Sunday, August 26, 2007

News update

A few posts ago, I mentioned that BP was planning to dump more pollution into Lake Michigan. Well, the Chicago Tribune reported on August 24th that BP is changing its plans and vows to find ways to prevent the increase in pollution. Read it here. Let's hope they stick to their promises, both publicly and in actual operation.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Now, it's personal

I just found out that the federal government rates the regional transit development projects a low priority because there still isn't high intensity of development here. Yet. So the question becomes: build transit infrastructure in preparation of the boom we know is coming, or wait til the population influx overwhelms the system and the development is overdue?
There's also something no one is saying officially, but they're certainly keeping it in mind. The federal government won't fund these projects because the money needed is going toward the war instead. So they're waiting it out to see what the new administration will do. In the meantime, local infrastructure all over the country is crumbling or insufficient because of this costly war we're not going to win. This isn't new information, really, but it shows that contrary to what I previously thought, the light rail and improved bus service plans aren't held back because of local politics. They're held back because national politics have hijacked local agendas.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


It finally rained yesterday, for what feels like the first time all summer. Still, we only got about half an inch. The town of Creedmoor, about 20 miles northeast of here, has to pipe in water from a nearby town because its water supply is spitting out sludge. I've never heard of a town just running out of water before, especially not when the rest of the country is drowning. It's crazy. At this point, we're wishing for a hurricane just to bring water to the parched land.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Generation Gap

It has been an eye-opening summer, especially the past few days. Saturday, I watched The Drug Years, a television series on VH1 about drug use in the 20th and 21st centuries in the context of music, pop culture, and politics. I had seen the series before, but I watched because following was The U.S. vs. John Lennon. I fell asleep, but thanks to DVR, I was able to watch it this afternoon, after reading an article about President Bush's driving philosophy during his time in office. There are many many many differences between Bush and John Lennon, but you can tell they both came from the same generation. One might argue that if Bush's father hadn't been a Republican president during the backlash to the "hippie" generation, he'd be more like the rest of us. In any case, I'm still sort of processing the whole thing, but in the meantime, I'll say this: it's incredible how the people who grew up during the biggest revolution of recent history have allowed the country to go in quite the opposite direction.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Summer recap

I left work on Friday, my last day, and went directly to Charlotte. When I returned yesterday, summer was over. Today was the first school-related meeting, and now it's time to get cracking. So before I dive in, a summer recap.

Work: Turned out to be a satisfying summer overall. Being respected as a member of the academic community is a nice, if strange, feeling. I met with environmental professionals, city planners and commissioners, and state agency employees. I attended city and state commission meetings, committee meetings, and legislative hearings. I did lots of research about topics I thought I knew a thing or two about. Professionally, it may or may not take me where I want to be, but I made a lot of connections and learned a lot about the functionality (and dysfunctionality) of state and local political processes, environmental and development policies, and how advocacy can be more than petitions and postcards. I also worked with a great bunch of people who work hard and play hard. One thing is for sure: I would not have known how to do my job without the past year of classes and work, and it reaffirmed the value of this whole experience.

School: Took a couple classes with professionals, which helped put my coursework into perspective and taught me some essential new things I sadly would not have learned in my required coursework--another valuable aspect of local internships.

Play: Hiked, biked, kayaked, shopped locally, visited the mountains, traveled. Made new friends, listened to live music, cooked new food, splurged on camping gear. Does it get any better?

And so, a few take-away lessons about North Carolina:
1. Locals will fully accept you as a Midwesterner (meaning Outsider), but they will be overjoyed and relieved to learn that you want to stay and help make things better here.
2. In many arenas, things are still very much a Good-old Boy white male's game - women in politics must be strong enough to be taken seriously but must still seem deferential to men. And, the state government is just now passing legislation acknowledging the Wilmington race riots in 1898
3. It's nice living closer to the production of the food I eat. No more Styrofoam tomatoes or mushy cukes.
4. Summer is hot. Unlike other parts of the country, there are no 70-degree days here. During the day, it's 80 or 90 or 100, and at night it rarely goes below 65 degrees. And I'm sorry, but that's how it should be. Cool summers in Chicago never felt right to me. Then again, ask me how I feel when I'm walking around campus in 92-degree heat.
5. I'll never get over the Southern accent. It's music to my ears.

Saturday, August 04, 2007


Today I went kayaking on the Eno River, in an area of calm waters where the Eno, Little, and Flat rivers become the Neuse River, which flows southeast to the ocean near Beaufort, NC. Somewhere along these rivers, there really are rapids, but our trip was calm and easy. The biggest excitement was a fan boat that came through the opposite direction. It has been so dry this year that the river was pretty low and slow, but the scenery was beautiful. Coming back upstream, where the Eno and one of the rivers merge, the sun was setting over the trees through the haze and contrasted the glowing green of the grass and algae. A white bird (heron? egret?) stood still and graceful in the distance.

I think it was last year that I paddled up the Chicago River, during which we were told to try not to fall in because the water was less than fresh. One whiff of the river upstream was all the convincing I needed to stay in my boat. It may soon get grosser, now that BP has obtained a permit to dump more pollution into Lake Michigan from its plant in Indiana.

Coincidentally, I've been reading River Horse by William Least Heat-Moon, and tonight is the premiere of Feasting on Asphalt 2, in which Alton Brown samples the world of food from along the Mississippi River. These guys have it right - traveling by river certainly gives you a much different view of the world than you get by road or train. Yet another reason to save our great bodies of water.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Growing pains

The bf and I were talking the other day about the challenges this country faces under our watch. Our grandparents lived through the Depression, some of the worst times in our country's history. Then, things got better. Our parents were born in the most populous generation yet, and with them came a huge cultural revolution. Their work during the Civil Rights movement, the Women's Rights movement, the Gay Rights movement, and an overall acceptance of all kinds of ideas and lifestyles has allowed the country to really grow and prosper. It has been a good thing, for sure, but now we're getting to big for our britches.

Many cities grew so much, so quickly, that they didn't stop to think about the impact that has on our aging infrastructure, as evidenced by recent dam failures, bursting steam pipes, and collapsing bridges. The threat of terrorism may scare us, but our own structural weaknesses may be the actual cause of our eventual demise. That, or our failing food production system. Factory farms produce mass quantities of tasteless junk, eroding and depleting the soils and polluting our water, air, and digestive systems. Obesity was once a "luxury" of the rich; now, it's cheaper to eat foods that make us fat, in large part because our crop subsidies reward soy and corn, the key ingredients in most of the unhealthiest (and cheapest) food out there.

Surely, we haven't seen the end of all this political and structural turmoil. Culturally, some things are better, but it seems we're more willing to accept wrongdoings, even though they make us queasy. Since Watergate, the political process has really been led astray and people have lost faith in their elected leaders. After all, look how screwed up our government is now, and every new scandal elicits little more emotion than "meh, what else is new?" Look at what the sports world has become: doping in baseball and cycling, dogfighting in football, gambling and cheating in football - things that we all know are wrong but have come to accept as par for the course. An interviewee on NPR mused that this is a generational thing, at least in cycling, and that we can only hope to stop future generations from such behavior because there's no hope for this one. The author of a new book about selling out to corporate America (read the interview on rings true for many of us idealistic twenty- and thirty-somethings who want to change the world but can't afford to support ourselves on the salaries of such jobs. Instead, we take the corporate job, promising ourselves that we'll only do it until we've made a good living and saved some money, and then we'll give back to the world. But by then, it might be too late. We'll have aging parents to support, without a Medicare or social security system to help out. And if we have kids, we'll have to support their increasingly expensive needs for schooling, food, health care, and whatever hot trends they just have to follow.

None of this is news to anyone at this point. Yes, I'm whining, because right now, I don't have it so bad. But I'm one of those idealistic twenty-somethings with an expensive education that I'll be paying for many years down the road. Here in North Carolina, a huge opportunity exists to make some real changes in the way agriculture, development, and conservation happen. All those people who no longer have open space in the Northeast are moving down here, grabbing up open space without any plan in sight. I could start a 1,000 Friends of North Carolina. I could lead a strong progressive campaign against the very vocal naysayers, working for smarter development planning, boosting political and economic support for sustainable agriculture, creating stronger environmental policies in the state. But I have student loans. I have hand-me-downs and oldies-but-goodies that will need replacing in a few years. I want to get married (green wedding!) and own a home (solar panels or sustainable building materials!). Maybe I want to have kids someday (although who wants to bring a child into this world as it is now?).

Looks like I have my work cut out for me.