Friday, October 14, 2011

Imagine Better -- Writer's Poke #327

According to a article, by the year 2030, 5 billion of the world’s 8 billion people will live in cities, but it isn’t the urban lifestyle that most of us might imagine in the United States. Rather, 2 billion people will be living in slums.

I don’t think any of us can really imagine what it is like to live in a slum. Can you imagine, for example, what it is like for 600,000 slum dwellers in Mumbai, India, to live in one square mile? For sake of comparison, consider the geographic size of Rochester, Minnesota. Rochester has just over 100,000 people in its geographic boundaries, but how big is Rochester from north to south and east to west. From Target South to 55th Street is at least five miles, and from U.S. 52 on the west side to RCTC on the east side is at least 5 miles. So, the greater Rochester area is at least 25 square miles. For Rochester to have the same population density as the Mumbai slum, it would need to have a population of 15 million!

Imagine what Rochester would be like with 15 million people living in its current borders.

And this is how a great majority of people live. In Nigeria, for example, over 40 million people live in slums – that’s 80% of Nigeria’s urban population. And in India, over 56% of the total population lives in slums – that’s 160 million people.

Some futurists suggest that the slum is the future. Think about the rise of the megacity. Are people really meant to live in cities with populations of 20+ million inhabitants? Think of the basic human needs that must be met – trash pickup, clean water, etc.

People have an amazing ability to adapt to inhuman conditions. But why should they have to? My daughter is at the age where she makes wishes, and although she cannot possibly know what she’s wishing for, it’s heartening, nevertheless, to hear her wish for a cleaner planet with people that live in peace and harmony. I’m not sure where she’s picked up these ideas, but I think more of us need to redevelop the imagination of a 4 year old. We need to rediscover our innocence, and more than anything else, we need to rejuvenate our humanity.

Billions of people are surviving in conditions that we cannot imagine, and until we take the time to recover our imaginations, they will continue to do so. But once we recover our imaginations, we will be able to do more than imagine a better future. We will be able to create it. Not just for ourselves, but for all of humanity.

Imagine a better world. How do we move from imagination to reality?

“I am better able to imagine hell than heaven; it is my inheritance I suppose.” – Elinor Wylie

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” – Michelangelo

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

America's Boiling Pot -- Writer's Poke #326

According to popular legend, if you try to place a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will immediately leap out. If, on the other hand, you place that same frog in a pot of lukewarm water and increase the temperature to the boiling point ever-so-slowly, it will remain in its bath until cooked.

For some reason, the lesson of the frog came into my mind when I was thinking about the American melting pot metaphor. Traditionally, the melting pot has been seen as a positive image, but over the past 30 years or so, more and more people have pondered just how positive having previous cultural identities melted down into one truly is.

Do we really want the same strip-mall culture from sea to shining sea? When I was in Denver over the weekend, I was able to make a Target run, and the Target was set-up exactly like my local Target. When we ate at Cracker Barrel, it had the same “local store” and the same menu as any Cracker Barrel anywhere. Granted, strip-malls and branding isn’t what people usually are referring to when they mention “melting pot,” but it bothers me that it is now possible to go virtually anywhere in the United States and, at least to a large extent, never feel as though you’ve left home.

A sense of home is vitally important. I get that. But when we allow ourselves the opportunity to expand our comfort zones, we give ourselves chances to learn and grow. In other words, we probably should be concerned that different ethnic “niches” and “enclaves” are developing in our country, but instead of always assuming that others should elect to be “more like us,” what would be run with flipping the question around? Why can’t we encourage all peoples to hold on to what is most valuable about their cultures and identities? Would that really be so “un-American”?

What should the future America look like?

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” – Abraham Lincoln