Why is it that I always seem to post from the center of silence? There is some music in the background - of course it is music H has chosen. He is sitting on the couch and I am on one of the twinned black chairs in the living room. I am grateful for this time together. We have had far too little of what I imagine constitutes a "normal" marriage.
I came back to MA after returning mom to NYC after the Thanksgiving festivities. I had plans to see a friend or two here, and head to a conference on Sustainable and Smart Growth held by a Cambridge think tank, Lincoln Institute. I managed to sneak some Christmas shopping in, and a trip to a few exhibits at the Museum of Fine Arts- the Degas nudes, the jewelry room, and an oddly fascinating exhibit of wood sculpture by New York artist Ellsworth Kelly. I walked far too much, and was in considerable pain at the end of the day, but H and I met for dinner at the museum - something we do far too infrequently, and we wandered through the musical instruments exhibit after that. All in all, a nice day.
The conference was held behind
substantial security at the Federal Reserve Bank Building in
Boston, in rooms with glass panels and windows that faced in. There were internal courtyards and gardens with sculpted trees and shrubs, and clerestories facing the sky. Across the street, in the real cold of a winter day, was the encampment of Occupy protesters in tents arrayed along the street facing the one doorway I could find in the mamoth structure, except that is, for the one where the Brinks truck was parked at a loading bay.
Inside, there were sessions that ranged from the self-congratulatory to the inspiring. Tim Beatley reported on European cities that are racing to be the first declared as officially carbon neutral, by providing high-speed rail and walkable streets and communities built at what architects like to call "human scale." Others reported on partnerships across state lines building "place-based" solutions to the problems of urban sprawl. Communities in northern Maine and in New Hampshire and cities from New York to Seattle were models of what could be done to reduce our dependence on fossil fuel and improve the quality of life in communities across the globe.
In the meantime, the Tea Partyers have defunded Obama's Sustainable Communities initiative which triangulated Housing and Urban Development (HUD) with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) in a too rare linkage of common concerns. Paul McMorrow's article in the Boston Globe is a powerful indictment yet again of politics that gets in the way of rational discourse and self-preservation.
I returned to the apartment and promptly got sick, crawled into bed with a cold and sniffles that had me asleep for the next 12 hours. I suppose it was the virus that is around. It could have been a result of spending a day in a space that did nothing but look in, while everything healthy happened outside.
One thing sticks with me.
The plenary speaker was Ron Sims, the ex-county executive of Kings County, Washington and an ex- Deputy Secretary of HUD. He rambled for an hour with neither a lectern nor a note, and like many schooled in a Baptist tradition, he blended exhortatory rhetoric with personal anecdotes. He talked about growing up in a poor neighborhood where Quincy Jones and his brother grew up. He talked about their successes. He talked about his "perfect" granddaughter, and he talked about watching as the son whose umbilical cord he had cut, cut the cord of his perfect granddaughter. He talked about his twin brother whose "work was done." And he talked about two women who were part of the church community where he grew up, and their pies. And he talked about their singing of a Baptist hymn."I don't feel no ways tired," he said, declining to sing. "I've come too far from where I started from. Nobody told me that the road would be easy."
"Your work is not done," he said.
There was lukewarm applause after all the other sessions. There was a standing ovation after he spoke. I went up to thank him, and he gave me what the Regional Administrator of HUD described as a trademark bear hug.
We have a lot to be grateful for in this country. He talked about his wife's observation that in her native Philipines, development would come right to the lakeside, but in his beloved Washington landscape, the lakeshore was still natural habitat. Here in urban Massachusetts, there is a sinuous park along the Mystic River a half block from where I write this. As I lumbered along to the Whole Foods for chicken soup this morning, there were couples walking dogs and carrying frisbees, children in and out of strollers on their way to play, and joggers running along the ersatz path that follows the river's course--a most "walkable landscape". I wish the train ran between Massachusetts and Vermont without a needed detour in New York. I wish that there were more places that had some understanding of the need for people to encounter strangers on common ground and that there were more places that understood that there were appropriate human scale proportions between architectural height and the width of the street. But if the Tea Party has its way, the benefits that accrue to all of us in having communities that concentrate on smart growth and sustainability will be felt in other countries, and we will be left with empty shopping malls in suburban communities, the foreclosures of houses and their neighborhoods, and tent cities on public land in places from Washington State to Boston.
There are some days when I am in many ways tired, but I am not yet ready to give up.