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Being god

Several of us got together with the spacial planning class today to take a field trip to a nearby city known for some of it's urban planning solutions. Generally I find little of interest when visiting cities (other than some nice photos here and there), but this trip shed a whole new light on things. They started us off with a two hour presentation about some of the background of their city, such as how over the years they killed the surrounding four lakes one by one with their sewage.

They showed us how they have begun working to remedy the problems in a way that not only blends well with a vibrant community, but actually helps to make it more so. They showed us how they have made certain urban layout plans to reduce the need for cars, etc... They also talked a bit about how they struggle to fit the differing needs of stake-holders while attempting to keep the long term needs of the community as a whole the top priority.

Touring the town after such a presentation, with the head planner, really changed the way you look at it. As we went along, we saw the areas he spoke of in his presentation... things I would have never noticed on my own. He told us how certain areas used to be deserted or dangerous and the reasons they had for renovating it the way they did, all the while we talk, people ridding by on their bikes, walking, sitting, everything you would expect to see in a healthy city. I imagined he must have been feeling a little like god. Here are all these people just living their life, not realizing that they are actually living out (to some extent) his plan. The idea that he did not activly set out to change their mind, or convince them to ride their bikes there or sicialize more, instead, simply made some changes to the environment making it more condusive to the desired behaviour.

Makes me want to become an urban planner. In fact, earlier in the year, we heard another talk by a planner here in Karlskrona. It was one of the best presentations of the year, and one I will remember as really resonating with me. After that I felt that it would be an interesting job as well, so much so that I started investigating the Masters degree program for spacial planning the the university here. Then I realized that I really don't like living in the city... so why would I want to plan one?

The city we visited today however, as well as Karlskrona, are not what I mean when I say I don't like living in the city. I guess I mean I despise living in Tokyo (which has more people than all of Sweden). I think that being on a planning team of a smaller city such as this would be incredibly rewarding work, not to mention much more important, in my opinion, than trying to convince large companies who have an explicit goal to "make more money" that taking the long term social and environmental effects into account is a good thing. In the long run, as companies come and go, and their business models become impossible due to the damage they themselves caused, cities, towns, communities will still be there, and there will always be a need to look at social and environmental consequences of the decisions that go into sustaining them.

But... more school? I'm already thirty. I guess it's time to start doing something with my life.

* * *

Yes, yes. More kayaking photos. Although I'll have you know that I haven't kayaked all week. I have been working hard. These photos were from last Saturday. Before we went out, the guy at the kayak club where friends rented their kayaks made them promise that if they fell out they would only try to get back in once before making a swim for safety. He stressed the fact that if they are in the water they only have about thirty seconds before loosing the use of fingers.



I don't know why I was suprised you were so taken with "city planning", but I was. In my own mind, I've come to think of it as one of the most important of civic efforts; the thoughtful and careful consideration of future societal life. So to hear you write of it this way encourages me too.

Louise Nystrom (the woman who presented to us from Boverket), as well as the man we met in Vaxjo (forgive, my keyboard doesn't have Swedish letters) both have a characteristic in their professional lives I find extremely appealing; that is a sence of ethical duty to enable fellow man/woman/child to live well with one another.

Something I've come to think on recently is how city planning relates to wilderness and prinstine places. In my mind, city planning is not just about human society and what it needs (although this is important). It is also about how we, as a potentially if not wholly distructive species, manage ourselves in order to allow other organisms to simply be.

The modern notions of biological engineering and resource management are certainly important, given that we've become ignorant of biological systems and over exploited Earths "resources". But, are these areas of focus enough to fix the distorted relationship between human and the rest of planet's creatures? My gut sais no.

So what will it take? I am in agreement with David Orr and others who say that the combination of responsible citizenship and "biophilia" (love of life and living things) is what's required, at a minimum, for humans to save themselves.

What does this mean in action? For me, this is where city planning fits. By engaging in an ongoing civic "discussion" about what we want, what we value and what we will give up and gain in the effort, humans can create better places to live and do it in a way that is respectful and careful of other living things.

Kevin, As I was getting caught up on looking at your recent pictures, it dawned on me. While Kayaking in the cold winter waters have you ever tipped over? Tipping over in Lake Superior in the Summer is no fun. What about Sweden in the Winter?

I have never tipped over here. Actually, a kayak is hard to tip over. I have only tipped once without meaning to, and that was in really rough waters in Tokyo.

If I did tip over however, it would be a problem. As I wrote, it would be thrity seconds before I lost control of my hands.

When I paddle here, I stay as close to possible to shore, if it is rough enough to be scary, I don't go out (unless I am with other people) and I always have extra dry clothes, sleeping bag, fire, and a cell phone in my dry bag.

I actually thought about trying it the other day, under "controled" conditions, just to see how it is, and to practice getting myself out and warmed up. Now that you mention it, I suppose I should give it a shot. I'll get some friends to stand by and tip myself over. (a few of my classmates are ski-patrol, registered mountain guides, kayak guiddes, etc... the benefits of taking a class that outdoorsy people would be interested in.)

THanks for the suggestion!

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