Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Some Civic Brainstorming

On September 28th, 2002 The Oregonian published an essay by Carl Abbott, a well-known PSU Professor. Here is a snippet:

Portland could build stronger connections with the lower Columbia and the northwest quadrant of the state. Tillamook, Astoria, Hood River, Redmond and Portland all share a common market for many goods and services, ranging from fresh food to medical specialists.

Voters in this larger area are often in tune with those in Clackamas and Washington counties, and sometimes even Multnomah County. Let's think of a regional economy where these smaller cities develop specialized manufacturing and services that dovetail with the metropolitan core.

As a way to kick-start this process, let's return the Columbia River to its natural role as a unifier by redrawing state boundaries.

Why not pretend we're Bob Whitsitt and pull a three-way trade? Give the Idaho panhandle to Washington (and unite Pullman with Moscow, Lewiston with Clarkston). Compensate Idaho with the Snake River counties of Oregon (Malheur, Baker, Wallowa, Union) and shift Washington's Skamania, Clark, Cowlitz, Wakiakum, and Pacific counties into Oregon. With this new map, we might leapfrog the fruitless debate about port investments in Astoria versus Portland by creating a unified Port of Portland-Longview to better satisfy environmental and economic needs.

I salute Professor Abbott's creative ideas! He closed his essay with:

As much as I value Portland's history, we need some civic brainstorming. We can't rely on a reputation forever. It's time to extend the legacy of the past 30 years with a new generation of creative ideas.... Who'll be the first?

A sidebar indicated HOW TO RESPOND. I wrote a response, limited to 500 words. It finally appeared as an on-line Guest Commentary, on October 28th, 2002. Carl & I corresponded a little on this — the more ideas the better he said. Here is an un-edited snippet of my 4-year old response to the above:

We need a new pattern language in order to express our unique Northwest culture. We suffer daily from jurisdictional confusion and inefficiencies — fighting fires and building byways across arbitrary straight state and county lines. Portland is surrounded by four contending counties complicating the simplest planning efforts, perhaps the worst such situation in the Northwest.

Why not do away with states and counties altogether, instead of trading counties between states? We are the Northwest, a region of distinct rural, marine and urban areas. For example, we have the Columbia Gorge, the Cascades, and Willamette Valley rural areas. The Puget Sound islands make up a marine area. We have the Portland-Vancouver urban area.

Urban areas are, in turn, constellations of towns, towns have communities, communities have villages, and so on, down to the grass roots of home and business.

Why not morph our man-made mess into a natural pattern of geography and demography? We should re-organize all appropriate systems (schools, libraries, courts, emergency services, transportation, and so on) along these geographic scales, from the local watch group to the regional or national level.

End of what I wrote in 2002. Carl threw out a number of whacky ideas in that essay — buying a University from Russia and putting it in the Hayden Meadows shopping complex. He was really "mixing it" up!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Transit (System Map Mix)

A transit system map should be so strikingly familiar to anyone, that their gut-level response to it would be "I could use that system!" This is not the case with our current transit systems.

What would an optimum transit map for an area look like? — Can a new system map be designed from scratch? — Would any local agency propose, or any grantor fund, such a wholesale remix of an operating transit system? — Even if funds were available from somewhere, would anyone do it? — Can transit systems be based on "regional", town, and community centers?

If there is such a long ranging plan somewhere, Show me the Blueprints!

Planning a complete new system doesn't imply that you have to implement it all at once. Once we knew what an optimal system looked like, we could roll it out over time. Changes made would be toward the overall plan, not ad hoc adjustments.

In Portland, TriMet just changed the whole Transit Mall alignment last month, affecting most every route, without screwing up. They'll change it all back again in less than two years. I know transit riders are intelligent enough and patient enough to weather a well-thought-out change for a well-defined result.

Note that I didn't say that the construction project wasn't disruptive, or that the Portland Mall project was the optimal thing to do! (I won't say it wasn't either.) Let's think outside the Mall, way outside.

This is just a short description of an large problem. We'll look at Curitiba, Brazil and how that system differs from a web of transportation, and I'll lay out more about the public, planner, and computer interactions that might produce an "optimal" system map in future transit remixes.

Monday, February 26, 2007

A Problem With Technology

In 1976, Joseph Weizenbaum, wrote:

It may be that social services such as welfare could have been administered by humans exercising human judgment if the dispensing of such services were organized around decentralized, indigenous population groupings, such as neighborhoods, and natural regions. But the computer was used to automate the administration of social services and to centralize it along established political lines. If the computer had not facilitated the perpetuation and "improvement" of existing welfare distribution systems — hence of their philosophical rationales — perhaps someone might have thought of eliminating much of the need for welfare by, for example, introducing negative income tax.

Weizenbaum was also critical of the application of computers to social and military problems, among others. The theme being that it would have been better for some bureaucratic systems to collapse under the weight of their paperwork, than for the computer to have come to their rescue, just in time.

This will also be a theme in World Remixed.

For example, computers on the web can help plan a trip from A to B on TriMet, or give us the next arrival time of any given bus at any given stop. This is certainly better than nothing, but it doesn't mean that we have designed the best possible transit system routes or web of transportation. It also increases our dependency on technology. You need a computer with you to plan your trip, or tell you when the bus might be along.

Imagine instead a system that is intuitive to use. No route-finding computer would be needed. I will expand on this in the next remixed entry.

Joseph Weizenbaum is professor emeritus of computer science at MIT. The quote appears in the chapter On Tools in COMPUTER POWER AND HUMAN REASON, FROM JUDGMENT TO CALCULATION. You can see him on wikipedia.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Communication Defines Community

Consider the problem of neighborhood newsletters and community newspapers, and online (web) presence for the same. Content for web sites can be maintained by various systems with strange names like joomla, plone, django, and drupal. What the web site should look like is another question. The community site might host the various neighborhood web pages in distinct way, in addition to having content common to all the hoods.

Another problem is producing a community newspaper that includes news from each neighborhood association. In southwest Portland, content is currently collected via email and paper copy, and then put into a layout program like InDesign for the print edition. Neighborhood meeting dates can clash with newspaper publishing deadlines.

But much of the same information should be in both media.

What if the community newspaper used a content management system that allowed it to maintain the on-line edition, while also being capable of exporting the articles for that particular edition into a rough first whack at the print edition? That is, the newspaper production would begin with content derived from the web edition. For an example of this, see the Lawrence Journal-World, in the hip town of Lawrence, Kansas.

So, that is easy enough. Now leap ahead. What if all the recognized levels of the world used a distributed news system, that allowed 'local' articles to appear on a local paper or web site, while the next larger entity could automatically pull up articles flagged as having larger scope? A regional newspaper (say for Northwest America) could draw from articles aggregated from the areas (urban and rural) within the Northwest. This is not to say that The Northwest American couldn't have articles from The Eastern Seaboard, The MidWestern, or The World. (Different proposals for bio-geo-cultural regions of America will be the topic of future world-remixed entries).

This all is not to be confused with Charles Foster Kane, Ted Turner, or Rupert Murdoch. In the future, there will be citizen-driven open news systems.

The title for this entry is from the late Professor James Carey of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. I hope he would approve of this message.

Friday, February 23, 2007

World Model Web Pages

I continued to develop and refine the model after the 1977 class. By 1988 the Macintosh was 4 years old. I used it to create a one page printed summary of my "World View". I distributed that World View at a BioRegional conference in 1988, where I was unable to get a word in edgewise. By 1992 the View had expanded onto a second page. With the advent of the WWW, the View was a natural candidate for my personal set of web pages.

The World View grew and eventually sprouted sub pages. I made a major revision in 2002, branding it a "wOrLD mODeL". My unconventional capitalization may be enough to scare some folks off. Loosen up folks!

Much work remains, describing the levels and developing models for taxation, transportation fares, and so on. But the FrameWork is there. In March, I will begin updating each of the Level pages on the web site (a link is in the sidebar) and writing a little bit about them here, in world-remixed.

Where the Model came from

In Spring 1977, I offered and voluntarily led a course General Systems Theory in which I secretly hoped to: (a) disprove that a sustainable city was possible in isolation; (b) demonstrate the multiplicity of interconnections in such a system; and (c) expose students to comprehensive problem solving, broadening their specialist (major) roles as economist, chemist, philosopher, an so on. About 30 Students signed up for the class.

After 14 weeks we concluded that cities are inter-dependent. We developed interesting systems for transportation and distribution. We developed a world model. Papers were written individually and in teams. I wrote the distribution section, and helped with a couple other sections. I was pleased with how well the students rose to the challenge. We made their set of papers into a book and the college covered the reproduction cost.

After it was over, I knew something was missing. Driving home from Spokane the following summer, I realized we'd left out "Area" -- I had grown up in the enigmatic "Inland Empire"! (A similar personal revelation is described by Donald W. Meinig in The Great Columbia Plain; a historical geography, 1805-1910.) I realized there were many other areas around the world, and they seemed far more important in the scheme of things than states or counties. This was a real breakthrough for me. The Bay Area, Puget Sound, the Columbia Basin, and so on.

Sometime later, I made a popular calling card with a person-to-planet hierarchy to give people whenever I might comment on a presentation (Neal Pierce for example). I hoped to at least encourage people to apply such a framework whenever something was being reviewed or re-structured, creating incremental, rather than revolutionary change. Or, simply to raise consciousness here and there.

We'll revisit the GST class in a blog entry on March 9th. If any of the GST students reading out there, I'd love to hear from you!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

All Different Places

He opened the geography to study the lesson...they were all different places, that had those different names. They were all in different countries...and the countries were in continents, and the continents were in the world, and the world was in the universe.
He turned to the flyleaf of the geography and read what he had written there: himself, his name and where he was.
Stephen Dedalus
Class of Elements
Clongowes Wood College
County Kildare
The Universe
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (pg. 15) ---James Joyce

Here was a young man having this sort of thought for the first time, his place in the universe. When learning about atoms and galaxies, a child spontaneously zooms out of the solar system and beyond to imagine that our whole universe is just some substance in a test tube on a bench in the next higher dimension.

We have a sense of scale for places large and small -- dreaming of a new room or traveling to a foreign country. My model of the world has 12 levels of scale between a person and the planet. (Consider an animal or a business to be on the same level as a person -- more on that later.)

Dedalus's model had County Kildare in it. My model has no counties or states in the USA or elsewhere. We'll see that they are problematic in many places, not so much in others. You'll see that we can replace them with more appropriate structures. In the Portland Oregon area we have (at least) three counties coming together within the urban area, and we blow a lot of time and money duplicating effort (and worse). Now consider that Clark County is only across the Columbia and we might wonder what good a state boundary is, going down the middle of a river. There is no proof here, just zooming out a bit.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Blah Blah Blog

The Oregonian printed an article (with the above title) about how easy it is to start a blog, challenged everyone (OMG) to start one and to send them the address by Feb 28. They'll publish a list of the "most interesting ones" on March 9th. So I here I am.

I may comment on a news article in the Oregonian, Tribune, or Mercury; a Letter to the Editor of one of the local papers; a news story from OPB radio or TV, or perhaps MSM.

I may report on a domestic project or issue, a neighborhood project or issue, a city project or issue, a metro area ..., a regional ..., a national ..., a continental ..., or a world project or issue. (I left out village, community, town, and a couple others.) I want to comment on these projects and/or issues to raise awareness of the possibility of a world where solutions are obtainable because they fit into a common framework. (I don't have all the answers yet, just an inner-credo, and a positive attitude!)

Most of the projects will likely be local, but I reserve the right to comment on any situation anywhere in the world. I promise not to just spout opinions as you can find plenty of them other places on the Internet. I will only create an entry about a problem or issue if I have an idea for a solution. If you come back from time to time, I hope that you will not find me bombing other countries, and so on.

To bootstrap the blog, I will make a couple dozen entries about the notion of remixing the world. Then I will make entries as above, or to report on some new aspect of my world model, or some reflection upon it.

I assume my style may vary until I figure it out. I edit and preview each entry multiple times... but I still keep tweaking an entry the first day as it settles in, so don't be surprised to see it change a little from one viewing to the next.

I may add a quote or poem or lyric from time to time. Many days from now, I may get to adding small graphics, after I win the lottery and retire.

I deliberately don't intend this to be a forum, at least in the beginning, while I establish a positive space. Let me tell you an idea I have for an ultimate world wide wiki of sorts, in a future remixed entry.

Nice Place

Paradise is exactly like where you are right now, only much, much, better.

--- from Language is a Virus by Laurie Anderson.

This blog is about re-designing, re-aligning all of the world's systems. We can re-mix the components, incrementally. This process is happening all the time. The knee-jerk reaction to a radical proposal is often "You can't do that!" or "You'll never be able to change that!". Time and again, I've seen this not be the case. Old systems die easy.

Who decides what changes and who guides it? We are beginning to create open systems and data. This is an unstoppable force. All natural systems converge toward optimal solutions. (This must be the case with limited energy and finite resources.)

World-Remixed will not be an economics lecture! I don't want this to be a chore to read, or for you to continually have to question weird or dubious, unfounded statements such as those you just read. So, I may also disclose my sources from time to time, and be clear about what what I know first hand, and what I read elsewhere. See you next time.

Questions: Who said: "It'll be a nice place, if they ever get it finished."? In what context?