It’s whose experience, not the experience itself

–If imposed, macro-designs are forms of not-noticing. I was involved in an urban environmental project, where what college students were taught and what they found on the ground were not just different but orthogonal:

  • Vacant lots were said to be ideal for community gardens but could not be used for gardening because prior use had rendered the soils toxic (that is why they were vacant);
  • Daylighting city creeks was recommended to improve public access to a restored natural area. Local residents preferred instead leaving creeks inaccessible rather than opening them to more out-of-sight criminal behavior;
  • A clean-up campaign to reduce street litter became something more when the gloves distributed for the effort were pierced by discarded injection needles; and
  • Planting more trees along the street was touted as an ideal urban improvement, but in practice doing so raised liability issues, ranging from tree roots buckling the sidewalk to cutting away those roots rendering the trees more prone to falling.

Had I taken time to notice what they there had already noticed, I’d recognize earlier that inevitable gap between ideals professed for all cases and actual practices modified across a run of different cases. It signals the importance of alertness, not design assumptions, for practice.

–“All Economic Policy Is Climate Policy,” says the policy brief. No, and for the same reasons not everything is economic policy in the last instance (whatever that might be in the Anthropocene). First, differentiate!

–Unsustainability is tagged in ways that render us oblivious to history. The rationale for irrigated agriculture was to sustain crop production throughout the year; the rationale of burning coal was that it generated a many-fold increase on the energy needed to dig it out.

–Like a poem is always in excess of its interpretation, the management of a critical infrastructure is in excess of its technology—and “excess” is exactly the word. Its use here is antithetical to any claim that “excess capacity undermines technological and economic efficiency.”

–There is no little irony in a purely self-interested market approach to deregulated electricity coordination and a purely technology-based approach to decentralized electricity coordination that promises to automate out selfishness.

–David Hume, the philosopher, was complaining about the speed of “instant” stock transactions in the mid-1770s. A century early, complaints were commonly heard about how “affairs here change so fast that one no longer reckons time by months and weeks, but by hours and even by minutes’. indeed, “many new, unusual emergencies, such as our forefathers have not known” increased “with an inconceivable rapidity.” And “in one century more light has been thrown on this science than had been elicited in the preceding period of near 5,700 years” (recorded by historians Istvan Hont, George Parker and Keith Thomas).

In short, it’s whose experience, not the experience itself, of rapid we should be focusing on.

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