A call to update the definition of smart growth

The term “smart growth” has been around now for several decades. Kaid Banfield argues that the term needs some updating to include more recent concerns. After listing the principles from The Smart Growth Network, Banfield suggests a few things should be added:

Notice anything missing in those principles?  I do.  There’s nothing explicit about equity, health, food, water, access to jobs, parks, energy, green technology, and more – many of the things that have come to the forefront of community and environmental interests in 2010 were simply not on our minds in the 1990s or, if they were, not to nearly the same degree.  If we want to stay relevant, and honest and true to the issues that confront us and the people we represent, we need to do some updating…

[T]oday we confront a very different set of trends than we did in the 1990s.  In fact, I would say that we have made so much progress on these things – with market forces on our side, now, too – that we who like to think of ourselves as “progressive” risk being anything but, if we don’t turn some attention to the issues that have emerged in the 21st century.

My quick thought about these suggestions as a whole is that they are a call for making more explicit the goals or aims of the smart growth movement. If you look at the original principles, such as “Mix land uses,” it is not immediately clear why one should pursue this. But if a later principle then stated goals about equity or preserving the environment, the link between practice and intentions (and how they would affect the lives of people) would be more explicit.

It would be interesting to trace how some of Banfield’s suggestions, like equity, have developed over time. What is the narrative among planners and thinkers over time regarding how to make sure there are “communities of fairness and opportunity?” How does a narrative like this resonate with Americans?

h/t The Infrastructurist

Comparing stories and statistics

A mathematician thinks about the differences between stories and statistics and the people who prefer one side over another:

Despite the naturalness of these notions, however, there is a tension between stories and statistics, and one under-appreciated contrast between them is simply the mindset with which we approach them. In listening to stories we tend to suspend disbelief in order to be entertained, whereas in evaluating statistics we generally have an opposite inclination to suspend belief in order not to be beguiled. A drily named distinction from formal statistics is relevant: we’re said to commit a Type I error when we observe something that is not really there and a Type II error when we fail to observe something that is there. There is no way to always avoid both types, and we have different error thresholds in different endeavors, but the type of error people feel more comfortable may be telling. It gives some indication of their intellectual personality type, on which side of the two cultures (or maybe two coutures) divide they’re most comfortable. I’ll close with perhaps the most fundamental tension between stories and statistics. The focus of stories is on individual people rather than averages, on motives rather than movements, on point of view rather than the view from nowhere, context rather than raw data. Moreover, stories are open-ended and metaphorical rather than determinate and literal…

I’ll close with perhaps the most fundamental tension between stories and statistics. The focus of stories is on individual people rather than averages, on motives rather than movements, on point of view rather than the view from nowhere, context rather than raw data. Moreover, stories are open-ended and metaphorical rather than determinate and literal.

This is a good discussion and one that I think about often while teaching statistics or research methods. Stories are often easy for students to grab unto, particularly if told from an interesting point of view. In the end, these stories (particularly the “classics”) have the ability to illuminate the human condition or interesting concerns but don’t have the same ability to offer more concrete overviews of the typical or common experience. Statistics do offer a different lens for viewing the world, one where individual experiences are muted in favor of data about larger groups. Both can miss important features of the reality around us but offer different angles for tackling similar concerns.

Both have their place and I would suggest both are necessary.

Exploring the messages embedded in “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”

Political scientist Dominic Tierney explores the cultural and religious meanings and values behind the familiar American song “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Some of his thoughts on the song:

But most of all, the “Battle Hymn” is a warrior’s cry and a call to arms. Its vivid portrait of sacred violence captures how Americans fight wars, from the minié balls of the Civil War to the shock and awe of Iraq. Based on ideas from my new book, How We Fight: Crusades, Quagmires, and the American Way of War, we can see how the nation’s experience is intimately connected to this crusader’s cry…

The totemic poem has guided the United States through many military trials. The “Battle Hymn” epitomizes the strengths of this nation: its optimism, and its moral courage. It’s a song of agency, of action, a call to sacrifice together for the cause. The soldiers who march to the “Battle Hymn” have helped to liberate millions.

But there is a dark side to the “Battle Hymn” and the American way of war. The righteous zeal of America’s war effort can excuse almost any sins—like killing hundreds of thousands of enemy civilians. When Americans loose the fateful lightning, they have no moral guilt, for they are the tools of God.

This is a fascinating topic, particularly considering that the song came out of the Northern side of the Civil War but seems to have later been adopted by a majority of Americans. A song like this does reflect the American narrative, the story that we tell about ourselves over the years and also helps interpret our current situation.

And yet, I feel like I have rarely heard this song in recent years – the more common American hymn is “America, the Beautiful” which seems to adopt a very different tone, particularly in its first verse which opens with images of nature though its later verses pick up on some of the same themes. What explains a shift away from “The Battle Hymn,” if this has indeed happened? What happens or changes when “The Battle Hymn” is used in settings that have less to do with war – would other songs be preferred then or are there causes today that could or would utilize this song and its messages?