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.

They’re here, they’re there, they’re everywhere–Canadian Geese

Have you noticed that Canadian geese are everywhere?  No?  They are if you live in the Midwest.  They are in our parks, our ponds, our golf courses, our lakes and rivers.  Ten years ago Kansas City had Canadian geese flying overhead with the change of the seasons.  Slowly we noticed that a few stayed through the winter.  Now they raise their young within a few feet of city traffic. Their waste is on our streets, our sidewalks and in the grass. Plaza traffic literally comes to a halt whenever a mom and her babies cross the street.

With the number of geese so nearby, I thought it would be fun (and easy) to photograph them for the blog.  I took photographs in Loose Park and near Kauffman Garden.  Most of the shots were just boring.  Then I found a beautiful spot on Brush Creek that catches the morning sun at a great angle.  Having seen geese swimming in the area I decided to take my camera to get photographs of the geese just at the beginning of day.

It isn’t that easy. Five mornings I have made the trip, looking for birds that are in the water right at the right place and time to create opportunities to photograph them when the colors of the water are most vibrant.

The geese sleep on open land, maybe 20 or 30 feet from the water.  Depending on factors known only to geese, they begin to move toward the creek between 8:15 and 9:00 a.m.  Most move toward the water in groups, a few move individually.

After arriving at the water’s edge they begin to primp and preen.  Finally, they enter the water, almost en mass, and only slowly spread out as they begin to swim upstream, downstream and under the bridge.

For a few wonderful moments the sun’s rays cause patterns of light to reflect back from the water, causing the beauty of the ducks to combine with the richness of the colors of sun, the rock and shade. When I am lucky I can find a goose in the water at the right time and place to catch them at their photographic best.

All too soon the suns rays are too strong to catch the colors, the ducks have moved too far on the water to easily shoot, and the water itself seems to turn a muddy green.  It is time to leave the geese for another day.

Water, Water Everywhere, in San Francisco Bay….But a precious resource, indeed

It’s a beautiful part of the world. San Francisco Bay has become our new home this last year, and we’ve loved exploring the area. Last week we took the Larkspur Ferry into the city, and seeing the water and beautiful views reminded me of why I care so much about the health of the environment and protection of our natural resources.

Many of our dinner conversations lately have circled around one of the most precious natural resources: water. With all the water that surrounds us here…the bay, the ocean, the rivers…it is easy to forget how important it is to conserve water. In California, our water bill is by far our highest priced utility. It costs so much because there are so many people in California who draw from a rather limited water supply. It makes me wonder, do people really pay attention to their water usage? When taking a shower, does someone turn on the water and wait 5 minutes for it to get to just the right temperature? What about landscaping. When designing the layout for the front yard, does someone in California choose local plants and landscaping that doesn’t require an excessive amount of water, or lush grass that requires water every other day? These have all been on my mind lately.

I imagine this will be an ongoing discussion for me, so I encourage you to include your thoughts. I am also interested to know how people feel about water usage in different parts of the U.S., or even the world.

I encourage you to take note of the amount of water you use in a day, and see where in your routine you might be able to save a gallon or ten. If everyone made an effort to conserve water, and only use what they needed, surely we could better protect such a precious resource.

Welcome to our family: Caroline Marie Soper

She is a beauty.  I just have to say it!  Born at St. Luke’s Hospital on June 26, 2012, at 2:08 a.m., she didn’t make her entry into this family easy on mom or dad. As is always the case, mom (Dana) bore the brunt of it.  But dad (Jon) was also a trooper.  He was with Dana for the duration.

The maternity ward seemed full with just Caroline’s grandparents and step grandparents.  Caroline, of course, has no idea that she is the source of such joy for her parents and all the members of her extended family.  It will take her years to understand the traditions, stories and values that come with any family, and certainly ours.  It will take a lifetime for her to understand her own value to each of us and to the families of which she is a member.

Sweet Caroline.  Welcome to the family.  You have cousins, parents, grandparents, a great-grandfather, and aunts and uncles all waiting to meet you.  May your life be filled with love and happiness as you bring love  and happiness to us.

Water, Water every where, Nor any drop to drink

In the Rime of the Ancient Mariner[1] , the narrator describes the lack of drinkable water while sailing on an ocean of salt water. 

The lack of available safe, drinkable water can result from many causes: drought, when there simply is no available water; polluted water resulting from toxic waste and agricultural pesticides; water polluted as a result of inadequate treatment of sewage from human and animal waste and water that is too salty to drink.    


Here in the Midwest, water surrounds us.  We have lakes, rivers and streams. We swim in it, bathe in it, freely water our lawns and gardens with it, and simply admire it.  But we are lucky.

Even in parts of the U.S., water is precious.  But while water it California and other western states can be expensive, it is still available.  In agricultural areas, particularly in areas of Texas, ponds may have plentiful water in the spring but dry by late summer.  

In times of drought, the lack of water can ruin a crop or cause ranchers to sell off portions of their herds.  Even then, safe water is almost universally available in the United States for human consumption.   

 World-wide, there is a different story.  Roughly 10% to 11% of the world’s population, between 783 million to 1 billion people, does not have access to safe water[2].  In the developing world, 90% of sewage is discharged untreated into rivers[3].  1.4 million children die every year as a result of diseases caused by unclean water and poor sanitation.  This amounts to around 4,000 deaths a day[4].  The death rate from lack of safe water is greater than the death rate from war.  The lack of water, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa also results in crop failures, frequent famines and also a significant factor in the loss of life of humans and animals.

 In The World is Hot, Flat and Crowded, Thomas Freidman quotes Michael J. Sandel, a political philosopher at Harvard that: “’We have a responsibility to preserve the earth’s resources and natural wonders in and of themselves’ because they constitute the very web of life on which all living creatures on this planet depend.” 

 Clean water is not a partisan issue.  It is not an issue that appeals only to those who are “left leaning” or “right leaning”.  It is a human issue.  We can clean water, dig wells to make it accessible, install pipes and faucets to move it around and make it easy to control the flow and movement of water.  Most of all, we can care about the people for whom the availability of water is a life–and death–challenge.


Our opinions, are our opinions alone, and do not represent the opinions of our employers, our friends, our relatives, our husbands, or even each other.   

[1] Rime of the Ancient Mariner, by English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, published in 1798

[2] WHO/UNICEF, WaterAid, Water.Org.

[3] UN

[4] WHO

For the Beauty of the Earth

Today is Earth Day, a day focused on the protection and celebration of our natural environment. Earth Day is a global celebration.  The health of our environment is important here in the U.S., in Central America, in Africa, in Europe and throughout the world.  Our very survival is dependent on clean and adequate water and a plentiful harvest.

So today, we celebrate the beauty of the earth:

We are grateful for clean water for bathing, drinking and farming:

We recognize the importance of our oceans, lakes and rivers and their role in providing food, transportation, drinking water, and other necessities and pleasures in our lives:

We respect the importance of protecting our water, our air and our soil so that we have adequate food to eat and water to drink here in the United States and throughout the world.  We recognize that adequate food and water are important for the health and security of our own families and for our worldwide populations.

While none of us can individually solve the problems of environmental pollution, we can each help to protect our world resources by planting trees, recycling trash, avoid polluting our water, soil and air and reducing our energy consumption.

As we honor the importance of water, earth and air in meeting our basic necessities, we are also grateful for nature’s beauty in our parks and gardens that feed, not the body, but the soul.

On Earth Day 2012, and every day, we wish you well and ask you to GO GREEN.

“Burn Fat, Not Oil”

Meg has a J.D. in Urban, Land Use and Environmental Law. She focuses on maintaining the balance of community and environmental health, healthy lifestyles, and encouraging sustainable living.

Jake and I were in the city on Saturday. We had just visited the Ghirardelli Factory and ordered two of the most delicious ice cream cones known on the planet. Chocolate dipped waffle cones with Ghirardelli chocolate and coffee ice creams. Wow. We walked down toward the waterfront, found a park bench in the sun, and sat down to indulge in our afternoon treat. And then we heard it…






“Burn Fat, Not Oil!” The chanting was not overwhelming. The message, certainly something I can support. The scene, well, it definitely got our attention! It was the World Naked Bike Tour, in full view, and I mean FULL VIEW for all of us to see, riding their bicycles through the crowd. Their message was clear, that we should all get on a bicycle, or walk, or otherwise prevent the consumption of oil to get ourselves from place to place.

(Fair warning, these are images of the cyclists from Saturday, but I blurred out any body parts that were exposed.)

At first, the sight was shocking. Seeing a bunch of grown men and women riding through the streets of San Francisco, completely naked, was not exactly how I anticipated spending my Saturday afternoon or my Ghirardelli ice cream cone. However, after the shock had worn off, I began to see the method to their madness. They were trying to get people’s attention. Quite frankly, it worked, and now I am writing a post about it. Aside from the drastic measures to get people’s attention, which was clearly a success, I do think they have a good point. Too many people use up gallons and gallons of gasoline driving around. It might not always be feasible for someone to walk to the store, or ride a bicycle to work. However, it is important for all of us to do our part in reducing our dependence on foreign oil and coughing more pollution into our atmosphere. Plus, it’s much healthier to get out and move around.

I may not feel comfortable with the idea of riding naked through a heavily populated area (or any public area for that matter), but I do think the people involved in the World Naked Bike Tour on Saturday had a good point. Burn fat, not oil. Get out and move around, and don’t waste gas when it is clearly unnecessary.

Life in an Old Tree

“Life In A Dead tree” reads the sign abutting the nature trail at Sea Pines, Hilton Head. While others may consider a dead tree to be–well, dead–at Sea Pines, the tree is viewed differently, as teeming with life, nurturing life and protecting the environment.  Dead trees are considered to be so valuable that you may need permission to remove a dead tree.

What possible benefit is the protection of a dead tree?  Read the sign!  Dead trees provide a nesting place for birds and small animals while providing building material for their nests.  A fallen tree provides ground cover and shade.  It can provide a breeding area for insects (for good and bad). It provides shelter for small animals and birds from predators, large and small.  It creates a barrier to wind, protecting the soil from erosion.

At the end of the process of decay, it fertilizes and nourishes the earth, providing the nutrients that constantly renew the forest.  A tree submerged in the water provides a place of safety for fish and other aquatic life.  All things considered, there is still plenty of life in that dead tree as it supports and protects new life around it.

Green Begins With You

Meg has a J.D. in Urban, Land Use and Environmental Law. She focuses on maintaining the balance of community and environmental health, healthy lifestyles, and encouraging sustainable living.

There are so many different ways to be “green” nowadays. Being green can mean anything from reducing the miles you drive in your car every day to growing your own food. For many people, recycling is the first big step into reducing waste and helping the environment.

Most people are familiar with the phrase, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” The idea is that reducing waste is the most important step. Reusing items also helps reduce waste but still allows for consumption. And then comes recycling. If you are unable to avoid consuming products that will cause waste, it is important to consume products that are recyclable (or at least the packaging is recyclable). While recycling still has a higher carbon footprint that reducing or reusing, it at least prevents waste from entering our already overflowing landfills and allows us to reuse those materials in another form.

Recycling is easy. In most places, it’s ridiculously easy. Many refuse companies like Deffenbaugh, Unicycler, etc. offer curbside pick-up of both trash and recycling. In Petaluma (and other parts of California), our waste management service also provides a green waste bin for compost and yard waste. Between recycling and compost, we rarely have more than a single bag of trash in the week. Often times, we don’t even put out the trash bin every week because there’s hardly anything to put out.

Green bins can be found all over the place. In parks, airports, office buildings. Where do you see green bins? We’d love to know!