Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Leaf Blowers and Parking

I just spent the last five days in Ann Arbor, which is one of my favorites places to visit. There is something about the ambiance and cultural density in university towns that just makes them more happening places. Plus I have a lot of friends there.

Yesterday I had time for a long walk on a beautiful sunny day and headed into town from my digs at Sunward Cohousing, four miles west of downtown, catching the last of the fall color in the trees. In the hour it took me to get to the greatest concentration of used bookstores, I saw four people using gas-powered leaf blowers to push back Nature's organic residue from driveways and sidewalks—creating a canvas of unspoiled concrete that was bound to last for, maybe 15 minutes on a breezy day.

As it was a college-aged guy operating the machines in every case, I figure they were hired to do yard work and had been taking advantage of the nice weather. Because I was walking, I had plenty of time to contemplate what I was witnessing. Here's what occurred to me:

o The country is still in the economic doldrums—that is, in a condition during which it is especially prudent to think carefully about marginal spending.
o On top of this, Michigan is still in its own special economic hell due to the collapse of the US automotive industry.
o As a country, we are either at or near Peak Oil, the point at which the amount of oil (read gasoline) that is produced will steadily decline—when it is all the more important to think carefully about how to employ a dwindling resource.
o Ann Arbor is home to the University of Michigan—which is not only the largest university in the state, it's one of the most respected universities in the country, with a reputation for the quality of its education. It's reasonable to think that folks here might be ahead if the curve when it comes to forward thinking.

When I put this all together, I had trouble understanding why people were hiring someone to use gas-powered machines to blow leaves off of driveways and sidewalks.3 I can understand that jobs stimulate the economy, and that some people have more cents than sense, but really.

I also walked past a housing complex that proudly displayed this banner in big block letters:

Immediate Occupancy
15 Parking Spaces

You have to wonder about housing where the most salient feature is ample parking. You also have to wonder about how much this country is really getting it about the lifestyle changes needed to achieve any semblance of sustainable living when leaf blowers and parking are so prominently on display on a great day for a walk in Ann Arbor.

I think we have further to go. (And I recommend we not drive to get there.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Not sure about A2 but where my mother lives in MI city can fine you for not cleaning leaves of sidewalks or keeping property meeting some sort of standard- hard on old folks to pay $$ to keep up the ambiance.