Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Nick Etheredge (@Nick_Etheredge) is a new contributor to Hug The Rhino who writes about better living in cities, urban living, and how all of that relates to sustainability and social justice. Nick is an ex-Mechanical Engineer who realized he had a passion for cities and urban design . Live in or near a big city? You’ll love his articles.

I spend a lot of time thinking about cities. I think about the way they look and feel, the ways in which we move through them, how they add or subtract from the common good. I don't know why cities fascinate me so much. But I do know why they are important to us as humans, and to the planet we inhabit. There is much at stake in the way that we inhabit the landscape, including economic prosperity, social and economic equality, physical health and environmental sustainability. For a long time, we got this right - we inhabited the landscape in a more natural pattern conducive to dealing with the issues above. Then, for a short period we went the wrong way (and we did so in our cars). Now, we are experiencing a national and international self-correction back toward better habitation.

A brief history of the evolution of cities

The modern city as we know it is a relatively recent phenomenon, dating back to the Industrial Revolution. However, the essence of what a city is has been around for thousands of years (here is a 4-minute synopsis of the evolution of cities). In the most basic sense, a city is a place where economic, social and cultural exchange takes place. It is the place where humans interact and connect on a daily basis to perform tasks. We grab a coffee and a bagel at the cafe before work. We meet a client for lunch. We get groceries on the way home, or grab drinks with a friend before catching a show. And ideally, we don't get in a car for any of it. This is why the city is often referred to as the organic response to the daily needs of humans. The most powerful feature of cities is that they mix uses - that is, they mix together activities in a central, compact and dense manner. Today, we think of mixing uses as clustering where we live, work, eat and recreate in close proximity to each other.

There is a singular tenet that is at the heart of the mixed-use, compact living pattern described above: walkability. Because more advanced transportation options did not exist hundreds and thousands of years ago, every task that needed to be accomplished had to be within walking distance of one's home. This led to a natural densification of communities; it wasn't practical for a city to take up a lot of space because it simply would have made it more difficult to walk between destinations.

Everything changed with the advent of the automobile and its partner-in-crime, suburbia. In 1908 Henry Ford's mass-produced Model T became the first affordable car accessible to the masses. The American love affair with the car began. With the advent of auto travel came the desire to spread out. And continue spreading. All of a sudden, we had a new living pattern, which peak-oiler and urban theorist James Howard Kunstler terms "entropy made visible." As more and more Americans were driving further and further, the need for a more robust road system arose. The federal government under President Dwight D. Eisenhower was more than happy to oblige, creating the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 and with it the dendritic, omnipresent freeway system we know today. This had terrible consequences. Especially one we know too well: sprawl.

The birth of suburbia and the American Dream

Though the federal government subsidized and incentivized driving and suburban home ownership (and still does), Americans didn't need much of a push. Industrial cities were not pleasant places; they were dirty, crime- and poverty-ridden, and certainly not suitable for human life. As such, with our cheap cars, cheap roads and cheap gas, coupled with the National Housing Act providing affordable mortgages to a ballooning middle class, Americans escaped the city and the country witnessed the birth of suburbia and the death of cities.

The American Dream soon became intertwined with suburban living; the detached home you owned in the country with the white picket fence enclosing a little front yard (read: nature), the car in the driveway that you drove to work and back, to the store and back...It was and is a very quaint notion, evoking a sort of 1950's Americana purity. The reality, however, is that this new living pattern has had very ugly environmental, economic, social and physical health consequences. In a later post I will delve into each of these factors and how they have been compromised by our unsustainable habitation.

For now, I will simply convey what the central tenets of suburbia are and how each tenet is at odds with urban living.

First Tenet of Suburbia: Separation of uses

This is perhaps the defining characteristic of suburban living. Separating one activity from another started with an innocent Supreme Court decision in 1926 to allow the town of Euclid, Ohio to zone its land according to activity so that its residents didn't have to live amongst the carbon-spewing factories. This decision had good intentions - people ought to have clean air where they live - but the precedent was set. Soon cities and municipalities all across the U.S. were adopting similar zoning codes, splitting their towns and cities into component parts. It was officially illegal to build mixed-use development; homes would be separate from work places, which would be separate from retail establishments and restaurants. These places would no longer be within walking distance so you would drive between destinations. Unless your destination was downtown, public transit would doubtful be an option as the country was getting too spread out to make transit feasible (and the majority of tax money went to new highways, not transit). As such, over time the country's landscape became auto-centric, which is the antithesis of walkable, mixed-use urban living.

Second Tenet of Suburbia:  Low densities

Cities emerged from the outset as very dense places; they had to be in order to be walkable. With the advent of the car, that relationship between human and city disintegrated. If you have a vehicle that can move much quicker than you can walk for much longer distances than you can walk, you will naturally travel further distances. This is exactly what happened. The population had a desire to escape urban life, stretch its legs in the vast expanses of the countryside and "commune with nature." And, being Americans, we prized our independence dearly, which we expressed through our privatized homes and neighborhoods. These two factors led to the sprawling across the landscape at very low densities. With so much land, it only made sense to give each person a lot of it and keep his lot far away from his neighbor's. This afforded us privacy, but like the first tenet had damning, unforeseen consequences.

Third Tenet of Suburbia: Car-dependence

It is the vehicle (no pun intended) that makes suburban sprawl possible. With walkable communities all but outlawed and low-density lifestyles putting each destination far away from every other destination, the only way the system can operate is to be reliant on the automobile. Until we remade out our cities with freeways, there simply wasn't room for cars. The streets were too narrow, land was used for buildings and not parking lots and movement throughout a city was done on foot or by streetcar. But car-reliance is at the very core of suburban existence. The government gave us the roads and freeways and every possible incentive to fill them up. This represents perhaps the most insidious consequence of sprawl. It destroyed our ability to inhabit the landscape in a healthy, sustainable way by forcing us into cars for every conceivable task in our day-to-day lives. And as soon as we fill up the roads and highways that take us to our big homes far away, we are forced to build even more roads and highways to take us to big homes even further away. Unlike the towns, cities and regions of previous times which developed organically at the human-scale, modern day suburbia was an artificial creation that encouraged (and mandated) car-use.

The rebirth of cities

There is a silver lining in this discussion, and that is that we are in the midst of a system-wide self-correction. As you are likely aware, the population is showing renewed interest in urban living. Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) is actually declining, as is car ownership, and suburban and exurban home prices are recovering slower than urban home prices.  These changes can be viewed through a number of different lenses: demographic shifts that have produced large Millenial and Baby Boomer generations, rising gas prices, societal changes in how we prefer to live and engage with the world. Ultimately, though, I think we are simply witnessing a system that is self-correcting. For hundreds of years we inhabited the landscape in a way that was a natural response to our needs. This created an equilibrium with the environment. That equilibrium was destroyed with the advent of the automobile and its sprawl-inducing effects. However, I believe we are beginning to understand that the artificial system (sprawl) was and is unsustainable. That is why we are seeing a shift back toward city-living. It represents a sustainable, equitable way of life in which we are better stewards of the land on which we live, as well as healthier human beings. In other words, it's better living.

Nick Etheredge
Twitter: @Nick_Etheredge

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Friday, June 27, 2014

How can I find more meaning in my life? 
How can I have a greater impact on the world?
How can I be happier?

In this article we've collected our favorite quotes and stories to attempt to answer those questions. These aren't bumper sticker quotes that sparkle and then wear off after a few days. These are banks of wisdom that endure over decades precisely because they are applicable to friendships, relationships, career choices, and many other pieces that determine the quality of our lives. These are quotes that apply every day for a lifetime. 

Every quote is linked to more information about the corresponding book. Given the feud between Amazon and Stephen Colbert/other writers, we changed the usual Amazon linking habit and instead directed them to Powell's Books of Portland's website. 

For a better life, Hug the Rhino.

1. How can I find more meaning in my life?


“So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things that they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”

Mitch Albom, Tuesdays With Morrie

"I am only so beautiful as the character of my relationships, only so rich as I enrich those around me, only so alive as I enliven those I greet  ... We are inseparable from all other beings in the universe”

Derrick Jensen - A Language Older than Words


"It doesn't interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart's longing.

It doesn't interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn't interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments."

Oriah Mountain Dreamer - The Invitation

"There is a language older by far and deeper than words. It is the language of bodies, of body on body, wind on snow, rain on trees, wave on stone. It is the language of dream, gesture, symbol, memory. We have forgotten this language. We do not even remember that it exists."

Derrick Jensen - A Language Older than Words

2. How can I have a greater impact on the world?


“The typical cage for egg-laying hens allows each sixty-seven square inches of floor space — somewhere between the size of this page and a sheet of printer paper. Such cages are stacked between three and nine tiers high … in windowless sheds.

Step your mind into a crowded elevator, an elevator so crowded you cannot turn around without bumping into (and aggravating) your neighbor. The elevator is so crowded you are often held aloft.

This is a kind of blessing, as the slanted floor is made of wire, which cuts into your feet.

After some time, those in the elevator will lose their ability to work in the interest of the group. Some will become violent; others will go mad. A few, deprived of food and hope, will become cannibalistic.

There is no respite, no relief. No elevator repairman is coming. The doors will open once, at the end of your life, for your journey to the only place worse (see: processing ).”

Jonathan Safran Foer -  Eating Animals

"She shook my hand, loosely, like Indians do, using only her fingers. Not like those tight grips the white people use to prove something. She touched my hand like she was glad to see me, not like she wanted to break bones."

Sherman Alexei - The Lone Ranger and Tanto Fistfight in Heaven


“Chuang-tse was sitting on the banks of the P'ue river when he was approached by two representatives of the Prince of Ch'u. They offered him a position at court. Chuang-tse looked at the water, ignoring the question. Finally he spoke, “I am told that the Prince has a sacred tortoise, over two thousand years old, which is kept in a box, wrapped in silk and brocade.” “ That is true,” the officials replied.” Chuang-tse continued: “If the tortoise had been given a choice, which do you think he would have liked better – to have been alive in the mud, or dead in the palace?” “To have been alive in the mud, of course,” the men answered. “I too prefer the mud” said Chuang-tse. “Good-bye”.

Benjamin Hoff - The Tao of Pooh

An Inuit elder ... “The family took away all of his weapons and all his tools, hoping that would force him into the settlement. Did it? No. In the middle of an Arctic night with a blizzard blowing, the old man slipped out of the igloo into the darkness and simply pulled down his caribou hide and sealskin trousers and defecated into his hand. As the shit took shape he put a spray of saliva along one leading edge to create a sharp edge. When the implement was finally created from the cold, he used it to kill a dog. He skinned the dog and used the skin of the dog to improvise a harness and used the rib cage of the dead dog to improvise the sled, harnessed an adjacent dog, and then with shit-knife in belt disappeared over the ice flow.' The elder returned alive and well in the spring. Forty years later, the Canadian government relented and returned the Inuit lands, creating Nunavut, a territory the size of Western Europe."

 - Paul HawkenBlessed Unrest

Crazy Horse - "Even the most basic outline of his life shows how great he was, because he remained himself from the moment of his birth to the moment he died; because he knew exactly where he wanted to live, and never left; because he may have surrendered, but he was never defeated in battle; because, although he was killed, even the Army admitted he was never captured; because he was so free that he didn't know what a jail looked like. His dislike of the oncoming civilization was prophetic. He never met the President, never rode on a train, slept in a boarding house, or ate at a table and unlike many people all over the world, when he met white men he was not diminished by the encounter."

— Ian Frazier, Great Plains

“There are always those who take it upon themselves to defend God, as if Ultimate Reality, as if the sustaining frame of existence, were something weak and helpless. These people walk by a widow deformed by leprosy begging for a few paise, walk by children dressed in rags living in the street, and they think, "Business as usual." But they perceive a slight against God, it is a different story. Their faces go red, their chests heave mightily, they sputter angry words. The degree of their indignation is astonishing. Their resolve is frightening.”

“These people fail to realize that it is on the inside that God must be defended, not on the outside. They should direct their anger at themselves. For evil in the open is but evil from within that has been let out. The main battlefield for good is not the open ground of the public arena but the small clearing of each heart.” 

Yann Martel - Life of Pi

3. How can I be happier?


“To the Taoist, Nothing is something, and something – at least the sort of things that many consider to be important – is really nothing at all." 

"The surest way to become tense, awkward, and confused is to develop a mind that tries too hard – one that thinks too much. The animals in the forest don’t think too much, they just are. To misquote an old philosopher, “I think, therefore I am confused.”

Benjamin Hoff - The Tao of Pooh

"More is good, more is good. We repeat it and have it repeated until nobody thinks otherwise. The average person is so fogged up by all of this, he has no perspective on what’s really important anymore. These people are so hungry for love that they were accepting substitutes. They were embracing material things and expecting a sort of hug back. But it never works. Neither money nor power will give you the feeling you are looking for, no matter how much of it that you have."

Mitch Albom, Tuesdays With Morrie


“I believe in being fully present. That means you should be with the person you are with. When I’m talking to you now, Mitch, I try to keep focused only on what is going on between us. I’m not thinking about something we said last week. I’m not thinking about what is coming up next Friday.”

Mitch Albom, Tuesdays With Morrie

"To be truly charming and socially effective you have to understand people, and to understand people you have to get outside yourself and immerse your mind in their world."

"The ability to connect deeply to your environment is the most primal and in many ways the most powerful form of mastery the brain can bring us." 

Robert Greene, Mastery

"Step away from the isolation. There is a whole world waiting for us, ready to welcome us home. It has missed us sorely and we have missed it. And it is time to return.”

Derrick Jensen - A Language Older than Words

"You think this is just another day in your life – it’s not just another day. It’s the one day that is given to you today. It’s given to you. It’s a gift. It’s the only gift that you have right now, and the only appropriate response is gratefulness. If you do nothing else but to cultivate that response to the great gift that this unique day is, if you learn to respond as if it were the first day in your life, and the very last day, then you will have spent this day very well."

Louie Schwartzberg - Gratitude (Meant to be watched)

Now take these ideas, these phrases and stories, these kernels of wisdom and give them meaning. Apply them to your life, share them with others, and think of them often. It's an investment in yourself and your life with a guaranteed positive return. 

Hug The Rhino Team
edited by:Kurt Berning

If you'd like to read more but are limited on time, we recommend “Tuesdays With Morrie”by Mitch Albom and “The Tao of Pooh” by Benjamin Hoff. Both are short, fantastic reads

For a better life, Hug The Rhino

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Since Blackfish's premiere in January 2013 rapt viewers have flocked to the anti-SeaWorld cause, while SeaWorld has worked furiously to repair its reputation and dispute almost every minute of the documentary. So which side should you believe?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

(Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes, 32 seconds)

After living in Norwich for a year as a US Fulbright Scholar and visiting over 15 other cities in England, I've very biasedly concluded the following: Norwich is the best.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes, 4 seconds. (Average 20-30 min for each story)

These 12 stories are all absolutely fantastic, and we'd recommend trying to read one a day for the next two weeks. All the credit for finding this list goes to Bill Carey (@wcarey22), a good friend, proud member of Rhino Nation, and a Producer at Sports Illustrated. Bill has been named twice by some blogs as the greatest reader of the 21st century, and sends out a monthly list of longform articles to friends and colleagues. These are our picks for the top 12 articles he's highlighted in the last year (most are from 2013, some are wildcards). As an introduction to this year's top articles, we asked Bill to write a short piece on the beauty of longform nonfiction.

Gay Talese, widely considered one of the best nonfiction writers, wrote that the stories that interested him when he was starting his career “would not often be considered worthy of news coverage. (But) I thought those people had a sense of what was going on. I believed if we could bring them into the larger consciousness, they could help us understand the trends happening around us.”

His thoughts help show the value of the stories Kurt has listed below. These stories don’t all have an obvious “news hook,” but they help us understand what’s happening – or should be happening – in our world. They help us see events from different perspectives. Take Eli Saslow’s series on food stamps, which may win this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing. Each piece in the series, including the one listed below, presents the impact of food stamp reform through the stories of real people. For me, this type of reporting brings precision that numbers or statements from politicians can’t.

- Bill Carey

Beautiful words Bill. Happy reading. 

Fascinating and Unique

TV's Crowning Moment of Awesome by Chris Jones
In 38 years, only one person has guessed the exact value of the Showcase Showdown on the Price is Right. How he did it is still a matter of dispute. 

The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food by Michael Moss
The incredible effort to make us like all the unhealthy food we eat. Moss won a Pulitzer Prize in 2010 for his investigation of the meat industry. 

The Flight From Dallas by Chris Jones
The assassination of John F. Kennedy and its immediate aftermath, as experienced on Air Force One. The reporting here is just ridiculous.


Sportsman of the Year: LeBron James by Lee Jenkins
Profile of LeBron, the best player of his generation, who has been otherworldly the past year and a half. This is also a clinic on profile writing. So good. 

Federer as Religious Experience by David Foster Wallace
A look at Roger Federer at his peak. Widely considered the best article ever written about tennis.

Do Olympics fulfill economic promises? A look back at London by Bill Carey
A portion of Bill's reporting and research in east London - was published by SI before the Sochi Games started. Well worth a read. As we've said before, #nextchrisjones.

Want more stories? Here is Bill's list from last year
Investigative Journalism

The Prophet by Luke Dittrich
Dr. Eben Alexander was in a coma when he experienced "proof of heaven" - he was a man of science who experienced the afterlife. But this investigation showed that there's more to the neurosurgeon than he led people to believe.

A Father's Pain, A Judge's Duty by Barry Siegel
A judge made his decision - a father's negligence had caused his son's death. Now he wonders what the consequences might be. Pulitzer Prize winner.

Tonight on Dateline This Man Will Die by Luke Dittrich
"NBC's "To Catch a Predator" arrived in Murphy, Texas, to conduct a sting operation. The only honest thing that followed was the gunshot."

The Innocent Man by Pam Colloff
National Magazine Award winner last year. An extremely long (two-part) story on Michael Morton, who "came home from work to discover that his wife had been brutally murdered in their bed. His nightmare had only begun." This is his journey to death row and his fight to get free. 


Too Much of Too Little by Eli Saslow
"A diet fueled by food stamps is making South Texans obese but leaving them hungry." Saslow just won a prestigious Polk Award for his food-stamp series. Bill think he's going to win a Pulitzer Prize, too.

Taken by Sarah Stillman
"Under civil forfeiture, Americans who haven’t been charged with wrongdoing can be stripped of their cash, cars, and even homes. Is that all we’re losing?"

The Things that Carried Him by Chris Jones
A fallen soldier's last trip home, told from end to beginning. A National Magazine Award winner and one of my all-time favorites.

Once again Rhino Nation, go ahead and read every story on this list. If you did, and still can't get enough longform nonfiction? Check out last year's list for the top 10 articles of 2013. 

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