Home Search: Finding Common Ground Between Urban & Rural

20170225_142413February has not quite come to a close and yet 2017 has already been interesting and exciting for the Golbabai family. Over the past few months, Paula and I have spent considerable time working on out next project – finding a house here in College Station. Not just any house, mind you, but the right place for us to raise our kids and put down roots. This search was especially difficult for the two of us because of our seemingly divergent tastes. As a new urbanist and city planner, I advocate for density, connectivity and walkability. Paula, on the other hand, regularly re-reads the Little House on the Prairie series, loves wide open spaces and has been researching the maintenance of backyard chickens.  Continue reading

Double Sided Mattresses & Our Planned Obsolescence Economy

20161210_1433221If you have had the pleasure of recently shopping for a mattress you don’t need me to tell you how overwhelming the experience is. Mattresses are difficult to test sufficiently prior to purchase and all the guarantees and warranties are confusing. But it is the shear number of options that is staggering. Do you want firm or plush? Foam or coil? Organic? Low chemical content? Well it is what is missing in this world of choices that hints at a disturbing truth embedded in our economic system. I’m excited to share with you today a post that has been percolating in the back of my brain for a few years now; a story that I simply walked into when I innocently walked into a mattress store. Continue reading

The Walkability of Rural Places

20161016_112808Three hundred and sixty four days a year I am a proud New Urbanist and apostle of the Strong Towns movement. I love talking about the value of mixed-use, traditional neighborhoods. When friends are over for dinner, I often find myself taking my copy of Suburban Nation off the shelf much like an evangelist spreading the gospel. Yet despite all of this, despite knowing better, there is one day, the three hundred and sixty fifth day of the year that I can’t help but feel guilty that my kids don’t live in a suburban subdivision.  That day is Halloween. Continue reading

More Than Employees: What Killed Our Local Economic Independence?

P1000702Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been following with a kind of morbid fascination our American presidential race. Of particular interest to me is not so much where our two parties disagree, however, but where they in fact agree. Both parties openly acknowledge that the economy is not working as it should for everyone, and both parties have the same prescription: jobs – i.e. better employment options.  On the surface, this sounds great for those of us trying to climb our own respective career ladders or for those trying to get on a career ladder in the first place. And this of course must be a winning theme, because it seems to be the primary domestic issue in every presidential election I can remember. But honestly, this mindset just doesn’t sit right with me, and not just because of the influences of Wendell Berry and Planet Money, but because of our past. Looking back at American history, the concept of economic success as our ability to be employed by others is a fairly recent phenomenon. We were once a nation of small business owners, each of us creating a unique American Dream of our own with self-employment as the cornerstone. Today we’re a nation of employees looking for jobs that provide upward mobility. So what happened? Continue reading

Treasuring Places of Character

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One of my greatest joys over the last two plus years has been watching my son grow up. On the cusp of moving from toddler to little boy, I increasingly see the all-important role Paula and I have in shaping his character (enter, “timeout”). But environment has an impact too, and one of the best places for him to exercise his character is on the playground. Here, there are opportunities to take on new challenges such as scaling the ladder and trying out the big slide, to utilize his creativity in the sandbox, to learn how to interact with both the bigger and smaller kids alike. But as we explore playgrounds around Austin, we notice they’re not all equal. Continue reading

Our Repair Economy: Are Low Prices the Enemy of Sustainability?

imageI was preparing for work one morning when disaster struck; my trusty beard trimmer wasn’t trimming. There was plenty of strange whirring but absolutely no movement of the blades. I spent a few minutes tinkering with it but to no avail. At this point, what are my options? It seemed to me that the problem was fixable. I have a two-year-old son who is fascinated with shaving; maybe he got a hold of it and dropped it, knocking something loose. If I couldn’t fix it myself, could a repair shop handle it? What would they charge me? How would that compare with the cost of a brand new beard trimmer? But maybe the biggest question was this: do repair shops for small electronics even exist any more? Continue reading

Redefining Success in Our Economy

imageBy all accounts the famed basketball coach John Wooden is one of the most successful in the history of the game. He boasts an all-time winning percentage of over .800 (620-147), and won an incredible 10 national championships over a twelve year period (from 1963-1975), which included four perfect seasons (1964, 1967, 1972, and 1973) and an 88 game winning streak. Despite all his victories however, a deeper look into Coach Wooden’s philosophy reveals that winning was something he actually never talked about, as he did not believe that success should be judged by comparison with anyone else. Continue reading

Questioning a Driverless Future

imageI was in Dallas last week attending the Congress for the New Urbanism’s CNU 23 Conference, turning over the question “how do we build places people love” with professionals as enthusiastic about city design as myself. One concept that kept popping up was that of the driverless car. What bothered me about the surrounding discussion though was this attitude of inevitability regarding our driverless future. No one seemed to be stopping to ask whether such technology actually provides a net benefit to our quality of life. To be sure, such cars may provide several benefits from a possible reduction in traffic fatalities to better mobility for the elderly, disabled and others isolated by our auto-oriented society. But what about the potential pitfalls? Have we considered those? Let me just share a few unanswered questions of mine ranging from the concrete to the philosophical: Continue reading

“I Have a Dream”

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“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered at the March on Washington, August 28, 1963

Since finding the incredible online resources of the Schumacher Center for a New Economics, my nightly routine has included washing the dishes to a Schumacher Lecture.  One of my favorites is the below lecture by Van Jones, founder of Rebuild the Dream, in which he gives an amazing account and commentary on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” Speech.” Continue reading

More Than Job Creation

This week I want to simply share one of my favorite This American Life podcasts – “How to Create a Job” – because I think it identifies a critical vulnerability in the field of economic development as it is practiced today.

Stealing jobs from another place is not economic development.

Lowering taxes or stimulating spending is not economic development.

Economic development is an art: the cultivation both of our human talents and the land in a responsible way. The economy is about making these gifts useful, sharing them, and becoming better people in the process. Continue reading