Monthly Archives: May 2013

Deciders Need to Hear from Public Transit Advocates

“You can’t understand a city without using its public transportation system.”   ― Erol Ozan, author, professor, information technologist

Maybe that’s why the Minnesota Legislature, in spite of its generosity of spirit during the past session, de-railed much of the long-term dependable funding proposed for public transit.  Basically, those who support , plan for and depend on public transit are back to short-term planning with no permanent funding that would allow for cogent comprehensive planning.

Legislators could exit the marble halls, rush to their cars (conveniently parked and guarded at taxpayers’ expense), and speed with abandon past the 94 Express, LRT construction, even the bikers and weary bus riders.  Some probably dashed off to enjoy a respite in distant lands where public transit is funded and functioning.  With luck, they will have time to reflect and connect the dots.

They may return to wonder why the electorate does not relish the endless wait at the bus stop.  Jeff Wood, chief cartographer at Reconnecting America, a nonprofit that advocates for public transit, explains the cognitive dissonance: “Well, nobody uses transit, so why should we fund it?”

In its study of Public Transit 101, the think tank Remapping Debate makes the case that “companies understand that there is an initial period during which the hope of future consumer adoption means significant pre-adoption losses.”   In commuting terms, it is obvious that solo drivers of pricey vehicles are not easily moved to embrace public transit as a concept – and they are vehemently disinclined to adjust their modus operandi.

Bottom line, legislators are not pressured by their constituents on the public transit issue.

David Van Hattum of Transit for Livable Communities, this state’s most ardent advocate for public transit, observes that “you can’t expect transformational change without sort of setting up the conditions so that people readily see public transit as an alternative.”

The question then is:  what might entice a reluctant public, particularly the Deciders, to invest time, creative energy and taxes to build a viable – even irresistible – public transit system?  Graham Currie of Monash University cites the three key things that would make a transportation option attractive to riders, the ultimate deciders in a democracy:  “No 1: service frequency; No 2: service frequency.  And you will never guess what No. 3 is…”

True enough, but there are other issues.  One is the issue of routes, a particularly hot topic as the Twin Cities builds out the LRT network.  Bus routes are a significant factor in design and deployment of rapid transit routes.  For example, residents in inner-ring suburbs are left in the dust – or the snow bank –  as express busses speed to the outer ring where time and convenience matter more.

Then there is the issue of subsidies for public transit, as if these were  unique.   Thoughtful Deciders know full well that automobile dependence is totally formulated on an incredibly pricey infrastructure that includes not only publicly supported highway design and construction but constant maintenance and policing.   The infrastructure also involves private and public support including parking facilities and related conveniences for car-dependent customers.  Public dollars for public transit, which includes the vehicles, fuel, stops, stations, etc. are just more visible.

One factor the politicians and advocates don’t mention – the issue of Class or Cool, depending on one’s view.  Some people are just too important or too cool to join the working masses, the old folks, the little people who must or choose to depend on public transit.

Another, more remedial factor, is the issue of public transit “literacy.”  In spite of good efforts on the part of transit staffers, there’s the “end of the diving board” terror that faces every newbie rider.   The knowledge hurdles are a serious issue for people who are used to being omniscient – where does the LRT stop?  Which side do you exit?  What’s that green card that the regular riders sport?  What’s the fare and will the machine make change?   The list goes on and few neophytes want to show a busload of transit regulars that they are beyond their depth.  Little do they know that the regulars are eager to advise, inform, even provide change for the neophyte.

And there are other disincentives.  Piles of unshoveled snow, packed with sand, are an insurmountable barrier for transit regulars.  Empty cement slabs are grim reminders of a day when vus shelters and benches once offered safe respite for uevN transit customers.  Tolerance for rude and unacceptable behavior, even non-threatening aggravations such as ear-piercing phone calls and trash in the aisles, can be curbed.  Online trip planning sounds like a low cost tech solution till you try to get into the head of the system designers.

So, public transit advocates didn’t get the 1% annual increase for public transit, support for the LRT build-out or stable long-term funding.   What’s next?  First, the possibility to gain political muscle.  Concerned citizens can take heart in the Transit for Livable Communities study that concludes that 91% of Minnesotans polled support state investment in transit.

One opportunity to speak out is the public hearing on a Draft Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) set for Wednesday, June 19, 3:00 p.m. at Metropolitan Council Chambers, 309 North Robert Street in downtown St. Paul.

Another political ploy might be to invite a Decider to a guided tour on a bus or on the LRT.  Help him or her with the boarding and exit hurdles, then take a long leisurely ride, preferably at a slow time of day, so you can point out the political, economic, environmental and health virtues of public investment in a vital and viable public transit system – with particular mention of how adequate long-term funding, coupled with concern for the customers, could change the shape of public transit.

 

 

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Film and Guide Offer Faith Perspective on GLBT Issues

Love Free or Die (http://www.lovefreeordiemovie.com/) is the widely acclaimed film that depicts the story of Gene Robinson, the openly gay Episcopal Bishop whose experience has ignited both church controversy and a call for faith communities to examine their own dogmas and attitudes.  Twin Cities area public libraries, in partnership with tpt (Twin Cities Public Television), will host a free screening of the film on Monday, June 3, 7-8:30 p.m. at the Merriam Park Library, 1831 Marshall Avenue, St. Paul.

The film is one in a series of films produced by PBS as part of the Independent Lens initiative, a national engagement program known as Community Cinema that pairs independent films with public discussions moderated by hosts from public television systems.

David Gillette of tpt will moderate a panel discussion featuring panelists Reverend Anita C. Hill, Regional Director of Reconciling Works (formerly Lutherans Concerned North America) and Reverend Bradley Schmeling of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church.

The documentary is “about church and state, love and marriage, faith and identity – and openly gay Bishop Eugene Robinson’s struggle to dispel the notion that God’s love has limits.”

In a unique and superb support guide the filmmaker, Macky Alston, offers keen insights into life as the gay child/grandchild  of clergymen who struggled to open their minds to GLBT lifestyle.  The guide itself offers a robust introduction to the film, to Robinson and to difficult topics including Religious Teachings and Homosexuality, Changing Attitudes Over Time, Genetic Explanations of Sexual Orientation, Supreme Court Cases, What Science Tells Us, and much more.

The guide also includes suggestions for action that are particularly timely for the faith community.   Each of the topics covered is replete with links to additional resources for individuals and groups, including young people, who seek information and ideas within a faith construct.  The resource guide stands alone as a powerful tool.  It’s readily accessible on the Love Free or Die website.

Though I have not seen the film, I have immersed myself in the supplementary resource guide.  Based on that introduction I am totally impressed by the thought and study that imbue this project.  The background guide is a well-written, fair-minded treasure  trove of issues and links for further study and discussion.  It is a  readily accessible tool for any individual or group struggling to learn, discuss or simply come to grips with the complex dimensions of one of today’s most challenging social issues .  Bishop Robinson’s personal struggle reflects and informs the answers sought by virtually every faith community.

 

Little Free Libraries Share the Joy of Good Reads and Good Neighbors

Little Free Library at Silverwood Park

Little Free Library at Silverwood Park

For a very long time I’ve been intending to celebrate the growth and popularity of the Little Free Libraries that continue to pop up in neighborhoods throughout the Twin Cities and far beyond.  The time is now, because the Little Free Library project has just received the 2013 Innovations in Reading Prize awarded by the National Book Foundation!  The prize honors individuals and institutions that have created innovative ways to initiate and sustain a lifelong love of learning.

In this case, the institution is the Little Free Library (LF) and the innovators are Todd Bol and Rick Brooks.  It all started in 2009 when the two men met at a workshop Brooks taught at UW-M where he was outreach program manager in continuing studies.  Brooks had some previous library experience helping build and maintain library collections in third world countries where he also had  experience in community development.  Bol was between gigs, obviously full of energy and ideas.  In the early years, LFL was a project of Wisconsin Partners for Sustainability.  Since 2012 LFL has operated as a nonprofit operating out of International HQ in Hudson Wisconsin.

The story is a delightful tale of a good idea brought to fruition by a couple of committed people with a vision.  Since the project began in 2009 Little Free Library exchanges have burst on the scene in 30 countries.  The first LFL consisted of a box of books that looked like a one-room schoolhouse with a sign that read “Free Books.”  The LFL was posted on Brooks’ front lawn in Hudson,  Wisconsin, established as a memorial to Bol’s mother, a bibliophile teacher

Today, the hub of the every LFL exchange is a bird-house size “library” that houses a snatch of books that circulate on the honor system.  The mission is “to promote a sense of community, reading for children, literacy for adults, and libraries around the world.”   The founders remind participants in the exchange that “sense of community trumps everything.”

Little Free Libraries assume unique personalities and permutations as the ideas and adaptations expand.  In Minneapolis, the Books for All in Minneapolis (http://www.littlefreelibrary.org/books-for-all-in-minneapolis.html)  has its own structure and persona.  Each neighborhood that agrees to host a LFL identifies an individual or group to serve as a steward for their Library.  Stewards give the Library and books the care they need.  Sponsors contribute funds that cover the cost to build, deliver and install a unique LFL.  Each Library holds 20-40 books, many donated by generous sponsors such as Northeast Minneapolis publisher Coffee House Press which was contributed thousands of books and generous cash gifts to the project.  Each site sports a sign that recognizes the sponsor(s) and indicates that this LFL is registered as part of the city and now global network of exchanges.

LFL has also attracted the attention and generous support of AARP.  The Touch Points Project is designed to address the challenges faced by socially isolated older adults.  Bol and Brooks describe the project as one that write that “will build upon the connections and common interests stimulated by reading-related activities generated by neighborhood book exchanges.  The idea is to bring people together by reading aloud, promoting friendly visits, book discussions and other ways to engage isolated older adults in community life, especially those who are vulnerable to loneliness and ill health because of limited means.  The steps and procedures for interested individuals and groups to participate in the AARP project are available at http://www.littlefreelibrary.org/reaching-out-to-socially-isolated-older-adults.

No surprise, libraries are key players in the LFL movement.  Though there is no requirement for library involvement, Brooks and Bol say that “this entire program has been designed with Friends of Libraries in mind.  Little Libraries offer creative and upbeat outreach tools to extend the reach of the public library to parts of your community that might not otherwise use it.”

The LFL website (http://www.littlefreelibrary.org) is a vibrant and endlessly informative resource.  Check it out for an update on the project’s global development, including an interactive map of sites,  and details about LFL sites, especially photos of the imaginative designs created by readers and craftspeople of every stripe.  Through June 21, 2013 you’ll have a chance to participate in the LFL film festival!  You’ll also find a great video that introduces Brooks and Bol  putting words to their vision – you’ll soon find yourself envisioning a host of LFL’s popping up in your own  front yard or neighborhood.

Champions for Intellectual Access Through Technology Meet in the TC’s

Though I have always resisted the clarion call of the “Minnesota First in the Nation” chauvinists, I have long been inordinately proud of fact that the North Star State was, in truth, the home of the original Radio Talking Books program.  This powerful force for inclusion and access is renowned for having brought  information and ideas to visually and physically challenged Minnesotans for forty-one years!   If you haven’t checked the robust programming of RTB of late, take a minute, then tell a friend.   Users need a password to listen to the programs but you can get a good idea of the possibilities, including an ever-growing list of newspapers, on the website at www.mnssb.org/rtb.

For the latest, greatest, you’ll also want to check the annual conference of the International Association of Audio Information Services (http://www.iaais.org) which is meeting in the Twin Cities June 6-8, 2013.  Conference planners note that “this particular conference is happening in the state where radio information services began in 1969, with the Minnesota Radio Reading Service.  That set a radio signal that carried newspapers, magazines, and a few books for people with blindness and reading disabilities.  That has segued into services around the world that fit many different formats and forms of delivery, some still using the analog radio signal, but others on cable, SCA cable television, touch-tone telephone, and the internet.”

Today, programs that grew from the seed planted four decades ago cover read-aloud books, local news, PSA’s, ads, obits, events, magazines, advocacy information and more.   One essential resource on the IAAIS site is a list of Radio Reading Service websites internationally and in the U.S – there are well over fifty programs offering a wide range of services and technologies.  Not to play favorites, but to name just one, I was intrigued with the radio book group broadcast on Audio Journal, a service designed for the people of mid-Massachusetts but accessible online beyond those boundaries (http://www.audiojournal.net/)   I know that every one of the state services would offer a unique and irresistible glimpse of the possibilities planners will be discussing at the conference.

The urgency of attention to intellectual access is underscored today by the rapidly growing cohort of visually impaired elderly and, equally, by the injuries suffered by returning veterans.  Today over 21.5 million adults age 18 or older are blind or vision impaired.  There are many others who have barriers to independent reading such as a stroke, spinal cord injury or other physical impairment that is not strictly visual.

Promoters of the IAAIS conference advise that these national gatherings “have a very broad scope of educational presentations, from technology and government regulations, to volunteer management and fund-raising.”  As always, the real work – and benefit – of a global conference such is this is the chance for committed people who share a mission to join forces, share ideas, interests,  energy and a sense of connectedness.

The IAAIS conference is at the Sheraton Midtown Hotel.  Lots more information, including a full events list,  on the organization’s website,  call 1-866=837-4196,  email at info@iaais.oarg or write to the association at their home base , Box 847, Lawrence, KS

Karen Clark – Powerful voice for peace, justice and the American way

If you happen to bump into Karen Clark at the grocery store – as well you might – you might not immediately recognize the power and influence this diminutive dynamo wields in the political arena.  Last week Clark, who has represented her South Minneapolis District since 1980, was one of ten individuals honored by President Obama with the Harvey Milk Champion of Change award.  The Award recognizes the leadership Clark has shown as author and promoter of the Minnesota Freedom to Marry bill which recently passed the Legislature with bipartisan support.

In this and other situations Representative Clark is often identified as the champion of equal rights for LGBT persons.  Towards this end she authored and championed the same-sex marriage bill through good times and bad.

Lest anyone think Karen Clark is a one issue person, consider the range and depth of her legislative initiatives to promote social justice.  The list of bills she has authored range from issues dealing with housing and homeless people to human rights, affordable child care, women’s rights, peace, labor and more.  Whenever and wherever the little people have a need Karen Clark is at the ready.

The Harvey Milk award is surely a feather in Karen Clark’s cap.  Let it be known that this wise and powerful legislator has cast her political net to encompass every individual and segment of society that needs and deserves a voice in the Legislature.

If you see her at the grocery store, let her know how she has affected your life and the lives of those you know and love.

 

Neighborhoods USA Conference – Ideas, Energy and an Opportunity Missed

The Neighborhoods USA conference which I’ve been attending for the past two days was a delight and a disappointment – the first being the responsibility of the planners who get great credit, the latter the responsibility of local organizatons and neighborhoods who missed the boat.

During my time at the national conference I met some incredible people who had a message their community wants to share.  For example, I learned stories about the Little Rock school integration that I will always remember.  There were great discussions of neighborhood concerns ranging from sustainability to economics to organizing for social justice and change.

I also met some local representatives of what is happening in the Twin Cities, mostly Minneapolis.  The Heart of the Beast, for example, staff of Park and Rec who had great ideas for positive action, representatives of local organizations including Amicus, Loring Park, Windom and Seward neighborhoods.   Attendees had a chance to take some great bus tours of the Riverfront, the Northeast arts district, the Midtown Greenway,  the Lake Street Corridor and more.

Regrettably, it seemed to me that there were the omissions.  There was no mention of Metro Transit or the impact it has on our community and our neighborhoods;  no discussion of community-building and support systems such as community gardens or food shelves that might serve neighbors in need, nothing about our community’s public education system or community media (other than police);  CURA had a booth and the U of M Libraries Tretter collection was reflected in a display.  I saw very little about the dynamics of neighborhood forces such as coops, senior centers, or projects related to communities of faith.  In truth I was most saddened by the fact that public libraries were nowhere to be seen on the program or in the exhibits.  I’ve always told myself that strong libraries were the glue the binds the neighborhood in a common pursuit of learning.

Bottom line, there are hundreds of people of good will who are giving their all to build community within their neighborhoods  They are working in very different urban environments, subject to influences beyond the neighborhoods in which they hope to create harmony and healthy living conditions for all.  Meeting the attendees from around the country was an inspiration.

As I reflect on the conference experience I am thinking that institutions may be so focused on themselves that they don’t put a priority on the agencies and individuals – often volunteers – that make a neighborhood work.  Schools, libraries, police, transit and city government are all top down operations.  Though neighborhoods exist on a wall map, they are real to the residents, not the decision-makers.

Strong neighborhoods with which  residents identify and in which we take pride takes time, focus and footwork not just on the part of over-stressed staffs but on the part of residents.   It was informative and fun, also humbling, to learn about what’s happening and could happen in other cities and to think of how I can be a more active participant in my own Windom Park neighborhood in beautiful Northeast Minneapolis.

 

Technology Access Grows for Some, Not All, Minneapolitans

Do you want to apply for retirement benefits?  Check your bank balance?  Talk back to the TV?  Look for a job?  Help your kid with her homework?  Keep up with the news?

Better be able to afford and, more important, know how to use technology – not just an old-fashioned computer but a range of technology tools including smartphones, the expanding social media options, email, Internet and whatever comes next.

Again this year, the City of Minneapolis set forth to survey the state of community technology.  Some 3211 residents responded to the survey.  The report is out (online, of course) and a series of community meetings is in process.

The biggest change since the 2012 survey is the expansion of mobile access.  Internet enabled mobile phones is higher in 2013, even among those households less likely to own a computer.  An interesting note is the fact that, of adults over the age of 45, women were much more likely than men to have cellphones with the ability to access the Internet.

A telling fact is that, while 90% of white households have computers, only 65% of Black/African American respondents have Internet access at home. Among the respondents with children in their household who reported their race on the survey, whites are far more likely to have access at home (95%) compared to people of color (73%).

The survey results are reported in geographic terms.  Importance was ranked lowest among residents in Camden and Phillips and respondents who had lived in Minneapolis for fewer than six years were more likely to view having a computer and Internet access in their home as essential.

The full survey report includes much more information about access, attitudes and geographic distribution of technology.  Maps depicting neighborhood access patterns are available here.

Future meetings about the survey are set for Tuesday, May 21, 5:30-7:00 p.m., DevJam Studios; Thursday, June 13, a morning session 7:30-9:00 a.m. at Eastside Food Coop, 2551 Central Avenue NE, and Wednesday, June 19, 6:00-7:30 p.m. at Sabathani Community Center, 310 East 38th Street.