My Birthday Weekend

Okay, so my birthday wasn’t actually on a weekend, but seeing as I was born the day before a national holiday, I always count my birthday and Independence Day as my birthday “weekend.”

This year’s birthday was my first living away from Kansas City. The last two years I’ve spent my birthday focused on other things, so this year it was nice to spend the day relaxing and enjoying life. Jake had to work, but Auntie Carol and I went to lunch, did a little shopping, and went to see an ab-filled movie (I do love Channing Tatum, but could have done without the nearly X-rated content of the Magic Mike film).

Once Jake was off work, we all gathered for a birthday dinner and mini-celebration at Auntie and Tio’s house in San Rafael. Complete with what, you ask? A Tio cake, of course! That’s right folks, this year, for my first birthday as a Californian, I got my very own Tio cake. Apparently, he was nice to me for my first year. He’s been known to include things such as broccoli, electronics, and who knows what else. I got a spiced cake with licorice, and the only parts we couldn’t eat were the two mini-candle holders he used for my blue eyes.

After dinner, we watched fireworks from their deck. Then finished off the night with a game of Parcheesi. It was the perfect way to spend the day. I took this picture of the fireworks, which looks REALLY out of focus, but I thought it turned out fairly artistic.

Thank you to everyone who wished me a happy birthday. It was a wonderful day. I’m sorry I didn’t get to see all of my amazing friends and family, but I miss all of you, and it was so great to hear from you. I hope you all enjoyed the 4th and are having a fabulous summer!

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In Search of My Roots–the Lewis Family

At 6:50 this morning I am off on a great adventure.  My sister and I fly to Boston.  We pick up our rental car there and have charmed three cousins to meet us in New York?  In New York we plan to spend three days with cousins, searching for our roots.  We have not been together as a group in more than 50 years.  What a treat.

From the late 1700’s until the early 1900’s, 5 generations of our family lived in and around Norwich, Chenango County, NY.  My great-grandfather, Horatio Lewis, and his brothers, Hiram and Harris, owned mills in the area.  Here is a picture of their mill in Pharsalia, NY., before it was destroyed in a fire in the late 1880’s.

Tuesday morning we will drive to Norwich.  Our agenda is to visit the Mt. Hope Cemetery to try to find the Lewis and Terry Family Plots, located in Section A. I thought it would be relatively simply until I learned that Section A is 10 acres.  Well, we can only try! Since our family members were among the first people buried there, I am hoping we have a chance.  Then on to the Guernsey Memorial Library and the Norwich Historical Society.

Wednesday we drive to Sherrill, NY, where my grandparents lived by 1912.  Granddad was superintendent of silver-plating operations for Oneida Silver, back in the day when it was a power to be reckoned with in Oneida County.  We plan to visit the family home on Willow Road, walk down to the school and the plant on the same road.  Dad (on the right), his brother Dick (the baby) and Aunt Dot (on the left) were all raised in the house in Sherrill.

We will spend one night in rooms at the Mansion House, the home of a utopian community that eventually founded the silver company.

In the midst of indulging my family history adventures I hope to catch up on years of missed time with my cousins.  Hopefully, we will see some wonderful places, share great memories and return home refreshed and armed with photographs for new posts.

It’s Hot–Think Cool

When the temperature reaches 100 to 110 degrees here in the Mid-West, I remember cooler days along the California coast.

Wouldn’t it be great to dip your toes in this clear, beautiful water. One of our most valuable resources, cool water represents life and adventure.  And it is cool, wonderfully cool.

Think cool.  Be cool.

The Trails and Gardens at Crystal Bridges

Crystal Bridges is a world class Museum of American Art.  But no visit would be complete without a walk through the grounds that surround it. In fact, one of the best reasons to walk along the trails is to be able to truly admire the graceful world class architecture from various vantage points along the trails behind and adjacent to the buildings themselves.

The museum is a masterpiece by acclaimed architect and urban planner, Moshe Safdie.  In addition to Crystal Bridges, his work includes projects in such diverse environments as Old City Jerusalem; Singapore; Golden Dream Bay in Qinhuangdao, China; as well as Kansas City’s own Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.

There are extensive trails through the 120 acre site.  These trails pass by creeks, a pond, and native plants. They wind through and around the grounds. Small walking bridges pass over the creeks on the property that are actually fed by the Crystal Spring.

But the grounds are not limited to natural beauty.  Sculptures the quality of the world class art in the gallery are on the grounds outside as well.  My personal favorite is Stella, by artist/sculptor, Andre Harvey.  Stella weighs in at 560 pounds.  She seems to me to be completely and utterly content.  No dieting for this lass.  Look at her smile.

To rain or not to rain, that is the question

It is dry, oh so dry.  The impact of this drought is the subject of a future post.  But the question of the moment is whether there will be rain today.  The weather forecast gives us hope that there will be relief from the 105 degree temperatures for at least a few days.  We are also given the promise of rain, precious rain.

Late yesterday afternoon I felt a single drop of rain.  On my drive home I saw a splash or two.  By 8 p.m. I was excited to see a real cloud.  The gray of a rain cloud was fighting against the fluffy white cloud which normally would have seemed lovely and delicate.  Now the dark of the rain cloud holds  our attention.

There were a few more drops and nothing more.  What does today hold?  Precious rain or dry heat?  That is the question.

Edward Glaeser’s “Triumph of the City”

Meg has a J.D. in Urban, Land Use and Environmental Law. She focuses on political organizing, environmental policy, and sustainable living.

During the second half of law school, I decided to venture outside of our building and take a few classes in the Public Administration program. I met some wonderful people, great professors, and was able to explore new ideas and approaches to looking at public issues. In one of my classes with Adjunct Professor Jim Scott, I read a book called Triumph of the City, where I explored the structure of a city and what it provides for society. At the same time, I was doing some research about micro-lending with one of my manager’s at MARC, so the idea of investing in human capital really jumped out at me.

Here is an excerpt from my 2011 paper on community development ideas (which overall focused on what tools could be used in Kansas City). This section of the paper revolves around Glaeser’s Triumph of the City, and what ideas I derived from reading the book. Enjoy!

I. The Structure of a City and its Indication for Society – A Look at Triumph of the City

In his book Triumph of the City, Edward Glaeser argues that the city is the optimal structure for human interaction because it promotes human relations, innovation, and the necessary investment in human capital to make society thrive. He argues that cities are healthier and more environmentally friendly than living in suburban or rural communities. Even for cities that have suffered economic hardship, Glaeser holds strong to the idea that the people of a struggling city have a better chance of success than those living outside of cities, because cities foster creative thinking, communication, and investment in human capital. Ultimately, human capital is an essential factor for maintaining a successful community.

Glaeser’s primary argument in this book is that the most important investment you can make for a city is in education and innovation, which ties in with his idea that investment in human capital allows the people within the community to be more productive, make more money, and even be happier than those living elsewhere.[1] Using New York as an example of the archetypal city, he shows how the cluster of human capital helped the city remain successful through several different turnovers of the primary industry. From transportation and shipping in the 1800s, to the garment industry in the 1900s, and then the breakthrough of financial entrepreneurs in the 1970s, New York has remained a successful city through constant innovative thinking and implementation of new ideas. We also see the same example of metropolitan success through the education and ideas in Bangalore, the technology of Silicon Valley, the thinkers of Athens, and the collection of scholars in Baghdad.[2]

Cities foster face-to-face interaction, which helps create an efficient means of relaying ideas and other communications by allowing people to explain things to each other in person, rather than over countless e-interactions that inevitably result in misunderstanding and miscommunication. With multiplicity of cultures mixed together within the bounds of a city, this face-to-face communication is also important to respecting each other’s customs and traditions.

One city that did not succeed the way most cities do is Detroit, but Glaeser urges that Detroit’s decline resulted from a single-industry focus and the lack of investment in human capital.[3] With a struggling auto industry, the city was doomed to decline because its leaders failed to attract new minds and innovative ideas the way New York had done in the 1970s. As a city filled with less-skilled workers focused within a single industry, Detroit had no one to pick up the slack of the declining auto industry which consumed the city. There was a detrimental lack of re-education in the community, which meant the city ultimately lacked the resources to entice new industries.

There are several reliable predictors of urban growth that Glaeser emphasizes, including education and the presence of a poor population. Education is important because the productivity of a city is dependent on the level of edUcation of the population living within the city.[4] Glaeser also points to a city’s poor population as an indicator of the city’s success. Great cities attract poor people, and therefore have a more prevalent poor population than those cities which lack public services and amenities that poor people want and need, and are unable to obtain in rural slums.[5]

One distraction I find in his text is Glaeser’s insistence that the level of education and presence of a poor population are two important indicators of a city’s success, yet he also seems to think they provide the greatest obstacles. He describes the U.S. education system as providing too little learning to too many children. He also describes the overwhelming cost of maintaining public services for cities when the poor populations are largely unable to contribute to such cost. For both of the reasons described above, the wealthier populations move out into the suburbs, where private or charter schools employ better teachers, and money put toward public infrastructure benefits those supporting the cost. It seems to me, the very indicators that Glaeser lists as the most reliable predictors of a city’s success are also the very conditions that then push the money outside of the city, which only furthers a city’s decline.[6]

A city is not necessarily the best structure for everyone at every time. While high-density living is a good structure for encouraging new ideas and innovation, there is also something to be said for the importance of fostering stronger, almost family-like relationships within a smaller community. Strong urban neighborhoods can sometimes create their own familial relationships, but that assumes the members of those communities reach out to each other in person. Some of the same problems people face with the ability of modern technology – mostly, the ability to go through an entire day without actually having to deal with anyone face to face – are the same struggles that people face in the big city. People can be anonymous, they can avoid confrontation, and they can be ignored simply because of the sheer mass of people surrounding them. In a large city, a person can become just a number, whereas in smaller communities, everyone has a name.

Overall, Glaeser’s focus on investment in human capital and strengthening urban cities is very important for halting urban decline, however, there are other factors to consider when determining what the best structure is for society. The city certainly promotes productivity, provides a centralized location for innovation and communication, and has many environmental benefits. Additionally, there are a number of reasons why a city may not be ideal, including a decreased sense of safety, rising costs to support declining public infrastructure, and the potential lack of the sense of community.[7]

However, regardless of the structure, the need for education and entrepreneurship is essential for the continued growth and productivity of any local community. Whether in a city or a rural village, investment in human capital will help society as a whole become better education, more productive, and help individuals receiving the benefit of those investments feel more responsible and accountable to their local community.

—————————————-

[1] Glaeser, Edward, Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier, The Penguin Press, New York, 2011,  6-7

[2] Glaeser, 18-22

[3] 53

[4] 253

[5] 70-71

[6] 258; He acknowledges that cities cannot and should not have to bear the burden or cost of urban poverty alone. Urban poverty and rising costs of maintaining urban public infrastructure certainly contributes to urban flight, but those remaining in the urban core should not then have to pick up the slack just because others decided they did not want to pay for or deal with urban challenges anymore. To me, this is why we need economic development tools to encourage activity and investment in the urban parts of the city. As Glaeser later mentions on p. 268 of his book, those who want to live in the suburbs should be able to do so, but not without understanding the true costs of expanding into the suburbs, and helping to pay for those costs.

[7] While I do believe an urban city is an important structure to maintain in our society, my biggest concern with the way cities work today is that they are also the biggest contributors to the suburban movement. I think suburbs as a structure are generally very taxing on society as a whole. They are great places for families to have a safe place for their children, but cause excessive strain by families living in huge houses, driving huge cars, and generally undervaluing the limited resources available. For cities to truly shine, I think suburbs need to be better controlled, and that is a problem I do not know how to solve.

Sunday mornings with Terry–In the shade of Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts

Terry and I are pretty independent souls.  Our work lives keep us busy during the day and our clubs, committees and boards take much of our spare time.  But Fridays after work and Sunday mornings are our time.  Virtually every Sunday morning you will find us in the car with our dog, Casey, with a destination in mind, preferably pet friendly.  We combine breakfast with a drive through an area of the Kansas City metropolitan area that remains unexplored or, in this case, under-explored. This morning was no exception.

It is hot here.  But Casey would not understand if we don’t include him in the morning explorations. That significantly limits the restaurants where we can eat to those that are dog friendly.   He knows, really knows, the rhythm of our lives and which day of the week is for the three of us.  Today Terry selected a restaurant on the North edge of the Crossroads District of Kansas City.  I walked just a block to photograph this  view of Kauffman, Webster House and the Bartle Hall pylons. Y & J’s Snack Shop is eclectic to say the least.  Obviously a haunt for both young city dwellers and middle age professionals , I had never noticed it until this morning.  But it was inexpensive, the food was good, and Casey was content.  The staff even provided water for pets. The aesthetics of the so-called “snack bar” were minimalist at best.  Tiny, with a kitchen smaller than my own, the cook served such standards as bacon and egg sandwiches, coffee and a variety of breads.  The decor was not even shabby-chic, it was just shabby.  The door was covered with stickers of various sorts.  The tables and chairs were plastic and metal.  Nothing really matched.  But the environment was casual and accepting.  Obviously, many patrons were regulars and felt right at home.  Even for first timers it was a happy place to spend some time.  We wandered the block or so surrounding Y & J’S, and were surprised by the variety of retail stores, coffee shops, businesses and an urban garden, all sharing adjoining spaces.  I can’t even tell you the address, because street signs were few and far between.  But one business had prominently displaced its address as 1818 something.  It was a true urban experience made more satisfying because we know it is part of the rebirth of our central city.