This festival in the nearby Pine Barrens historic village of Batsto is one of our rites of fall. The picture above is my two littlest ones running through one of the old barns. Check out more in my Flickr set.
As a Philly native the so-called Toynbee Tiles crept up so slowly in the built space that they blended in with the natural city streetscape and I missed Resurrect Dead, the 2011 documentary of the mystery. It’s in my watching queue. In the meantime I’m going to start photographing any I see. Here’s the figure the Internet has dubbed Stickman in the intersection of 13th and Arch in Philadelphia.
I’m just coming back from a book club (adult conversation? But… but… I’m a parent… Really?). The topic was Jane Jacob’s 1961 classic, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. The six of us gathered in a Collingswood, N.J., coffee shop were all city design geeks and I could barely keep up with the ideas and books that had influenced everyone. Here is a very incomplete list:
- Strongtowns blog and podcast. Charles Marohn
- Geography of Nowhere. James Howard Kunstler’s 1993 book on suburban sprawl, which I loved at the time.
- The Big Sort. Bill Bishop, 2008.
- The Great Good Place. Ray Oldenburg. Popularized the “third places” concept of places people can gather together outside of home and work (as example: the coffee shop in which we met, Grooveground, didn’t seem to mind six people nattering on about urbanism until closing time).
- Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk, “Your body language shapes who you are” (in our context, we were suggesting a correlation between road rage and the physical poses of driving)
- The End of the Suburbs. Leigh Gallagher, 2014
- Fighting Traffic. Peter D. Norton
- Wrestling with Moses. Anthony Flint’s 2009 book that goes behind the scenes of Jane Jacob’s planning battles with the near-mythic highway builder Robert Moses, a subtext that underlies Death and Life but is mostly just hinted at.
- Antifragile: Things That Gain with Disorder. Nassim Nicholas Taleb, 212.
- Jacobin Magazine has published pieces about how Jane Jacob’s insights and language have been coopted by market forces. See “Liberalism and Gentrification” and “The People’s Playground.”
- I kept thinking about a big issue Jacobs kepts skirting about: race. It’s really impossible for me to look at urban patterns without thinking about Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “The Case for Reparations.” Decades of redlining and the racial components of who gets mortgages is a big factor in our social geography (see also TNC’s Atlantic colleague Alexis C. Madrigal’s “The Racist Housing Policy That Made Your Neighborhood” and ponder why charming Collingswood is 82 percent white while adjoining Camden is only 18 percent).
- Robert Moses: The Master Builder of New York. Pierre Christin and Olivier Balez. A graphic novel of Robert Moses (no way!). “How New York Became New York” is an review of the novel.
Update: And also, from Genevieve’s list:
- Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Douglas Adams, for its absurdist humor around the bureaucracies of planning
- Green Metropolis. David Owen,
- “What’s Up With That: Building Bigger Roads Actually Makes Traffic Worse,” an article by Adam Mann in Wired on the phenomenon of induced demand.
- Vision Zero Initiative
- The Pine Barrens. John McPhee, the classic which I brought up.
- The Power Broker. Robert Caro.
- The Ecology of Commerce. Paul Hawken
- Organizing in the South Bronx. Jim Rooney
- Re: race: Dalton Conley’s Being Black, Living in the Red and When Work Disappears by William Julius Wilson.
- Re: bicycles: Urban Bikers’ Tricks & Tips. Dave Glowacz
Excuse me for the next six months while I read.
A public service announcement from my wife Julie earlier this evening:
Autistic people feel anxiety just like all of us. However they may cope differently. For neurotypicals, if the anxiety is a result of someone taunting or being somehow rude or abrasive or annoying, we know to walk away. But in my experience with my spectrum kids, they don’t understand why people are mean, and they’ll freak out or just keep coming back for more. They don’t necessarily get that it’s best to leave some people alone and walk away. It takes many such lessons to “get it” because their minds work differently. They go from the specific to the general, not the general to the specific, as Temple Grandin points out. They are easy targets for bullies. #TheMoreYouKnowAboutAutism
Video: Quaker Myths Busted. A 2015 graduate of George School in Pennsylvania drew the artwork for this animated intro to Quakers.
I was ambushed while leaving the Elmer Swim Club today by a guy I’ve never met who told me never to return, then told me he’s a vice president of the governing association, and then told me he had papers inside to back him up. Although it was meant to look like an accidental run-in as we were walking out, it was clear it was staged with the manager on duty.
The problem is the behavior of our soon-to-be 10 yo Francis. He is difficult. He gets overwhelmed easily and doesn’t respond well to threats by authority figures. We know. He’s autistic. We deal with it every day. There’s no excusing his behavior sometimes. But there’s also no missing that he’s a deeply sweet human who has troubles relating and is making heroic strides toward learning his emotions. We driven the extra distance to this swim club for years because it’s been a place that has accepted us.
People at Elmer—well most of them—haven’t dismissed Francis as our problem, but have come together as an extended family to work through hard times to help mold him. He’s made friends and we’ve made friends. The swim club’s motto is that it’s the place “Where Everyone is Family” and we found this was the rare case where a cheesy tag line captured something real. Family. You don’t just throw up your hands when someone in the family is difficult and gets disrespectful when they get socially overwhelmed.
The VP was a control-your-kids kind of guy, clearly unaware of the challenges of raising an autistic kid—and clearly unwilling to use this parking lot moment as a learning opportunity. I tried to stay human with him and explain why this particular community was so special. The swim coaches always cheered our kids on despite always coming in dead last—not only that, but even put Francis in relay races! There have always been lots of extra eyes watching him and willing to redirect him when he started melting down. Most of the time he needs a drink, a snack, or some quiet sensory time. To be in a community that understood this is beyond miraculous for autism families. The worst thing is to start to scream or threaten, which unfortunately is some people’s default. Some authority figures know how to earn Francis’s trust; others just make things worse over and over again. At Elmer the latter finally won out.
We first started coming to this pool for swim lessons in 2009. After six years becoming more involved in this deeply welcoming community, I had started to allow myself to think we had found a home. I’d daydream of the day when Francis would be 18, graduating from the swim team and people would give him an extra rousing cheer when his name was called at the end-of-season banquet. We’d all tell stories with tears in our eyes of just how far he had come from that 9yo who couldn’t control his emotions. And we were at the point where I imagined this as a central identity for the family–the place where his older brother would sneak his first kiss on the overnight campout, or where his younger siblings would take their first courageous jumps off the high dive.
Julie’s making calls but I’m not holding my breath. What happened is an breathtakingly overt violation of the club association’s bylaws. But would we even feel safe returning? Francis is easily manipulated. It only takes a few hardened hearts at the top who believe autism is a parenting issue—or who just don’t care to do the extra work to accommodate a difficult child.
Fortunately for us, for a while we had a place that was special. The Elmer Swim Club and Elmer Swim Team will always have a special place in our hearts. Our thanks to all the wonderful people there. Here’s some memories:
Update: Our post shedding light on the Elmer Swim Club’s trustee misbehavior and the board’s violation of its own bylaws has now had over 1800 Facebook interactions (shares, likes, comments) and the blog post itself has been read 9,970 times. Terms like “autism elmer pool” are trending on our incoming Google searches and the post looks like it will be a permanent top-five search result for the pool. Although our family will never set foot in its waters again, our absence will be a remain a presence. Discussions over what happened will continue for years.
I share these stats to encourage people to talk about misbehavior in the public sphere. It doesn’t help civil society to bury conflict in the tones of hushed gossip. Just as we as parents work every day to help our autistic son make better decisions, all of us can insist that our community organizations follow best practices in self-governance and abide by their own rules. Bylaws matter. Parking lot civility matter. Kids should be held responsible for their actions. So should trustees.