Make No Small Memories: A Tribute to David Godschalk

You tend to know when someone is a huge influence in his field. You can sense the gravitas when they speak, and you can find the books and articles, or major projects, that trace the impact of that person’s career. Urban planning lost such a person on January 27 when Dr. David Godschalk, 86, died in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. It seemed not that long ago when Dave was still a looming presence, contributing major ideas and shaping the thinking of his fellow professionals, but illness intervened. I recall the comment several years ago of a former co-worker at the American Planning Association, Joe MacDonald, one of Dave’s doctoral students at the University of North Carolina (UNC), who said, “Retirement for David Godschalk is a 40-hour week.” Looking at his remarkable productivity suggests that Joe was not exaggerating.

Dave Godschalk, whom I knew personally as a friend and colleague for at least the last 20 years, left what may be his most indelible impression on the subfield of hazard mitigation planning. When Dave first got involved, sometime in the 1980s, this was at best a nascent field of interest and disasters were a long-neglected focus of the urban planning profession. As a professor of urban planning at UNC for 45 years, Dave would have understood if he had heard me say, as I have on many occasions, that as a graduate student in urban planning at the University of Iowa (UI) in the early 1980s, I never heard the words “disaster,” “hazard,” or “floodplain” once despite a concentration in land use and environment. Thanks in part to the path Dave plowed for decades, I am now an adjunct assistant professor at the UI School of Urban and Regional Planning, teaching hazard mitigation and disaster recovery and using those and related words in just about every hour of classroom time.

Rather than recite his many accomplishments, which would fill pages, I will direct those interested in the full story to Dave’s recently published Searching for the Sweet Spot: A Planner’s Memoir. I confess he died before I got a chance to order it, so I am still awaiting delivery. But I read plenty of his professional work, and I would rather use this space to share my own personal memories of working with him because he was a huge influence on my own growth and rise to leadership in planning for natural hazards.

David Godschalk with APA Executive Director James Drinan (left). All photos reproduced courtesy of UNC Department of City and Regional Planning.

For one thing, he was an easy person to learn from. I do not mean that he was not intellectually demanding. If he thought your idea was off the mark, he would tell you, but he never disrespected or condescended. There are those in this world who want you to know they are the smartest person in the room. Dave simply supplied the right idea at the right time. I know because, in my capacity as manager of APA’s Hazards Planning Center, I often organized and led symposia that solicited guidance from leading thinkers on the projects we were undertaking. When invited, he always delivered. For instance, in the 2008 symposium that helped develop our project outline for Hazard Mitigation: Integrating Best Practices into Planning, an effort underwritten by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, we were all looking for tools to advance the integration of hazard mitigation priorities into the local planning process when Dave suggested developing a “safe growth audit” for communities, a set of guidelines for assessing their plans, policies, and ordinances. Facilitating the meeting, I Immediately knew a seminal concept when I heard it, and jumped on the idea, inviting Dave to help us develop the concept. He followed up with articles we published and incorporated the idea into the chapter he subsequently wrote for the Planning Advisory Service Report. His chapter became a cornerstone of what became a highly influential publication that has continued to make an impact since we released it in 2010.

Such contributions to the field were regular occurrences in Dave’s long career, which began following his service in the U.S. Navy in the 1950s and included studying planning and architecture at the University of Florida, work as a local planner in Florida, earning his Ph.D. and teaching for 45 years at UNC, and publishing 15 books and hundreds of journal articles. One of his significant contributions was his involvement in the 2004 study by the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS), in which he helped reshape public thinking about the value of public investments in hazard mitigation through the finding that $1 of federal money invested in such projects produced, on average, $4 in long-term savings from reduced losses from natural disasters. In a coming blog post, I will review the recent update to Hazard Mitigation Saves, which now boosts that estimate to $6 in savings for every dollar invested. There are, of course, numerous details behind these findings, but it is not hard to understand the salient influence of this pithy projection. Dave knew how to help sell an idea.

He was a major figure in hazard mitigation long before the NIBS study. His involvement merely reflected his long-standing preeminence. My bookshelf holds two items I gathered from him as I was mastering the details of hazard mitigation in the 1990s, before establishing any significant reputation of my own. One was Natural Hazard Mitigation, a 1999 Island Press book that I am still mining for material that will help with a current book project. The other, also dating to 1997, is a substantial three-ring binder, Making Mitigation Work, for which he was the principal investigator for a UNC Center for Urban and Regional Studies project supported by the National Science Foundation. Once David understood my own aspirations in this field, I could not have found a more supportive friend. He wanted to make sure that my every undertaking at APA succeeded if he could have anything to do with it.

I am sure I was not the only person who ever got such treatment. The planning field is full of people with their stories of mentoring by David Godschalk because it may well have been the aspect of his job that he enjoyed most. He took pleasure in the growth and success of those whose careers he affected. Dave understood professional success; there were many awards bestowed on him over the years. One of the more important for any planner is being inducted into the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Certified Planners (FAICP). In 2015, as Robert Olshansky, professor of urban planning at the University of Illinois, another AICP Fellow, helped guide my nomination for this honor, we discussed the people from whom we could request letters of recommendation. Dr. Godschalk was at the top of that list. When I wrote to him with our request, I referred to him as a “dean of hazard mitigation.” In accepting the invitation, he stunned me with his humility. “If I am a dean,” he wrote, “you are the chancellor.”

Now, there is no way that I see my career even matching his, let alone outshining it, but I also do not think he was merely engaging in fatuous praise. There was no need for it. He wanted me to know that he believed in me. And while I did not necessarily learn this lesson from Dave, he certainly confirmed it for me: As a teacher and mentor myself, I realized some time ago that there is no better way to guarantee the continuity of your own work than to demonstrate your faith in those who will follow.

Dave’s ability to inspire, to motivate, and to guide and empower will ensure that his legacy and his contributions will continue to matter for many years to come. All those people he taught and mentored will see to it.

Those desiring to sustain David’s work have been asked to contribute online to the Godschalk Fellowship Fund in Land Use and Environmental Planning.

Jim Schwab

On Enacting False Economies

Claiming to protect the public’s purse is always great politics, at least in some quarters. Actually doing so requires considerable thought and homework, but grandstanding is cheap and makes for great sound bites in an election season. And thus, it is often silly season not only in Congress, but in many of America’s state legislatures.

I say this because a legislative alert from the Illinois chapter of the American Planning Association (APA), of which I have been a member for decades, turned my attention to an attempt in three pending bills to prohibit (HB4246) the use of local government funds “for expenses connected with attendance by an employee or contractor of the unit of local government at a convention or gathering of personnel.” HB4247 disallows spending on “access to physical space for booths, hospitality suites, or other physical space” at such events. All three bills, HB4246, 4247, and 4248, create the Local Government Convention Expense Control Act, sponsored by Rep. David McSweeney, a Republican conservative from the collar counties north of Chicago. A quick check on McSweeney in Wikipedia illustrates a history of such initiatives, some of which may make sense, but this one is clearly a case of tossing out the baby with the bath water. That said, he has a number of co-sponsors including some Democrats.

I have no problem with appropriate limits on the ways in which public funds are used for conventions and conferences. Public money clearly should be used for sensible and responsible purposes at such events. But I have attended and presented at dozens of professional conferences involving local and state government professionals all across the United States, and I have yet to see anything highly or even mildly inappropriate. When such outrages do occur, they tend to find their way into mass media coverage that goes viral, and heads roll, but such incidents are extremely rare, which raises the question of the necessity of the proposed legislation.

There is a reason for professional conferences that involves an intelligent use of public money. If we can at least accept the notion that we want our professional public servants—planners, financial officers, civil engineers, transit officials, and others—to be well informed and up to date on best practices in their fields—then there is a solid argument for affording them the opportunity to attend professional conferences at which they can attend sessions and workshops and learn. What they bring back to their jobs enhances the service they provide on their jobs.

In my own role, I was usually speaking or attending as an employee of a national nonprofit professional association, APA, most of whose members work in the public sector. Many of the rest are consultants, professors, or land-use attorneys, but there are numerous special niches in which people find useful employment. I did not attend state or regional conferences for urban planners, floodplain mangers, and other professional groups for the social opportunities. I can think of much better forums for enhancing that aspect of my life. I was typically either trying to learn something that would make me a better manager for the research and training projects I was leading, or because I was presenting information in a session or as a keynote speaker. Urban planning, for example, is a rapidly evolving field of practice. Being denied access to the networking and learning opportunities afforded by such gatherings is a blow to the professionalism of the dedicated public servants who work for local government. The alternative—to say that they must spend their own money to attend, which some do anyway—is to drive the best of them away from the public sector to firms that offer such opportunities as a means of maintaining a top-flight staff. It is as much a question in job interviews as compensation or prospects for advancement.

Let me offer a couple of minor examples to make my point. Just three years ago, I attended the Illinois APA conference to present findings from a national study APA’s Hazards Planning Center had completed with support from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on planning for post-disaster recovery. Sharing the podium for the session was Jon Oliphant, the planning director of Washington, Illinois, a Peoria suburb, which was struck by an EF-4 tornado in November 2013. He complimented my presentation with real-life details of the rebuilding experience in Washington since that event. For the people in that room, many of whom had not experienced a similar disaster in their own communities, but worried about the day they might, it would be hard to replicate the value of being able to hear all this first-hand and to “kick the tires” by asking questions of the panel. The modest expense of attending that two-day conference, within driving distance for many registrants, must be weighed against the considerable value of the knowledge and insights they gained from not only that session but many others they undoubtedly attended while there. The same could largely be said whether the topic is stormwater drainage, public finance, or economic development. If many people later exchanged business cards over drinks and snacks at a reception (typically sponsored by exhibitors), so what? In most cases, in my experience, it was an opportunity to chew over and compare impressions of what they had heard and discussed throughout the day.

In another example, Chad Berginnis, the executive director of the Association of State Floodplain Managers, and I tag-teamed an opening keynote for the Illinois Association for Floodplain and Stormwater Management. Our topic was a forthcoming report, also supported by FEMA, on subdivision design and flood hazard areas. How do we better design and review new developments to minimize or avoid damage from floods? The annual losses from poor handling of this issue can easily exceed any costs associated with anyone’s attendance at that event. It is important that our planners, engineers, and floodplain managers be aware of current best practices in this field. Impoverishing access of such public employees to professional education simply weakens the expertise and knowledge base of the people a city employees.

Simply put, if we are going to insist that public employees do their jobs well, we need to do two things. One, which is the diametrical opposite of what bills like these would achieve (and such proposed legislation is hardly limited to Illinois), is to ensure that our public servants have meaningful opportunities to improve their skills, to say nothing of meeting continuing education requirements for professional certification in their fields. The other is to insist that legislators do their own jobs by making an honest effort to determine whether their proposed legislation helps enrich the quality of service these employees can offer or is a simplistic smoke screen for being too intellectually lazy to undertake an honest evaluation of the true impact of their proposals. I repeat: This is yet another case of throwing the baby out with the bath water. It offers false economies that undermine the value of public service. Taxpayers do not gain; they lose.

Jim Schwab

On the Question of 70-Year-Old Men

There is no doubt about it. President Donald Trump’s latest tweets have rightly triggered a firestorm of disgust and angry responses. The personal attacks on MSNBC reporters Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski have revealed a level of meanness and misogyny even Trump’s most craven defenders find impossible to ignore, with the exception of his White House press team, whose jobs, of course, depend on continuing to justify whatever he says. Thus, we have deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders reminding us that, when Trump feels attacked (read “criticized”), he feels compelled to “fight fire with fire.” The problem is that he typically goes off the rails with comments of little substance or truth that would cause most other people to be fired and led out of their office by security. But he is, after all, the President. The people hired him. Or at least, that portion of the public voting in the right places to comprise a majority of the Electoral College even as he lost the popular vote by roughly three million.

My focus in this essay, however, is different from all that, although connected to it. I do not intend to reprise Trump’s acid tweets or analyze or parse or dissect them. My target is certain members of the television punditocracy who should know better and are insulting senior citizens in the process of criticizing Donald Trump. The fact that Trump is their target does not blind me to the ignorance of one statement some reporters have repeated so often I have not kept track of exactly who has said it or how often: “Donald Trump is a 70-year-old man, and 70-year-old men don’t change.”

Poppycock. This is a lazy excuse for failing to take a closer look at the real problem in his case. It is also a display of ageism that should not go unchallenged, certainly not any more than Trump’s misogyny. It is an expression of bias that needs to stop.

Slicing the cake at my APA retirement party, May 31. Not that was I about to disappear to a Florida golf course. Photos by Jean Schwab

I will reveal a personal stake in this debate. In little less than two and a half years, I will be one of those 70-year-old men. At 67, it is not just that I feel very little in common with Trump’s world view. It is that I know in my gut that I remain capable of change, that I have core principles that I hope will not change, and that I have one fundamental quality that Trump appears to lack—that of spiritual, moral, and intellectual curiosity. I approach 70 in the humble knowledge that I do not know everything, have never known everything that matters, and that I never will know everything that matters. I also approach 70 in the certainty that my thirst for new knowledge must remain until my last breath, barring any mental deterioration that might forestall such curiosity. I recall a friend of mine, who had read a biography of former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, telling me of book, Honorable Justice (by Sheldon M. Novick). Although the passage does not appear in that book, he noted a story in which newly inaugurated President Franklin Roosevelt is visiting the retired 92-year-old man and finds him reading Plato.

“Why do you read Plato, Mr. Justice?” Roosevelt asks.

“To improve my mind,” Holmes responds.

Which gets us to the problem of the current President. It is commonly said that he does not spend much time reading. Reading is one activity that informs learning, and learning inspires change, and therein lies the problem. We have a President who is so certain of his own superiority, who, on the wings of inherited wealth, has spent so little time being challenged on his core beliefs, that he has not acquired the habit of intellectual curiosity. This is the only trait that truly explains his poorly informed intransigence on climate change, immigration, election fraud, and numerous other issues where his depth of knowledge often appears paper-thin. It also explains his intense, narcissistic preoccupation with personal image reflected in comments about other nations laughing at “us,” and in his perceived need to strike back at anyone who merely disagrees with him, however honest and honorable that person’s disagreement may be.

To what can we attribute this sad state of affairs? Clearly, not just to Trump himself. After all, despite the distortions in popular will wrought by the Electoral College, no one can win the Electoral College without being at least close to a plurality of the popular vote. No one with a weak base of voter support can even hope to win the nomination of either major party in the United States. Inevitably, we must look at the nature of the support that launched Trump into the White House.

There can be little doubt that some of that support involved a level of dislike or dissatisfaction with Hillary Clinton that allowed voters to overlook the manifold shortcomings of Donald Trump, although polls surely indicate that many are now reassessing that comparison. Let’s be honest. Clinton had her own baggage and an imperious style that turned off a large part of the electorate. She could have spent far more time with blue-collar voters in the Midwest but chose not to. Whether Sen. Bernie Sanders could have beaten Trump, we will never know. History does not afford us the luxury of testing such scenarios. Sanders did not win the nomination, and there is little more to be said. Better luck next time.

Colleague Richard Roths (right), still stirring the waters and challenging conventions in his own retirement, alongside Benjamin and Rebecca Leitschuh, former students (of both of us) and co-workers (of mine), at my APA retirement party.

What I want to emphasize, however, is that Trump’s lack of intellectual curiosity, and his remarkable ability to tune into similar qualities among people very unlike him—the working-class voters worried about job security—reflects a sullen streak in American culture that has long glorified ignorance. Mind you, I am not saying that white working-class voters all fall into this category. I emerged from that environment. My father was a truck mechanic. I have met and known many union members and leaders with much more generous and positive attitudes. (I am married to a Chicago Teachers Union activist.) I am speaking of a particular tendency that can be found anywhere but tends to assert itself in uncertain economic times and under certain cultural circumstances, such as those highlighted by J.D. Vance in Hillbilly Elegy.

There is a cultural tug-of-war within America that is as old as America. It is between the intellectual innovators and their curiosity and all the changes they have wrought that have launched this nation to international leadership in technology, literature, and science, and those who willingly disparage the value of education, knowledge, and curiosity, whether out of jealousy or resentment or stubbornness. There is an element of social class attached to it, but more often it transcends class. Sometimes, aspects of both traits can be found in the same person. For all his innovative genius in science and politics, Thomas Jefferson remained a racist to his dying day. On the other hand, another “70-year-old man,” his contemporary George Washington, rose above his heritage long enough at the end of his life to free his slaves, upon his wife’s death, in his will, believing that the institution of slavery would need to wither away. Jefferson did no such thing.

So, we fight this war within ourselves at times, and as we do, we need to acknowledge it in order to overcome it, so that our biases are not petrified in old age. Trump seems to have chosen the opposite course. Unfortunately, he won election by tapping into an anti-intellectual streak in American politics that runs rampant across age groups, although we can hope that the worst biases are dying off among the young. But beware of the mental calcification that can start at an early age.

Deene Alongi, to my right, will begin managing speaking tours for me this fall. I may have a few things to say!

Seventy-year-old men and women can readily change. Having retired from APA just a month ago, I am rapidly acquiring new routines, setting new goals for the coming years, and trying to think new thoughts. Like Holmes, I cannot wait to read books new and old, and I want to remain intellectually challenged. I hope everyone following this blog has similar aspirations. It is the only way we will keep our nation, and indeed the entire world, moving forward and confronting challenges in a positive way.

And I don’t want to hear one more ignorant reporter talk about how “70-year-old men don’t change.” To them, I say, look inside yourself and ask why you are saying such a thing. Is it because you anticipate being stubborn like Trump when you reach his age? Perhaps you have some biases of your own to overcome.

Beware: From now on, I may start recording reporters’ names when I watch the TV news and hear comments about old men not changing. And I will call them out when they repeat their ageist slurs.

 

Jim Schwab

It’s Okay to Fail (Sometimes)

Ascension Parish Strike SceneJust in case anyone out there is unduly impressed with my intelligence, I have a revelation: I flunked calculus in my first quarter of my freshman year in college. I was attending Cleveland State University on Kiwanis scholarship money, no less. Not that I really understood what hit me or saw it coming, and that’s the point. I entered with high SAT scores, and the guidance counselor duly noted that I had high placement scores for both Spanish and Mathematics. She recommended a fifth-quarter placement for Spanish though my three years in high school ordinarily equated to fourth-quarter placement. We ended up choosing more conservatively, and I aced both the fourth and fifth quarters of Spanish to complete my language requirement. I probably should have skipped that fourth quarter and taken the advanced placement. On the other hand, we stuck with the advanced placement in calculus, and it backfired. Not so good.

A little background is helpful, as it almost always is in understanding how and why any student performs at the college level. I entered the fall quarter on crutches because of an industrial accident late in the summer. I was earning money working in a chemical plant in a nearby Cleveland suburb, but the dome of an antimony kiln tipped over and trapped my ankle, which was fractured. I collected worker compensation for the next six weeks until the doctor removed the cast, at which time I hobbled for a while until I rebuilt strength in my left leg. That was certainly a distraction, but not a dire impediment. More importantly, but exacerbated by the injury, I had a tendency developed earlier in life not to reach out for help when I needed it, in part because of a stubborn tendency to assume I could figure things out, which I very often had done. I was in deep water in that calculus class, and by the time I realized I could not swim, I was drowning—even though the ankle had healed just fine.

In a subsequent quarter, I asserted some hard-working grit by getting permission to take 20 credits (the limit was 18), five courses instead of four, in order to regain the lost ground from that failed class. And I pushed my through that grinding schedule with respectable grades.

Failing that class, which may have cost me a renewal of the scholarship (I never found out), may have been vital, however, for my growth as a student. I worked two more summers in that chemical plant, which would only qualify as easy work if you enjoy such activities as unloading 50-pound bags of sulfur on a dolly from a railcar in 95-degree heat while wearing a face mask. I should note that my father worked there, too. He ran the garage and was the lead mechanic, repairing and maintaining all the trucks and forklifts and such. When I started college, he too was temporarily disabled. He was in the hospital with a disk injury that required lower back surgery that kept him out of work for six months. Suffice it to say that all the undergraduate tuition for my education came from my own savings from those summer and other seasonal jobs. Thank God for union wages. But it did mean that my education was for me a valuable commodity, hard earned and well paid for. Although I attended college from 1968 to 1973, in the midst of the civil rights, Vietnam war, and environmental protest era, and I did participate in all those causes, I was decidedly not inclined to get silly about drugs, sex, and parties because it was my money that was paying for that education. It makes a difference.

There is a certain right-wing mythology in American politics that says such self-reliance induces a conservative outlook in life. What it does, which has little to do with modern American conservatism in my opinion, is instill a strong dose of resilience and common sense. That may or may not lead to a conservative political outlook. In my case, it led to a strong identification with those struggling to get ahead and a willingness to balance the social scales better than we typically do. My intellectual curiosity drove me to learn more about other cultures and lifestyles and perspectives.

I should also add that I had a powerful hankering to write, one that has asserted itself repeatedly throughout my life and career. It seemed at first that majoring in English made sense; the university did not offer a major in journalism. I enjoyed reading Hemingway and Fitzgerald and 17th-century English novelists for a while, and the honors English classes in which I was placed were stimulating. But I soon realized that another part of me was itching to be born. In high school, perhaps in part because of nerdy tendencies, such as they came in the 1960s, I was somewhat withdrawn. Our high school was a high performer, and I was on an academic quiz show team, but no matter. I never felt that I fit in very easily, but I was president of the Writers Club and active in one or two other groups—but nothing major.

At Cleveland State, however, I quickly found that my inner extrovert was eagerly waiting to burst its shell, and the higher intellectual climate was just what I needed to find my comfort zone. I started doing less well in those honors English classes as I became heavily involved in campus politics, at one point running credibly but unsuccessfully for president of the student government. I founded Cleveland State’s first student environmental group and led it for three years. It was time to blend my academic studies with my real life aspirations, and I shifted my major to political science, which undoubtedly aided my GPA. Suddenly my activities and my studies bore some relation to each other. I could excel again.

None of this led to instant change. It led to perpetual evolution. It took years for many of the seeds planted in those college years to grow and mature, and failure contributed to that growth and maturation every bit as much as any success along the way. Someday I may need a whole book to relate the entire story, and right now I lack the free time to write it thoughtfully and thoroughly. But in all the discussion of resilient communities of which I am a part, I am at least willing to offer that, beneath all the intellectual definitions of resilience, some of us also harbor perspectives on resilience that are built on a solid foundation of personal experience. And in real life, those perspectives matter every bit as much in collectively defining resilience as any words in a dictionary or scientific report.

 

Jim Schwab

 

 

The Past and Future of Disaster Research and Practice

Interdisciplinary disaster studies are still relatively new, compared to long-standing fields like geology or even psychology. I spent last week (July 19-23) in Broomfield, Colorado, first at the Natural Hazards Workshop, sponsored by the University of Colorado’s Natural Hazards Center, and then at the one-day add-on conference of the Natural Hazard Mitigation Association (NHMA). The International Research Committee on Disasters Researchers Meeting took place at the same time as the NHMA gathering. The main event marked the 40th year of the Natural Hazards Workshop, launched in 1976, with support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), by the Natural Hazards Center’s renowned founder, Gilbert F. White, who virtually pioneered studies of flooding in the 1930s as a geographer who served in the New Deal under President Franklin Roosevelt, later taught at the University of Chicago, and finally found his home in Boulder, where he died in 2006 at age 94. You can read a full biography of White, a true scientific pioneer, in Robert E. Hinshaw’s Living with Nature’s Extremes, published shortly after White’s death.

To mark this milestone, current NHC director Kathleen Tierney invited several of us to join a panel for the opening plenary on July 20 to discuss both retrospective and prospective views of disaster research and practice within four disciplines. I spoke about urban planning; Howard Kunreuther spoke by video on economics; Tricia Wachtendorf of the University of Delaware on sociology; and Ken Mitchell of Rutgers University on geography. In the end, of course, we all use and benefit from each other’s insights, so it was intriguing to hear the comparisons in how our fields have approached problems of hazard mitigation and disaster recovery. The forum was moderated by long-time NSF program director Dennis Wenger, who previously served at Texas A&M University, where he was Founding Director and Senior Scholar of the Hazard Reduction & Recovery Center.

Wenger himself had a story to tell before introducing his panel, one involving more than 800 projects funded by NSF for more than $200 million over the years his program, Infrastructure Systems Management and Extreme Events, has been in place to fund research on hazards. It has not always had that name; as Wenger humorously noted, however, its four name changes over some four decades is “not bad for NSF.” The ballroom of 500 disaster practitioners and researchers from multiple disciplines contained more than a few people whose research has benefited from those NSF grants, which have moved the field forward in numerous and remarkable ways.

The American Planning Association taped the opening plenary and has made it available on its multimedia Recovery News blog at http://blogs.planning.org/postdisaster/2015/07/28/what-next-the-past-and-future-of-disaster-practice-and-research/. The blog post includes the PowerPoint accompanying my presentation.

 

Jim Schwab

Water: Our Public Policy Challenge

R1-08402-021AI grew up in suburban Cleveland. After a seven-year hiatus in Iowa and briefly in Nebraska, my wife’s home state, we ended up in Chicago. I am unquestionably a Midwesterner with most of my life lived near the Great Lakes. It will therefore not be surprising that for most of my adult life, I have heard people speculate about moving some of our abundant water to places that have less, mostly in the West. For just about as long, I have been very aware that their speculations were merely pipedreams (pun very much intended).

Because most people have at most only a cursory understanding of our nation’s intricate water laws and treaties (in the case of the Great Lakes), to say nothing of the costs and challenges of water infrastructure development, I suppose they can be forgiven for their naivete in even entertaining such notions as piping water from Lake Michigan to California. For both legal and practical reasons, the water is not likely any time soon to leave the Great Lakes Basin, let alone find its way to the West Coast. Enough said.

That is all backdrop to noting that, at the moment, Lakes Michigan and Huron, which essentially share identical water levels because they are joined by a strait, are experiencing rising water levels after declining to levels well below average in 2012, in the midst of a drought and high temperatures. The lack of precipitation and high evaporation levels reduced the two lakes to 576 feet above sea level, about 2.8 feet below the average since 1918, when the Army Corps of Engineers began keeping records. All the Great Lakes tend to rise and fall over time, and somewhat in tandem because they are part of a continuous system that flows into the St. Lawrence River and out into the Atlantic Ocean. But Lake Superior is higher before it dumps into Michigan and Huron, which are higher than Lake Erie, and certainly Lake Ontario, which is on the receiving end of Niagara Falls. Gravity is obviously how all this water finds its way to the sea.

High recent rainfall—in June we had seven inches in Chicago with lower temperatures than normal—has kept the lake levels rising. Colder winters because of the polar vortexes have maintained ice cover, reducing evaporation. As a result, the lakes are now three feet higher than they were in 2012. Amid all this rise and fall, some facts should be noted: These lakes are thousands of years old. They are the result of glacial melt as the Ice Age receded, so most of the water is the result not of precipitation but of ancient glacial retreat. And our record keeping is less than a century old, so what we think we know about the long-term fluctuation in water levels, let alone what we can accurately predict about long-term impacts of climate change in the Midwest, remains far less than what we might ideally like to know. There are big gaps in our knowledge that can only partially be filled with other types of scientific analysis.

Nonetheless, based on such limited knowledge, the urge to build on shoreland materializing from nothing more than historical fluctuations sometimes motivates unwise development. Communities along the Great Lakes need to invest in wise lakefront planning that takes those fluctuations into account and does not create new hazards that are sure to arise in the face of lake levels that often rise again faster than we anticipated. Adequate buffers based on such fluctuations must be a part of the zoning and development regulations throughout such areas. It is best we approach what we know about Great Lakes water level fluctuations with a dose of humility and caution, lest nature make a fool of our aspirations.

There are resources for that purpose. Many of the state Sea Grant programs, based at state universities, can offer technical assistance. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, whose Coastal Zone Management Act responsibilities include the Great Lakes, has been developing resources for Great Lakes states. Using NOAA funding, the Association of State Floodplain Managers, with partners like the American Planning Association (APA), has developed, and is still expanding, a website containing its Great Lakes Coastal Resilience Planning Guide. It consists of case studies, a Great Lakes dashboard, and other tools. NOAA’s Digital Coast Partnership has been working with cities like Toledo, Ohio; Duluth, Minnesota; Green Bay, Wisconsin; and Milwaukee to address flooding and development problems along the Great Lakes in varying contexts.

I mention all this because, even amid this temporary abundance of water on the Great Lakes amid a withering drought on the West Coast, water, as always, remains a preoccupying public policy challenge everywhere around the world and across the United States. It is not nearly enough of a focus of public debate, however, and the complexities of the issue seem to evade most people’s attention, including those who ought to be thinking harder about it. Even those who do focus on the question are often siloed into narrow segments of water policy—wastewater, drinking water, flood protection and mitigation, drought planning, coastal zone management, and so forth. We need to approach water challenges more holistically.

APA’s board of directors approached the subject with that larger picture in mind in empowering a special task force to examine the issue. About two months ago, the task force released its report, which began by emphasizing that “water is a central and essential organizing element in a healthy urban environment.” It went on to call for viewing water resource management as “interdisciplinary, not multidisciplinary,” in other words, calling for collaboration among the professions involved. But it also called on the planning profession and university planning schools to provide more training, more education, and more resources centered around the subject of water and its importance to our society. And it calls for APA to “partner with national water service membership agencies” to “foster cross-industry participation and learning opportunities.” It is a far-reaching document that planning leadership in the U.S. is still absorbing, including me. But I commend it as an overdue conversation so that our future conversations about who uses water how, and for what purpose, can be considerably more sophisticated, as they clearly need to be.

We need to move away from pipedreams to serious conversations. Whether in California, where there is too little, or the Great Lakes, where there is currently plenty, we need to get it right because the stakes are high. Very high.

 

Jim Schwab

On Taxes and Public Trust

A very curious op-ed article appeared Monday (July 6) in the Chicago Tribune. Tom Geoghegan, best known as a liberal lawyer who represents labor unions, made a plea for more taxes. Not just any taxes for any reason, but “Tax me, please, so Illinois can compete.” Let me set the stage for this commentary.

First, we have a mayor who has been adhering religiously to maintaining property taxes at a relatively low level, compared to many suburbs, while struggling to make the city’s books balance amid pressure to keep the city’s pension funds solvent. Pension funds for both city and Chicago Public Schools retirees promise reasonably generous benefits that include a three percent cost-of-living yearly increase, which certainly beats Social Security in most years because its increases vary with the Consumer Price Index. (For the record, my wife is a Chicago Public Schools retiree.) These agreements have been in place for many years, but for many years the city and the school system have not met their obligations to fund these pensions adequately. The city is also making its perennial argument in Springfield that Chicago residents pay twice for pensions because their own teacher pension fund relies on local property taxes while all other systems in the state rely on state income taxes, which, of course, Chicagoans also pay. Suburban and downstate legislators counter that Chicago gets more of other types of state support because of higher numbers of families in poverty, an argument that strikes me as lame because Chicago is hardly the only city in the state with poor people.

Welcome to the twisted logic of politics in Illinois. We also have a constitutional provision that cements flat-rate income taxes in place. We could only enact a progressive state income tax by first amending the state constitution to allow such a thing. Meanwhile, Illinois is undergoing a bruising battle between a conservative rookie Republican governor, Bruce Rauner, and a legislature with large Democratic majorities in both houses. It is now July, and they have not agreed on a budget, and a judge has ruled that, without statutory authority in the form of an enacted budget, the state cannot pay its workers more than the federal minimum wage until this gets sorted out.

It is not apparent to me, or many others, that either the state of Illinois or the city of Chicago lack considerable wealth or the ability to pay their bills if we sort out our priorities and match spending with revenue. Rauner refuses to budge on the revenue until the legislature adopts at least some of his pro-business, anti-union agenda—he basically wants to make Illinois a right-to-work state—and the legislature is busy enacting budgets that necessarily entail large deficits, so Rauner vetoed their most recent attempt. A standoff is throwing Illinois into turmoil.

To be brutally honest, I could never hope in this short blog post to do justice to all the intricacies of this situation. I am providing only a broad outline of the conflict as background to the Geoghegan commentary. Basically, his perspective is that school closings driven by budget cuts drive middle-class residents to the suburbs for better schools for their children, which they pay higher taxes to achieve. In short, lower taxes make the city less competitive in attracting talent, resulting in a less competitive business climate. He bolsters his argument by pointing out that other big cities facing many of the same macroeconomic challenges have survived the recession and are thriving in ways that Chicago is not. And in ways that Illinois also is not. People in those other states pay higher, progressive income taxes that support public services that make their states and cities more competitive. In short, he says “blue states that collect higher taxes thrive and red states with lower taxes do not.” I am sure one can find some exceptions to his general rule, but he has a point. Taxes alone do not make a state less competitive, especially if used wisely to create better public education and amenities and infrastructure. All these things matter. Then comes Geoghegan’s clincher:

“Illinois is a blue state that tries to govern like a red state. And that’s why the state and its crown jewel, Chicago, are about to go belly up.”

So far, so good. Geoghegan concludes with his plea to “tax me, please,” to achieve better public solvency and make the state and city more competitive. But his article fails to answer or address the question of why a blue state would try to “govern like a red state.” There is an understandable, though also cowardly, fear among legislators and aldermen about raising taxes because there is public resistance. Some public resistance to higher taxes is always to be expected, but in many places it can be overcome with a solid explanation of how that money will be used or invested. It is when it is repeatedly misused or poorly invested that public suspicion becomes a cancer that afflicts the trust people must feel before they are willing to open their wallets to the state and city.

That is where a new book by Thomas J. Gradel and former Chicago alderman Dick Simpson becomes important. Simpson, now teaching at the University of Illinois at Chicago, was an independent who was once a thorn in the side of Mayor Richard J. Daley, the Democratic party boss, subject of the famous Mike Royko book, Boss, whose son Richard M. later ascended to the same office. Richard M. Daley retired before the 2011 mayoral election, when Rahm Emanuel was elected mayor. Corrupt Illinois is a no-holds-barred attack on the pervasive culture of corruption not only in the city but the entire state of Illinois, now famous for having sent two recent governors to prison, Republican George Ryan and his immediate successor, Rod Blagojevich, who ironically had promised to clean up the mess Ryan left behind. Instead, he created his own mess, including the attempted sale of the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama.

There is not room here to review the hundreds of cases of corruption the two authors discuss, stretching from the city of Chicago to numerous suburbs, including the notorious case of Cicero, to downstate communities where clerks and mayors have stolen public funds, to the state capitol, where matters now speak for themselves. What Gradel and Simpson document is the high, very high, cost of public corruption in the erosion of public trust. Taxpayers like to know that, when they fork over more money that is supposed to build roads and bridges or support schools or social services, that money will not end up illicitly in the back pocket of some operator tolerated by politicians who look the other way, or worse, pocket some of it themselves or find other ways to violate the public trust.

Moreover, this is not a partisan issue, as some would like to contend. Both parties have participated in the skullduggery in their own ways. The book supports an observation I have long shared in talking about other states with similar issues, like Louisiana: Once a culture of corruption takes hold, it becomes a bipartisan enterprise. The same can usually be said of the virtuous cycle of comparative honesty in states where such practices meet with immediate public condemnation. I have long encountered people who have difficulty believing me when I tell them that, when I once ran for city council in Iowa City while a graduate student at the University of Iowa, by city ordinance the limit on contributions by any individual to a candidate for a specific election was $50. There are no missing zeroes. It was 1983, but even allowing for inflation, that limit comes nowhere near the inflated sums that float around in Illinois elections. Public tolerance makes a huge difference.

Rauner attempts in his ham-handed fashion, driven by the personal certitude of a hedge fund millionaire, to pose as the enemy of the political class in Illinois. What he does not understand is that his pose might sell far better if he did not also make himself the implacable foe of organized labor and the minimum wage, and if he did not have such a tin ear about the damage his policies are doing to badly needed services for the poor, disabled, and mentally ill. That undermines any public sympathy he might otherwise muster for a legitimate campaign to root out public corruption, which seems at best to be only a secondary target.

If you do nothing else to understand the hole that Illinois has dug for itself, read this book. At times, Corrupt Illinois may seem repetitive, even slightly monotonous, unless you develop a perverse fascination with just how corrupt a state can become. That is because the authors have so much raw material to work with that it is a wonder they fit it all into just 200 pages. They try mightily to be concise and to the point, but the point they make is unavoidable. Until Illinois voters insist on cleaning up this mess, and their political leaders finally grow a conscience and respond, there is no way out of our current impasse.

 

Jim Schwab

Can Data Be Resilient?

photoBefore attending the NOAA Coastal GeoTools Conference in North Charleston, South Carolina (March 30-April 2), I had not spent much time thinking about data resilience. A brilliant scientist now working for ESRI, the leading company in geographic information services, drew my attention to this important question. But first, a note about the delay:

Almost a month ago, I passed along a link to an article in the Post &Courier of Charleston, South Carolina, that reported on two presentations at the conference, one of them mine. I promised more material from that conference, but the following week, illness took hold of me for a day or two, and soon after, I was consumed with preparations for a trip to the American Planning Association’s National Planning Conference in Seattle, April 18-21. The next day, I flew on to Denver and attended a two-day Project Advisory Committee meeting for the Kresge Foundation, which is pursuing its own program concerning community resilience. Now that all that is over, and I have a modicum of free time, I want to circle back to report on both conferences.

Let me start with a fascinating presentation by Dawn Wright, for 17 years a professor of geography and oceanography at Oregon State University before becoming chief scientist for ESRI in 2011. Wright was the main plenary speaker at the conference on its opening day, March 31. (March 30 was devoted to a series of special interest meetings.) Wright launched into her speech by referring to information as the “fourth branch of government” as a means of underscoring its growing importance in the digital era. Like many good speakers these days, Wright was also a fountain of recommendations about great new books, including The Fourth Paradigm, available for free download from Microsoft Research. Wright noted that we are now afloat in data, to the point where she introduced the term zetabytes, which equal one billion terabytes, which not so long ago seemed like massive units of data, but Wright says we are approaching 40 zetabytes in the current digital universe. But what does this mountain of data really mean for users? How useful is it?

Wright said this emphasizes the importance of metadata, that is, data about the data, and that we are facing a huge problem in “dark data,” data that is not tagged or properly analyzed, making its utility more problematic. “Just making data and code available is not good enough,” she stressed. “We need to be more open and transparent about what we do with them. There is a need for interoperability and cross-walking.” She then said that ESRI would practice what it preached, citing its sharing of work flows and use cases at www.esriurl.com/workflows. She also noted that ESRI has joined forces with the U.S. Geological Survey in creating the global ecological land units map.

She then stressed the importance of digital resilience, noting that “human communication skills are still paramount.” She cited a recent Washington Post op-ed article by Fareed Zakaria, “Why America’s Obsession with STEM Education is Dangerous.” The acronym refers to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, the collective focus of some recent education policies; Zakaria’s point was not that STEM education itself is wrong, but that a parallel focus on the liberal arts helps create students, and eventually adults, who not only have technical or scientific skills but the ability to ask and articulate fundamental questions. This led Wright to state that we need to learn how to “read deeply” in order to ask ourselves the tough questions.

The days when scientists can isolate themselves in ivory towers are over, Wright seemed to be saying, as she stressed the need to “write compellingly” and “think critically to analyze ideas.” For programmers, she stated that, “If you can organize your thoughts, you can organize your code.”

But there was a still larger theme in a world where the job environment is constantly shifting and evolving. Training, she said, “is not just for your first job, but for your sixth job.” Critical thinking is critical for navigating these transitions in life when some job skills are obsolete within a decade. She added that there are still not enough people “squarely in the community” of the emerging field of data science. She questioned why there was still no formal accredited academic degree in coastal or ocean data management, for example, and her own book on the subject, Ocean Solutions, Earth Solutions.

She also underlined the importance of knowing the “design story behind a product,” a subject she took up the next day in a session on “story maps,” a translational tool for users that allows science students to tell their story. In that session, she noted positive change in that “students now want to escape the ivory tower.” She highlighted her central point once again by stating unequivocally that, “If you’re not speaking up as a scientist now, you’re doing a public disservice.”

My personal take on Dawn Wright’s presentations is this: If data is to be worth something, if it is to be resilient, it must be interpreted. And only educated, knowledgeable professionals are in a position to do this. It is no longer enough, if it ever was, just to crank out data and hope it speaks for itself. That is the route to impoverishing public discussion, which, it seems to me, suffers enough already in an era of sound bites and conspiracy theories.

 

Jim Schwab

Creative Economic Development for College Towns

College towns can be as different from each other as they are collectively from most other communities. Some literally dominate the economic landscape of their communities. Others are comfortably lodged in a setting that involves a larger community or even a state capital. They have different histories, different strengths, and different outlooks.

What they tend to have in common is a high average level of education and a large number of young people and faculty brimming with new ideas. But they don’t always tap that imagination effectively, sometimes at all, and not all are good at bridging the famous gap between town and gown. So how do they chart an economic future for themselves?

The SURP 50th anniversary dinner took place after the conference at the Kinnick Stadium Press Box. The photographer posted photos from a reception on Friday night at the downtown hotelVetro on the stadium's Jumbotron. It was not my first appearance on a Jumbotron--that was in Fenway Park in April 2011--but that is another story for another time. With m in this image are Professor John Fuller and my wife, Jean.

The SURP 50th anniversary dinner took place after the conference at the Kinnick Stadium Press Box. The photographer posted photos from a reception on Friday night at the downtown hotelVetro on the stadium’s Jumbotron. It was not my first appearance on a Jumbotron–that was in Fenway Park in April 2011–but that is another story for another time. With m in this image are Professor John Fuller and my wife, Jean.

On Saturday, September 20, I was in Iowa City listening to, and sometimes asking questions of, a series of panels that comprised an all-day Midwest Creative College Town Conference. The event did not occur in isolation. It was part of the 50th anniversary of the University of Iowa’s School of Urban and Regional Planning, whose creation in 1964 some far-sighted folks back then thought made sense in a largely rural, agrarian state. Over time, Iowa has become considerably more urban: It was noted that the two areas of the state gaining population are the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City corridor and the Des Moines metropolitan area. Almost all others have been losing population steadily for some time. There are reasons for those trends. I attended in a dual capacity, as both an alumnus (Class of 1985) and adjunct faculty. I teach a course each year on “Planning for Disaster Mitigation and Recovery.” Not so coincidentally, this course became part of the school’s curriculum in 2008, following massive floods that severely affected both Cedar Rapids and Iowa City. The school offers a graduate-level curriculum, in which students earn a master’s degree in planning, many of them, however, in combination with degrees in other fields like law or public health. I was the oddball. I earned a second degree in journalism.

SURP Director Charles Connerly organized four panels, three to discuss economic development strategies in college towns, and a final one to discuss the role of the arts in Iowa City. Of the three, I found the panels from Iowa City and East Lansing, Michigan, to have very substantive thoughts on the subject, but was more disappointed with the panel from Lincoln, Nebraska. I will offer more on that later.

But note the differences. Iowa City, once the territorial capital of Iowa prior to statehood, lost that distinction after statehood to Des Moines, but the capitol building became the core of a state university. Old Capitol remains open as a museum that one can visit, the heart of the Pentacrest, a complex of buildings immediately adjacent to the downtown. As panelist Geoff Fruin, the assistant city manager, noted, this has afforded a “tight integration between the campus and the community,” which allows the university’s “energy to spill out into the streets.” East Lansing, on the other hand, is adjacent to the state capital, more isolated from the action in that sense as a college town, and in the middle of an older industrial area with its own manufacturing heritage. Lincoln, like Madison, Wisconsin, is a major state university within a state capital. Its primary business, in addition to the University of Nebraska, is state government.

The University of Iowa Pentacrest (green area) is literally across the street from the downtown business district (background). Here, Clinton Street is closed, and booths set up, for the Iowa Soul Festival, part of Iowa City's Summer of the Arts.

The University of Iowa Pentacrest (green area) is literally across the street from the downtown business district (background). Here, Clinton Street is closed, and booths set up, for the Iowa Soul Festival, part of Iowa City’s Summer of the Arts.

One can find many other variations not represented on any of the panels—small towns with small, independent or church-affiliated liberal arts colleges, as well as universities in suburbs of major cities, like Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. As an undergraduate, I attended a truly urban institution, Cleveland State University, which occupies prime real estate in downtown Cleveland. No one would think of Cleveland as a college town, of course, but most big cities contain such universities. Every community must fashion its own strategy based on its own circumstances.

Setting the stage for the Iowa Soul Festival. Among the visiting performers was Al Jarreau.

Setting the stage for the Iowa Soul Festival. Among the visiting performers was Al Jarreau.

But there were some common themes that I find fascinating because they relate to the new knowledge economy and suggest changes in the landscape of economic development that many communities are still slow to recognize. That is because, as Jeff Smith of East Lansing noted, many economic development professionals are still tied to the old “hunt and gather” approach, which he says is dying. That approach can be loosely defined as trying to find businesses elsewhere that would be willing to move to or expand into your community, if only given the right incentives. These often involve tax breaks, free land, or similar public giveaways. Ultimately, to the extent that one community’s gain is someone else’s loss, it becomes a zero-sum game. Smith’s answer: “You need to water your own garden. The momentum [from doing so] is contagious.” Smith is director of the New Economy Division of the Lansing Economic Area Partnership.

Watering your own garden means fostering entrepreneurship, collaborating with potential business startups, and producing the conditions that will allow new businesses to succeed. It is more difficult work because it involves some serious effort to understand the economic ecosystem in which these businesses will operate. Every college town has its own unique strengths. In East Lansing, said Smith, “Our culture is we are extremely good at making things. . . . We’re engineers, we make things.” Over time, he said, the Michigan State University engineering school bred manufacturing, much of it in Michigan’s automotive industry, which grew an insurance cluster because “people got injured on jobs,” and in time that insurance cluster was followed by software development. Still, Lori Mullins, community and economic development administrator for the City of East Lansing, noted that the city had long been “content to be a bohemian town, humble for too long,” and did not harness the resources that the university offered. “We needed to change that culture,” she stated. Smith seconded that assessment by noting “a stagnant entrepreneurial climate” in which General Motors, which went through bankruptcy in 2009, laid off more employees than all other companies in the region.

The key, as highlighted by both Mullins and Paul Jaques, director of community and student engagement for Spartan Innovations, an enterprise of the university, was both that the city in 2006 was bold enough, in the face of a local culture that did not particularly favor entrepreneurialism, to invest in a hub for innovation in a former downtown department store, and to work with the university, which fostered its own ecosystem to  support entrepreneurship. The result is a series of home-grown enterprises and a gradually evolving cultural change that encourages innovation. This includes competitions and monetary incentives for new ideas, as well as classes to teach entrepreneurial skills.

Interestingly, the Iowa City speakers seconded the notion that “chasing after companies” as an economic development strategy “doesn’t work anymore,” as Fruin noted. In fact, he went further, stating that “older trained economic development professionals need to toss out everything you have learned. Older traditional models are wasteful if not harmful to cities.” Instead, the top talent is already in the community, and you need to “make sure faculty and staff feel invited to the community.” Economic development professionals, he added, need to “stop thinking like economic development professionals and start thinking like progressive urban planners. Promote high-quality architecture. Invest in memorable spaces and make them accessible by all modes [of transportation]. Let your public spaces speak for you.”

The Iowa City panel included, from left to right, Nick Benson, moderator, Geoff Fruin, David Hensley, Eric Hanson of the Iowa City Area Development Group, Andy Stoll, and Nancy Bird of the Iowa City Downtown District.

The Iowa City panel included, from left to right, Nick Benson, moderator, Geoff Fruin, David Hensley, Eric Hanson of the Iowa City Area Development Group, Andy Stoll, and Nancy Bird of the Iowa City Downtown District.

In short, what he was telling the audience was that quality of life will attract talent, and the answer is to “cultivate young students, faculty, and staff, and the rest takes care of itself.” David Hensley, director of the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center, and Associate Vice President for Economic Development for the University of Iowa, outlined a series of university initiatives similar to those at Michigan State, starting from his primary point that “innovation and creativity are drivers of prosperity.”

He was backed up by Andy Stoll, co-founder of the Seed Here Studio, which has fostered numerous new enterprises in Iowa City by holding coffees with groups and entrepreneurs, introducing them to each other and creating a network among people who had thought they were alone, but eventually comprised more than 700 people in a culture of collaboration, which he described as “the new competition.” That collaboration often needs to be between apparent cultural opposites, for example, “the tucked and the untucked,” referring to people’s sartorial habits, and the fact that those with the imagination eventually need to be paired with those with the means to invest. “You need both elements in the same room connecting energy and creativity with knowledge and experience,” Stoll concluded.

The more disappointing of the three college town panels was the one from Lincoln, though that was not entirely the fault of the panelists. Unfortunately, for whatever reasons they may have had, city officials in Lincoln chose not to participate in the panel despite encouragement. This left a noticeable gap in the discussion of economic development strategies in Lincoln compared to the other two cities represented, and the panel could only offer the observation that they would be happy not to have the city get in their way. They had their own interesting approaches from both the university and community organizations, but it still seemed that something was lacking in the absence of similar engagement from City Hall, and there was no particular explanation for that relinquishment of opportunity and collaboration.

What was encouraging, however, was that there was explicit recognition to varying degrees of the importance of anticipating the social and environmental impacts of the kinds of businesses we choose to encourage and support. This is an emerging issue within the economic realm that is changing the way many of us eat, shop, and travel. The conversation regarding sustainability could certainly have gone farther and been deeper and more substantive, but the first step is to recognize that it is a serious question worthy of debate, which may take us back to one opening comment by Dan Reed, the University of Iowa’s vice president for research and development, quoting William Gibson:

“The future is already here; it’s just not evenly distributed.”

 

Jim Schwab

Resilient Communities: Learning Opportunities

Opportunities exist both May 20 in Chicago, and June 18-19 in Boston, to learn more about creating resilient communities that can survive and thrive in the face of disaster. The first involves a roundtable, “Smart Systems, Resilient Regions,” hosted by the Metropolitan Planning Council from noon to 1:30 p.m. The second is a two-day Planners Training Service workshop hosted by the American Planning Association. In both cases, I will be one of the presenters, along with some other experienced experts in the field. For more information on either one, click here.

Jim Schwab