Richard Florida’s book The Rise of the Creative Class was the standard tome for economic and community revitalization for most of the past decade. In it Dr. Florida taught us that all we needed to do was focus on three “T’s” – technology, talent, and tolerance – to transform our communities into the equivalent of Silicon Valleys. Despite his simple recipe for creative success, few communities made the transformation that Dr. Florida envisioned.
Now, I am sad to report, Dr. Florida has concluded that we should just give up on community development. Instead of supporting communities, explains The American Prospect in an article aptly titled “The Ruse of the Creative Class,” we should start supporting people. His words from a May 2009 blog post: “People – not industries or even places – should be our biggest concern. We can best help those who are hardest-hit by the [economic] crisis, by providing a generous social safety [net], investing in their skills, and when necessary helping them become mobile and move where the opportunities are.”
Had we known back then how easy it was to (re)create West Virginia, we could have saved a lot of time and money by buying everyone suitcases and renting them Ryder trucks so they could move to more stylish bergs like Austin, Texas; Raleigh, North Carolina; and Boulder, Colorado.
Was Dr. Florida correct then or is he correct now? Stay tuned.
Death ends a life, but it does not end a relationship, which struggles on in the survivor’s mind toward some final resolution, some clear meaning which it perhaps never finds.
– Robert Anderson, I Never Sang for My Father
It’s been more than 20 years since I last uttered those lines from Robert Anderson’s play, which also appear in a slightly different form in Tuesdays with Morrie, but they came racing back to me today. I understand their meaning so much better now.
“I know House Speaker Earl Ray Tomblin is open-minded to looking at what is cost effective,” he said. [“]We need to look at where the money is needed most, everyday things for people to go to work. I don’t want to look at one thing.”
For eight long years, I watched Republicans exploit terrorism as a political issue. For their efforts, we got into a war with a country that did not present an imminent threat and that had no Al Qaeda terrorists (at least before we got there) or weapons of mass destruction. And for their efforts, we came to be viewed as a rogue nation throughout the rest of the civilized world as we discarded basic constitutional principles for “detainees” in facilities as diverse as Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and a notorious set of “secret” prisons scattered throughout the world.
Guess what? They’re back!!
After the attempted terrorism incident on Christmas Day, former Vice President Dick Cheney issued a statement criticizing President Obama for his failure to act dramatically in response to a Nigerian’s man’s effort to blow up an airliner landing in Detroit with explosive materials hidden in his underwear:
As I’ve watched the events of the last few days it is clear once again that President Obama is trying to pretend we are not at war. He seems to think if he has a low key response to an attempt to blow up an airliner and kill hundreds of people, we won’t be at war. He seems to think if he gives terrorists the rights of Americans, lets them lawyer up and reads them their Miranda rights, we won’t be at war. He seems to think if we bring the mastermind of 9/11 to New York, give him a lawyer and trial in civilian court, we won’t be at war.
Mr. Cheney has been joined by an array of conservative commentators criticizing the President.
Guess what? President Obama acted far more swiftly to the underwear bomber scare than President Bush reacted to the Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, eight years ago.
According to Politico,
Eight years ago, a terrorist bomber’s attempt to blow up a transatlantic airliner was thwarted by a group of passengers, an incident that revealed some gaping holes in airline security just a few months after the attacks of Sept. 11. But it was six days before President George W. Bush, then on vacation, made any public remarks about the so-called shoe bomber, Richard Reid, and there were virtually no complaints from the press or any opposition Democrats that his response was sluggish or inadequate.
It’s refreshing when legitimate news organizations do their homework and expose partisan propaganda for what it is.
Just then they came in sight of thirty or forty windmills that rise from that plain. And no sooner did Don Quixote see them than he said to his squire: “Fortune is guiding our affairs better than we ourselves could have wished. Do you see over yonder, friend Sancho, thirty or forty hulking giants? I intend to do battle with them and slay them. With their spoils we shall begin to be rich for this is a righteous war and the removal of so foul a brood from off the face of the earth is a service God will bless.
– Miquel de Cervantes, Don Quixote
In our search to create a carbon neutral world, we have begun to harness small, but not insignificant, amounts of wind energy. Until recently my knowledge of wind energy was limited to a vague notion that there were a lot of windmills (not true) and wooden shoes in Holland.
Today I know a lot more about wind energy. That knowledge makes me appreciate that making environmentally-correct decisions can be very complicated. Some of the issues:
- Not all places are equal in terms of their ability to produce wind energy. Only one region of West Virginia – the Potomac Highlands – is well suited for large-scale wind energy production.
- The best places for wind in West Virginia – the tops of large mountains – can be very hard to reach with 50+ ton wind turbines.
- Wind turbines can kill endangered species like Indiana bats.
- The noise created by wind turbines has been linked to negative health effects for nearby residents.
- Many people have concerns about the impact of wind turbines on viewscapes. Would you want to stay at a bed and breakfast in Greenbrier County with a large wind turbine in plain view? How about wind turbines in our “quasi-sacred” national forests and other public lands where, by the way, most of West Virginia’s harnessable wind energy can be found?
Unlike Don Quixote’s imaginary enemies, our environmental enemies – global warming, destroyed ecosystems, polluted streams – are quite real. But slaying these real enemies might prove just as difficult for us as slaying imaginary enemies was for Don Quixote.
Week after week this year, I have watch Inside Higher Ed‘s list of new stand-alone academic programs include environmental sustainability or some permutation thereof. According to the Washington Monthly’s College Guide blog (h/t), at least 100 such programs were established in 2009.
During the process of facilitating the development of West Virginia’s green jobs education and training plan, I had an opportunity to read some very rosy assessments of future green jobs needs. Those reports (e.g., O*NET) repeatedly emphasized that green jobs were primarily, but not exclusively, going to be found in existing occupations.
As a result of these assessments, the leading national report on green jobs education and training, titled Greener Pathways, had this to say: “More time should be spent embedding green skills training within current curricula, and less energy inventing new programs.” This admonition caused the West Virginia GREEN-UP Council to propose expending most new green education and training dollars on greening up existing programs and existing workers, not on starting a lot of new sustainability programs.
Is Greener Pathways right? I think so:
- To design a green building, you must have basic architectural skills.
- To build or renovate a building using green products, you must have building and construction trades skills.
- To install or retrofit an energy efficient HVAC system or maintain a wind turbine, you must have basic electro-mechanical skills.
- To ensure that a community’s water supply is environmentally safe, you must have basic chemistry and biological testing skills.
While I’m convinced that a green revolution is upon us, I worry that students pursuing these new sustainability degrees will not be able to find jobs upon graduation unless they also have other, more practical skills.
In my opinion, this push to create stand-alone environmental sustainability programs is another example of higher education being out of touch with real world needs, even as it tries to address those needs.