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February 28, 2008

Impacting Our Environment

The single most enduring lesson has been the importance of service to the community –– actively engaging those around you. Unfortunately, I’ve never been one to act or speak without prior solicitation, without some manner of directive to follow, a prompt to which I can respond. It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s just that I’m uncomfortable exposing myself –– like crawling out on some thin and wispy branch, perilous and precarious, clinging, always fearful of collapse. Consequently, I’ve never been involved as I would have liked. I’ve done my fair share of volunteering, mainly for local (i.e. Mankato) political candidates, but only because it was convenient. Either the candidate would be a family friend or teacher, or my friends would be interns rounding up the weekly herd for parades or phonebanks. Never have I really gone out of my way to help. Marching in parades, I’d be quick to grab the banner or a sign because I didn’t want to distribute stickers or campaign literature –– even that basic level of interaction, asking someone if they wanted a flyer or a sticker, made me uncomfortable. Trivial as it may seem, I couldn’t help but feel as if I was exposing myself (before you think I’m just flat pathetic, I’ll add that stickers were never a real problem. I managed to give them out cheerily enough. In fact, my discomfort was common –– nobody wanted sticker duty, but we swallowed our irrational fear of four-year-olds prowling for stickers and shored ourselves up). Basically, the whole point of this –– I went on a bit longer than I expected –– is that I am grateful for the opportunity (forced volunteerism though it may be) to engage and interact with the community in a way that I wouldn’t otherwise have done. Though I am still following a directive to fulfil a requirement, and have therefore not yet demonstrated a capacity for real proactive engagement (i.e. totally unsolicited and by one’s own volition), I am still stepping outside of my comfort zone, for this is not simply born of convenience –– far from it, in fact... (don't be surprised if you see this again as part of a volunteer journal)

I sort of lost where I was going with all of that, so I’ll just say it straight: to impact my environment, I would simply continue volunteering. Helping children attain “developmental assets? –– the proprietary term used by my volunteer organization –– seems very important and is the most elementary way by which to exact change in the environment and in the world at large. Fostering positive relationships, investing in children as resources, and maintaining a positive, productive, and above all caring work environment are essential assets that promote success and prosperity.

We Are The World


We Are The World

To be blunt, I have not found the topic of developing a global partnership for development to be expecially inspiring –– a bit too vague, I think –– at least not so far as calling notable quotes or song lyrics or images to mind (granted, I admit to investing a minimum of effort). There is one song, however, that I was able to come up with. The song is “We Are The World? by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie. They gathered a superstar chorus to raise funds for drought relief in Ethiopia. “We Are the World? promotes the kind of global partnership that we’re interested in.

February 25, 2008

Critical Mass


February 14, 2008

City Cycling

Minneapolis consistently ranks among the most bicycle-friendly cities in the United States, but simply because we’ve done well in the past does not mean that we can grow complacent and neglect our duties to the cause of healthy, sustainable (and, moreover, fun) transportation. The design and construction of bicycle paths, the care taken in determining routes and ensuring ease of use, are very much matters of social engineering. A properly implemented design program has the potential to make a significant and positive impact on the community. If the route is accessible, convenient, well maintained and generally well provided for, then people will be more inclined to take advantage of it. All of these positive features make evident a significant investment by the community. Further, if the community publicly and prominently promotes use of the resource, then people will recognize that it is a project in which the community has invested its faith and its resources and, given that people recognize their own vested interests, will again be more likely to use it.

For instance, Minneapolis recently opened the Midtown Greenway bike and pedestrian bridge, costing $5.1 million. The fact that the city made such a substantial investment, coupled with the print coverage (I’m getting this from the Star Tribune), leads people to believe that the city has a great deal of faith in the cause of bicycling and will continue to improve infrastructure. Of course, as I’ve said, Minneapolis is already pretty bicycle-friendly. The Grand Rounds, designated a national scenic byway, stretch for more than 50 miles through some of the cities most picturesque areas, and an abundance of bicycle paths run down the city’s most well traveled downtown avenues.

Still, we cannot simply be satisfied with the existing infrastructure, good as it may may. Many bicyclists feel disenfranchised, alienated, marginalized by a society that prizes automotive transportation and is always looking towards the bigger and “better.? The Critical Mass bicycle festival, which occurs on the last Friday of every month in major cities around the nation, encourages bicyclists to take back the streets by riding en masse through city streets. This promotes visibility but, if not conducted peacefully and within the law, has the potential to aggravate people and make cyclists seems like one of those rebellious, “nonconformist? fringe groups that are, well, irritating and don’t really do any service to their cause, however noble their cause may be. So bicycle advocacy must be taken up by the community at large and given a credible voice so that people will listen.

February 7, 2008

35W Bridge Construction


The Thousand-fold Smile

“‘This,’ he said, handling it, ‘is a stone, and within a certain length of time it will perhaps be soil and from the soil it will become plant, animal or man... But now I think: this stone is stone; it is also animal, God and Buddha. I do not respect and love it because it was one thing and will become something else, but because it has already long been everything and always is everything.’?
-Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse

In Rivers and Tides, there is one motif that recurs throughout the film, one relevant pattern than Andy Goldsworthy finds and recreates wherever he goes, one particular form that governs the course of his work – and what is that form that pervades and permeates? – a lithe and curvaceous figuration that resembles the course of a meandering river. The figure can occur (that is, be made to occur by Goldsworthy) in the delicate arrangement icicles jutting from a rock, in autumn red leaves strung together and loosed in a rocky stream current, or in a stone wall that rises from the water, falls, rises again and falls to nothingness. The figure is Goldsworthy’s way to perfect naturally occurring phenomena; his way to consolidate, unify and manifest what he knows, what he feels instinctively to be the natural order of things. Furthermore, if we want to extrapolate and extend the significance of the figure, we might project the figure on the temporal dimension and conclude that Goldsworthy’s conception of time is nonlinear (or at least, to be a tad bit more practical, that they way in which our society advances through the ages is not strictly a matter of “forward? progress, but might fall back upon itself – the modern incidence of Classical architectural forms, for instance ), that time curves and sprawls, meeting itself, colliding, running parallel or perpendicular. Here we turn back to the opening quotation from Hesse’s Siddhartha – the concept that something is, in one moment, all that it ever has been and all that it ever will be – a river, we observe, flows simultaneously at its beginning and at its end. Goldsworthy, like Hesse, deals with this concept in terms of the the fluidity of the stone. In Goldsworthy’s case, he demonstrates this by breaking iron rich rocks into ochre pigment and throwing it into a river. We are left to envision the fine particles settling and reconstituting themselves, perhaps to be broken again. I term this concept the simultaneity of continuity and concurrence (sounds nice, right?). To simplify, this means that while our society and civilization continue to advance through time in a straightforward way (this is the continuity bit – we can’t literally question the linearity of time, unless of course we broach the theory of relativity, but that’s irrelevant to our immediate discussion, so we’ll skip it). Okay, so we’re piddling along through time, but we see an old edifice rung with columns (Ionic, let’s say), wrapped in a frieze, and topped with a pediment. This building can be regarded as a historical artifact, and its presence and continued influence in the here and now, coupled with our knowledge of its historical context, constitute a coincidence of past and present; the past informs the present (this is concurrence, though not quite like what Hesse means with the rock). The city (yes, I haven’t forgotten what I’m supposed to be writing about, though my path was circuitous and quite tenuous) materializes this notion of the simultaneity of continuity and concurrence. The city is comprised of ever-changing elements (people, buildings, etc.), but some inevitably endure and remain. From that which remains (or at least the knowledge of what the city once was, and, by the rule of Hesse’s stone, still is), that which is continuously forging new routes derives energy (I didn’t explicitly address flow and transformation, but I think these are implicit in what I’ve said).

In addition to the figure of a meandering river, there was another motif favored by Goldsworthy that I found to be especially poignant, that being the image – if it can be spoken of as an image – of a void. A perfectly blank, empty space – surrounded, perhaps, by vibrancy and color, but in itself totally devoid. This was his way of showing that any loss, no matter how acute, will soon be covered and overshadowed by those things we love and are grateful for. The void Goldsworthy created in the entanglement of tree roots is soon broken by the fresh green sprouts of spring, piercing the black like the upward thrust of a knight’s sword, vanquishing it. So too is whatever loss we suffer triumphed over. This has particular relevance, right here, right now in the city of Minneapolis, because as I draw my blinds and look out my window, I see, as it were, the northern end of a nonexistent bridge. A void. But (as can be seen in the attached photo), two sprouts have taken root and have broken through the winter’s snow. I speak of the two columns (growing more massive by the day) that have risen to pierce the void left by the collapse of the 35W bridge. And this, more than anything, demonstrates the fluidity of the stone. What has fallen shall be rebuilt. What has died shall be resurrected – the Phoenix rises from its ashes. And by willing ourselves forward in time, but living amongst the products of history, will come to recognize the simultaneity of continuity and concurrence. “He no longer saw the face of his friend Siddhartha. Instead, he saw other faces, many faces, a long series, a continuous stream of faces – hundreds, thousands, which all came and disappeared at the same time, which all continually changed and renewed themselves and which were yet all Siddhartha.? Or, in our case, our friend Minneapolis.