Archive for November 2018

Suburbs, sustainability, and selfishness

November 27, 2018

Is an urban lifestyle better, or more environmentally sustainable, than the suburban lifestyle? Are people who live in the suburbs selfish?

We have a stereotype of the suburban lifestyle: more single-family homes, larger living spaces, more green spaces, and larger shopping malls surrounded by parking lots. And in exchange for living with more, further away from the urban center, there is a heavy reliance on automobiles, more traffic, and fewer transportation options.

It’s a sharp contract with the urban lifestyle: more people, more high-rises, smaller living spaces, shared green spaces, smaller retail stories, and more transportation options.

In “Enduring Features of the North American Suburb: Built Form, Automobile Orientation, Suburban Culture and Political Motivation” (2018), Pierre Filion of the School of Planning at the University of Waterloo makes two broad claims about sustainability and political expression that made me think about urban planning in a different way.

The article is based on two Toronto, Ontario, Canada metropolitan region case studies involving attempts at creating more urban growth centers (“recentralization”) and a 2010 mayoral election campaign. It’s especially interesting in light of Hawaii’s efforts at creating a “second city” and the challenges we face with population growth and limited resources.

Sustainable communities? Filion writes that modern planning “promotes suburban transformations intended to enhance environmental sustainability, largely by reducing suburban land consumption and reliance on the automobile.” However, suburban lifestyle and culture “impede planning attempts to transform suburbs in ways that make them more environmentally sustainable.” In other words, he assumes that the urban lifestyle and “collective forms of consumption” are more environmentally sustainable than the suburban lifestyle. I don’t know if this is true, and Filion does not explain how he arrives at this conclusion.

In Hawaii, the line between urban and suburban is blurred, and the distance between communities is relatively small. In a sense, “suburban” can encompass most communities outside of urban Honolulu or rural communities (including agricultural, preservation, conservation, and resort lands). I can agree that suburban communities consume more electricity for lighting along roadways, more electricity to power larger homes, and more gas for transportation than comparable-sized urban communities. How much of this environmental impact is balanced by more parks and land devoted to recreation and greenery, less concentrated air pollution, and fewer overhead highways?

As a society, how do urban and suburban lifestyles impact the environment, as well as our physical and mental health?

Selfish communities? Filion concludes that the suburban culture influences the way that residents view environmental sustainability and the way that residents vote in elections. He mentions “mobilizations to preserve features of suburbs perceived to be under threat,” such as “NIMBY movements” and densification initiatives. In effect, he suggests that suburban communities are selfish for wanting to consume more land and resources, and then take political action by voting to protect the lifestyle. Note: he doesn’t actually use the word “selfish,” but it’s implied.

In Hawaii and in every community, political activism is not limited to suburban communities. Filion could as easily state that the urban lifestyle “can transmute into political expression.” More interesting to me is the idea of “the conservatism of the suburbs,” the suggestion that suburban communities tend to become more conservative in voting patterns. I wish that Filion would clarify what he means by “conservatism” – whether it is a commitment to traditional values and lifestyle, an opposition to change, land conservation, or a political ideology (and how this differs in Canada and the United States).

Does living in suburban communities make us more selfish by encouraging consumption of land and resources? Does urban living make us less selfish?

This is a big topic for a short post, and I don’t have any answers – only more questions. But it made me think about where we live and how we plan our communities, and I hope it gives you something to think about too.

Do you live in an urban, suburban, or rural community? What factors influenced your decision to live there? How are your voting habits influenced by where you live?

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Being thankful and sharing thanks

November 20, 2018

She had tears in her eyes as she listened to my son read a letter to her. It was part of a seventh grade “gratitude letter” project. My son chose to write to his fourth grade teacher, telling her how much he appreciated her and how she had a positive impact on him.

Sitting at a nearby table to give them privacy, I witnessed first-hand the power of expressing gratitude.

It took trust for his teacher to meet him, without knowing why they were meeting. It took courage for my son to read a gratitude letter out loud to his teacher, not knowing how she would react. He didn’t even let me read it before setting up the meeting with her.

Later, she came up to me and told me that she had recently been feeling a little down about teaching, and my son reminded her that teaching is so worthwhile.

This experience reminded me that while we have many people and things to feel grateful for, we also need to share thankfulness with other people.

A gratitude letter is both simple and powerful.

  1. Reflect on someone who helped you or did something for you, someone you are grateful for but to whom you may not have expressed your gratitude. It could be a relative, friend, teacher, mentor, neighbor, or colleague – anyone who has touched your life.
  2. Write a letter to that person, describing what they did, why are you are grateful, and how their actions affected your life.
  3. Ask to meet with them, without telling them why you want to meet, and read your letter to them in person.

In our everyday lives, we can also take time to reflect on who we are grateful for and what we are grateful for. But the biggest impact comes from sharing our thankfulness with others.

This is the kind of experience that Thanksgiving creates for us. It’s a time to both feel thankful and show our thankfulness. (And maybe it’s a little about food, pie, and football).

Happy Thanksgiving. Happy Thankfulness.

Who are you thankful for right now? How will you show your thankfulness and thanksgiving?

Making kindness your new normal

November 13, 2018

She seemed a little tired, so I reached out and gave her a “kindness card.” I can’t remember what I wrote on it, but I remember the big smile on her face after she read it.

It was the best moment of my day.

It happened because I accepted the Greater Good Science Center’s kindness practice challenge. Instead of doing random acts of kindness, I would do five acts of kindness in one day. The idea was to promote kindness and boost my own happiness too.

Researchers believe that random acts of kindness make you feel happier because it makes you think more highly of yourself and become more aware of positive social interactions.

I did small acts of kindness, everyday kindness, like letting cards merge into the lane, opening a door for a senior, and volunteering extra hours at my workplace.

I also made a plan to share kindness in a deliberate way, not just random acts. I decided to create “kindness cards” that my organization could give out at a local expo. I would write a kindness card for them or give them a kindness card to give to others.

I wrote things thinks like, “You are beautiful, inside and out” and “You are stronger than you know” and “You are thoughtful and kind – keep smiling!”

That day of five kindnesses really brightened my whole week.

Today, November 13, is World Kindness Day. Let’s make kindness a normal part of our day, every day.

Here are seven ways to start making kindness the norm in your daily life, from the Kind Blog on RandomActsofKindness.org:

  1. Send an uplifting text to a friend or family member.
  2. Let that guy merge into traffic with a wave and a smile.
  3. Include intentional moments of kindness, laughter and delight in your daily routine.
  4. Go slightly out of our comfort zone at least once a day to make someone smile.
  5. Share a compliment with a co-worker or friend.
  6. Reach out to a family member you haven’t spoken to in a while.
  7. Treat someone to a cup of coffee (a friend, a stranger, or even yourself).

What acts of kindness do you treasure? How can you be kind today? How can you foster kindness in children?

Practicing gratitude at the airport

November 6, 2018

When I was young, family and friends walked us to the airport gate and waved goodbye. When we returned, they met us at the gate with flower lei and hugs.

Today, to pass airport security, we carefully measure liquid toiletries, stand in line like cattle, open our bags for inspection, and take off our shoes. We walk through full-body scanners and are subject to random searches.

All of this doesn’t make me feel safer or welcome. It made me feel like a criminal before I even reach the airport gate – anxious, stressed, and powerless.

But after participating in an online course, “The Science of Happiness,” for a few weeks, I realized that I didn’t have to feel that way. While I don’t have the power to change the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) procedures, I can change how I react to them.

I have the power to change my attitude.

I can acknowledge that there is a positive outcome for me personally by going through airport security. I can appreciate that TSA representatives are trying to act in my best interests.

So the next time I had to go to the airport, I tried to put myself in a grateful mindset.

Grateful that TSA is working hard to keep us safe in airports.

Grateful that TSA is professional, competent, and courteous.

Grateful that we pass through security with rules and rights.

Grateful that we have clean, air-conditioned check-points.

Grateful that all of my belongings are returned to me intact.

Grateful that we have the privilege to fly by airplane.

On my last trip, I thought about the things I was grateful for. I felt calmer as I approached the security check-point. I was able to breathe easier and felt less anxious.

By changing my mindset to one of gratitude, I had a more relaxed and pleasant airport experience.

How often do you travel by airplane? How would you describe your experiences with airport security? What can you do to improve those experiences?

“The Culture Code” by Daniel Coyle

November 3, 2018

Why do certain groups add up to be greater than the sum of their parts, while others add up to be less?

Daniel Coyle invested four years of research attempting to answer this question. He studied eight successful groups and their top-performing cultures, and shares the results of his research in “The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups” (2018).

Working at a company with multiple locations, where many of my co-workers don’t come to the main office at the same time, I was motivated to find out how we can become a stronger team. I wanted to learn how we can build a successful team and a successful culture.

“The Culture Code” is an engaging, easy to read guide with real-world examples of culture-building.  Coyle begins by defining culture as “a set of living relationships working toward a shared goal. It’s not something you are. It’s something you do.” Then he focuses on individuals (leaders) who built the organization’s culture from the top-down.

The first thing that I found compelling is the attention that successful organizations spend to find the right people. For example, Zappos offers a $2,000 bonus to trainees if they quit, which encourage people who don’t fit with the organization to self-identify and leave, while ensuring that the people who do accept the job are motivated to be there.

The second thing that resonated with me is that having a clear vision of a group’s purpose guides the way that the group responds to situations. Johnson & Johnson’s Credo, written by former chairman Robert Wood Johnson in 1943, helped them respond purposefully to the Tylenol tampering crisis in 1982. The Credo shaped their responses, so they could take action quickly, decisively, and ethically.

Successful groups master three crucial skills:

Skill #1: Build Safety. Are we safe? Are we connected? Do we share a future? Successful groups continually refresh and reinforce “belonging” cues such as energy, individualization, and future orientation. Three things that organizations can do: spotlight fallibility early on, so people know that it’s okay to make mistakes; embrace the messenger who shares bad news or gives tough feedback; and be painstaking in the hiring process.

Skill #2: Share Vulnerability. There is a strong link between vulnerability and cooperation – it creates a feeling of safety and connection. Three things organizations can do: make sure the leader is vulnerable first and often, becoming a role model for everyone else; overcommunicate expectations; and when forming new groups, focus on two critical moments – the first vulnerability and the first disagreement.

Skill #3: Establish Purpose. “Stories guide group behavior.” Successful groups create simple beacons that focus attention and engagement on the shared goal (purpose). They see ways to tell and retell their story. They highlight “Here is where we are” and “Here is where we want to go,” while identifying areas of high-proficiency and high-creativity. Three things organizations can do: name and rank your priorities; be 10 times as clear about your priorities as you think you should be; and figure out where your group aims for proficiency and where it aims for creativity.

Does your group or organization have a culture that makes you feel safe, connected, and engaged? What practices strengthen your group? What do you think are the best companies to work for?