovered generally at 65 percent or below, after having increased strongly from 44 percent in 1940 to 61 percent in 1960. The increase in homeownership during the bubble was the result of profligate lending policies that were not sustainable. The decline from the artificially high housing bubble peak in no way diminishes the successful expansion of homeownership in the nation during the decades that reason prevailed in home lending.

Sydney's Long and Lengthening Commute Times

The New South Wales Department of Transport Housing and Transportation Survey reports that the average one way work trip in the Sydney metropolitan area (statistical division) reached 34.3 minutes in 2010. As a result, Sydney now has the longest reported commute time in the New World (United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand), except for the New York City metropolitan area (34.6 minutes).

Longer Commutes than in Dallas-Fort Worth or Los Angeles: Sydney's average work trip travel time has increased approximately 10 percent since 2002. The 34.3 minute one way travel time is approximately 30 percent higher than that of larger Dallas-Fort Worth, which about half as dense. Part of the reason for the longer commute time in Sydney is its far greater transit dependence. Approximately 24 percent of work trip travel is on transit (which is slower for most trips). This compares to approximately 2 percent of travel in Dallas-Fort Worth.

Even Los Angeles, with its reputation for "gridlock" has a shorter average commute time, at 28.1 minutes. This is made possible by the extensive Los Angeles freeway system, greater use of automobiles and more dispersed employment patterns (despite the higher density of Los Angeles relative to Sydney). The average Sydney commuter spends nearly an hour longer traveling to work each week than the average Los Angeles commuter.

Even Longer Commutes Ahead? Sydney's densification policies (urban consolidation policies) seem likely to lengthen commute times even more in the future, given the association between higher densities and greater traffic congestion.

A Free Range Life

Some may have never heard of the term exurbia before now. According to the free on-line dictionary it means: The exurbs collectively; the region beyond the suburbs.

Exurbia to me is an expression that defines a free range lifestyle. Where I live there is space, nature surrounds my house, I can play music as loudly as I care to, trails connect me to beautiful places, when a recipe calls for lemons or rosemary, I can walk outside and collect whatever I need, and a seasonal garden provides all the abundance I require to make healthy and organic meals.

Getting around town is easy and I usually find everything I need in one trip. I used to live in an urban area and now feel grateful that I don’t have to cope with the inconveniences of that lifestyle any more. More on that later!

It takes about 20 minutes for my husband to commute to work every day. When the day is over and he comes home, he looks forward to propping up his legs, reading and smoking a cigar. We have neighbors and we like waving to them from across the way. Recently, we have been getting together to make wine.

We did not always have the privilege to live in this atmosphere of peaceful, quiet living. When we lived in the city, we were constantly fighting for parking spaces, we had to traipse up and down stairs to do laundry and then dry clothes on a line outside and risk icicles on the sleeves of our shirts and the bottom of our pants.  The traffic was exhausting and the noise from the neighbors below us, behind us, and on top of us was annoying and distracting. Raising kids in this environment was tedious and kept us constantly vigilant.

The day we finally moved into our house in the exurbs was a great day! Unfortunately, our dream of retiring in this home, developing the orchard and the garden, and enjoying our new quality of life, may be directly impacted by a new trend in planning called sustainable development and smart growth.

As I research these new planning trends I have learned that what this force of change really means is a whole life plan. Sustainable development seeks to change the way we live, how we interact with nature, how we choose to use our land and our property (all property–even your own person!!), where we live and how we live! It is a massive propaganda piece to change our behavior and how we think.

We must educate ourselves about the truth behind the ‘green’ agenda, the urban consolidation agenda, the livability agenda, and any and all agendas having to do with sustainable development.

In order to recognize this whole life plan when you see it, you must understand the words they are using and the methods they are using to implement it. The planners, environmentalists, social activists, city, state and federal officials, media, and public relations firms are telling us what these plans are. We are not educated yet.

I want to share my exurban quality of life.

Check out Mary Baker’s new blog, Exurbia Chronicles.

Manila Shantytown Fire: 800 Homes Destroyed, 10,000 Homeless

London's Daily Mail reports upon a May 11 fire in a shantytown (informal, illegal settlement) destroyed 800 dwellings and left 10,000 people homeless. The Mail article included 17 photographs of the fire, the ruins  people looking for belongings in ash suffused waters and man who has rescued a cat in debris filled waters. The fire occured in the Tondo district, which is two miles from downtown Manila on Manila Bay and two miles from the Doroteo Jose station on the Manila urban rail system as well as the principal commuter rail station.

More than 4,000,000 – more than one-third – of Manila's (National Capital Region) residents live in slums, shantytowns and informal settlements. Government projections indicate that the slum population will rise to 9,000,000 by 2050. More than one-half of Manila's population will be in slums.

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