Who’s Your City

If Thomas Friedman is best known for convincing us that the world is flat, then Richard Florida may be best known for telling us that it is spiky at the same time.  In Who’s Your City, an approachable academic analysis of our choice of place, Florida shows how the creative economy is making where to live the most important decision of your life, according to the subtitle.  The book builds upon his idea of the Creative Class and a creative economy where talented and productive people cluster together, as shown in Florida’s map.

In Florida’s conception of a spiky world, certain locations generate innovations.  You can see the spires rising from the mega-cities.  But where there are peaks, there are also valleys, hence, Florida’s admission that economic progress requires that the peaks grow stronger, which exacerbates economic and social disparity.  This idea takes on new meaning during this recession, or The Great Reset, as Florida calls it in a recent book.  So I thought it would be interesting to compare the map above to a map of unemployment rates to see how the creative class has fared. Based on this interactive map at Slate, those same cities where jobs were gained from January 2006 to 2008 were also the places where the numbers of jobs lost were the largest from January 2009 to 2010.  Patchwork Nation, a reporting project of the Jefferson Institute that aims to explore what is happening in the United States by examining different kinds of communities over time, also has some colorful maps on the subject, and a book that might make an interesting companion piece to Florida’s claims.

However, Florida’s book is not all seriousness and gloom, as in later chapters he explains how cities have personalities too and that shiny happy places do exist.  Of course, sometimes they come with a high price tag in the form of rent.  He reasons that it’s the price we pay for the clustering force that brings together people and creative skills and that drives economic growth, an interesting and encouraging thought in these times.


Close to Home

Barbara Kingsolver and Steven Hopp might be nationally known for their book, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, but closer to home they have a difficult time selling their ideas about living off of the land.  In the book, they chronicle a year-long mission to eat only what they grow or source locally in Meadowview, Va. This feat or feast is easy during this time of the year, when gardens are plentiful, but more daunting in the dead of winter.  I picked up a copy of the book a few years ago to find out what grows when on the family farm.  Though I stayed on the lookout for asparagus in early March and took my chances playing trick-or-treat with the persimmon tree after the first frost in October, it did not revolutionize my eating habits.

According to this New York Times article about Hopp’s locavore restaurant idea, their attempt to get locals to eat local hasn’t worked so well yet. That’s because of the price tag. When everyone has a garden rather than the more traditional paved and manicured curb appeal and a grandmother who can cook as good as any trained chef, they don’t need to fork over $15 for a “local” meal.  Going out to dinner means eating something that you wouldn’t fix at home, Chinese food, for example.

Coming from the city now, I would probably try the fare at The Harvest Table, if only for a taste of the ideal that Kingsolver and Hopp strive for.  Then I would drive to a favorite roadside burger stand to savor some homemade raspberry ice cream.  It’s seasonal as well, but for less than $2, it’s a treat that doesn’t have to boast about where it comes from.

Open City

I spent early Sunday morning at one of my favorite places in the city, aptly named Open City.  With outdoor eating areas, that fill up even on 100 degree days, and the unmistakably smell of fresh coffee, it beckons even from across the district.

Perhaps part of that calling came from the street performers, whose electric violin and bass rendition of Pachabel’s Canon greeted me before I emerged from the lengthy Woodley Park escalator.  I could hear the music almost to the front door of Open City, though the rhythmic sound of spoons stirring colorful mugs quickly drowned out other sounds.  Each cup of coffee comes with two animal crackers, and I added a Earl Gray muffin, which turned out to be not only delicious, but as flavorful as some of its more famous muffin-cousins.

This breakfast location provided the perfect counterpart to my morning reading, Who’s Your City, by Richard Florida, which explores the important of place within economics and as an individual choice. So far, D.C. has welcomed us with open doors.

Personalities in the District

Through work and weekend adventures, I’ve met some amazing people in the DC area.  Sharing their stories is a part of my job, but I also enjoy reading stories or profiles about unique individuals.  I’ve extensively studied this condensed form of biography, and I am happy to see it so successfully employed in a full-scale campaign called American Wonks.  Admittedly, I’m late to pick up on this one, but having just moved to DC and hearing the word Wonk for the first time, I had to question what it means.  What I found is a creative new  world and a brilliant way to capture not only the personalities of American University but of the city itself.

According to the campaign website, “Wonk is a simple, memorable, and uniquely Washington term with serious smarts behind it.”  It’s a made-up word – KNOW spelled backwards, and awkward enough to catch your attention.  That’s the point.  It starts a conversation, so the Wonks can tell the world who they are, what they do, and the impact they have.

Telling your story is a predominant theme for this past week, as I just finished reading Blowing My Cover, by Lindsey Moran.  The ex-CIA officer details her recruitment into the agency, beginning with her childhood dream.  She continues to grow up through her five years of service, beginning with an intense recruitment process, military-style training on The Farm, and assignment oversees.  Though she stresses how her family and friend connections disintegrate as she immerses herself in the work, these relationships make the story.  It is only when she immerses herself underwater that she sees what she wants out of life and that she wants out of the CIA.  The pages turn quickly thanks to her clear and clever writing style, but characteristic of the subject-matter, it seems that some parts of her life stay undercover, at least for now.


The Future of Farmstands

Coming from the mountains, I’m accustomed to to the paint-sprawled plywood signs that announce farm stands along the roadway.  The home-grown entrepreneurs strategically plant these at quarter-mile intervals to announce their products and produce.  However, it’s only in northern Virginia that I’ve see one declare, “Credit Cards Accepted.”

The Happiness Project

I just finished reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, which means that I’ve finished nothing.  To follow her advice in this beginner’s guide to living happier, though not necessarily better, I would need to progressively tackle nagging tasks, while adhering to those that I’ve completed before.  The result: I would probably spend more time thinking about how to be happy than actually doing things that make me happy.  Fortunately, reading non-fiction makes me happy right now, and I’ve had this book on my wishlist for some time.  Though I started it mid-year and got stuck for several days leading into the July chapter, contemplating whether I should take on the challenges month-by-month for the remainder of the year, this book is a good read at any time.  It’s not overwhelming philosophical, though Aristotle is in the subtitle, but even so, the vast range of ideas makes the journey to happiness a little longer than it needs to be.

The book chronicles Rubin’s year-long study into happiness, month-by-month, through a combination of goals and resolutions (according to her explanation differ in the ability to complete in a definitive amount of time or over time respectively).  She breaks down the lofty objectives, such as attitude, family, money, etc, into small, easy to accomplish tasks that have to do mostly with speaking differently and thinking differently.  In this discourse creates action/reality mindset, she is able to re-examine her thoughts about happiness, even though, admittedly, she was never unhappy to begin with.   The book  and corresponding blog center on self-improvement as a solution to unhappiness, with decent tips, personal successes, and an ambition to enjoy life as it happens.

Reading Maps

Now that we are living in a new place, I’ve become fascinated by maps: the GoogleMap that I rely on to find the nearest restaurant or the bus route to the National Mall, padmapper.com which plots apartment listings on a map to make searching by location more convenient, and the MetroMap that is undergoing a redesign that promises more graphic clarity and shorter stop names.  On a recent trip to Richmond, Va., I found another ingenius map created by Studio Savvy Design. This literal map of names uses 533 layers of typography, with shades to denote topography and streetscapes.

Axis Maps has developed typographic maps for other cities, including DC.  What a creative way to view the city!

Palisades Parade

Instead of fighting the crowds on the National Mall for the 4th of July, we strolled over to the Palisades Parade, an annual event organized by the citizens association.  The local boy scout troop led the march, followed by bagpipers, drum corps, brass bands, activists, and even a few horses, at the tail end.

The parade was an hour of family fun, complete with plenty of free candy, equivalent only to Halloween, and lots of colorful sights and sounds, specifically from the Bolivian dance groups.  The Different Drummers provided a medley of pop songs that drowned out the younger, quieter Middle C performers that followed close behind, but otherwise everyone had a voice, even if it was a subdued decorated car of a local politician.

One of the highlights of the morning was the brass band from the ACLU that belted out jazzy tunes from atop a large truck and swept up the crowd toward the hot dogs that awaited at the end of the route.  For photos from the event, visit http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/photos/galleries/28/palisades-parade-2011/1.

How Did You Get this Number

This second collection of essays by Sloane Crosley offers advice  about how to navigate early adulthood.  In the midst of travel stories, where she repeatedly loses her way due to a faulty sense of direction, Crosley settles into a way of life that is humorous and easy to relate to. We’ve all had the crazy roommate, the friend’s wedding that took us into the unknown (though not the literal wild of Alaska), and the family pets that pass through our lives on the same whim that they entered it.  Pick up this book when you are traveling or when you simply want to travel back through mundane memories with a comical lens.

When the Lights Go Out

Recent storms finally took out our power.  When the lights went out and the rain cleared, we ventured out into the bright dusk to find the source of the problem.  We discovered a fallen tree down the road and a stack of phone books on the front step.  Without the power outage and a reason to sit our on the porch, I would have never known that they still distributed these printed directories and deliver them just when you need them, at the exact moment that your Internet stops working.