On Panhandling and Kairos

I’m happy to report that my documentary film project called Downtown is on schedule for completion in December. I’m finishing up cataloging the interviews this week ahead of writing the script. Two themes have emerged from the interviews: diversity and density. These themes have been consistent with our sources from the local level to the national level.

While nearly every source has mentioned diversity, each has understood it differently based upon their various points of view and hierarchy of concerns. But nearly universal among the interviews is the idea that diversity in a downtown is crucial because, when people encounter each other, good things can happen. “Things” can be so many things, but one of those things that is most important is the idea of the “other” becoming less mysterious and threatening. This gets at the heart of creating an urban community as opposed to the homogeneity that all too often accompanies sprawl.

Local sources have all mentioned various types of “threatening” people in downtown Springfield, including troubled teenagers hanging out on the Square and aggressive panhandlers.

I had an interesting encounter with two panhandlers in downtown Springfield this morning.

I have no set script for dealing with panhandlers. Since I rarely carry cash, that eliminates the uneasiness I feel about giving money. I don’t want to be funding addictions and such. I simply truthfully state “I’m sorry. I’m not carrying cash.”

But I have helped people who have asked for it when I detect (by some emotional reaction I have not reflected upon) that they have another need I can fill. For example, I gave a man and woman a blanket this past winter after asking them “Is there another way I can help you?” I asked because they appeared to me to be in real distress.

There was a woman sitting outside the Mudhouse this morning who looked in bad shape. She asked for money. I told her I had no cash, and she began asking for a meal for herself and her husband. I was a nanosecond away from saying “yes” when the husband stepped up.

He comes up from behind and finishes her request standing in my space bubble. His attitude was insistent. He also did not look in as bad a shape as she. Hmmmmmm… So I instead offered to point them to a source of help. And that’s when he said an interesting thing:

“There’s riffraff there. I don’t want to hang out with riffraff. I want to hang out with you.”

By “you” he did not mean me; he meant people like me.

But his bad kairos put me off — the concept of timing and proportion in rhetoric. His bad kairos included what I perceived as a stark difference in their conditions.

I pointed them to help and walked away. And now I’m at work cataloging the interviews and thinking about diversity.

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The AARP Livability Score

ScreenHunter_01 May. 19 14.39So I plugged my address into the AARP Livability Index and discovered that downtown Springfield is rather mediocre. Hmmmm… I’m not at all sure I’d score this place as low as 60, but then I’m invested in living here and make it work. I’m even enjoying it :-)

One index in particular drags down a couple of the scores: The AARP Index is apparently unaware that Springfield has a bus system. So there were a couple of anomalies, e.g. listed as having no employment reachable by public transit. Waaaaa? I happen to know that the bus goes to three different Walmarts — a big employer of retired people, I hear tell.

Springfield ranks well above average for housing, transportation, and engagement. We get low marks for environment, health, and opportunity.

Opportunity is a particular problem here. Our poverty rate is twice the national average, but, oddly, this statistic isn’t part of the index.

 

 

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Ahead of the Influx

Sky Eleven, the Sterling, and Heer’s will all be finished soon. While Sky Eleven and Sterling will cater primarily (although not exclusively) to students, Heer’s is expected to attract adults. In any case, these three projects will dramatically increase the population living within two blocks of Park Central Square rather soon.

The question now is, what will be left of downtown when people move in? Here’s a quick survey of businesses that have recently left downtown or gone out of business.

Empty 1

Much of Wilhoit Plaza is empty now, including recently-closed Blue Sesame (below) and a cake bakery (above). We’re all still wondering what’s up with BYOP.
Empty 2

Empty 5

The Minuteman Press at Walnut and Jefferson.

Empty 6

The Squeeze Play sports bar on Walnut. This was no loss — except that the space is now empty.

Empty 7

The Moda hair salon left downtown.

Empty 9

This coffee shop — gone. I think is was called Got Coffee, but it was not in business long enough to make an impression. Really, people, you can’t do better than the Mudhouse or Coffee Ethic, so think of something else.

Empty 10

Wow. Trolley’s on the Square is gone. This hurts.

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Living, More or Less

vandelaySometimes I can’t resist an overly-cute headline that’s more tricky than informative.

I’m also fond of backing into my points :-)

So, my wife and I are rapidly approaching two full years living downtown in the loft we joking call Vandelay. It seems like a good time to process the experience a bit (more). I’m going to do that over a short series of posts in the coming days.

By way of teasing the series, I’ll say upfront: Best. Move. Ever.

That’s not to say there haven’t been problems and challenges. Some of the posts I have in mind will be about these problems and challenges. I do not offer them to be negative (a huge freaking sin in Springfield — often learned the hard way), instead I offer them as ways to think about the movement into the urban core. More people are on their way.

My primary motivation for moving downtown, like my primary motivation to walk and ride a bicycle for basic transportation, was to live greener, to lessen my impact on finite resources, to lessen my carbon footprint. To follow a path — a trace — to a very different future.

I live with less. When you shrink the stuff that accumulates in 2,700-square-foot suburban home into an 1,100-square-foot loft you necessarily get rid of lots of stuff. I do not have a storage unit. That stuff is out of my life. Gone. I didn’t realize how much of a burden all that stuff was until it was gone.

We live on one third the energy. We generate one bag of trash per week. We own one car and five bicycles.

I’ll spare you the less-is-more cliche because it ain’t that simple.

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Hong Kong Street Life Video

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Hong Kong Part 2: Bicycling

Bicycling in Hong Kong? Not so much. (Qualification: I walked Honk Kong central/west and the area of Kowloon from Mong Kok south. So it’s possible I missed something.)

Most of the few people I saw riding bicycles appeared to be delivering something.

Parking? Forget it. So people lock to anything they can find.

Lane control. Depends. The video below is typical of what I saw.

hk_bike

hk_bike2

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Take the OTO Transportation Survey

The Ozarks Transportation Organization is gathering public input on transportation projects. Click here to take the survey.

Two disappointing things:

1. Many of the projects listed in the survey involve increasing capacity by widening roads. The problem: It doesn’t work. Increasing capacity does not ease congestion. This fact has been well established (although you can still find traffic professionals who say increasing capacity is OK as long as you do other things to encourage the use of other roads, or public transportation, or bicycling, or some other such thing — the obvious premise being that increasing capacity increases demand which increases congestion which then requires the “other things” … on and on it goes). So why is OTO asking about such projects? Well, politics often has little to do with reality. Giving people what they want is expedient. Here are the results of a quick Google search:

2. The survey asks about bicycle infrastructure but conflates trails and bicycle lanes. These are entirely different things. You can search Carbon Trace for details if you wish, but I am on the record opposing most types of bicycle lanes and promoting separate trails such as our Ozark Greenways. I was forced by this conflation to vote against bicycle infrastructure projects in this survey because I do not wish to accept the moral responsibility for playing any role, no matter how small, in creating dangerous bicycle lanes.

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Hong Kong Part 1: Mixed-Use Urbanism

Here’s a picture I took in the Mong Kok neighborhood of Kowloon in Hong Kong. I’m standing on a second-story walkway that’s part of the Bird Market and Garden. Just across the street is the Mong Kok Soccer Stadium. You can see the Flower Market below. And above the Flower Market is apartments — several stories of them. Click the image for a larger view.

hkx4

All four of these uses appear to exist quite comfortably in a small space. How?

The only motor vehicles using the street below are delivery trucks and public transit because there’s nowhere to go and nowhere to park. This is key. No one is driving to the stadium. No one is driving to these markets. And no one is parking cars at the apartments. So there’s no need for surface parking — the very thing that spreads other things apart.

Providing surface parking would create exactly the kind of urban spread — the “missing teeth” in the smile of pedestrian-friendly urban design — that would make this mixed-use neighborhood impossible.

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Big City

I’ll be in Hong Kong next week doing the thing I usually do when I visit a city: walk, ride transit, eat/drink local, watch people, and wander about. I’m not much for seeing “sights” such as museums. I’m more into seeing the whole of a city as one big sight filled with a never-ending street drama.

Parts of Hong Kong (e.g. Kowloon) are some of the most densely populated places on earth. But the entire city ends up mid-range in the big factor on lists of big cities.

I’ll be posting thoughts, photos, and video upon my return.

HK_Kowloon_Panorama_2009Photo by: WiNG, CC-SA2.0

 

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Like The No-Driving Thing

Not that I was tipsy or anything, but it’s nice to be able to walk home from happy hour during weather events :-)

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Vacancy

It’s been a tough week for downtown business news in Springfield.

Coyote’s Sports Bar / Mille’s Cafe is closing and Modern Society Apparel  is moving south.

 

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Downtown Naples in 23 Seconds

I found some good examples of walkability in downtown Naples, Florida as described by Jeff Speck in his book Walkable City. Here are 23 seconds:

A Very Short Walk in Naples from acline on Vimeo.

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Great Things Coming in 2015

CTP_christmas

My sabbatical application was approved, so that means by mid-May 2015 I’ll be working on the Downtown documentary full-time until January 2016. Deadline for a finished, 90-minute feature: 31 December.

I’ll be in Naples, Florida for a couple of weeks starting on 28 December. I’m planning to do some filming there.

Thanks to everyone who has helped with this project so far!

Be sure to check out our Carbon Trace Productions web site.

If you’re still looking for a charitable tax deduction for 2014, please click this link and donate to my film project through the MSU Foundation. You’ll be helping me and my students you see pictured with me. They are the backbone of this thing because, well, they know way more about making movies than I do 😉

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Tax-Deductibility Has Arrived!

I’ll bet you need to make just one more tax-deductible donation to round out your 2014 tax situation. Well, I have just the thing. Click here to make a donation to my student-led documentary film project called “Downtown.”

In case you missed it, you’ll find details here.

In other Carbon Trace news: I have changed the domain for this blog and everything associated with it to carbontrace.net. Your old links will continue to work because isocrates.us is parked at this domain. Be aware, however, that this move may have broken some links in the blog archive. Please alert me if you see somthing amiss.

This blog exists at carbontrace.net/bike/ (but you DO NOT have to change your links).

Our Carbon Trace Productions site is in the root at carbontrace.net.

And I’m building a site for our multimedia documentary work at carbontrace.net/carbontraceproductions/ (under construction).

Thanks!

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Art and Tourists In Asheville

The list of largest employers in Asheville, North Carolina reads like most small cities in the U. S. — the usual suspects being education, health systems, and government at various levels and functions. But with my feet finally on the ground in downtown (with the arrival of better weather), it’s clear to me that tourism plays a big role here (tell-tale sign: Christmas stores). Art is an important attraction along with the natural beauty and the Biltmore estate.

The streets were crowded today with shoppers because, well, it’s Black Friday. But there are also plenty of places to shop and plenty of variety — including touristy Christmas ornaments. My daughter, who attends college here, reports the streets are lively here much of the time.

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