Archive for the ‘Thanks’ Category

THE Unreasonable Man: Tim Wong

Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

A very dear friend recently died. For 25 years we were brothers in bikes, water & energy conservation, anti-consumerism and so much else involved in community building.  Below was my contribution to his Celebration of Life last weekend (this is the disco version; my talk was a much more condensed version). I hope to add further posts about all things Wong over the next few weeks. -MB

Tim was THE DEFINITION of The Unreasonable Man. As George Bernard Shaw said, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

Progress in Madison toward a better biking future, a more energy sustainable future, a more water efficient future happened in great measure because of Tim and his unreasonable ways.

And the thing is, people hated him for it. But the way some of us saw it, the more people hated him, the more we knew he was on the right track.

Circa 1980, this unreasonable headline blared across the top of the front page of one of his many underground newspapers (a succession of which, he was routinely booted off of, btw): “$5 a Gallon and a Pound of Sugar in Every Gas Tank!”

And the fight against the deathmobile was on. But it was, of course, on before that.

Not long after high school (ca 1860?!), Tim joined in the defense of a minority neighborhood in Washington DC. It was the beginning of Tim vs. the highwaymen. That fight never abated for the entirety of his life. The DC highway fight was moral combat against environmental racism even before there was a term for it. The middle class black neighborhood that was slated for the bulldozer fought back. Tim joined that fight. They won. That neighborhood is still healthy & happy. Compare to the fates of once-successful minority neighborhoods across the country that went under the bulldozers. From Chicago’s Bronzeville to vast swathes of St. Louis, now they are just husks of their former selves.

Tim was in the thick of the fight to unshackle Madison’s minority neighborhoods from their highway entombement. An early 90s example: The Williamsburg Way/Beltline underpass that would have eased highway segregation was fought by the racists on the one side of the highway. Tim was on the other. He was in the thick of the fight to build the underpass and thereby push the all-neighborhood connectivity forward. Another example: The Beltline overpass was denounced by the aristocrats over in the Dudgeon-Monroe neighborhood on the grounds that “those people” would sneak into their backyards and rape their daughters; their property values would crater. Tim pushed for the overpass and for all-neighborhood connectivity there too. It was built. Crime is still negligible in the surrounding neighborhoods. Property values have soared. Hmmm.

At no point could Tim be construed as a ‘leader’ in any given fight. That would be anathema to him. But he was always there. Providing spine, bombast, data crunching, analysis, and snark. Basically, he was the villager that needed to be destroyed in order for the highwaymen to keep “saving” our villages from traffic. Saving us always meant more traffic, of course.

And they did keep trying to destroy him. At one point, he was the chair of the city’s ped-bike subcommittee. The highwaymen & others tried every strategem possible to shut him down. But they just couldn’t. So they did the midwest nice thing, and did away with the committee altogether.

When he was on the Transit & Parking Commission, he used the city’s own data to show how awfully they were managing Madison Metro’s resources. This really pissed off the powers. Eventually Mayor Pave summarily threw him off of the commission for the crime of analyzing data.

I think the apotheosis of all things Tim came through our neighborhood’s plan, The Schenk-Atwood-Darbo-Worthington-Starkweather Plan of 2000. They made the “mistake” of making him an official appointee. A mistake because he just wouldn’t act at all like an official power broker (as all too often happens with people in appointed positions). It soon became apparent that Tim was not about to accept the boiler plate pro-car neighborhood plan that the Planners wanted to shove down our throats. But what made this the pinnacle of Tim’s power was not Tim’s POWER. He was more about just getting the ideas out there. Bombastically, YES. But he was about putting the onus on others to follow their own consciences to just do the right thing. Vote their own true consciences. The problem is, most people, once in power, even low level power like a little neighborhood committee, believe that it is their duty to submit to powers above them, to the detriment of ethics, morality, just doing the right thing. In most activist endeavors, victories are scarce. But it was different on this committee. It was made up of others who were dedicated to doing the right thing, powers be damned. And almost all could hear past Tim’s bombast and understand that what he was ultimately pushing for was really just a more civilized community and sustainable environment. Every traffic calming measure was a blow for civilization. Every bikeway, another push for the people. In militating against zoning and parking regulations that strangled our neighborhood business district, Tim and the whole committee made this neighborhood the cool place it is today. But the point was, it was the whole committee. That was where Tim was most comfortable: when ordinary citizens banded together as co-equals to push for the good & the just. If someone had made Tim King of the World, he wouldn’t have liked it. Remember his standard salutation: SLAY A LEADER!!!! If he were designated a leader, he would have just killed himself instead of being boss! The most natural order for a dedicated anarchist like Tim: A united front of co-equal citizens working in the trenches together.

Neighborhood was Tim’s laboratory for doing the right thing, for a more sustainable future, a more just future. He never had that liberal angst about other places being “denied” because of our efforts. His idea was that our neighborhood could serve as an exemplary beacon for doing the right thing. Indeed, once our neighborhood plan started making its way through the city committees, alders started asking the planners why their neighborhoods couldn’t have the same pro-community things. The green eyed monster worked for good! And here is what started happening: the zoning regulations that strangled cool neighborhood business districts started getting suspended. Our older hoods started to flourish (and how many of Tim’s beloved micro-brewpubs sprouted because of it?!!!). Eventually, thanks to the successful example of Tim’s collective efforts with his neighborhood, the entire zoning code was scrapped in favor of zoning that allows neighborhoods to look like our old hoods built before the dominance of the deathmobile. Mayor Pave & his powerful sycophants could never understand what was happening over here, but it was Tim and co-equal cohorts that got the ball rolling and transformed this city from a boring highway to the suburbs into the cool place it is now.

His life’s way was a) read everything there is to read about a subject, b) process it through a moral lense (is it good for lowering our pollution output? Is it good for community? Does it reduce the need for engineered bossiness (or any bossiness)? c) to get the truth out there, d) let people follow their own consciences once they have this information. No bossiness allowed. Bombast, yes, bossiness, no. The problem, of course, was that most people couldn’t hear the truth for the bombast. Some of us loved the bombast as much as the underlying truth. Because the bombast was just a wayfinding sign to the truth.

Tim is perhaps best known for his bike advocacy. But his activism went well beyond. In my google perusals I even found a comment Tim left for the Securities & Exchange Commission, excoriating them for some random de-regulation of the banksters. One of his more memorable fights for me is one that probably only 3 people know about: Water conservation policy.

As Dan Melton, former president of the Schenk-Atwood-Starkweather-Yahara Neighborhood Assn., said in an email around the time of Tim’s death:

Here’s a little “resume” Tim put together, in 2011 (sent at 1:50 AM–one of his favored times to send email).

Of all his many civic activities, one I’d like to call attention to — because not many got to see it — was Tim’s vital involvement in 2011 in the Madison Water Utility’s East Side Water Supply Citizen Advisory Panel (ESWS CAP). It was grueling work, important work — and, frankly, I wasn’t sure Tim was up to it. Boy, WAS he. Former City Engineer Larry Nelson was the eminence grise on the ESWS CAP. Larry knew everything–about everything. If you wanted to challenge Larry, you had to know your stuff–inside-out. Tim did. Tim was the ONLY citizen on the ESWS CAP who would directly challenge Larry. Tim didn’t just spout slogans, he KNEW his printouts. I’m not sure how he did it but Tim would go printout to printout with Larry. Tim made some important points to nudge the City Water Utility towards more conservation–and less willy-nilly well-building. Tim pushed Madison to come up with a water rate structure that would “punish property owners for over-watering their pesticide grass”–(‘their pesticide grass,’ a typical Tim flourish). Tim and Dan Moser (who know lives in NYC) worked hard with Larry to craft a Conservation Advisory statement. Tim suspected the ESWS CAP was “sort of window dressing more than anything” but he was willing to swallow his doubts, and put in the work, work that no one else was willing to do, to help nudge the Water Utility towards more conservation.

From bikes, to water, to people, He was the true Renaissance Man of Activism.

But as with those Renaissance greats of yore, Gallileo, Dante – jailed, run out of town– Tim pissed off just about everyone he came into contact with, most especially the powerful, the sycophants & suckups, the propriety obsessives, the moral peacocks. The snowflakes on every listserv he was on wanted him to drink hemlock. Listmarms were left clutching pearls at Tim’s every e-utterance. For those with a less pinched view of the world, we could listen past his bombast and actually hear the truth of what he was saying. Deathmobile? Well, yeah, it’s the #1 killer of all people ages 4-44. What else you gonna call it? Pesticide grass? Well, why else would suburban lawns look like astroturf?

Tim was very much the community’s moral compass. I will so very much miss him.

To close with another George Bernard Shaw, so channeling Tim:

“I hear you say “Why?” Always “Why?” You see things; and you say “Why?” But I dream things that never were; and I say “Why not?”

 

Difficult Persons

Sunday, July 10th, 2011

I love difficult people who fight insanely for the good. I recently wrote about Elizabeth Warren, apparently a very difficult regulatory official in Washington. I’ve also long admired Sheila Bair, FDIC head honcho, because, as Joe Nocera (my favorite finance writer) just wrote in today’s NYT Magazine,

It was now official: Sheila Bair was difficult.

Excellent article about a heroic woman. Shows just how much sycophancy there is amongst our “betters.” You know, the ones who brought on our latest economic catastrophe….Time to start throwing the bums out. All of them.

Meanwhile, we need more “difficult” people in this world…..

Victory for Black Earth Creek!

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

Black Earth Creek, an example of a restored trout stream par excellence, has been spared a massive assault. Western Dane County will stay a little more rural for a bit longer. Bicyclists, nature lovers, fisherman — indeed anyone who breathes — should be thankful to a hard working group of people who made this happen.

Stefi Harris and the Western Dane County Coalition for Smart Growth and Environment are to be commended for a fight well fought…and won!

Capital Area Regional Planning Commission members: Thank you. Thank you for your good judgment, and backbone.

Way to go gang!

Here’s the word from the Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources (apologies for losing the letter’s original formatting):

101 S. Webster St.

Box 7921

Madison, Wisconsin 53707-7921

Telephone 608-266-2621

FAX 608-267-3579

TTY Access via relay – 711

Jim Doyle, Governor

Matthew J. Frank, Secretary

November 23, 2009

Carl A. Sinderbrand

Axley Brynelson, LLP

P.O. Box 1767

Madison, WI 53703

Subject: Village of Mazomanie Request Regarding Amendment to Dane County Water Quality Plan

Dear Mr. Sinderbrand:

Your letter to Thomas Gilbert, Bureau of Watershed Management, dated August 21, 2009, has been referred to me. That letter, submitted on behalf of the Village of Mazomanie (Village), requests the Department of Natural Resources (Department) to review the June 11, 2009, decision of the Capital Area Regional Planning Commission (CARPC) to not approve an amendment to the Dane County areawide water quality management plan (plan). The Department declines to reconsider that decision.

There is no statutory or administrative rule procedure that directs the Department to review regional planning agency decisions to deny amendments to areawide water quality management plans. Section NR 121.07, Wis. Admin. Code, establishes the procedures for approval of plans and plan amendments for designated areas of the state (such as Dane County). Section NR 121.07(1) (a), Wis. Admin. Code, provides that the Department shall review and approve or disapprove each plan for designated areas. Section NR 121.07(3), Wis. Admin. Code, provides that the Department may approve a planning agency’s amendments to a plan for a designated area. There is no provision in s. NR 121.07, however, that directs the Department to review and approve or disapprove a planning agency’s decision to deny a proposed amendment to a plan for a designated area.

In addition to this lack of procedural direction, there is a significant practical reason for the Department not to reconsider denials of amendments in designated areas. Dane County is a designated area for areawide water quality management planning, under s. NR 121.06, Wis. Admin. Code. The Department contracts with CARPC to conduct water quality management planning work in Dane County. In my March 18, 2009 letter to Jeffrey Miller, chair of CARPC, I made it clear that,

“We strongly believe that CARPC plays a necessary and critical role in shaping the future of Dane County. We are relying on CARPC to provide land use and water quality resource information and analysis, and a strong direction for local planning efforts.”

Further, I went on to state that,

“In reconsidering the Mazomanie amendment request, the Commission should focus on water quality impacts as the primary basis for a decision, and should consider the guidance and direction in this letter.”

CARPC has taken the focus suggested in our letter and the Department defers to their judgement in this case. As stated, the Department has procedures to review plans and approved amendments to plans and does review those decisions by planning agencies for designated areas. By approving or disapproving plans and plan amendments previously approved by regional planning agencies, and by re-evaluating the approval status of plans at least every 5 years, the Department fulfills its responsibility to protect, maintain and improve the quality and management of the waters of the state in designated areas. Since denials of amendments to plans in designated areas do nothing to change plans previously approved by the Department, they would result in no change to water quality, such that the Department has little or no reason to reconsider them. In fact, to do so would take resources away from other priority work of the Department at a time when those resources are in very short supply.

The Department has not historically been involved in reviewing denials of amendments to plans, unless the planning agency has failed to provide a water quality basis for the denial. If CARPC or another regional planning agency denies an amendment without stating a clear water quality basis for its denial, the Department has requested that the regional planning agency reconsider its decision. The Department did so in this case, by letter to CARPC, dated March 18, 2009. Specifically, I noted,

“Pursuant to state statutes and administrative codes (chapter NR 121), decisions regarding amendments must be based on water quality impacts and the cost-effectiveness of sewerage systems.”

However, once the regional planning agency states a water quality basis for not approving an amendment to a plan (as CARPC has done in this case), as long as the decision is consistent with the approved plan and was done in accordance with approved planning procedures, including a sufficient public participation process, the Department will not reconsider that decision, for the reasons stated in this letter.

The Department encourages the Village to work with CARPC to address the water quality concerns raised by CARPC when it decided not to accept the proposed amendment to the plan.

Sincerely,

Todd Ambs, Administrator

Division of Water

cc:

Jeffrey Miller, Chair, CARPC

Kamran Mesbah, Deputy Director, CARPC

Scott Stokes, President; Village of Mazomanie

Sue Dietzen, Clerk; Village of Mazomanie

Ron Adler, Chair; Town of Mazomanie

Maria Van Cleve, Clerk; Town of Mazomanie

John St. Peter, Edgarton, St. Peter, Petak & Rosenfeldt

Timothy Fenner, Axley Brynelson

Andy Morton – WDNR – SCR

Tom Gilbert – WDNR – WT/3

Robin Nyffeler- LS/8

Judy Ohm-LS/8

Update: Robbie Webber informs me that there is another group which needs to be thanked for their hard work:

Just an FYI that there is another group working very hard on the CARPC
issues, and they worked extra hard on the Mazo decision, in
cooperation with Arnold and Steffi Harris.

Capital Region Advocacy Network for Environmental Sustainability
(CRANES) has been meeting twice a month for over a year – more or less
since the new RPC was formed – to build a network/alliance of
environmental groups and individuals that are willing to speak up to
preserve the environment in Dane County (and beyond, but we are
working on Dane County first.) Many of the names will be familiar to
you.

Here’s a blog from Brenda back in March about our efforts to fight the
Mazo plan. It includes a letter that was sent out by the group urging
people to show up at the original CARPC hearing.
http://brendakonkel.blogspot.com/2009/05/will-regional-planning-be-emasculated.html

Indeed! Many thanks for all that great work!

V-J Day: A Thanks

Friday, August 14th, 2009

The following is a letter I just wrote to a friend’s father who served in WW II. I just wish I had had the foresight to do the same for my own relatives while they were alive.

******************************

Dear Hugh,
Since today is the anniversary of V-J Day, I just wanted thank you for everything you did those many years ago.

Being an amateur student of history, I’ve tried to imagine what it might have been like in that place & time. But obviously, imagination is one thing, reality another. Reading about it can’t quite match a reality of having a kamikaze flying down upon you! But I do know that it was a herculean & heroic task you guys did back then. Again, I thank you.

I also wanted to send along some very heartfelt thanks that I got in my travels. While biking in Normandy back in the early 80s, almost everywhere I went I had folks just coming up to me and thanking *me* for the American efforts on D-Day & beyond. They were near tears in their gratitude, expressed with great struggle in their very rudimentary English (and you know how the French are about English being spoken on their soil!). These tended to be middle aged+ folks who had actually lived through it, but in a couple of instances when their kids were along, the point was as much a thanks as it was to impress upon their kids the importance of the Americans’ endeavor. (Keep in mind also that this was a time of pretty extreme anti-American sentiment in Europe given the whole Pershing Missile debate.) I meekly protested that it wasn’t me, but that I’d definitely pass the thanks on to those who were actually there.

In 2000 we took a trip to the Philippines and almost everywhere we went there was a similar outpouring of thanks. Even when we were hiking in the deep outback of jungles & rice paddies, we would have entire villages spontaneously pouring out to tell stories (again, in very broken English) of how bad it was under the Japanese; how they helped shelter the escaped GIs (they even re-named a village “Behind the Clouds,” permanently adopting the American code name for a hideout for escapees from the Japanese POW camps!); fought as guerrillas and; most importantly, how much they appreciated everything the Americans did. They knew that their efforts would have been for naught had it not been for your efforts. And mind you, we were hearing this some 55 years after the fact! The kids were there, assembled, listening, taking it in. These very poor folks, living in very simple grass huts, were keeping the memory of your efforts alive.

So I’m passing along the thanks from around the world, as well as from Madison, Wisconsin!

Yours,
Mike