Ken's shared items

Monday, January 11, 2010

Pocket Parks for North Mississippi

One of the perils of tough economic times is the effect on our quality of life. And I don't mean just our economic way of life, but our civic way of life, the little things our cities and towns do to increase our enjoyment of the place where we live. One way that can help is to think in terms of micro-projects, small civic projects that continue to add to the life of our municipalities. Pocket parks can do this with little money, with neighborhood-level involvement, with no great loss of tax revenue, while serving the needs of small groups who want to contribute and participate.

A pocket park is a small outdoor space, usually no more than ¼ of an acre, most often located in an area that is surrounded by commercial buildings or houses on small lots, with no places for people to gather, relax, or to enjoy the outdoors. There is no set design for a pocket park; each one is different depending on the size and use of the space.

In Indianapolis, pocket parks have become a vital force in city beautification. Since 1995, Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, Inc. has helped neighborhoods, schools, churches, and other community-based organizations create beautiful places from vacant lots, old parking lots, medians, or little used areas. Often, these sites are neglected and overgrown—inviting littering, illegal dumping, or worse. These little-used, undervalued, or detrimental places are transformed into community assets--green and beautiful places that build community, encourage community pride, and add value to neighborhoods across Indianapolis.

In Salisbury, NC, a pocket park is born, honoring the history of textile mills in the area. It emphasizes Southern local history and community/school involvement, especially the school art departments. In Montana, a local horticultural group sets up a pocket park on irregularly shaped city right-of-way. In San Antonio, pocket parks have been tied in with the overarching RiverWalk park concept, tying together major city-wide projects with localized projects, (much like the new Rails to Trails could be done or perhaps tying in with the Tallahatchie River Park in New Albany).

The main goal of these little pocket parks is to make livable streets and neighborhoods. They emphasize shade, quiet, history, education, and increased property values. New York City is perhaps most famously known for its pocket parks, and it is the model of how to make it work, but there are a multitude of examples of a variety of pocket parks across this country. They can be city-owned with community volunteers; they can be privately owned with city assistance; they can be public-private partnerships; they can even be tenant-owned with access rights granted to the community.

Ideas for pocket parks in our area are unlimited. They could be set up and connected alongside the Tenn-Tom Waterway, tied in with tourist attraction/historical sites, set up as art installations, sculpture gardens, learning oases, block playgrounds. They can be quiet places for lunch in work areas, shopping breaks in commercial zones (like the Renasant Bank of Pontotoc pocket park), spiritual respites in busy neighborhoods, showplaces for horticulturists, community gardens for seniors and kids, rest stops for bikers, runners, and walkers.

In peril, our families, neighborhoods, and cities need anchors like pocket parks, tucked ingeniously into our civic life.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

"Traditional Values" Means Anything So Long As It's 'Not Gay'

"Traditional Values" means anything that's 'not gay.' Dan Savage and John Aravosis highlight this hypocrisy.

A point of order: When did premarital sex become a "traditional value"?

I don't care if your buddy fucks this woman or not. (He should; lots of rebounds turn into wonderful and lasting relationships.) I'm just curious how we got to the point where anything goes—premarital sex, oral and anal sodomy, multiple marriages (hey there, Karl Rove!)—for heterosexuals and nothing is a violation of "traditional values" so long as the fornicators are straight. An unmarried straight man with shit on his dick and three different women's pubes in his mouth can claim to have a "conservative sensibility and traditional values"—how'd that happen?

It reminds me of a friend of mine who went to a Christmas party attended mainly by women, all of whom are big up in the churches. And they went around the room and every single one of them had been married at least twice, some as many as four times. But these are the ladies that talk about my friend, behind his back and to his face, about being gay. These are the ladies that scream about the sanctity of marriage when they can't keep their own two or three marriages sanctified. The day not a single straight marriage fails to uphold the "sanctity" of marriage is the day I'll let you lecture me on the evils of gay marriage.

Gays & Abortion as essense of Christianity

Fundamentalist Christianity has been built lately around two pillars: gays and abortion. It's no wonder then that gay rights movement is so threatening. Walk into almost any fundamentalist church and you are sure to get a healthy dose of anti-gay and anti-abortion. For some reason, that's the only thing many churches have going for them--the hatred of others, the denigration of others, the subjugation of others in order to somehow perversely make their own lives better. And it will work for a little while--until reality slowly overtakes. And once it begins to crack, the emptiness left inside is exposed. That is why so many churches devote so many resources to fighting gay rights--it is the only way to keep a leg under the worthless foundation.

There is no philosophical underpinning anymore, no metaphysical philosophy, just hatred of gays and hatred of abortion. Why is that? And when you hook your wagon to a civic movement, progress is bound to run over you.

So while this trailing end of bigotry will probably get more extreme, we must remember: it is a trailing end. And every last bang is the death rattle of institutionalized bigotry.

Cheapening Christianity

Here in rural MS there is an interesting phenomenon occurring that the Brit Hume brouhaha brings into clearer focus. There is a rapid demeaning of religion, especially the Christian religion, occurring here. If you travel down any road, you will see churches popping up everywhere. I've lived here my entire life, and it used to be that each community had one church, usually Baptist, sometimes Methodist or Presbyterian, with a place name. Now they have names like Bread of Life, The Living Water, and By Faith; single-word names like Cornerstone, Compass, and Centricity. They pop up in the middle of nowhere, in abandoned storefronts, in closed-down factories, in metal buildings put up in the middle of the woods. And everyone has a preacher who is called Brother, or Elder, or Bishop.

And all these fundamentalist (I assume based on looks and publicity) churches spend the majority of their time either directly or indirectly involved with local, state, and national politics, involved in the Teabagger movement, the War on Christmas movement, the myriad boycotts movement, and posters and ads of every conceivable real or imagined movement.

As someone who had become immune to most of it, I can't help but be aware of the way in which religion in this area has been very deeply cheapened. It ceases to occupy a space of personal and public sacredness. It focuses not on the personal, but the political. And I am even beginning to detect this cheapening in acquaintances who I know to be quite religious. There is no war on the sacred; they are doing it themselves.

Update: Be sure to read Bill in Portland Maine's take on this.