For a while on Sunday afternoon my Twitter feed was near filled with what I’ll generally call serious lefty climate people. Look, I’m there. Climate change is a real thing. It’s a topic worthy of serious discussion by serious people. I’m not in any way sure that’s what was happening on twitter. The one theme I kept seeing over and over was the call to “reimagine” cities.
That’s fine, I suppose. Cities have been reimagining and rebuilding themselves for as long as there have been cities. I’m sure in 3428 BCE some Sumerian urban planner in Ur was convinced there was a better way to build a ziggurat.
The trend of growing urban populations increasing while rural populations decline is not in any way a new feature in this country. It’s been happening since nearly the beginning as people left the farm for new job opportunities in the city created during the early stages of the Industrial Revolution. There’s no reason to think that trend will stop as we move forward, so our cities should absolutely plan for dealing with larger populations in the future.
What I always struggle with in these discussions is these “thought leaders” on social media never seem to take into account is the number of people who have never, do not currently, or never will have any desire to live in a densely urbanized bicyclist and pedestrian paradise. I just don’t care how many bus routes you have or how wonderful the subway is, trading my patch of land with its flora and fauna for 600 square feet on the 87th floor just sounds awful.
Good luck with it, though. The more people you convince to be warehoused in towers of steel, concrete, and glass, the more green space I’ll have out here “where no one wants to live.” You might want to talk about nature, but I value seeing it from my back porch. We’re not the same.
What I learned this week in a lot of ways is just a confirmation of what I’ve known my entire adult life – and that’s that I have absolutely no interest in ever living in a city. Yes, I’m aware my disinterest in city living means I’m “missing out” on untold cultural opportunities, fine dining, education, and whatever else it is that attracts people to live in America’s dense urban centers. I’ve made my peace with being able to access those opportunities as needed from a distance if I ever really need to avail myself of them.
I’m not built for living in a place that prides itself on ginning up ever increasing population density or warehousing people stacked 20 floors deep with a thousand next door neighbors. I’m not a great outdoorsman, but I can’t fathom living somewhere my only outdoor space is ten feet of concrete sidewalk or the part six blocks away that can be closed at a moment’s notice by executive fiat. When I want access to green space, I like the option of walking across my own yard and being there – already with the forest at my doorstep.
As much as I like “home,” finding myself confined to a few hundred square feet indefinitely is the stuff of nightmares. I despised riding DC’s Metro a lifetime ago when I commuted into the District for work. The idea that it, filled with plague victims with no other options, would be my only reasonable means of transportation, sounds definitively awful. If nothing else, the Great Plague has reinforced my already deep belief in the value of elbow room between me and the next closest neighbor.
Cecil County is just far enough away that it won’t likely be a bedroom community for Baltimore or Philadelphia any time soon… but the growth of housing developments and apartment complexes along the county’s main routes undeniably means that people are finding their own reason to live here. I’ve been here long enough to notice the daily increase in traffic to and from the major outlying areas of employment. It’s already feeling just a little bit too crowded for my tastes.
I’m happy enough where I am for the time being. State land and large lots will do their part to prevent too much crowding. Once I don’t need to make residency decisions based on proximity to an employer, though, the gloves are coming off. If I’ve learned nothing else from watching the news unfold these last few weeks, it’s that I well and truly have no business living or working inside of one of America’s great Petri dishes. I’m sure it’s fine for some people, but it’ll be a hard pass for me.
Most days I watch the local morning news out of Baltimore. During the week, mostly I’m keeping an ear open for the traffic reports and weather forecast. On the weekends, I imagine it’s just force of habit more than anything else. In any case, I should probably change that habit, because as often as not, Baltimore news just agitates the hell out of me.
Take this morning, for instance – when one report was covering the continuing deterioration of the city’s water system and proposal that rates be increased 9% a year over each of the next 3 years. Municipal water systems are almost the working definition of the kind of services one might expect a city to provide, but of course much of the utility network undergirding Baltimore has been buried for more than a century. That’s long past the time even the most ambitious of engineers would have imagined their work staying in service. If you defer maintenance on such a system long enough all manner of bad things will tend to happen to it. That’s the situation Baltimore is facing.
Maintenance, of course, takes money and that’s one of those things that Baltimore never seems to have. It’s one of those pesky consequences of making policy decisions that chase your tax base out of the city and into the county. But this morning, the story focused on a “local activist” who opposed this “vicious rate increase” even while admitting that he knew the system needed upgrades almost city-wide.
I suppose my real question is, if the those who use the water – the people and businesses served by the municipal water system – aren’t responsible for paying to keep the system running, who is he proposing foot the bill? For some reason I’m catching the scent of another Baltimore City boondoggle the cost of which the city is going to try to pass along to the more than 5 million Marylanders who don’t use the city’s water. I’m also more than a little curious as to how I can tap into that alternate payment source if they day ever comes when I need to replace my well.
I mean if water is a right and should be provided for “free,” someone else should pay for it… or maybe that’s only true as long as the cash flows one way: from everywhere else in the state towards the Inner Harbor.
1. Hard right. Since Mr. Trump has bailed out of the primary debate this week as part of his ongoing “strained relationship” with Fox News, I’ve been quite literally stunned with the number of times I’ve run across posts labeling Fox a part of the “left wing media establishment.” I get my news from a lot of sources, both domestic and international, and thinking of FNC as a lefty mouthpiece just boggles the mind. See, that’s the real problem with the current Republican party. If you’re not in lockstep on abortion, marriage equality, and Jesus, well there’s just no room in the party for you. Sorry gang, but I’m going to call bullshit on that. I’m a Republican the same way Reagan was a Republican. The same way Goldwater was a Republican. The same way Eisenhower was a Republican. What I’m not is a fanatic who assumes mine is the One True Way. I’m a Republican. We use to be a “big tent” party and we could be again, if only we the rest of us have the personal courage to stand up and tell the dogmatic hardliners to GTFO. Otherwise we might as well fold the tent and go on back to the house, because the days of expecting a platform of “be like me or else” winning at the national level are profoundly numbered.
2. Underutilization. There’s not many jobs I’d consider myself too proud to do. From slopping barns, to stacking hay, flipping burgers, dropping fries, parking cars, accounting for tarps and body bags, ordering hundreds of thousands of tons of ice, or managing 1000-person events. I’ve done all of them and too many more to bother listing. The point isn’t that I’m too proud to do any of these things. The point is that it makes absolutely no economic sense for me to some of them. There’s always an opportunity cost that no one takes into account. Because I’m schlepping buckets of rock salt, that means there are five or six other things that aren’t getting done in a timely manner – things that generally tend to require thought, analysis, and problem solving. With half a career’s worth of experience behind me, my services don’t come cheap. The all-in “fully burdened” cost of having me on the clock is something approaching $100 an hour. Whether that money is spent on turning ice into water or on making sure the uber-boss gets the information he wants is decided by someone else. I’ll go where and do what I’m told, but I’ll always wonder why we so rarely seem to take the time to match the skill set with the person instead of just grabbing the nearest body and making it fit.
3. Cities. Watching the news out of Baltimore all week and wondering how in seven hells they’ve managed to spend an entire week tinkering around with their plows and not give every street at least a courtesy pass with one of their trucks. Yes, cities are densely packed and often streets are narrow, but still. Come on. You’ve had a week to give everyone at least a fighting chance at getting out of their frozen prison. I live in a subdivision in what might charitably be called an out of the way location. By Sunday evening we’d had enough of a route cut that someone with 4-wheel drive could safely navigate out to our principle access road. By Monday night it was largely down to blacktop. I’m simply perplexed that a major American city – especially one prone to snow in the winter – has this much trouble figuring out what to do. I avoid Baltimore as much as humanly possible, but in this case I’m throughly annoyed by a city government that seems largely made up by the gang that can’t shoot straight.
I’ve had the opportunity twice in the last few days to drive through East Baltimore. Usually I try to keep it to the interstates and give the city a wide berth, but sometimes getting right down in it is unavoidable. Since I was there, I couldn’t help but look around a bit… and what I saw was night and day. On one hand, Johns Hopkins seems to be in a constant state of construction, buying up the rotting and decayed properties around it and expanding in every direction. Fifty years from now, they may have single handedly cleaned up that section of the city. That might well be the hospital’s greatest contribution to the state.
N. Patterson Park Ave, 1700 blk – (C) Charm City Vacancy
On the other hand, the drive into Druid Hill Park and the Maryland Zoo is a bit like taking a tour of Kosovo circa 1999. With what looked like bombed out and burned down houses and buildings outnumbering active residences and businesses on nearly every block, well, one wonders if it would’t be better to draw some lessons from Detroit and move in with bulldozers, level the ground, and start again. I generally ignore local Baltimore politics because it tends to be so ridiculous, but it seems that what we were seeing yesterday is the working definition of a failed city. Surely there’s a better approach to managing a state’s largest urban area than letting it collapse under its own weight. It’s a stark reminder of what happens when people stop caring about their surroundings and when local government throws up its hands and opts to hope for the best instead of actually doing anything.
There are some truly incredible examples of late Victorian architecture hiding in plain site down there, but they’ve been well and truly overwhelmed by the decay around them. Most are likely too far gone to do anything more than salvage the bits and pieces in advance of the wrecking ball. It’s a shame, really. Baltimore use to be one of America’s great cities. Now, once you’re outside the designated tourist zones or the neighborhoods that have tenaciously hung on or the ones that have been revived, it looks more like a war zone than a first world city.