Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Tomato Update

As you may remember, my tomatoes met an untimely demise. I knew there would be some survivors, but I wasn't sure how many.

I am happy to say that there are more than I expected. We ate our first Japanese Black the other day, and it was good. I am most pleased with the Black Plum we grew. They have a more acidic flavor than most varieties I have tasted. Very bold and juicy. The Japanese Black was decent, but nothing to write home about. The cherries were what I expected, and I am happy with them. But I will absolutely look for the Black Plum again next year.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Not Planning Related

I just got a new computer. It is a black macbook. I think I am going to call it the Death Star cus it feels like I should be typing coordinates so I can blow up a Alderan.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Bikes are people too [well, not technically, but close]

It is no secret that love bikes. I love them. They are great for recreation, commuting, exercise. The way the chain wraps around the cogs, the feel of a smooth, freshly re-packed Campagnolo bottom bracket, the sound of your tires pulling rain off the pavement. Mountain, road, fixed, cruiser, recumbent, it doesn't matter - I love them.

So it was devastating today when a g-chat box from my friend Mike popped up at work. His rear wheel was messed up. Either the rim or the hub, or possibly something seemingly unrelated. I haven't looked at it yet.

If the g-chat box had told me about a broken down car, I wouldn't have felt so bad. I am not anti-car, they are useful inventions. But when a bicycle is ill, it is a different story. I have been trying to figure out why I feel like this all day. Chances are a broken car would be much more expensive to fix than a bike, and a bigger hassle, so I should feel worse about that, right?

It could be that I know Mike, and that he puts that bike to good use, snow or shine, so having it out of commission is a big deal. It might be because I feel that bikes are personal machines, they are individuals. Every bike I have worked on has its own personality, its own feel. They each have idiosyncrasies and nuances all their own. They are like people, in general terms they are all the same, wheels, frame, bar [eyes, arms, lungs], but if you take the time to get to know one, you will know there isn't another one like it.

Anyway, I love bikes.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

As the crow flies

I am working a transit project at work. As we have looked at the station areas we have drawn 1/8 mile and 1/4 mile circles to see the walkable areas. This is all well and good, nearly any plan dealing with pedestrians will have a big colored circle to show the places people can walk. But it only tells part of the story, or rather, it omits some important information.

1/4 mile for a crow is different than a 1/4 mile for a person. So we started drawing lines, routes pedestrians would actually use. Once the 1/4 and 1/8 mile lines were drawn an new picture emerged - 30%-40% of the structures within the radii were not actually accessible by foot. A large portion of a residential subdivision fell with in the 1/4 mile circle. When the pedestrian route test was applied none of the subdivision was reachable, some of the houses were nearly a 3/4 mile walk from the proposed station.

I wrote a paper a few semesters ago analyzing the walkability of my neighborhood. I saw the same phenomenon. The nearest elementary school is about 1/2 mile from my house, as the crow flies. But because of development patterns the pedestrian route becomes nearly 2 miles. A simple system of walkways would solve the problem, but I doubt many of the home owners would be too excited to give away some of their property so others could walk [you know, because people walking = crime, or so say the NIMBYs].

Granted, homes in my neighborhood range from early 1900s bungalows to my 1960s condos to recent monster homes on two lots, and that kind of developmental hodgepodge is difficult to coordinate. Difficult, not impossible though.

Most cities have thorough transportation master plans, for cars. Integrating pedestrian circulation would not be much more difficult. I am glad to say that I am seeing this beginning to happen in both new development and retro fitting established areas.

Seeing the built environment through the eyes of the pedestrian is the first step to making our communities more pedestrian friendly.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Ecological Debt Day

As an Environmental Studies major (along with Urban Planning) I am fortunate enough to get a host of interesting emails every day from the program adviser, Tasha McVaugh Seegert. These emails range from upcoming Wasatch Community Gardens events, to new course offerings, to the occasional knitting tip. Today's subject line caught my attention - "Ecological Debt Day." Usually any sort of "[Environmental word] Day" consists of tree planting, or gathering recyclables, or some such activity. But the word "debt" popped out today.

According to the Global Footprint Network, today is the day that the we have used up all the natural resources the earth can provide in a year and are living in ecological debt. I will be the first person to question the methods used to reach that estimate, how do you figure out the actual resources used per year? how do you know we have passed that number? There are plenty of questions regarding that sort of figure. The statement that we are living in ecological debt is also as confusing to me as hearing about the multi-trillion dollar national debt. If we are in debt, where are the resources coming from? Who holds the note to all those trillions of dollars? Does a number that big really mean anything?

The Global Footprint Network, or any organization for that matter, would be hard pressed [I assume] to show hard numbers to back up that statement. Statements which encompass the entire world are too nebulous to be clearly defined in a sentence. But I do not think that is the point. The idea behind the statement is not flawed. The amount of resources in our closed system is far out paced by our consumption of those resources. Bottom line. I contribute to that. I eat thousand mile dinners, I drive a car, I live in a house that is cool in the summer and warm in the winter, so I hope this post does not sound accusatory.

So what is to be done? I will defer the answer to someone more educated, and eloquent, than I. Michael Pollin wrote an article a few months ago titled "Why Bother?" Our planet is getting smaller, oddly, that means our problems are getting bigger - much like the problem of homelessness from my last post. NPR reported that foreign banks are looking for a piece of the nearly 700 billion dollar bailout package proposed by the Bush administration, because the US economy is not just the US economy. We have our fingers in pies all over the world, and who knows how many countries have their fingers in our pie. Agri-business and auto companies have high paid lobbyists. So what are we, as individuals to do? Read the article, it's good.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Doing good and having fun

Saturday was the second anual I Think I CANyons ride. It starts at the Barbacoa on Wasatch Blvd, up and down Little Cottonwood, Big Cottonwood, Millcreek, and Emigration Canyons, ending back at Barbacoa. All told it's about 110 miles with 12,000 vertical feet of climbing. As the volunteer t-shirts said, it's Utah's most intense century.

I have been commuting a fair amount this year, but I haven't been on very many good long rides, so I was in no shape to climb four canyons in a day. Instead I volunteered. My wife, my baby, and I headed up to the S curve in Big Cottonwood with a cooler and a box of snacks for the riders.

The weather was cool, the canyon was a particulary vibrant green from the morning rain, and the S curve was bustling with hikers, climbers, and cyclists. We passed out food and filled water bottles, in between I spent time with Tasha, Morgan, and Norman Maclean. After all the riders had gone up and down we headed to the improptu race headquarters in the Olympus Village parking lot for Barbacoa with siblings/co-volunteers. A great way to spend a saturday.

The best part of the day was being a part of the story of the ride. A few years ago some high school friends of mine and my sister organized and rode a 1,000 mile epic ride for the 4th Street Clinic. Last year the epic ride became I Think I Canyons. This year the ride grew to around 40 riders. In the past three years a couple of kids from Salt Lake, who don't have much [any] clout, have managed to raise over $10,000 for a very worthy cause.

This is a perfect example of people wanting to help their community, then actually doing something about it. Doing good can seem daunting. Which is where I get caught up. The thought of my piddly donation seems insignificant in view of everything that needs to be done. I can't possibly be of any real help. But here are some regular kids, students, looking to pay tuition, and rent, and buy food, and have social lives, and be 20-somethings. It's amazing what a good idea and a little effort can do.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

National Park(ing) Day

Tomorrow [September 19] is Park(ing) Day 2008. It started in San Francisco (of course), and this is the second year artists have co-opted parking stalls Salt Lake. When I first heard about it I envisioned seeing permanent park(ing) stall parks a few years down the road. Who knows. It should be an interesting day downtown.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Farmer Clifford

I've always thought I'd be a good farmer. Let me rephrase that - I've always thought I would like being a farmer. Of course, I have a somewhat romanticized view of the profession, but I don't think it is that far off.

I have the personality for it. I enjoy work. I get real pleasure from feeling soil in my hands, I enjoy solitude. And nothing thrills me like seeing things grow, I do mean thrill. I have never liked roller coasters, I prefer to have my feet on the ground. Seeing a tomato turn red [a tomato I tended all summer]? That is excitment.

The thought of waking up every morning, pulling on my overalls and straw hat [so maybe not every farmer wears overalls and a straw hat, but I would] and growing a patch of land. It is a careful, methodical profession.

In our project we are looking at a CSA on a half dozen acres at This is the Place. Makes my dream that much better. Plowing behind a horse, harvesting by hand, complete removal of internal combustion. I can't think of anything better.

My dream of overalls and squash will have to wait. I don't actually know the first thing about being a farmer [except the overalls and that it takes work], and I'm not sure how well it would support a family. It will be able to in the future though. I can wait.

But the CSA will work. There is enough focus on organic, local food that it would be economically viable. That focus is not just a fad either. Huge agri-business and 2,000 mile dinners are not, for lack of a better word, sustainable. This summer has seen huge increases in fuel prices, which has had a direct effect on food prices. Farmers market food is matching supermarket prices, and the next few years will see that trend continue.

If we only see one one part of this project come to life [it won't be the only thing], it will be the farm.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


I really love music. I don't know as much about music, or bands, or artists as I once did, but I try to listen to a good variety. A good family friend once said you can't trust someone who completely disregards an entire genre of music. I think that fits sentiment fits into more aspects of life than just music.

Music is probably my favorite artistic medium [at the moment]. Partly because it is much more portable than others, but more so because music, in all its forms, evokes every emotion in every person.

I have seen clips from this site on a fair amount of blogs [most recently my sister's. It seems I'm stealing lots of posts from her lately]. The clips of interest are the Take Away Shows. It is a series of musicians playing somewhat impromptu [acoustic] songs. My favorite part it the way the public reacts to these on-the-spot troubadours.

Mostly, though, this post is so I could link to this. This is why I love music [especially the second video. That is beauty].

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Links, An Explanation

On every blogger blog there is a section on the right (or left, depending on the template) navigation for links. I decided to add links to a couple of blogs I think are relevant to this blog.

The first two are links I got from my sister's blog. Judy (Make a Better Earth) and Erin (Green on the Poor Scene) are two of her friends. I don't know them as well as my sister does, but I do know them, so I feel the links are ok. Both of these ladies are the kind of people who practice what they preach, a difficult feat.

Green on the Poor Scene focuses on the ability to live green without buying a prius, installing solar panels, or other such spendy measures. Make a Better Earth is good general information on living better.

The third link is to a blog not unlike this. Actually, it it my friend Mike Maahs' blog, the blog he started at the same time I started this, for the same class. Mike and I have been good friends for a handful of years now. We fish together, shoot guns (his post about a cabin is the same cabin from my post earlier this week. As an aside, it is interesting to see two wildly different posts come from the same weekend.), our class schedules have aligned every semester, and he has been the key link to getting two of my jobs. As is evidenced by our cabin posts, we see things from different angles. It has been good for my academic career to have a close friend who sees things differently. Another way to get out of the box.

Those are the three links. All good blogs. All good people. I might add more links as the semester progresses, I might not. For now, happy blogging.

Grace and Art

I came home today and was welcomed by the smiling arrow that adorns the side of every Amazon.com box. Inside I found a stack of books for school. Fortunately, this is my last semester, which means that my course schedule is comprised of classes I genuinely enjoy (aside from statistics, that is), so seeing that stack of school books was a pleasure.

Underneath my urban design manuals and policy guides I found a small, thin paperback I forgot was in my order - Norman Maclean's "A River Runs Through It and Other Stories."

I have been intrigued by fly-fishing since Jr. High when my scout troop would camp one weekend a month, every month. A few of the older scouts were already avid fly-fishermen. Initially, I wanted to fly-fish because these boys, who I looked up to, did it. Soon though the arc of the line and the rise of the fish superseded any desire to emulate. It took a handful of years before I actually secured a rod and began learning the techniques required to bring a fish to the surface and take your fly.

For the majority of my life my bicycle has been my cathartic release. I still love to ride, and do whenever I can - most weeks around 100 miles of commuting, recreation, and errands. But since that first summer of fly-fishing, when school gets hairy, or work overwhelms, or a general malaise settles, my first impulse is to pack up my gear and head to the water. Even an hour of casting clears the mind and lifts the spirit. (I would like to make clear that I am far from fly-fishing excellence. Some day I will be able to raise fish from the depths and hit the pool behind the rock and under the low hanging branches with a flick of the rod and magical precision. However, that day is not today, probably not this decade)

This book, along with the "Orvis Fly-Fishing Guide," by Tom Rosenbauer, is a staple volume on the shelf of any fly-fisher. The story is genuine and enthralling, true, but the beauty of the book is Norman Maclean's description of the art of fly-fishing.

(As is the case with most of these entries, that is the long version of the background to this post.)

I opened to the first page and began reading. On page 4 I came across some lines pertinent not just to fly-fishing, but life in general. The father in the book is a Presbyterian Minister and fly-fisher. In his description of his father, the narrator says "My father was very sure about certain matters pertaining to the universe. To him, all good things - trout as well as eternal salvation - come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy."

Those lines are beautiful, and I don't particularly want to muddle them with paragraphs lamenting the state of planning, or the state of the world in general. So I won't.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Project II

I don't really have much to talk about tonight. I just wanted to reiterate how excited I am about our project. I really do think it will be one of those projects that actually gets adopted, at least in part.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

How The West Was Awesome

My family has a cabin in Morgan County, about a mile north of East Canyon Reservoir. My wife's great-grandparents ran sheep on a couple thousand acres, some of which is now at the bottom of East Canyon. They lived in Porterville and built the cabin some for sheep business, but mostly for the deer hunt. Parley (my wife's great-grandpa) and his brothers/cousins/relatives made his house the base of operations during the hunt. Eventually, Edith (great-grandma) got fed up with the mess and stink of a bunch of deer hunters and kicked them out, so they built a cabin. This is a cabin in the original sense of the word. There is no electricity, no toilet, no shower, the water in the sink comes from a spring on the property. It is a cinder block box with a tin roof and an ace and a deuce painted on the gable.

In the next few years, the wives decided they would spend the hunt in Salt Lake, shopping and cavorting. This soon became a tradition, and it has stuck. Every third weekend in October the women head to Salt Lake while we head to the cabin. A grand time is had by all. (I will dedicate a post to hunting. Some people are turned off by it, but I actually found some common ground with a vegan because of it. It is all in the attitude.)

This weekend was our annual cabin preparation. We headed up with weed-whackers, shovels, paint, and cleaner to ready the cabin for the hunt. We got to the cabin around 10:30 on Saturday and worked till a few hours before dusk. When we were finished the cabin looked new, weeds cleared, fire pit rearranged, inside cleaned, outside freshly painted-

A short break before lunch and the last hour and a half before dark were spent shooting. We had two shotguns, .22 rifles, a .22 pistol, a .45, an 9mm, a .25, and an assault rifle. Add to that 180 clay pigeons, dozens of cans, some paper targets, family, and some close friends, and you have yourself a recipe for a great time.

The cabin, and the reason we can shoot like we did, is situated nicely in the bottom of a small valley in the middle of nowhere between East Canyon and Hennifer (don't feel bad if you've never heard of it, I think 18 people live there). Which brings me to the point of this already pretty long post - Utah.

I love Utah. In the hour we spent driving from our house in Murray to the cabin we went from developed urban metropolis to secluded nowhere. A short trip (on foot, shorter on 4wheeler) gets you to the top of a hill where you can see for miles and the only signs of human life are a barn and the faint outline of a minor highway. The trees were already beginning to take on their fall wardrobe and the evening air had that thin, crisp taste of fall. It was perfect.

I'm lucky, I am equally at home in the Salt Lake Valley as I am in rural Morgan County. As a planner I think that will serve me well. Rural and urban planning have different targets and different strategies, and I think that gets lost. In the four years I have been going up Weber Canyon to Morgan I have seen more development, most of which is not ideal, than I would like. If an entire county has managed to avoid installing a single stop light all the way into the 21st century, it deserves to keep that character. But the development I have seen falls into the "too small to plant, too big to mow" category. One acre lots which ruin the rural character, but fail to bring urban benefits.

If you look at almost any Smalltown, USA there is a clear pattern. A dense(er) town center surrounded by large agricultural properties. The small town feel means houses on smaller lots, close together. One acre lots are a false rural feel. Rural planers (in my admittedly less than experienced opinion) need to reevaluate how development happens. Envision Utah is doing some wonderful scenario planning for Morgan County right now. I hope the planner and the county will have the foresight to adopt and implement Envision Utah's ideas so the county will be able to maintain its character and maybe avoid stoplights for another century.

Friday, September 5, 2008

It's really the 4th

Even though the post will be dated the 5th, it is late (or early) enough that this still counts as my post for the 4th.

I really just want to lament my tomatoes. A handful of months ago I planted these little guys

A mixture of hierloom plants from the Wasatch Community Gardens plant sale. Japanese black, cherry, black plum, and two roma-esque varities.

Over the course of the summer those little starts grew into these guys

Sadly, that picture was taken after the storm we had this past weekend. Those plants are almost twice that height, the wind and rain knocked them over, bending most of the stalks (branches? what are they on a tomato plant?) at the wire tomato cages.

About half way through the storm I went to check on them, and much to my dismay, they were tangled up and had fallen down. They are growing in the enclosed patio of our condo, which creates a small vortex when the wind kicks up. The wind, rain, and weight of the plants had bent the cages at the base, adding to the sad situation. I put on my jacket and boots and headed out to do what I could to help. I ended up cutting some of the branches, unbending the cages, and, as you can see from the picture, bracing the cages with some 2x2s. On top of everything by the time I got out there it had already hailed.

The damage was done. When I went back out to check my heart sank a little. The cages, which had been so helpful in supporting growth became barriers against which the stalks had bent and broken, effectively decapitating the top three or four feet of my plants. The stalks and fruits were riddled with welts from the hail - a weather induced, tomato marring small pox.

The black plum had already given us a few dozen little, delicious fruits. It was somewhat protected by the plum tree we have in the court yard, but about half of the remaining crop is probably lost. We had picked about 6 little cherries with plenty more on the vine. I had maybe been a little over zealous with 5 plants, because the roma-esque in the back did not get enough sun to produce much fruit. Because they were in the back, they also grew tallest, looking for sun I guess. This height is also a big factor in the loss of the others, they fell forward onto the poor little plants. But the Japanese black is the biggest tragedy. None of fruit had matured yet, but there are buckets of various sized tomatoes, waiting to ripen. This one was in the front and received the brunt of the punishment. Pockmarked, bent, and broken. We will still be able to salvage some, but won't get the crop we were expecting.

This may seem like an inconvenience at worst, and for most people that is true, it would be. Not for me. This is only my second attempt at tomatoes. Last year I planted late, in uneven, thick-clay dirt. I ended up with three feet of sad plant and a dozen grape-sized green tomatoes, the other plant died a month after planting.

This year I build a wall to even out the bed. I mended the soil with pep and manure, two feet down, with a shovel. I watered and fed the plants. This year I did everything an urban gardner could do, and I love it. Then one storm undoes a good portion of what I had done. The next time something like this happens it will roll off, but this is my first real tomato year.

I'm sure there is a lesson here. Something about eggs and baskets, or the inadequacies of man in the face of nature, or a some philosophical lesson about some principles of the human psyche. But I don't really care about a lesson, I just want to be bummed out because my tomatoes came to a sad ending (the happy ending would be ending up in my belly).

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Project

Today we discussed our project plans for this semester. I have to say I'm happy with my group and our idea.

When we were brainstorming we decided to focus our efforts on the Foothills Cultural District for a variety of reasons. One of which is that we are all close to finishing our academic careers (or at least the current portions). Throughout our sojourn at the Uof U we have been involved in a handful of projects, most of which have been centered around downtown Salt Lake. Downtown is not perfect, and these projects have been worthy efforts. However, their fate is to be lost in the annals of planning students past. Another overly ambitious plan for the empty lot on such and such corner which will never receive an audience of people who matter.

Our project will be ambitious, we would like to see Sunnyside avenue go underground for a stretch so the Zoo and This is the Place can be connected by open space. We will also explore land use in the area to determine mixed use intensities. Where our project will be different is that in conjunction with the idealistic aspects there will be some feasible, solid deliverables. We will design a linear park to connect the Zoo, This is the Place, the future Utah Natural History Museum, and Red Butte Gardens. We will study sources of funding. We will look at possible collaborations between the sites to create a cohesive district, as opposed to a handful of interesting, but disconnected attractions.

I hope to affect some real change for good during my career. I do not want to have a stack of beautiful plans in boxes and little else when I retire. I am going to be able to take my grand children to the Foothills Cultural District (or any number of sites) and point to my contributions.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Faulty Logic and the Act of Cutting Off Your Nose

I just found this article in the Trim.


I looked into this Rob Anderson, apparently, he thinks that San Francisco is not not liberal enough and wants to "flank SF democrats on the left." There is enough in just that sentence from his blog to keep me occupied for days. But I don't want to digress. I would rather use this line from the article as a jumping off point:

"Cars always will vastly outnumber bikes, he reasons, so allotting more street space to cyclists could cause more
traffic jams, more time idling and more pollution."

On its surface, that seems like a legitimate statement, which is the most pernicious thing about it and other statements of its ilk. Such as, if you look at the embodied energy in our food, then riding a bike to the store is worse for the environment than driving a car, because you eat more food when you ride a bike, which outweighs the gains of bike v. car.

The problem with these types of statements is that they are too esoteric for their own good, and quite often either
blatantly wrong, or slightly true, but just on the surface (the worst kind). They are made by people who are either so enlightened as to see that the only good mode of transportation is walking, or, they are so jaded and cynical that they think no effort anybody makes will help our desperate situation.

Either or, they are not helpful. This type of statement is the kind co-opted by those who do not believe there is a problem/do not want to do anything to fix the problem.

Sadly, we are our own worst enemy. One of my first reading assignments for a planning class was "The Death of Environmentalism" by Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus. The short version is that environmentalists are going at environmentalism the wrong way and end up hurting their causes more than they help. Which is easy too easy to do. When problems are not shown to be human problems, or are portrayed as so helpless that we may as well not even try (I'll write a post sometime about Michael Pollen's article "Why Bother" it's a good one), more people are lost than gained. The adage "you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar" is as true for environmental issues as it is for salesmen.

Do I believe we are doing the best we can? of course not. Does than mean that I want to sabotage everything but the best plans? that would be silly. Paradigms do not change overnight. Cultures do not reinvent themselves in a weeks time. Change is slow. Sometimes it is brought on quickly and people are forced to adapt (where did I hear that?), but that usually involves tragedy. It is one of the oldest cliches, but there is real validity to the idea of thinking globally, and acting locally. We (environmentalists, humanists, concerned citizens, whatever name you chose) need to get behind plans that are a step in the right direction. Is Daybreak the messiah of planning in Utah? no. There are a host of things that could have been done better or differently. But is it a step in the right direction? Yes. Has it already helped change views? Indeed.

I understand the habit of only doing the minimum is equally pernicious. Settling for the lesser of two evils when you could insist on an option that is actually good, not just less bad. And there is a fine line between the two. Support and striving. But sometimes, the decision is simple; do I cut off my nose to spite my face?