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.  

Why I get mistaken for a Trump supporter?

My profile is….

  • Angry….Old….Bald….White
  • Working class….Blue Collar
  • Worked 2 to 3 jobs concurrently for the last 30 years trying to make ends meet
  • Have not gone on a vacation (or even had a weekend off) during the last 30 years
  • I’m a few paychecks away from bankruptcy. I’ve experienced foreclosure and bankruptcy in the past and that specter is rearing its ugly head again.
  • I’m in good health (thankfully) but if this changes, bankruptcy is waiting in the wings.
  • Company health insurance requires astronomically high deductible (which resets annually). Every interaction with doctor, health insurer and pharmacy is an adversarial negotiation.
  • Kids college loan debt (Parent Plus Loans) is thru the roof. I might be age 100 before they get paid off. My college grad kids will be paying off their own loans (Stafford Subsidized/Unsubsidized) till they are middle age and I’m long gone.
  • House is on verge of condemnation. It will be paid off in a couple more years but it may collapse upon itself before that happens. Things break but no funds to fix them. I live in an astronomically high cost housing market. I have been paying well in excess of 60% of my gross family income keeping a roof over my head all of these years.

So I could blame Reaganomics, Clinton or Obama for my dire circumstances, but I don’t.

I could blindly follow Trump thinking that his Make America Great (and Great Again) will bring me to the promised land. Hell no, think again.

First of all, forget about politics and policy.

On a deeply personal level….

Would I want to spend an evening with him trash talking and name call anybody who dares to question him or hold a different opinion? Hell no.  

Would I turn my back on him trusting that he would not double cross me and refrain from throwing me under the bus as he has done with so many of his former advisors and employees? Hell no.

Would I allow any female member of my family or friend circle be left alone with him (especially after his documented locker room comment getting off the bus during his campaign). Hell no.

Would I stand by and allow him to berate and belittle just about every ethnic, religious and racial minority group as continuously documented in his speeches and incessant tweets. Hell no.

Would I remain friends with a person who continuously lies and contradicts himself, defying facts and remaining impervious to constructive criticism? Would I remain friends with someone who refuses to listen and never acknowledge that he is wrong or ever say “I’m sorry”.  Hell no.

So you see, if you strip away the politics and policy and just focus on the person, I can not bring myself to consider myself a Trump fan even though I fit the profile. Deep down we all make those visceral choices concerning who we trust and who qualifies as a friend whose company we enjoy. Trump does not pass that test and it makes me wonder how callous, untrustworthy, dismissive and downright ornery he would have to be before my counterparts would withdraw their support and exclaim “Enough is Enough”.It intrigues me that persons who are like me (culturally, economically, etc.) can overlook Trumps antics, ill-temperament, shallowness, impetuousness and character flaws while still saying “I’m with him”.

Am I a U.S. Patriot?

Can a liberal, progressive Democrat from CT be a PATRIOT ?????

Some people consider this an oxymoron but I say no. Here’s why….

  • I don’t drive around with a gigantic US flag in an oversized pick-up truck but I show my patriotism because …….
  • I have worked every weekend for the last 20+ years at a second job to support my family. More recently I have been working a 3rd and 4th job. As a PATRIOT, I do not buy this trickle down theory of giving tax breaks to the rich so that somehow a working class guy like me can benefit. Show me the money…I haven’t seen it yet.
  • I put four kids through college and am mentoring four kids to be decent, law abiding citizens. Proud to be Americans but more importantly appreciating their American birthright while remaining keenly aware of the trials and tribulations of those who suffer in third world hellholes and war ravaged lands.
  •  I have worked tirelessly in the fields of community development, affordable housing and more recently in mental health for the last 30+ years, so don’t tell me that I haven’t contributed to America. Me out of touch with reality …hardly since I live reality every day at work. 
  • I’m as aggressive as anybody else concerning terrorists (both foreign and domestic).   
  • Give me one hour alone  with a Bin Laden type character and see who emerges from that room. 
  • For that matter, give me one hour alone with the likes of Dylan 
    Roof of the Savannah Massacre, or Timothy McVeigh of the Oklahoma City bombing or Bernie Madoff of the Ponzi Scheme and see who emerges from that room.

Remember, I am an Irish-American and there is a reason that they call us the Fighting Irish.

  • I haven’t been target shooting or held a gun permit since my twenties. It’s time to start practicing again and renew that permit.
  • My ancestors were all Union soldiers. My father and all my uncles served in WW2. My father and most of my uncles were cops. Not a profession for the wimpy or faint of heart.  My great Aunt Kate was the first to hire an African-American driver for her moving company in the 1940’s, which was unheard of in those times. My late uncle Austin told stories of the time the Catholic Church was threatened to be burned down by an anti-Catholic, anti-Irish mobs in Providence RI until the parishioners surrounded the church armed with bats to protect it. My uncle Tom hired the first African American worker in a transportation union in RI much to the consternation of co-workers.  My wife got to visit Auschwitz in Poland when tracing her Polish roots and yes the Holocaust did exist for those idiots who spout the untruth that it did not exist.  

So…….

  • Don’t wave that rebel flag in my face. Put that rebel flag in a museum and include it in the curriculum of social studies classes  as part of American history not as a symbol of American hate.
  • Treat the KKK hood and the ISIS flag a symbols of terrorism and give these domestic and international symbols of terrorism no mercy and no quarter. 
  • Be intolerant of any felony immigrant but be equally intolerant of any “good old boy” American who commits any act of violence against  our fellow Americans. 
  • Support non-violent demonstration against injustice whether it be an infringement of our freedoms of the press, freedom of speech and freedom to assemble.  

So yes I am a PATRIOT, I am a New Englander, a progressive,  a liberal, a democrat. Proud of it all and ready to defend our freedoms in the tradition of my colonial ancestors.

Too Many Slogans Too Many Causes

There’re all good and well intentioned.  

Save the whale, the polar bear, the bay, the planet.

Cure the disease, feed the children, end the poverty, stop the crime.

Wear the seatbelt, don’t text and drive, don’t drink & drive.

And on and on….

Got me to thinking, when was the last time everybody (and I mean everybody) was on the same page.

I wasn’t around back then but my guess is that in WWII we had to defeat Hitler and the Emperor of Japan.  More recently, it was during the immediate aftermath of 911 that we experienced the same sense of solidarity. We were united in shock, sorrow and outrage but unlike WWII, there was no nation to attack, no capital to capture. The enemy was (and remains) Al Qaeda, an amorphous  enemy that mutates. The sense of solidarity disappeared when we took our eye off the ball to pursue Sadam Hussein in Iraq rather than Bin Laden in Afganistan/Pakistan.

So back to slogans and causes…What is the one thing we all could get behind?  Global warming/climate change might be a logical choice, a good start. After all we only have 1 planet and it affects us all both now and in the long term (if we chose to have a long term). The problem beyond the naysayers is that this issue it is not immediate and visceral. We are like the frogs in the pot of increasingly hot water not knowing that it’s time to jump out before the boiling point is reached.

As a history buff, this got me to thinking…When in history has everyone been on the same page. It seems that this happens when circumstances are so dire that there is no other choice. Examples include, the plague, all out wars, revolutions, famines, droughts, natural disasters, etc. When the lava is flowing down from the volcano and you are fleeing for your life, there is no time to contemplate noble causes. Might this be our fate with regard to climate change and global warming? That will certainly crystalize our focus but might it be too little, too late.

Back to a more optimistic perspective, why can’t we galvanize around what I call the “blizzard effect”. This is that time during a snowstorm when everyone is helping to shovel eachothers driveway and rescue stranded vehicles. So why can’t we be more consistently engaged in the communal mode during the blizzard effect. Probably because we do not collectively have the same sense of urgency and are all pursuing noble but disparate causes.

With the Thanksgiving holiday fast approaching,  it got me to thinking about how the pilgrims had to focus exclusively on staying alive and not starving. They cooperated with the Native Americans and thankfully the Native Americans cooperated with the pilgrims. Unity of purpose born of necessity coupled with cooperation and collaboration.

Ahh, the good old days of early America.  Fast forward a few years and the colonists were doing much better and guess what…now they are engaged in witchhunts (a term we all too frequently hear about today) and the burning of witches. Seems like the better off the colonists and early settlers got, the worse off it got for the Native Americans. Always interesting to see how uncooperative and downright ornery we get when our bellies get full and we loose focus.

Unity of purpose and empathy for others only seems to rear its head when staring into the face of extinction.

   Happy Thanksgiving to All

Common Ground

The SILLY SEASON is fast approaching.

The 2020 campaign for USA president in heating up.

Thanksgiving is just around the corner.

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 Thanksgiving in 2019 and 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 4:

  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.

We have no other choice but to go our separate ways.

2. 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.

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.

3. Life Experience

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 that for you and you need to value that for me.

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, 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 from 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 we can not co-exist even if we agree on basic common ground. We each will know those deal breakers when we see them. These will be those stances 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 eachother 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 that we once had.

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.

Greg Dunn

Revise the American Dream

Time was……Better school…..Better Job….Bigger House

Now…Work 24/7 just to stay above the financial waterline

Must be a better way, a different angle.

What if……Enough people got together to purchase a property outright and collectively. Imagine what life would be without a mortgage?

What if….There were no car payments, no car loans? Instead get around by alternative means: mass transit (bus, train), walk, ride bike, electric powered bike, scooter, motorcycle, uber/lyft, car share (wheels when you need them) and if all else fails buy a vehicle but do it collectively as described above for property (working out some sort of schedule so everybody gets to drive the vehicle when they need it). Better yet, what if you actually lived near to where you worked thanks to T.O.D. (Transit Oriented Development)

What if….speaking of property and vehicles you purchased an RV or converted a large scale van (like a Mercedes Sprinter with a high roof clearance) and got to park relatively near to where you worked, thereby cutting down on commute time (and hit the road in your free time and actually got some enjoyment out of this relatively short life). Vehicle taxes certainly would be lower than real estate taxes and there would be no lawn to cut!

What if…..you attended a community college and then commuted from home to a state college. No college loans and work a part-time job (or maybe work-study gig)

What if…..you set aside 10% of your annual salary for a Health Savings Account (HSA) growing tax free every year and travelling with you no matter where you worked and presumably being used when you got older when statistically you became sicker. Presumably whatever amount of money that accumulated in this health insurance type 401K would come up short paying for whatever medical expenses that occur during your lifetime. But you did your part by contributing annually at 10% of your salary (a responsible, affordable proportion) and the government covered the balance of your medical costs. End result: you did your best to contribute and you did not die pennyless in bankruptcy just because you got ill.

What if….your health insurance rates went down if you demonstrated measurable improvements in your health status (i.e., lost weight, stopped smoking, lowered cholesterol, lowered blood pressure, started and maintained exercise). What if health insurance rates were structured like car insurance rates (drive fast, have accidents and speeding tickets, pay more).

What if….there was a place you could go to if you were at the end of your rope (literally and figuratively) in a hopeless situation with no foreseeable way out. This could be in terms of finances, physical health, mental health or all of the above. What if under the revised dream/paradigm you received more than the watered down conversation with an advisor (be they financial, mental, physical or all of the above). What if there was opportunity for 24/7, extended supervision (possibly in a residential setting) where you could get the longer term treatment, attitude adjustment and cleansing/re-setting that you needed. This is a costly and comprehensive proposal but it’s certainly preferable to the highly likely alternatives (suicide, mass shooter, spouse beater, addict, homeless, etc.)

What if…..self-sufficiency and sustainability became more important than pricy diplomas. What if schools taught survival skills (budgeting, self-defense, gardening, fixing cars/houses.

What if…keeping with the gardening theme, enough was produced on every plot of land that it necessitated the canning of produce to sustain throughout the winter (whether it was the climatic winter or a financial winter crisis). Shifting to a local, sustainable source of fruits/veggies would also be beneficial in terms of healthier eating and reduced dependence on meats which adversely impact global warming.

What if….dogs continued to provide a source of companionship but they were also trained to be loyal guardians, defenders in uncertain, dangerous times. Presumably speaking here about larger guard dogs (shepherds, rotties, Dobermans, bull terriers, airdale terriers).

What if…..small arms training for the law abiding added a sense of security at home and when travelling.

What if….cross-training became the norm rather than the exception in society. Talent swaps replaced the paying for services and the taking of expensive classes and certifications.

What if…..college athletic programs focused more on fitness for life rather than mega-stadiums and pandering to professional sports programs that by the way fail to compensate players who provide free professional level services. What if colleges shifted to “fitness & survival” rather than “profit, pride and exploitation”.

What if….everybody had more control over their destiny.

More businesses were employee owned. More profit sharing.

More housing cooperatives.

Neighborhoods became protected enclaves gated and maintained by inhabitants. Why should the rich be the only ones that have gated communities and a sense of security.

Means tested health insurance and medical care (including pharmaceuticals), so that nobody goes bankrupt just because they got sick.

In sum, why can’t the revised American Dream tilt more to….

Collectivity….Self-Sufficiency…..Self-Determination…Cooperation/Collaboration where we all “have eachothers back”

What a breath of fresh air that would be. To steal from the words of the late Louie Armstrong….”What A Wonderful World It Would Be”