August 1, 2014

Rhetorical Dichotomies and Urbanism

I’m finding the process of writing a script for a documentary film especially interesting in regard to the canon of invention. Much of the advice I’ve been reading — because I’m a total newb at this — says the most you can do early in the process (the research/pre-production phase) is create a general outline. Invention comes before outline. I’ve been doing research, i.e. reading to focus my idea. Previously described:

The Baby Boomers were children of the post-war suburbs and raised their own children in the sprawling communities at the edges of American cities. Owning an individual home outside of a city has long been an essential part of the American Dream. That dream is changing. The Millennial generation is changing it. Young people today are showing a strong preference for living in dense, walkable urban communities. And an increasing number of their empty-nest parents are following them.

I’m finding Charles Montgomery’s Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design to be especially helpful because I’ve created two useful dichotomies. “Useful” means rhetorically useful i.e. helping me say, persuasively, what it is I want to say. In an early chapter about the history of suburbia, he identifies two philosophies driving suburban sprawl.

  1. The school of separation: The good life can only be achieved by separating the functions of the city so people can avoid “the worst of its toxicity.”
  2. The school of speed: Freedom is a “matter of velocity — the idea being that the faster you can get away from the city , the freer you will become.”

So I am asserting two (kinda) opposite schools that appear to be guiding a return to cities.

  1. The school of mixed use: This is one of the guiding ideas of the Congress for the New Urbanism. The good life can be achieved by living in areas where many uses intermingle.
  2. The school of proximity: It is better to walk, ride a bicycle, or take public transit to nearby places in a mixed-use urban area.

The whole point of what I’ll call a “rhetorical dichotomy” is to create a model by which you can compare things. In this case, the things are various issues of urbanism and suburbanism. A rhetorical dichotomy ought not, it seems to me, be used to over-simplify an issue. I’ll try not to. The three issues I’ll be examining (until I change my mind) are:

  1. Energy use: How much energy does one consume to live a suburban lifestyle versus an urban lifestyle.
  2. Commute: How much time and expense is involved in commuting to work or traveling to other important destinations?
  3. Infrastructure support: What needs to be built, and what needs to be maintained, to support new urbanism versus suburbanism?

There are, of course, many more issues from which to choose. These interest me now. More to come…

[Cross-posted on Carbon Trace]

February 17, 2012

Ideology 1, Science 0

Knowledge is what we want it to be for ideological reasons:

The most sensational parts of the documents — and much of what has been confirmed independently — had to do with global warming and efforts to spread doubt into what mainstream scientists are saying. Experts long have thought Heartland and other groups were working to muddy the waters about global warming, said Harry Lambright, a Syracuse University public policy professor who specializes in environment, science and technology issues.

“Scientifically there is no controversy. Politically, there is a controversy because there are political interest groups making it a controversy,” Lambright said. “It’s not about science. It’s about politics. To some extent they are winning the battle.”

A 2010 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences surveyed more than 1,300 most cited and published climate scientists and found that 97 percent of them said climate change was a human-made problem. Yet, public opinion polls show far more doubt in the American public.

November 17, 2011

We Do Not Learn From Our Mistakes

Profit before planet; say goodbye to the lungs of the earth:

Brazil did not ban slavery for moral or ethical reasons. It did so because the emergence of capitalist manufacturing made slavery more expensive and inefficient than wage labor. But today, there is no attempt to rethink an economic model based on destroying forests — and emitting greenhouse gases — to produce and export livestock and minerals.

On the contrary, Brazilian agribusiness, thanks to powerful congressional representation and the neglect of the executive branch, is pushing for a new forestry law that would condemn vast areas of rainforest to extermination.

The law, currently under consideration by a committee in Brazil’s Senate, would represent an ecological calamity.

November 12, 2011

You Could Be Like Us

But that would be bad if China and India tried to be us:


November 12, 2011

Politicians and Interests v. Scientists

Denial of climate change? It’s an Anglo-Saxon thing:

The weight of this study would suggest that, out of this wide range of factors, the presence of politicians espousing some variation of climate scepticism, the existence of organised interests that feed sceptical coverage, and partisan media receptive to this message, all play a particularly significant role in explaining the greater prevalence of sceptical voices in the print media of the USA and the UK.

November 12, 2011

Missed Opportunity

No irony. No big Questions. No tragedy. Why Terra Nova sucks:

The set up to Terra Nova couldn’t be better because it speaks to exactly the problems we are about to face: What happens when the world begins running out of resources, and what happens if we are given a second chance?

The twist is, of course, that the people of 2149 are able to travel back in time to the Cretaceous period — into a world unspoiled by man but crawling with very dangerous beasties. It reminds me of the potential in the New World narratives in which Eurpeans discover the “howling wilderness.” Given a new start, they end up creating much of the same ol’ same ol’ with genocide thrown in.

Terra Nova, then, could explore what it means to get a second chance in terms of what we have or have not learned — especially regarding resource limits and over-population. That’s the promise of it anyway. It delivers something quite different — run-o-the-mill human snits punctuated by an occasional dinosaur feedings.

November 11, 2011

Put Ideas to the Energy Test

This post was originally published on Reflections in the Screen and on my Facebook page.

How to know if an idea is worth considering: The idea takes into account our use of energy, especially oil.

See Wikipedia: Petroleum

Fact: Modern civilization is 100 percent dependent upon oil. Even our so-called green energy technologies are 100 percent dependent upon oil. No oil = no wind farms, no hydroelectric, no solar panels.

I believe the idea I am asserting is true for a wide range of human thought. I’m not sure how useful this is for understanding ideas about, say, 18th century British literature. But I think we can judge the quality of ideas in areas such as politics and economics by considering to what extent the thinker considers the role of energy use and oil.

Take the recent Aerotropolis idea for example.

See Wikipedia: Aerotropolis

By default, it assumes we’re going to be using energy exactly as we are now into the foreseeable future. Does that seem right? Not to me. Fossil fuels are a finite resource. Any future based on our continued consumption of energy at our current levels is no future at all. It is a fantasy.

Take the New Urbanism idea for another example.

See Wikipedia: New Urbanism

While the parts of it that promote greenfield development are troubling, its application to infill and brownfield development demonstrates this is a good idea based on the consideration of energy.

It seems to me that it’s a good idea to put our ideas to the energy test.

November 11, 2011

But We Need Clean Groundwater

Evidence that fracking does pollute ground water:

A pair of environmental monitoring wells drilled deep into an aquifer in Pavillion, Wyo., contain high levels of cancer-causing compounds and at least one chemical commonly used in hydraulic fracturing, according to new water test results released yesterday by the Environmental Protection Agency.