Category: transportation

When is Profit not profitable?

Apples on green place web
‘Apples on Green Plate’ oil on canvas © J.Hart

The choices we make as individuals, to grow our own food; to curtail our shopping; to live a zero waste life, might seem beside the point, especially when seen against the horrific worldwide rise of abusive authoritarian governments. For me, the question becomes: what is the engine that is driving these disastrous governments; and where is the point at which we can effect the most pressure? As I understand the system, most of the necessities we buy (one of the most basic is food) are provided by giant corporations whose sole reason for being is profit. It is the money from these corporate entities and owners that supports our present politicians.

Once profit becomes the only goal of every action taken, the more humane and real needs of people such as health, safety, and peace are ignored or even actively destroyed! But conversely, if we, as individual consumers, also make our individual profit and comfort the end all and be all of our lives, we collude with the corporations in our own destruction and support our own impoverishment!  The corporations and the billionaires who own them can only exist if we buy what they are selling! (For a concise repeat of this message: http://realfarmacy.com/the-woody-harrelson-video-message-the-mainstream-media-does-not-want-you-to-watch/

Surprisingly, we are not captives to the status quo, especially here in North America; (some other occupied and exploited parts of the world are not so lucky). We can disengage from the corporate stranglehold by refusing to buy what we don’t honestly need, and by creating ourselves what we do need. I feel that the most basic way to disengage from an unhealthy economic system is in the foods we chose to buy, and the foods we take the time to grow.

Our industrial profit-driven economic system views resources (soil, fossil fuel, and, yes, people) as unlimited. ( This link by a car engineer who now “builds” forests, gives a very clear description of the difference between industrial and natural uses of resources: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mjUsobGWhs8&t=17s) It sees soil*, our most important strategic resource, as merely another material to be used and used up (without any thought being given to replenishing the soil!) to grow massive amounts foods that we can buy very cheaply at home and export abroad.

Because we are all habituated to look for the “biggest bang for our buck” we happily buy the inexpensive wheat, soy, and corn which make up most fast foods and commercial food products. The actual costs of these foods-pollution, government subsidies, and the ruination of the soil- are hidden from us, but their health costs have been directly linked to the obesity and diabetes epidemics in the States!

But how do I convince you that what seems profitable is not; that buying food which saves you a couple of bucks will, in the long run, ruin your health? How do I show you that by buying food that is fast and convenient-ready made, widely advertised, and easily accessible- you are profiting large corporations, wealthy stockholders, and billionaire owners that have neither your health nor your well-being at heart? How do I encourage you to learn to grow your own food and not assume that large farms will do it for you? (The methods that agroecology are utilizing to grow food on farms are the same ones that will allow you to grow food in your backyard! )

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/26/opinion/farming-organic-nature-movement.html

How do we, who are eating better, choosing organically raised produce, raising our own foods (even if only on windowsills and balconies), convince friends and family that taking the time and money to support local organic farms or grow food themselves will profit us all in ways that cannot be expressed simply as the bottom line? Or perhaps health should be the real bottom line!

*(An important book that explains how soil depletion can destroy whole societies is Dirt by David Montgomery https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sQACN-XiqHU).

https://www.matthieuricard.org/fr/blog/posts/justice-sociale-societe-de-consommation-et-simplicite-volontaire?fbclid=IwAR0qs2GhqhZCkp2eJy6DJTdpcads93n2LbeDEE-Cc5IBictZVuc1zPRUWr8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Yankee travels Dallas

shadows at bus stop 2-18 watercolor web
At the bus stop: just me and the bus sign.

Some of the things I do here in Dallas, like walking, are seen as something only a Yankee would do, though I think that taking the bus is a very Southern tradition especially for working people-think of the Montgomery bus strike.

Certainly, my experience of using the bus system here in Dallas has been very different than using the bus and metro system in Montreal. One similarity (and a good one it is!) is that in both places I, as a senior (over sixty-five years old), can buy a monthly pass for $40 U.S. (49$ CAD, which is roughly the same price).

The big difference seems to be that the transit system in Dallas is not the first choice for getting around town. The buses are busy during the morning and evening rush hours, but are almost empty on the weekends. They also run on once an hour schedules during the weekends. Sometimes I have been the only person on the bus or the DART trains in the middle of a Saturday afternoon!

It is a peculiar sensation to wait for a bus or a train in a deserted station or all alone at a bus stop. In Montreal, there are always people in the trains, or getting out at my stop even if it is after midnight on a Friday or Saturday night! But here the preference for the young & hip is Uber.

The mass transit here is also, like the neighbourhoods, de facto segregated by income, race, and ethnicity. Almost all the passengers are people of color, either working folks or indigents. However, I have found the atmosphere on the buses very warm and welcoming, much of which is the result of engaged drivers and a Southern feeling for hospitality even to strangers.

The drivers too are, almost to a person, very considerate of their passengers. The buses have a ramp that can be let down to allow people in wheelchairs to roll up more easily into the bus. Then the drivers must get out of their seats to attach the wheelchairs to the bus. And when the disabled person needs to get off, the drivers have to disconnect the chairs again, and let down (and then take up) the ramps. This is a very important service that the Dallas transit offers their customers, but as there is no one on board to help the drivers with this job, the buses often run behind schedule!

So, once again, a better choice for transportation is in place, but the difficulty is getting people to opt for this choice, and by upping the ridership, create improvements to the service.

 

 

 

Artisans of the Common Good

old shoes 1 web
My walking shoes: L.L.Bean sneakers & Ecco leather ties. Pastel on watercolor wash.

I got a very interesting comment recently on my post about the difficulty of walking around Dallas, and I have been thinking about it since the New Year.  My reader noted that the folks in Dallas love their cars, but also that they need the cars in order to commute in a spread out city during the summer months when the temperature is often in the triple digits.

Fair point, but why make the solution to commuting, during the four months when it is unhealthy to be outside walking most of the day, fit every day the rest of the year? (It has been -11 degrees F. recently where I come from in the North so you can only imagine how happy I am walking around Dallas in your delightfully comfortable 55 degrees F.!) What would Dallas look like, and what could some strategies for encouraging walking be, if we didn’t assume an easy one size fits all means of transportation?

Texas just got ranked one of the lowest states (34th) in the nation for good health with 33% of the population obese, so the question is not a trivial one! But for most of us, we use the infrastructure that is in place, and don’t really notice it unless we come from another society with alternate ways of getting around. We tend not to think about how our world would be different (and better!) if we, as individuals, make different choices.

And as we change our lives, the infrastructure would begin to change too. Right now in Dallas, the highways that connect parts of the city are in good repair, but the smaller local streets have been neglected as the city endeavours to save money. It makes sense to walk locally if only to spare your car the damage of negotiating streets with a lot of potholes! If more people walked to do the errands that are now done by car (grocery shopping with a pull cart, picking up dry cleaning, going to the library, etc.); and used walking to get some of the exercise that either they are not getting, or that they are relegating to the time at the gym, the routes between destinations would improve: better sidewalks, more time to cross busy larger streets, and perhaps most important, drivers being aware that there are going to be pedestrians sharing the streets with them!

As David Brooks wrote in his op-ed piece, for the New York Times, recently, on Pope Francis’ New Year’s Eve homily: “the people who have the most influence on society are actually the normal folks, through their normal, everyday gestures: being kind in public places, attentive to the elderly. The pope called such people, in a beautiful phrase, ‘the artisans of the common good.’ ” Choosing to walk, choosing to quite literally “step outside the box” makes you an artisan of the common good!

 

 

 

 

Walking Dallas

                                        walk under oaks, Dallas copy       Walking out to do errands at 4 pm Wednesday under oak trees; not a person in sight!

Dallas at rush hour copy  Downtown Dallas at evening weekday rush hour; I’m walking home from the butcher.

I knew when I came down here to Dallas that it is not known as a walker-friendly city,

https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/sep/12/walkable-city-worlds-most-new-york-melbourne-fes-el-bali

but the actual experience of walking here has been positively surreal! Coming from eight years of living in Montreal, and taking for granted that people walk whenever possible, I was not prepared to find myself the only person walking around the streets of Dallas. This sounds like an exaggeration, but truly it is not!

I live in the Oak Lawn section of town, https://www.walkscore.com/TX/Dallas, an half an hour walk from downtown and to most of central Dallas. It is a beautiful part of the city (and Dallas is surprisingly lovely), but at any hour of the day or night, the only people on the street are the dog walkers, an occasional jogger, the indigent, and me. Now that might be understandable in the summer months when the temperature is in the triple digits Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius), but there is no reason for this at a time of year when the weather is sunny, cool, and perfect! But the citizens of Dallas are so habituated to their cars, that I don’t think that they even notice the change in weather!!

This is the first time in my life I have lived in a car-centric place, and it is really bizarre! Even during morning or afternoon rush hours, the city feels as if it is deserted. There are, of course, thousands of people sitting in their cars, but the cars are closed (air conditioning seems to be a necessity no matter what the weather!), so I have the uncanny sensation that I am all alone on the street!

It is not so much that the city is hostile to pedestrians as that it seems to have decided that since so few people of any standing (read young, well-to-do & white) actually use them, Dallas presents places to walk without the accompanying functionality of those spaces. There are sidewalks along most streets (though not, interestingly in the very wealthiest neighborhoods), but they are often closed by construction with no where to go, for the walker, but in the street with the cars. There are crosswalks at most corners, but the walk lights are often calibrated to give the pedestrian about ten seconds to get across before they change to a flashing stop, and this is when the pedestrian signs work at all. If one is an older or disabled person, the crossing is impossible.

It is also really dangerous to cross a busy street even with the light as Dallas, unlike Montreal, permits a right turn on red; and drivers are so unused to people in the crosswalk that they often turn without looking. I have taken to getting the attention of the driver in the right hand lane (even if I have to knock on the car hood to make him look up from his cellphone) before the light changes and I head across the road!! Also, Dallas is structured with a number of high speed highways and tollroads dividing the city into various neighborhoods and districts, and walking the overpasses across those highways with the traffic coming into or out of them is not my favorite part of walking Dallas.

turtle-creek-oct-copy.jpg                                Turtle Creek, Dallas

Still, I continue to explore Dallas on foot. In the past two months I have seen some beautiful parks (including along the Turtle Creek near my home), and visited some of the fine libraries & museums in the town. And when I do pass anyone on the street, no matter his or her race or aspect, I am always greeted by a warm “How are you doing, Ma’am? You have a good one!” which is one of the perks I love of living in a Southern town.

It would make me happy to see Dallas switch into a more sustainable mode of living.

http://www.drawdown.org/solutions/buildings-and-cities/walkable-cities

If the habit of driving could be replaced with the habit of walking, especially for folks commuting locally and doing errands in their neighborhoods (and yes, I am one of the few people trundling my rolling shopping cart to the nearby grocery store with me- to my daughter’s chagrin!) Dallas could become a healthier more integrated town.

https://beta.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/walkable-cities-are-better-for-our-health-and-economy/article36384880/?ref=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.theglobeandmail.com&click=sf_globefb

And now the bad news:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/dec/05/traffic-fumes-in-city-streets-largely-wipe-out-exercise-benefits-for-over-60s

which means that I will be walking during the middle of the day & not during the rush hours!