Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I know weather isn't climate, but check out these videos!

For my very last post of the month, I'm taking the easy way out and embedding videos of the damage from the latest storm. Yes, I'm totally mailing this one in, but at least you have interesting images.

To start off, here are a pair of clips from WXYZ-TV showing where my wife and I lived from 2007 until 2010. All this is happening about two blocks from our old residence.  We've walked down those streets and past those houses.

Cheryl Chodun reports from the flooded neighborhoods in Northfield Township and Hamburg Township - horrible flooding.

Horseshoe Lake spills its banks flooding people's homes
We moved out of there just in time.

That was the day before yesterday. Yesterday, even worse weather came through the area.

Powerful storms moved through Southeast Michigan, causing some major storm damage.
People were still cleaning up today.

Neighbors cleaning up after possible tornado touches down

Luckily, the weather was beautiful enough to hold Memorial Day parades.

People in Royal Oak came out for the Memorial Day parade.
Welcome to Michigan. If you don't like the weather, wait 10 minutes. It will change.

That's it for this month--no Maybe about it!


Monday, May 30, 2011

The Buzz about Detroit for the week ending May 28, 2011 from Model D Media

A few hours ago, I wrote:

As for the post I promised based on Model D Media's Buzz page, I'll do that after midnight.
It's after Midnight; time to follow through--finally!

First, I'll give you all something that was a big hit on my LiveJournal, to say nothing of a politics community there and a friend's journal. I find it gratifying to spread a meme, especially one favorable to Detroit that mentions a sustainable practice.

In case you can't read the entry by Detroit, it says, "Street cred; Something vague about hopeful post-apocalyptic gardening."

Full-sized version here.

Model D Media had the following to say:
Sociologists know that hipsters, that particular breed of 20-something cultural "vanguards," cannot survive in merely any city. Any healthy and happy hipster needs dive bars that serve PBR, vintage shops, grimy music venues, post-industrial art spaces and other habitat features in order to thrive.
Detroit and some of its suburbs have all of that to spare, except the dive bars serve better beer than Pabst Blue Ribbon--and it's local, too.

Next, the article I described as:
a really juicy article from the New York Times that Model D Media has linked to that deserves its own post. It also happens to be exactly the kind of red meat article that Kunstler's readers seem to love.
Nearly all of my most popular articles here seem to the ones in which I comment on a New York Times article about how Detroit and its suburbs are dealing with contraction. This one fits that mold, except that it's more optimistic.

Imagining Detroit

But after spending some time here, I saw an alternative view of Detroit: a model for self-reliance and growth. Because while the lifeblood of Venice comes from outsiders, Detroit residents are looking within. They’d welcome help, but they’re not counting on it. Rather, to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, they’re turning from seeing things as they are and asking, “Why?” to dreaming how they might be and wondering, “Why not?”
As I've written before, this place is not ready to die yet, and is picking itself up after hitting bottom. Mark Bittman is seeing the residents do just that.
Food is central. Justice, security, a sense of community, and more intelligent land use have become integral to the food system. Here, local food isn’t just hip, it’s a unifying factor not only among African-Americans and whites but between them. Food is an issue on which it seems everyone can agree, and this is a lesson for all of us.
The author is absolutely right; food is central to the future of Detroit. It's why this city is the literal center of urban agriculture in North America. He's also right that Detroit, which suffers from some of the worst racial residential segregation in North America, needs a unifying force. Food as a focus of urban renewal might be just that force.
“The idea,” says Malik Yakini, a school principal who runs the two-acre D-Town Farm, “is to help black people stand up, to demonstrate that creating reality is not the exclusive domain of white people — without pointing fingers at white people.” The farm, located in Rouge Park — the city’s biggest — will soon double in size.

Yakini, the chairman of the Detroit Food Policy Council, which is holding its first conference this week, gave me a tour on the eve of spring planting while a dozen African-American volunteers steadily raked a sizable plot. “The farm can empower, drive the economy, reduce our carbon footprint and give us better food,” he said. “And we’re influencing young white people too, because they can see that.”

And how. During the 48 hours I spent in Detroit, I met enthusiastic black, white and Asian people, from age 10 to over 60, almost all of whom agreed that food is the key to the new Detroit.
Yakini is someone my colleague and I need to have speaking to my Global Politics of Food class in the fall. He looks like exactly the kind of person the students should be hearing from. Also, I'm glad I'm not alone in my thoughts about food and the future of Detroit. The sustainability-minded here seem to be reaching a consensus on the issue.

Also, I'm not alone in my optimism without relying on business as usual. Bittman has it, too.
Read the paper, and you see a wasted landscape; go there, and you see the sprouts emerging from the soil.
If anything, the local TV stations are worse than the local papers. At least the papers try to be boosters of the city, while the TV stations play up how scary the place is. It got so bad that I stopped watching local news on the TV more than a decade ago (YouTube clips are another matter).

The article concludes with the following.
“Imagine a city, rebuilt block by block, with a gorgeous riverfront, world class museums and fantastic local food. Everyone who wants one has a quarter-acre garden, and every kid lives within bike distance of a farm.”

Imagine. If the journey is as important as the destination, Detroit is already succeeding. And we can all learn from what seems to be the city’s unofficial slogan: “We can do better than this.”
Looks like an upbeat version of "A World Made by Hand."

One final note--Model D's title for its summary of this article is Detroit's journey from mean to green wins admiration from the Times. I'm used to Detroit being the place that even New Yorkers are scared of. Having them find the place inspirational is a pleasant change of pace.

One final Buzz item for tonight: Nain Rouge added to paranormal "Most Wanted" list. Even Detroit's paranormal activity is becoming cool. That written, you don't want to see the Nain Rouge. He's an ill omen that shows up once a generation, if that. Here's to the Maybe of never observing that creature!


ETA: Those of you coming from Kunstler's blog, the next post I'll be linking to there is up.

Detroit as a travel destination? The New York Times, BBC, and Financial Times think so

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Part 2 of Sustainability News Linkspam for the week ending May 28, 2011

Time for sustainability news from outside of Michigan. I may concentrate on Michigan for this blog, but I also cover the research universities in the neighboring states of Wisconsin, Indiana, and Ohio, along with a smattering of sustainability news from commercial sources for Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday on Daily Kos, so I may as well cover them here.

As for the post I promised based on Model D Media's Buzz page, I'll do that after midnight. The month is winding down and I'm starting to feel like mailing it in. As I wrote a week ago:

I don't have to worry about finding something to write about the rest of the month. Blogging about sustainability in metro Detroit means never running out of material. Instead, I have to worry about finding the time and maintaining my energy and discipline. Here's to that "maybe" coming true the rest of the month.
I'm about to hit the wall on my "energy and discipline" and I'm glad there are only two days and posts after this one. If you want more details on this, read my post on Dreamwidth about my attitude and what I plan on doing about it--or not. I'm so mailing it in that I'm going to copy that entry and post it here.

That said, the linkspam, which has a lot of good material, comes after the jump. I may be mailing it in today, but I have quite an impressively large package for you all.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Sustainability News Linkspam for the week ending May 28, 2011

In yesterday's post, More for May from Model D Media: Optimism but not business as usual, I wrote:
That's it for what local people are writing about Detroit. Next up, Buzz, which links to what the out-of-towners have to say.
You all will have to take a rain check on that until Sunday. First of all, Saturday is when I post my sustainability linkspams of press releases from Michigan's research universities. Second, there is a really juicy article from the New York Times that Model D Media has linked to that deserves its own post. It also happens to be exactly the kind of red meat article that Kunstler's readers seem to love.

Without any further ado, this week's sustainability news from Michigan's research universities comes after the jump.

Friday, May 27, 2011

More for May from Model D Media: Optimism but not business as usual

In yesterday's post, Model D Media: Optimism, but not business as usual, I wrote:
There's lots more in the News section. I'll save that for the next installment on the past month's articles in Model D--no maybe about it!
Next installment, here we are!

Hamtramck innovates, finds reuse for blighted homes
May 24, 2011
The City of Hamtramck is busy utilizing a 15.5 million dollar grant through the HUD Neighborhood Stabilization Program. The funds will be spent toward purchasing, rehabbing and selling once-blighted homes throughout the city, as well as creating more mixed-use and commercial space.

"We try to rehab and reuse as much as possible, but there are some homes that have been sitting for so long that they're just not feasible to re-use them, so they have to come down," says Community and Economic Development Director Jason Friedmann.

Typically, those homes are torn apart, cleared away and sent to the landfill. But a new partnership between the city of Hamtramck and several actors will re-use the materials from those homes, while creating new jobs.
So it's the town its residents call Ham Sandwich, not Detroit. It's still a story of urban renewal and ingenuity.

AIA architects design a new Detroit
From May 17 thru May 24, the American Institute of Architects' Detroit Urban Priorities committee (AIA-UPC) will present its second series of events under the mantle of "Detroit by Design," which is bringing volunteer architects together with community stakeholders and local officials to present new ideas for recreating a city of the future.

May's series of "Detroit by Design" focuses on urban centers, and a free exhibit open to the public through June at the Adam Strohm Hall of the Detroit Public Library holds the work of 90 submissions from designers and teams throughout the world. The exhibit opens May 17 from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

"What surprised me most is designers and other people outside Michigan seem to be very interested in Detroit's shrinkage and they are watching closely how Detroiters address it," says Lawrence Tech associate professor Joongsub Kim, who is leading the "Detroit by Design" series. "Some of the notable ideas are a new urban center based on old ideas focusing on residential areas, a futuristic urban center in downtown Detroit, an incorporation of urban agriculture into a high rise urban center building in downtown Detroit, among others."
Too bad I missed this. The proposed ideas would have been interesting to see.

DUST urban sustainability series kicks off
The greenhouse and garden at the corner of MLK and Trumbull in North Corktown known as the Spirit Farm will soon become ground zero for a series of intensive workshops dedicated to increasing knowledge and awareness about urban sustainability, food justice, community art and grassroots community building.

"The DUST workshops have grown out of what I've been doing the past few years with teenagers," says organizer Kate Devlin. "And I thought, wouldn't it be cool if adults came and camped out and learn about sustainability?"

The DUST: Detroit Urban Sustainability Training bills itself as "10 Days in Detroit learning urban sustainability from Detroiters living it." The activity list is an urbanist's dream. Spend a week and a half visiting Brother Nature Produce and the Heidelberg Project, checking out urban farms keeping everything from baby ducks and chickens to bees. Community art and the Green Garage. The curriculum will dip into deeper processes, depending on community wants, on subjects as broad and diverse as bioremediation, grey water systems and natural building techniques.
This kind of story is why I'm excited to live here. This town is becoming a major center for sustainability.

Fourth Street Farm makes a Midtown garden grow
The lot at Fourth and Alexandrine in Midtown is mostly empty. But Patience Young has plenty of dreams to fill it.

The Fourth Street Farm will offer community space for Midtown residents -- or anyone with a green thumb -- to garden for free. She and a dusty crew of organizers are working to amend lead levels in the soil, build a tool shed and a rainwater catchment system, and even plant a pumpkin patch for fall.

"There is a community garden in my neighborhood, but it costs $50 for a plot, and I didn't have the money to do that," she says. After talking to neighbors, they decided to expand the garden into a community project.
Another reason I'm excited about Detroit. The people here know the place has hit bottom. Ask any recovering addict about the choices one has when one hits bottom--pick yourself up, or lie down and die. This town isn't ready to die.

MoveDetroit network wants 1,111 new residents to take the D plunge
A group of young professionals from Detroit have a goal -- find 1,111 new residents to Detroit by 11/11/2011.

Move Detroit is a team of 12 young professionals, some real estate agents and brokers, who will spend the summer enticing suburbanites interested in city living to take the plunge and move within the city limits. Their hook? Harnessing the energy and enthusiasm of current D-town residents.

"We're going to throw parties all summer, and get people into Detroit to see what it is," says Move Detroit secretary Lauren Cavanagh. "People who already live here can communicate with them, and people who don't live here can see how great the city is."

Is finding over a thousand new residents in less than a year's time unreasonable? Cavanagh says their biggest hurdle will be the lack of living spaces for sale in popular neighborhoods like Midtown and downtown to accommodate such a population shift.
Now, talk about ambitious and optimistic!

Power Panel gears up for solar panel production at new space
Power Panel is on the move, finding a new home on the west of the Detroit near Chicago Boulevard and the Schaefer Highway where it plans to begin production of its new dual solar panel.

Solar panels generally do one of two things. They either warm water piped through tubes or generate electricity. The former TechTown start-up is developing a solar panel that does both at the same time.
I couldn't resist the alternative energy story.
Talent retention means more than just offering a challenging job on a good team in a cool place for Compuware. The downtown-based software firm expands that definition to include things like art, community involvement and urban gardening.

Megan Heeres is Compuware's art and community program manager, a relatively new position focused on helping make the corporation's staff more engaged with the company and the surrounding community. That means offering opportunities for employees to engage with local institutions, like the Detroit Institute of Arts, and start a new urban gardening program downtown.

The idea is that these extracurricular activities stimulate the workforce, increasing their productivity and making Compuware more attractive to top talent.
I'm going to add CompuWare as a company whose sustainability page I need to examine. Imagine, using sustainability as a selling point for one's employees!
That's it for what local people are writing about Detroit. Next up, Buzz, which links to what the out-of-towners have to say.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Model D Media: Optimism, but not business as usual

In yesterday's post, I noted that it had been a good day for business as usual in Detroit. That made me want to look for some optimism that wasn't "business as usual," so I went to my favorite online news source in Detroit, Model D Media. I was not disappointed. Keep reading for the linkspam.

First, here's an event I would have posted about this morning, but Blogger was having issues so I had to wait until tonight.

Model D Speaker Series: Urban Mobility
Join us Thursday, May 26 to learn about the future of transit and cycling in the city. Panelists include Kenneth Cockrel, Jr., Detroit City Council; Todd Scott; Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance (MTGA); Kelli Kavanaugh, co-owner of Wheelhouse Detroit; Robin Boyle, Wayne State University and Carolyn Helmke, Chicago-based transportation consultant.
I was invited to this, but couldn't attend because I had to teach and couldn't take the night off, as I wanted to get the students ready for an exam next week that they'll take while I'm swatting a hornet. Too bad. However, I'm sure that Model D will write about the talk in a couple of weeks. Stay tuned for a post about the evening.

On the waterfront: Community life, blue and green economies spur growth in Jefferson East
Dennis Archambault | Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Hundreds of people pass through Detroit's Jefferson East gateway at Alter Road on their daily commute. Few notice much north or south of Jefferson, but Jefferson East is a corridor of economic potential.

This riverfront community, boasting more than 160 acres of waterfront parkland, a new greenway, and more boat slips than anywhere in the city, is awakening to the post-recession era and reshaping of Detroit, more expansive in scope than its original seven-block area, but remaining true to its original residential and retail development mission. Its future lies in the "blue" and "green" economies – waterfront and ecology.
While I was reading all the mainstream press articles, I was missing this. I plan on reading it again, and I recommend you read it, too.

Master activator: Tony Goldman envisions Detroit as "capital of the experimental"
Walter Wasacz | Tuesday, May 10, 2011
On his first ever visit to Detroit last week Tony Goldman saw enough to come away with ideas and solutions that could fill the rest of the century. He experienced fledgling micro-economies taking shape in Corktown and Eastern Market; he also saw blighted buildings in the heart of downtown he says no major commercial center can afford. He saw grassroots entrepreneurship full of commitment and passion; but also says he encountered a lack of "central vision needed to galvanize and follow through on a campaign to the end."

Goldman came back to New York full of ideas, he tells me, after three days spent "absorbing and observing" the city with redeveloper-entrepreneur Phillip Cooley, meeting with Mayor Dave Bing, and speaking at an event at an Eastern Market space with Dennis Scholl of the Knight Foundation.
And here's another article full of the spirit of Detroit as Ground Zero of the post-industrial future, a place full of possiblities. My wife sees this, too. Not only was this a great city, it still is a great city, and it can rise again. All it needs is more people that believe in it, and the will to act.

Taking root: Just in time for growing season, we begin series on urban farming in the D
Patrick Crouch | Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Much has been made of the burgeoning urban agriculture movement in Detroit in the national and international press. Reporters from around the world have come to tell our story. I have personally spoken with journalists from Toronto, London, New York, Los Angeles, and Paris. This work is often presented as a brand new movement in the city, a Phoenix rising from the ashes. Reality is much more complex than this, and urban agriculture can never be the panacea that many would like it to be.

Largely missing from the conversation has been the voices of local Detroiters, and my hope is that this column can shed some light on and celebrate the movement in Detroit from our perspective. I'm not inclined to toot my own horn, but I do think that I am qualified and well suited to report on this movement. I've been growing in the city for the last eight years with the Capuchin Soup Kitchen's Earthwork's Urban Farm, I have worked with the Detroit Agriculture Network, currently serve on the Detroit Food Policy Council and the Detroit Agriculture Network's boards, volunteer at Catherine Ferguson Academy's farm, as well as my community garden Hope Takes Root, and am part of several collaborative efforts working to develop our local food system.

Detroit's current reign as the most important city in the United States for urban agriculture, is actually historically warranted. Many of the street names and neighborhoods of our city still bear the moniker of French ribbon farmers. Back in the 1880s Mayor Hazen "potato patch" Pingree made lands being held undeveloped by land speculators available to low income Detroiters, to improve their access to healthy food, as well as aid their ability to sell excess in their neighborhoods. Pingree, despite public mocking, believed in this idea so strongly he even went so far as to sell his favorite horse. This idea spread through out the country to cities like Philadelphia, Cleveland, and New York.
This article is a great history of the long legacy of urban farming in Detroit. I'm sorry I missed blogging about it for last month's Sprout theme.

All the above was just from the Features section. There's lots more in the News section. I'll save that for the next installment on the past month's articles in Model D--no maybe about it!


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

It's been a good day for business as usual in Detroit

First, Chrysler paying back its loan to the U.S. and Canadian Governments from its bankruptcy reorganization, as reported by WXYZ.

Chrysler has paid back the assistance it received from the federal government.

Next, a rosy economic forecast from Comerica Bank's economist, as reported by the Detroit Free Press.
After years of decline, Michigan’s economy is growing and the state is headed in the right direction by trying to create a better business environment, Comerica Bank’s chief economist said this morning.

“Michigan is going to do just fine over the next 10 to 15 years,” Dana Johnson told some of the bank’s customers during a breakfast presentation at Weber’s Hotel in Ann Arbor. “The governor has set us on a better course.”
Which governor?
After years of decline, Michigan’s economy is growing and the state is headed in the right direction by trying to create a better business environment, Comerica Bank’s chief economist said this morning.

“Michigan is going to do just fine over the next 10 to 15 years,” Dana Johnson told some of the bank’s customers during a breakfast presentation at Weber’s Hotel in Ann Arbor. “The governor has set us on a better course.”
Oh, that governor, the one my wife and I are circulating recall petitions for. Yeah, the business as usual people would like him. My wife and I are not business as usual people. I personally think he's a sustainability disaster, particularly at the intersection between social justice and economic viability. So far, he's sacrificed the former nearly every time for the latter. I haven't seen much of what he's done at the intersection of the environment and economy, although what I've read of his farming policy looks like he'll sacrifice environment for economy, just not as badly as he would society.

Enough of that rant. What else did the fellow predict?
He estimates that Michigan’s economy will see growth of 2.5% to 3% compared with 3% to 3.5% for the nation as a whole. The weaker growth is due to the state’s shrinking population, Johnson said.
That's actually not an unreasonable prediction, and one that acknowledges that Michigan is managing contraction, which is not business as usual.

Of course, economists work best in hindsight. What is in our rear-view mirror?
However, Johnson noted that from April 2010 to April 2011, Michigan enjoyed a 1.5% increase in non-farm payroll jobs, better than the 1% national gain. That’s largely due to the strong rebound in manufacturing. Demand for durable goods, such as cars and washing machines, has been a key driver of economic growth during the past year.
Really good old news, something that explains the first item. It also explains the next, also from the Detroit Free Press.
General Motors plans to add two shifts with a total of 2,500 jobs to its Detroit-Hamtramck plant and add production of the next-generation Chevrolet Impala, completing the old Cadillac plant's conversion to one that builds Chevys.

The full-sized sedan will join the Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric car and the upcoming Chevrolet Malibu at the factory, adding new workers and allowing others to transfer to the plant. The jobs will first go to laid-off U.S. workers, who currently number around 1,350.

The Detroit-Hamtramck plant, which GM opened in 1985 to build Cadillacs, drove its last Cadillac DTS off the line Tuesday. The factory will build its last Buick Lucerne next week and then become solely a Chevrolet plant.

"The great history of the Cadillac wreath and crest is important, but our Chevrolet bowtie is where the volume is," said Mark Reuss, president of GM North America.

The second Detroit-Hamtramck shift will come online late this fall, with jobs added gradually over the next several months, Reuss said. The third shift will start "at some point after that," he said.
As I wrote, good news in a business as usual environment. With the Volt being built there, along with the high-mileage Malibu, it's even good news in an environment in which sustainbility becomes central.

Now, some good news that flows out of yesterday's post about falling gas prices, again from the Detroit Free Press.
Break out the fudge and shoot off some fireworks, Michigan's tourism industry is officially, positively, emphatically on the rebound.

After three down years, travel and tourism spending in the state rose 14% last year to $17.2 billion, up from $15.1 billion in 2009 -- the biggest one-year jump in Michigan history, according to the latest annual national survey by D.K. Shifflet & Associates of McLean, Va.

Especially notable was a 21% spike in spending by out-of-state leisure visitors, quite likely linked to the cumulative impact of the state's first-ever national cable TV buys of advertising time in 2009 and 2010 for the Pure Michigan campaign.

"We always believed we had a national quality product to sell, but we never had the budget before," said George Zimmermann, vice president of Travel Michigan, the tourism arm of the Michigan Economic Development Corp.
Considering that tourism is the second largest economic sector in Michigan during good economic years (it's third during bad years, when agriculture takes the silver medal among sectors; everyone has to eat, but not everyone has to visit The Henry Ford, Mackinac Island, or Sleeping Bear Dunes), this is very good news. Even so, everything is not business as usual.
Although travel spending in the state showed a nice double-digit gain last year, hiring in the tourism industry has been slower to rebound. Tourism employment rose 7% last year statewide but remains about 24% below the 2006 peak of 200,000 jobs.
The Great Recession lingers on.

ETA: To elaborate on the above, here is a video report from WOOD-TV.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Gas prices dropping in Metro Detroit

The last time I blogged about gas prices in Metro Detroit, I wrote:
Eleven gallons of unleaded regular cost $45.00. Good thing it will last me a month. The bad thing is that it will be more expensive the next time I buy gas and even more expensive the time after that and the time after that.
I just filled up this past Friday, and I didn't pay more. I paid less, as unleaded regular was $3.81/gallon. Yesterday, it had fallen to $3.77. Looks like I was wrong, so far. However, I don't mind being wrong on this count, as it shows that people are cutting back on oil consumption, which is a good thing. It also might be good for the economy, as that money that would be spent on gas can be spent on other things.

So, what happened? This did: Oil prices drop 10% in one day, which isn't entirely good news
The oil markets have been doing this dance for a year now. Just about every time oil's share of U.S. GDP starts to pass 4%, Hamilton's magic number for contraction, the price drops. The traders are acting as if they know what that 4% share (or the 6.5% of personal income spent on energy) means and they sell off.
The irony is that, while drop in oil prices resulted from data indicating sluggish economic conditions, something Calculated Risk showed was happening as oil prices began to spike, the effect on the ground was increased optimism, as one can see from the WOOD-TV videos I embedded. The ones before the price drop are about supporting rapid transit and people moving into the downtown core of Grand Rapids, exactly the kinds of rational things people would do when gas prices go up. The ones afterwards are about buying cars, improvement in local tourism, and economic growth.

The trend has continued. Bill McBride at Calculated Risk posted yesterday that Gasoline prices down 9 cents over last two weeks for the U.S. as a whole. Here in Metro Detroit, the price has fallen even more, with the Free Press reporting yesterday that AAA of Michigan finds gas prices down 23 cents in past week. The average price is now $3.87/gallon. The good news is that it's the third consecutive week of decline. The bad news is that it's $1.14 more than at this time last year. Even so, another article in the Free Press shows optimism among consumers, even if that hasn't translated into increased demand.
Consumers planning to travel over the upcoming Memorial Day weekend will welcome the modest easing of pump prices after the rapid rise from late February through the first week of May. Prices in Michigan have dropped in each of the past three weeks, according to AAA’s daily survey of 2,800 gas stations in the state.

“Things seem to be a little better,” said Ed Weglarz, executive vice president with the Associated Food and Petroleum Dealers of Michigan. “There’s some enthusiasm among consumers that we’re back below $4. But our members haven’t seen an uptick in demand.”
As I recall the last time the prices spiked, the price level that results in a change in consumer behavior is $3.50/gallon. We're still above that.

As for the long-term effect, Bill McBride at Calculated Risk had the following to say.
It might be too early to see an increase in the Reuter's/University of Michigan's Consumer sentiment survey due to falling gasoline prices. Right now analysts are expecting a slight increase for May to 72.5 from the preliminary reading of 72.4. But if this trend of falling prices continues, I'd expect some improvement in June. (Note: Usually the two main drivers of sentiment are the unemployment rate and gasoline prices).
Calculated Risk also has a link to a dynamic chart at Gas Buddy showing national and local prices. I'd install the widget, but I'm too lazy and short of time right now.

As for the result, maybe this trend of lower prices will keep going for a while. The business as usual people will sure hope so.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Detroit's libraries not closing; accounting error caught in time

As I wrote yesterday:
I don't have to worry about finding something to write about the rest of the month. Blogging about sustainability in metro Detroit means never running out of material.
For starters, I can update ongoing stories, such as keeping the libraries open.

When I last wrote about the issues facing Detroit's libraries, I quoted the Detroit Free Press article on the subject and made a damned with faint praise comment.
Just one month after laying off 83 employees, Detroit Public Library officials are meeting to discuss closing 12 to 18 of its 23 branches.
...[C]commissioners are also considering closing the libraries for 30 to 60 days to avoid shutting branches entirely.
At least the system as a whole will remain open.
It turns out that closing branches won't be necessary.

Detroit libraries cuts not necessary?

The Detroit News has been all over this story, publishing three articles in two days.

Detroit library heads off closures
In a dramatic about-face, the system's Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cromer now says he's going to recommend to library commissioners today that they don't need to lay off any staffers or close any branches this year.

Why the turnaround? More math problems.

Last week, officials scaled back the closure list after The Detroit News pointed out they misinterpreted tax collection estimates.

Now, Cromer acknowledged the library forgot to factor in savings from the loss of 70 staffers to layoffs and retirements this spring.
Another article opened more elegantly.
Bibliophiles, rejoice. Mathematicians, mourn: The Detroit Public Library won't close any branches after all, but questions linger about how officials almost did because of botched budget numbers.
Oops. At least the result of catching the errors means that there will be no branch closings this year, which is good news. There may be closings next year, but at least there will be time to prepare.

Did the Library Commission follow the adminstrators advice? Yes, they did.
The Detroit Public Library Board of Commissioners decided Friday not to close any branches or lay off any more staff, one month after administrators recommended the closures of up to 18 of 23 branches and layoffs of 191 of 376 workers.
Branch closure plans have dramatically changed since last month, and Friday they were discarded altogether after administrators withdrew their latest plan to close six branches.

No further action is needed. But several commissioners grilled administrators over how, just a month ago, officials thought the budget was so bleak.
The commissioners were not happy about being fed bogus information. I won't say being lied to. The adminstrators weren't trying to deceive the commissioners. They were simply wrong. Never ascribe events to malice when incompetence will suffice.

Speaking of incompetence, I'll let the following headline speak for itself.

Detroit library: No branch closures, but 'we look like clowns'

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sustainability News Linkspam for the week ending May 21, 2011

It's time to take a break from libraries, Troy, and The Rapture and return to blogging about sustainability in a more conventional manner. Note I wrote "more," not "completely." I still classify all news items that are primarily scientific or technological under "Environment."

That written, here is the past week's sustainability news from Michigan's research universities.

Michigan Stand Up and Fight

General Sustainability

The following videos are updates to University of Michigan: U-M hosts U.S.-China conference on sustainable energy, water and transportation, which I included in U.S.-China EcoPartnerships: The CoDominion plans for sustainability.

Conference details: http://research.umich.edu/2011conference/program.html
Top researchers from University of Michigan and Tshinghua University talk about the upcoming conference.

University of Michigan is hosting a two day conference "Developing Global Sustainability: US/China Partnerships". It addresses water, transportation and energy sustainability issues for the two countries.
I told you all I'd have more to write about The CoDominion.

The rest of this week's news after the jump.

Saturday, May 21, 2011


A blog that is about civilizational collapse would be remiss if it didn't mark the supposed beginning of the end of the world.  Here goes.

As you can see, I don't take this version of the end of the world (as we know it) as seriously as the one I've been blogging about the past two months.  No supernatural causes will be needed to bring about the collapse of civilization; the interaction of human behavior with limited resources can do that all by themselves. That end will be completely natural, not supernatural.

The flip side is that anything that could also postpone or even prevent that collapse will also be the result of exploiting human psychology and the available resources. It may look like a miracle, but it will be completely natural as well.

This post takes care of your daily dose of DOOM!  Expect repeats at irregular intervals at least until December 21, 2012.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The New York Times reports on Troy's problems

It looks like all the attention given to Troy, or at least its budget problems, has paid off. The New York Times is now covering the issue with an interview of Troy's city manager. In it, both the reporter and the manager describe the paradox of a very well-off city that can't afford to run itself. The city manager points out that it's because the city has the lowest tax rate of any city in the area and because of the high number of avid anti-tax people there (this should come as no surprise, since the headquarters of the Libertarian Party of Michigan is in the city; it's also a Tea Party stronghold) who obstruct any efforts to raise taxes, preventing the city from providing services. Not only does the interview cover the struggle to keep the library open, but also the 140 employees laid off so far this year. I suggest you read it.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

An update on library access for Bloomfield Hills

Just after I posted yesterday's library news, C&G Newspapers reported on another situation I covered in my first post about the plight of local libraries. Here is what I wrote then as a commentary on the Detroit Free Press article on the subject:
What about Bloomfield Hills and Troy, the poster children of cities in Metro Detroit who either have lost access to other cities' libraries or whose own libraries are in danger of closing?
Bloomfield Hills, which never had a library of its own, city officials are negotiating with the directors of Baldwin Public Library in Birmingham to give Bloomfield Hills residents full borrowing privileges.
Birmingham would be a better match for Bloomfield Hills than Troy, which the city had been using.
I've already written about Troy's situtation, twice, and I'm sure I'll write more about it between now and August, when the city's residents vote on the millage proposal to keep the library open. It's Bloomfield Hills' turn.
The Bloomfield Hills City Commission decided to raise the city’s tax rate from 9.05 to 9.85 mills May 10 in order to obtain a balanced budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year, officials said.
Remember, the issues with the libraries are part of a general fiscal crisis for government. The usual solution has been austerity--cutting services and laying off employees, not raising revenue. That Bloomfield Hills has decited to raise revenue is a sign that trends might be moving in the other direction. Now, what about the community's library access?
At the same meeting, the commission agreed upon a counter offer to submit to Baldwin Public Library, with which the city has been in negotiations for library service. The counter offer would levy 0.3 mills for three years for library services — but only with the approval of voters come November.

The 0.3 mills would bring in around $220,000 a year, officials say, which equates to just less than $150 per household.
Those numbers are important. The 0.3 mills turns out to be the minimum level that qualifies for state library funding. The $150/household would be lower than the $200 the residents have been paying for access to Troy's library. That arrangement has the Bloomfield Hills residents buying cards and then Bloomfield Hills reimbursing them. Since Troy's library is still open, Bloomfield Hills residents can still use their library, which gives Bloomfield Hills time to negociate. They'll need it.
Baldwin recently turned down a $166,000 offer from Bloomfield Hills for library service. That was a counter to Baldwin’s initial request of roughly $380,500 a year for three years from the city for library services.

The library had not accepted the recent counter offer at press time, so official ballot language — which would have to be approved by August — had not been decided.
Stay tuned to see how this "maybe" turns out.


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

More metro Detroit library news for May 2011

While I was celebrating some good news for Troy's library in yesterday's post, other libraries were making less auspicious headlines. From the Detroit Free Press comes the following story.

Macomb Co. libraries take a hit in plan
May 17, 2011
Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel gave his organization plan to county commissioners Monday, detailing $2.5 million in cuts annually, including more than $900,000 to the county library.
As I wrote, not a good headline. Since the devil is in the details, let's take a close-up look at Old Scratch.
Hackel's plan calls for transferring the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, which employs four people, to the Clinton-Macomb District Library, saving the county nearly $200,000 a year.
At least that's not closing a library (and this particular facility would be a very bad one to close), just having someone else take care of it. Still, I wonder what the Clinton-Macomb District Library thinks of this and what it will do to their budget. That's something for a follow-up post.

What else?
It also calls for phasing out, by the end of the year, the Reference and Research Center, which provides reference books, magazines, newspapers and online databases, saving the county $716,000.
That's not good. This closes off a major source for research in the state's third most populous county. Unfortunately, I don't know of any constituencies outside of librarians and scholars who would rally to keep it open.

Speaking of programs who have advocates in the community, here's one that survived the budget axe.
Nearly $34,000 to Macomb Literacy Partners would continue in the plan, but a more suitable location for the program would be explored.
Basic literacy has a big constituency, even if it's only parents with young children, so I'm not surprised this program will continue. Besides, it constitutes only a small portion of the budget.
There are all kinds of other budget-saving and austerity measures in the revised budget, so I recommend you read the article at the link. However, I want to point out one set in particular that has nothing to do with libraries, but everything to do with sustainability, before I move on.An additional $100,000 in savings would come from eliminating seven of the county's 38 boards, including the Water Quality Board, Historical Commission and county Economic Development Corp.

However, Hackel said he is considering advisory councils for some of the eliminated boards, such as water quality, a big issue for him and the commissioners.
[County Commission Chairwoman Kathy] Vosburg said she doesn't believe anyone will see a group being the watchdog for water quality going away, "and the board will make sure that function of being that watchdog will not go away."
The bad news is that local governance for sustainbility--water quality, historical commission, and economic development (the sustainability triad, environment, society, and economy, strikes again!)--has been demoted. The good news is that the really important ones will continue in less expensive forms.

Now, some good library news from earlier this month that I missed.

Royal Oak Review via C&G News: Voters approve operating millage for Clawson library
By Jeremy Carroll
May 3, 2011
Voters approved a 0.33-mill tax increase to fund operations at Blair Memorial Library and to allow the facility to be fully self-sufficient.

The vote came two years after voters passed a 0.5-mill increase to expand the building, which opened again in 2010 after a period of reconstruction.
A total of 54.8 percent of the 2,425 voters approved the measure during the May 3 election.
The 0.33-mill request will raise just over $100,000, the amount the library would have needed from the city to remain open the minimum number of hours to receive state aid.
A total of 25.6 percent of registered voters in the city cast their ballot in the election, higher than Clerk Machele Kukuk expected.
That's all good news, and may it foreshadow an equally good result in neighboring Troy this coming August.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

"Save the library, save Troy," continued

In our previous installment, I wrote:
Troy City Council asks for August library ballot question
Special to The Oakland Press
If the council formally adopts the ballot language at its next meeting on Monday, the council will have to vote on a measure to keep the library open at least until the special election. The library was originally scheduled to be closed after April 30. The council called off the closure last month until it had an opportunity to discuss ways to keep it open.
Here's to the City Council approving the measure and putting it on the ballot in August. That's a nice "maybe."

"Next Monday" was yesterday, and there's no maybe about it.

The Oakland Press: UPDATED: Troy City Council approves August library ballot question, budget
By Bonnie Caprara
Special to The Oakland Press
May 17, 2011
TROY— The Troy Public Library will remain open — at least until August when voters will be asked to approve a 0.70 mill, five-year dedicated library millage.
That's good news right there, as the city found the money in its budget to keep the library open until the vote.
TROY— The Troy Public Library will remain open — at least until August when voters will be asked to approve a 0.70 mill, five-year dedicated library millage.
That's the next "maybe." Is it ideal? I'll let the Free Press tell that story.
That amount would fund a library that is “less than the full-service, award-winning library we had a few years ago,” but more than a bare minimum of library services, “which I thought was a good compromise,” Mayor Louise Schiling told the council members.
That's not ideal, but it's a lot better than closing the library for the next fiscal year.

Speaking of Mayor Schilling, she had more to say in the article from The Oakland Press about why August and not November.
“I think August is the right time to have this election,” said Mayor Louise Schilling, who proposed the ballot question at last week’s Troy City Council meeting. “It would be a clear vote on one issue. It would not be confused with other things on the ballot. This community has asked time and time again to have a clean vote.”
When I first wrote about the plight of the local libraries here in metro Detroit, I made the following remark about the scheduled closing of the Romulus Public Library:
The millage defeated in February included support for other services and would have cost residents between $150 and $300 in increased taxes.
Looks like the library was collateral damage.
Looks like that was the case in Troy, too.
Councilman Martin Howrylak presented an alternate resolution to place the ballot question on the Nov. 8 general election ballot in an effort to bypass the $90,000 cost of holding a special election on Aug. 2. Councilman Wade Fleming was the only councilmember to support Howrylak’s resolution. They both voted against the Aug. 2 ballot proposal.
Yeah, but while the November election would have cost less, it would have resulted in the library closing, or costing the city more to keep it open. The first way would have defeated the purpose, while the second would have been penny wise and pound foolish. Besides, as the Free Press story mentioned, "Residents who spoke at recent forums said they wanted the issue resolved quickly, and the lack of a secure future for the library was hurting property values, those in the majority said." Even the most conservative councilmember should appreciate the property values argument.

Stay tuned. I'm sure there will be lots more on this issue between now and August.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Sustainability news linkspam for the week ending 5/14/11, Part 2

As I wrote in Part 1 of this week's sustainability news linkspam:
[F]or a linkspam with less of a bleed-through of economics into other categories, with clearer environmental and social sections, stay tuned for part 2...
I'm glad I wrote "less of a bleed-through" and not no bleed-through. First of all, there are elements of other the other parts of sustainability in most of the posts which are primarily about one topic. Second, the more I examine sustainability, the more I see the connections. For a good example of both, I present last week's top story, other than cooperation between the U.S. and China on sustainability, which deserved a post of its own yesterday. I'm sure I'll have more about The CoDominion in future posts.

With no further ado, Michigan State University on the future of agriculture.

Michigan State University: Major changes necessary to sustain U.S. farming’s future
May 6, 2011
EAST LANSING, Mich. — In order to provide abundant and affordable food, feed, fiber and fuel, U.S. agriculture needs to change its approach, according to research appearing in the current issue of Science magazine.
There are several reasons I gave this story pride of place. First, nothing works like food as example of a general sustainability issue. Second, I really enjoy the topic of food. That's why I last week's Sprout theme for NaBloPoMo induced me to blog about food and agriculture here, instead of posting to my Dreamwidth and LiveJournal blogs. Finally, the language used in that opening paragraph looks very familiar to me. It is nearly identical that at the top of a sustainable agriculture graphic from Syngenta that I use in my first lecture to illustrate the goals of sustainable development. That sentence states that one of the goals of sustainable agriculture is to "produce sufficient safe, quality, affordable food, feed, and fiber." I can no longer find that graphic on the Internet, but the chief idea of it survives in the opening sentence of this press release.

So, what prompted this press release?
Sandra Batie, the Elton R. Smith Professor of Food and Agricultural Policy, and Richard Harwood, professor emeritus of crop and soil sciences, at Michigan State University, were part of a team of scientists and farmers who wrote a report published by the National Research Council. The report, which was expanded as a policy forum in Science, identifies policy and practice reforms that could place agriculture in the U.S. and abroad on a more sustainable trajectory that includes improved natural environments and food security for the future.
The National Research Council, eh? This a sign that the top scientists are very concerned about sustainable agriculture and top policy makers are listening to them. Also, I should go look at the Science article, if it's available to the public, and blog about this topic again.
U.S. farmers continue to provide growing supplies of food and other products, such as fiber and ethanol. But these efforts have been accompanied by the unintended consequences of greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity loss, natural resource degradation and public health problems. Agricultural efforts also are vulnerable to resource scarcity, climate change and market vulnerability. Furthermore, society continues to ask that agriculture better address not only these sustainability issues and challenges, but also issues involving the welfare of rural communities, farm workers or farm animals, Batie said.

“To improve the sustainability of farming in the U.S. and worldwide, the team recommended that farmers, policymakers and scientists continue current sustainability efforts as well as expand them, addressing whole systems redesign,” said Batie, who is also an MSU AgBioResearch scientist. “There are many examples of such redesign that address and balance sustainability goals, including the goal of enhancing farming productivity and financial viability.”
That's a pretty good laundry list and that concluding sentence shows the connection between the environmental and economic parts of sustainability.

There's a lot more, but I'll cut to the chase.
The recommendations come at a pivotal time as U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow will hold the first field hearing for the 2012 Farm Bill on May 31 on MSU’s campus. While the bill addresses U.S. policy, the hearing will focus on agriculture, energy, conservation, rural development, research, forestry and nutrition policies that will impact Michigan.
Jill Richardson, who runs La Vida Locavore (note to self: I have an account there, so I should probably repost all of my food entries over there) has written that the Farm Bills are the most important pieces of environmental legislation the U.S. ever passes. Michael Pollan calls the Farm Bill "the Food Bill" because of its importance in determining what Americans eat. I'm glad to see that the next edition of the Farm Bill will consider sustainability, at least in the Senate version. I'm not sure what the House version will look like. I'm sure the conference committee will be both frustrating and entertaining to watch.

And now, the rest of the sustainability news from Michigan's research universites, plus some news from elsewhere about sustainability in Michigan, after the break.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

U.S.-China EcoPartnerships: The CoDominion plans for sustainability

A funny thing happened as I was looking for stories to include in Part 2 of this week's Sustainability news linkspam and Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday on Daily Kos; I stumbled upon a distinct story within the theme of sustainability news--sustainability partnerships between the United States and China. It turns out that there were a lot of press releases about this story, which means that the impetus for it was coming from outside the colleges. Sure enough, I found a source for it at the very top.

U.S. State Department: Secretary Clinton To Praise Announcement of Six New U.S.-China EcoPartnerships on May 10
On May 10, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will deliver opening remarks at a signing ceremony for six new U.S.-China EcoPartnerships, taking place alongside the third annual U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED), at the Department of State.
The only person higher would be President Obama himself.

Note that the announcement took place as part of the "U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue." If you want to see one vision of the future, that's it right there; the U.S. and China running the world together. That would be eerily appropriate, as the inspiration for this blog, "The Mote in God's Eye," takes place in the far future of Jerry Pournelle's CoDominion timeline. During the early part of that timeline, the Earth of the 21st Century is being ruled by the two major powers. Of course, in those stories, the powers are the US and USSR, but substituting China for the now-defunct USSR works just as well, if not better.

So, who did the Chinese send over for this announcement?

Secretary Clinton will speak at approximately 9:30 a.m. Chinese Minister Xie Zhenhua will speak on behalf of the Chinese government.
Carrisa Wodehouse over at Sustainable Business Forum identifed Xie Zhenhua as "the Chinese Vice Chairman of the National Development And Reform Commission."  Not the very top, but close enough.
Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs Dr. Kerri-Ann Jones and the Secretary’s Special Representative for Global Intergovernmental Affairs Reta Jo Lewis will also attend the ceremony.
I'm glad to see the current organizational chart of the State Department has someone that high up in charge of science and the environment.

So, what about the program itself?
Established under the Ten Year Framework on Energy and Environmental Cooperation (TYF), the EcoPartnerships program formally links U.S. and Chinese stakeholders to work on clean energy and sustainable development. Through seven existing partnerships, stakeholders are already sharing best practices on preventing air pollution, protecting water resources, rebuilding after natural disasters, developing electric vehicles and wind energy technologies, and safeguarding natural habitats.
I'm also glad to see that the version of the CoDominion in our timeline is taking sustainability into consideration. I don't think I ever recall Pournelle's fictional version ever doing so. Then again, Pournelle has never been much of a tree-hugger.

Now, who was inducted last week?
Following Secretary Clinton’s opening remarks, a memorandum of understanding will be signed between six new EcoPartnerships:
  • Case Western Reserve University (Cleveland, OH) with the China National Off-shore Oil Corp – New Energy Investment Co, Ltd. (Beijing, China)
  • Duke Energy (Charlotte, NC) and the city of Charlotte, NC, with ENN Solar Energy Group (Langfang) and the city of City of Langfang (China)
  • The State of Utah with Qinghai Province (China)
  • Center for Climate Strategies (Washington, DC) with Global Environmental Institute (Beijing, China)
  • United States Business Council for Sustainable Development (Austin, TX) with China Business Council for Sustainable Development (Beijing, China)
  • Purdue University (West Lafayette, IN), the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (Oak Ridge, TN) with the Chinese Academy of Sciences; Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research (Beijing, China), Research Center for Eco-Environmental Sciences (Beijing, China), and Institute of Applied Ecology (Shenyang, China).
I don't have time to dig through all of the PR departments of the U.S. members of each of those partnerships, so I'll just concentrate on the last one, which I've bolded.

Details on Purdue University's relationships with the Chinese involving sustainability, along with news of other partnerships involving Michigan universities after the jump.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Sustainability news linkspam for the week ending 5/14/11, Part 1

All of this edition is concerned with the economic part of sustainability, either because the articles are from commercial sources except for the headliner, which is from an economics blog. Just the same, one can see the overlap between economics and environment (read as technology) on one hand, and economics and society (mostly culture) on the other. As for a linkspam with less of a bleed-through of economics into other categories, with clearer environmental and social sections, stay tuned for part 2, which will be from university press releases--no "Maybe" about it!

Zero Hedge: Slow Relief at the Pump As Gasoline Decouples From Crude Oil
By EconMatters
In the two weeks ending Friday, May 13, Brent dropped about 10% to close at $113.83 a barrel on ICE, while WTI plunged 12% to $99.65 a barrel at Nymex, and RBOB gasolne futures for June also lost 8% to around $3.0766 a gallon.
The price tumble was big enough to trigger a five-minute halt in trading of crude oil, heating oil and gasoline for the first time in over two years on Wednesday. May 11 at CME electronic trading platform.

With the record retreat in crude oil prices, many consumers are expecting ‘some big retail price drops’ in time for Memorial Day weekend. After all, crude oil accounts for more than two thirds (68.3%) of the price in a gallon of gasoline as of March 2011, according to the U.S. Energy Department.

Crude oil and gasoline prices typically trend in tandem on the same set of market fundamentals, but this time around, the decoupling of gasoline and crude oil would mean gasoline prices may be harder to drop.
More news after the jump.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Meta on yesterday's post about Troy's library

A brief note now that Blogger is back up.

I crossposted yesterday's post, "Save the library, save Troy", to Daily Kos and Michigan Liberal. Both copies were more successful than the original here, where, because of the outage, Blogger records that yesterday's entry has no views.  To be fair, before the outage, it had about 11, but all record of those views has been erased.

The copy at Daily Kos received 31 recommendations, 11 comments, and 87 views just from registered members alone, and made the recommended list. It was also republished to four groups there, by Progressive Friends of the Library Newsletter, Michigan, My Michigan, Class Warfare Newsletter: The Plutocracy VS the Working Class, and Readers and Book Lovers. The first two were my doing, but the latter pair of groups were by other readers. I'm quite flattered, as one of my diaries has never been so widely distributed.

The copy at Michigan Liberal garnered an honor none of my writings has never experienced before at a site where I don't have admin priviledges--it was promoted to the front page.

Maybe I should post more of my material over at those two sites.


Thursday, May 12, 2011

"Save the Library, save Troy"

Late last month, I posted the following in Save the libraries, save civilization:
Across metro Detroit, communities bracing for library closings
Troy's library was originally scheduled to close Sunday. But on April 18, the City Council postponed the closing until May 16, hoping to find a way to fund the library.

Troy Mayor Louise Schilling said she would seek a dedicated millage for the library, releasing its dependence on the city's general operating budget.

Schilling said she hopes a library millage is on the November ballot.

I do, too, Madame Mayor, and I know people who would campaign for it, too. I hope you get together with them.

Looks like I got my wish, which also happened to be the wish of those who will campaign for the library millage. From YummyNatto on YouTube comes the following pair of videos.

First the sales pitch about why Troy's library is worth saving, which was posted one day in advance of a City Council meeting where the Mayor put forth the question of a millage to support the library.

Residents of Troy, Michigan explain why they love and need their library. Falling revenues in Troy have put our library on the chopping block.

Next, the demonstration the supporters of the millage put on before the meeting. Listen to their chant as they marched from the library to City Hall.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Maybe because it's because I posted a link to Save the libraries, save civilization post on Troy Residents Unified for a Strong Troy (TRUST)'s Facebook page a few days ago. Or maybe great minds think alike and they were going to use that chant all along. Either way, the lobbying and demonstration seemed to work, as the following story from The Oakland Press indicates.

Troy City Council asks for August library ballot question
Special to The Oakland Press
Troy voters will likely get a chance to keep the doors of the Troy Public Library open in an Aug. 2 special election.

The Troy City Council voted 5-2 at its regular meeting Monday night to direct the city attorney to draft ballot language asking for 0.70 mills in dedicated millage over the next five years to fund the city-operated library.
That's good news for the demonstrators, who managed to get two paragraphs in the story.
[A]bout 60 children and adults marched carrying homemade signs and chanting, “Save the library, save Troy,” from the library to the front of the Troy City Hall where they held a rally before the council’s meetings.

“After the last council meeting, I saw there was a lot of momentum we didn’t want to lose,” said Padma Kappa of Troy. “On Good Friday morning, we planned what we could do. We wanted to do it in a way that was respectful and in a way that people were well-informed of what the facts are.”
The demonstrators work isn't done yet, though, as the City Council has to vote to approve the ballot measure proper.
If the council formally adopts the ballot language at its next meeting on Monday, the council will have to vote on a measure to keep the library open at least until the special election. The library was originally scheduled to be closed after April 30. The council called off the closure last month until it had an opportunity to discuss ways to keep it open.
Here's to the City Council approving the measure and putting it on the ballot in August. That's a nice "maybe."


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The financial crisis as a failure of economic facts

Remember that sustainability is about more than the non-human environment. It's also about the economy and society. In that spirit, I present to you an excerpt of an article from Bloomberg Business Week about the financial crisis by Hernando de Soto in which the author presents a unique perspective on the event.
The Destruction of Economic Facts
Renowned Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto argues that the financial crisis wasn't just about finance—it was about a staggering lack of knowledge
When then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson initiated his Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) in September 2008, I assumed the objective was to restore trust in the market by identifying and weeding out the "troubled assets" held by the world's financial institutions. Three weeks later, when I asked American friends why Paulson had switched strategies and was injecting hundreds of billions of dollars into struggling financial institutions, I was told that there were so many idiosyncratic types of paper scattered around the world that no one had any clear idea of how many there were, where they were, how to value them, or who was holding the risk. These securities had slipped outside the recorded memory systems and were no longer easy to connect to the assets from which they had originally been derived. Oh, and their notional value was somewhere between $600 trillion and $700 trillion dollars, 10 times the annual production of the entire world.

Three years later there's still plenty to be concerned about. Governments have worked to enact major financial and regulatory reforms, such as the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act ushered through Congress in 2010 by former Senator Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Representative Barney Frank (D-Mass.). Dodd-Frank has sought to move derivatives into clearinghouses where more data about them can be collected. It's a step in the right direction. But if you believe in the value of public memory and economic facts, the reforms leave a number of problems outstanding.

First, various groups of derivatives end users, such as nonfinancial companies and sovereign wealth funds, are likely to be exempted from the clearing process—from 40 percent of them, according to Craig Pirrong of the University of Houston's Bauer College of Business, to 70 percent, according to Michael Greenberger, a former Commodities Futures Trading Commission director. Second, the information collected would be available only to regulators because certain business data are considered "proprietary." Third, the $700 trillion worth of derivatives that ignited the recession are not covered by Dodd-Frank. Warren Buffett successfully lobbied for their exclusion, saying it would be tantamount to rewriting old contracts and would force healthy derivatives players such as his own Berkshire Hathaway to post collateral on old deals. Fourth, the clearing system is not likely to be fully operational for another 5 to 10 years. Fifth, many clearinghouses do not have the kind of complete information required by traditional public memory systems: incentives for recording that asset owners can't resist; standard classifications to facilitate identifying and governing the assets; universal access to the information; integration or linkages with other recording systems; provisions to protect third parties from negative externalities; identification of all asset holders and interested parties; limited liability provisions to improve accountability.

That's a lot of failure to digest in a single paragraph. So let's look sector by sector at the sorry state of facts in the financial system.
That's only the middle of the article. For the beginning and end, I recommend you read it in its entirety at the link in the headline.

Maybe the legislators and regulators will listen to what de Soto wrote.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Blog recommendation: Early Warning

Early Warning: Threats to Global Civilization

The blogger of this site is examining many, if not most, of the same issues I am using an even more data-based method, a truly global perspective (although mostly focused on Europe, Asia, North America, and the Middle East), and a lot more original writing.  If you want the view from 35,000 feet, read him.  Of course, if you want what things look like on the ground here in Michigan and metro Detroit in particular, read me.  Between the two perspectives, you'll have a good idea of what is going on.

Hat/tip to Nebris, who linked me to Early Warning.

Monday, May 9, 2011

How to convert Farmville players into real farmers, maybe


Over on my LiveJournal blog, I have a tag that I use as a catch phrase, "While the world burns, Farmville thrives." I've been wondering when I'd find a story to blog about here on Crazy Eddie's Motie News where I could use that tag. I finally found it, courtesy of one of my Twitter followers, @WhereMyHoseAt.

Time: Take Your Farmville Addiction a Step Further - Become an Online Farmer
You've played Farmville on Facebook. Now you can play farming for real.

The UK's National Trust (a charity established to preserve and protect ancient buildings and countryside landscapes) has set up My Farm, a people-powered online farming project.
What the National Trust is doing is crowd-sourcing farming and turning that project into an educational game. As for how that will work out, I'll just say that the video game experts are skeptical. From the story in The Guardian that Time picked up on.
But Nicholas Lovell, a games consultant and founder of the Gamesbrief blog, is yet to be convinced: "There is something in the idea that people like to grow, nurture and beautify things. But Farmville's success is down to the craftsmanship of hooking into basic human psychology: the need to finish things we've started, to return gifts when we're given them and many, many more.

"A Farmville for which people had to pay £30 to access would have flopped miserably. By charging for access, the National Trust is taking the success of Farmville as being about farming, when I think it was about bringing accessible, cost-effective, well-designed gaming to a new audience."
As The Guardian reported, Zynga refused to comment.

This project is also a charity fundraiser.
Arthur Potts Dawson, co-founder of the mutual business, the People's Supermarket which now has 1500 members, said: "MyFarm is brave, even mad, but the People's Supermarket was considered mad when we started. Both help prevent you blindly walking around a supermarket not knowing where your food comes from." The online farmers will need to pay a one-off £30 fee to join, which also allows them to visit the farm in person. Reynolds defended the fee. "We are a charity and there is a big upfront cost we need to cover. It feels like a reasonable cost. If we get many more [than 10,000] we could reduce the fee in the future conceivably."
In addition to getting access to the real life farm should they ever choose to visit, the virtual farmers will get a vote in how the farm is run. That should be interesting to follow.
As for how what appeal this might have to Farmville players, Time has an answer.
But if you feel you've got as much fun as you can from Farmville, perhaps this is the logical next step. Either that, or buy your own actual farm. This option is somewhat cheaper.
Maybe this will work. In the meantime, while the world burns, Farmville thrives.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The New York Times explains how to completely avoid the real problems of suburbia

Suburbia: What a Concept
There is no more iconic suburb than Levittown, the postwar planned community built by the developer William Levitt in the late 1940s, so it is understandable that in launching Open House, a collaborative project to imagine a “future suburbia,” the Dutch design collective Droog in collaboration with Diller Scofidio + Renfro architects would make it the focus of their inquiry.
"Future Suburbia"--now, that looks promising, especially if it can solve the issues facing a car-centered way of living during a time when being car-centered is likely to be more of a liability than an asset. It would be nice if the designers came up with something that actually solved some of the real problems with suburban living during a time of resource shortage and economic contraction that was more uplifting than Kunstler's dismal vision of them being "the slums of the future" with "two or more families living in a McMansion" and "crops growing where the front lawn used to be." Unfortunately, they didn't.
But in approaching a real place as a perfect blank canvas on which to execute distinctly urban interventions, the Open House project conveniently excused itself from substantively engaging with the real issues facing suburbia’s future. Which is a pity. Because it would have been interesting to see what they’d come up with if they had.
What a wasted opportunity!
[T]he suburban existence is as exotic to them as say, Dubai, the site of Droog Lab’s first project where, says co-founder Renny Ramakers, they’d made a deliberate decision not to explore it as “a spending society — people felt we weren’t being critical enough; they couldn’t understand why. In this project I don’t want to be critical, I want to look for inspiration because in every part of the world, people are creating their own society, their own community.”

But that’s not really valid. Can we discuss the future of suburbia (or the future of anything, really) without being critical? Without talking about developing accessible transit or increasing walkability (and community) through mixed-use development, for example? This alas, is not uncommon. Addressing suburban ills requires massive change to systems, to finance, to transportation and infrastructure, and perhaps most challenging, to a culture deeply wedded to suburbia as emblematic of the American Dream.
Ms. Arieff shows that she has a good eye for the real problems of suburbia. In fact, her list of problems, including her observation that the U.S. has become wedded to suburbia as the American Dream, makes her seem as if she's watched "The End of Suburbia," in which exactly the issues she mentions plus suburbia as the American Dream, are major topics, along with peak oil. Too bad the designers seem not to have watched the movie.

So, what did the designers come up with? A scheme for suburanites to "discover their inner service provider." No, really. They wanted the suburbanites to recreate the Manhattan service economy of people being paid to walk dogs, deliver food, and coach each other on their love lives.

I have two things to say to them. First, you people have no idea. Second, go peddle your ideas in Los Angeles. There are all kinds of neighborhoods on the West Side and the edges of the San Fernando Valley where people might listen to ways to be more like sophisticated New Yorkers. Find the fans of "Sex in the City" and start with them.

Even if one has a more mundane set of concerns that would still apply in a business as usual environment, the designers still failed to address the present-day problems.
I asked Ramakers whether Droog’s suburban intervention might help address as well some of the more immediate needs associated with suburbia, like the number of people trying to hold on to their homes in the midst of the foreclosure crisis, or ways of retrofitting large homes into multi-family housing, or integrating transit to reduce traffic and resource usage?

“I don’t think so,” she told me. “Because the emphasis was really on the inner service provider.
As I wrote, what a waste of an opportunity.
When the [Droog Lab] team did the research on service economy [in New York City] they found out from lots of people who created jobs for themselves. They did so partly to earn money, partly to gain self-confidence. We want to encourage people to do something they’re good at.”
I had a little encounter with people running business that cater to "what they're good at" instead of necessities a few days ago, when my wife and I drove down Woodward.* We passed a "Self-Improvement Station" that sold "psychological and educational books." During flush times when people are concerned with first-world problems, that business model would work fine. It might even work during the early stages of a crisis. But if a crisis deepens, then I think there might be better ways to improve oneself than reading books about psychological self-help, like learning how to be better home gardener.

Speaking of which, there was one tangible project that Ms. Arieff thought was on the right track.
A glimmer of hope was found at House #4, Bright Dawn Farm by Freecell (Lauren Crahan & John Hartmann). Here, the designers had clearly collaborated more closely with homeowner Dawn Occhiogrosso, an avid gardener, and had transformed her backyard into a suburban farm. I’ve been yammering on about the positive benefits of growing one’s own food for years now so of course this project was my favorite. Freecell’s horizontal greenhouse was a potent symbol of spring, of possibility, displaying even in the midst of the mizzle rows of beautiful basil, cilantro, tomato starts and other vegetables and herbs (all for sale on your way out: 2 bunches for $5).

The neighborhood benefit of #4 seemed immediately apparent: the homeowner could cultivate her crops and host a weekly summer market, encouraging community involvement and healthy eating, and getting more folks out of their cars and walking through their own community.
Hey, I think that's a good idea, too.
But when I asked Occhiogrosso whether she planned to go ahead and put the plants in the ground, she said no, she didn’t have the time or the inclination.
Looks like someone stumbled over an answer, then picked themselves up and kept on going.

Ms. Arieff thought one other project held promise, but it wasn't any one of the conceptual makeovers of the participants houses.
What what most tangible in Open House was the work that remained most invisible. The design team of EFGH (Hayley Eber and Frank Gesualdi) with Irina Chemyakova explored the potential benefits that changes to code, zoning and other regulatory modifications might have on the existing suburb. The things they proposed, much in keeping with the work of others spearheading the movement to rethink suburbia like Ellen Dunham-Jones, June Williamson and Galina Tachieva, included increasing density, retrofitting existing buildings for new uses, and experimenting with public/private space.

These changes, along with residents’ inclination to improve their own communities, could lead to better models for future development.
If you're interested in sustainability on the local and personal levels, your biggest obstacles will be homeowners associations, zoning boards, and city councils. Those people will be wedded to business as usual long after it becomes apparent to early adopters that BAU just isn't working any more. Watch those local governing entities hang onto the past like adherents of a cargo cult. If I want to urge any political action (and I actually have a long list of political actions; I just haven't broadcast most of them on this blog), it's to convert a critical mass of people to the necessity for sustainable action and then organize to run for positions on these roadblocks to sustainability. I like the idea of a democratic takeover of local government. How's that for a good "Maybe?"