The day the pig's feet died

Most of ya’ll know that one of the inspirations for this space is Jim Kunstler’s kick-ass blog. For those of you who don’t know, Jim wrote every planner's favorite book “The Geography of Nowhere” (even though he is not a planner). Over the course of the last several years, the thrust of his writing has shifted from land-use planning to peak oil to the impending implosion of the global financial system (and most global systems for that matter).  Each of those topics has at least a tangential connection to urban design, so I don’t begrudge his shifts. A few weeks ago, however, he wrote a couple of installments on health care and medication. I was bummed because I enjoy reading him, but have zero interest in that particular topic.

I was reminded of those posts last week when I had my own little visit to the doctor’s office. I feel great, I look great, and my blood pressure and heart rate are both “excellent”. However, my cholesterol was through the roof (as I suspected would be the case). Over the last several months I have neglected my workout regimen and bought/ate half of a delicious pig from our friends at Burns Best Farm. The sad fact is that I don’t eat well in the winter.  I’m lukewarm about the prospect of eating fruits and vegetables shipped in from halfway around the globe, and without local produce I tend to gravitate to proteins (meat and cheese) and carbs (bread and pasta). Had my labs been taken during the summer when the fruits and vegetables from the CSA were around, the numbers may have been different. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not defending my flawed approach, just explaining it. I have not actively worked on keeping my cholesterol down and I have no one to blame but myself.

He was born and raised locally,
we named him Al, and he was delicious.

I’ve been seeing my current doctor for a about a year. To be frank, this person is not my first choice.  However, she is in-network and the doctor I want to see has a waiting list (I’ve been waiting for more than a year). In any event, the doctor explained the cholesterol number then announced that she was putting me on Lipitor. There was no question of lifestyle, no discussion about changing my exercise routine, no mention of trying to get the number down by changing dietary habit. I respect my doctor, and I understand that she has spent a lot of time in school and in practice to develop her philosophy on treatment. However, aged 39, I’m not ready go on a statin and subject myself to headache, difficulty sleeping, flushing of the skin, muscle aches and tenderness, drowsiness/ weakness, dizziness, nausea and/or vomiting, abdominal cramping and/or pain, bloating and/or gas, diarrhea, constipation, and rash without at least making an effort to address the problem through means I can control.  Fuck. That. More importantly, I fully believe that the quality of one's life is more important than its duration.

So long duck liver pate in aspic.

The fact that I’m no longer bullet-proof is starting to sink in. Whereas, at one time it was no big deal to immediately jump into playing sports cold, I now have to warm up, warm down and get sore two days later. In my more athletic days, my dietary decisions were based on what allowed me perform on a day to day basis. Those decisions were not necessarily geared toward long-term health. I now find myself in a spot where I have to work and exert effort in order to be healthy. I suppose I could continue to live the same way, take a pill and deal with the side effects. Those side effects, however, would impact my quality of life far more than fixing the root problem- in this case exercising more and consuming the right things. From here on out, if I want to be healthy I will have to work on it.  In many respects, having a healthy city follows the same rules.

Goodbye Rolled Pig's Head, you will be missed.

Downtown didn’t just happen. The Miller Plaza district, the Riverfront, Coolidge Park, the Riverwalk, the Southside, The Aquarium and its Plaza; these places didn’t just spring up. These places are the result of years of work by hundreds of students, dozens of professionals, multiple public agencies, and thousand of citizens (not to mention the decades of work by previous generations in establishing the city). Unfortunately, our country has been conditioned to think like my doctor. We look for the pill with the full understanding that there are side effects, but with the mindset of dealing with them later (with another pill). We have quit trying to deal with the root issues of problems because it is hard work.

Beer and Cigars, I'm gonna miss....wait, who am I kidding.
Remember what I said about quality of life?

I thought about the parallels between my current problem and an ongoing issue for many cities. My doctor has diagnosed a problem (high cholesterol), and as treatment can choose to treat the symptom (with a pill) or work hard to attack the cause (changes in diet and exercise). A city identifies what they see is a problem (traffic congestion), and as treatment can choose to address the supply side (by adding lanes and facilities) or work hard to address the demand side (organize the city in a way that puts life’s daily tasks in closer proximity to one another). Taking the pill may lower my cholesterol, but it puts me at risk for a host of other maladies. Adding lanes may reduce traffic for an instant (not for long, however, due to induced and diverted traffic), but the side effects of that decision are debilitating. We are already unable to maintain the burden of our massive infrastructure, yet we build more. The more roads we build, the worse our quality of life is- we lose man hours stuck in a car, we lose potentially productive land, and we lose civic identity. Rebuilding our cities and reassessing our transportation philosophies will be hard work. Kunstler suggests that resource shortages will force this work upon us whether we want to undertake it or not. Whether forced or voluntary, hard work is the only thing that will make us healthy in the long term.

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