Selections from Plan On! My brilliant students’ blog

Hey, if you aren’t reading the blog maintained by my brilliant USC students, you are missing out. I believe this year’s editor is wonder-student Stephanie Byrd.

There’s Jackie Illum reviewing The Garden Movie and discussing the use of community gardens to create place and interaction

And here’s Paige Battcher writes about Digital Story-telling in LA, and the connection between journalism and urban planning.

Getting jailed for your veggie garden

In the Local-Regulation-Gone-Way-Stupid department, a women in Oak Park, Michigan is facing 93 days in jail for refusing to remove a vegetable garden in her front lawn.

Her neighbors don’t seem to care about it, when you read the article. Why does anybody? It’s not like she’s got a humanmanure processing plant in her front yard. She has raised beds! They are well-cared for raised beds. They look fine.

It’s also an equity issue. Poor families often plant gardens for food, and plenty of small bungalows do not have backyard space for a garden.

This is the stuff that makes people into libertarians, people. To the City of Oak Park: stop it. When somebody like me agrees with Fox News, it’s time to reconsider your position. You look like idiots, you’re wasting your citizen’s money, and lawns are so over.

Does it matter what car Dr. Lisa Drives? And Gabriel Rossman on the environmental silly

My apologies: it’s rather pompous to refer to myself as Dr, but I have a lot of Asian PhD students, and I really enjoy them, and one of their common traits is that they really prefer to show you respect by using your title, but almost none of them can linguistically manage all the consonants strung together in “Schweitzer”, so they usually wind up calling me Dr. Lisa, which I find wonderful and charming. It’s like being Dr. J!

My husband and I were briefly considering replacing our car, which is over ten years old and a two-door. One of my friends–a pushy one, who likes to think she gets to tell me what to do, said, “You SHOULD get a hybrid.”

She herself is a Toyota Pius driver.

I said that I was uncomfortable spending on a car what most hybrids cost. I did the calculation, even with higher gas prices. Given how little Mr. Miller and I drive, it would take close to 23 years to break even.

Why can’t we just get a small, cheap, four-door ICE and continue driving very little?

The pushy friend responds: “Well, but you’re supposedly an environmental professor!”

But I take the bus for 30 percent of my trips, walk for the remaining 50, and only have Andy drive for about 20 percent of our short trips. She has a hybrid, but she drives everywhere she goes.

Isn’t there a point where hybrids are like diet cookies? Yes, good job, lower calories and what not. But the cumulative effect can be the same or worse, regardless of what the marginal effect is.

(Economists call this concern the “rebound effect”. It’s cheaper to drive a hybrid so you drive more than you do with a car that costs you more per mile.)

I already did a major thing for the environment: I didn’t have any American kids. There are two less American kids in the world because Mr. Miller and I did not replicate ourselves.

In terms of numbers, that’s far more likely to save the planet gobs and gobs of environmental harm than anything else I do ‘for the environment.’ (This is not to say that nobody else should have kids. It is to say that not doing something is often just as good for the environment as doing something. Like not driving much versus driving a hybrid a lot).

Gabriel Rossman over at Code and Culture sends up a piece in Sunset magazine that has a pictorial of a concept for a dining car in an LA-SF bullet train. As he notes:

Instead, let’s think about the dining car itself. The pictorial shows a dwarf citrus tree in the car for passengers to pick fruit either to eat out of hand or for juicing. (As the owner of an orange tree, I can tell you that the pictured dwarf tree would make about two carafes of orange juice). Similarly, there is a “Self-Harvest Salad Bar. Snip and dress your own organic greens from a hydroponic vertical garden and choice of on-tap vinaigrettes.”

Do we really want people handling scissors on moving trains, just to cut their own lettuce?

My favorite part of the rant:

As I fumed about this, I realized that this isn’t just a really stupid idea for a train’s dining car, but a reductio ad absurdum of the whole idea of locavorism.

I love that line. It pretty much sums up the whole problem when people design to optimize on one dimension.

For many conservatives in the US, the bottom line is that all the enviro-babble surrounding us has lost sight of other priorities, like employment, freedom, economic security, and not giving people on bullet trains sharp tools with which to perforate themselves and others simply to satisfy some socio-cultural design notion of how/what people should eat. WTF? What if I don’t like vinaigrettes?

Wouldn’t it be better to not eat vinaigrette, since it’s not locally made?

And so on, to insanity.

How about we concentrate on some of the big environmental issues, instead of always creating narratives about *ourselves* and what *we* do–or don’t–for the environment?

Secret mall gardens and survivor seeds

Grist has a couple of stories on the sublime and the ridiculous. First off, the sublime:

The secret mall gardens of Cleveland | Grist covers the Gardens Under Glass transformation of a struggling Cleveland mall into an envisioned Eco-Village.

Grist also has a posting of Steve Colbert’s send-up of SurvivorSeeds.Com in which

Colbert grows a ‘crisis herb garden’ | Grist

Make sure you watch it if you haven’t.

Nothing sells product like the hot stench of fear.

I love mini-squash.

Slow Food, Julia Child, and James Bond

I am afraid I am not necessarily on board with the locavore food trend. I like farmer’s markets as much as the next person, but you’re taking caviar and champagne out of my cold, dead hands, ya got me? The nice thing about slow food, raw food, local food, or other types of food planning is that you don’t have to go at it with 100 percent zeal to enjoy either the health or the flavor benefits. My favorite new writing on these subjects comes from my former colleagues at Virginia Tech, Heike Mayer and Paul Knox:

Knox, Paul and Heike Mayer. 2009. Small Town Sustainability: Economic, Social, and Environmental Innovation. Birkhäuser Basel.

On another note, I have loved Julia Child since I was a little girl; her free-spirited fun attitude; her unapologetically large frame that would have sent other tv personalities starving-to-a-size-6 syndrome; her long marriage.

In the relentlessly self-improving United States, we have largely taken the fun out of food. It should be feared, controlled, and efficient. Think about it: Ian Fleming’s James Bond loved food, sex, women, gambling, fine things, and risk. Now, James Bond has sex and kills people, with fancy gadgets and explosions. Sean Connery’s and Roger Moore’s Bond knew that you eat fresh figs whenever you can get them, that champagne should be chilled, not freezing, and was fussy about his drink.* You think about the Bonds since then, and the largely joyless way they go about conquering women and bad guys. Shouldn’t all that sex and travel be more fun? In some ways, this change in Bond exemplifies a larger social change: the imperative to consume has made consumption joyless. Bringing that franchise back to Casino Royale was a good idea if you can get past the torture scenes.

Here’s some fun with food on a Monday, brought to you by Julia:

Julia on MacDonald’s French Fries
Julia with a peep of chickens

*There is some debate about the shaken not stirred question on the martini, and some have argued this was a silly affectation, not a sign that Fleming’s Bond was a connoisseur. No. A shaken martini is properly referred to as a “Bradford,” but I suspect that Fleming was a smart enough marketer to know that most of his readers wouldn’t be cocktail-literate enough to recognize a Bradford. Shaken and stirred martinis tend to be pretty different drinks, and unless you are dealing with a good bartender (which are in short supply anymore, like good secretaries), shaken tends to yield a better vodka drink in my opinion. It’s too easy to do a bad mix on a stirred drink with a rushed/careless/palateless bartender.**

**And another thing about local foods: no cocktails, and I’m not giving them up either. Did you ever notice how much people drank on Bewitched? Samantha would make a whole pitcher of martinis for just the two of them–just two people. I mean, it’s not like they were expecting Larry Tate or Uncle Arthur every night. Damn. A whole pitcher is a lot for two people. No wonder Darrin was prone to imagine his wife could do magic.

Marketing Fast Food in the US

I’m home with Andy finally, watching the Dodgers go into extra innings (due to a very bad 9th inning performance from Broxton, yoikes). This allows me to watch lots of commercials, and it occurs to me: Carl’s Jr. seems to have given up entirely on marketing to anybody that isn’t a 12 to 22 year-old male, given the unabashed misogyny of their commercials. It makes me wonder if the strategy has worked out for them in terms of market share. Other fast food retailers have responded to the public health exposes of the fast food industry by offering salads and the like. But Carl’s seems to be going for a niche of risk-takers instead.

I’ll have more real stuff to share soon, as I am unfortunately handling a number of deadlines the same way that Broxton handled the 9th inning.