Friday, October 28, 2016

Quality over quantity

At lunch today I read from a book that I just ordered last week titled Thoughts on Building Strong Towns by Chuck Marohn, founder of the Strong Towns organization and movement. I've committed to myself to read a chapter a day and write a blog post with some thoughts. So today's chapter is titled If it creates jobs then it must be good, right? The premise of this chapter is that we as a country at our various local levels (federal and state too) have focused on the wrong things to create jobs and to create continued growth. We've focused on making all kinds of subsidized incentives in order to bring in any kind of job no matter what. We pay little to no attention to the quality of these jobs or if they actually do anything to directly pay for the liabilities that we have in our cities or contribute to a high quality of life. Our current policies create the incentives that result in us having far too many places in US cities that look like this:

This is far too common in the US

Chuck is right on in this chapter. Our cultural approach to just about everything is to do the dumbest possible things, the things that bring quantity without looking at any of the important details that make up the quality of these things. In the case of jobs, we think that we'll continue to have better cities if only we create more jobs through two primary ways: increased infrastructure spending and playing the tax incentives game to attract jobs. So as Chuck asked, how's that working out? It's not, at all. We can no longer deny the qualitative side of things. Most cities in the US are literally crumbling. Ask yourself how can this be while we are still the richest country in the world?

The best economic strategy for a city is to create the most appealing and livable places that speak for themselves. If our places are utter crap in ways such as not being able to walk to things and having to drive everywhere, creating cheap built environment of the infrastructure and the building stock and having poor environmental conditions, then yes, you're going to have to bribe people to come and stay there. But why play that game? Why not create cities that are financially sustainable (meaning we don't build sprawl and we don't build new stuff only to abandon the old), visually attractive, highly walkable (again, less sprawl, more compactness), gives first class status to walking and biking instead of having to drive everywhere, making your city less noisy again by substantially reducing the need to drive a vehicle, encouraging and creating all kinds of fun local events to go to, be apart of and enjoy, etc.

This list is all about quality over quantity. We cannot continue to create cities that are built with a "throw-away" mentality. We're building things that need to survive for a long time because those are the only things that we actually take great pride in. Almost nobody will take pride in a cheap vinyl-clad house that has very little resale value. Nobody takes pride in a city that lets basic maintenance continually slide. Taking great pride in something creates the right incentives for people to want to be in your city, to set up a diverse set of businesses and to make deep and lasting connections to people and places all around you. This is such a huge divergence from the current cultural norm. But we need to get there because America can literally no longer afford to keep subsidizing crap and ignoring quality. Our quality of life is really starting to suffer financially, socially, physically, etc. Growth for growth's sake no longer cuts it. We've already picked all of the low-hanging-fruit of growth from our society. It's time to build with quality and prepare for the long run instead of only today. It's time to build things like the following, where people love to be and to visit:

A public square in Vienna, Austria

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Practice, practice, practice!

I'm going to try a new thing. I've always wanted to be a more frequent blogger but I've never been able to accomplish that goal. So I'm going to try and move this blog into a daily discipline kind of category where I'll use my technology (my phone's calendar) to remind me to blog every day. It doesn't matter what the topic is, I just want to reflect on something and capture that here. I'm not entirely sure if I have regular readers on this blog yet, but if you are one, you'll start to get much more regular content! This is of course assuming that my discipline plan works after all.

One quick thought for today. I'm finding it very hard to focus on work today. I've not mentioned here before that I am a software engineer/project manager for my day job at Canonical and I work from home full time. That means I'm pretty much the master of my own destiny for my daily schedule (minus any work meetings that I have to attend). Today, with the weather being much more grey and cool as well as it getting darker and darker in the mornings and evenings and being at the tail end of jet lag from a work trip to Europe last week, I'm finding it very hard to focus and to sit in a chair. A friend suggested the Pomodoro technique to me today, which has been a great suggestion. I find that when I get this way, which thankfully is quite rare, a hard workout routine is also very helpful. I'll be doing that as a break from my work this afternoon. My question to you, my readers, is how often do you feel like this and what do you do when you experience this to still be productive at your desk job?