A Western Buddhist's Travels

Sightseeing & detours on the path of enlightenment

Archive for the tag “Jane Jacobs”

Daily Prompt: Ripped from the Headlines!

Head to your favorite online news source. Pick an article with a headline that grabs you. Now, write a short story based on the article.

Here is a link to the article: http://o.canada.com/2013/01/11/canada-at-150-suzuki-sees-a-nation-facing-an-apocalyptic-period/

Life seems to take many swings in different directions as we travel through it. To me it’s like a clock pendulum swinging from side to side, only briefly in the middle, as it inexorably swings to the left or right. As a Buddhist I try to walk the middle path, through life, and being an environmentalist I try to leave as light a foot print as I can as I walk along the earth. There are some who denounce the environmental movement by claiming that we would all have to live like cavemen, while others who attack every corporation as pillagers of the planet. Anyone who has experienced a Canadian winter with temperatures of -30 or lower knows we need to use energy to live through these periods. That said, we can design buildings to be energy efficient, and our communities to be net zero, where the community produces the same amount of energy as it consumes. Edmonton Alberta is redeveloping its old downtown airport, and after an international competition which attracted firms from around the world, chose this concept, with the city retaining the developers role, to make sure the standards are met. Take a look at the concept, as it shows what we can carry out with existing technology, and planning. Corporations are accountable to shareholders for profits, they are also accountable to the communities they are is to make sure that the environment does not suffer, from their activities.

What can we as people do, a lot more than most of us think we have the power to do. Speak up, during any debate about development, hearing about new business licenses, speak up demanding the government make sure the community does not suffer an environmental disaster, while the profits flow out of the community.  Some of the North American First Nations, had a seven generation outlook when making a decision, in that will this be good for those who follow in seven generations? Look at your children, and think what type of world do you want to leave for them? In 961 Jane Jacobs wrote her first book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, where she showed that everything needs to be balanced and connected for people to have healthy places to live and work in safety. It’s time we head the lessons of the past as David Suzuki, pointed out in his look at Canada’s upcoming 150th birthday, and decide where we want to be heading by that milestone, for Canada has the opportunity, and the obligation as a developed nation to be a leader in responsible economic development.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margret Mead



Urban living

Jane Jacobs in her book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” first published in 1961 wrote about city planning. Not from how to build better buildings, but how to make more livable cities. The New York Times Book Review said “Perhaps the most influential single work in the history of town planning…a work of literature.” The book attacked the model of town planning based on processes, efficient movement of goods, and structured order though design. Instead she advocated walkable neighborhoods, local conveniences, stores where the clerks knew your name and your preferences. Design that encouraged interaction between neighbors. The knowing of who belongs in the area, also who the strangers are. Neighborhoods where children, their parents, and the elderly, mingled in the cafes, parks, and streets.  Instead of being segregated into their own enclave. A lot of what she calls desirable follows what the Buddha taught us 2600 years ago. The proper social interaction between sentient beings, without discrimination, brings out the best in us. Wall us off in our concrete cubicles and we lose the ability to socialize, and society starts its race to the lowest common acceptable standard. The coffee shop of only a generation ago, people played chess, conversed and caught up on what was going on around them. Today walk into a coffee shop and you will see a few conversations. However the number of people whose only interaction with those around them, was to order something or be in the same establishment is the greater number. The people talking on cell phones, possibly glaring at anyone who might be over hearing them? The netbook users surfing the web looking for social interaction, while avoiding eye contact with the dozen or so people around them. For those who live in an apartment or condo, can you not only name those on your floor, but know what they do for employment, and any personal details. For a lot of people it’s oh did you see who suite ### had leaving their place this morning, reducing us to a number based on location of where we reside. Or I wish suite ### would ease up on the perfume, as when they are in the elevator I can’t breathe. As Buddhists we should know who are neighbors are, and instead of talking about them, we should talk with them. When we see one of our elderly neighbors with arms loaded down with grocery bags, do we offer to help? Even if they say no thank you, they will probably appreciate the offer.

Lifestyle choices

Over the next few days I will be examining the basics of being a Buddhist. Buddhism is not a series of complex rules; rather it is based on simple precepts which require effort to master in practice. Buddhism doesn’t promise a quick fix to your problems. There is no magic phrase that absolves you of your past deeds, or grants you immortal life in another form after your physical existence here is over.

Respect for all living, and sentient beings. This means that we do not knowingly kill other animals, birds, fish or humans through our actions. Today much is made about living a greener lifestyle. It is said that if all 7 billion of us lived a western lifestyle we would require more planets then exist in our own solar system to support us. Also if we all lived a vegan lifestyle, the incidences of obesity, diabetes, and many other illnesses would return to the lower levels that existed historically. When developing or as many people say improving a piece of land that we consider the impact of our actions. Cities taking some of the most fertile land on the planet, and paving it over for more manicured lawns is not sustainable. Look at a freeway in any city in the world and we see most cars with 1 person in it. Having cities designed with walk able, bike able neighbourhoods with a balanced mixture of homes and business should be the mantra of all city planners. Having a home where we spend 3 or 4 hours everyday commuting to our means of paying for our lives, takes away from the time we could be enjoying a home cooked meal with our family instead of a bucket of greasy chicken with soggy string of potatoes that were cooked in grease. Today’s generation will be the first in recorded history that will live a shorter lifespan then their parents, excluding period’s of war. Suicide rates climb, diseases which were a rarity now run rampant from poor diets, and addiction to mind altering substances skyrockets as people try to fill the void that was filled by human interaction in our simpler lifestyles. Jane Jacobs in her book The Life and Death of Great American Cities, gives us many examples of how modern planning is designed to minimize our interaction with our neighbours, except in participating in actions of commerce. Children playing sports on a residential street stopped momentarily by the call of “car”, providing a quick breather. Neighbours enjoying a cup of coffee on the front porch or steps. Walking to the corner baker, butcher or baker who knows its Friday which means your in-laws will be over for dinner. Replaced by hurrying to the Sportsplex for organized sports, or the warehouse store that offers 99 varieties of pasta sauce. In some cities people spend 11% of their week in a vehicle usually by themselves. Gone is the human interaction, replaced by a lifestyle that overtaxes our planets ability to sustain us. We raise animals on farms where they have no ability to move, eat a balance of the right chemicals all so we can slaughter them, then process it into a meal that is ready in 3 minutes but is the nutritional equivalent of a suicide bomber in a crowded market square.

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