Why is “Planning” a Dirty Word?

For those watching, “21” now seems to be generating as much nervousness as “666”, from the world-wide cabal associated with Agenda 21, to the purported local attempt to enslave Anchorage through the initial Title 21 rewrite. It seems that the crypto-conspiracists see “planning” as anathema to civil liberty. While those less hysterical may simply see the hands of the likes of Karl Rove and the Koch brothers at work (is there something about the letter “K”…..)  the unfortunate truth is that, as a society, we often produce lousy planning.

An old saw, likely promoted by those who have been recently offered their freedom from employment, advises, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” It is the small stuff, however, that ensures your that Mars probe doesn’t crash into the planetary surface, and the same applies to designing the urban environment of Anchorage’s future.  Take the example of the newly redone bicycle trail that passes by the corner of Bragaw and Northern Lights Boulevard (you’ll find me at the fancy green railing on the south side of the street.) But watch your step!   You probably don’t want the water pouring across the trail from the black, brackish pools of the fen to the south soaking your new kicks.

This piece of trail,  the most important bike path in the part of Anchorage most heavily used by bicycles, connecting Muldoon to downtown,  was closed for two years during construction of an extension, that while very nice, did not need to close down this critical thoroughfare.  A year after the trail opened again, the cracks are already appearing and here, at the corner of Bragaw and Northern Lights, you’ll notice a length of some 30 feet of trail covered with run-off making its way to the street across the trail (and yes,  it IS treacherous in the Spring and Fall when it frosts and freezes.) From here to Nunaka Park this sight is all too common, and will eventually result in expensive repair, or worse, a decaying infrastructure. Why?  Because someone at the MOA Planning Department didn’t sweat the small stuff.

If the Municipal planners can’t manage a bike trail that has proper drainage and doesn’t turn into crumbs in 2 years, can we depend on them to do much else? Conspiracy? No. Just sloppy, negligent work. Do you want the person who is responsible for the water running over the bike trail also responsible for planning the storm sewer next to your home?  I thought not.

Voting Issues in the US; HAVA na gila

Oregon has been experimenting with voting by mail. While there may be downsides to accompany the positives (see, e.g. http://archive.fairvote.org/turnout/mail.htm) The Carter-Baker Report suggests that Vote by Mail (VBM) may increase turnout by 10% in low profile election and does not bring new voters to the process,  but it does appear to have an impact on ballot integrity . Washington also does vote by mail.  Oregon is now moving to include e-mail voting  and even offer the ability to vote by ipad.  The Oregon voting site is at http://oregonvotes.org/

While the efforts in the Pacific North West may improve the voting experience by increasing the period during which one may vote and providing alternatives to to using suspect voting machines, most jurisdictions in the US still use one of the least “fair” voting systems available,  and most Americans haven’t a clue about the relative benefits of PR, or Proportional Representation, as opposed to the “single-member district plurality system” in use in most jurisdictions in the US today.

Douglas J Amy at Mt Holyoke College has put together an online library on the subject. Amy is also the author of a number of books on the subject, one of which is available online in pdf format and another which is a comprehensive extension of the materials published on the Mt. Holyoke web site.   He not only explains the difference between the typical US system and PR,  he also provides an accessible explanation of different types of voting systems.

Some other resources on voting systems?

  • Of course there is a wikipedia page,  which affords a decent introduction to the subject as well as some excellent links and references for further study.
  • My friend David Lippman has a published a wonderful online book, Math in Society, which addresses voting issues in various systems and would be a welcome addition to any high school math teacher’s arsenal of resources. It can be downloaded from David’s site as well a accessed online via scribd
  • Another excellent resource on voting systems, this one with a European twist, is provided by the Electoral Reform Society

The title of the note? “Gila” is the English transliteration of a Hebrew word for joy, and “na” is us. Together with “hava” (be) they are used in the Hebrew song “hava na gila”, or let us be joyful.  Of course, HAVA in this case is the Help America Vote Act: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d107:H.R.3295:  For a list of resources on the Act, see, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Help_America_Vote_Act