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Practically Idealistic blog
The title for this blog originated with use of the term “practical idealist” in this 1996 opinion piece, which asked: “To what kind of work should a practical idealist aspire?” A century and a half earlier, Emerson, in his 1841 essay Circles, wrote: “There are degrees in idealism.  We learn first to play with it academically. . . .  Then we see in the heyday of youth and poetry that it may be true, that it is true in gleams and fragments.  Then, its countenance waxes stern and grand, and we see that it must be true.  It now shows itself ethical and practical.”  John Dewey and Mahatma Gandhi embraced practical idealism in the 20th century, as did UN Secretary General U Thant.  Al Gore invoked it in a 1998 speech. In the context of this blog, the term is meant to convey idealism tempered but not overwhelmed by realism: a search for the ideal on a path guided by common sense.
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Monday, March 23, 2009

The Case for Regionalism

As previewed in the March 18 post below, State Rep. Brendan Sharkey was a guest at this evening’s East Rock Community Management Team meeting.  Before hearing from Rep. Sharkey, the team received information tonight from engineering director Tom Sgroi of the Greater New Haven Water Pollution Control Authority (created in 2005 to serve New Haven, East Haven, Hamden, and Woodbridge) about a repair project near East Rock Park. 

After this glimpse at a specific case of a regional venture, Brendan Sharkey – who represents Hamden and co-chairs the General Assembly’s Planning and Development Committee – discussed the Smart Growth Working Group and legislative proposals for broader regional cooperation in Connecticut.  One incentive: federal dollars – on which Connecticut has been missing out – that may be available for regions that work more systematically to submit and implement qualifying Comprehensive Economic Development Strategies (CEDS), which our state surely needs.  He mentioned the South Central  Regional Council of Governments, one of 15 such regions in Connecticut – probably two or three times as many as we need in our small state.   Building upon this existing structure or a modified version of it, the proposed legislation would foster more extensive planning and – through one bill – funnel one penny of the 6 percent sales tax back to the region of origin. 

Rep. Sharkey acknowledged the immediate political obstacles to this measure, since the fiscally challenged state government can currently ill afford to yield one-sixth of its sales tax revenues to the regions.  However, over time this could become more palatable, especially as economies from greater regionalism emerge.  Savings might come from areas including public health, public safety/emergency preparedness, engineering/public works, and special education.  Key aims include not only preservation of open space but also redevelopment of old industrial brownfields, better and cleaner transportation options – with expanded parking around train stations needed – and reasonably priced housing located near those transit points.  (He cited 360 State Street, with its proximity to trains, as a smart-growth example.)

A reduced reliance on the property tax is one goal.  Level funding of payments-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT), for tax-exempt nonprofit or state-owned properties, is assumed.  For hubs such as New Haven that will continue to host many regional services, this is a clear concern.

In response to a question, Rep. Sharkey reported that the Planning and Development Committee has approved the bill to allow municipalities to delay by a year phase-in of property revaluation.  For New Haven, that will mean a one-year reprieve in the continuing shift of the tax allocation from commercial to residential taxpayers.

Participants in the neighborhood meeting included, for example:

*Aaron Goode of the New Haven Bioregional Group

*Philip Langdon of New Urban News

*Peter Stein of the Regional Growth Partnership

*Betty Thompson and Justin Elicker of Friends of East Rock Park 

*members of New Haven's citizen budget review panel (Allan Brison, David Cameron, and Alex Marathas)

While certainly no panacea, regionalism does hold promise.  The concept applies as much to Connecticut's relationship to neighboring states as it does to sections of our own state.

10:47 pm edt 

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Regional Approaches to Savings and Smart Growth

In news related to the posts of March 10 and February 10 below. . .

Hamden State Rep. Brendan Sharkey  of the Smart Growth Working Group is expected to speak briefly at the Monday, March 23 meeting of New Haven’s East Rock neighborhood Community Management Team at 7 p.m. at East Rock School on Nash Street.

Related articles appear here and –- with particularly direct implications for New Haven taxpayers and advocates of payments-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) -- here.

More, from Smart Growth Online . . .

A May 27, 2008 post -- archived here -- discussed related issues.

. . . . .

The February 10 post below mentioned “the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has been chronically exploited in recent years, with dollars diverted from their intended purpose: matching funds that states and localities commit to conservation.”

Now, two recent Times articles:

March 14, 2009 Editorial:  Promised Land
Federal dollars promised to complete long-pending acquisitions of threatened lands across the country should not be diverted.”

March 12, 2009  New Budget Reflects Shift Toward Conservation

Beyond the increased funds for many Interior Department agencies, the budget proposal as President Obama has outlined focuses on acquiring more public land, addressing climate change issues and raising fees on the oil and gas industry.”

Also, Yale Law alum Van Jones, founder of Green for All, will be the Obama administration’s “special adviser for green jobs, enterprise and innovation.”  The New Yorker  profiled him in January 2009.

10:03 pm edt 

More on Guns and Gun Violence

Since the February 25 post below, a few more items related to guns and gun violence:

 *The effort in Connecticut to explore "microstamping" as a means of identifying shooters and traffickers.

 *The cost in lives, including in New Haven, where most recently Thomas Daniels and Maurice Nicholson were killed.

 *News of Illinois pastor Fred Winters, shot in his church in a brazen attack.

 *Southwestern Germany’s horror: having a troubled teen commit mass murder using one of his family’s 16 legally held firearms.

 *A similar killing spree in Alabama, and controversy in D.C., are mentioned in this New York Times editorial:

  March 13, 2009  Editorial:  Now Alabama
“The latest rampage in Alabama is yet another bloody example of why Congress should pass the national assault weapons ban.”
12:58 am edt 

Friday, March 13, 2009

Six Overtimes, True Midnight Madness

The January 26 post below combined UConn basketball with other commentary.

With some regret because UConn lost, I confess now to having watched to the end of the extraordinary Big East basketball game just completed in which Syracuse defeated the Huskies in six overtimes!  For the Huskies it is now on to the NCAA tournament next week. 

Fans can hope that this UConn team does not resemble the arguably more talented, deeper 2005-06 team that was upset by George Mason and generally underachieved in the tournament, winning only narrowly in earlier games that tournament and easing up on its relentless shot-blocking in its final contests.  This year's team includes two players from that squad as well as several more who endured the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons, the latter of which ended prematurely due to point guard A.J. Price's severe injury in last year's first round.  This year's team also is trying to cope with a key player's absence, in this case Jerome Dyson.  

Ever the optimist, I almost perennially pick UConn to win the tournament -- and twice, in 1999 and 2004, my bracket has actually been right.  Let's hope that again a five-year interval will prove favorable.  I'm going with the Huskies notwithstanding the doubts.

Time for a few hours of sleep. . . 

1:44 am edt 

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Economic and Environmental Concerns in Connecticut

To extend the post of February 10 below, here are a few pieces that connect issues of smart growth, farmland preservation, conservation more broadly through useful service, and green jobs.  The funding of such policies via the Community Investment Account, established by a 2005 Connecticut law, is under threat.

10:40 pm edt 

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