Audacious Thinking

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Bike-Underpassby Rob White

Over the last few week, there has been a fair amount of dialogue about conservation lands, urban boundaries, and technology business parks. Though the Vanguard community has spent many electrons discussing these topics, I was intrigued by a comment made by one poster that we should think “audaciously.”

Though the poster was relatively explicit in what they had in mind from that word, I pondered what that means to me. And how does that apply to my work, my life and my personal goals. Do I want to be audacious? And if so, what does that mean?

A few days ago I met with an entrepreneur who wants to work with UCD undergraduate students to develop their ideas into businesses and help them find a mentoring network to create a better environment for success. As we were talking, he was describing how his father and mother had immigrated to the US back in the 1960s with only $7 but a drive to be in America, where all “dreams come true.” They set about working labor intensive jobs for several years while looking for more promising work.

His father was a degreed particle physicist, back when few people knew what particles really even were in the context of physics. But finding work in America took some time. Eventually, he was employed in the silicon wafer industry and had several innovations that led to better wafer densities and memory storage. As I was told, it also led to financial stability for this entrepreneur’s father and mother and the father then branched out into housing development and other interests.

What was really intriguing about the story was that towards the end of the father’s life, this entrepreneur asked his dad why he had been so successful… what had been the secret to make him accomplish so much? As it turns out, the father said simply, “I didn’t know I couldn’t.” in other words, he had audacious thinking.

This weekend, my wife decided to take up long distance running again. Now, you may ask, ‘who just takes up long distance running?’ My wife. She had been regularly doing half marathons for about 18 months up until March 17th of this year when she got a pinched sciatic nerve and was unable to run due to the pain. It healed and stopped really giving her problems this summer, but she wasn’t yet ready to go back to running until just a few days ago.

What helped her make up her mind to start running again was a conversation we had that ended with the thought from me that she could “just start again and see what happens.” So she went out and ran 7 miles the next day. And 7 ½ miles the next day. And her comment to me was something akin to “just do it”… she said, “I guess I can just run if I like.” This is pretty audacious thinking, but it led to the result she was hoping for, which is to start her running routine again.

My thought on how this applies to Davis is that there sometimes seem to be many roadblocks in our way and many obstacles that can seem unsurmountable. What is stopping us from being the leader in energy efficiency, waste reduction, and water conservation? Nothing. These don’t typically carry very significant costs for implementation (and are often free since much of the implementation is mindset), but we are not the recognized world leader for this area of sustainability. We could be. But that would be audacious thinking.

What about transportation mode share shifting a few more % points towards bikes and walking? Sure, we could use more bicycle infrastructure and sometimes walking is inconvenient due to weather, but shouldn’t we as the community of Davis be able to ‘think audacious’ and eek out a few more mode shifts? I mostly walk from city hall to much of the downtown and campus and rarely drive my car unless really necessary. But I constantly observe cars going just a few blocks from the neighborhood surrounding downtown and often wonder if that trip could be avoided.

But let’s really think audacious… what if we had a:

•·       Robust economy that was diverse and sustainable,

•·       Infrastructure that was well-maintained and routinely replaced when beyond it useful life,

•·       Community that felt engaged and informed, and

•·       City that we spoke only positively about, without apology or caveat.

What might that town look like? How would it achieve these and any other goals the community might consider invaluable? Where would be find the leadership and engagement to get these efforts completed?

I would really love for each of us to adopt an ‘audacious thinking’ mentality when assessing how we might each meet our individual, neighborhood, and city-wide goals. How do you individually help your neighbors and yourself make the community the place where people see ‘audacious thinking’ all around.

Thoughts or comments, and you can always reach me at rwhite@cityofdavis.org.
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13 thoughts on “Audacious Thinking”

  1. Phil Coleman

    “My thought on how this applies to Davis is that there sometimes seem to be many roadblocks in our way and many obstacles that can seem unsurmountable.”

    Embrace that thought and any and all great ideas are already doomed.

    Major accomplishments–or the absence of same–is simply due to mindset. When one examines a proposal with the primary thought of what could go wrong or what are the obstacles, nothing happens!

    But when the mindset is, “We’re going to do this, what needs to be done for this to happen,” the whole dynamic is altered. That’s what change agents do and have done. As for change agents in Davis, look hard, real hard. Local leadership, official and unofficial, is too fearful and overly intimidated with being criticized or challenged when that is really the spark for ultimate accomplishment.

    Alas, it’s the prevalence of social networks (this being just one relatively benign example)and the ability to anonymously and repeatedly attack any and all ideas, with NO personal accountability, that causes the stagnation we see today.

    It’s been said before, Davis has lost it mojo.

  2. medwoman

    Rob

    Thanks for the lovely story about the immigrant couple and your interpretation of “audacious thinking”.

    [quote]a drive to be in America, where all “dreams come true.”[/quote]

    [quote]I didn’t know I couldn’t.[/quote]

    I was especially struck by these two comments which can be seen as framing a particular way of looking at the world that is far more encompassing than that typical binary political polarization that seems to involve so much of our thinking today. I see this piece as an excellent opportunity to share our individual stories of what
    having our “dreams come true” means and what” audacious thinking or acts” may have advanced those dreams.
    So, in the interest of sharing perspectives, I will start with mine, and hope to hear others.

    When I was in my early twenties, I discovered that I was not cut out by temperament to be an academic. My “dream” probably at least partially based on my father’s death when I was nine, was to be a doctor. . My “dream” was to improve health, both that of my patients and that of the community. I was told multiple times that I would not “make it”. My degree was in the social sciences, I didn’t have any money, I suck at math, and worse still, I was a woman aspiring to a position that at the time was still held overwhelmingly by men. But I wasn’t convinced. I didn’t “know” in my heart that I couldn’t do it so I achieved that dream.

    Over the past 30 years as I saw my dream become a reality, it seems that the predominant meaning of “where all dreams come true” has centered around individual material success. Fancier cars, bigger houses, and generally speaking “more” of everything. Some years ago, a visiting Chinese scholar was quoted as having stated about Davis,”You are so fortunate, you live in a garden”. It has become a dream of mine to see Davis remain “a garden”. Does this mean no economic growth ? Of course not. Every garden needs maintenance, upgrades and continual work to keep it healthy.

    So my second audacious moment came when I thought about what I could do personally to advance my dream of Davis. What I discovered is that if I truly believe that we need to consume less as a society, the best place to start was with me. So I downsized long, long before I needed to. I moved out of my 2000 + square foot home located such that to get virtually anywhere required a trip by car to a 1000 + square foot home with a walkability index of > 85. I haven’t yet figured out how to get out of my car entirely since I work odd hours in Sacramento and Roseville but I compromised by getting a hybrid. A friend of mine recently asked me, with regard to “the American dream” ” when is enough, enough?”. When do we reach the point where we really do not need that extra “dollar” but can just enjoy what we have ? For me, quite literally, “less is more”, less focus on cars, possessions, and instantaneous gratification means a healthier community, more clean air, more open space, more chance that my children will be able to enjoy the same beauty in the world that I have been able to enjoy.

  3. Frankly

    Politics are politics and they are ubiquitous. You find them in your family, your workplace and your community. Only in your community are they formalized and professionalized (fortunately and unfortunately), but they are common nonetheless.

    Basically, anywhere there are at least two people forming and maintaining a relationship, their individual self interests will manifest some form of politicking.

    But the corporate world can provide us some best-practice ideas for dealing with politics with respect to decisions and accomplishments.

    And within the corporate world those processes are contained within the body of knowledge that is the art and science of project management.

    We can improve our methods of community governance by learning about and adopting many of the best-practice principles contained within the project management body of knowledge.

    And related to decisions processes there is one key principle that would seem to add tremendous value to our interest to be a progressive and successful community. That principle is to honor a rigorous vetting process in exchange for stakeholder commitment.

    With every decision there will be a percent of stakeholders unhappy they did not get their way. And those people can be a thorn in the side of the project going forward. Their agitation will only be exacerbated if they believe their voice and concerns have been marginalized or ignored.

    For these folks, a quick decision they passionately disagree with really feels to them like a form of rejection. And the human animal always responds very strongly to feelings of rejection. Possibly because the human animal child is so depended on adults to survive itself to adulthood, we seem hardwired to extreme emotional response when we feel like we have been rejected.

    There is a need for a form of an informal contract that the community needs to help enforce. That contract is one that says [quote]“We will rigorously vet each decision and listen to your concerns and incorporate them into our analysis and decision process, if you agree to support that process and honor our final decision.”[/quote]
    With respect to the decision to implement a permanent ag easement on the Mace 391 property – and hence eliminate it from any future consideration for economic development – we are faced with this potential to cause a percentage of the community to either feel like they have been rejected. Or else we could pause and help them feel heard by rigorously vetting all the pros/cons, costs/benefits, risks/opportunities and alternatives.

    I for one will agree to put on my big boy pants and support the decision of the council to lock the property into a permanent ag easement if we pause and sufficiently vet this decision.

    I have nothing against farming, but it is only one type of business. We should not be myopic seeing farming as some sacred icon… especially considering that the most likely alternative could be ag technology business. However, if farming is determined the best use of the Mace 391 property all things considered, so be it.

    But we need to think it through. If locking it up with an ag easement means we lose out on tremendous opportunity to solve many or most of our city budget problems, those brown waves of grain and future canning tomatoes will be very, very costly indeed.

  4. biddlin

    “Basically, anywhere there are at least two people forming and maintaining a relationship, their individual self interests will manifest some form of politicking. “
    How did Mrs. Frankly react to this proposal ?
    Biddlin ;>)/

  5. Davis Progressive

    “I for one will agree to put on my big boy pants and support the decision of the council to lock the property into a permanent ag easement if we pause and sufficiently vet this decision. “

    this is basically right. i think the call for discussion is both logical and reasonable and putting the other side on the defensive, explaining why they will not allow community discussion on the where and when elements is the way to go.

  6. Don Shor

    [quote]But let’s really think audacious… what if we had a:
    •· Robust economy that was diverse and sustainable,
    •· Infrastructure that was well-maintained and routinely replaced when beyond it useful life,
    •· Community that felt engaged and informed, and
    •· City that we spoke only positively about, without apology or caveat.[/quote]

    One thing I look at is how well a city has adapted to its environment, rather than the other way around, and how much care has been given to conservation and protection of the non-urban areas nearby.
    It would be difficult for me to speak positively about a city, located in the midst of some of the world’s best farmland, that grew out on top of that land without consideration as to how best to conserve it.
    If we were located in the midst of forest land, I would hope we would work to develop in a manner that conserves as much of that as possible.
    If we were in a riparian area, I would hope we would consider the impact our development would have on the water running by.
    If we were on the shores of Lake Tahoe, I would hope we would develop with care taken now that we have a better understanding of the impact of changing land uses on the clarity and quality of that water.
    Appropriate and careful land use is one of the things I value. Not the only thing, but I do place a high value on how well we protect our resources. UCDavis came into being as a farm school. Agriculture is our heritage in Yolo and eastern Solano Counties. It is what caused us to be here. We need to honor that heritage and protect what made it possible.
    If we pave over farmland and wildlife habitat in the name of increased revenues, I’d find I’d have to use a lot of caveats. “Great place to live. Too bad how much we had to destroy to make it what it is.”

  7. Frankly

    Well Don, you can make that case for every inch of developable land. You are just making a case to value undeveloped land over developed land. I wish it were that simple. It is not. There has to be balance. Since we humans have to rely on an economic ecosystem to survive, the health of that ecosystem needs to be given attention just as does any natural ecosystem. We are not all farmers. We are not all hunter-gatherers. We need the land to sustain us in ways that our current society functions.

    I agree that we need to be careful doing so. But measure O has already exceeded the number of projected acres to preserve. There is nothing really lacking with respect to open space preservation. The sky is not falling there and we are not on any slippery slope there. But the sky IS falling and we ARE ON a slipper slope with respect to our economic ecosystem. It needs attention… a lot of attention… because we have failed to give it adequate attention for decades. And that attention will require some land.

    So we need to look at the big picture of land demand and supply and get some balance with respect to open space preservation and fiscally-responsible economic development.

  8. Don Shor

    Of course. That is why I support development in some areas, and not in others. That is balance. What I don’t see is any balance from those who are pushing for more aggressive economic development. I’ve told you where I [u]would[/u] develop. Where would you [u]not[/u] develop?

  9. Matt Williams

    Don, for starters, in the graphic below I would not develop in any of the purple areas marked as Potential Incremental Easements. I would also not develop in any of the FEMA 100 Year Flood Zone areas indicated by the pebbled pattern. I would also not develop in any of the Road 27 / Road 29 Corridor areas marked at the top of the graphic by vertical lines.

    [IMG]http://i1104.photobucket.com/albums/h321/mwill47/ConservationBoundary-1_zps89f90176.jpg[/IMG]

  10. Matt Williams

    I’m sure Frankly will jump in and share his thoughts.

    Last night at the Sierra Club meeting we had a lively discussion of the process that has been followed over the past three years and what the alternatives might be between now and March 31st.

  11. Frankly

    I think Matt’s suggestions are reasonable. The goal should be to acquire the parcels one removed from the surrounding periphery of open space and make that our urban fringe.

    My general opinion is that we should preserve open space as per measure O without the use of permanent ag easements because they have the effect of destroying the future potential for smart growth decisions. Lacking the ability to develop a certain parcel can and will cause “stupid” growth from suboptimal alternatives.

    I have four very simple principles that drive my visions for Davis’s growth:

    1. [b]Balance[/b] – We have to balance our economic ecosystem AND strive to preserve land to protect our natural ecosystems. Both are equally important, and one has been largely ignored.

    2. [b]Open space is open space[/b] – I see farming as just one more type of business included in our economic ecosystem design/protection. Open space is open space – it is not just farmland. In fact, I would prefer we return more of our open space land to natural habitat or make it usable recreation land.

    3. [b]High density is over-rated and unnatural[/b] – The concern of sprawl is exploited as a fear factor without much thought. The term was coined as a descriptor for the type of “concrete jungle” suburban expansion the US experienced following the post Great War baby boom. But now we have SMART growth principles to follow. We also have the ability to demand the inclusion of open space within any new growth. The Cannery project, for example, includes a community farm buffer and a neighborhood park. In addition, it incorporates bike paths with open space easements.

    As we can see with the push to ban wood-burning fireplace, high density living includes the cost of a degradation of individual freedoms over complaints of neighbor impacts. Frankly, it is unnatural for people to live packed together so tightly. Density exacerbates unnecessary human conflict because we are not wired to be packed tightly together.

    Open space mitigates many problems that derive from high population density. Access to common open space is preferable, but for those that have earned the ability to afford it, they should have the ability to acquire a home with some land. As long as there is enough common accessible open space, there should be no reason to exclude the availability of private open space.

    Farmland is largely inaccessible open space. It is private property that can only be looked at from afar. Conversely and business park can be designed to include public-accessible open space.

    My preference would be neighborhoods with a mix of denser and more affordable housing AND single-family properties on reasonable-sized lots… all within a design that includes plenty of common accessible open space. This – along with other amenities including good transportation connections – are key in smart development principles.

    Smart growth is not sprawl. We can preserve open space AND allow reasonable growth and the end result will be an improved city.

    4. [b]Responsibility[/b] – We have regional, statewide and national responsibility as adults to be thinking about the lives of young people and doing what we can to improve their opportunities. Frankly, we should be ashamed of what we have done to destroy so many opportunities of young people. If we keep moving forward to preserve open space at the expense of a healthy economic ecosystem, we are essentially continuing to kick the can down the road for future generations to deal with the bigger fiscal mess. And if we lock up the land in ag easements, we have made it that much more difficult for future leaders to solve the fiscal problems we have caused.

    Open space is a highly valued amenity. We have to earn the right to enjoy it. Right now we are demanding it without having the true means to afford it. Business is the only net-positive revenue generator for a city. Business needs land. We have to allow some land to be used for business. But we can celebrate that we have accrued a lot of open space already. We are not on any slippery slope of sprawl.

  12. Bob S

    There are 5 places on the planet that have the deep soils, good climate and irrigation that occurs here in Yolo County and the Central Valley. They include the Mediterranean region (much of which has been destroyed, parts of South Africa, the Punjab in India, and parts of southeast Australia. The farm land here is unique in the world. It is with this perspective that we must evaluate its loss.

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