In the book Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7), author J.K. Rowling introduces a story about three brothers and their three magical items that promise to bestow eternal life. The particulars are prime folklore, but the three legs of the story inside the story is legendary mythology.
We tell stories for many reasons. We tell stories to remember…and to forget. We tell stories to mock and shame… and to honor and exault. We tell stories to understand the world around us. We tell stories to relate to the people around us. Memorable authors like Rowling boil down the pathos of the universe into digestible little stories—better yet stories within stories—we can sip at in bite-sized pieces. The world is a big, scary place. Our stories make the world safe.
This blog gives you a chance to listen into some of my stories. These are the scenarios in my world—of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Americana. I have seen the writer’s task described as finding lost tales. I don’t pretend to create new ideas. The most I can do is pluck ideas from the ether and give them form.
Here are some of the ideas which proved most popular with you, my readers, this last year. Some are new posts, some continue to draw from prior years. (Some get lost when my WordPress permalinks go down…)
Strong Towns Focus on People, Not Just Their Cars (#1 for 2013/#3 Overall)
Charles Marohn came to town (well, the next town over, really), bringing his Strong Towns Curbside Chat to Wyoming, courtesy of the Wyoming Rural Development Council. I think the Sonoran Institute helped out, too. His message: Stop Doing Stupid Development. (My original Curbside Chat post from Minnesota is #4 post popular overall on the blog) Strong Towns linked back, and the post quickly shot to the most-read slot. Thanks, Chuck, and keep up the good work.
Behind the Bakken Boom (#2/#2 Overall) / Where the Well Things Are (#3 for 2013) / Bakken Boom May Need Timeout (#7) / Drilling Down on Oil Rigs in the Mountain Time Zone (#8)
I followed up my popular post from last year’s Western Planner Conference on the Bakken shale oil play, with an update highlighting well statistics from Baker Hughes. Two other Bakken posts from this year and last also rounded out the top 10. I don’t pretend to be a shale expert, but a lot of people also seem to be looking to learn what they can about my old home states of North Dakota and Montana.
A couple weeks after the Curbside Chat in Laramie, I riffed off an idea Chuck dropped in a post:
I’ve been at city council meetings where dogmatic, self-proclaimed “limited government” types give money to subsidize national corporate chains in the name of “growth”, borrow money to build roads (because we have to have good roads) and then vote to gut the maintenance staff, police force or fire unit (we can’t have all this government). Worse yet, I’ve seen states where the legislature piles on the mandates and micromanages their local governments all the while limited their flexibility (an act that is called oversight).
Somewhere along the way, too many of us “professionals” of all stripes began looking to the federal government as a source of innovation, rather than the repository of best practices. Chuck then hit the same note, and the link love followed (yeah): Chaotic but Smart at Strong Towns.
Be Here to Love Me…for free (#5 for 2013 / #6 Overall)
Townes Van Zandt is the mystery behind Be Here to Love Me, a 2004 documentary on the songwriting legend. It rocks to see folks googling in to check him out, and the other music-related posts I get around to now and again. (My 2011 review of the No Depression top tunes got link love from Gillian Welch, and remains at #4 overall most popular post here.) While Townes Van Zandt will live forever, unfortunately my free link didn’t live forever. Why? Don’t nobody know…
Little (Lego) House on the Prairie (Style) (#6 for 2013 / #1 Overall)
This post from 2009 on Frank Lloyd Wright for the Lego set continues to draw heavy Google traffic. I actually ran across these for the very first time at Barnes & Noble last Christmas season. Gone now, but cool. Very cool.
A cult of expertise seeps through modern Western culture. As we are faced with more and more data in our 24/7 networked world, we turn to experts more and more to makes sense of it all. However, as Hertz points out in her book, on average “experts” are no better at making decisions than a monkey throwing random darts. Not only do too many experts not deliver results, but they do deliver a bounty of unintended consequences. Jane Jacobs warned us of the unintended consequences of urban renewal years ago. Della Rucker (The Local Economy Revolution) and Chuck Marohn (Strong Towns) and others are warning us today about the unintended consequences of building crummy places to live. The men behind the curtains are just people like us.
My story of 2013?
We need to stop doing dumb development and start building Strong Towns. We’re still trying to figure out what’s going on with shale oil, and the blessings and curses hydraulic fracturing is bringing to rural America. And take all of that with a grain of salt, since too many “experts” don’t know much more than how to market their own expertise.
Oh, and I like cool architecture and music. Hope you find some in 2014.