‘An American history that doesn’t essentialize notions of “us” and “them”‘

In that light, the most poisonous consequence of raising the curtain with 1619 is that it casually normalizes white Christian Europeans as historical constants and makes African actors little more than dependent variables in the effort to understand what it means to be American. Elevating 1619 has the unintended consequence of cementing in our minds that those very same Europeans who lived quite precipitously and very much on death’s doorstep on the wisp of America were, in fact, already home. But, of course, they were not. Europeans were the outsiders. Selective memory has conditioned us to employ terms like settlers and colonists when we would be better served by thinking of the English as invaders or occupiers. In 1619, Virginia was still Tsenacommacah, Europeans were the non-native species, and the English were the illegal aliens. Uncertainty was still very much the order of the day.

When we make the mistake of fixing this place in time as inherently or inevitably English, we prepare the ground for the assumption that the United States already existed in embryonic fashion. When we allow that idea to go unchallenged, we silently condone the notion that this place is, and always has been, white, Christian, and European.

Michael Guasco’s full piece I found on the Smithsonian Magazine website. The brief article seems to summarize what seems to be the one possible way to get out of our national obsession with white people and their privileges; let’s just build American history back up from the beginning, like some kind of new algebra, starting well before the arrival of Europeans to the North American continent.

Also the article nicely as an aside points out the essential fallacy of the Monument Avenue, Richmond, VA theory of Important Great White Supremacist Male People; the Confederacy, as represented on Monument Ave by Lee, Stuart, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis, is not even the only Virginian politico-cultural initiative consigned to history’s dustbin to date. Perhaps as a corollary to broadening our repertory of historical references by investigating and honoring the precolumbian civilizations of the James River watershed, we students of critical history might want to spend some time looking into what exactly makes white supremacy such a durably attractive organizing principle.

Origins of interpersonal problems

In her consulting practice, Dr. [Amy Cooper] Hakim says, many interpersonal problems boil down to a failure to communicate directly about the real problem with someone who can actually resolve it.

Good advice from the Rob Walker Workologist Sunday advice column in the Times, this one from 22 January of this year.

I appreciate this as lately I have seen so many iterations of this type of problem, where there appears to be a real problem but the person affected doesn’t seem to be willing to move very far to solve it.

Treating goals as if they were programs

One of Klein’s favorite adaptations is the conflation of wishes and operative political programs. Again and again she holds up statements of intent—protect Mother Earth, treat all people equally, respect all cultures, live simple, natural, local lives—as if they were proposals whose implementation would have these outcomes. It’s all ends and no means. This is a double convenience: first it eliminates the need to be factual and analytical about programs, since announcing the goal is sufficient unto itself, and second, it evades the disconcerting problem of how to deal with the daunting political challenge of getting such programs (if they even exist) enacted and enforced. I believe the treatment of goals as if they were programs is the underlying reason for the sloppiness of this book on matters of economics and law. Klein can say we should finance a large green investment program by taxing fossil fuel profits, or we should simultaneously shrink the economy and increase the number of jobs, because in the end it doesn’t matter whether these or other
recommendations could actually prove functional in the real world. The truth lies in the rightness of the demand, not the means of fulfilling it. But this too is an adaptation to powerlessness.

—Peter Dorman, on Naomi Klein’s book This Changes Everything

To paraphrase in terms of the bicycle: we should enact a giant bicycle facility construction program, or we should simultaneously shrink the economy by reducing private motor vehicle traffic, because it doesn’t matter whether these recommendations could actually prove functional in the real world. I prefer to ask, “Who is the marginal person on a bike?”

Heather Havrilesky’s solid work advice

And let’s be honest, it’s harder to be a real person in real time than it is to live in a fantasy world. The real world takes real risk. You have to show up instead of distracting yourself with your whimsical, sexy imaginings. You have to get out of your own head. You have to work really fucking hard at things that don’t seem to matter at first, and you have to work really fucking hard to figure out what things might seem to matter eventually.

From this Ask Polly column, which showed up today in my RSS feed.

Despite the salty language, this half-paragraph appears to be pretty good advice for the particular job I’m doing right now, which is personnel recruitment. It makes me feel like I’m going back to my old days doing marketing for my delivery business. What she says, especially the part about getting out of your own head, is kind of important. I feel as if I want to get my pitch down perfectly before calling people; if I screw up I would be shy about calling them again.

Historical Preservation

I went on a Jane’s Walk yesterday through the Inwood neighborhood of Upper Manhattan, led by indefatigable local activist Pat Courtney. Pat knows a lot about Inwood, and this walk took us around to see some of the “contributing” buildings to the currently notional Inwood historic district. Buildings of historical interest are contributing; buildings without historical interest are noncontributing.

It’s nice to see that other people as well took time out of their weekend to go on this walk; we got to about 25 participants by the end, including local City Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez, who lives in the neighborhood. He stayed for the whole thing and was not accompanied by staff members, which counts in my book as an expression of legitimate interest in the subject. Most of the folks were older than me, of the empty-nest generation that doesn’t have conflicting activities scheduled for Saturday morning.

At the RING Garden, at the intersection of Dyckman St & Riverside Drive & Broadway, Sandra Hawkins of Transportation Alternatives got up and spoke about how Dyckman Street had been the site of traffic violence for a hundred years or more, back to the time of the first West Side ferry that stopped at the western end of Dyckman Street, where it meets the river. That kind of history is important to remember, but not so important to preserve.

As we walked along, we saw multiple groups of recreational bicyclists, mostly headed uptown. I assume that they were enroute to rides through the Bronx and Westchester, or perhaps returning from spins in New Jersey on the west side of the George Washington Bridge.

From the standpoint of advocacy, I would call the walk a success in how it brought together multiple people of different viewpoints and backgrounds to share for the afternoon a single point of view, that Inwood had a distinctive history, worth commemorating, and that this history was told in part through its buildings and physical form. The effect of historic preservation is in its ability to unite buildings with their neighbors and to maintain the form of a neighborhood; traditional development relies on individual landowners making decisions about their property one at a time, without regard to the gestalt of the area.


Parking compassionately

This is from my local parent list serve

Hi everyone, this may not apply to you if you don’t park on the street. BUT, if you do, please read on.

As you are all aware, parking is VERY difficult in our neighborhood. I think we can make some small changes that may help. These changes will not cure the problem because many people who park here don’t live here or don’t have children so they are not on this list. So though the “cure” may not happen, this could help…..

1. PLEASE don’t be afraid to pull up or back to the nearest car. 2ft is enough space for people to get in and out. If you leave 4 or 5 ft that is half a spot and imagine all of the 1/2 spots that are out there, added together we could be putting our cars in!
2. Pull ALL the way up to the end of the curb/pedestrian walk/marked parking/etc… Again, left space is wasted space. As a NYer, you know this!
3. If you find a spot that’s HUGE pull either up or back all the way since you could leave enough space for a scooter or motorcycle to fit in.
4. When alternate side parking is happening, please leave your phone number on the dash so that crazy people who need to leave and forgot to get out there in time can leave without having to wait. I leave my number and have been called about 3 or 4 times.

These are simple considerations. If everyone on this list who drives follows this, we will have created many more spaces. Encourage your fellow parkers not on this list to do the same. Ask nicely, explain why it’s nice to not leave space and that way when it’s your turn at 6:00pm to look for a spot, you just may find one!

Thank you!
A compassionate parker


On the other hand, the LESS compassionately you park, the more likely your neighbor will sell her car in frustration. If there was only one parking spot per block, a lot fewer people would have cars, and fewer children and elderly would suffer respiratory illnesses or be killed or maimed by inattentive motor vehicle operators. That sounds like something we could all hope for as a holiday present.




It’s true, that less cars is [sic] a better solution.  BUT I have a home in CT that I travel to.  I ski, kayak, snowboard, bike and hike all outside the City.  SO I use my car, which I paid more for so that I would get better fuel economy.  I would LOVE to have an electric car but where will I plug it in? Anyway, my post was about being considerate to others when you do have to park. Thank you so much for your thoughts too.:)




Perhaps your enjoyment of arcane and inconvenient hobbies justifies your motor vehicle ownership. Suggest taking up handball instead. That way, you can show true compassion to the majority of your neighbors by not putting their lives at risk as you circle the block looking for a parking space for your kayak. There are handball courts in Hood Wright Park.


I didn’t actually send this last one, but I sure enjoyed writing it.

What is this blog about?

I am using this blog mostly to work through my arguments about bicycle advocacy. I do enjoy riding my bicycle and I would gladly put in some time and effort to help other people get the same kind of enjoyment. But first, I would like to figure out how to do this in a way that is not either counter-productive, useless, or mind-numbing. So I use the blog to work through some of the arguments I read elsewhere.

Another useful function of this blog is as a repository to store my useful comments, mostly on streets-related topics, that I know I will want to refer to again.

I also post about books I’m reading on the same blog, using short quotes to illustrate what I like or find interesting. I have done the same thing in the past for music.

The blog also is a home for other random reasoned-out thoughts, many of which are about children and childhood.

And lastly, there are a couple posts on random subjects meant to permit me to forward just a single URL to someone asking about storage places or cloth diapers.

Rhode Island’s economic crisis

Just finished reading Aaron Renn’s takedown of Rhode Island’s ambitions at his Urbanophile site. He argues that Rhode Island needs to develop its own policies to deal with its reduced circumstances; there is no fortress industry in Little Rhody any more, since the building of the Erie Canal, so the state is stuck like an older relative, living with inflated expectations.

First, for any polity, a policy of reducing expectations is unlikely to win any votes.

Second, there is a cost to policy generation of the kind that Aaron is looking to foster. Assume it costs at least $80k including benefits for an analyst to sit in a Providence office for 40 hours a week and come up with new policies to implement. I would hope that the policies generated would save at least $160k, but who knows? It’s a lot easier to amortize policy generation across a raft of clients.

Third, the Federal government is an equal opportunity supporter, and state activity mostly goes on at the margins. The business environment is largely the same no matter where you are.

Fourth, the dollar is everywhere. You could recast your state as a low-wage state, but those wages are being paid for in dollars. It would be great if you could pay wages and pensions in “R.I.yals” and then maintain a currency exchange so that imports from the rest of the U.S. were made more expensive. That would help support local industry.

Fifth, the pensions are still out there and need to be paid. It’s hard to reduce costs when the big costs to government are already incurred. If Aaron could fix this, the world will beat a path to his door.

Storage places

I was a happy customer of the Extra Space Storage on West 142d St & Lenox until we moved into a larger apartment. It met all my criteria:

1. Near subway and bus line, so you can visit your stuff along the way to somewhere else and not pay a second fare;

2. Near a liquor store, for an endless supply of free, new clean boxes;

3. Near a goodwill, so I could drop off stuff I didn’t want anymore without having to cab it or drive it away.

It was my practice while the stuff was in the storage locker to keep going through it and combining contents of boxes into new boxes and getting rid of things I certainly didn’t want any more.

Slums and pedestrian casualties

Two points here, this one, from the pages of Governing magazine, and this one, my comment on an Invisible Cyclist blog post.

It’s obvious in NYC that noxious environmental conditions stemming from highways and excess traffic conditions degrade residential neighborhoods in the vicinity, however the point you make, that the systematic process of slum development has also affected the ability of locals to get around without automobiles, is not often made.

Funny, because it seems even more obvious. If you build a large highway through original neighborhoods, spillover traffic from that highway will make it tough for anyone to get around without driving.

You see this in the Bronx. The highway development there divides neighborhoods, creates unappealing choke points along crossings, generates excess noise and pollution, breaks up the grid to make it harder for traffic to flow smoothly around obstacles, streams extra cars onto city streets from off the highways, blocks access to waterfront areas, and alters mental geography to make relatively close-by places seem very distant.