Durable Growth

Accepting change, in baseball and in land use

Willie Mays Plaza in front of AT&T Park, San Francisco

Willie Mays Plaza in front of AT&T Park, San Francisco

Craig Calcaterra, a baseball writer with NBC Sports, recently wrote about the acceptance of change.  He was specifically writing about changes within the game of baseball, but his conclusions can be applied to other areas of human endeavor, such as land use.

The article runs moderately long.  For those on a time budget, I’ll summarize.

Baseball writers can fall into the trap of idealizing an earlier era of baseball, often the year when they were twelve years old.  It’s the age when burgeoning adolescence and an increasing awakening to the world makes all seem perfect and eternal in the world of sports.

(I understand the sentiment.  My favorite team won the World Series the year that I was twelve.  They rode dominant pitching, solid defense, and a pesky offense to the title.  To this day, that combination of team skills is my preferred brand of baseball.  I always prefer a well-played 3-1 game over a 13-11 offensive explosion.)

It’s okay to hold fond memories about an idyllic time of youth.  But it becomes a problem when fond memories give way to a pig-headed insistence on the need to return to that past, arguing that the game of baseball has only gotten worse over the intervening years.

In Calcaterra’s view, we learn something new every day, becoming a “new Craig” that replaces the “old Craig”.  That constant process of change and improvement is an essential part of embracing of life.

To reject all the “incremental Craigs”, or to never have allowed those “incremental Craigs” to be born, in favor of an often misremembered idyllic past is a form of death.

I concur with Calcaterra.  I remember the baseball of the 1960s with fondness, but can also acknowledge its flaws.  The lingering racial prejudices, the unreported abuse of amphetamines, the flawed game strategies, and the hagiographic press.  Baseball has made progress on all of those fronts since the 1960s.  Admittedly, the progress has often been accompanied by missteps, but overall the game is better played today than ever before.  And to dismiss that reality is to dismiss a fundamental act of living.

The same thought process applies to land use.

I remember the neighborhoods in which I spent the 1960s.  Single-family homes on large lots fronted by expansive green lawns.  Wide streets well-suited for youthful games of baseball or football.  The ennui of long summer afternoons when the only friends in walking distance didn’t want to play.   Trips in the family car for any task, whether buying a quart of milk, picking up laundry, or going to a youth baseball game.

At the time, occasional youthful complaints aside, it felt like a reasonable way to live.  Indeed, I couldn’t have conceived of any other way to live.

But the cracks that only the most discerning eye could have spotted in the 1960s have consistently grown since then.  The municipal inability to pay for maintenance of those wide streets.  The growing environmental issues around the hydrocarbon use epitomized by those trips in the family car.  And now the water issues over those green lawns.

So, just as in baseball, I can remember the 1960s land-use patterns with fondness while also appreciating the better thinking that is now making inroads into land-use planning.  The increased focus on walkable urbanism, with its improved municipal finances, reduced climate change impact, and less water use.

But I don’t expect that urbanism is a finished product.  Every day, I awake eager to learn new nuances and to find ways to share that new information with you.  I hope to welcome each dawn as a “new Dave” for as many years as possible.

As Calcaterra acknowledges, we all eventually reach the day when new stuff begins to elude us, when we become curmudgeonly about new-fangled ways of thinking.  But the goal is to delay that day as long as possible.

I’m reminded of a story about long-time Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes on the day he finally stepped down from the Court at the age of 91.  A fellow Justice, concerned about the effect of the retirement on his old friend, stopped by to check on Holmes later the same day.  He was surprised to find Holmes deep into a book by Plato.

When his friend expressed surprise at the continued study, Holmes explained that he had to prepare himself for whatever would come next in his life.

I’m not Oliver Wendell Holmes, but I certainly hope to emulate him in how I view land use, baseball, and whatever else catches my attention in my remaining years of life.

In my next post, I’ll recount a recent on-line exchange with neighbors about how to better control traffic to a nearby high school.  It was a discussion of legitimate concerns combined with misunderstandings about the nature of car drivers.  It also gave some bittersweet insights into the changing of generations.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. – Dave Alden (davealden53@comcast.net)

Written by Dave Alden

Dave Alden

Dave Alden is a Registered Civil Engineer. A University of California graduate, he has worked on energy and land-use projects in California, Oregon, and Washington. He was also the president of a minor league baseball team for two seasons. He lives on the west side of Petaluma with his wife and two dogs. The blog that he writes can be found at http://northbaydesignkit.blogspot.com.

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