Friday, May 18, 2007

The Comfort (and Necessity) of Long Term Thinking

I often find it comforting to contemplate change over a long arching span of time. This seems to have the effect of smoothing out the rough bits. It helps me cultivate patience too, which is something one needs in abundance when trying to affect change to something like the built environment where change happens at a seemingly glacial pace.

I think this is why I love learning about Brookline's history. Great change has occurred in successive waves, brought about by bold visions, stirring endeavors and accidents of fate. Sometimes the changes brought ugliness and new problems, other times they achieved their intended purpose for renewal. As things were happening there were moments of panic and despair, courage and hope, failure and great success, yet all these individual stories blend to yield a picture of a community of people working together, whose lives were touched by a shared sense of place. Understanding all the human endeavor and natural forces that have brought us to the present makes us take very seriously our task as temporary stewards and admonishes us to think long term in our decision-making.

We are finally hearing about the logic of long term thinking for business. Couched in the profit motive and self-interest the argument can still be made that long term success can only be had with strategies that eschew exploitation of both natural and human resources and embrace self-sustaining and nurturing practices. It seems so obvious, and yet these principles, for decades have been the polar opposites of many business decision-making protocol. It has finally become obvious to the many, that we can no longer use up and abuse without regard for the consequences. Of course there have been many among us who have been saying this for many decades, who are now cautiously optimistic about this seismic shift in thinking. The same could be said for government policies, which in the recent past have sadly seemed to be more about getting re-elected next fall than making wise long-term policy. But I get beyond my point.

It's a simple tool really. When your car breaks down, or your plumbing explodes and the phone company's automated voice answering menu doesn't have an option that fits your call and you are about to pull your hair out, take a moment to think about what your neighborhood might be like in 10, 20 or even 50 years. And don't be afraid to dream big, think about all the things that make it a nice place or would make it even nicer. Will you, or those who are still here, even remember this bad day? Those folks back in 1898 had a great many obstacles to overcome too and yet they built beautiful homes and parks that we are still admiring today. When you are contemplating yourself as a part of this human community that inhabits this place we call Brookline gather courage from all those who have walked here before you and will walk here after you.

This Memorial Day there will be a guided tour of our own Old Burying Ground on Walnut St, from 12 to 2 pm. This is a chance to contemplate just how long that span of time is back to the days the first European settlers came to Brookline, and how much things have changed. Others find a similar comfort in contemplating geologic time or our place (speck) in the vast Universe. But for me, I have a hard time really connecting to those more abstract concepts and it seems to take that shared connection to our particular place on the planet to help me live in the broader continuum of time.

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