Don’t destroy Hill community, build it up

Letter to the Editor of the Boulder Daily Camera

Sept. 28. 2018


Why does the relentless march of redevelopment take precedence over everything else? The little, shabbily-painted, well-loved shopping center at the corner of University and Broadway anchors something utterly priceless: functioning, active community. At the tables and countertops of the No Name Bar, Cosmo’s, and Big Daddy’s BBQ, regulars trade stories, mark the seasons of our lives, and experience something fewer Americans have the luck to experience: knowing our neighbors’ names.

This quality and depth of community takes years to build up, defines societal resilience and health, and is supposedly the be-all and end-all of development policy and planning. So why is this not seen as worth more than gold when debating “what to do about the Hill”? Replacing an accessible, fun, familiar community hub with hotels that serve a stream of out-of-town visitors is the equivalent of replacing an old-growth forest with a sterile tree farm. Why are we choosing transience, isolation, loneliness and more tax revenue over embedded joy?

As a resident who can walk to eat pizza, listen to stand-up comics, and drink fantastic cocktails at those businesses, its effacement would turn our neighborhood into a suburb, requiring drives to elusive last vestiges of “offline interaction” elsewhere. When we say that “redevelopment” of the Hill is important, we treat the invisible but priceless community there like a throwaway consumer product. That’s simply wrong. We should figure out how to build on the community that is already there, by augmenting it, making it more dazzling and more vibrant, with public art, better use of space, more pedestrian access.

We can certainly imagine what extra layers of coziness, meaning and beauty could be added to the current development, but cutting out what’s there is the wrong way to start. Good, thoughtful planning should build up community, not destroy it.

Hannah Miller



The Winter of Worst-Case Scenarios

Sometime last fall, a thunderstorm knocked over a massive old tulip tree and washed it into Wissahickon Creek almost whole. It traveled down the swollen river until it reached the waterfall where the river runs under Ridge Avenue. It got stuck on the lip of the waterfall for months, and transferees at the bus stop right next to it could watch as it slowly died.

Its weight and roots holding it precariously in place, the tree remained at the lip of the waterfall for most of the fall, winter, and into the spring. Torn from the ground and balanced in the center of a plunging river, this tree maintained the same timetable as its brothers on the bank as the seasons cycled: its leaves turned from green to orange to brown and then fell off at the exactly the same time. It can take years for a tree to die. Most of the time you don’t know it’s happening. Sometimes you do.

I decided to finally read The Limits to Growth after the election, after hearing too many references to it from my fiance and live-in apocalypst Mathew J. Davis.

Limits to Growth is an economics book with a premise I knew about but had chosen to not to read, thinking it too preposterous to be correct…or rather, its assumptions too cynical for the karmic crowdsourced Alinskyite mythology that keeps me going.

Limits to Growth is a 400-page piece of realllly bad news that spells out why all those dystopias you see in movies are a sure bet. The book documents the working out of the worst math problem of all time: determining how much longer our species has before we use up the resources required to continue on in industrial fashion: heavy metals, water, the components of concrete, precious metals like platinum. America’s fertile topsoil (now known as the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico).

The main considerations in the model include:

  • How many people are on the planet
  • How much of the materials are left, and how difficult it is to get them
  • How much each person uses
  • How much of the material is recycled

…at a global scale.

This is such a colossal modeling project, involving demographics, materials science, and thousands of feedback loops. I’ll spare you the details. It was thorough, and convincing, and was written in a detached tone that made you wonder what kind of sedatives the authors had to be taking.

The bad news is this: social change and technology can alter the length of time we have left, but they are merely delaying an inevitable population crash. Believing that either of these forces will be salvation defines our American foolhardiness. Even in the best case scenarios – if human beings evolve spiritually with record-breaking speed and develop miraculous levels of cooperation, enlightened decisionmaking, and self-sacrifice, the graphs mostly look like this:


You can read about how well their predictions, originally made in 1971, are holding up here.

The election in November made me many different types of angry, but the grittiest of those types of anger was the “what have you done?” variety.


In most movies ever set on a spaceship, there is usually a scene of two fools fighting each other with projectile weapons who nearly get everyone on board killed. Gone are the days when Americans can blame the people in power for screwing over our country. Americans elected this douchebag themselves. By direct vote.

They were the people who look at a panel of lights they don’t understand and, because they are mad that their 4,000-square-foot home and two SUVs have gotten them into debt, say “I DON’T KNOW WHAT THIS BUTTON DOES BUT I’M GONNA MAKE THOSE MEXICANS PAY!” and slap them all haphazardly.

Everything you do to others, you do to yourself.

My post-election anger and depression lingered around all winter, and I mostly just read books, collected a paycheck, looked at rowhomes, and begged Mat to stop telling me the news. On the spring time side of the year now, I can remember that human nature is not as callow as it seemed in January – all nations considered – and that it is our American culture that is sick. Culture can change almost instantly.

I emerged because spring showed and dragged me out of the door. I also work for an 85-year-old who is more productive than I am, whose fierce and relentless commitment to her own life and story shames me. If I were very old I would take comfort in knowing that I won’t be around to see how human beings respond to climate disruption. But I am 41 and wondering: what could Philadelphia teach the rest of America about survival, and even joy?

Who knows what this mood even means? I’ve never seen so many prepper Facebook posts in my life – but is that just a sign of the fact my cohort of friends have hit midlife? I remember reading Jane Jacobs’ brilliant last book when it came out – Dark Age Ahead, about the decay and collapse of our country’s cultural and civic pillars. It rang true, but I wondered how social science can be affected by the shadow thrown across our minds by our own mortality.  It is impossible now to separate the feeling of the Earth dying from the cellular processes inside of us. Children hardly know what to do now – they explode with rage or lapse back into any form of narcosis to which they have access.

I don’t have any answers. But I am going to go find some.

They could stop another Muslim ban: don’t forget the judges!

Tomorrow is Election Day, and as I have spent more time than the average bear with all the judge candidates, I offer my perspective. I’m always impressed and inspired by the judges that run for office in Philly. They are usually deeply committed public servants and it’s hard to say which ones are right for this time and place.

If there is any doubt that judges have the capacity to make positive change, then look at those who have fought the Trump travel ban on the federal level.
Here’s three I recommend, in case you haven’t had time to look into it:

Dan and his family have devoted their practice to healing families and getting women out of domestic abuse situations. He is one of the only judge candidates endorsed by Philadelphia NOW and I am proud to support and campaign for him. He was appointed by Gov. Wolf to his seat last year (this election is a retention election) and is also endorsed by Liberty City, AFSCME and all the other local heroes.

Mark B. Cohen for Court of Common Pleas – Usually you have to guess at the political leanings of judge candidates – not so with Mark. As a Democratic state rep., Mark had the commitment to social justice that we all wish the national Democratic party still had. His exhaustive Wikipedia page spells out everything he’s ever stood for, and it’s a laundry list of every fight against oppression: raising the minimum wage, protecting labor against GOP tactics, advancing civil rights, reforming the criminal justice system through drug law reform, and more. He was awarded a “Hero for the Environment” award from PennEnvironment for his 100 percent voting record.

ellenEllen Ceisler for Commonwealth Court – If you don’t know Ellen, you should. She is remarkable. She’s been on the municipal bench for ten years and is now the first woman to run for statewide Commonwealth court since the last century! There are a lot of reasons I recommend her, but here are two reason: for eight years, Ellen was director and deputy director of the Office of Integrity and Accountability at the Philadelphia Police Dept., a concern very much in the news. After that, she then served as the Director of the Special Investigations Unit of the Philadelphia City Controller’s Office where she initiated and oversaw investigations into municipal waste and fraud. Apparently, she doesn’t take easy jobs.
Here’s a nifty graphic about why Commonwealth Court is important – she’ll be up in November too in the general.

How is shoveling snow like supporting Krasner for D.A.?

Being a good neighbor is one of the most important things you can do in life. More than the practical activities of shoveling the sidewalk or keeping an eye on the street is the underlying commitment. You watch out for your neighbors and they watch out for you. If you feel that there is someone hurt or in trouble you do something about it, because what happens to one of us, happens to all of us.

Racial relations in this country feel so dismal right now because of the seeming breakdown of this commitment. Black children are being shot or thrown in prison on a daily basis, and faced with overwhelming evidence of this problem, many white people are looking the other way. Most of us are horrified but just have no idea what to do. Police culture seems incapable of transforming itself from within, and the Left is still rubbing its sore ass after the last election. Structures in our society keep us disempowered, segregated, and isolated from each other, and although social media has given us a thorough education about police brutality, it has also made us all millions of powerless bystanders, watching helplessly as men, women, and children are murdered for being black in the wrong place and at the wrong time. Many of us already know about the prison industrial complex and the devastation wrought on communities by the “war on drugs,” but this vast edifice seems immovable, cruel, and accountable to no one.

However, there is an opportunity right now for significant change and transformation in the district attorney’s race. Larry Krasner has pretty much put his life on the line to run for office as an unapologetically anti-fascist candidate for top cop. This happens unbelievably rarely (never before in Philadelphia) and his campaign has come at a time when people are desperate for the kind of leadership he has shown throughout his career.

Snow shoveling is excellent for your heart! (Brewerytown during the great blizzard of 2016)

His campaign has union support, 500 volunteers, thousands of small donors, and, surprisingly and fortunately, air support from billionaires who don’t want to see our country trend any more towards Nazism. I am supporting Krasner for DA because he is the only candidate who would upend an unbelievably corrupt criminal justice system built on profiteering and exploitation for profit. Justice makes us safer, as his campaign slogan goes, but what makes us really safe is trust. I support his campaign because I believe black lives matter, and I believe that they are not being treated as sacred. This is our chance to get off the sidelines.

There are so many candidates in the race that Krasner could conceivably win this campaign with as little as 17,000 votes, although I am sure they have a higher goal than that. If activists in this city can’t get 17,000 votes together to fight the prison industrial complex, then what the hell have we been doing all these years?

Just give one day next weekend, or take a day off next Monday or Tuesday and help out at the polls. Or phone bank! Or email your friends and remind them. Or tell someone under age 30 about what this race means, and make sure they know where to vote. 

All the hours and locations for volunteering for the next week are on Facebook here.

The phone banks are run out of 1221 Locust, and there are canvasses in the NW, South Philly, and West Philly (GO WEST PHILLY!!!) Please join the campaign. Your help is still needed, even a week out.

As important as skepticism is, we can never lose our ability to recognize authenticity and opportunity when we see it. The moment we lose that, we are done for. Krasner has never changed his stripes, in a long career of fighting for the powerless. I think Michael Coard said it best, in this very thoughtful and honest video:

“Larry believes in prosecution, not persecution. For the first time in my entire life, as a voter, I’m not voting for the lesser of two evils. I’m not voting and hoping that this guy will do the right thing…He’s going to do the right thing for everybody.”

350 Phila Face to Face with SEPTA and the gas industry

From the 350 Philadelphia blog, authored by Meenal Raval –

“Yesterday,  8 of us met with 12 people to discuss SEPTA’s gas power plant project at the Midvale Bus Depot. We expressed our frustration, that our concerns have been ignored for 6 months. We referr…

Source: Face to Face with SEPTA and the gas industry

Thank God: for once, Bill McKibben is wrong!

Let’s face it. The identity politics that was so glowing and triumphant when Obama got elected has, eight years later, gnarled into a political dynamic about as joyous as waterboarding.

This transmogrification (and the simultaneous rebirth of America’s long-lost class consciousness) has masked the fact that identity politics still exists because it’s still relevant. It’s not fun, or charming, and especially when it comes to gender, it leads to an inordinate amount of bitter, personal divisiveness.  Like most other women in this country (and around the world) I am as thrilled to be electing the first woman president as I am eager for this merciless election to be over.

But there’s something that happened this week that made me realize just how wonderful it is to be voting for Hillary Clinton for president. I’ve been a organizer in Colorado and I generally agree with everything Bill McKibben says – except for this week. This week, McKibben, who has to be a professional optimist despite overwhelming odds, said that electing Hillary Clinton isn’t going to do anything for the climate movement. This I have heard repeated by angry non-participants or frustrated Sanderistsas about a number of other policy areas – but they’re wrong. Clinton may not have much value as a corporate Democrat, but she has almost atomic value because she’s a woman.

Regardless of Clinton’s future performance as a policymaker, having a female President is going to be a seismic shift in consciousness for this country. The impact of having visible female leadership – the most visible leader in the world – for four or eight years is going to dramatically shift the ground under American politics (and society.)

More women will indeed run for office because of her, and more women will take leadership positions in their organizations, their lives, their companies. Clinton knows this, and has said often in interviews that she is running so that women who come after her can see what is possible. We all learn by example – that is the basic nature of human identity. The election of Clinton as president will lead to the empowerment of millions of women, some in the subtlest of ways, because of sheer symbolism.

And what could our world possibly need more than millions of empowered women? All the traits required to transform our brutal, mechanistic, and terminally-ill society – empathy, compassion, self-sacrifice, service, kindness, connectedness – are just those traits that women have for so long been told disqualify them from leadership. Whether Hillary Clinton herself exemplifies these traits does not matter – although it’s a miracle that she, a Democrat from suburban Chicago, got there before a Margaret Thatcher conservative. What matters is that more women will be leading – in the environmental movement, in education, in business, and elsewhere. That will change everything.

We have two weekends left to campaign in Philadelphia – please come knock on doors or make phone calls if you haven’t already.

You can sign up here:

For questions, please call organizer Zach Taylor at 404- 862-0200 or email let me know when you are coming so I will be there!

Here are the shifts:

Saturday, October 29th






Sunday, October 30th






Saturday, November 5th






Sunday, November 6th






Monday, November 7th






ELECTION DAY: Tuesday, November 8th








Your Co-Op Election: Vote for Sun and Wind

Op-Ed written for the Colorado Renewable Energy Society in the North Forty News, Wellington, Colorado:

If you are a Poudre Valley REA member, the last envelope you got wasn’t a bill. It was an opportunity to make history.

It was a ballot, allowing you to choose the elected leadership of the co-op.

In other words, the Board of Directors who will steer the course of PVREA toward a renewable future or keep on with business as usual – and higher rates.

More here.