Wednesday, January 25, 2006

I've been busting my head for the past few days writing this damn personal statement for my grad-school application. For those of you who may be out of the loop, the plan is that I'm hoping to planning school next fall. I gotta get me some real skills. Maybe by the time i'm thirty I'll be able to get a "real" job. Not that I mind selling technical apparel at Eastern Mountain Sports, it's just that I'll go crazy if I stay there too long.

To think that this is the 5th draft is heartbreaking.

“Couldn’t believe it, good 200-bushel-an-acre land under a dang Home Depot parking lot,” my uncle lamented over dinner at the farm. He was relating the story of his trip from Sioux City, Iowa to the Chicago suburbs where my cousin lives. My uncle and I have often differed on matters of politics and public policy, but on this topic we were on the same page. I see the natural landscape frivolously turned into lawns and subdivisions without a sidewalk in sight, he complains of the fertile farmland lost forever. We both agree that urban sprawl is out of hand.

While I have strong sympathies with New Urbanist design ideas, I have some reservations about high-density, transit-oriented developments. There must be some sort of sea-change for New Urbanism to catch on. Though the cost of our sprawling landscape is high, for many, those costs are less tangible than the benefits of the status quo. Without a clear comparison, we are likely to trade the nebulous problem: “less farmland” for the visible benefit: “abundant parking.” Finding ways to compare such disparate variables is an essential part of communicating the need to change our environmentally questionable development style to the public.

I am applying for the Master of City Planning degree at the University of Pennsylvania where I hope to contribute in two main ways. First, I hope to do research on the topic of incentives: specifically, the ways in which planners and policy makers can influence people into making transportation and housing decisions that appropriately weigh the benefits and negative externalities of their actions. I am particularly interested in Professor Keene’s studies on “walkable communities” and farmland preservation. Second, I realize that in order to implement change in a community, one needs the specific skills and know-how to take a project from paper to reality. While my undergraduate education gave me a conceptual understanding of urban landscapes, I realize that I need technical abilities to succeed. I am looking forward to improving my skills with GIS in order to use this powerful tool to communicate my ideas to others. Additionally, I believe that the opportunity to work directly with a client organization in one of the studio sessions will give me an experience unique among the graduate programs I’ve investigated.

After Penn, I intend to take my skills and experience to the workplace. As a firm believer in the necessity of regional planning, my aim is to work for a private firm or regional organization that will allow me to focus on the preservation of natural resources through sound planning. The need for mobility, independence and space are deeply ingrained in the American mind. I respect these needs, but understand that the long-term viability of our cities and country depends on us making better use of our resources. In our country, where space is not infinite, mobility depends on having a car and independence requires gas money, finding an alternative to urban sprawl is not just a good idea, it is imperative.

Friday, January 20, 2006

The flaming house across the street.
It's been an eventful week or so. I guess that I'll start off with last Sunday. Sunday morning was pretty average, Jennifer and I ran some errands to pick up the remaining supplies for the closet I'm refinishing. We also drove around some areas where we were looking at housing. The housing market here is schizophrenic. I've never been anywhere with such a driven redevelopment sector. Houses are being re-habbed everywhere you look. At the same time, this is a rather recent development and therefore the boundaries are often very distinct between the zones of refurbishment and the blighted zones. For example, in the area we're considering, Brewerytown, any house south of Girard street, a major thouroughfare, is cute, clean, rennovated and $150k and up. North of that street, depending on how far you go, you can find housing in gutted areas for $20k. Schizophrenic.

Coming back home, we spent an afternoon dinking around the house. Then, while sitting in the living room, I noticed some flames licking the inside of windows in the house across the street. Within minutes the fire had begun billowing around and out the second and third story windows. Those two floors were gutted by the time the fire department arrived 5 minutes later. Talk about excitement, the whole neighborhood was out on the street. I quickly got my camera and was about to run outside when Jennifer stopped what was about to be a really insensitive move on my part.

We had also been invited to the upstairs neighbor's apartment in the evening for a housewarming party. It was a nice time, though we were the only people in the room who couldn't speak any German. Karl is a supreme Deutchophile and is a regular participant in the Stamptish meetings of German speakers in Philly. I don't know what Stamptish means, but what the hell, Karl had good weisswurst.

Things were pretty chill until yesterday evening when I got a call from my parents. They were in the Des Moines children's hospital with my youngest brother Asa. For the past month and a half he's been having a lot of trouble with stomach pain. Over the past few weeks he's been in to the gastrointerologist a few times, gotten to chug liters of radioactive liquids and had a probe put where the sun don't shine. The diagnosis is Crohn's disease, and autoimmune disorder affecting the intestine. Imagine arthritis of the bowels. The call last night was because he's been admitted to the hospital due to intense inflammation in his abdomen. Apparently the abscess or abscesses caused by the disease became infected and he had some pretty severe and painful swelling that had to be treated in the hospital. They're pumping him full of fluids, antibiotics and the like and also draining the fluids from the region.

While I'll not say I'm devastated by the news of Asa's illness, I am concerned for him. Crohn's is not fatal, but could potentially degrade his quality of life to a severe degree. For example, he'll have to keep treating his disease throughout his life and it's likely that at some point he'll have to have surgery to remove affected portions of his intestine. Shit man. He's already had to miss a number of days of school and missed finals on Tuesday. That sort of stuff takes a while to recover from. Anyway, my thoughts are with him. Ganbatte Asa.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Ok, I'm gonna post sometime soon, swear to god, but I just made the big jump from 100 percent free time to something like 59 percent free time. It's a shocker I tell you, a shocker!!!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Ok, It's been a while since posting, but hey, I'm a busy man. No, honestly, I've been busy. I suppose that I owe an apology to something in the neighborhood of half of the people who read this for stiffing them last weekend on my excursion to the midwest. Here's the deal: My parent's neighbor Chad recently bought a truck on ebay. The truck, conveniently enough, was located about an hour's drive from here, near Valley Forge. The plan was that Jennifer and I could drive the vehicle back to Ames in time to get to the wedding of a highschool friend who lives in Minneapolis. We picked up the truck just fine, headed out towards the midwest last Wednesday, and we were fortunate enough that no one was shot on our block, so we were able to get out of Philly on time. A guy was shot by the police on the next block over, thank God we're not on the 51 block of Cedar!

Anyway, we drove our asses off and then ended up back home in Ames all exhausted and such and were considering the proposition of blasting off for the twin cities the next day, and I have to say, we quailed at the thought of driving up to Saint Paul so soon after returning to the comfort of our families. Anyway, it would have involved some serious car shuffling and making my parents go up to get a car was not really what I had hoped to do. Basically a logistics jam. We were all settled to send our apologies to Katherine, Ben and Marye as well, but then Jennifer got a personal email from Katherine saying how pleased she would be if we showed up. So, due to the autimotive restraints, we couldn't spend any real time in the twin cities, but we borrowed Jennifer's mom's car, drove up Friday night and drove back Friday night. It kind of sucked. The wedding reception was nice, I got to see a couple of highschool friends who had gotten larger over the years and we chatted about life. As we exited the freeway to Ames that night, Jennifer plowed into a skunk with the car. It was a long evening.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Whoa, where to start dudes?
Well, for starters, it's like, 2006. Second, I like have a part-time job at an EMS store in Philly. Thirdly, well, New Years was sweet, hung out with Meghan, Brendan and a gang of former Peace Corps volunteers at Meghan's place in DC. The weird thing about newyears is that I met this guy there from Iowa, and I KNEW WHO HE WAS. Those of you who are from smaller or more obscure places know that people always ask you, "Youre from There? Hey, I know someone from There, His name is ____. Do you know him?" To which you always have to respond, "No, no I don't." Even though you're from an out of the way place, it's not like the world is THAT small. Except when it is. This guy walked into the party and introduced himself and instantly I remembered going on a bike ride with him and the make and features of the bike he was riding, all from 8 years ago. Freaked him out, that did. Hah. My bike-remembering skills are second only to my dad's.

Oh yeah, now I'm employed part time at EMS (Eastern Mountain Sports) a chain of stores out East here. The pay is decent, part time will keep me just busy enough to be happy, but not too busy as I look for other "career" work and get ready for grad school, in theory. However, we all know that Communism worked in theory, but ask an Albanian what they think of Communism today.

Lastly, my GRE's are finally over. Thank God for that. Even though I'd rather pluck my head bald than take the test again, a small part of me wants to take the test over to see if I can get a better score. Dammit, I know I can! Fortunately, I won't be doing that again, primarily due to the fact that there's no way in hell that I'm going to pay $115 AGAIN to take a stupid test.