Back up to Devil’s Lake

The spring finally arrived so we made it outside and back up to Devil’s Lake. We tried to go up there once around New Year’s – we got out of the car, walked around for a few minutes, and drove back home. The snowshoes we had hoped to borrow from the Nature Center were not available on Sunday and it was freezing. This weekend was different. Benton is getting much better at hiking on his own. He also enjoys going to some of the HUGE off-leash dog parks around here and following the dogs as they run through the ‘oak savannah.’ Above is a photo of him in almost the same spot where we caught a shot of him during a November visit to the state park. He runs now, his hair is much longer, he tells us when he wants to get down and walk. Keep hiking.

Beer Oriented Development

Cross-posted at Dirty South Beer Club

Twin Cities’ Surly Brewing recently won a plea to change a law that allow it to sell beer in its Brewery. Prior to the ruling makers of beer could give out glasses of beer for free during tours but could not sell and make beer in the same place. This prevented them from opening a restaurant or bar in the brewery. The Brewery’s owner, Omar Ansari, petitioned the state to change the law. It’s a law that is on the books in about half the states.

The ruling paved the way for more of Omar’s business ventures, including looking for a site to open a new brewery and restaurant. This week, it was announced that Surly bought a site in St. Paul. It moves them closer to the city(s) and allows them to create a “destination brewery” – making the site of beer production one that is more connected with other businesses and communities in the St. Paul area. Surly also choose a brownfield site that is eligible for grants to assist with environmental remediation. The site’s proximity to existing and planned neighborhoods and economic centers also makes it elegible for transit-oriented-development grants from the county. The national, state, and local laws that incentivize remediation of industrial locations, develop sites near transit, and encourage awesome local beer production (and drinking) came together to produce a great example of a new economic development model for cites. That model is based in beer.

The “destination brewery” that Surly hopes to create is perhaps the new ‘must-have’ storefront for thriving downtown revival. I love that they chose a site that is strategically placed to be transit-(and maybe bike)-friendly. Omar, says the craft beer business is booming in the Cities and hopefully they can create the type of bike and beer atmosphere that already exists in a couple of places (if it hasn’t already). In some cases, like in Portland and Asheville, the beer and bike culture has spurred more economic development in the city. The combination of biking and breweries is one that has caught the attention of more than one travel writer(Portland (again) and Madison (maybe). Asheville has even branded itself Beer City USA after winning a 2010 poll of craft beer aficionados. So, generally I love this move by Surly and the city and state. The only question I have is how long is it gonna take until the brewery realizes this obvious corporate partnership?

Tiny Libraries

Regular readers who have been with me since long, long ago may remember a discussion while in Bogotà about their mobile and distributed libraries. I am happy to report that I have found something similar in Madison. Here, The Little Free Library is everywhere: at the park, the grocery store, in tons of front yards. Books rotate in and out, you take what you’re interested in an leave your old books if you wanna pass them on to others.

I love this idea and I think it is a great indicator for neighborhoods. The presence of the library is itself a great sign. It signals individuals striving to create community in some small form. The books inside give you an idea of some of the interests of folks in the neighborhood. For the libraries in folks’ front yards I always assume they are filled with books from the homeowners and I am getting a view into their personal paths. People also customize their libraries: some have dual French doors, others are miniature versions of the house they stand in front of with matching trim colors, others are collective efforts of the community members adding accouterment over time. I guess they could be magnets for spray paint and/or other outlets for teenage boredom. Here is a piece on them from the Wisconsin Magazine.

Yesterday I walked by one in someone’s front yard a noticed the Complete Guide to Homeschooling. I let it be, but I am thinking of picking up the Gaylord Nelson Biography from the one at Wingra Park. I’ll see if I can get through it before Earth Day next week.


It has been a long time since I last posted. I have been spending more time tweeting and on Instagram, but a lot has happened since then. We elected a President, Birthdays March Madness (tear.), winter, and I finished my PhD. Just before the election I attended a conference in Cincinnati – where both candidates also found themselves that same weekend – and I headed directly to Atlanta and defended my dissertation on Monday Nov. 5th. I am happy to say that I passed and had one night to celebrate with some of my friends in Atlanta.

The title of the dissertation is Planning For The New Urban Climate: Interactions Of Local Environmental Planning And Regional Extreme Heat. It can be found here for those interested.

Since the defense I have been continuing to discover my role and develop ideas at Wisconsin as part of the Nelson Environmental Institute’s Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment.

NIMBY – Madsion

We heard a lot about Madison before we moved here. Everyone we talked to loved the place. We haven’t met anyone who didn’t enjoy their time here, but we knew that sit was a bit of an island. A haven for protest and liberal energy in a state that is not severely conservative but elected Scott Walker, saw him restrict collective bargaining rights, then recalled him, and elected him again.

Our first real encounter with the vocal Madison public was around a proposal to put lights along a bike path. The bike path is known as the Southwest Commuter Path and runs between the SW neighborhoods (and towns further outside Madison) and campus and the Isthmus where it links up with other paths. The controversy arose between the neighbors living along the path and the path users. Several neighbors came out against the lights; worried about habitat (owl) disruption, night sky light contamination, and other reasons. Some even said crime might go up if criminals, now able to see the people they intend to attack, could wait to strategically attack those they think are weak. Supporters of the lights cited equality among transportation modes as a rationale for the project. The public works department revised the design of the project and even the lights themselves several times to alleviate concerns. They worked with the LED manufacturers to produce a different warmth of light at eye level. The final design is a bike path light unlike any other out there.

Some Coverage:

The Isthmus

City of Madison

The Cap Times

Madison Commons

I went to one of the several public hearings about the issue and took some notes. Some of the best comments came from an Alder in a nearby town, Fitchburg. He pointed out that the people you see on the path now are only the people comfortable using it as it is, so the claim that plenty of people use a dark path is misleading. He also noted that the more cyclists the path attracts, the less traffic will be on the roads and so benefits of the path extend to the general populous and not only those on the bikes.

The appeal of a town the recognizes non-motorized transport and legitimizes it with infrastructure spending was something that several young professionals mentioned explicitly. They noted that it was a factor in choosing to move to Madison. They said things like: “Make cities for people” and “We must begin to shift our transportation paradigm and legitimize all modes”

I kept thinking that many of the arguments against the lights based on safety were dismissive of the subjective nature of safety. People requested data on crime stats to ‘prove’ that safety was an issue, and conversely others in favor of the lights told their personal stories about not wanting to ride in the dark. Is fear of the dark measurable? I would say mine is about a 39.7.

One of the oddest comments came from a woman opposing the lights: “If I wanted it to be all lit up, I would have bought a house in the suburbs”. This seems paradoxical to me, isn’t the bucolic character of suburban living (‘away from the bright lights of the big city’) part of the appeal.

One of the most compelling arguments relates to whether or not this is the type of project that the city should be spending money on right now. There are certainly other needs for this money, but this is not really the issue that the city was discussing. That decision had already been made and and the money had been set aside. The electrical infrastructure for the lights had also been installed earlier when the path was first constructed. In the end, the final light design was approved by the city council and it will proceed.

Palm Oil

On a recent trip to the supermarket we encountered a band of small girls selling what appeared to be harmless baked (?) goods – cookies – as part of a fundraiser for their organization called The Girl Scouts of America. Now, I have bought Girl Scout Cookies before and I will buy them again (Thin Mints are my drug of choice), but this time was different.

After the transaction one of the girls handed me a slip a paper with some information on it about the cookies I had just purchased. The paper, shown above, had additional information about the ingredients of the cookies and the farming practices used to grow those ingredients. It was odd to receive information from the seller of a product, speaking ill of the product, right after you purchased said product. First, I appreciate the full disclosure and due diligence on the part of the Girl Scout’s but to say this didn’t catch me off guard would be a lie. I’m used to finding out about the reasons I might want to steer away from some products through alternative sources; the newspaper, a blog, not the seller themselves. Second the info sheet doesn’t point out all the things the GS have changed to correct the hard this fundraising activity might be causing in other parts of the world, rather it simply states what’s wrong with the cookies I just bought. What’s more it throws the blame right onto me – “What’s YOUR connection to rainforest destruction?”

I looked into into a bit more. The campaign was started by a few Girl Scouts from a troop in Michigan. (one of them was named Madison) The leading producer of palm oil is Indonesia. MOst of the crop’s expansion in the last 20 years (in Indonesia) has happened on the island of Borneo. This island is home to the orangutan and this is a primary reason that the animal has become synonymous with rain forest destruction by palm oil plantations.more here.

Big Wins

Some say marriage is all about compromise, but certainly some battles are bigger than others. When moving into a new home there are all kinds of tensions and decisions to be made. These can be made together as a team or unilaterally, preferably by the one between you who is the font of knowledge on the particular topic. Sometimes I see fit to proclaim myself resident expert on one thing or another.

When we were moving into this home in Madison, I KNEW the exact right spot for the cutting boards. It was perfect and upon seeing the location for the first time I instantly thought – “cutting boards”. As if every person, for all time, when seeing the shape and placement of this small nook would arrive at the same conclusion. Even without prior knowledge of what a cutting board was, or that it existed, one would see this void and react with the invention of a board, on which to cut things, as the object that should occupy this place. The context of the room (a kitchen) and the microenvironment of what I will call the cutting board nest imposed itself on the psyche of all those who gazed upon it. Lauren protested, but I remained steadfast to my intuition and the will of the cutting board nest. To this day the boards reside in that perfect spot. Little victories be damned, you gotta go big or go home in this marriage game.

Postscript: Our marriage has what I consider to be a pretty balanced yin and yang with respect to these compromises. I may have cashed in all my karmatic credits on this cutting board thing and hope it doesn’t cause me to come up short in the next family planning discussion.