Ten questions, plus one.

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In keeping with my once weekly (this one is a day late) long form posts . . .

Last week Strong Towns posted a very timely blog for Ontario residents, ’10 Questions to Ask Someone Running for Local Office’. Municipal elections will be held province-wide later this year. I invite you to read the list and the authors’ suggestions of what to listen for.

I live in a single tier municipality, which means that instead of services and representation done at the town/city then county level, all services and representation occur at the county level. How and why things are this way is for another post.

My ward (or district for non-Canadians) is largely rural and agricultural. Two councillors represent my ward and are two of the 17 councillors (plus the mayor). One councillor has represented my town, then the ward, for several decades; the other councillor is a relative newcomer (by the senior members` longevity standards).

My ward held a debate during the last election in 2014 and I expect one to be held this year. As I mulled over these questions I thought of another:

‘Our municipality received 34% of its last fiscal year’s funding from the province. It is well known that the province is deeply in debt and will be for some years to come. How would you advocate proceeding if, say, 20% of this funding (or about 7%) failed to materialize?’

What to listen for: Some response beyond saying that this is unlikely to happen, which would indicate that the candidate has at least considered the issue.

While I haven’t yet learned which municipal departments get provincial dollars and to what extent they are dependent on those dollars, getting 1/3 of your overall funding from an entity you have no control over is very fragile. It’s quite possible that when (yes, when) the province decreases for flow of dollars unpopular things will happen. A very few possibilities: Reduced library hours (very unpopular with me as I’m an avid library patron); municipal offices may do the same; user fees may increase; road and water/wastewater maintenance will suffer; a tax hike may be recommended.

I want to hear my wards’ candidates pay more than lip service to this unpleasant possibility and encourage Ontario readers to consider asking their ward candidates this question or any on Strong Towns list. American readers should also think about this – what happens to my town, my county, if (when) state and federal dollars dry up?

Long form

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This is my first attempt at what I hope to be a weekly long form post. I welcome your comments on this post in particular and on the idea in general.
I did not spend much time on Facebook before de-linking this blog and expect to spend less time there. One reason I did not dally there is its algorithms’ unending and in my case mostly inaccurate attempts to curate my news and information feed. (I blocked ads on FB a long time ago.) I encourage you to add the Data Selfie extension to your favourite browser, use FB as usual for a week or so, then visit Data Selfie to learn how much it seems to know about you. Then imagine what FB knows about you, and imagine what data about you it sells to the highest bidder.

I prefer curating my own news and information and want to share some of the places I go to. This is a lengthy post so get some coffee, tea, or your other favourite beverage and settle in. Or take this in several chunks if you prefer.

I prefer going to the experts for my weather information. So I am fortunate to live close enough to the States to use the National Weather Service Detroit office for detailed information including the Forecast Discussion. Environment Canada gives another and very useful perspective; and I go to the Weather Underground (WU) for yet another perspective as well as for data reported from personal weather stations. I also enjoy the Category 6 blog (more about this later). You may be interested to learn that I have reported rain- and snowfall data to CoCoRaHS since November 2014.

Quite a few entries here.

For the Canadian perspective I go a several sites. CBC is good for regional and national news and opinion. Macleans provides some good news and opinion about Canada as well as its relations with the US and the rest of the world. I also like The Globe and Mail. Unfortunately most of its really meaty articles are paywalled and I’m undecided about subscribing. iPolitics is a left leaning site; contributor Brent Rathgeber is a former Progressive Conservative Member of Parliament and contributes thoughtful, well written pieces. The National Post and Financial Post report from a somewhat right leaning perspective. Andrew Coyne wrote an interesting column about a guaranteed minimum income versus a minimum wage (currently a hot topic in Ontario). I occasionally visit the Ottawa Citizen and Vancouver (British Columbia) Sun as well as The Tyee.

Since I believe it’s important to (at least try) to see the world through the eyes and sensibilities of people outside Canada I visit Slate; the New York Times; the New Yorker (I particularly enjoy their long form articles about politics and current affairs); and The Atlantic. Outside North America I go to the UK-based Guardian; occasionally the Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald. I sometimes (less often than perhaps I should) go to Jordan Times, Haaretz, Asahi, and the China Daily.

John Michael Greer’s blog is fascinating, almost indescribable. It’s a mix of political observation; philosophy; ecological spirituality; social commentary. The philosophy challenges my brain as does his assertion that Donald Trump is not as dumb as he looks and sounds.

Category 6
This weather blog is mostly co-written by Bob Henson and Jeff Masters. They blog about current weather events, for example the recent California fires and the East Coast storm. They also blog about climate and about anthropogenic climate change. Yes I believe that we are influencing the rate of climate change. I enjoy reading the comments; many of the commenters are quite knowledgeable in their own right and I’m amused by how effortlessly the more ignorant deniers who periodically visit are refuted.

Strong Towns
I began visiting Strong Towns in 2015. It began in 2008 as a blog by self-described ‘recovering engineer’ Charles Marohn and has blossomed into a non-profit with 2,000 members (I’m pleased to be one). Here is the elevator speech, directly from the web site: “Our national system of growth and development [specifically the US though also applicable to Canada] is fundamentally broken, and it’s put too many American cities (and the people who live in them) on the path to certain decline.”

“We firmly believe the most enduring changes are incremental and data-responsive, and can only happen from the bottom up — through the work of strong citizens like you. What that means is, we won’t be handing you a blueprint.

“Strong Towns will never produce a street design guide for engineers. We won’t tell you an ideal population density per acre. And we aren’t available for consultancy requests; we’re a nonprofit that’s doing something bigger than just helping one town or one county. Easy, one-size-fits-all solutions from the top down are what got American towns into the mess they’re in; we want to bring you something better.”

I very much like Strong Towns’ non-partisan approach. One reason is that I believe that both US political parties (and the three major Canadian parties) are clueless about addressing, never mind solving, the pressing problems communities face. And that leads me to . . .

Granola Shotgun
I was introduced to Johnny Sanphilippo’s blog through Strong Towns. I like his mixture of commentary and extensive use of photographs. Johnny makes some observations that are related to what Strong Towns calls the ‘broken system of growth and development’. Perhaps the most penetrating and uncomfortable observations are that ‘failure fixes itself’, and that at some point the systems which are almost invisible now (because we are so accustomed to them) will fail. His solution is to become more resilient on a household level. He stores food, water, and other supplies; has several ways to prepare food; has more than a few skills; takes advantage of opportunities. He’s not a prepper – he’s prudent. His approach is very appealing to my sensibilities and preferences. Faye and I are talking about getting a thermal cooker after reading this post about being given one for Christmas.

Bedlam Farm
I enjoy visiting Bedlam Farm. Jon Katz writes about his life as a writer who lives on a farm outside a Cambridge New York. I enjoy his tales of living with his former girlfriend and now wife Maria; about the people and businesses making Cambridge a more lively community that it may seem; his compassionate yet unsentimental perspective on human-animal relationships.

That’s it for today.

No pretty picture

No pretty picture today, instead some things to ponder. I invite my Facebook followers to click the link and read the full post, to click the links in the post to learn more.

Is it impossible to consider that some places which have been built within my lifetime may – should – go to seed or be abandoned altogether?

Once upon a time we thought it impossible, unthinkable, that people would willingly live in a place where they could not reasonably walk or ride a bike to go get a bag of milk. That major cities would declare bankruptcy, that a state would teeter on the edge. Well, here we are.

If Strong Towns has it right The Growth Ponzi Scheme, a land ‘development’ mode largely dependent on debt- and growth-fueled development, may have passed its prime. I find their message very persuasive. Their nonpartisan, nonpolitical approach contends that making places less car-oriented than is often the case now makes them more human-oriented, more profitable, more sustainable. Strong Towns maintains that in the long term, the inability of the suburbs to afford to maintain their infrastructure without subsidies or debt financing may dictate that some places will prosper, some will hang on, and some will drift into a state of neglect, disrepair, and abandonment.

Although Strong Towns focuses on the United States its message is relevant to Canada and Canadians.

I’m happy to be a Strong Towns member. I’m also happy living in a small rural town where I can choose to walk, bike – or drive – to accomplish many of lifes’ chores. Is it a Strong Town? It could be stronger, it could be much less strong.

It’s said that there are problems and there are dilemmas. It’s also said that problems have solutions and dilemmas have outcomes. Unwinding The Suburban Experiment in the least painful way for everyone invested in it is probably a dilemma.

Back on Thursday.

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I very rarely publicly discuss politics. This commentary by Charles Marohn on the web site Strong Towns struck me, most especially this paragraph:

The poor people of this country — red and blue voters alike — have far more in common with each other than with the governing elite, the professional class and others who are doing well in the current system . . . the system is not working. And it’s not going to work for them. There is no amount of job training, tuition credits or housing programs that will get them beyond living paycheck to paycheck. There is no tax structure or subsidy regime which will give them dignity. The modern bible [which espouses the Growth Ponzi Scheme, the Suburban Experiment, Orderly but Dumb, and more] is not only written in a different language, they are keenly aware that the people interpreting it for them don’t truly have their best interests at heart.

It’s not working for the working class. Nor does either major US political party have adequate plans to deal with crumbling infrastructure, climate change and population dislocation,  cheap fossil fuels depletion.

Vote for the steady hand, vote for radical change, vote third party, not vote at all? All four options have their advantages and drawbacks.

Interesting times ahead . . .