Thursday, August 13, 2015

Claire McGill - Howard County Will Miss You

This weekend, one of my very good friends moves back to the UK.  Claire McGill, aka Desperate English Housewife in Washington, is leaving after three years living, breathing, and "being" everything that Howard County, Maryland, and the United States has to offer.

I often think about how we (i.e., Howard County/Columbia) are perceived by other people around the state.  We have a peculiar way about us that makes detailed study a worthwhile endeavor.  When the greatest public nuisance is considering whether a Grateful Dead Tribute performance simulcast around the world was "too loud", you need to look around and think "I sure do love this place, but it's not 'normal'."

That was one of the things I loved (and still love) about Claire's blog.  She would write about something being "Americaland" (innit?) that was actually quite Columbialand.  On other occasions, she would comment on a certain style or attitude being "American" that was otherwise quite foreign from Howard County.  Her observations were rarely wrong, but the fact that observations were being made at all merited attention and scrutiny of the world around you.  Packaged by a great writer with an amazing sense of humor and a constant camera, and you have one amazing blog.

But Claire's blog was the smallest of her contributions here.  When you live in proximity to someone soaking up everything life has to offer, the world looks different.  That random ad about a festival or musical performance changes from background noise to an agenda.  Small amounts of time are stretched and packed with memories, stories, and people.  At some point you think, "I should do this all the time" before your subconscious convinces you that you are too tired, you have too many chores to do, or you can't afford it.  Here's a secret I learned from Claire - you're not, you don't, and you probably can.

Personally, Claire is one of the best friends Nicole and I have.  And not just because she brought so much fun to our life.  She was there for us when we were sick, when we needed help with our new baby, and even when we just needed someone to say "Hey, get out of your house."  Babies have a way of making you shut-ins and that wasn't something Claire was going to allow.

I'm not good with goodbyes.  Never have been.  We're already planning a trip to the UK next year.  But even if I never acknowledge a "goodbye", I know I will miss Claire, Jel, and Harry every time I just want to "do something" without making the obligatory plans one week in advance that so many of my friends (rightfully) require.  I will miss them when I see a festival or fair that I know they would enjoy.  But the best thing we can say about friends we will miss is that you have valued your time together.  It would be impossible to overstate how much that time has meant to me and how it will hold a special place in my heart.

Have a great Thursday doing what you love.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

James Coale, You (Kinda) Owe Some People Some Money

To beat a thoroughly dead horse, I returned from a weekend away yesterday to find an invoice addressed to "James Coale" from the Columbia Flier.  It invited me/James to pay $19, if we were so inclined, but concluded with the assurance that if I did not pay, my free weekly paper would still be delivered as scheduled.

I don't think you'll find a much stronger supporter (financial and otherwise) of local media, but I'm not paying those $19.  And I can't speak for James, but if he's as stubborn as all the other Coales I know, he isn't either.

As indicated by the letter and the posts cited above, this was what can best be described as a "dry run" for when the Flier converts to paid subscriptions.  They want us to know what it will feel like to receive an invoice.  I suppose the greatest merit for this exercise is having readers consider "What is this paper worth to me?"  If it is not worth anything to you, $19 incorporates your drop off.  If it is worth substantially more to you, congratulations, you have a discount weekly paper.  For the rest of us, $19 may be just about right.

Every Thursday morning, I pull my Flier from The Sun (I know some of you receive it separately), read whatever Political Notebook Amanda Yeager has written that week and then flip to the editorial page.  I can normally guess the number and tone of letters based on the hot issues of the week.  Plus, the bi-monthly anachronistic letter urging CA to go in a different direction on Symphony Woods.

More recently, I've discovered that Glenn Foden, the cartoonist for the Flier, "inks from the right" and otherwise spends genius (?) addressing subjects like abortion and "gray lives matter".  In fact, I've never found Flier editorials to meet the stereotype of either Columbia or "liberal media".  They're fairly right-leaning and that's ok.  Sometimes Columbia (and Howard County) needs a splash of cold water.  The only problem is that such pages (and the cartoons that accompany them) carry the weight of authority that may not be due or may not be otherwise accepted if the right-leaning nature of such pieces were plain.

And that makes the "poor jar" letter a little more interesting.  It may be a very "Columbia" thing to do, and many people may pay the $19, but I would presume and expect our more conservative friends at around page 22 of the Flier to skewer the effort.  What kinda capitalistic enterprise are you running here?  What cartoon would best capture the absurdity of paying for something that's free?

We all love you, Flier, but it sure would be interesting to see you be the subject of your own scrutiny.

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

New Ellicott City Staircase in Action

This video was posted to the Old Ellicott City (Historic District) page last night and was too cool not to share:

Credit: Cecilia Lane

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Bus Rapid Transit: A Sparkle in Someone's Eye

I don't think I've read as many conditional statements of ambiguous support as can be found in this article about the possibility of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in Howard County.  I don't blame the reporter, Andrew Michaels - this is a news story, but it is as close to a possibility as "that novel you're thinking about writing".

First of all, I appreciate the County Executive's willingness to explore this possibility.  He has put some great people on his Public Transportation Board and I know they will take this seriously.  The hearing was last night and I look forward to hearing more.

Second, we need to get serious about public transportation in Howard County.  We're spending a fair amount of money on a system that very few people use, but for those people that green bus is a lifeline of immeasurable importance.  I would love to see an initiative focused on increasing the utilization rate for mass transit, which may include greater awareness of routes, schedules, and connectivity with other transit systems (MTA, Light Rail, BWI, DC Metro).  It bears mentioning that poor utilization may be the result of affluence.  Why double (or even triple) your commute time when you can pay more to get there in a fraction of the time?  The answer is that if we had better utilization, those comparative commute times may come closer in line, congestion would be less, and we would be transporting ourselves in a more environmentally sound manner.

Third, there's a chance that our demand for public transportation may outpace our ability to produce it.  I know this is in apparent contradiction to the paragraph immediately preceding this, but my concern relates to Town Center parking.  Don't get too used to it.  I don't think Howard Hughes is interested in maintaining acres of free pavement.  Parking will always be available in Downtown, but it will not be free (despite a recent contention that "free parking" came after "pursuit of happiness" in the Declaration of Independence).  Parking costs are a big reason why I often choose the Metro when heading into DC and I can see similar considerations putting me on the green bus when I want to go to the Lakefront.

Finally, as great a BRT may be, it will come with sacrifice.  In addition to the economic cost, "rapid transit" presumes preference for the bus over other vehicles by way of dedicated bus lanes.  The best advertisement for BRT is seeing a bus drive by you unimpeded while you sit in traffic.  That means lanes on the highways and byways of Howard County that you cannot use.  BRT is not without controversy in this regard.

Overall, this is a very good thing for Howard County.  Millennials want and expect mass tran options.  Many don't own (or want) a car.  Are we planning for the future or sitting on the past?

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

#HoCoHealth Nutritional Standards Poll

Friday, July 24, 2015

Ellicott City Stimulus: "Federal Welfare" to "Free WiFi"

We received some exciting news earlier this week with the announcement that "Free WiFi" has been installed in Ellicott City.  I've used it at least five or six times since it was installed and find it to be a great addition to Main Street.  You can even access the network at the Roger Carter Center to stream music while you workout!

As reported by Amanda Yeager with the Howard County Times, this is of no (direct) cost to Howard County taxpayers.  The project receives its funding from revenue generated by leasing access to the Inter-County Broadband Network (ICBN) to private businesses.  Money from the sky, right?  Sort of.  As you all will remember, the ICBN was funded by a $115 million federal grant under the Broadband Technologies Opportunities Program (part of President Obama's federal Stimulus Package), $72 million of which was managed by the Ulman Administration for the installation of broadband fiber across nine jurisdictions with matching funds from state and local budgets.

That sounds like quite the expense.

And, as with any large expense, it was controversial.  Republicans reject the concept of "stimulus spending" in general and opposed this (big S) Stimulus Package in particular.  You may recall that it was around the 2010-2013 period that we were hearing about it being time to "tighten our belts" and that the government should make the same budget cuts that families across the country were making.  Republicans here in Maryland, and even Howard County, were suggesting that O'Malley should reject any stimulus funds (including those targeted for the ICBN) and that these funds were "federal welfare payments".

"Federal welfare" sounds so much nicer when you call it "Free WiFi".

 The fact of the matter is that investments in our infrastructure, whether in good times or bad, are almost always a good bet.  In this case, federal, state, and local spending, during a very bad time, have provided a consistent source of revenue in a much better time.  Not only that, these funds have been used to promote economic and quality of life improvements years after the money was spent.  I'm not saying that you have to have loved every part of the Stimulus Package to love the ICBN, but I am saying you need to be particularized with your dissent.  If you want to say that this was an irresponsible expenditure, you have to do it in the context of great projects like "Free" WiFi in Ellicott City.

Maybe instead of naming the network FreeHoCoGovWiFi it should have been "ThanksObama".

Have a great Friday doing what you love.  It's impossible not to.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Excited yet?

I was recently talking with a few friends about local politics when the subject of engagement came up.  They said they certainly cared about what was happening around town, but that nothing made them "excited".  To summarize, "If you want me to engage and get my friends to engage, give me something to get excited about."

Now, if you've read this blog for any amount of time, you can imagine my response: "What do you mean you're not 'excited'?  What are you looking for?" (In varying tones of incredulity and offense).

I would respectfully suggest that no matter our different opinions, we've been discussing important policy.  Food policy and public health measures like the vaping ban seem to be where future political debates will be held.  Some of them at least.  But unless you are a pediatrician or avowed public health advocate, these issues aren't getting your heartbeat up.  Please don't read this to say these issues aren't important.  They are.  And, as I've said before, I am a strong advocate for what our Council is working to do.  I just think we need to accept the fact that we're not seeing the full actualization and involvement of passionate citizens and there may be a reason for that.

Unless you're debating the other side.  And it seems that this is where the excitement has been manufactured.  The reason local politics "seems" exciting is because it has become controversial.  I can assure you that I don't look forward to, or necessarily enjoy, writing adversarial posts.  I believe certain concerns merit attention and that advocacy is the only effective avenue for recourse.  Less formal (and less public) avenues of advocacy have been foreclosed, so, hence, the blog.

People will tire of the conflict and controversy.  Some already have.  Sustained attention and advocacy will require substance; those base nutrients that made us feel like local politics or politics in general were subjects worthy of our interest.  Even more remarkable are those issues that break outside the "Bubble" and touch the cognizance of "regular citizens".

What do these issues look like?  Right or left, I believe such matters are those that make life better. Our weights lighter.  Our stressors defanged.  And yes, I accept that there is a well-entrenched political philosophy stating that this is expressly not the role of government and that we should really just expect government to "get out of the way".  Fair enough, but even under that analysis, isn't the goal to "make life better"?

And so long as I am acknowledging your philosophy, you should understand mine - I think there are elements of our society that operate like a maw.  They tear and crush the weak and unprepared.  The only thing that has ever stood in between us and that maw has been the conscience of an enlightened democracy.  For every long line at the MVA, I will point to life-changing measures in the Americans with Disabilities Act.  For every stereotypical bureaucrat, I will introduce you to a social worker guiding an orphan through foster care.  We can't legislate our societal ills away, but we can do a pretty good job of rounding off the edges.

If you're not excited yet, wait.  I think there are some good things coming down the pike for you.

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!