Thursday, April 19, 2012

Recreational Obstructionism and Urban Recreational Opportunities

Just Say No. To Everything All The Time Always.
Let me start by saying that relentlessly happy and positive people drive me crazy. Those people who, regardless of circumstance or surroundings are painfully cheery to the point of giving the people around them diabetes. That sort of positivity is an act, and in my limited experience it is usually masking some serious darkness. Those are the people who end up going completely bananas and living alone in a room full of old newspapers.

Worse are the perpetually negative. Recreational obstructionists. The "no" for the sake of "no" crowd. These people aren't saying "no" to things for any deep-seeded reasons. They object because they think objection is the starting point of debate.

I think it's a personality disorder, but it might just as well be a learned behavior. Either way, it's crazy-making.

The Learning Factory has a strong contingent of recreational obstructionists. Most of them are very well-meaning and they think they are doing their academic duty by opposing anything new, but in a system that is already an incredibly complicated labyrinth of redundant bureaucratic systems, adding meaningless and recreational obstructionism to any process just means nothing gets done. Ever.

And yes, I just wrote "redundant bureaucratic systems." I'm aware of the implications.

Here is a completely fictional* example of how this goes down. Remember, this is pure fiction**.

Learning Factory Instructional Drone (LFID) sees a need for a new program and does the leg work and research to set up the foundations of said program. This LFID brings this simple proposal to his or her colleagues, makes a simple but thoughtful presentation meant simply to inform his or her colleagues that this is happening, and plans to move on and, when it gets to the stage of implementation, bring it to the proper group for approval. Remember, this presentation is merely informational, and perhaps an invitation for others to get involved if they are interested.

Level One Response: We tried this in the 70s, and it didn't work. Have you talked to the retired guy who lives in Palm Desert now about this? You should. He probably has some interesting things to say.

Level Two Response: This sounds an awful lot like a plan I was hoping to put together in my own department, and if you do it, then I can't. So I think you should have invited all of us in on this conversation.

Level Three Response: This seems inequitable. If you get to spearhead this new thing, doesn't that privilege you over the rest of us? We should all be equal in every way all the time.

Level Four Response: There are far better ways to spend our time/money than this. What about the _________ students/programs?

And the Level Five Response is a very complicated passive-aggressive campaign against whatever said initiative may be. It starts with a small alliance forming in opposition. Then the existing bureaucracy is used to slow down any progress on the initiative. Meetings are held. Committees are formed. Committees dissolve. Academic years end, putting initiative on hold for the summer. In the fall key members of the opposition are on leave, so no meetings are held.

Meanwhile, the grant money that was available to start the initiative is no longer available. And nothing changes. Opposition wins without ever actually having to articulate an actual objection. It's genius, really. And now you know why I seldom try to do anything new and interesting at The Learning Factory any more. Not that you were wondering.

It is amazing how resistant to change we are at The Learning Factory, but I didn't start thinking of this in terms of my place of employment. It all started when I got into an argument with someone about the proposed NBA/NHL arena in Seattle.

Seattle is famously obstructionist when it comes to public policy and infrastructure. For a liberal town, we sure are afraid of change and progress. The proposed NBA/NHL arena, in case you haven't been following it, is the investment idea of hedge-fund gatrillionaire Chris Hansen. It is a $490 million project that would build an 18,000 seat arena south of Safeco Field in the Sodo district. Hansen already owns all of the land and has proposed to build the arena without any public money (necessary because of a weirdly entrenched and now legislated attitude of Seattle voters, more on this in a minute).

His plan asks for the county to use their bonding authority to borrow $200 million for construction, all of which would be paid back through gate taxes, concessions, and the like at the new arena. With a few exceptions and concerns (traffic and access to the Port of Seattle seems to be a hangup, an issue Hansen has agreed to use his money to study), it is pretty well agreed that as stadium and arena plans go, it is a deal you just aren't going to get very often. It fits the anti-tax attitude of "pay to play," and it creates a few jobs where before there would be none.

But in Seattle, the answer from the public is no. Irrationally, uncontrollably, and defiantly NO!

No to the monorail system because it might not serve my neighborhood and sometimes they break down.

No to light rail because no one will ride it and we need more freeways.

No to new freeways because they cost too much to build.

No to a tunnel because I want a different option.

No to anything the government wants to do. Put it to a public vote!

Just no! To everything. It's bloody maddening. I understand transparent process and I understand the need for things to be vetted and discussed, but we in Seattle have a strange attachment to direct democracy that is just plain unhealthy. Why do elect anyone in the first place?

And why are we so bent on looking for reasons to say no to things? How different would life here be if we just flipped it over a little bit and looked for reasons to say yes to things? We can still debate the issues and we can still ultimately say no to things that deserve to be turned down. Maybe a little positivity in the public discourse? Shit.

Urban Recreation and Cocktails. Civilized.
Back many moons ago I used to windsurf. A lot. And I used to snow ski just as much in the winter as I sailed in the spring and summer.

One of the great joys of that lifestyle was the Wednesday night races. Around 6 pm at Magnussen Park and Alki Beach we would get together, race around some buoys, have a beer or two (let's say for today's purposes that I was 21 years old for this. I wasn't. But let's say I was) and then go home when it got dark. I remember it being very civilized and communal. Generally a nice way to spend an evening.

In the winter, we would drive up to Alpental to race around the gates under the lights, have a beer or two in the lodge (see above disclaimer about my age) and be home by 10. Again, very civilized and fun.

This week I had that feeling again at the  Ravenna Weeknight Run put on by Northwest Trail Runs. About 100 or so runners got together for a 6:45 start and a friendly "race" through the trails of Ravenna Park. There were prizes, there was food, there was a very well organized race, there was comedy, and there was community. And afterward, RPD and I grabbed a nice cocktail and appetizer at Franks Oyster House in Ravenna.

This weeknight series is a great idea, and I hope they continue it. Sure, the longer weekend races at more exotic locations are a bigger "sell" but being able to decide at the last minute to leave the office and drive 15 minutes to the park for a nice run and some community is a nice addition to the local running scene. There are running groups and there are training runs and all that, but a race event is just different.

For the record, I finished the 12k race in 1:01:05, just missing perfect 20 minute splits. Now I have a goal for the next race.

Coming Soon: I reflect on traveling to Tulsa, Oklahoma. Can't wait, can you?

*It's totally true.

**Not at all fiction. This totally happens all the time.

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