Complete Streets to Promote Physical Activity

Modified and reposted from the Plan4Health blog site:

Interested in designing ‘complete streets’ for your community but not sure where to start? Here’s a slideshow of Dangerously Incomplete Streets that provides visual examples on how to assess your current streets and intersections. Thanks to the Eastern Highlands Health District of the Connecticut Plan4Health coalition for sharing this link!

Image from Pixabay

Studies are showing the importance of complete streets for the benefit of community health by reducing the reliance on cars and making communities more walking and biking friendly. One study from Copenhagen showed that it’s six times more expensive to travel by car than by bicycle (there’s a short informative video that sums up the study). Many cities are now looking into increasing biking infrastructure as a way to lower car emissions and increase health benefits to those who ride. However, a major issue that’s stopping many citizens from biking is the lack of connections made between existing bike lanes. This issue is discussed in a recent article from The Washington Post: Why cycletrack networks should be the next great American transit project.

Communities still have a lot of work to do when it comes to providing active modes of transportation through complete streets. While this Complete Streets toolkit is designated for the Southeast Region, there are many innovative activities and resources that can be adapted for your locality. Plan4Health Nashua is currently working on a Complete Streets Project, as well as Plan4Health Summit County of Ohio. Interested in learning more about Plan4Health, visit their site and comment for more details!

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Health Impact Assessments: Get in the Know

Planning, also called urban planning or city and regional planning, is a dynamic profession that works to improve the welfare of people and their communities by creating more convenient, equitable, healthful, efficient, and attractive places for present and future generations.- American Planning Association

Healthy communities; how else can a community survive and thrive, whilst remaining sustainable past generations? Health Impact Assessments are one tool that can be used to “integrate health into the decision-making process and enhance communication between multiple stakeholders, including health and planning practitioners and policymakers.” HIAs examine the health impacts of programs and proposed policies and projects using a systematic six-step framework to promote health equity. Recently, I published a post about the impacts of HIAs in the planning field and how they allow for cross-sector collaborations. Working at APA’s Planning and Community Health Center is giving me more knowledge than I could have ever imagined about health impact assessments, and also the collaborative efforts happening with various coalitions across the U.S. through the Plan4Health project.

For further information on Impact Assessments, visit Human Impact Partner’s site on Health Impact Assessments. To get you started, here’s a neat 2 page HIA-Fact-Sheet! The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) and APA collaborated to produce a free Planning for Healthy Places with Health Impact Assessments course, where you can learn how to administer HIAs and use as a future resource. NACCHO also has an extensive toolbox of health materials and projects.

If you’re interested in learning more about Health Impact Assessments, please review the Plan4Health webinar from Monday, July 20th. The session featured work from the American Planning Association’s partnership with The Pew Charitable Trust’s Health Impact Project as well as examples of HIAs conducted in community settings.

Participants will learn about the state of HIAs in planning, including a brief introduction to HIAs for less-experienced listeners, and will have the opportunity to engage with members from three Plan4Health coalitions: Health by Design in Indianapolis, IN; the Inner Core Community Health Improvement Coalition in Metro Boston; and the Chronic Disease Prevention Advisory Board in Columbus, OH.

Building Repairs May Lower Crime Rates: Is this even a Question?

Here’s an article I came across that discusses the deeper roots about crime within communities with struggling and/or decaying buildings. I think there are many obvious reasons such as long-term poverty, lack of political priority, as well as public and mental health issues that all combine to help determine crime rates in a city or even further into distinct neighborhoods. It only makes sense when one stops to consider how our built and natural environments affect us that we can then start to make some connections between crime rates and decrepit buildings- to me this is obvious.

Homes that have been foreclosed upon and boarded up usually signal that the neighborhood needs help, and typically what comes with that are some urban problems that may be stereotypical but often sadly play out in the real world. Boarded up homes don’t look good to outsiders or those within that community- it’s a constant visual reminder of distress, which only brings on more stress to those that are directly affected by having to witness these homes everyday. Not to mention the activity that can go on in these abandoned buildings- criminal matter, stray animals or simply a dry place for the homeless to sleep in- these buildings can often be hubs for attracting nuisances.

In the article, it talks about an ordinance that Philly used requiring that all abandoned homes have working windows and doors if the neighborhood is 80% inhabited, and thus houses cannot be boarded up. Think about it- most of these homes were in working condition and at least livable before they were vacated, so what’s the point in boarding up perfectly good homes? Naturally, to prevent people from going in. But Philly has taken these steps in efforts to decrease the negative perceptions within communities that have seen vacant homes pop up through parts of neighborhoods. How one perceives where they live impacts their health and productivity, and I’m glad that at least one city is taking this into consideration. A quick search also led me to The Vacant Property Coalition of Detroit. Taken directly from their site:

Michigan Community Resources provides The Vacant Property Coalition of Detroit as a platform to unite diverse residents and neighborhood-based organizations across the city. We equip them with the knowledge, tools and resources to address community concerns related to vacant property through education, advocacy and community-driven problem solving.

I’m glad to see there are a few places out there attempting to do some systemic work towards this issue and I’m sure there are more out there. If you know of any organizations or ventures out there that are working towards keeping housing usable rather than boarding up neighborhoods, join the conversation!

Equity at the Center of HIAs: An Emerging Planner’s Perspective

This post will be featured on APA’s Sustaining Places blog, so I wanted to share with my blog community here. Thanks for reading!

Today marks my third official week since beginning an internship with the American Planning Association at their Planning and Community Health (PCH) Center in Washington, D.C. Within these last two weeks I’ve been exposed to quite a whirlwind of information, events, conference calls, and meetings (including a few that had free food!). I have to say that I feel very privileged to have this opportunity to come to “work” where I get to learn about all the things I’m passionate about and research all the topics I’ve always wanted to investigate.

At PCH, there are several projects that I’m involved in, either directly or indirectly, and while there is lots of overlap amongst them, they each have their own unique focus! Many of the projects are still in the developing stages, which have allowed me to see where they have begun while simultaneously jumping in head first to drive them forward. These projects will promote webinars, fact-sheets, and toolkits that APA will share with fellow planners as well as the general public, which is part of their vision in leading research and education in the planning field.

One project, Health Impact Assessment’s Role in Planning, will analyze a targeted list of Health Impact Assessments (HIAs), their presence and effectiveness in the planning and public health fields, and address where they are headed in future planning strategies. Over the last 10 years, planning and public health have begun to collaborate, and there’s acceptance that these fields should in fact be working together. At the Planning and Community Health Center, we are working towards Health in All Policies (HIAP) by promoting public and community health strategies in planning, with HIAs being one tool.

A second project as part of Planning Tools for Health is producing tools to help public health and government officials, along with planners, in support of reaching healthier communities for all. So far, two fact sheets have been produced: Health into the Comprehensive Planning Process and Safe Routes to Parks. Be on the lookout within the next few months for the final fact sheet: Green Infrastructure for Community Health. Another project, Plan4Health, is a joint collaboration with the American Public Health Association and funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You can learn more about Plan4Health on their site, but in essence their goal is to foster “creative partnerships to build sustainable, cross-sector coalitions.”

This past week, I was able to attend the 3rd National HIA Meeting here in D.C. with fellow staff, where we could “choose our own adventure” and select sessions that aligned with our personal interests. The major theme throughout this conference was equity as part of all things considered health, and further, health planning. As a learning planning and policy student with a strong background in community organizing, I have always felt strongly towards the importance of effective community engagement as part of the planning and policy processes. For clarity purposes, the CDC Health Equity Guide states that “Health equity means that every person has an opportunity to achieve optimal health regardless of: the color of their skin, level of education, gender identity, sexual orientation, the job they have, the neighborhood they live in, and whether or not they have a disability” (p. 2) Through most of the sessions, equity, how to effectively include equity as a component in HIAs, and how to achieve equity in plans and policies was continuously reinforced.

Standing among so many professionals from various sectors, I was deeply moved by the belief that equity should always be part of the public health and/or planning process, and further mirrored in the policies that stem from these fields. It was a refreshing reminder to hear from the diverse and overwhelmingly dedicated speakers that we should always be striving to effectively engage within our communities that will be affected by the plans and policies produced. Community engagement cannot simply be hosting a public meeting, counting the attendees and checking it off as done.  Equity is about making sure that throughout the planning process—not just the engagement piece, but the entire start to finish—those directly affected by the plan are in “the driver’s seat”, as so eloquently put by Lead Organizer of ISAIAH Phyllis Hill. We all were left reinvigorated to continue our work with more passion and a greater commitment to equity and, though we may be in different sectors, are all still committed to the belief that zip codes should never determine a person’s health.

While at the conference, I was able to meet with many key partners that are working with APA to propel the Health in all Policies movement forward, as well as the use of HIAs in the planning process. Senior Associate Ruth Lindberg of The PEW Charitable Trusts met with members of PCH to discuss the summary report of HIAs that will be released this fall. Rachel Banner, Program Manager at National Recreation and Park Association, was also another collaborator present at the conference, who recently spoke at an APA directed webinar about Safe Routes to Parks. Many coalition members of Plan4Health were present throughout the various breakout sessions, as well as authors of the various HIAs that APA is researching. Besides planners, sessions were filled with leaders from public health, environmental agencies, sustainability departments as well as an array of epidemiologists, policy writers and analysts, elected officials from local, state and federal levels, community organizers, and non-profit leaders.

In closing, wise words were spoken by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Senior Program Officer Pamela Russo, “Multiple sectors need to work together to make health and well-being a national priority.” Rebecca Morley, Director of Health Impact Project, reminded all of us the importance of engagement, empowerment, and equity, and that we all need to be doing more to support more community-driven HIAs rather just community-engaged HIAs.

All of us at PCH were honored to take part in The National HIA Meeting and we are looking forward to attending next year. If you would like more information about any of the projects mentioned, please visit APA’s Planning and Community Health Center site.

Mindfulness Mondays 5/18: Spring Awakening from Blogging Hiatus

1 week…since I’ve stopped taking my medication for fibromyalgia (not intentional).

1 week…since I arrived in NYC and had the best time I’ve had in a while.

2 weeks…since finals ended.

2 weeks…since I saw my mom and finished my first year of graduate school.

3 weeks…since finals began.

3 weeks…since my boyfriend arrived back home from a long trip away.

4 weeks…since my last blog post.

4 weeks…and here goes nothing!

Friends, it’s been a while. I can’t lie- it’s been nice to take a break and honestly it hasn’t been easy to willingly neglect my blog but still has just been a breath of fresh air to just take a break amidst the business.  I was even putting off writing a post until later today though all day I knew I was going to accomplish my first post in 4 weeks, but like always, it’s hard to get back into rhythms. It’s not that I’ve been dreading to write or not necessarily wanting to write, but more so that I’ve been enjoying other things that have been occurring, or also just caught up in the many responsibilities that have fizzled out as the semester has closed. The first week I didn’t post I’m going to admit, I was feeling guilt and sadness, and also extreme stress. I hadn’t realized it was even Monday until it was late that night- talk about unmindful. As the weeks went on I grew more willing to take the break and let other things come my way. I feel like I’ve let my readers down, and have been wrestling with the feeling of responsibility to my blog and the act of simply writing for it. But even thinking at this very moment, maybe taking this break was needed and my resistance towards writing a post is trying to tell me something? I’m unsure.

“Writer’s block” is common but there are many reasons for why it occurs. For some it’s simply a part of procrastination. Others base it out of fear or anxiety, which can also stem from procrastination or fuel it further. Some people say they can’t write when they just simply don’t want to do it, and honestly I think there’s some good reasoning behind not doing something when you simply don’t want to. I also believe there’s great merit behind recognizing your resistance and then working with it by attempting to write regardless of your feelings that may be hindering you in the first place. Simply “showing up” which I wrote about in an earlier blog post and is advocated by Seth Godin, is vital when it comes to writing or any activity that requires your best efforts. Moral of the story here is that if you ever find yourself either avoiding doing something (doesn’t matter the reason), or you’re giving yourself a reason to not do what you had set out to do, it’s worth exploring those emotions/reasons to see what’s really causing the behavior. See, one simply does not have “writer’s block,” there’s lots of reasons behind it as we’ve already explored. But if you never take the time to explore what’s behind you not writing or doing your work, well that’s not really mindful is it?

Through this post, I keep thinking, wow I’ve got something good here. It’s like my entire four weeks of “writer’s block” was pointless because I thought I didn’t have much to contribute so just didn’t bother. But clearly as this post shows, I’m making progress just by putting my words to a screen. As I’m putting these words to screen, I’m considering more of the reasons that contributed to my hiatus of writing. I know that I’ve been under more stress than usual with moving to a new apartment and then moving to DC for the summer, along with finishing up my first year of graduate school. With more stress comes (usually) less prioritization of other things (typically the things that we enjoy). It’s the same repeated merry-go-round that many of us face daily, weekly, sometimes throughout our entire lives. But stop and think for 30 seconds, what is it that keeps bringing you to that merry-go-round, and then for another 30 seconds think what brings you out of that lifestyle?

Sometimes when we’re doing the same thing for so long, it can almost be mindless rather than mindful. Sometimes we grow to resent or resist things we once enjoyed because it just seems stale or we have this idea that we need something newer. Well maybe you do need something different and maybe you don’t. The point here is to take that time to stop, think, and explore what those feelings or urges mean to you and what can be done about them. Maybe you do need to take a well-deserved break (and in these days, we rarely give ourselves enough credit to be break-deserving). Maybe you need to go on a mini-adventure or a large adventure, or pick up a new hobby just to say you tried something different. You’ll never know what you really want until you stop to really listen to yourself and then go do it! And don’t ignore those emotions that come with those choices, you’ve got to be able to accept the good and the bad feelings. That’s being mindful.

Maybe I was just burnt-out, or maybe I felt like I really had tired out my thoughts? Honestly, I’m still not quite sure and will continue to work through these feelings. Over the last few weeks I’ve experienced a lot of exciting things since being done with school, and I’ve simply been trying to live more in the moment. I’ve done a lot of things I wouldn’t normally in my routine, but I’ve enjoyed every moment because I did my best to live it with intention. Being out of school has dramatically changed up my schedule and really my entire life. In two weeks I’ll be starting my internship in DC, which will be my first professional experience since when I was a teacher (and even that experience was a lot different than working in a national office of a not-for-profit organization). My schedule will thus change again, and I’m sure so will some of my priorities. Every summer I have these great intentions and they may be a bit far-fetched and then things shift. But what I’ll actually accomplish, and every intention behind that effort and if I’ve lived in that moment with ease and acceptance- that’s what matters.

I hope that if you’re reading this and you’re simultaneously thinking about that “thing” you’ve been avoiding or just taking a break from, you’re a bit more at ease. It happens to everyone and we shouldn’t feel guilty, feeling guilt is when you haven’t accepted your actions and their outcomes. Acceptance is the first step, just accept your action and what it may entail, then move on. I know it sounds easier said than done but trust me it gets easier the more you do it. Go do that thing you’ve been thinking about but not trying because you’ve been trying to be content with the merry-go-round of life. Stop pretending and go try something different. You may find your passion again (or may not) but at least you listened to yourself and got off the merry-go-round and out of the “comfort-zone”. Oh look, productive discomfort. 🙂

Mindfulness Monday 4/20: You live, you learn, and you still live

Folks, I am determined to not let you down. Today I have been wrapped up in many projects that are all coming to the wondrous head of finals in under two weeks! Throughout that time I would pause and think, “Okay, time to write my post.” And then I would get started on something else completely different. Well here it is, I will not let down a “Mindfulness Monday” post.

This past week has been a whirlwind. On Monday I had a phone interview with the American Planning Association for an internship that I knew I was perfect for and seriously wanted with everything in me. On Wednesday just before my next class, I received the call- I was chosen for this national internship position! This internship will be in D.C. for the entire summer and though there are many things swirling around my head when I think about leaving Amherst for D.C., that I will save for another post. I’m extremely grateful for this opportunity, and know that this internship will open many doors to my education in the planning field and also direct experience in policy and planning related to community health. Well of course then my initial reaction was to find housing (on top of the many things I needed to do for school). Since Wednesday I’ve also secured my housing, and even bought a few second-hand clothes to fit my new body measurements (I’ve made so much progress since the New Year began!)

So now this gets into the “living” part of the post. Recently the feelings of “life” and it being “full” or lacking this sense of “full” have been more and more present with me as the days go on. This past weekend I decided to relax and go against everything I said I would do- work. From Friday evening until Sunday night, I literally didn’t do anything except hangout with friends, sleep, and I even went out dancing for the first time since I can’t remember! I mean for me, this was a lot and on Sunday I really had to have some deep reflection about my “living” over the weekend, along with a few naps. Like I said, finals are in full swing and so honestly this may not have been the best use of my time. However, I’ve come to terms with my actions of this past weekend through acceptance, and that has helped to relieve the almost instantaneous guilt that I’m very used to feeling when I give myself time away from working. Maybe I went overboard on the “living” part of my life, or maybe it was just what I needed to jumpstart my energy to sustain me to the finish-line.

What I’m saying here is that life goes on- even if you decide to put work on hold, stay up late to dance until exhaustion, sleep a lot, and even go to bed early for a few days afterward. I lived my past weekend with no regrets (well those regrets are still trying to pop up but I’m able to accept them with a few deep breaths and then let them go). Regardless, I lived and that’s what matters here. I could have kept trudging through in my efforts to “make it” to the end of finals like some “champion” that I’ve envisioned, who can work all day with no play, no time to step outside of what’s “comfortable”. I wouldn’t say graduate school is comfortable, but it definitely is what I’m used to and so doing anything outside of the graduate school bubble is a bit “uncomfortable”. Did I question my actions? Yes. Did I feel not-so-great physically? Yes. Did I have fun? Heck yes. I lived this past weekend to the fullest happiness levels I could, and though I learned from some of my actions afterward, I’m still here- alive and mostly well. And I’ll keep living, riding the ebb and flow of life’s waves. Balance and unbalance. Full and incomplete. Still trying to live each moment mindfully- no matter what life brings.

Mindfulness Mondays 4/13: Feeling “Full” of Life

Remember last week when I told you I was working on a new habit of waking up earlier- I’ve made progress! Today I was woken up at 5:45 am, though finally got out of bed at 6am. My sleep app showed that I did not enter into deep sleep at all, and so I could feel throughout my body the soreness and indigestion that comes with inadequate sleep. Though I’ve been trying to get right out of bed, it’s been difficult since I’ve been suffering from tendinitis of both shoulders which is making it harder to lift the blankets and bring myself up. Despite all of this I have made huge progress with when I awake and actually get up (I’ve gained a whole 25 minutes since last week)!

I’ve also re-invigorated my practice of some yoga and stretching in the morning, as well as a prioritizing just being alone with my cat before my partner rises. This has been really amazing, since normally I reject alone-time though lately I have been finding I crave it the more I’ve been giving myself that “practice” alone-time in the morning. Today, I was able to watch the sun rise as it peaked through the trees of my wooded backyard while holding my cat calmly- after 5 minutes of me cradling him, we both were still in awe. It was a beautiful moment of peace and I reminded myself out-loud of my intentions for the day and that I was going to let myself shine no matter what. After reflecting on recent events and being mindful of the opportunities I’ve been taking part in, I keep coming back to this feeling of “being full”. What I mean is that I’m actively checking in with my thoughts and emotions on situations in my life more regularly. In this, I’ve noticed there are areas of my life that I feel could improve, and so something is missing and I’m not completely satisfied or “full”. There are other areas where my satisfaction is almost overflowing, and so I have much thanks for the “fullness” that is present, but also recognize that there needs to be a balance.

This past weekend I was able to spend some time with friends I have not seen in a while, as well as meet complete strangers and have lovely conversations. Over the last week I’ve also had times where I have been by myself throughout the day and even at home overnight while my partner was traveling. I’ve realized that I do thrive off of being around others and the engagement that can occur. I also am working through my natural inclination to avoid loneliness at all costs, by giving myself opportunities in the morning and throughout the weekend to be by myself. Though this has not been easy it has been a joy to see my progression, and is my own way of practicing self-care. Yes, I have found joy throughout this process because despite life’s less-than-satisfactory moments, they’re only still moments, moments then that can turn around. This feeling of fullness is more of an appreciation for all of those moments that I’m able to be a part of, as well as the turn-around process. I’m full because I’m experiencing all of what life has to offer: the loneliness and the community, the scary and the fun, and that is truly a fulfilling experience.

Mindfulness Mondays 4/6: Rising Early and Greeting the Day with Gratitude

So this past weekend was a bit jarring in that it definitely was not my typical weekend in how I would normally spend my time, which is working on school. I spent a lot more time with friends and family, shopping, and eating than I normally would even in a regular week! My typical reaction would be to begin stressing on my Sunday evening, or even all throughout Sunday, thinking about the many “things” I needed to get done before the week even began. However, I made a few small efforts that dramatically changed my typical response, which has positively impacted my approach for this week. I realize it’s Monday, however Monday is almost over and my enthusiasm has not deflated yet despite I’m starting to get tired.

Last week I came across a blog called zenhabits, and I checked out a bit about the writer and what the blog was about. Everyone should read this blog. You feel that you’re talking with someone who is so kind but also down to Earth, which makes their expectations/suggestions sound reasonable. One title intrigued me: The Most Successful Techniques for Rising Early. Lately I’ve been struggling with getting out of bed early like I had started in January, when I would meditate or practice yoga in the morning and have much more time to just process my day before it actually began. After reading this article, I was motivated to give it a try. My main takeaways in practice were to start gradually, along with following the 3 steps on actually getting up. Since reading the article, the next morning I set my alarm 15 minutes earlier than usual and then increased that everyday since (yes, even on the weekend). I also have been putting my alarm across the room and jumping up to it. Something that was hard was not going back to bed (I’m still working on this but today successfully only snoozed it twice at 5-minutes each). The biggest piece for me was having a reason to be excited, which was that I planned to run 2 miles! (I hadn’t run since early December).

Today, I officially got out of bed at 6:25am, and completed some light stretches. I put the coffee on, and did a few light things around until my boyfriend finally rose.  Then I did something I haven’t done in a while in the morning- I meditated! This entire weekend, though different than my usuals, was calming overall and just a nice experience. Nothing was too chaotic and time was well spent with good people doing fun things. This left me feeling very thankful for the people around me, the time I’ve spent with them either in person or talking on the phone, and with how at peace I’m feeling rather than noticeably stressed. I went back to the Stop, Breathe, Think app and did a quick check-in, and then chose the recommended meditation “Gratitude”. Though it was a five-minute meditation, it was all I needed to get me in a grounded state where I felt good about the things happening around me, and it was an excellent way to start my day!

Since this morning, I’ve been so productive in my amount of readings accomplished and my overall demeanor. I wore a bright yellow cardigan and was excited for the pleasantly warmer weather and sun. I actually did an assignment that I had already done 2 months ago, but hadn’t realized it. Instead of being upset or feeling that I wasted my time, my initial reaction was satisfaction in that I had re-read the material and was able to synthesize it better than the first time. Stepping outside of myself for a minute here- it was really great to watch myself respond so pleasantly! Then I finally did it, I stuck to my exciting goal of running 2 miles. I didn’t just have a 2-mile run however, because that would be too plain. Nope, instead my excitement and motions kicked up my acid reflux and at mile 1.7 I vomited on the side of the road as I had just reached the top of the hill. I guess there’s a first time for everything?

After a quick check in with my body and decided I wasn’t going to let that stop me. I still had another tenth of a mile back at least to my house, and so I knew one way or another I had to get there and I was going to attempt at finishing my run. What do you think happened? I took those last 3 tenths on with a smile to some great motivating music, and relished in my accomplishment and sticking to my goals. I reminded myself of this morning’s earlier meditation, and how grateful I was for my experiences- even the not-so-pleasant. I knew that my vomiting was not a sign of sickness or weakness, just more a reaction to one of my ailments that I could come back from without much effort. I knew I’d be okay, it wasn’t worth reacting over with stress, and I was happy that I had given myself the time to go out and run in the first place in the pleasant weather.

All in all, today has been a good day. It’s still nice out. I’ve had some good conversations and gotten a lot accomplished. I’ve even gotten my blog post done earlier than usual. Yes there’s more to be done and it will get done. I’m liking this “soaking up the good vibes” feeling, and just taking the time to appreciate the things happening around me and how I’m reacting to them. I’m going to keep rising early and meditating on gratitude for the rest of the week, and see just how I do. I don’t see it ending badly 😉 .

If you’re thinking about ways to try and get up earlier, here’s another short and sweet article that is pretty blunt about how to get started and why it can make a difference. Remember to stop and ask yourself at least once this week, if not once a day- What are you grateful for?

Good luck this week y’all and happy Monday!

The Northwest Forest Region- Unfinished Business but Room for Improvement

This is a written piece that I submitted in my Geography and Policy class, as we’ve been learning about the expansion Westward and the management of federal resources. I thought I would repost since it’s relevant to sustainable resources and critiques of models and resources out there. If you’re unfamiliar about the forest issues in the Northwest region, their is a great timeline from High Country News. Thanks for reading and sharing!

Nathan Rice’s article, “Seeking Balance in Oregon’s Timber Country” (2013), provides a clear summary of the interwoven issues present throughout the Northwest region. While reading a majority of the articles on High Country News, I kept having the same reoccurring thought: “Why does the government have to separate and deal with issues and solutions in such compartmentalized ways?” By reviewing the Northwest’s history in land use decision-making, political intervention, and economic strife, it’s clear to see that regional efforts have not been as successful as hoped but still leaves room for improvement.

Wilkinson discusses the five “Lords of Yesterday”, which were five political-economical decisions made by the U.S. government, and are all still in existence today in some form or another. These five lords treated land and water management all as separate entities with no relation. Mutual benefits and consequences of these five lords and where they overlap were only considered after problems became too apparent through environmental and political pressures. Even after science could prove that land use affected water use and vice versa, approaches to mitigate problems were often kept separate, which only exacerbated problems.

Though the creation of the Northwest Forest Plan (NFWP) in the 1990s was a critical attempt towards greater regional resource management, “it has proven more successful in stopping actions harmful to conservation of old-growth forests and aquatic systems than in achieving restoration goals and economic and social goals” (Thomas et al., 2005). In other words, it has made progress but has stopped short at improving the interconnected and mutually interdependent relations amongst the many geographical regions involved. This has left these regions’ economies and socio-political beliefs in a state of turmoil which has reinforced negative relationships with the federal government and private enterprises, as well as how to approach environmental conservation.

Platt gives the history from 1970 to 1998, where 26 separate acts and amendments were passed in the name of environmental protection. Many of these acts have been hugely successful, while some have clearly been defeated and are practically nonexistent due to their inability to work within already existing laws in a functional manner. This is more common that not; especially in land use planning laws. For example, comprehensive plans are made often to delegate land use approaches, but usually require zoning ordinances to be changed in order to reflect these appropriate uses. If the zoning cannot be changed, then the comprehensive plan loses its luster and validity overtime.

In “Landscapes of Conflict: The Oregon Story 1940-2000”, Robbins gave examples of the “new” environmental laws throughout the 70s and 80s along with their lawsuits that often resulted in long circular arguments. The use of pesticides and management of old growth forests in Oregon, though seen as separate issues at the time, were ultimately related. After the clear-cutting of old growth trees, pesticide usage prohibited the natural growth of forests, which in turn prevented adequate re-growth of tree varieties that supported the spotted owl. Today after years of protecting old growth forests through the NWFP initiatives, the barred owl has moved into the areas where spotted owls were meant to repopulate. Could it be the forest conservation practices over the last 20 years have allowed for a barred owl population boom? Furthermore, could heavy use of pesticides throughout the 70s have left the spotted owl populations in such a state of genetic vulnerability that their offspring could not possibly make a comeback?

Why has the U.S. continued this approach of separating and compartmentalizing issues and responses of natural resource conservation and sustainable use? It’s generally accepted through science and past political interventions that sustainable use requires looking at the larger scale and accepting its many components as interrelated and dependent on each other. Why is it that solutions are drawn up as separate policy proposals and picked apart so much until they are only minor stand-alone Band-Aid approaches? This is why I am in my dual degree of regional planning and public policy. This country cannot continue making policies that are decided and implemented in a vacuum-sealed fashion.

With the world’s current state in climate change, this compartmentalization approach is also apparent in our international policies in how we mitigate and adapt our resource use and future development. If stakeholders only consider some of the facts and decide which are relevant, rather than looking at the entire picture (the good and the bad) and all of the interconnections, then we will continue to over-use and under-protect natural resources and further degrade the planet. Thomas et al. suggest that focusing on activities that “contribute to all facets of sustainability” is imperative and must be met with “a better balance of short-term and long-term risk” (2005). I agree in that future management must consider social implications of surrounding communities and their reliance on these resources not just for physical consumption, but also economic viability, ecological resilience and political strength.

The ability to consider all of the dynamic facets involved in current management and future sustainability of the Northwest forests region is critical and imperative. Accountability and evaluation should also be strived for to further the NWFP, in order to measure how effectively goals are being met, review strategies and allow for changes if necessary. I believe that as a sustainable planner, decisions cannot be made without considering all of the small parts of the bigger picture. Unfortunately, there is a careful balance that is hard to strike between humans and the environment. Nonetheless, we should always strive for balance at every opportunity we have in sustaining both ecology and the human experience.

Mindfulness Mondays 3/30: Defining Strength Mindfully

So we’ve had these quotes up on our wall for about two years now. Though I did not purchase them, I thought they were encouraging and would serve as great visual reminders on the wall. Today, while re-reading over one of them, my Critical Cap came on. I didn’t notice this right away, since I normally am pretty critical of most things (it’s an automatic response that I’m working on). Here is the first quote:

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I read it and I realized this definition did not sit well with me. It sounded very dark, with strong verbs and adjectives with negative connotations (at least to me) like “dark”, “banish”, “wrestle”, “demons”. I couldn’t help but respond rhetorically “This is not inspiring. It’s telling me to do everything that is simply a response of ignorance and elimination! Instead of accepting my pain and dark parts of myself, this definition wants me to banish and wrestle them.” Yes, this definition of strength asks us to banish the darks parts through illumination, but one does not simply just illuminate and forgive. Before we can forgive, we must accept. I mean, I know it’s a wall decoration, but this is also a definition of a word that often characterizes many people and their responses to tough situations. I have always thought of myself as a strong person, but never imagined it would involve fighting and banishing, and using pain as fuel.

One of the main teachings of Thich Naht Hanh is that in order to deal with tough situations mindfully, we must take the past of least suffering, which is actually through acceptance rather than resistance. In other words, strength cannot be defined as how hard you can push away or fight through your pain and suffering, but how much of it you’re willing to accept the pain, let it in, and be at peace with its existence. By accepting things or situations that have hurt us, only then can we move to the stage of forgiveness (actually one could argue there are many phases), so that we can then determine our strength. Though this quote will probably stay on our wall (it belonged to my boyfriend), I am okay with this because now I have actually defined my own terms for what strength actually means.

I then read the other quote on the wall next to the Strength definition. I think this sums up a way to live mindfully pretty well.

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How do you define Strength? Do you agree or disagree with the definition in the quote, or with mine? What times have challenged you and how have you dealt with them? Who or what has helped you remain strong?

I found this picture when scrolling through my phone today. I forgot I took it but instantly remembered why I did once I re-discovered it. I love asiatic lilies and seeing them reminds me of their smell and how beautiful they are. Something that definitely provides me strength in tough times is being reminded how beautiful natural life really is, like this lily.

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Happy Monday y’all!