Monthly Archives: May 2008

Lies, damned lies, and statistics

CNY ecoBlog takes a quick look at today’s bombshell that Syracuse is somehow the city with the worst “carbon footprint” in New York. Is Syracuse’s sprawl and highway addiction really worse than Buffalo’s or Rochester’s? C’mon. Despite sprawl without growth being a significant problem in Central New York, I can’t get my mind around why we would be doing that poorly in comparison to other regional cities. In any case, this report is going to cling to this city like poo to a shoe until it gets more thoroughly explicated. Or maybe it will spark more agitation to tear down 81.

Then again, get a load of this map. Our carbon-neutral Western states also happen to be water-negative. Oops.

Fault Lines also decries sprawl-without-growth in the Utica area.

(And that brings us to the other terrible bit of news of the day, the devastating fire at Utica’s F.X. Matt brewery. Lots of brave talk, but then the pain is going to set in. Woe to any Saranac fans out there, as they say it’s flying off the shelves now.)

A place for our stuff

A Buffalo News story on a backlash against “walkable redevelopment” makes me wonder if we’re not all dancing around the real problem with getting Americans to stop driving so much: it’s not just the distances involved, it’s also the stuff.

The “walkable community” uses a dense, villagelike mix of homes and businesses to create historic-looking neighborhoods where people can walk to get the things they need…

Ah, the things they need. What about the things they want? If there was a Wegmans just a couple blocks from me, connected to my home by lovely sidewalks and crossable streets, and I still had a choice of driving or walking there? I’d drive. How could I possibly lug all those groceries home, even with a cute little handcart? And what about the people who are obliged to buy hundreds of dollars’ worth of groceries for their families every week? Who really strolls down an idealized sidewalk with a single paper grocery bag with a sprig of broccoli pertly poking out the top, like they always do in romantic movies set in New York City? With cars available to tote our weary load, we don’t flinch at buying more stuff.

Who buys an SUV or truck because they want to go into the backcountry, or even just because they want to be up high? They buy them because they’re bigger cars and can hold more stuff. Stuff that you may not have yet. Stuff you’re dreaming of one day bringing home from the store, or one day moving to a bigger apartment or home that may give you room for… more stuff. (And it’s implicit that you don’t need these bigger vehicles for “the children” so much as you need this room for “the children’s stuff” — sports equipment, and so on.)

Here in my burb, a turning point occurred in the late 1950s when the Terrytown subdivision was built by Eagan expressly as a means of housing anticipated shoppers for Eagan’s new Fairmount Fair mall, also under construction. The mall and the tract were conceived as symbionts… no differently than today’s Township 5, just on a physically larger scale. Terrytown was a place for bigger homes than previously built in Fairmount up to that time, so people could fill them up with as much stuff as possible. The automobile was just the grease for the whole machine. The connection between “lifestyle centers” or “green malls,” cars, and consumerism is going to be the same.

Until the intimate relationship-by-design between suburban development, home sizes, cars, and shopping — stuff — is somehow spiritually untangled, we will continue to have fruitless conversations about killing the automobile and making our neighborhoods more human.

Driver’s licenses: Enhance yourself

The Department of H—— Security has agreed to let New York issue enhanced drivers’ licenses to New Yorkers who wish to cross the Canadian border without fear of their government not letting them back in. Plus, it gets you into Mexico and Bermuda. (I don’t know what this means for occasional visitor Alan of Gen X 40, but I suppose anything that decreases wait times and border patrol tensions has to be good for him too.) It doesn’t cost as much as a passport, and is less of a violation of the traditional relaxed fraternity between our two great nations (or, whatever you want to call our strange relationship), but “It will look about the same as a regular license” makes me wonder what kind of top-secret homing devices will make this baby cost you $30-$50 extra.

You don’t have to get one if you don’t want to — it’s okay, you won’t stand out. Really.

Crap shoot

The weather’s decent now, so I’ve been able to get out with my camera, a nice entry-level digital SLR. I went to the zoo. The wonderful thing about a digital camera is that you don’t have to use up expensive film, but the beginner’s temptation is to keep snapping away. At the end of two hours, despite trying to be selective, I wound up with almost 500 exposures. You need to take many shots to capture just a few good ones — and you never know what they’ll be, that’s the fun of it. But oy, the editing!

These were too many to download, so I deleted some in-camera. That got it down to maybe 400. Then, on the computer, found poorly exposed shots not worth fixing, deleted the simply boring ones; another 250 went. Then chose ones worth processing further (saving to compact display size, cropping, correcting my ineptitude at metering): that brought the total to about 35, the sort I’d put into a routine album of “My Trip to the Zoo.”

Of those, I found about a dozen that I was really fond of and thought had something extra. But I saw finer flaws in them, like color noise or a less-than-optimal composition, or just not having as immediate an impact as others. Eventually the group of photos that excited me shrank to five or six; then only one stood out as an all-around better-exposed, better-composed shot, one that spoke to me most on an emotional level, and maybe would speak to someone else. Here it is. (Ironically, the second subject I paused at; the only shot of it I took. Go figure!)

A 500-to-one ratio can only improve. Less technology, more soul.

Choose your choices

Cookin’ in the ‘Cuse is celebrating a birthday. Happy bloggiversary to Syracuse’s leading food blog! Jennifer also posts about her busy schedule and quotes E.B. White:

If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.

Economists continue to natter about whether we’re in a recession. Everyone is changing their habits regardless. I’m not a hard believer in “peak oil,” but I wonder if this is what it would look like: people flooding state parks instead of flying away for vacation; more people taking public transportation; airlines cancelling flights and flying slower to save fuel? Here in Syracuse, I don’t know if the larger trends are that noticeable. I mean, we already have an OK bus system; we use nearby state parks (ie Green Lakes) on a regular basis for fun; and the airlines seem to ignore us anyway. Nevertheless, I’m sure everyone is planning some sort of cutback.

One cutback for me has been food — or rather, changing my approach to eating. I don’t think I consume too much in general, but I just never plan my meals (dinner being the worst). Since my teens, I’ve eaten like I was raised by wolves. Maybe this is an opportunity to grow up and ensure there is something coherent to at least heat up — and savor — at the end of the day. This involves thinking things through and buying more versatile ingredients. (Sea salt and cracked pepper potato chips are tasty, but not too many recipes call for them.)

But I’m not going to ditch my current car for a Prius just yet. I like my car (no, it’s not a Hummer), and I’d rather keep driving it to places and people I care most about, and taking a bus to the other places. Maybe that’s a politically incorrect choice, but that’s the one I’m making right now.

I’m concerned that some people, especially in previously “prosperous” places that have to take a harder economic fall, are going to hurl themselves in a panic at too many choices, too soon — perhaps with disastrous results. Ironically, we have to pick and choose the choices we have enough energy to make wisely, so complicated our society has become.