New Year’s resolutions are an annual tradition of mine. Sometime within about 24 hours of January 1st, I like to make that extensive list of my goals for the year ahead, even if the world will be coming to an end this year. I know someone could say this is a silly or arbitrary measure, but I think it’s important to find time to reflect on myself, and ask, “how can I do better?” Or, “what else can I do with my life?” And, since we don’t accomplish what we don’t measure, I generally try to add some level of measurable accountability to these annual goals.
When we make such resolutions, we do so out of a desire to improve ourselves, not out of some sort of self-hatred. We do this by acknowledging our shortcomings, our failings, and looking for ways to improve. Many times we fall short, but it’s an important effort in making sure we’re the best people we can be.
I believe the same should be true of cities, towns and even nations. By making a list of resolutions for the USA, it’s an acknowledgment that we have room to improve in many areas. In fact, if we are to be honest with ourselves, we would note that the US has room to improve in virtually all areas of life.
I think of America as similar to the 3rd generation of a wealthy family. The first generation that makes the wealth generally is frugal, hard-working and smart. They then tend to spoil their kids with their new-found wealth, giving them what they didn’t have growing up. Sadly, in most cases what happens is that 2nd generation spends the 1st generation’s wealth, and tends to lack the work ethic or drive of their parents. Their kids, the 3rd generation, proceeds to live off the fumes of the 1st two generations, essentially living off the credit of the grandparents’ names. At some point, the cycle ends, or starts over.
I see America through this lens. We spent a few decades building wealth and winning wars, earning a spot as top dog in the world economy and in prestige. Following that, we went on a gluttonous spending spree, building a sprawling infrastructure, an enormous military apparatus, and a social safety net. Unfortunately, we spent that wealth, and we are now in that 3rd generation that is living off of the credit of the previous eras. No longer do we maintain the qualities that took us to the top.
We still have the biggest, baddest military in the world by far, but in most every other category we rank well below other modern, industrialized nations. Whatever your measure – health, education, crime, infrastructure – we are consistently in the bottom tier of all modern countries. The evidence is stark for anyone who is willing to see it.
Again, I’m not being negative for the sake of being negative. I like it here – I’m very happy to live in the US, even though it’s obvious through this blog that there are many ways in which I’d like us to collectively change. But, we do need a reality check. An intervention. We simply are not “the greatest country in the world” in many important measures. We CAN be, but it’s time to knuckle down and get to work.
So, here’s some resolutions that I’m suggesting for us for 2012. I won’t try and solve the health care or education problems (at least today), but I can focus on our infrastructure, budget and quality of life issues. With each goal, I’ve suggested something that each of us can individually do.
Resolution: Own up to our addiction to oil, and get over it.
For individuals: Start walking or biking to something you do every week, with the stretch goal of making that a daily trip
For Presidential candidates: Let’s have one Presidential debate solely devoted to energy issues, with a real discussion of how we plan to get out of current mess, and the various trade-offs. Stop the pandering, and talk with us as if we were grown-ups.
Resolution: Start building real freedom of choice in our transportation infrastructure
For individuals: Start experimenting in your travel patterns. Take a bus, a train, ride a bike, etc when you would otherwise drive. Do it once a month, or once a weekend. Demand drives change.
For cities/towns/states: Stop building new or expanding existing roads, anywhere. We can’t afford what we have, and need more other options regardless.
For cities and towns: Do some real experimenting with public transit – try risky service and fare initiatives. Take a chance!
For our federal government: The time for talk is over. Let’s get on with building a real network of trains around the US. There are many models to do this – let’s pick one and do it.
Resolution: Be more whimsical
For individuals: Take small steps, do little things that add joy to your immediate living environment. Do something that will make people stop and smile.
For cities/towns/states: Insist on designs that touch our human nature, not abstract creations that often repel. Public spaces and streets are supposed to be enjoyable, not off-putting
For states/cities: Encourage more places to have liberal open-container laws, much like my new residence of Savannah, GA.
Resolution: Brainstorm some 21stcentury solutions to renting. Those ownership models are so 5 years ago.
For individuals: Treat your rental like a home – break down those myths that renters don’t care about their property
For owners: Devise new models that give renters some kind of vested stake in their property.
For financiers and federal regulators: Ditch the old financing models that make it difficult to finance and build multi-family housing or housing mixed with commercial uses.
Resolution: Focus on the simple and timeless
For individuals: Insist on windows that open, shade in sunny areas, vegetables grown nearby and streets that you can walk along.
For cities and towns: Reform your zoning and building codes so that simple, timeless solutions are easy.
For neighborhoods/cities/towns: get together with people and plant some street trees
Resolution: Place simultaneous priorities on knowledge and fun
For all of us: yes, I know this is a bit out of context, but is there anything more important than continuing to expand our minds? My hope is we all start to care more about the world around us, how we interact with it, and at the same time, how we can enjoy it and each other more.
Those are my suggestions for 2012. What are yours?