Monday, June 15, 2009

A little reality with the bark off

The acerbic (cranky, dyspeptic, misanthropic, you pick the adjective) James Howard Kunstler is one of the best at describing the period we're entering and perhaps the most-consistent advocate of a sensible policy approach to responding. From this week's blog post:
Which brings me back to the New Urbanist annual meet-up last week in Denver. Given the gathering conditions of what I variously call The Long Emergency or the economic clusterf[log], they have had to shift their focus starkly. For years, their stock-in-trade was the greenfield New Town or Traditional Neighborhood Development (TND), a severe reform of conventional suburban development. That sort of reform work was only possible when
  1. the continued expansion of suburbia seemed utterly inevitable, requiring heroic mitigation and

  2. when they could team up with the production home-builders to get their TND projects built.
To the group's credit, they realize that these conditions are no more. Suburbia is now cratering, both as a repository of wealth in real estate and as a practical matter of everyday existence. They get that the energy crisis and all its implications are real and that our response to it had better be deft. They understand that the capital resources we thought we had for Big Projects are flying into a black hole at the speed of light. Mostly they see that he time for "cutting edge" fashionista techno-triumphalist grandiosity is over.

To put it bluntly, the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) is perhaps the only surviving collective intelligence left in the United States that is producing ideas consistent with the reality. They recognize that our survival depends on down-scaling and re-localization. They recognize the crisis we will soon face in food production, and the desperate need to reactivate the relationship between the way we inhabit the landscape and the way we feed ourselves. They recognize that the solution to the liquid fuels crisis is not cars that can run by other means but on walkable towns and cities connected by public transit.

This is exactly what you will not find in the pages of The New York Times or the political corridors of power. Oh, by the way, the Obama administration contacted one of the leading lights of the New Urbanism in the weeks after the inauguration. He never heard back from the White House. I guess they're not interested.

Cross your fingers!

Interior of a dry grocer, downtown Vancouver, ...Image via Wikipedia

A real-estate developer is putting together a downtown grocery store. Hope it succeeds --- which would mean he's found someone with a lot of successful experience in the grocery trade to run it. It's a tough business, with thin margins.

Americans are incredibly spoiled when it comes to groceries and very price-conscious. You see people dump incredible sums on electronic toys that will be landfilled in a couple years, tops, and yet many of these people won't buy food that is priced to permit a decent life for the people who grow it. These same people have a cardiac if their milk or eggs go up a quarter, yet they buy bottled water by the case . . . .

A downtown grocery in Salem should quickly work to make deals with as many local growers as possible and to help them make the investments necessary to provide fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables year-round and all the local cheeses, meats, and breads from places like Cascade Baking Co. If the store only offers generica, well, people can get generica at Costco, Winco, and Fred Meyer for a lot less than a small downtown grocery can provide it for.
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