Durable Growth

New Year’s Resolutions 2016: More folks and more tenacity

Urban setting in Spokane, Washington

Urban setting in Spokane, Washington

This is the fifth New Year’s Day that I’ve been writing this blog.  Once again, best wishes to all for a productive and increasingly urbanist New Year.

A tradition of this blog, although an admittedly trite one, is New Year’s Resolutions.  In past years, I’ve touched on subjects such as doing more urbanist reading, becoming a better educated urbanist traveler, and making more numerically-based urbanist arguments.  As the best resolutions should be, they were stretch goals, perhaps beyond reasonable reach, but encouraging beneficial growth.

Not surprisingly, I’ve not fully achieved any of the goals.  But the process of setting them and reaching for them made me a better advocate for urbanism, which is how it should have worked.

This year, I’ll set another pair of stretch goals, ones in which your assistance will be sought.  I want to expand the North Bay urbanist advocacy in two ways.

A few weeks back, I was invited to participate in the holiday lunch of a North Bay advocacy group.  They might not have called themselves urbanists, but their advocacy targets were closely aligned with urbanism.  I had worked with them several times during the year and thought we made a good team.  So I was happy to join them for lunch.

The conversation was sparkling.  A few speakers leaned toward the pedantic, forcing the chair to exercise his authority more than he may have wished, but the comments were all educated and insightful, offering a tutorial to attentive listeners.  They represented a level of community advocacy that should encourage all who hope for a better world.

But when I looked around the table at the participants, I saw folks who were mostly grey-haired, wrinkled, and walked with a stiffening gait, a description that can also apply to me on many days.  I’m not always good at estimating age, but I guessed that I was the fourth youngest person at the eighteen-person gathering.  And I’m sixty-two.

I understand why land-use advocacy often falls to the older generation.  Financial security has been achieved.  Children are educated and gone.  Even if retirements haven’t yet arrived, careers are winding down.  Lifetimes of observation and consideration have identified the issues that really matter to the advocates.

And perhaps most importantly, seniors sometimes have an extended vision that often eludes the young.  When I speak with high school juniors about land-use possibilities, they hope for changes that can be made before their senior year.  When I talk to thirty-two-year-olds, they hope for changes that can be made before they buy their next house at age thirty-five.

Perhaps because they’ve had a lifetime to observe how long some goals take to attain, it is often only the seniors who are willing to embrace and to work toward forty-year visions, even with the knowledge that they’ll almost undoubtedly have left the stage before the vision is achieved.

At the holiday lunch, mention was made of several former members who had passed on.  There was no disappointment that the departed folks had gone before the goal was achieved, but only satisfaction that they had gone knowing that progress was being made.

But for all the reasons that long-term land-use advocacy often falls to the elders, there are good reasons why young advocates are necessary.  The young can bring an energy and enthusiasm that can be more difficult for elders.  Also, many public decision-makers are still in the heart of their working careers and can too easily dismiss as “old coots” the older advocates who totter to the microphone with their grey hair, even when those old coots deliver well-honed, insightful, and essential wisdom.

But when I think about the folks who I see regularly, who speak to city councils about urbanist ideas and who write to local papers to complain about anti-urbanist biases, those folks look a lot more like the me of today than the me of thirty years ago.  And that’s not good enough.

So my first resolution on this New Year’s Day 2016 is to encourage more urbanist advocates across a broader age spectrum, with a particular focus on the young.

To be clear, I know I have many readers who are significantly younger than me.  And they’re good folks.  But I may not see them or hear from them for months on end.  And I virtually never see them at City council or planning commission meetings.

I understand the family and career reasons why that is so.  But it still leaves a hole in the ranks of advocacy.  And it fails to meet the expectation set by Gandhi, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

My second resolution touches on a related issue, which is the essential tenacity of advocacy.  The folks around the holiday lunch table knew what advocacy truly requires, which is crafting five stratagems for moving a boulder, celebrating briefly when it moves an inch, and then creating five more stratagems.

But I see much current advocacy coming from a different place, which is the dispensing of perceived wisdom, often to those are already converted, and nothing further.

In a meeting of advocates on how to promote mixed-use development, someone will flutter in, suggest we need more mixed-use development, and flutter back out, thinking that advocacy has been achieved, when the truth is that nothing was achieved.

So my second resolution is to do more to impress upon folks the dogged and persistent nature of the advocacy required to affect change.

These two resolutions may sound as if they are being applied to others, which would be the easiest kinds of resolutions to set and the least troublesome to keep.  (“You should lose weight and you over there should exercise more.”)  But they are truly internally-directed.  I worry that my approach to advocacy is failing to attract the kind of advocates needed for long-term change and that I’m failing to impart lessons about the essential tenacity of advocacy.

So the resolutions are about me looking in the mirror during 2016 and seeking changes in who I am and how I present myself, so that I can better attract urbanist advocates.

Whether or not I can make myself a great leader, I can still take encouragement from this quote from journalist Walter Lippmann, “The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in other men the conviction and the will to carry on.”  All of us who advocate for long-term urbanist goals should rally to that flag.

In my next post, I’ll return to the upcoming StrongTowns visit to Santa Rosa, giving reasons why attending the public sessions should be worthwhile, even for the Petalumans who may feel jilted.  The effort can be a test of my ability to gather urbanist advocates.

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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