Dark Light, A Solar Eclipse Writing Month

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I’ve been here in Moscow teaching a mini-course on digital placemaking and wise city methods, a project one year in the planning.

Today, it’s the first day of Spring in the northern hemisphere, students at a university here look up through compact discs to see the eclipse, a coincidence with the Spring equinox not seen since 1681 CE.

In the midst of our globalization conflicts, both macro and regional I can’t think of a better metaphor for the desire to see reality amidst so many years of obscured half-truths, about empires, about nations, about “mother lands”… all week I have been pointing to Shakespeare’s quote “what is the city but the people” but perhaps I have been missing the larger point… what is our world about but its people.

Here in Russia, or in Colombia, or in Czech Republic, Latvia, Denmark, and in the US all I keep hearing from my generations and younger generations is this strong desire and demand to make a better world, an almost mystical recognition that whatever our parents’ generations created, bless them, is sadly so far from what is actually needed to make a world where we can all best be together.

And being together is not also meant to be some globalized homogenous bland meaningless material reality, but something bolder, something more idiosyncratic, and regionally unique, with friction, with sharp edges and soft arms depending on who and how you enter. Your AMEX black platinum card will not provide “total access”, you will either be real or not, you will be seen for what you are, or are not, you will need to make time for other realities, it may not fit within your schedule. You will be okay with this. Because again you have been reminded that this life, all life, is not about, you. Eclipse. Leave your ego out for a few minutes each day.

This post begins 30 days of posting, inspired by Emily Jacobi’s lunar posting cycle ending on this day. Light is felt everywhere even when your eyes are closed, we are all dreaming together…

Yesterday’s Trickle-Down Hype Is Today’s Post-Capitalist Meme

Speaking truth to power is a brave thing in any era, in any moment.

Trickle-down theory. Critiques of this neoliberal belief, its ironic usage, once a slam relegated to smaller progressive and academic circles now seems to be growing as a default critique. Meme-worthy even. We are moving beyond questioning the myth of trickle-down assumptions, now distrusting it by *default* for the scam that it is.

More people, feminist women writers especially, noted below, are making erudite clarifications around this worn out Regan-era trope.

Our contemporary lifeworld is heavily colonized by neoliberal consumerist cultural assumptions. Assumptions that remove us from ourselves. Assumptions that remove us from those we are together with as we move about our cities and neighborhoods. Decolonizing this is a huge task; the connection to sexism and other forms of oppression, of reducing life to transactional relations, users using users, is no coincidence.

That’s why it’s damn exciting to see these recent awakened punchy posts… needed in all our informal and formal organizing efforts now more than ever.

  1. Laurenellen McCann‘s Sept. 30 post:
    • “we have an imperative to identify the real people and communities our work is seeking to impact and to ensure that we are not acting on their behalf, but working together with them (as part of “them”) from day one.”
  2. Sarah Jaffe‘s Oct. 17 post:
    • “Neoliberal feminism is a feminism that ignores class as a determining issue in women’s lives. It presumes, as Tressie McMillan Cottom pointed out in [a 2012] article on her personal website, that giving power to some women will automatically wind up trickling if not power, than at least some lifestyle improvements down to women with less power.”
  3. Sarah Lacy‘s Oct. 22 post: The horrific trickle down of Asshole culture: Why I’ve just deleted Uber from my phone
    • “You can certainly invest based only on the place you expect to find maximum return. That’s your job and your prerogative. But when it comes to the mounting misogyny in the tech world, you can’t sit on stage at industry events and say you care deeply about the state of women in the startup world and silently support assholes like these.”

This is all part of a continuum, seeing these three posts within less than a month just triggered my pattern detector this morning. Have you seen other recent posts playing with this same meme? Share’m on twitter with this not often used but existing hashtag: #trickledownmyth

Moving from Transactional to Intentional Cultures

Park surveillance camera, McGolrick park, Greenpoint, Brooklyn, NY
Park surveillance camera, McGolrick park, Greenpoint, Brooklyn, NY

The Preface Story…

And The Post:

When teachers and students are seen as sellers and consumers that’s transactional culture.

When the people in local government and in a city are seen as service providers and consumers, that’s transactional culture.

In the U.S. since the Reaganite 1980s the U.S. became a largely transactional culture. Today the language of much innovation, design thinking, service design, etc. is still thoroughly colonized with this hyper-corporate transactional hollowed out reduction.

Intentional communities care about broader and deeper impacts in the way our short brilliant lives are lived. The Net and a desire to renew local and longer lasting values is allowing the deliberative space and speed to spread a renewal of more intentional community living. From the rise of Meetup groups and Twitter leading to the addition of the words meetup and tweetup to the Oxford English dictionary, to collectives united by all sorts of shared values, to hyper local community groups, and more… the pattern isn’t just about making, hacking, or meeting up… more deeply it’s about an explicit awareness of intention.

Any sort of viable future for everyone will not be centered on efficient transactional cultures, so if you start noticing this in your work and conversations speak up and turn to those you’re with and ask, how can we find and meet the deeper intentions people have about life today and in the future? How can we organize and work on *that*?

Know Your Watershed, Mapping Rivers, Mapping Our Commons

Mississippi river upstream sources
Part of my childhood was spent living just a mile from the Mississippi up around Minneapolis.  Screenshot from the US National Atlas Streamer Map

Fresh water is more valuable than oil because humanity can live without one of these. There’s something about mapping water, about mapping rivers, that resonates so well with our online hyper connected lives. Maybe it’s because we take water for granted almost as much as we take all of our social connectedness for granted.

Maps used to be very powerful during the so-called age of discovery when sailing ship design and technology was considered to be cutting edge, when surveying the world was celebrated as a great human achievement even though the purpose was largely focused on exploitation of people and their lands. Mapping then was a tool for innovations in what is possible by regimes focused on greed.

"Americae Nova Tabula" by Hondius in 1640.
Americae Nova Tabula” created by Hondius 11 human generations ago  (in 1640)

In today’s geospatial digital mapping the question we should be asking is, as with any technology, who is making it and for whom? As with the Internet itself much of the mapping technology has come from military usage, and much of the power in mapping today is held by the credit card and banking systems that are tracking our spending in great detail to optimize methods for encouraging further spending and debt. So many of these maps are made by the already very powerful for the increasingly more powerful.

Hudson river upstream sources
I live in NYC, along the estuary portion of the Hudson river. NYC’s water source is under threat of fracking. Screenshot from the US National Atlas Streamer Map

This is why it’s refreshing to see maps like this National Atlas Streamer Map created by the National Geospatial Program of the U.S. Geological Survey that provide some service for all of those organizing to protect freshwater for future generations by fighting the selling off of land rights for fracking, and fighting against policies that enable land usage for industrial petrochemical farming and its toxic effects on our world. It’s maps like these that we should be most excited about that should be celebrated, maps like these can better help preserve and protect the commons that we all share. Check it out, pick a place in the US that you know and care for and look at all of the rivers connection.

Embrace The Mayoral Shift, The Two Decade Old NYC Tech Boom Has Always Been About Bottom-Up Tech Diffusion & Urbanization

Photo via de Blasio’s facebook page

Like the right-wing myth of the broken windows theory, some people who make the FUD-inducing pro-Bloomberg warnings that the NYC tech industry should be wary of not having a cheerleader in mayor-elect de Blasio basically ignore the general social & tech paradigm shifts going on: in this case, since the 1990s, the move to a mostly urban digital networked world.

NYC as a global capital has the tech industry it does because it is famously a socially dense heterogeneous human network, a center of culture, media, and finance. NYC’s tech success is not a result of being governed by Bloomberg, an oligarch, the 13th richest person in the world, and the 7th richest person in the US.

New York’s digital boom coincided with Giuliani’s term and he didn’t claim credit for the force of history but Bloomberg jumped on the bandwagon and with a few welcome tokens tech-washed his way into it according to some ahistorical eyes. Bloomberg didn’t invent the boom and it’s happening regardless of who is in office.

Aside from the global paradigm shift’s fueling by government funded programs that created protocols like IP, TCP, HTTP, and crucial private sector hardware innovations, the real credit goes to NYC’s existing urban culture and architecture that is social by nature of its active free expression, density, mass transit and walkabilty, and the industries already present.

Tech is an easy and important bandwagon for politicians to jump on, just ask Al Gore. All elected officials would be welcomed to support the tech paradigm shift and more importantly guide the wise use of technology in our society… after all we still face the choice of creating a closed libertarian hell or an Open socially responsible tech enabled world.

The various NYC tech subcultures need to talk more about tech ethics, about the value of digital and public commons, about privacy, about enabling more bottom-up civic participation, and about the requisite universal Net access for a 21st Century democracy. With his progressive-tilted ethics de Balsio is oriented more closely to these ideals than we have seen in decades.

How tech diffuses, for who, for what, is largely up to us, emerging from our values and practices. Take this time to reflect on what we’ve considered normal. If you think it’s about the mayor then you’ve been too accustomed to the top-down technocratic culture of the past 20 years of NYC mayorship. In a markedly more open administration NYC is what we demand and organize for. There’s wider input-ouput bandwidth in the system. More nodes in the system are included in the calculations.

NYC is us. Let’s move on. Let’s push the new administration on socially responsible tech policy, that would be truly innovative.

A Task Large Enough For The Longest Life

Just saw Dave Winer tweet out this….

Which instantly made me recall this oft quoted passage from my teacher & mentor Harvey Sarles…

“Why is it, I have wondered, that whereas authors, poets, et al in earlier eras produced their most important works in their later years, it is characteristic of our age to begin with the climax, also a distrust of life; thus almost everyone considers quitting early, a professor for a few years, a poet for a few years, an actor a few years, etc— in short, as if the tasks were not enough for a whole life.

I think it can be explained this way, that instead of being character tasks, all tasks have become virtuosity tasks. This is why they are not enough. The ability to express the highest, to understand the highest, to present it, etc., can be achieved before thirty. But to do it— that changes everything and gives one a task large enough for the longest life.

But this is not what they want. They want to scintillate with virtuosity— and sneak away from character. This is why they turn aside…”

– from Søren Kierkegaard’s Journals and Papers, 1833-1855, journal entry #4475, as quoted in Harvey Sarles’ book Teaching as Dialogue, Chapter 8, “Toward Becoming An Auto-Didact (Where Pedagogy Directs Itself)”


Our current era’s fascination with the cult of the new begs for shallow virtuosity but what our planet needs is depth, building better roots and rerouting branches. No small task. For me the question here is how to iteratively think and do civic practices to emerge more sustainable and equitable ways of living together. Part of a life long task.


Smart Cities Or Wise Cities?

Smart cities, smart politicians, smart leaders, smart writers, smart journalists, smart policy makers, smart planners, smart consultants, smart authors, smart… people.

When most people use the word “smart” in civic life they are really saying some person: has technocratic or corporate efficiency, or has skillful rhetoric regardless of logic or ethics, or has an exemplary command of status quo worldview. When these so called “smart” people let society down people don’t often ask why. The reason why is that we praise what is “smart” rather than debate what is “smart” and debate who defines what is “smart”, all of which distracts us from asking, “what is wise?”

Sunday Night Poem: The Street by Hellman Pardo

Photo I took of a busy street with speeding traffic and few pedestrian protections, two blocks from where I was born. Carrera 13 y Plaza Lourdes, Chapinero, Bogotá.


The Street

Without saying anything you speak to me.
You say, for example:
– I’m made of rock and make men sweat
In the days without shade and the nights without birds.
No one gets nowhere;
They pour through my hands that monoxide of blood
That brings them life or perhaps death.
They fall in and out of love over my dawning ribs,
They shatter and mutilate themselves.
If that is your nature
Let me continue to be this stone beaten
by time.

And I say, with astonishment in my face:
– Don’t worry, I’m just passing by.

born in Bogotá 1978
(English translation by Daniel Latorre and Luis Latorre)


La Calle

Sin decir nada todo me lo dices.
Dices, por ejemplo:
– Soy de roca y sudo a los hombres
En los días sin sombra y las noches sin pájaros.
Nadie llega a ninguna parte;
Vuelcan por mis manos ese monóxido de sangre
Que les da la vida o quizá la muerte.
Se aman y se desaman por mis costillas amanecidas,
Se rompen y se mutilan.
Si esa es su naturaleza
Déjame seguir siendo esta piedra vencida
por el tiempo.

Y digo, con estupor en el rostro:
– No te afanes, estoy de paso.

por Hellman Pardo
nació en Bogotá en 1978
desde Poetas Bogotanos: Conjuro Capital, 2008