Manifesto of Big Ideas

American Options

There was a time when:

  • You worked hard
  • You were loyal to your employer
  • Your employer was loyal to you
  • You had good medical health insurance
  • You had a decent pension
  • You didn’t have to change health insurance plans annually
  • You didn’t have to keep worrying if your investment portfolio was the right one
  • Paperwork was less onerous and customer service was more pleasant

Now it seems like, the “hurrier I go, the behinder I get”.

What are the options for a guy like me playing in the last quarter of this game of life?

What are the options for young adults starting out on their career journey?

Option 1: Military Service

You get food, clothing, shelter, health care and training (depending upon what you sign up for)

No worries, right? Not quite.

If you’re a female, there’s a strong likelihood that you will be sexually harassed and worse yet raped. It’s ironic that an institution that’s so disciplined and order driven, can’t seem to eradicate this plague. Might it be a “top down” problem. What’s that saying “the fish rots from the head”.

For some, the discipline and structure of the military is just what they need. For others, it breaks them, making them damaged goods in society where they self-destruct. Worse yet, they destroy others in acts of domestic violence, shootings and a life of mayhem often accompanied by addictions.

Lastly, the military is not like selecting from a menu at a restaurant. You don’t get to chose what war you are joining.

Option 2: Live off the grid

If you are a Bear Grylls or MacGyver type of person, this option is plausible.

For the rest of us, maybe you should practice living in a tent in the back yard for four seasons to test out this option.

By the way, if you subscribe to the virtues of survivalism in these increasingly difficult times, you may want to dip your toes in this water to acquaint yourself with the rigors of this lifestyle before it’s foisted on you suddenly.

Option 3: Keep your 9-5 job but augment it with passive income

Options could include rental property, cash for services rendered, skills or hobbies shared, stock investments, tutoring, fixing, cooking and everything from bartendering to bartering.

I especially like this option for young persons starting out. If they could sock away $400/month over 20 years while re-investing it, now that’s progress toward independence

As for me, this advice falls into the “wish I knew then what I know now” category. I have been working 2nd and 3rd jobs for the past 20+ years. I fantasize about how I could have built up quite a nice nest egg. Where did it all go?

  • I’m not an alcoholic, addict or gambler. I don’t even by lottery tickets (maybe I should).
  • I don’t smoke
  • I don’t go on shopping sprees or run up credit card debt. The only time I go to the mall is to work at one of my part-time jobs as a mall cop.

The answer is…..I pursued the American Dream (aka, nightmare). Home ownership, car purchases to get to/from jobs and putting kids thru college

How would I do it differently? I truly do not know. I have a nagging sense that there must be a better way. I have discovered the joy of writing and have written a novel that incorporates this Plan B philosophy so it’s never too late to try this option.

Option 4: Communal living and pooling of resources

This might be the way to go if you are starting out in life and are trying to avoid the shackles of ownership (car, house, debt). It you’re a die-hard capitalist and rugged individualist, this may not be your cup of tea. If you travel down this socialist path (dare I use that term for fear of alienating some readers), just make sure some guardrails are in place concerning the allocation of assets and energies while this experiment is underway. Also, make sure there is a process for dissolution when and if this noble experiment runs it’s course. As noted above, some of this communalism is included in my novel.

Option 5: Join religious order

Becoming a priest or monk obviously applies to those so motivated. Steer clear of any cult groups or any memberships that just don’t feel right or tumble into the fanatical direction.

Option 6: What if a National Service Organization (NSO) could be modeled after the Peace Corps (international) and Ameri-Corps (domestically)?

What if there was some variation of the Civil Conservation Corps (CCC) type of initiative that was launched in response to the Great Depression of 1929? The function and format could be like the CCC with the planting of trees to preserve the environment and counter global warming. This could include the creation of community gardens in urban areas and “liberty gardens” in Americas back yards to create a healthy, affordable food supply while encouraging self-sufficiency and sustainability.

If planting trees and horticulture is not your thing, how about training, tutoring and mentoring of America’s youth particularly in the STEM fields. This would instill pride and purpose among youth while closing the achievement gap and bolstering America’s research & development capabilities.

A person like myself wants to live out the balance of my life with the following: food, clothing and shelter. Nothing fancy. Just the very basics. Medical care to patch me up when I get sick and hospice/palliative care to gently bring my life journey to a comfortable end. Let me and my fellow baby boomers to be of service to this great country for as many productive years that I have left in me. Without the opportunity for this option, I and millions of boomers will live out the rest of our lives working as serfs toiling under crushing debt in a constant state of anxiety. Sounds like a chapter from Dante’s Inferno!

As for the up-and-coming generation, some of them might opt for this minimalist lifestyle of community service if given the guarantee that basic needs would be met. They could still be entrepreneurial. In fact, they might be more likely to express an entrepreneurial spirit since they didn’t have to worry every waking minute about how to pay for mortgages, student loans and health insurance.

There might be a side benefit to establishing a grass-roots opportunity for national service on the domestic and international stage. Participants would have an opportunity to appreciate the circumstance of others. This might engender greater empathy, goodwill and understanding for everyone in the equation. Who knows? We might even become a less polarized society since there might be a greater appreciation of each other’s circumstances. The level of anxiety, isolation and polarization might notch downward.

As a very practical matter, this scenario might bring clarity to trends, situations and solutions both here and abroad. For example, in a foreign land, who knows best which way the winds of change blow? The diplomat and ambassador safely ensconced in the fortified embassy or the relief worker engaged directly with the people? In the school system, who best knows student sentiments, the principal in the office or the teacher in the classroom or the coach in the gym. The cop on the beat has his ear to the street while the chief of police conducts a press conference.

These outside-of-the-box proposals are incorporated in the chapters of my blogs within the series entitled Manifesto of Big Ideas. They are also baked into my upcoming novel entitled Mall Child so stay tuned for more ideas and as always I appreciate any feedback.

Manifesto of Big Ideas: Infrastructure & Transportation

Efficiency, ecology and Transit Oriented Development (TOD) replace congestion and waste while stimulating long-term, sustained growth

Smart, Cost Effective, Revenue Generating, Environmentally Friendly

Infrastructure and transportation (roads, bridges, rails, airports, rivers and deep water ports) have always been the catalyst for development. Additionally, natural resources are the reason why a place becomes a place in the first place.

If infrastructure and transportation were folded into Transit Oriented Development (TOD),  this could be the development pattern for a sustainable future. Imagine the cost efficiency and livability of living, working and playing all within close proximity to mass transit connections (train stations, overhead tramways, trollies, moving sidewalks in catwalks making seamless connections between home-work-play). Imagine not worrying about buying a car, insuring it, maintaining it, paying taxes on it and storing it.

This could limit the carbon footprint of both persons and cities. More efficient use of land while preserving open space, planting more trees, creating less pollution and slowing down global warming.

Place a moratorium on 1 story strip mall style development. Mixed use development (primarily residential, office, retail) along bus/electric trolley commercial corridors would be a more efficient use of land and preserve precious resources. These mixed use corridors could also be designed with bike lanes to accommodate pedal bikes, electric bikes, segues, etc. that would truly be safe paths for these alternative and healthy methods of transportation.

Why not have the large scale transit sites (train stations, bus terminals, ferry terminals, heliports and parking garages) accommodate modest and efficient transportation alternatives such as electric bikes enabling commuters to get exercise while safely and efficiently getting to and from their destinations. Why not have safe, secure means of storing your electric bike and create a network of loaner bikes to expedite getting to and from destinations. Why not have more opportunities for commuters to shower and change clothes at their places of business to encourage more physically challenging (and healthier) commuting. 

How did I come to make this proposal?

Save money commuting and get healthy

I’m a city planner by training. During the course of my 30 year career, it has been the infrastructure/transportation improvements that get the most bang for the buck concerning public resources and long-term sustainability. Nothing stimulates development better than a dredged harbor to accommodate shipping, a new interchange on the interstate, a new bridge,  a new train station and high speed rail connections.

I’m a commuter who rides a bike from my home to the train station storing one bike at that train station and storing another bike at the train station in the city where I work so I can commute from that station to my office. When I mention this scenario to others, they think it’s a great idea and noble cause in terms of being environmentally friendly and healthy. They also note how my commute pattern is the exception to the rule and not something that they would be psychologically willing to do or physically capable of doing . I admit from experience that there are significant obstacles. Constant vandalism and theft at the outdoor bike rack at the train stations, particularly the first train station which has no CCTV surveillance despite the fact that they have security guards patrolling within the station. There is so much theft and vandalism at the first station that for a while I resorted to securing my bike at a bike rack at the City Hall Annex located a few blocks away. That is until an employee of the City Hall Annex told me that I could not keep my bike at that bike rack all day. When I questioned why I could not secure a bike at a BIKE RACK on a daily basis, she threatened to have me arrested for trespassing. So much for encouraging environmentally friendly alternative commuting! At both train stations, the bikes are stored outside and take a beating exposed to the elements. The trip by bike to/from each train station is a safety challenge. I use a hybrid bike to/from the first train station since I use more sidewalks and cut through more parking lots since riding on the road is out of the question.

Coping with Covid

Some helpful suggestions and humorous reflections on the pandemic.

First of all, my personality and lifestyle is already conducive for social distancing and quarantines

  • I have never have taken a cruise and probably never will, not for fear of illness but because of lack of money
  • My cruising consists of commuting to work (M-F) from Bridgeport to Stamford CT
  • Have not taken a vacation for over 20 years, not because I’m allergic to fun, I just don’t have funds
  • Weekends consist of working 2 additional jobs. Therefore, socializing in bars or going to movies are not something I’m giving up.
  • I never really enjoyed team sports, maybe because I’m an only child. Too much arguing on team sports and rules that must be followed. My favorite sports are solitary events like running, swimming and weight lifting.  
  • I rarely shop and when I do, it’s only for essentials like milk, bread, and peanut butter (of which I probably eat too much)
  • I have never been incarcerated but if I was put in jail, I would opt for solitary confinement over having a cell mate. Who needs that drama.
  • Being almost bald, I shave my head so it’s not like I’m missing trips to the barbershop. My shadow has not darkened the doorstop of the barbershop in over 20 years.  
  • Last, but not least, being of Irish descent, I am not predisposed to hugs and overly demonstrative physical expressions. It takes an Irish wake to get a hug out of me.

So how am I coping and what are some of my recommendations?

  • Work out in the driveway lifting weights, shadow boxing and doing plyometric exercises  ( jumping jacks, burpees, planks, etc.).
  • Wearing all black (sweats and t-shirt) and listening to Eminem rapping before doing the above described driveway workout. Imagining during the work out that you are in the prison yard. If Eminem is not your thing, try listening to Jonny Cash singing “I walk the line” from Folsom Prison.
  • Wearing all white (sweats and t-shirt) and listening to Loggins & Messina’s “Highway to the Danger Zone” before doing the above described driveway workout. Imagine during your workout that you are Tom Cruise in the movie Top Gun or Richard Gere in the movie “An Officer & a Gentleman”.  Ironically, I have been told that I look just like these guys (now that’s some seriously fake news!)
  • Wearing my torn sweats and ratty sweatshirt (of which I have plenty) and jog down the street while shadow boxing. Listen to the song “Eye of the Tiger” and watch a clip of any of the Rocky films (the first couple are my favorites) and yell “Yo Adrian” to passerbys (from a safe social distance).
  • Learning a new skill. My kids have been teaching me sign language.  While doing the aforementioned workouts, they make me show them every letter of the alphabet.  If I do not remember it or get it wrong, I need to do an extra sit up. I have been doing LOTS of extra sit-ups. At this rate, if the quarantine lasts a long time,  I hope to get a set of abs like “The Situation” on the old show “Jersey Shore”.
  • Catching up on my writing. Revising my novel entitled “Mall Child” which I am planning to release early in 2021. Participating in any and all writing webinars to further hone my writing skills. Everybody should take this quarantine time to pursue whatever avocation they always wanted to launch. I’m a late bloomer to writing and I absolutely love the exercise.
  • Catching up on my blogging and networking with family, friends and outreaching to advance my writing career.
  • Last, but not least, a huge beneficiary of this pandemic is my lawn. Working 3 jobs I have never had the luxury of working on it this early in the season. I usually postpone lawn work until getting a notice from the health department urging me to cut the lawn. By the way, I’m big on multi-tasking so I use an old fashioned push mower (old school version) so I’m getting my work out while cutting the lawn. My goal is to keep it low early in the season so I can continue to use the hand held push mower

Manifesto of Big Ideas: Mental Health

Treatment & Therapy Replace Stigma & Stereotype

The perception & dynamic needs to change. If you get a physical illness (diabetes, cancer, etc.) you receive empathy. Get a mental illness diagnosis or experience emotional distress/depression, you get ostracized and stigmatized. 

Cost for treatment and therapy should be covered just as it is for physical ailments. There should be no shame in obtaining treatment. 

However, the patient also needs to assume responsibility for their own recovery. Medication and therapy as appropriate needs to be mandated for the best interests of both the patient and the society. Both must be protected and if that means mandated services with consequences for non-compliance, then so be it. Part of this system of mandated treatment must include close monitoring of the individual since circumstances can change quickly for the worse for everyone concerned. 

This scenario requires giving up of one’s autonomy (similar to giving up of the single family home ownership fixation as described in another of my blogs concerning affordable housing). The end goal of the new dynamic would be a tough-love scenario where the patient gets the needed treatment. The patient maintains his regime and is not allowed to “go off the radar screen or go off the rails”. 

Gone will be the days of denied service. 

Gone will be the days of persons missing in action (MIA) only to surface later in tragic circumstances for either themselves or others. 

Families and loved ones need to be able to take charge of the person who is decompensating. We need to adjust the system and rules of the game to prevent a gradual descent into hell or in some cases a free fall. 

We need to re-design the system to allow for off-ramps and rest stops on this person’s highway to hell. Under the revised format, a person who has self-awareness of their deteriorating mental and emotional state should be able to check into a treatment facility where they can get the help they need. If they are unaware of their own free fall, family and loved ones with whom they are connected should be able to get them the treatment they need. 

Last, but not least, this treatment should be more than a 24-48 hour monitoring bandaid strategy. The duration and intensity of treatment needs to be sufficiently long and effective. 

Will all of the above described proposals be costly? Damn right! But it’s preferable to our current quagmire of homelessness, co-occurring disorders, undiagnosed disorders, addictions, suicides, violence and mass shootings. 

Do we continue with the band aid approach treating symptoms or treat the actual disorder making the proper diagnosis. 

A theme of this segment of the manifesto of big ideas (like all the other segments) revolves around the notion that persons should not be allowed to become untethered. Persons should be allowed to be reasonably independent. However, based upon diagnosis and behavior, the monitoring-treating-restricting of this person for their own good and the good of society must take priority.  

How did I come to make these observations and proposals?

Years of working in the mental health field assisting persons suffering from mental illness and recovering from addictions has convinced me of the importance of compassionate tough-love. When I switched into this career late in my life, I had to make a conscious effort to refer to persons as suffering from mental illness and addiction rather than being labeled mentally ill or addicted. As a mall cop, I have been at the scenes of drug overdoses and dealt every weekend with persons who are emotionally disturbed and experiencing anxiety attacks. As a former property manager and community organizer working in some very distressed housing sites and neighborhoods I have seen up close the ravages of addiction, suicide, mental illness and crime all in a toxic mix. Last, but not least, given my Irish-American ancestry, I am well aware of alcoholism, conflict avoidance, vengeance and denial all neatly masked in a veneer of wit and charm.

Manifesto of Big Ideas: Health & Fitness

Accountability (financial accountability on behalf of providers and personal accountability on behalf of patients) replaces skyrocketing costs and personal irresponsibility

Stop the financial madness. Stop the fitness madness.

The health insurance industry, medical profession, pharmaceutical industry and hospitals need to live within the Cost Of Living world that the rest of us must comply with. Why can’t the normal rate of inflation apply to them?

This blog was written before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, so I’m adding these notations:

There will be hell to pay if the above listed conspirators try to list Covid-19 as “pre existing conditions”. What do you want to bet that they don’t try? Just like the health insurance industry tried to put a sunset provision on the 911 responders (cops/firemen/EMT’s) and the construction workers who have cancer and other illnesses that are killing them. The “powers that be” will try to wiggle out of long term costs affiliated with this pandemic’s patients just like they tried to short change the 911 patients.

This tragic pandemic is a prime example of how we could have been so much better prepared had there been a national health insurance system in place. Everybody would have been covered by health insurance rather than this ridiculous scrambling with a patchwork of private unaffordable insurance plans, millions who are still without coverage and a patchwork of states offering different medicare/medicaid options. We could have had in place a nationwide mobilization for everything from supplies to preventive procedures to quarantine measures to affordable health care for victims. Maybe we will learn our lesson from this pandemic and have it in place for the next one.

Back to my “big ideas” concerning health & fitness:

If it costs too much. Don’t do it. This may sound harsh but it’s the reality. We all need to come to terms with our own mortality. Until we do so, the cost of doing whatever is necessary at whatever cost will spiral out of control. For chronic incurable situations, palliative care to mitigate symptoms might be the advisable course of action.

Why can’t good health habits be rewarded, comparable to auto insurance providing good driver discounts. Likewise, bad drivers pay higher insurance rates because of their bad driving. Why should we all pay higher health insurance rates because of your unhealthy lifestyle.

Accountability needs to replace personal irresponsibility. Here is where the tough-love theme kicks into overdrive.

After years of people watching, these are my observations and recommendations:

People need to stop spending money they do not have. Credit card debt is astronomical. I cringe when I hear economists refer to consumer spending as a barometer of a healthy economy or as a means of spending ourselves out of an economic slump. Deficit spending as a nation and as a consumer can only lead to collapse. It’s like buying chairs for the deck of the Titanic and rearranging them. End goal should be debt freedom not commercial consumption.

People need to eat healthier, exercise more and sleep more. Stop feeding the diet/fitness industry buying their books, programs and panaceas.  Too many of America’s exercise equipment and gadgets are gathering dust and filling the landfills. As the Nike slogan says, “Just Do It”.

Most absurd are the cars that circle around in the parking lot trying to get a space close to the gym before the driver gets on the treadmill inside.

Stop buying junk food, eating junk food, get moving and take better care of yourself. This is not rocket science.

If both of the above described proposals are adapted (buy less stuff, eat better stuff and exercise more) the carbon footprint will shrink. Less stuff bought, stored, tossed. More people walking and biking improves both their health and the environment. 

Healthier population will reduce medical costs and in the long run this is a cost effective solution. The first step starts with us, the patients taking more responsibility for their own health.

Now the second important step is to stop the blame game that occurs among the following players: doctor, specialist, hospital, clinic, health insurance companies, pharmaceutical industry and an assortment of medical related suppliers. This complex of characters today is comparable to what was termed the military-industrial complex being in cahoots with each other since the 1950’s.

These players need to stop hiding behind each other when assigning costs and following procedures.

Case in point: Let’s look at the controversy over coding a procedure as “preventative vs. diagnostic”. Everybody in the profession talks a good line when advocating for “preventative” medicine and touts prevention as a long term method of lowering costs.

However, when preventative measures are taken, they often get coded as “diagnostic” with many health insurers refusing to pay for diagnostic procedures.  

We need to establish a clear line distinguishing diagnostic vs. preventative.

Anything done after a situation/condition is found because of taking preventative measures should be classified as diagnostic. Checking to see if there is a problem (whether this is a lab test or a reconnaissance type procedure such as a colonoscopy) should be coded as preventative. Coding more procedures as affordable (low cost or no cost) preventative will encourage patients to take these preventative measures thereby avoiding costly subsequent medical costs and saving everybody in the long run. Makes sense for everyone except the “powers that be” in the medical/insurance complex who benefit from the blame game of coding and billing.  

How did I come up with this tough-love, cost-benefit perspective on finances (personal and medical)

I’m personally immersed in this “preventative vs. diagnostic” coding tug-of-war.

Everyone I speak with has horror stories concerning health care costs. Assurances are given that procedures will be covered and then the bill is delivered. Thanks’ for nothing but deceit.

Outrageously high annualized insurance deductibles. Ever increasing insurance costs with nothing to show for it.   

Everyone I speak with experiences an adversarial relationship with some or all the players in the healthcare industry (doctors, insurers, hospitals, specialists, pharmacy). Name any other industry where so many customers (i.e., patients) are so disgruntled and yet still seek these services. Why? Because it’s medical and we really don’t have another choice.

What if every other transaction in the marketplace (the purchase of gas, bread, etc.) was so convoluted, irritating and inflationary? Our system would grind to a halt as it has been doing in the current medical/pharma/insurance marketplace. Why can’t prices be set and why are set artificially high in anticipation of negotiations with health insurers? Why do you feel like you are dealing with a sleazy used car dealer?

Why is it that the older you get and the sicker you get, the financial and medical/insurance system is structured to make things more complicated? Why is it that when you are feeling sick or are too tired to think straight, this is when they force you to make important decisions? The older and sicker we get, the more we prefer a slow, steady, predictable, affordable lifestyle.

I have been told that you cannot be denied treatment for pre-existing conditions. This is great. However, this does you no good if the cost for that treatment exceeds your ability to pay.

I have been told that the reason smaller companies cannot get an affordable health insurance rate is because they’re small. Whenever it’s suggested that small companies could be aggregated into a larger pool and thereby mitigating the risk to insurers, everyone says “that’s a great idea”.

However, for some reason everyone also says “that’s not possible”.

Why?

Likewise, the USA has a big, diverse population (sick people and healthy people). Even after the Covid-19 pandemic subsides, we overall have a pool of healthy people. It seems like if we all got into the same insurance pool, the risk would be sufficiently spread and the costs would go down. It also seems to me that some people want to keep the insurance/medical/pharma Ponzi scheme intact.

As for a return to personal financial sanity, the insanity all starts with the American Dream and the notion that bigger is better with each generation expected to do better than the next with money buying happiness. The commercialization of Christmas is the ultimate example of buy now, pay later. Gifts purchased on credit cards in winter are not paid off until summer (if then). Wedding and vacation costs can rival a year’s worth of salary.

Everyone needs to ask themselves the following questions:

Do I have enough food, clothing and shelter to survive (nothing fancy just the basics)?

If I get sick are there funds to patch me up?

If I can’t be patched up is there money to let me coast out relatively peacefully.

I acknowledge that this is harsh and the bar is set low but it might just return us to financial and medical sanity. This new way of thinking might also reduce the carbon footprint thereby increasing the longevity of both us and the planet.

Common Ground

The SILLY SEASON is fast approaching.

The 2020 campaign for USA president in heating up.

It’s that special bipolar time of year when the trenches between liberals and conservatives, democrats and republicans get dug deep. That special time when everybody’s talking and nobody’s listening. Nobody’s convincing.

The commuters are lined up along the train platform like birds on the wire. What are they thinking? Hard to tell since they no longer chirp.

Zombie drivers commute to work crawling forward for hours at sun up and sundown. What are they thinking? Hard to tell since the windows are up and the radios are on.

TV emits a bluish glow from every bedroom at night. What’s on? It doesn’t really matter. Very little stimulation of gray matter. 

Got me to thinking….When we strip away all that’s different between us….What do we fundamentally have in common. What is truly our Common Ground? When was the last time every man-woman-child was truly on the same page moving in the same direction?

I will be asking this question to everyone I meet in the run up to the election in 2020. I’m looking forward to sharing results in an upcoming blog.

In the meantime, here is my humble reflection concerning what I consider to be the most fundamental Common Ground from which hopefully we all can agree:

The categories are four:

  1. Work Ethic/Work Experience

I worked hard, so do you.

I pay bills, so do you.

I got educated, so did you.

I got life experience, so do you.

I respect what you do for work

I respect that you get up every day to do that work.

I would hope that you have the same respect for me concerning all of the above.

If you do not have this respect, then I guess we truly have nothing in common.

2. We have no other choice but to go our separate ways.Wanting what’s best for our kids.

Deep down, let’s agree that we want our kids to be…

Healthy

Productive

Self-Sufficient

Morally grounded with a conscience that enables them to distinguish right from wrong

Let’s not get lost in the details as to whether they are liberal or conservative or what particular positions they may hold.

Let’s just agree that we want them to be known as “good people” like we want to be known as “good people” for ourselves.

3. Life Experience

If we can not agree on the above described base line, then I guess we will never agree and have no choice but to go our separate ways.

We all have experienced…

Joyful times

Sorrowful times

Bland, hum-drum times

Experiences that have shaped us for the better, worse and everything in between.

Each of us is the sum of what came before us.

I need to appreciate your experiences and you should value mine.

If we cannot view each other within this context, it’s best that we travel different roads.

4. We all want to make money. Who could be against that?

Let’s not get caught up on the tax and spend details.

Let’s just focus on the common goal of making ends meet. That means the bare essentials of food, clothing, and shelter. Let’s add health care in minimal terms of patching you up when you get sick and keeping you as comfortable as possible when there is no cure.

Let’s agree that everyone needs to feel productive, valuable for something and allowed to pursue happiness. Sound familiar? The pursuit of happiness is baked into the Bill of Rights. Nobody is guaranteed happiness, only the opportunity to pursue it.

So where do we go to find Common Ground?

It’s not about the details of policies and budgeting choices. It’s all about what we fundamentally agree upon.

Without fundamental agreement, it’s best to agree to disagree and live in separate, parallel universes.

There may be some deal breakers that are so important to you and me that coexistence is impossible even if we agree on basic common ground. We will know deal breakers when we see them. These will be the situations and philosophies that we find so abhorrent to eachother that we can not co-exist.

This break point occurs on the personal, professional and national level. It is comparable to paths chosen in the marital relationship: stay and stagnate or leave or stay and revive.

Stay and stagnate:

Co-exist living in separate, parallel universes being careful not to antagonize eachother or in worse case keep antagonizing without breaking up. Doesn’t this sound like the current culture of the USA?

Leave:

Come to the realization that we really have nothing in common and that a national divorce is the only real alternative. How will you know when this point has been reached? It will be like when you attend a party and realize that you share nothing with the attendees, you are miserable and you must leave.

Stay and revive:

Hopefully this will be the path taken. Re-kindle relationships. Get back to the reason we got together in the first place. As a nation, be like that couple that shares goals, dreams and passions. Once again get on the same page and revive the excitement.

Now the hard part. The dilemma is how do we re-kindle that spark and keep the national love alive. No clear answer here but at least it could start with agreement on Common Ground.

Manifesto of Big Ideas

Reflections and Recommendations based upon a life of work and experiences

Topic: Infrastructure & Transportation

Efficiency, ecology and Transit Oriented Development (TOD) replace congestion and waste while stimulating long-term, sustained growth

Infrastructure and transportation (roads, bridges, rails, airports, rivers and deep water ports) have always been the catalyst for development. Additionally, natural resources are the reason why a place becomes a place in the first place.

If infrastructure and transportation were folded into Transit Oriented Development (TOD),  this could be the development pattern for a sustainable future. Imagine the cost efficiency and livability of living, working and playing all within close proximity to mass transit connections (train stations, overhead tramways, trollies, moving sidewalks in catwalks making seamless connections between home-work-play). Imagine not worrying about buying a car, insuring it, maintaining it, paying taxes on it and storing it.

This could limit the carbon footprint of both persons and cities. More efficient use of land while preserving open space, planting more trees, creating less pollution and slowing down global warming.

Place a moratorium on 1 story strip mall style development. Mixed use development (primarily residential, office, retail) along bus/electric trolley commercial corridors would be a more efficient use of land and preserve precious resources. These mixed use corridors could also be designed with bike lanes to accommodate pedal bikes, electric bikes, segues, etc. that would truly be safe paths for these alternative and healthy methods of transportation.

Why not have the large scale transit sites (train stations, bus terminals, ferry terminals, heliports and parking garages) accommodate modest and efficient transportation alternatives such as electric bikes enabling commuters to get exercise while safely and efficiently getting to and from their destinations. Why not have safe, secure means of storing your electric bike and create a network of loaner bikes to expedite getting to and from destinations. Why not have more opportunities for commuters to shower and change clothes at their places of business to encourage more physically challenging (and healthier) commuting. 

How did I come to make this proposal?

I’m a city planner by training. During the course of my 30 year career, it has been the infrastructure/transportation improvements that get the most bang for the buck concerning public resources and long-term sustainability. Nothing stimulates development better than a dredged harbor to accommodate shipping, a new interchange on the interstate, a new bridge,  a new train station and high speed rail connections.

I’m a commuter who rides a bike from my home to the train station storing one bike at that train station and storing another bike at the train station in the city where I work so I can commute from that station to my office. When I mention this scenario to others, they think it’s a great idea and noble cause in terms of being environmentally friendly and healthy. They also note how my commute pattern is the exception to the rule and not something that they would be psychologically willing to do or physically capable of doing . I admit from experience that there are significant obstacles. Constant vandalism and theft at the outdoor bike rack at the train stations, particularly the first train station which has no CCTV surveillance despite the fact that they have security guards patrolling within the station. There is so much theft and vandalism at the first station that for a while I resorted to securing my bike at a bike rack at the City Hall Annex located a few blocks away. That is until an employee of the City Hall Annex told me that I could not keep my bike at that bike rack all day. When I questioned why I could not secure a bike at a BIKE RACK on a daily basis, she threatened to have me arrested for trespassing. So much for encouraging environmentally friendly alternative commuting!

At both train stations, the bikes are stored outside and take a beating exposed to the elements. The trip by bike to/from each train station is a safety challenge. I use a hybrid bike to/from the first train station since I use more sidewalks and cut through parking lots since riding on the road is out of the question.

Manifesto of Big Ideas: Distressed & Depressed Cities

Self-determination and survivalism replace desolation & despair

Why should the rich & privileged be the only ones to be protected by gated communities and armed guards?

If the law-abiding, hard working residents of crime ridden urban areas were allowed to ban together and secure their perimeters, they would gain the sense of self-determination & security that they yearn for.

How might they take control of their own turf? How might this look and unfold?

Assume that, for example, there was a 10 X 10 block area that was relatively depopulated, highly blighted and infected with extremely high crime. The best scenario might also include some well defined topographic/geographic boundaries. A combination of, for example, railroad embankment, interstate highway and some rivers forming its borders. 

What if…..

All the residents seeking to live within this safety zone agreed to the following conditions. My prediction is that they would jump at the opportunity to live under these mutually supportive conditions having been trapped in lawless neighborhoods where the borders are porous, the criminals run the streets and the police are overwhelmed running from call to call.

Residents of various income levels could live in this secured area in renovated apartments. Mixed income would encourage diversity, creativity, and camaraderie all of which is lacking in the majority of American neighborhoods be they occupied by households of high, low or middle income persons. 

Basic commercial conveniences (i.e., milk, bread, etc.) could be provided within this secured complex similar to the way that a commissary on a military base serves its residents. The greater the critical mass of residents, the stronger the demand for commercial services. Capitalism within a communal environment. Resident owned cooperative modeled businesses could replace the predatory liquor stores and check cashing businesses found in non-secured neighborhoods where the residents have little or no control over their environment and their consumer decisions.

CCTV video surveillance and license plate scanners could record all vehicles entering and exiting this safe zone ensuring that it remains a safe zone. At first blush this might smack of Big Brother domination but anyone who signs up to reside in this safe zone agrees to this ahead of time. These residents are refugees of the chaos of other neighborhoods and would gladly opt for this lifestyle. Those who are up-to-no-good would shun such an environment and to this I say “good riddance”.

The limited access points and monitoring of these access points could be attractively designed as Welcome Stations where visitors and residents alike could be greeted as valued human beings. This would include attractive landscaping and uplifting decorations/messaging. Who would not want to be a part of such a community? A computerized resident ID and vehicle ID system could expedite access to this safe zone and function similar to the way a hotel room card provides safe access to your room and is deactivated upon your departure from the hotel. To keep costs down, residents could volunteer to man the Welcome Stations with some supervision and oversight by local police patrols to both augment their presence and make sure that the volunteers are following proper procedure and do not become ‘loose cannons”. To what extent the Welcome Stations become reinforced (i.e., gated entry, bullet resistant, etc.) would depend upon the level of crime and chaos of the surrounding area.       

Residents within the secured safe zone would regularly volunteer for litter clean-ups. A community garden might provide a sense of community spirit, healthy products and a sense of self-sufficiency.

Community events (i.e., cook-outs, music, poetry readings, book clubs, movie nights, athletic events, etc.) could add a sense of community pride, self-sufficiency and self-determination. The scope of these programs and activities would be dictated by the size/scope of the residential population and the interests and enthusiasm of those residents. A community room/meeting area is recommended to coincide with this format. Costs could be minimized through volunteers and contracting or bartering with service/program providers should be considered.

How did I come up with this vision of a secured/supportive community?

After working over 30 years in public housing and in blighted, troubled neighborhoods, it occurred to me that people are happiest when they control their environment (and particularly their safety). 

I have sat in spotless, tastefully decorated apartments of residents of public housing. These same families live in constant fear and have absolutely no control once they venture beyond the door of their apartment. 

I’ve managed a condominium complex where the rate of owner-occupancy plummeted while the building and the neighborhood went to hell-in-a-handbasket all while I launched valiant efforts at community organizing and blockwatch formation. This is not to imply that renters are inherently bad people. It merely demonstrates that when people are thrust together with no commonality of interests, insurmountable problems ensue for which no amount of money can fix them. 

I’ve observed wonderful singular renovation/revitalization initiatives by well intentioned, noble groups such as Habitat For Humanity and a plethora of affordable housing non-profits. Their costly and excruciatingly time consuming initiatives are all too often overwhelmed by surrounding blight, crime and inertia/apathy. It reminded me of the sand castles I so carefully built at the beach only to be washed away by the rising tide.

Managing public housing sites and launching revitalization initiatives (Enterprise Zones, etc.) with programs to enrich the lives of residents, funding to fix the buildings and conducting lease enforcement and code enforcement all have value. However, my observation is that without a “securing the perimeter” to stop the madness and without a sense of all-for-one and one-for-all among the residents within that perimeter, the efforts fall short. We will never be able to provide enough programming for youth to keep them engaged and safe on a 24/7 basis. Every physical renovation is all too often accompanied by vandalism. I recall the day I decided to discontinue organizing neighborhood clean-ups. As we were diligently picking up litter, residents on porches affably waved to us while swigging beer and smoking pot. They were friendly enough but it was obvious that they wanted to take no part in such do-good activities.

Streetscape upgrades, facade improvements, planting of flowers and erecting welcoming banners in our blighted urban areas are valiant efforts. They are all for naught if overwhelmed by crime and apathy in an un-defendable space where the occupants do not share a common mission.   

Manifesto of Big Ideas

A Reflective Essay Based On A Life Of Experiences

Introduction/Overview

When I announced that I was writing a manifesto, my kids were concerned. They asked “do we have to alert the authorities?”. The word “manifesto” has a negative connotation but it certainly gets your attention. It reflects the urgency of the Big Ideas proposed in this document.

As I proceeded with the blue-sky, brainstorming of ideas, it gradually occurred to me that there were some common themes highlighted as follows:

  • Tough Love approaches to problems and solutions permeate many of these proposals. Encouragement of freedom to tackle issues, targeting of root problems, and customizing solutions. However, with freedom comes responsibility and accountability. 
  • Common sense and cost-effectiveness is baked into these proposals
  • Healthy financial engines are essential. You will find no “if we build it, they will come” proposals.
  • Big picture perspectives, outside-the-box thinking and long term solutions are preferable to band aid solutions. Practical solutions are proposed within the context of the greater arch of history/destiny.
  • There is an underlying theme of eliminating restrictions and unleashing creativity. Replace the mantra “that won’t work mentality” with a “can do mentality”.   
  • There is an underlying theme that nobody should be left behind, untethered and allowed to be swallowed up by their demons (whatever they might be). These Big Ideas are grounded in expressions such as “it takes a village”, “we are our brothers keepers” , “what you do to the least of my brethren, that you do to me” and last but not least “The Golden Rule” of treating others the way you would want to be treated.

So with these themes and caveats in mind, let’s proceed with dreaming and implementing! Stay tuned for “Distressed & Depressed Cities”.

Let’s Replace Mall Mayhem Day

First of all, a brief history lesson. Over the last several years, the day after Christmas (December 26th) has become mall mayhem day.

Why? Several reasons:

  • Kids home from school. Time on their hands. Maybe they have “cabin fever”, cooped up in houses, especially if the weather is inclement.
  • Kids are flush with cash and gift cards fresh from Christmas Day.
  • Social media messaging directs them to malls to raise hell.
  • Cameras and video footage amps up participants from far and wide with everyone trying to capture and create the most outrageous film. Chaos is cool and contagious thanks to selfies and Twitter. 
  • Loss of supervision by parents and eroded moral compass among kids. Permissive and passive parenting looks the other way or worse yet condones misbehavior. When kids get in trouble because of THEIR behavior, those who call them out and make them accountable (be they the teachers, mall cops or regular cops) get chewed out by parents accusing the authority figures for picking on their little darlings who can do no wrong.

So what can be done to prevent mall mayhem on the day after Christmas (and any other day at the mall for that matter)?

Old School Solution……Ramp up enforcement of rules

  • More mall cops
  • More regular cops
  • Institute a curfew requiring an adult (i.e., parent, guardian, etc.) to accompany anybody entering the mall who is under age 18. This includes requiring that the responsible adult be present with the youngster while inside the mall. No letting the kids run amuck in the food court while the adult shops.
  • Cops (mall and regular) are authorized to require proof of age for anyone attempting to enter the mall for if there is a question as to whether they are age 18 or older. Drivers licenses and state ID cars will verify dates of birth. No ID, no parent, no entry. Just like at bars that require proof of age to be served. It’s private property and malls are allowed to include this as part of their Code of Conduct requirements.
  • All mall entry points have video surveillance so any issues at the entrance will be documented.
  • Side benefit to the above described measures would be a deterrent to anyone of any age intent on criminal activity (shoplifters, etc.).
  • All above described requirements would be well publicized throughout the community and on the property well in advance of The Day After Christmas (aka, mall mayhem day).

The aforementioned beefing up of enforcement is a stop-gap, short-termed, traditional approach to the problem. It’s comparable to putting a bandage on a wound to stop the bleeding.

New School Solution……creative, innovative, longer-term tactics to tackle systemic mall problems

Malls are experiencing a decline in foot traffic because of online shopping and shifting socio-cultural trends. Anchor stores are shrinking and malls as single use retail sites are struggling to maintain their dominance as destinations.

The afore-mentioned security/safety procedures are an essential first and fundamental step. A mall with out a sense of safety will not be a mall for very long. That’s why it’s recommended that these measures be instituted on the Day After Christmas and continue every day thereafter. Without year-round implementation of safety measures, the mayhem of the Day After Christmas might just be postponed to the following day with the same effect…..declining sales and increasing sense of insecurity. For those who might claim that enforcement of these measures is draconian and restricts  the free roam of youngsters, give these well intentioned persons the opportunity to become volunteer Guardian/Mentors. They could be like a mall blockwatch or mall guardian angels with appropriate clothing designation. With some basic screening, training/orientation and signing appropriate waivers, they could commit to walk the mall with mall cops acting as peacekeepers intervening at the first sight of fighting and disorderly conduct. This could give them an opportunity to demonstrate their concern for youngsters while appreciating the challenges that mall cops face. Their presence representing persons of all ages, backgrounds and cultures while accompanying mall cops might also improve the interactive dynamic between the mall cops and youngsters. As a side benefit, these volunteers would get plenty of exercise walking laps throughout the mall.

So what’s the longer term solution?

How about changing Mall Mayhem Day to a day of “Peace-Progress-Profit”.

Since the day after Christmas is leading up to New Years…maybe the theme could be….

New Year/New Me (the following listing of kiosks and activity stations coincide nicely with New Years Resolutions).

Kiosks could be set up and unoccupied tenant spaces (of which there are an increasing number) could include exhibits and activities that foster “peace and progress”. A sample of such informational, interactive and inspirational activity stations could include the following:

  • Mindfulness and meditation sponsored by professionals from the mental health/therapeutic fields (peace).
  • Healthy eating (samples, information, menus, etc.) sponsored by nutritionists and organic/health food businesses (Progress)
  • Healthy lifestyle and Life Long Exercisers. Sponsored by health/fitness professionals and an opportunity for exercise equipment suppliers to market their products and patrons to sample. (progress)
  • School recruiters (Magnet Schools, Private Schools, Colleges especially local community colleges). This could include STEM related kiosks since there is an urgent need to entice youth to pursue careers in the STEM fields. This could also include explanation of the FAFSA process and deadline for financial aid since the FAFSA needs to be completed at this time for persons seeking to attend college in the upcoming semester.  (Progress)
  • Career Fairs: Have rotating exhibits of businesses who are recruiting employees and encouraging career explorations (Progress)
  • Volunteer recruitment kiosk on rotating basis increasing visibility for local non-profits and community building, community improvement initiatives (peace and progress)
  • Larger underutilized commercial spaces could be dedicated (possibly on a rotating basis to keep the venue fresh) for opportunities for persons of all ages to experience any of the following: art, music, writing, acting, debating, public speaking, virtual reality experiences, 3-D printing/creating (progress)

In sum, the mall could be transformed into a multi-use, multi-functional destination point which in turn would augment its original, primary function…..profits!

The mall could launch “peace-progress-profits” on the Day After Christmas as a source of enrichment and inspiration rather than becoming a place to be avoided on Mall Mayhem Day.

If this proposal was successfully launched on the Day After Christmas, there is the potential that the  mall would receive positive national recognition and become a role model for other malls. Now that would be good for PROFITS!

Why is this so important?

Short term and immediately adverse consequences:

  • Mall reputations are at stake.
  • Profits will plunge on the day after Christmas in malls that are already struggling to remain economically viable.
  • If mall mayhem expands beyond the day after Christmas, malls are likely to close up. Shoppers must feel safe or else they will not shop.

Longer term adverse community impacts:

  • Minority youth (largely Hispanic and African American) who go to malls for the sole purpose of fighting and their disruptive behavior is documented on the local news, facebook and various social media platforms basically creates White Supremacy recruitment films. Their antics when on full display play right into the poisonous narrative that society needs to suppress and eradicate them. If these youngsters could be enlightened concerning the broader societal impact of their actions, they would immediately cease this activity if they have any sense of decency and destiny.
  • It is only a matter of time when chaotic events at malls on the day after Christmas spin completely out of control. In such a “fog of war” type environment, the chances of a Ferguson Missouri type incident increase exponentially. If this occurs, the negative ramifications for the mall and the greater community could become so severe that economic and reputational damage and sadly human tragedy could become irreparable.

Do we need to change the mindset of malls on the day after Christmas (and every day thererafter). The answer is a resounding YES.