Tuesday, December 11, 2012
Saturday, December 10, 2011
But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.
A few weeks ago I watched a video of the planet Jupiter from the Pic du Midi observatory in France. The clarity of the film and the sheer beauty of the planet left me feeling awestruck, small, humble, and proud of my species all at the same time.
We will probably never know all the secrets of Jupiter. It is too far away, and its environment is too hostile for us to explore it directly. We can only, as Frost put it, dance in a ring and suppose. But in the process we have learned much and seen much that we would have missed if we had not joined the dance.
Frost’s couplet reminds us that we are human and limited—but we also try to get beyond our limitations. Our search for truth, beauty, and meaning, however, is not just a struggle. It is also a dance.
Dance requires discipline and concentration. It is never perfect. But in the search for perfection, the dancer finds great beauty, a kind of truth, and deep meaning—and in the end, great joy for dancer and audience.
So it is with all of us. We may never penetrate the Secret, but our effort to do so—our science, our philosophy, our religious and moral traditions—is what makes us fully human and reveals to us worlds we had not expected to find. It gives us hope, even in the most discouraging times.
Thursday, December 09, 2010
Every year at this time the days grow shorter. We celebrate the end of the year with light—the Menorah, the Christmas tree, even the strings of lights on our porches—because we know that light will grow in the new year, and in the end, darkness will not prevail.
This year it has been harder than ever to see light and hope. The financial crisis continues, and millions are suffering. Yet our leaders speak, not of generosity and healing, but of austerity and sacrifice.
The earth, too, suffers. We are slowly killing the only place we call home, yet the nations cannot agree on a plan of action that might save it.
The triumph of darkness over light can seem inevitable at times.
It need not be. We are human and imperfect; but the past is prologue, not precedent. The future can be different, and we already know how to make it so. We know because the wisest among us, and our many spiritual and moral traditions, have shown us the way.
We can put truth ahead of ideology. We can practice compassion instead of expediency. We can seek justice, not advantage. We can choose to heal rather than destroy.
None of this will guarantee a way ahead. We may always fall short of our ideals. But the fact that we have ideals at all makes a better future possible. That alone is reason for hope.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
At a recent PEN World Voices forum on climate change, the Norwegian novelist Jostein Gaarder proposed an expansion of the ethic of reciprocity (the Golden Rule) to include the effects of our actions on future generations. A video of his presentation will be found in Andrew Rivkin's Dot Earth blog (Warning: the video is 1 hour 35 minutes long).
Gaarder's presentation is timely. The Golden Rule is not a rule at all, but a method for making ethical and policy decisions. Nearly all religious traditions recognize it in some form. It is simple and powerful.
Climate change is not only a scientific issue, but a moral one. The power of Gaarder's idea lies in his suggestion that the "others" in the traditional formulations of the Golden Rule must now include people not yet born who will live in the future that we create now. They will inherit the world we build or destroy.
Friday, May 07, 2010
Andrew Revkin's New York Times blog, Dot Earth,has an excellent article on the implications of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The article looks at the future of oil, the spill itself, and policy changes that will need to be made.
The article will be found here.
Well worth reading.
Thursday, April 08, 2010
The shopping district in our neighborhood has two main streets. Germantown Avenue, the older of the two, follows an old Indian trail (later a turnpike) starting from the oldest part of the city and meandering through Northwest Philadelphia and into suburbs that were once countryside. Its shops are struggling or abandoned in many places now, but it was once a major retail center in many of the neighborhoods that it touched.
Crossing Germantown Avenue, about three blocks from where I live, is Chelten Avenue. Chelten Avenue is straight, running roughly east to west. Going west from Germantown Avenue to Wayne Avenue (another major cross street), Chelten passes through our main shopping district. It ends about half a mile west of Wayne Avenue. At its west end is Alden Park Manor, an impressive apartment complex that was the first co-op apartment in Philadelphia.
For most of the distance between Germantown and Wayne Avenues, Chelten Avenue retains the air of an urban shopping street. The shops are close together and easily reached on foot. Many are owner-operated and actually provide the kind of personal service that big box stores claim to offer.
But, like many urban shopping streets, Chelten Avenue is in trouble. It has lost the mid-size department store that anchored it at one end in the glory days. The smaller department store at the midpoint of the district is long gone, replaced by a charter school with discount stores at street level. Competition from big box stores and the current recession have left many of the shops closed and shuttered. And at its west end, the district has been hurt by poor design and planning choices.
The western anchor of the district has for many years been a supermarket with its attendant parking lot. The supermarket is still there and doing good business. Its parking lot fronts on the street, but it has done this for many years. The problems at the end of the district lie on the other three corners of the intersection.
Directly across Wayne Avenue from the supermarket is a building that once housed a local branch of Sears, Roebuck. The Sears branch closed about 25 years ago when Sears decided to close smaller local branches and concentrate on the suburbs. This was bad for Chelten Avenue, as it was for many other urban shopping streets with small Sears branches.
Diagonally across from the supermarket is a school designed, or so it appears, chiefly for security. It resembles nothing so much as a prison built of the reinforced concrete that was fashionable during the 1970s. One can imagine it withstanding intensive shelling. It is now a successful charter school. The new proprietors have improved the color scheme, planted trees, and done extensive landscaping. They have done their best, but even their best efforts cannot overcome the building's design problems. Among those problems is a featureless wall that runs along Wayne Avenue for more than half of a city block.
Across Chelten Avenue from the supermarket is a Burger King with its attendant parking lot. After a record-breaking snowstorm in February of this year, Burger King carefully plowed its parking lot but did not clear its sidewalks—this, in a neighborhood that is still one of the most walkable in the city, and on a street where, despite its problems, there is still a great deal of foot traffic.
The west end of our shopping district has become a wasteland of parking lots and blank walls, with yet another fast food franchise under construction in the old Sears parking lot.
Germantown is in fact a strong, beautiful and walkable neighborhood, with history, trees, gardens, and a diverse population. It has many active neighborhood associations, several good schools, and major churches with good community programs. It is an interesting place to live.
But, like many neighborhoods, it survives in spite of our planning (or lack of planning, which is itself a kind of planning-by-default), not because of it. What happened to Chelten Avenue in the last thirty years is repeated in neighborhoods and suburban towns throughout the country: competition from malls and big box stores hurt the local shops. The need for parking damaged the streetscape and made walking less attractive.
The sad part is that we cannot go on like this. Fuel costs even now are discouraging driving and making walkable neighborhoods more desirable. The future of the classic suburban shopping mall is in doubt. We are going to need our neighborhood shopping districts. The question is whether we will have them.
Friday, March 05, 2010
The City Fix, an excellent blog on sustainable cities, has inaugurated a new Friday series "highlighting the newsy and noteworthy" stories about cities that appeared in the past week. The series will cover five general themes
- Quality of life;
- Public space, and
- Technology and innovation
February 26: Driving on the Rise, Transport Contributes to Climate Change, Sidewalks Improve Relationships
March 5: Olympics Transport Legacy, Obese Cities, BRT in NYC
Well worth following.