Thursday, December 23, 2010

Developing Purpose and Vision

Approximately six years ago I took a training course for Planning Directors which was led by Paul Zucker, a planning consultant out of California. One of his visioning processes asks several questions which I don't think I've fully fleshed out. I thought that today I would finally write out some of my honest answers to these and see where it leads me.

What mission in life absolutely obsesses you?

The constant struggle to provide order out of chaos. Classification, cataloging and bringing defined space to an entropic world.

What is your dream about your work?

I dream about working with a team of uniquely innovative designers, planners and policy makers which would teach me techniques, technology and provide me with challenges to provide housing, recreation and public space that people would recognize and enjoy for generations.

About what do you have a burning passion?

I have a burning passion to learn more about architecture and design and the integration of the white space between buildings. Ever since Environmental Design classes at Texas A&M University where we attempted to examine why people behave in certain built environments, it's been a passion of mine to seek out those places which allow people to natrually inhabit without feeling claustrophobic or false. I would love produce a social demographic study of these spaces and produce a metric indicator showing why its economically, socially and environmentally sustainable to create these places.

What work do you find absorbing, involving, enthralling?

I enjoy teaching others about planning and why having a holistic interdisiplinary viewpoint to the built environment can lead to exciting and nuanced experiences for people.

What is your personal agenda? What do you want to prove?

Diversity is not an enemy. Caring about the welfare of people, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties is important (via JFK) and that everyone has a right to inhabit places which are safe, comfortable and sustainable.

How would you describe the ultimate objective for your organization?

To provide service equitably among the population of the City.

If you overhear a conversation about your team one year/two years/three years down the road, what do you want people to be saying about us?

They have moved the community from a reactive suburb to a proactive redevelopment community. They have engaged the local population, involved challenging ideas and produced high, but achievable expectations. They work compassionately, throroughly, and with great humor and aplomb.

What would it be like around here if you were really excited about coming to work every day?

I would have the technology and the training for me to use it. I wouldn't have to be always making the "workaround" acheive my goals. Projects would be assigned with enough resources and support to involve dedicated individuals from multiple departments.

If you could create the ultimate work environment, how would you describe it?

It would look something like this:

What would we be doing that would have you excited about being a part of it?

We would be conducting the initial data gathering for a comprehensive city plan. Not a new land use plan, but a managed growth and redevelopment plan. The new economic paradigm doesn't foresee growth in unplanned sprawl events anymore. Infill and redevelopment which are tied to the market demand on an area are the driving forces. The plan would  identify (through public involvement and city stakeholder involvement) a set of indicators which could be used to measure whether or not the plan and the subsequent implementation policies derived from the plan are working. Therefore, very specific points can be shown that the policies implemented are achieving the success desired.

What does your ideal organization look like?

Multi-talented, diverse and team oriented, rather than top-down management. Director - first of equals and maintains vision, direction and final veto. City Council, Planning and Zoning Commission are involved specifically as facilitators of the process in order to promote buy-in and to help demonstrate the necessity of unified vision, values and policies needed to provide implementation direction.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Beginning of the Journey

Tomorrow night, Alexander and I will begin reading The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. We read The Hobbit almost a year and a half ago. I remember reading the series for the first time when my friend Rusty Thrower gave them to me when I was in Elementary School. I read them again in High School when I was working at Six Flags and once again during the summer working for Delta Air Lines during college. I always would take an evening shift and come home around midnight or so. Since it was difficult to get to sleep, I'd make a sandwich, listen to some Patrick O'Hearn music and read the books. The music is so ingrained with reading the stories for me that I will most likely put some tapes in the deck upstairs and listen to the music as I read them aloud to Alex. We just finished The Princess Bride last night.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Getting a Ticket

Insert "RANT MODE" here.

Yesterday afternoon I received a speeding ticket going to an appointment. It was for going 44 MPH in a 30 MPH zone. The officer was friendly and to be honest, quick in his citation writing. I have no complaints about him at all. I have three complaints however with the City I received the ticket in however.

  1. Arterial roads with 30 MPH speed limits. The Texas Department of Transportation sets speed limits on roads by measuring the speed of vehicles travelling down the road. It takes the 85th percentile of those speeds and then sets the limit. The limit may be modified up to 5 MPH above or below the 85th percentile. This way the road is driven according to its function.  The road I was on in is a functional class minor arterial. There are numerous collector roads from the surrounding subdivisions that feed into the road. It is a link in the frankly dysfunctional east/west arterial system of the City. Only three roads within the City Limits travel completely through the City without a disconnection. Two other disconnected roads fill a 2.5 mile gap between two of the major arterials. There is a significant amount of population living within that 2.5 mile gap. This situation shows a lack of ability and will to adequately finance and construct arterial roads through the City. Only now is one of the primary arterials being widened through - there are two major sections which have not been widened at this point - (both in the City which I received my ticket).  My point being -  more functional arterials = greater mobility = faster (but not unsafe) speeds through the community.
  2. The police vehicle which pulled me over was a Ford Expedition with no discernible markings whatsoever. While, I'm not debating the fact that a police force should be able to have unmarked vehicles - using them for the sole purpose of traffic control is primarily a revenue generator and not speed enforcement. A marked police car sitting at the same point on the road would "show force" that the City means business about the 30 MPH speed limit on that street. I would have double checked my speed instead of driving quickly to my appointment. I would have complied. No problem. I make a mistake in front of an unmarked car and immediately I owe $175 to the City. There is a difference between enforcement and revenue. It works in Code Enforcement - my department will issue a notice of violation - a "hey watch what you're doing" and provide you an opportunity to comply prior to issuance of a citation. A marked police car does the same thing. I honestly didn't know I was going over the speed limit. I fully realize that - but I'm not given the opportunity to correct my actions prior to punishment for infraction because the City is in a revenue mode.
  3. The final issue I have is the Municipal Court. I got up this morning, read the information on the back of my citation and headed to the Municipal Court to receive my paperwork to begin the process of defensive driving. The citation clearly states that I would lose all privileges of defensive driving if I don't contact the Court prior to the deadline written on the citation. There is not anywhere listed on the citation that I have to wait four to five days prior to contacting the Court to allow the citation to be entered into the computer. So I arrive at 8:00am (by the way, the citation states the office hours are M-F 8:00am to 4:30pm - the sign on the door says 7:00am - ugh, I'm late to work for this?) and I arrive to find out that my citation written a day earlier is not in the system and they can't get my paperwork together to allow me to pay my administrative costs and begin to get the ticket dismissed. I'll have to come back next week. I'm attempting to be a model citizen by doing my diligence in getting things accomplished and this is how I'm treated. Again, my community has automated ticket writing instruments which allow officers to write tickets, print a citation to the defendant and the information is transmitted wirelessly to the primary computer server and entered into the system. The City in which I received the citation has a contract for police enforcement with an adjacent smaller city - does the smaller city know they have a substandard system?
Again this is not a rant against the Police Officer who issued me a ticket (other than his bad handwriting which is almost impossible to read on the triplicate form he gave me) but against the system of management set up in the City which allows these things to occur. Better roads designed for higher (but safe speeds); marked police cars for traffic enforcement to ensure safety and compliance instead of punishment; and the utilization of technology to allow the necessary bureaucracy to function on a more efficient basis. These things make a better community - instead of one where form over function seems to be the course of order.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Oklahoma Trip

We had a lovely time in Oklahoma. We stayed at the Sheraton Downtown - which was much nicer than many people posted on review websites. It was especially nice since we paid prices for it.

We arrived in town on Friday July 23rd in the early afternoon - I was surprised by the shortness of the trip. I had thought it would take longer. Driving to Austin is much more harrowing. We checked into the hotel and went for a (hot) walk around the Bricktown area just adjacent to the downtown.

Bricktown was originally a storage warehousing district located adjacent to the conjunction of railroad lines at the southeast corner of downtown. It was named Bricktown because of the proliferation of red brick structures. In 1993 a public referendum allowed economic development funding through taxes and bond sales for the redevelopment of the district. The plan was to create a multi-use entertainment district centered around a minor league baseball park. Additional effort was placed to create a link throughout the district by way of a canal. The canal, constructed below street grade allows for pedestrianism separated from the streets and a brief respite from the driving heat of the day. Water taxi boats ride up and down the canal.

Primarily composed of restaurants - there is little retail - the area felt a little abandoned on an early Friday night. Most of the restaurants are not especially geared towards families and more to adults - which is fine. I did overhear conversations that the place gets really crowded on baseball game nights and post 8:00pm weekends. Sonic corporate headquarters is located there as well as a large movie theater. Very little housing is located in the district - which to my jaundiced eye makes me wonder about it's long-term sustainability.

We ate at a restaurant overlooking the baseball field and then went back to the hotel for swimming in the small, but adequate pool. Alexander found a friend to play with and Ford was fascinated that he could touch the bottom of the pool. There was a lot of wind that evening which was nice. We sat and watched the cranes building the new Devon Energy building - which from what I understand will be in the top 30 tallest buildings in the United States.

Saturday morning we met our friends Connie, Heather, Ali and Drew and their son Gibson at the Oklahoma Zoo. The zoo is rather large in acreage. I think it is larger than the Fort Worth Zoo. We had a terrific time. My favorite part was feeding the parakeets nectar in the bird enclosure. I had at one time five sitting on my arms and shoulders. The birds freaked Alexander and Ford slightly - so we went to the petting area where they were able to pet sheep and goats.

The guys thoroughly enjoyed the bats and nocturnal creatures area, Grizzly Bears and the gorillas.

After lunch we parted with Connie and her family and went to the Science Museum right next door to the Zoo. All of us (including Ford) were able to ride Segways. Alexander and Ford climbed up a two story treehouse; Alex enjoyed working a robotic arm and lying on a bed of nails.

That evening, we went to the Thomas' home in Yukon and had a great dinner and friendship conversation. The guys played Wii and we enjoyed the company.

Sunday we checked out of the hotel and went to the Oklahoma National Monument - the park setting at the location of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. The area affected Meredith quite considerably. She was moved by the chairs and the reflecting pond. I was interested in the design and decisions made to incorporate the reality of the terroristic act into the space and the reclamation of the space integrating into the downtown. There is a open plaza in front of the museum in which sidewalk chalk is provided for children to draw on specially provided sidewalk areas. It was haunting in the warm morning air with church bells ringing and echoing through the downtown.

Later we went back to Bricktown to ride the water taxi through the canal system and then ate some terrific barbecue. Alexander and Ford shared a smoked bologna sandwich which was testing their boundaries a bit.

We drove south and made a quick tour of the University of Oklahoma in Norman. I quite liked the way the campus was part of the southern area of town. I didn't see the level of private development surrounding the campus that I've seen around Texas A and M and the University of Texas, however.

That afternoon we arrived in Davis and checked into our hotel/cabin area near Turner Falls. We drove up to the lookout over the falls and finalized our decision that we didn't want to go there - it looked extremely crowded and a little dirty. We did drive over to the Chickasaw National Park in Sulphur, OK and drove through several of the park areas. Free to access, there were several areas on the creek areas which were small waterfall areas and lots of families swimming. We checked out the Junior Ranger Station were Alex and Ford made paper lizards and received their workbooks that once finished, would allow them to receive badges and patches declaring them "official" junior park rangers.

We went to the nature center to begin filling the workbooks; watched a short film about the park, and then walked up a 3/4 mile trail to one of the original natural springs which fed the creeks in the area. Sulphur gets its name from the more sulphur/bromide springs which come from the lower rock formations and aquifers in the area. Each of the remaining five springs in the area has a different mixture of minerals in the water coming from the different geologic strata. Each week, the park service tests the waters for ecoli and other biologics to assure the quality of water for swimming and for drinking - as many people come to the area to fill water bottles of the stuff. The water coming out of the ground is approximately 68 degrees so it was gloriously cold in the heat of the afternoon.

We went back to the cabin and had a light dinner and watched movies anticipating our big day of swimming.

Monday at 9:00 am we arrived back at the national park. We had a waterfall called "Little Niagra" all to ourselves for over an hour. We stayed there walking over the waterfalls climbing up the side of the boulders placed there 70 years previously. The water was cold, but it was fantastic. I took to occasionally jumping off of the waterfall into the 7'+ deep pool underneath. It was fun watching others arriving at the creek and taking their first steps into the cool water and then making the plunge.

We eventually convinced Alex to jump into the water with me from the waterfall. He said afterwards that the best part was jumping - the worst part was landing in the cold water.

Later we loaded back into the car and drove south to look at the rest of the national park area and went to a swimming /picnic area on a point in the Lake of the Arbuckles. All of us got into the lake which was much warmer in comparison to the creeks. The lakebed was very stony and we all had fun dredging up rocks from underneath our feet and tossing them across the surface of the water. There was much teaching of the proper size and shape of skipping stones and the correct angle they should be thrown in.

That evening we showered and went to Ardmore for dinner. Looking around, we settled on Two Frogs near the interstate and had a terrific cajun dinner. Ford ate a child's plate of fettucini alfredo which was almost the size of his head.

Afterwards we drove through a thunderstorm back to the cabin and saw a full double rainbow. We ate fried pies and went to bed.

Tuesday we packed up and drove completely around Lake Murray. I was disappointed with the lodge, as my memory had it as a much nicer place. It was fairly run-down and had a musty smell. The privately-owned play area was very expensive for the time and activities they had. We climbed to the top of the tower on the lake and took pictures.

We arrived back home a little afternoon and had lunch at our favorite steak place in Roanoke. For a small vacation, we were able to do a lot of stuff and were happy with going to Oklahoma City that we want to make a return trip to see some of the other museums and activities. Chickasaw National Park will be a definite return trip as well.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Going to Oklahoma

We will be going to Oklahoma City on Friday. This will be an adventure in of itself. It will be somewhere none of us have been (for me, many years) and we're not going to be visiting any immediate family members. We're going to see some long-time family friends. Their oldest daughter is exactly my age minus one hour. I've always thought that was a cool thing - to know someone almost your exact age. Growing up - I used to think of her as a twin sister that I knew about but didn't get to grow up with. I haven't seen her since we were quite young. So, its an adventure unto itself.

We're planning on going to the Zoo, the Science Museum, the Memorial downtown and Bricktown during our two days there. We're also going to stay a couple of evenings in Davis, OK and go to the Chickasaw Nation National Park and go swimming in the waterfalls they have there.

On the way back we might stop at Lake Murray and check out the lake and cabins for a possible future camping trip.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Cycle of Self-Destruction

It's come to this. I can't ignore the facts that are staring me in the face. I've attempted to write in this space about my thoughts about things in particular, planning and life and not dwell on my own failings and insecurities but I have got to kick myself in the butt to do something.

I awoke at 3am last night with both of my arms sore from laying on them, my feet sore from standing during the day supporting a weight I'm uncomfortable walking around with. I have blood glucose issues that are controlled well with diet and meds but those cause me to have miserable digestive distress that I quickly "take a break" which extends through a weekend filled with indulgences, excuses and regrets.

266. Eight pounds heavier than when I restarted last week. All from one weekend. I'm killing myself slowly. I fear what I'm doing to myself - which leads to anger and hatred of myself - which leads to paranoia and anxiety of what others probably think of me - which then leads to additional self-loathing because I feel that comes across as arrogance to think that anyone cares that much - which then leads to additional anger at myself for the self-pitying useless wretch that I've become at this point.

I'm hampered by indecision and bound by guilt. Guilt of spending too much money, guilt of not spending enough, of wasting time and working too hard. Of overthinking too many things and not thinking enough. Of focusing on the details and missing the view and of wiping it down and thinking it done. Of depending too much on others and not delegating enough.

I'm ready to rend myself into two. Need a Me(2) to accomplish the projects and allow the time to relax. I'm not claiming that what I'm feeling is anything special or unique or even worthwile mentioning. It is important to me because this is what is happening to me right now and failing to do anything about it is my own damn fault.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

For the last time...

Ok, here's the real deal.

I am tired of seeing people use the following terms incorrectly. There are always comments about our government that we're living in socialism etc. I was once called a communist and a fascist in the same meeting. How could that be possible? Here's my distilled primer:

Communism = bad; dictorial; oppressive; murdered millions of people; far left

Socialism = not necessarily bad but can be misused; on the left; higher involvement of government in society to ensure equal access to services outside of the market's ability.

Liberalism = not bad; on the left; progressive; higher defense of civil rights and civil liberties; cares about the welfare of people and ideas.

Conservativism = not bad; on the right; traditional; higher defense of individual over the collective; higher defense of capitalism and free market.

Libertarianism = not necessarily bad, but difficult to implement; reduction or removal of government from most activities; prides the individual over the collective; swings both left and right based on other philosophies; may be mixing with anarchists.

Tea party = not necessarily bad, but incredibly misinformed; possibly insane; on the right and leaning further. Not enough cohesion to address or solve anything.

Fascist = bad; may include references to Nazi's; National socialism (which is different from actual socialism); reactionary; dictorial; murdered millions of people; far right.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Action and Reaction

Never before in my life have I felt more incapable of making changes for the betterment of others. Its amazing how bad the economy really is for most people. I've got a friend who was not joking when he told me that he's worried about food purchases. Fort Worth is $77M in the red, Dallas is $130M in the red. My City, while not that extreme is looking at further cuts in budget, examining tax increases and possibly the reduction in services. Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful that I'm employed and have something useful to contribute to the community - but reading on a daily basis our societal inability to course correct enough to help more people really gets me down.

  • Our current administration was built on the Hope for a Change. Processes continue to be slow - accountability for those who are at fault remains ineffective especially for the clean up efforts in the Gulf.
  • Courtesy and basic human politeness had deteriorated to such a degree in personal interaction as to be non-existant.
  • News media have de-evolved from bringing concise, important information to tabolid trivia and sensationalistic gossip and conjecture.
  • We react to problems rather than act toward solutions.
That has been my struggle with being on the left of many policy and social aspects of life. The progressive norm has been to point out the evils of injustice and inequality. Solutions have been few and far between. Many of the solutions proposed and implemented are variants of the compromise with the status quo - rather than making wholesale change. I have attempted in my job to point out the problems - but have brought forward a variety of solutions. Unfortunately, many solutions depend on the efforts of others either disinterested, frightened, or unwilling to make the change.

As a pronouced futurist, one who was always looking as to what will happen in the next week, month and decade - it has become harder for me to envision a holistic atmosphere of improvement. Even the small increments of positive change have become slogs through mire - unfunded directions to do more with less resources, less time, and ultimately less results. 

I've been known to be risk-adverse. I like to plan and come up with alternatives and solutions prior to problems occuring - but as the past year and a half has shown in my own life decisions, if pressed I can make a sea change - stick with my principles and live with the results. Subsequent actions by others in my previous job have shown that this was the best move forward for me.

On the other hand however - QuikTrip is offering $0.49 32oz soft drinks again. So that's a happy.

"Offer me solutions, offer me alternatives and I decline." - R.E.M.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Pardon the Interruption

It's been almost four months since I've posted to this blog. In that time I've started and stopped diets three times. I've restarted again this time using as my calorie counter, exercise log and it will even track my glucose levels - that is if I keep up entering them.

In the past several months we've gone to my sister's wedding, had a really nice time at a high school friend's housewarming party and had Meredith's parents stay with us for a week. Alexander and Ford had a program at their school for Fathers in which they had myself and both grandfathers attend - which was special.

This summer is getting booked up with Vacation Bible Schools (three at last count); swimming lessons; and other things. Goals I want from the summer:

  • Go on vacation. We're thinking about going to Oklahoma for vacation. Turner Falls for two nights and two nights in Oklahoma City. Later in the late summer (September timeframe) we might go to Galveston for a long weekend.
  • Do some outdoor movies in the backyard.
  • Have a party (just because)
  • Get an estimate on redoing the kitchen (wallpaper, countertops, refinish cabinets and doors.
  • Get new tires for the Accord.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

I Wish I Could Rant Like This:

From a conversation on The Huffington Post with Andres Duany:

"Duany began by identifying three concurrent crises that he traced directly to the American lifestyle: Peak oil (the likelihood that we've already consumed more than half the planet's petroleum in barely 100 years), the housing bubble, and global climate change. "It's where we live, the size of our houses, the distances we drive for work, commerce, play--everything."
And it's all a vicious circle. The reason our houses are so big (and inefficient), he says, is because we have eliminated a healthy civic life. We build homes with giant foyers because we have no public squares. We need media rooms because it's not easy or pleasant to drive to a multiplex theater, cross a parking lot through an ocean of cars, and pay a fortune for popcorn. We build bars in our basements because there are no neighborhood pubs. We have giant refrigerators and ever-growing storage needs because shopping is both far away and unpleasant (hello, Costco). The result? We heat and air-condition unused rooms in oversized unpleasant houses. And because our home bars and foyers are empty and our media experiences private, we're lonely, to boot."