Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Not Me

One of the repeat gags in The Family Circus comic strip featured two characters “Not Me’ and “I Dunno.” In the gag, one of the parents, surveying some disaster or another, asked the kids“Who made this mess?” to which the kids answered “Not Me” and “I dunno” while the ghost-y creatures of that name snickered in the background.

This time of year includes city cleanup days, all of us pitching in to make our places better. Surveying the annual accumulation of litter being picked up leaves one thinking about the characters “Not Me” and “I dunno.”

It also leaves one wondering about the role of product stewardship. Someone bought the items and someone improperly discarded them. Clearly the responsibility for the litter is on the people who improperly discarded them. (I saw a pile of trash laying by a trash can on campus one morning and just as I was questioning how someone could be so irresponsible as to miss the trash can and not bother picking it up, I saw the real culprit re-appear – gulls. But we can’t blame gulls for very much of the litter strewn about our community.) Litters will litter. Although over the past several decades we’ve seen a real change in attitudes about littering (thanks in part to the 1970s PSA featuring a teary-eyed Native American character), there are still litterers.

In Michigan, the 10 cent deposit on bottles and cans of fizzy and alcohol drinks makes it worthwhile to keep those containers and worthwhile to pick them up when someone else drops them. The Michigan United Conservation Clubs got the bottle bill passed a few decades ago as an anti-littering measure and it’s worked. When I was living in Colorado, a similar measure was proposed but the retail outlets and beverage industry was able to prevent its passage. They contended that the culprits were the litters and so more anti-littering fines and enforcement was the answers (and besides, think of  the vermin that would be attracted to the food stores where all those returned bottles and cans would be sitting and the extra costs in that handling. Yet somehow in Michigan it seems to work just fine.)

There’s talk in Michigan of extending the bottle deposit law to non carbonated beverages (e.g., water bottles) and drink pouches. The beverage industry is resisting attempts to expand the law. They admit that drink pouches are non-recyclable and non-biodegradable but they point out the environmental benefit of thinner and lighter which means less use of fuel in transporation. (I'm not sure how that negates a benefit of a deposit.) They also point out that the present can/bottle return machines cannot handle pouches. (Um, the present machines did not exist until the bottle bills made them worth inventing.)

Whether bottle bills, bans on single-use plastic bags, deposits on products that end up in household hazardous waste or other ways to solve the problems some products can cause at the end of their useful life, the question is who is responsible. Should we all pay for deposits on beverage containers because some people don’t dispose of them properly? We are benefitting from the use of the products so maybe we all should pitch in to help shoulder some of the costs that go with it. Shouldn’t the companies that profit from the manufacture and sale of such products take on some of the responsibility for cradle-to-grave or cradle-to-cradle management of their products? The same goes for tires and electronic devices.  If everyone was responsible, we wouldn’t need to ask the question. Unfortunately, we do need to ask the question and "I dunno" and "not me" are not the right answers.  

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

sorry for the re-post

I don't intend to re-post articles but sometimes I run across one that is so informative and for which I could not really add anything. Here is one such article:

Saturday, May 12, 2012

retail dynamics

After 99 years, a local grocery store is closing its doors. Too bad. It's one we shopped at often.

We do still have another small, local, full-service grocery and a small local market best known for its meats. Guess we'll be going to those more now. At least we have those. I know of towns our size that have no local grocery stores, only the global-super-big-box. So far, our smaller stores are able to keep the niche they've carved out around our installation of the global-super-big-box.

The global-super-big-box moved into its new space a few years ago, leaving a large vacant building which they previously used. They continued to pay rent on it, the story is so that it would say empty and thus void of potential competitors at least for a while. Now it won't be empty. New tenants (including a national discount fashion chain) are moving into that space now. Not a fan of strip malls but once they're there, they should have tenants. As one of my students recently said "what's worse than a strip mall? An empty strip mall."

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A week of place

Last Wednesday was the first day of our local farmer’s market. It’s gotten to be an important place for the hundreds of people who come by. A hundred-some on a nice day in the summer anyway. This year’s opening day, like many days early in the season and even some later in the season, was not an ideal weather. The temps were in the 50s, which sounds pleasant enough, but the steady breeze made it feel much colder and the overcast skies meant no warming sunshine. Even with the weather, several customers stopped visited the dozen or so vendors who offered the variety of products that makes the market a unique place. It’s a place to renew acquaintances, talk politics and news of the town, share appreciation of the ingredients that make good meals. Thursday was the opening of what we hope becomes an important part of this place. Thanks to the efforts of the Building Healthier Communities Coalition and the rec trails group, we now have a “Downtown Lunch Loop,” an officially designated exercise route 0.9 miles around part of downtown, marked off in 0.1 mi increments. Here’s hoping people will take advantage of it and get up and moving for their health. A few trendsetters had been walking their own route in the morning and afternoon breaks, but I think that was to go get sugary drinks. The new ‘official’ route goes in the opposite direction. No temptations for sugary drinks along this path. Friday we went to a local fave restaurant/tavern for the fried whitefish. Always tastes great. Whitefish is another special aspect of this place and everyone has their favorite place to go our for fish dinner, ours is just down the road from where we live. Friday we got it as takeout and enjoyed our meal overlooking Whitefish Bay from the lighthouse. The freighter passing by added to the view. Sunday we worked pretty hard outside all day and it was all of the sudden it was dinner time. I suggested another local fave, our favorite burger shack. Didn’t take much convincing to end up there. Our town has two locally owned burger shacks, both on the river, one upstream from downtown, one downstream. As with the whitefish establishments, each place has its devotees. We happen to be partial to the upstream one. Many others are, too, as shown by the fact that on a nice weekend afternoon early in the season the wait can be up to an hour. (Both places are closed for the winter so there’s always a pent-up demand early in the season.) But no wait this time. We called our order in, took it to one of the downtown parks and enjoyed looking out over the river. The seaplane (a/k/a bush plane) landing on the river added to the view. Health note: Just so you know, we do eat healthy sometimes. Saturday dinner was a nice salad made with our lettuce. I like to think that with the physical work in the produce plots over the weekend, we burned at least a fraction of the calories from the fried fish and from the burger (OK I admit it and the onion rings). It’s all about moderation. And enjoying a nice meal in a nice place, not just mindlessly eating.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

honors place

A colleague and I taught an honors seminar this past semester called "Developing Your Sense of Place." My colleague is from the creative writing group in our English Dept. Most of the students were more on that arts and literature side of things, but three or so were science students. It was a great class and a great combination of interests. The students were highly motivated and quite engaged in the subject (they were, afterall, honors students). We instructors tried not to talk too much and instead tried to listen to the students. We instructors had fun and we think the students did, too. Projects throughout the year included interviewing placemakers here in our town, each student writing about their own special place, a review of a place-oriented book, ongoing discussions about importance of sense of place and placemaking, foods of places, and of course the use of place in art and literature, as well as several reflective essays. The wrap up project was a symposium in which members of the university community and town came to see the students' works, displayed as posters and video with the students discussing the topics one-on-one with the visitors, as in a conference poster session. We did not want powerpoint talks. The students were quite creative in their presentations, but none took up our suggestion of an interpretive dance. Probably just as well (although one non-traditional student did dance briefly with her husband to 'Moonlight Serenade.') The symposium was fabulous. And we had a pretty good turnout. Great work, students. We will be posting their work on the university website. I'll share the link when it's put together. The students were skeptical at the beginning of the term about this symposium business but they did a great job and now know that putting on a symposium can be an enjoyable experience. Who knows. Maybe in the not-too-distant future one will be putting on some kind of public outreach event in support of placemaking in their towns. Maybe it'll be a symposium or even a colloquium. In any case, I am encouraged that the students came in with a good sense of place and, according to their wrap up reflections, left with an even stronger sense of place.