Monday, July 10, 2017

Post No. 250: Staying on what really matters

Photo of Cedar Rapids 2016 flood preparation by Ben Kaplan, and stolen shamelessly from his Medium site
When people find out I teach American government, more often than not they try chatting me up about the last election or ask what I think of President Trump. These are not conversations I seek: I've written about the election and about Trump, whose presidency has been as shameful as his campaign was...
Our common life would probably go better if we didn't mock disabled people
...but anyone who knows me knows I'm not a "political junkie" who spends hours watching cable news, fainting with excitement over who's up and who's down in national government, and grooving on manufactured outrage. Maybe I suspect people are too hungry for affirmation, either that I agree with them that Trump is awful, or else that I am an academic elite who can't be trusted.

Trump is awful--he's dishonest even by the standards of the stereotypical politician, he's not a competent manager, and to the extent he has policy ideas they're not good ones--but what good would it do to masticate on this? Early on in this blog, I resolved to focus on what affects our capacity for common life, and I've stuck to that as well as I can. The monumental issues of economic opportunity, sustainability (environmental and financial), and inclusion/diversity would require our sustained attention no matter who was President. Trump, who you have probably deduced I didn't support, is the political equivalent of "F--- it all, let's just go watch cartoons." Too much focus on Trump is actually watching the cartoons. Here on Holy Mountain you and I try to treat serious things seriously.

Consider this: In my town, you know what people are really upset about? Nothing to do with Trump. It's fireworks. Iowa legalized fireworks this year, and they've been going off every night since late May, which is getting on people's nerves. Jean-Paul Sartre told us that's what other people tend to do anyway, but we can't overlook the universal need for some peace and quiet in our lives. Too much noise at night and eventually people get cranky. Now it's up to the City Council to figure out how to achieve that. For the rest of us, the lesson is that national politics can be stimulating, but local conditions are what touch our lives every day.

This summer I've moved my base of operations off the Coe College campus to the Geonetric Building, which is in the heart of local development action. I'm in a co-working space with techies, startups and visionaries, and within a few blocks are hundreds of people helping to make Cedar Rapids succeed in all manner of ways. I've been writing, as you know, loyal reader, mostly updating myself on public policy research and initiatives. There have been some administrative duties for the college. And I need to school myself on Chinese philosophy, which I'm working into my fall course on Ancient and Medieval Political Theory.

But I'm also dipping my toe into "the arena." In my last reflective post, a little over a year ago, I claimed my calling was critical analysis, and was willing to leave the action to others. This summer, however, I've gotten involved in:
  • Imagine Mound View. Corridor Urbanism, the group Ben Kaplan and I started a few years ago, is producing an event this fall in the historic Mound View neighborhood of Cedar Rapids. We're recruiting food vendors, activities, city officials and non-profits to a street fair September 9, with the intent of promoting urbanist-style development in the area. Getting there involves city permits, arranging insurance and recruiting participants. This is way bigger than anything I've ever been involved in planning, and everything requires many hands. I'm so used to doing everything myself, whether it's a talk that needs preparing or student papers need grading or I feel a blog post coming on. I'm not used to relying on others, and of course my priorities are not necessarily their priorities.
  • Room with a Brew. I've also been recruiting restaurant/bars to this event sponsored by the Czech Village/New Bohemia Main Street District. The organization promotes residential and business development with an eye to historic preservation; the event, which occurred for the first time last year, is a self-guided tour of the district's urban life, including apartments and condos ("room") and local eating establishments ("brew"). Getting people to agree to be part of this has not been difficult, but getting and keeping their attention has been. Apparently doing things requires a lot of work.
I close this bit of self-indulgence with a great round of thanks to you who read this, whether you're new to the blog or a long-time follower. These have been, according to Blogger, the five most viewed posts of the first 4.25 years:

  1. A Silent But Needful Protest, 1 November 2016 [Coe College responds to the defacing of Multicultural Fusion posters]
  2. Snout Houses? In Oakhill-Jackson??, 16 October 2016 [Suburban style development in a historic Cedar Rapids neighborhood]
  3. Let's Hear It for Cedar Rapids, 5 September 2016 [The Mayors Bike Ride and everything else going on Labor Day weekend]
  4. Crime and Our Common Life, 1 August 2016 [The mysterious rise and fall and possibly now rise of violent crime rates in America]
  5. Linn County's First Bicycle Boulevard, 29 August 2016 [3rd Street is really just a sharrow]
The five least viewed are all from 2013 and 2014, which I take as a hopeful sign:

  1. Halloween 2013, 1 November 2013 [Halloween as civic holiday... Strong Towns' Rachel Quednau had a good article on the same topic last fall]
  2. Nothing Says Community Like..., 13 January 2014 [Take your Christmas tree to this parking lot and it will be made into trails]
  3. A Holiday Tradition, 24 November 2013 [Christmas at Brucemore National Historic Site]
  4. Downtown Construction Continues, 23 September 2014 [early stages of the CRST building, might have the fewest words of any posts on this blog]
  5. (tie) Fourth of July in Cedar Rapids, 5 July 2013 & A Quick Thought About Michael Sam, 11 February 2014 [the many facets of a civic holiday, a defensive lineman comes out]

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