Monday, January 6, 2014

“Because Someone Has to Do It”

It’ll take me awhile today, but I will get around to urbanism.  Just hang with me.

Those readers who look carefully at the fine print may have noticed some recent unexplained changes in my profile.  (And if you’re not one of those nitpicky readers, don’t worry about it.  Neither am I.)

In the short profile that appears below my blog on a couple of websites is a phrase “lives on the west side of Petaluma with his wife and x dogs”, where x keeps changing.  When I began this blog, x was four.  Awhile later, it became three, and then two.  A few weeks ago, it bounced back to three.

Lest you think that my wife and I are running an illegal kennel, let me explain.  My wife loves dogs.  Her preference is rescue dogs, particularly older rescue dogs.  Not necessarily geriatric dogs, but dogs in the later years of their lives, who have too much spunk and character to spend their final years in a shelter.  During our marriage, we’ve adopted about a dozen dogs with an average age of perhaps eight.

But there’s an unfortunate aspect to taking on older dogs.  They tend to pass away after only a few years.  We barely become enamored by their quirky personalities before their time is over.  In the past couple of years, we lost a thirteen-year-old Black Lab and a ten-year-old Borzoi.  Hence the decline in the dog tally from four to two.

In the past, my wife usually filled vacancies quickly.  But this time she hesitated, slowed by a family health issue.  But she knew the time would come for another dog.

The time arrived a few weeks back.  And it came in a different form than she had expected.

She became aware of a young female dog that had been a stray on the streets of a Northern California city.  The girl had been underfed for awhile and was badly underweight.  She may have been physically abused.  And most noticeably, she had an advanced case of mange.  She was missing much of her coat and had open sores where she’d rubbed her skin raw by scratching.

(My wife and I quickly learned a little veterinary background.  Mange is typically a disease of puppyhood.  The immune system of a mature dog will prevent mange.   But a puppy born into poor circumstances and without appropriate medical care can quickly develop a bad case.  Also, this particular kind of mange isn’t infectious to people or to other dogs.)

The diagnosis was that a full recovery for the pup was likely, assuming long-term and intensive medical care.  My wife decided that she’d be the one to provide that care.

On the Friday before Christmas, we made a 200-mile roundtrip to collect our new ward.  She was in even worse condition than we’d been told.  Her ribs showed in sharp relief against her damaged coat.  Many of her sores were open and bleeding.  When she brushed against a pant leg, she left trails of blood and dead skin.  After she shook, the room looked like the set of “C.S.I.”.

My wife wasn’t deterred.  She named the pup after my late father’s favorite English village and we brought Henley home, bumping the dog tally back up to three.

One could ask why we would adopt a pup in need of long-term medical care only a few days before Christmas, especially when we’d have family staying with us for the holiday and when we’d be hosting a large Christmas Eve party.

In response, my wife would note that, failing an adoption, the pup was scheduled to be euthanized on Christmas Eve.  And even more fundamentally, as she said to a shelter manager, “Because someone has to do it.”

And that’s where we connect back to urbanism.  I’m not trained in urban planning or public policy.  Although my career had, and continues to have, urban projects, I’ve also spent a lot of time studying water projects and working on sites far from urban cores.  My writing style is competent, but not elegant.

By any reasonable measure, I’m not the person who should be writing about urbanism several times a week.  Others are likely better skilled to educate readers about urbanism and about the environmental and financial need to encourage more urbanist development.

But “Someone has to do it” and I stepped into that breach.

However, I can’t do it alone.  Turning the default path of land development toward urbanism takes more than a blog.  It takes a lot of people making their wishes known to key decision-makers.  It takes a lot of people stepping forward because “Someone has to do it.”

And so, on Epiphany, the closing day of the Christmas season, let that be your epiphany.  To look in the mirror and decide that 2014 will be the year you make the extra effort on behalf of urbanism because “Someone has to do it.”

So, how is young Henley doing?  Just fine.  She still has months of medical care in front of her.  And even longer to regain a full coat.  But the sores are healing.  She’s gaining weight and vitality on almost a daily basis.  She’s playing with the other dogs.  And she’s finding opportunities to be mischievous.  She’ll be just fine, with a long and rambunctious life ahead of her.  I hope we can someday say the same for our cities.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (

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