Posts Tagged ‘urban environments’

Oak Park Sacramento

7 January 2018

Taking a visit to the Sacramento neighborhoods of Oak Park seemed like a good way to spend a sunny Saturday afternoon. Guided by listings sent to me by a local realtor, I visited some houses in this area that have recently been for sale. I was on my bicycle, and took my time, seeing what these neighborhoods are like.

oak park sign

Palm trees grace a median strip housing a sign welcoming us to Oak Park.

From what I’ve been told, there is a definite push in this area to find new young buyers for houses in this older suburb just a little south of downtown.

And I’ve seen two main ways houses in this area are marketed: 1) Appeal directly to the end user, in which case the house will usually be totally cleaned up inside and remodeled (and cost more); 2) Sell to investors (also known as “flippers”) in which case the house will usually be sold as-is, and for less.

I saw some real dumps (not pictured). But most of the houses, though well-used, seemed to be proudly owned.

3343 32nd Ave

Typical small house in Oak Park.

This typical home was built in 1936. It is less than 1,000 square feet on a lot less than .1 acre. It has 3 bedrooms and one bathroom. The “garage” is detached and towards the rear. There are thousands of houses like this in Sacramento. Even those built in the 1950s or later follow this basic pattern. They were quite commonly built with no particular attention to heating and cooling, and were typically retrofitted with some sort of system later in their lifespans. It is also typical for there to be no basement; the house built on a slab or with some sort of crawl space underneath.

A house like this in those days might have cost $2,500 to build and $5,000 to purchase. Per inflation data online, it should cost $50-100,000 today, but other factors have made housing (mostly land) prices increase more than the average.

3629 9th

Orange tree graces one of the more attractive Oak Park homes.

I have seen many fruit trees in Sacramento gardens and parks. Today I even saw a tree with quite large fruit that could have been a pomelo or breadfruit. I have never seen any of these trees harvested (which is why they were planted). Why is that? Perhaps people don’t want to be bothered with picking fruit from a real tree. Seems a shame.

3839 13th

This house sits sideways on its lot.

I usually only see sideways houses on corner lots, but here’s an example. I can only imagine it was done on the builder’s whim.

3615 23rd

Charm of old-style long front porch marred by chain link fence.

One can tell by wandering around this area that security is a concern to many residents. And if you can’t afford a nice “permanent” fence you might go for chain-link. I would be embarrassed, though, to have this on my property. I would at least try to hide it behind shrubbery.

3531 24th

Front-facing brick fireplace is unusual for this neighborhood.

As a sort of test or experiment, I looked up this last home in Sacramento County’s Parcel Viewer application online. It tells me this house was built in 1941 and the land and house together are valued at $100,000. Asking price is more that two times that.

Issues

This little trip through Oak Park brings up several issues that I have become aware of over the years.

What is happening in our cities?

The most obvious answer to this is that someone decided they didn’t want to pay organized labor their negotiated wages any more, so found ways to get their products built in other places where labor costs are lower.

Even if a blue-collar worker retrains to run automated equipment in a yogurt plant (or something), the automation is likewise serving to keep labor costs down, which basically means fewer people employed. So we find people unable to keep their homes or forced to move to cheaper homes. And the land that working-class people used to live on is being recycled into business uses, retiree apartments, and “cool” housing for those who have survived the various crashes and work in banking, government, marketing, or tech jobs located close to that housing. The new residents can then feel good about saving energy on their commute, while the less fortunate serve them food, cut their hair, or take away their garbage, but drive to work from more distant locations.

This could be solved, but not by using the same assumptions and social structures that created the problem. The problem almost certainly has to do with our basic sense of competence. When workers organized, and the manufacturing managers of the modern world were forced to pay them better, things actually got better for everybody. But we didn’t change the fact that the managers preferred to deal with workers who were totally predictable, never talked back, and would do whatever they were told to do. Robots. So they busily set about creating such robots, and they are beginning to succeed. If you told them that they were selling out the human race, they’d tell you they didn’t care. They know how to manage workers who are totally obedient and just need oil and electricity. They don’t really know how to manage real people. People who do know how to manage real people – especially those who enjoy it – are the more successful (and happier) people on this planet. But, unless they know Scientology, they don’t know how to train other managers to operate the way they do.

The fact is, to be successful today requires a level of confront and creativity that fewer and fewer people can easily attain. And that is, as far as I can tell, the more basic technical reason why things are falling apart. There is also an ethics reason for our problems, but if we could handle this technical factor with enough people, the ethics problem would diminish if not vanish entirely.

What is going on with housing prices?

People like Catherine Austin Fitts can tell you more about the details of this than I can. While the basic problem is discussed above, what sees to be happening in the case of housing is that some people saw the decline coming and indulged in unethical actions to benefit from it at the expense of others.

This trend was already rolling forward after the crash of the early 1900s that resulted in the various “New Deal” arrangements to encourage lenders to let more “ordinary” people into the mortgage market. This was basically done using government guarantees to protect the lenders from too many losses. The creation of a “secondary market” also freed up more cash to make loans with.

The market, however, responded to this cash infusion by increasing housing prices (the same thing that has happened to college tuitions as a result of student loans). This gave lenders more income and borrowers more risk. The big problem, of course, comes back to reduced employment. If people can’t keep working, they can’t pay off their loans.

While working at HUD, Catherine spotted operations designed to deliberately trash neighborhoods (by injecting crime like meth labs into them), lowering property values and forcing good people to leave. The operators (criminals) could then buy up the land more cheaply. Revelations like this is what give Mankind such a bad name in this universe. I don’t think most people are involved in operations like this. Just enough to make it hurt.

Sustainability

I have listened to various people tell us that according to certain computer models, society can’t continue with its “usual” economic behavior much longer. It will become impossible to increase prices to keep pace with the costs of producing certain materials, especially fuel. They say we have just lived through a period where the profit margins were pretty good, but that can’t continue indefinitely. Production won’t crash because we run out of resources, but because the cost of production will rise too high.

I hadn’t heard this argument before. But it and related arguments are leading some to attempt to “exit the system.” Most people I know are not taking this approach. They think we can make it through by increasing competences and creative ability. They may be right. Meanwhile, others are learning to live in “houses” that measure maybe 20 by 20 feet, are made from soil (adobe) and other recycled materials for something like $500, and require almost no energy to heat and cool. On top of this, systems are being developed to sequester water in soil so that little or no irrigation of gardens or even grazing fields is needed. That harkens back to an earlier way of living, but the people who are choosing it could survive in relative comfort while others are starving or freezing. Maybe.

I know that the kind of houses Sacramento is full of would not be livable in the winter months without heating. You could get by in the summer without cooling, but not without a refrigerator. However, there is enough land in Sacramento to probably sustain everyone living here now if they just practiced permaculture and stopped driving to work. Of course, the banks would not be able to make money on home loans, government as we know it would probably stop operating, and so might industry as we know it.

So one fear is that the cities would become lawless. They already are, but most of us are protected from the worst of it. I’m not sure how this would actually work out. Certainly there will still be beings who are unwilling to be honest and contribute real help to their community. Beings that know only fear of others and thus feel compelled to lie continuously. Would an economic collapse empower them more or shut them out? I’d rather not find out!

Will there really be radical changes in the near future?

Many people are operating on the assumption that things the way they are now can hold together indefinitely. They aren’t preparing for the future in any way, unless they have an extra money flow that they can save or invest. And that money may not be enough to protect them.

But it’s really hard for me to say. There are a lot of people alive who don’t want it to get worse and are very actively working on various strategies to prevent that. Most of them aren’t saying much or promising much. I don’t think they are sure their ideas will work. But I know they are out there trying. I sometimes wish I could be working with them more closely.

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Goose Poop

6 October 2016

geese in park Omaha

Geese feed on a lawn in Omaha downtown park.


We’ve all seen Canada Geese stop over at some local lawn on their way North or South. But these weren’t Canada Geese, and they acted like they’d been living in this park for a while. These geese, in fact, look more like domestic geese.

I don’t remember geese of any description living in parks. But when I visited the favorite park of my boyhood, Nicholl Park in Richmond California, Canada Geese were obviously living there.

geese in Richmond park

“Wild” geese living in Richmond.

What’s going on here?

Google “urban geese” or “goose poop” and you will find plenty of reading materials on this subject. But they most all say the same things.

What certain sites (such as Cornell’s) will tell you is that the U.S. government started a program in the 1930s to re-establish the Canada Goose population which had dwindled considerably due to hunting. They did this with captive birds. These birds did not know to migrate, and they didn’t migrate; they stayed put. These are the birds filling our city parks and causing most of the problems we are having with goose poop, noise, and aircraft interference.

They are safe in cities because no one can hunt (with guns anyway) in cities.

I wondered after getting back home if no one was using the Nicholl Park lawn because of all the goose poop in it. And that probably is a factor. There was a lot of it, and per all the materials I’ve read, it’s not very healthy to be in contact with it.

As it turns out, the real key here is lawns. These birds love lawns, and will seldom settle anywhere other than a grassy field.

Odd coincidence

Oddly, last night I attended an event titled “12th Annual Palouse Basin Water Summit.” We listened to the usual local speakers on the subject of the Palouse water supply, plus we had one international speaker, Maude Barlow, a Canadian water activist.

Right now, the Palouse gets most of its fresh water from underground sources (aquifers). Agriculture and industry are not significant users of aquifer water in the Palouse. Even so, the aquifer water levels have dropped over 100 feet since we have been pumping out water for human uses.

The most attractive and realistic way that most residents can reduce water use is to switch to gardens around their houses that require little or no irrigation. This is no panacea, but it got a lot of attention at this meeting because it is a fun and interesting way to reduce domestic water consumption.

Most residents are already aware of low-flow toilets and shower heads, waiting for full loads before washing clothes or dishes, and generally being stingy with water. These are all part of “going green” and have gotten a lot of attention in many urban areas because many urban areas have had water shortages.

Lawns

Lawns have reached a kind of iconic status in the American and European psyche. Anybody’s dream house has a lawn in front of it, possibly quite a large one. All those photos of our little kids playing on the lawn at home or in a park…it seems an essential part of life.

Yet lawns are atrocious water hogs. They require tremendous amounts of water to keep them green, but will tend to drain off excess water, rather than pull it into the soil. They are like many of our crops that must be irrigated to survive. And so, though grass can be very green, lawns are not very “green.”

What’s odd about me going to this conference then wondering about goose poop is that lawns are related to both issues. Lawns. Odd.

There are still some municipalities (Orlando, Florida is cited by Wikipedia) that mandate front lawns. In more hip communities, the problem is more likely to be front no-plants-at-all. But people in general are gradually coming to realize that the more soil that is covered with plants that will help it soak up, rather than reject, any precipitation that comes its way, the more pro-survival that soil will become for all involved.

So, the answer to both goose poop and water over-use is getting rid of lawns and replacing them with more natural gardens or vegetable gardens.

I have recently posted a lot of photos of urban parks. They all have lawns. You might say, “What would a park be without a lawn?” To which I would reply, “A lawnless park.” I have absolutely no sympathy for golfers, either. None.

I have not begun to even scratch the surface! After we de-lawn, we are going to have to confront re-forestation. And that involves our current methods of agriculture, both mass crops and grazing animals. I’m not sure how far we can take this, but I know that the ideal scene would be to phase out our impact on the surface ecology almost entirely.

I wanted to show you a picture of Bird Hills, but couldn’t find one, so here’s Discovery Park in Seattle.

discover park seattle trail to beach

My ideal park.

Grand Avenue – Spring overview

1 June 2013

I thought it was about time to take a ride down the main street in Pullman, Grand Avenue, and take some photos of what is there.

I actually took photos going down and coming back. But I have put them together into a single sequence.

I live near the north side of town, and this tour starts looking north from the bridge that takes cars over the creek (and railroad tracks) that come down from the north. To the north is the city of Spokane. Closer north is the city of Palouse.

grand-avenue-overview-20130601-00-498

The immediate area around the train tracks is a nature preserve with a walking/running/biking trail going through it. This trail goes downtown and then turns east towards Idaho. It follows a creek upstream all the way into Moscow, Idaho.

grand-avenue-overview-20130601-02-517

Grand Avenue has received a lot of civic attention recently, which has resulted in the running trail and in several mini-parks. The northern-most of these is the “SEL Wayside Garden.” I pass by it every day on my walk to work. Evidently, it was sponsored by SEL, my current employer.

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Several entrances into the running trail show up along Grand Avenue. I will skip by the first for now (opposite Larry Street, where I live).

grand-avenue-overview-20130601-05-533

…And the second…

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…which is across from the power substation (which has recently been upgraded with SEL protection devices).

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Next we get to the first big cross street, which heads up into the north part of the WSU campus. Dominating this corner is Dissmore’s Market and its parking lot.

grand-avenue-overview-20130601-09-554

Just behind Dissmore’s is my favorite thrift store, Palouse Treasures.

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And at the corner below the thrift store is another lovely little garden.

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The next entrance to the running trail is at the “President’s Grove.”

grand-avenue-overview-20130601-12-577

…This time I will peak in for a closer look…

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…To find a nice little rest area with some benches. There is also a little picnic area further up the trail.

grand-avenue-overview-20130601-14-682

The next improvement along Grand Avenue is the “Mayor’s Grove.”

grand-avenue-overview-20130601-15-585

It contains a bench, a plaque, and a lovely horse chestnut tree.

grand-avenue-overview-20130601-16-582

And now we arrive at the point were the train tracks turn east and west, and where the little creek running down from the north meets the bigger creek running downhill from the east.

Scouts’ Park

grand-avenue-overview-20130601-18-667

In this park, you can also see where another creek that runs down from the south comes out from under the sidewalk and joins up with that same creek running west.

grand-avenue-overview-20130601-21-670

Here we are at Main Street, downtown Pullman. The area is planted with lots trees (peppers?) which are just leafing out now and very light yellow-green. The creek running down from the south runs directly under this crosswalk.

grand-avenue-overview-20130601-24-588

Here is where the little creek submerges, a few blocks farther south.

grand-avenue-overview-20130601-28-649

Across from the Old European restaurant is Bill’s Welding, which includes a junk yard with this fence and planting in front of it.

grand-avenue-overview-20130601-33-640

…In back of the fence…

grand-avenue-overview-20130601-34-639

Also from this position can be glimpsed a vacant lot across the street full of blue-purple flowers.

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Just a bit further down is a large old house in a very large yard. It is now Kimball’s Mortuary, but I’m sure it has a lot of history behind it.

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Next, a more modern building, the Living Faith Fellowship church. Below it are the Post Office, a car dealer and other businesses of less notable architecture. Since I am more attracted to the flora and fauna, let’s next look at a roadside section of the little creek overgrown with willows currently full of “fuzz” from their flowers going to seed, and also filled with wild rose, dogwood, and cattails.

grand-avenue-overview-20130601-43-612

The wild rosebushes are in full flower right now. The cattails are from last summer.

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And here we are at Bishop Boulevard, near the southern end of town and the southern end of Grand Avenue. A sign tells us that the Ford dealer up the street has sponsored the plantings in this area.

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Some closeups of trees and flowers will appear in a follow-up article…