Category Archives: Editorials

Equality under the Law

Words and phrases are powerful tools, and the emotions that we attach to particular words only begin to stick once certain actions are taken based upon the intent of those words. In the United States the debate over the issue of abortion has long been controlled by the social conservatives on the right. Predominately made up of Conservative Protestants and Catholics, this odd faction have united in their opposition to predominately two main issues: the rights of women to control their futures outside of the will of powerful men, and the rights of people to express their love beyond the traditional Judeo-Christian bounds of love between one man and one woman.

This odd couple has been successful in framing the abortion debate as one between those righteous who support the right of all who are conceived to be born, and thus declaring themselves to be Pro-Life. By declaring themselves, the anti-abortion factions, to be Pro-Life, they have categorically deemed their counterparts, those who support women’s abortion rights, to be little more than misguided homicidal individuals. To correct these tendencies towards abortion, the Pro-Life camp has advised women to let their pregnancy go through, and to protect the innocent life that comes out of the mother’s womb. The first of many ironies and issues with this is that the people in positions of power most likely to offer that advice are either men, or women who follow the advice of those men regardless of what might be best for themselves.

A number of years ago, while writing for Examiner.com’s Kansas City Catholic column, I published an opinion piece calling out the anti-abortion movement as not necessarily pro-life, but more simply pro-birth. After writing that article calling out the hypocrisy of people who are so adamant to protect the fetus, but are content with capital punishment, and who refuse to support “socialist” policies like universal healthcare, and matching the minimum wage to the living wage, among others, I actually received a fair number of threats from readers. Today, knowing and recognizing the infractions being committed against women’s rights by state legislatures from coast to coast, including my own state of Missouri, I cannot sit by silently and watch.

In this country we allow the most despicable of speech because if we limited one type of speech then all free speech would equally be threatened. In this country the same social conservatives who oppose abortion have argued that we cannot have even the most basic control on gun sales because it would threaten all rights to own guns. The bills being passed in the state legislatures, that will certainly be used to challenge the legality of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling are not just wrong, they are excessively so. They directly target a particular group of citizens based upon their biological sex and make it harder, if not nigh impossible to have a viable livelihood in a number of states. Like the recent set of voter ID laws that target minority voters, limiting their basic right of participation in government, these anti-abortion laws offend the very concept of equality under the law upon which the sociopolitical life of our country is built.

Earlier this week, when the Governor of Alabama signed that state’s bill into law, she expressly noted the religious undertones that have fueled the anti-abortion movement. As long as we have freedom of religion in this country, we cannot have any direct influence from any one religion upon our government at any level. If a law such as this anti-abortion law, which is openly influenced by the religious beliefs of the aforementioned Conservative Protestants and Catholics, becomes official, then the rights of all other people of faith in this country are infringed upon.

If we are going to allow one faith to be practiced freely, all other faiths must have the same protections. Yet it is counter to the very core of Christianity, a faith in a God of Charitable Love, to use our religion to restrict the rights of others. The malice that fuels these bills is a threat not only to women, but to everyone else in this country who doesn’t fit into the narrow vision of goodness that the anti-abortion crowd yearns for.

Total Control: TV, Streaming, and my Health

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Let me begin by saying, I love the variety of programming that’s available through online video databases like YouTube and streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime. I spend much of my free time watching old shows on YouTube, clips from films, original content by YouTubers, and news reports on the same platform. Equally, I love watching the series being rebroadcast by Netflix like The West Wing as well as their own programming, shows that either were originally produced by Netflix like The Crown, those that have been bought by Netflix like The Last Kingdom and others that are being distributed by Netflix like Versailles and Au Service de la France. When new series are released on Prime Video, I’ll spend a good deal of time on that app, watching some of my favourite programmes of the last few years, especially my big three on that platform The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, The Man in the High Castle, and The Grand Tour.

These services offer us something that before was only imaginable in our dreams: the ability to have near total control over the types of programmes that we watch, and when we watch them. When I lived in England, I loved using the BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, and All4 apps for my British television. And while the quality of the programming is on par with what I enjoyed a decade ago when my DVR was filled with shows from PBS, History International, and BBC America, the quantity has significantly risen beyond the scope of what my free time can handle.

While today we may have more choice in what we can watch, I wonder whether we are truly fortunate to have so much choice. I’ve probably spent hours scrolling through YouTube, Netflix, and Prime Video looking for new things to watch when my usual diet become stale, hours that I could have spent doing other things. Moreover, I’ve found that my happiest days of TV watching come not from a day spent enjoying the offerings on Netflix or YouTube but rather on the regular old TV networks that have set schedules. Traditionally, one of my favourite Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon and evening traditions has been to keep the TV on PBS the entire time and enjoy the same old programs, the US-based politics and talk shows, the British sitcoms, the occasional broadcast of the BBC World News, and the PBS NewsHour. Lately, having signed on to SlingTV to get access to their French package, I’ve extended that PBS trend to include channels like TV5 Monde and its arts and culture affiliate, TV5 Monde Style. When I lived in England, I did much the same thing, albeit with my TV largely tuned to BBC Four in the evenings for their hours-worth of history documentaries.

I find comfort in abdicating the authority to choose what I watch over to someone in a TV control centre, whether an hours walk away as was the case in London or halfway across the continent in New York or Los Angeles as often is the case here in the US. I wouldn’t mind if we went back to the old practice of the TV broadcasters closing down for the night at 22:00 or 23:00 each evening. It’d give us all time to be cognizant of each other, to talk amongst ourselves, to have proper interactions, something that we lose when our attention is trained constantly upon the screens in front of us.

In an episode in the third season of Versailles, Louis XIV is asked if he loves being king, “after all, you can have anything you desire.” Louis looks off into space, contemplating both the overwhelming power that comes with having absolute say and how he still wants more in his life. I often feel a similar feeling. Sure, I enjoy watching these shows; yes I love getting to know the characters and can even begin to feel as though I can relate to them, but after a while I know that I need to have a break, even if I don’t feel that I have the will to force myself away from that screen.

It can be hard to remember in the moment the ways that I can make myself feel happier, especially after watching a TV screen or a tablet for hours on end. I’ve always loved reading, and when I can break through the lights and noise of the screen, I’ll go back to my books, go back to reading. Yet like the false spirits that surrounded Elijah, in grand gestures that seemed overwhelming, the Truth that made him happiest came in the softest of whispers. With all these new media of entertainment it can be hard to remember those things that make us happiest, that fulfil our lives the best. Yet they’re still there, waiting for us to remember them.

In my case, I have been able to control my screen time and streaming habits, limiting myself on weekdays to only a few hours in the evening, dependent upon each day’s individual schedule. I know what makes me happy and living my life entirely through the abundance of shows available online is just one factor of happiness. I need my books, and the people and animals around me to keep me happy.

I try to live by the golden rule: treat others as you would want to be treated; when I look over at my dog, often laying near me either bored out of her mind or simply fast asleep as I watch TV, I try to think of ways that I can make the day more fun for her, more enjoyable for her. Likewise, I try to take time away from the videos, programmes, and films that I love to watch to sit back and daydream, to think out stories as I have for as long as I can remember. It’s from these stories, these dreams that I’ve come up with my own books, plays, and poems. If I spend all my free time watching YouTube, Netflix, or Amazon Prime, I won’t have enough time to dream, and that above all else would be a disservice to my mental health, and to my ability to work in a career that I love, to write, to tell stories, and to live my life surrounded by the people that I love.

St. Patrick’s Day

IMG_4100I usually look forward to St. Patrick’s Day, the feast day of my diaspora’s patron saint, and what over the generations has become the day each year when the wider Irish-American community parades in front of the country as a whole celebrating our heritage and continued deep ties to our ancestral homeland. Yet St. Patrick’s Day is a holiday that brings me mixed emotions. Every year when I march in the parade down Broadway in Midtown Kansas City with my division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, I feel a series of emotions rolling over me like a quick succession of tides. On the one hand there’s the exhilaration of seeing around 200,000 people lining the street to see the parade and the fantastic public exposure that our group gets from that crowd. Equally though I also feel a pang of helpless exasperation at the tired clichés and old stereotypes kept alive by the American public’s acceptance of the holiday as a day for excess, partying, drinking, and lots and lots of green.

My personal identity has always been a complicated matter to explain. For starters, I was born and spent the first few years of my childhood in the Chicago Suburbs, have lived in Kansas City for the last two decades, yet I’ve always seen my family, particularly my paternal family, as being Irish not only in name but also in character. Despite having lived in the United States since my great-grandfather stepped off the boat in Boston in February 1914, we’ve managed to keep up our ties to Ireland, existing in a sort of parallel society to the one back in our family’s hometown in Mayo, something that I honestly didn’t realize had been as potent as it was until I visited my great-grandparents’ hometown for the first time in July 2016.

To us, we’re just as ethnically Irish as anyone back in Ireland, even though our cousins who stayed behind may merely see us as Americans. That dual, hyphenated identity is a uniquely American concept, after all the United States is a settler-society, a country whose majority population does not have deep ethnic roots in this country but came from somewhere else. In the United States it’s possible to have multiple parts to your identity, to be both ethnically Irish and by nationality American, or for short to simply be Irish-American. Yet there are plenty of people on both sides of the Atlantic who disagree with me on that statement, who live by the melting pot ideal that says that every immigrant who comes to America has their native culture and identity melted down into the great soup, coming out of the melting pot as only an American and nothing else. This all-or-nothing mentality doesn’t help foster dialogue and discourse, nor does it benefit our society as a whole in detracting from diversity. It’s just as narrow-minded as the conservative American Catholics who say that you can’t be a Catholic and vote for the Democratic Party. There are strong pressures on this side, and I find myself asking the question, is there a point where we’ve been living in the United States for long enough that our Irishness really begins to fade away?

On the other side, I often feel a deep irritation and frank dismay every St. Patrick’s Day
when I come across the same old stereotypes and clichés about Irish people that in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were expressions of deep-seated anti-Irish prejudices in Protestant societies throughout the English-speaking world. In a 2015 opinion piece for Time, Professor Mike Cronin reminded readers that in the nineteenth century, St. Patrick’s Day was a day for Irish-Americans “to display their civic pride and TheUsualIrishWayofDoingThingsthe strength of their identity,” particularly in the face of “nativist detractors who characterized them as drunken, violent, criminalized, and diseased.” The greatest irony of how our community slowly became an accepted part of mainstream American society is that our day to celebrate our heritage and the fact that we as a diaspora have prospered so well in the face of discrimination here in the United States has been adopted, commercialized, and appropriated into one of a number of days each year when it’s perfectly alright to adopt to excess that “drunken, violent, criminalized, and diseased” behavior that our ancestors were so vehemently accused of. Any notion among the wider public that St. Patrick’s Day is a day to celebrate and honor the accomplishments of the Irish diaspora in the United States, or the fact that we were able to largely overcome discrimination and, in general, as a community make it in America is lost in a sea of green.

In past semesters when discussing the underlying emotions and causes of racism with my students, a common theme often arises, an understanding that race is fundamentally tied to skin color and therefore that one cannot be racist toward white people. Now, for starters the whole American concept of race is flawed from the very beginning, as is any manner of racism from anywhere around the globe. But here after centuries of institutionalized racism we have so deeply codified that understanding of race as being attached to skin color that in order to fill out any official paperwork, whether it be for a driver’s license or the forms necessary to visit a doctor’s office, one always has to check one of those boxes identifying one’s race. Being of largely Irish descent, with the rest of my ancestors all coming from elsewhere in Northern Europe, I always mark the box that’s labelled “white”, yet I can’t help but feel a pang of frustration in doing so. After all, in order to maintain an understanding that people with darker colored skin are somehow “inferior,” we have to set a standard of superiority. In the United States that standard is being white.

By the simple definition of whiteness, namely having light skin that honestly is more a shade of very pale to slightly red pink rather than categorically white, we Irish-Americans are labelled as white people. But when they were arriving in the coffin ships in the 1840s or on the steamers in the 1910s our ancestors certainly weren’t seen as equals to the White Americans who traced their ancestry back to the English, Scottish, and Dutch Protestants who settled those original thirteen colonies in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In part through the very stupidity of categorizing people by their skin color we, along with other European immigrant communities like the Italians, Jews, Poles, Greeks, Russians, and Germans were eventually accepted into the fold of whiteness in order to keep the charade of racial superiority going. Honestly though, the older Americans who insisted on these biologically-baseless racial hierarchies wouldn’t have accepted us into the upper-most level of the American racial hierarchy if we hadn’t forced our way in and proved our worth. In some parts of this country it took the election, and more probably the assassination of President Kennedy for our community to truly become fully accepted in wider American society.

St. Patrick’s Day is a day when we Irish-Americans ought to be proud of all our community has achieved in this country. When we march through our cities before the watching eyes of the rest of the country, we should do so with our heads held high, reminding America that the Irish-American immigrant story is a success story, a story of a community rising from the bottom up, as my friend Pat O’Neill’s book on Kansas City Irish history is entitled. Yet we should be more active in dispelling some of the current narratives and trends associated with St. Patrick’s Day in the wider community. Today in the United States it’s alright to say that you’re Irish for the day and to express that Irishness by living up to the drunken Irishman stereotype, whether you’re ethnically Irish or not. As one of my students said, “you can’t be racist towards white people.” The fact that we’ve been accepted into the dominant racial majority in this country makes it all the more acceptable for all Americans to play into the same racist clichés of generations past.

 

An Equal and Opposite Reaction

21733868_10214068171760956_1726168460_oOne of the fundamental maxims of physics is that “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” For everything that is said or done something of equal vigour must be in order. By this logic then, for every fascist, far-right, or white supremacist threat to American society and we the American people there must also be an equal reaction by the far-left, by the Anti-Fascists as they have deemed themselves. Yet what good does the threat of violent action do? What is the point of bringing one’s guns to an anti-fascist protest? What is the point of eradicating the memory of all who have had some dirt upon their hands, who committed evils in their lives?

This moment, at the closing years of the second decade of the twenty-first century, is a moment of immense change, of tribulation not unfamiliar to our predecessors from a century prior. We are living through the waning hours of a period of unprecedented social change and extraordinary wealth for many in our society. We have witnessed a plethora of forces at work in their efforts to bend our society to their aims. Some have sought to bend the law in order to further their own wealth and prosperity to the detriment of others. Still more have fought against those egotists in the defence of the common good and the wellbeing of all.

Now, as we look ahead towards the last months of 2017 and the new year 2018 we are beginning to recognise as a society how uncertain our future is. We are realising that our children will probably not be better off than ourselves, that our generation as well will probably fall in economic standing in a way unseen in the past century. It is natural to react to this with fear, to curse the political, economic, and social systems that led us to this moment. But in our present culture we celebrate fear, overreaction, and anger far too much. We have accepted extreme behaviour on television as normal, and in so doing have accepted that same extremism into our own lives.

We have reached a moment in our history when both the right and left are afraid; afraid of losing what they have; afraid of each other. We have reached a moment when the politics of fear have duped millions into electing a man entirely unfit for the duties to which he is oath-bound to serve. We have reached a moment when lies are far louder than truths and accepted as real by sections of society.

We have reached a point where at long last the old Confederate sympathies are being brought into the light of day as racist echoes of a failed rebellion from 150 years ago. Yet the zeal of the most outspoken on the far-left has created its equal reaction to the zeal of the far-right. Both now have sizeable factions at their rallies who are armed, ready to fight.

Extremism in any form is unnatural and unhealthy. Yet in the current moment in American history it is the extremes of our society that are the most vocal. I cannot deny that our political system is flawed, it absolutely is. I cannot also deny that American capitalism favours the rich, that is how the playbook has been written. I would be an idiot to ignore that our society is rigged against anyone who is not male and of European descent, there is a racial hierarchy in this country that has existed since the colonial era. But I would be blind to also deny that we can change things for the better. We can fix our corrupted political system, we can rewrite the codes that govern our capitalism, we can stand up everyday for the rights of all in this country and day by day continue to chip away at those old biases. But we cannot do these things while we are taken hostage by the far-right and far-left of our society. We cannot fully achieve the great work of our society while our society is a hostage to the militant few willing to kill their fellow Americans in defence of their extreme convictions.

We must continue to march, to protest, to organise, and to vote. We must carry on the good work that our predecessors undertook in generations past. We can make this country a better place for our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren to live in. But we must walk the middle road of moderation to do so.

We must understand the full consequences of our actions, we must learn from our history so that we do not make the same mistakes again. There are many who are opposed to the removal of the Confederate monuments because that is “erasing our history.” I disagree. By removing those monuments to a rebellious movement in our history, we are forcing the book closed on that chapter that has yet to settle. After all, we still see the way in which Americans continue to threaten one another with violence at the slightest hint of progressive reform. To make our society better for the next generations we must rid ourselves of this disease of extremism. We must show those who want violence that through peaceful debate we can achieve far greater things.

“For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” When the far-left responds to the far-right’s threats of violence with equal threats the far-left only continues that same cycle of violence. Consider that maxim again: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Threats of violence may well be equal on both sides, but the threat of violence on the left is not opposite to the threat of violence to the right. It is not the positive to the right’s negative. Only peaceful protest, nonviolent refusal to play by their rules of violence can achieve that. Through peace and nonviolence we find our equal and opposite reaction. Let’s try it for once. You never know, it might just work.

Quantity over Quality

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When we hear many politicians try to add weight to their arguments, they often will add references to their own lives, “I served in the Army for 20 years,” or “Having been a lawyer for 35 years.” In this way, they seek to promote their argument through the weight of what they possess. One of the most common that was used by Congressional Republicans in order to prove they are not misogynists like Trump was to bring their “wives and daughters” into their argument. This is a technique that I like to call rhetorical quantifying, a way of attempting to prop up a fairly weak, or entirely unoriginal argument by showing how one’s relates to the topic, whether it be through family, friends, acquaintances, or personal possessions.

 I’ll be completely honest; this tactic really annoys me. A valid argument will always be able to stand on its own without the help of some extra quantitative fluff. It doesn’t matter that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is married to a woman, nor that he has a daughter, what matters is that his argument is valid. Yet what makes this tactic go by with so little press is that the general public has largely accepted it. People in all situations will attempt to bolster their position in a discussion, argument, or even a fight by trying to show how much better they are than someone else.

 On Saturday, at the height of the chaos unleashed by White Supremacists on Charlottesville, Virginia, a 20 year old from Ohio named James Fields drove his car into a crowd of counter-protestors killing one and injuring nineteen others. Upon hearing the news from reporters, his mother in the spur of the moment used this same technique pointing out that her son “had an African American friend.” While she was certainly in the early stages of processing all that her son had done, and the fact that he will quite possibly spend the rest of his life in prison, the way in which she attempted to counter his white supremacist actions by bringing his African American friend into the conversation shows the weakness of this argument. It does not matter that he was friends with someone who is not of European descent, what matters are his intentions and actions.

 Rhetorical quantifying rests heavily upon two particular issues, firstly the use of non-consequential evidence within an argument, that is mentioning one’s connection to a certain group of people or things in an attempt to bolster one’s argument and secondly the inherent possessiveness of quantifying. In regards to the argument itself, both issues are inevitably overshadowed by the fundamental reality that quantifying distracts from the main argument. A listener who should be paying close attention to a politician’s weak denial of misogyny is instead distracted by the sudden appearance of all of the female members of that politicians’ nuclear family.

 Rhetorical quantifying is just one of many tools a speaker can use to distract an audience away from a main point that might be rather unseemly. Though not as irritating as pivoting, an art form exhibited beautifully by Senator Al Franken on The Late Show on 1 August, rhetorical quantifying is a tried and true way to avoid answering the question and attempt to cover one’s tracks. Undoubtedly there will be those in Congress and in many state houses across the country that will use rhetorical quantifying to distance themselves from any of the white nationalist groups that partook in the rally this weekend in Charlottesville. Yet while they may gather together all of their connections to both religious and ethnic minority communities, these individuals will still be wolves in sheepskins.

 Rhetorical quantifying is a deceptive tool used to distract. Yet it is a deception that has become so commonplace we hardly notice it. We should consider our arguments carefully and consider whether what we say contributes or distracts from what we are arguing. In my book, rhetorical quantifying is a quasi-boastful tactic to be avoided at all costs.

Optimism and Belief

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In my life, there have been two things standing as constants: optimism and belief. I have embraced these two guiding principles, and striven in due course to live a better life as a part of the wider human community through them. For me, my faith as a Catholic and as a Christian is an inherently positive one; it is a faith in Resurrection, in Union with the Divine Essence, in the fulfilment of the circle and restoration of humanity to paradise.

Yet to allow this faith to persist I have found myself inherently optimistic, always expecting the best from people, and looking at even the darkest of situations with the hope that is required to believe in something greater than Reality. True, this is blind faith, something entirely counter to the principles of our scientific age, yet in the end is not blind faith equally necessary in a scientific setting? After all, we have yet to learn all that there is to know about nature, our sciences are as of yet unfinished in amassing the totality of reality. Therefore, if we are to accept science as an effective and prosperous measure of nature, then we must also accept that that measure is man-made and limited in its scope.

I see those things measured by science each and every day, and I am in awe of their wonder. I see how the Sun rises in the east and sets in the west, how the stars circle in the sky as the year passes. I hear the wind bristling through the leaves of the trees, and across the tall grass prairies. I have known what it means to be caught on the beach at high tide, and to be at the mercy of the awesome tempestuous power of lightning. Past generations might well have worshiped these forces of nature, seen them as gods like Zeus, Taranis, or Ukko, yet I see them as terrestrial, as natural, as real. The true force, the veritable essence to be worshiped is far greater than even the rolling thunder or bristling lightning.

In these circumstances I am reminded of the American hymn How Great Thou Art, yet in the smallest of moments too I am reminded of God’s coming to Elijah on the softest breath of wind in the cave. Divinity and the essence that made all that we know and love is so far beyond our own understanding, yet in that realisation I find my peace.

Often it can be said that I find my belief renewed through music, through that purest, most mellifluous of sound. Some of the most sacred moments of my life, the most moving moments in the story of my belief have come in moments of music, from operas like Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte to the Pilgrim’s Chorus in Wagner’s Tannhäuser to great orchestral outbursts of emotion as in Stravinsky’s Firebird and most all of Mahler’s symphonies; yet equally spiritually potent for me are the more recently composed naturalistic Mass settings that I sang with the Rockhurst University Chorus while an undergraduate student there from 2011 to 2015. Music has long been said to be the Voice of the Heavens, and certainly it has appeared to be so to me.

Yet what I find the most fulfilling to my belief in the Divine is humanity. In the Christian tradition we believe that humanity was “Created in the Image and Likeness of God.” For me, this means that our souls particularly were made in the Divine Image, but that our bodies also have Divine inspiration. When I see humanity, with all our faults, all our problems, all our pain and anguish, I can’t help but be swept off my feet in grief. Yet at the end of the day I always remember the old adage echoed by Little Orphan Annie, “Tomorrow will be a brighter day.”

I believe that one day that will come true, that one day all will be sorted out in our capitals, our courts, our executive palaces. I believe that one day we will march through our cities, not in protest or in anger, not out of anguish or to alleviate our suffering, but because we are celebrating that most essential characteristic of our humanity: liberty. I believe that someday all humanity will walk together, singing in unison, a multitude of voices, of languages, of cultures and creeds making one song. I believe in optimism, and I am optimistic about my belief.

Designing Cities for People

St Paul's at Sunset - April 2016

St Paul’s at Sunset

In older standards of measurement, the imperial mile (1.609 km) was not the longest measurement of distance available; the league filled that role instead. As I have understood it, one league is equal to the distance a person can walk in one hour. For me, that is around three miles, thus making 1 league equal to a decent distance for a nice morning stroll. In 2016 when I was undertaking my first Master’s degree, this one in International Relations and Democratic Politics, at the University of Westminster, I would occasionally decide to walk the league from the university on Regent Street back to my flat in the shadow of Fenchurch Street station on the eastern edge of the old Roman city.

The walk was quite pleasant, a stroll first down from the university to Oxford Circus, then eastwards along Oxford Street to Holborn, and then down High Holborn across the Holborn Viaduct and past the Old Bailey at Newgate, past St Paul’s and onto Cheapside, crossing in front of the Royal Exchange and Bank of England before continuing down Lombard Street and onto Fenchurch Street. At Fenchurch Street station, I would descend a short flight of steps leading towards St Olave’s Hart Street and under the station viaduct itself past the city walls and into my building on Minories.

What made this a nice walk was that I was able to see so much of the capital, everything from the imperial Edwardian grandeur of Regent Street to the new skyscrapers that are being built across the Square Mile to the east. It was an opportunity to experience London as so many had done so before, to get to know the metropolis by foot. In London this is something that can fairly easily be done, one can walk around the capital if one wants to. Sure, most of the suburbs are out of reach for the pedestrian, but with the well established system of underground and suburban railways, as well with the very thorough bus network, London is a city that a person can easily live in without owning a car, let alone riding in one on a daily basis.

When I moved back to Kansas City at the end of August 2016, I thought I would try at keeping up my walking, to walk the same ten miles each day. Yet that didn’t happen. Far from it, I found Kansas City to a.) be built largely for cars, and b.) with a climate far more harsh than the one I had known in London. As a result, not only did I not walk nearly as much as I had wanted, but I found myself hardly walking at all beyond going out of my parents’ house to get into the car and drive somewhere.

While my own lack of fortitude certainly is to blame in part for this sudden drop in my exercise, I also have to lay blame on the city planners here in Kansas City. This city, like so many others in the United States and Canada were designed, or re-designed, for motorists. In fact, it is illegal for a human being to walk in the street in Kansas City, Missouri; if you’re human, you have to stay to the sidewalks (pavements). The rest of the street is reserved for cars, buses, bicycles, vans, and trucks. We have built this city and so many others like it without the human touch that has made cities so universally human in nature.

For thousands of years, our ancestors have lived in cities that were not unlike the Central London; they were just big enough that an able-bodied person could walk from one end to another in about an hour. Cities were built with walking in mind, with the understanding that all of the basic necessities that a city offers should be within walking distance of each citizen’s home. Smaller medieval cities like Besançon in France, Canterbury in England, or Galway in Ireland are prime examples of this sort of pedestrian-focused urban planning.

“In fact, it is illegal for a human being to walk in the street in Kansas City, Missouri”

Here in the United States too there are some attempts at returning to this older model of having residential and commercial establishments within the same general area. Here in Greater Kansas City there are some newer developments that aspire to this goal. Two in particular that I visited this last Friday stand out to me as examples of how to undertake this task, and how not to do so. The latest pieces in the Town Center shopping complex, Park Place is an excellent example of such a development.

A set of winding, narrower streets lined by three and four story buildings, its street level fronts are filled with shops, restaurants, and some offices, while the upper levels are largely residential. In this way, one can live in a compact community, within which one does not necessarily need a car to get around. I first was able to experience Park Place two years ago when walking a 5K through the Town Center area. At that time Park Place was still under construction, yet even as a construction site it seemed vastly out of place when compared to its neighbours in the most arch-suburban of American counties, Johnson County, Kansas. What particularly makes Park Place odd, and in the end stunted in its growth and feasibility is that one has to have a car to access it. Sure, one could live within Park Place as a pedestrian, but going beyond its towering confines on foot can be a perilous exercise with traffic on the surrounding avenues averaging a speed of around 45 mph (72 km/h).

What Park Place does well is its compactness, including both commercial and residential in the same area. Another, equally new development a few miles south of Park Place ignores this principle of traditional urban planning, setting the residential aside from the commercial. This particular development is the fascinatingly misplaced Prairiefire complex on 135th Street in Leawood, Kansas. Another physically enormous complex, Prairiefire’s crown jewel is the Museum at Prairiefire, billed as Kansas City’s Natural History Museum, and an affiliate with the American Museum of Natural History in New York. While the Prairiefire Museum’s architecture is aesthetically beautiful, its size is much like the rest of the Prairiefire development: lacking long-term thinking.

My biggest problem with Prairiefire is the way in which its residential development is divided from its commercial sector by a massive concrete parking garage. Prairiefire was designed by a suburbanite intending to create their image of a compact urban community, albeit without ever having stepped foot inside of a traditional compact city. By splitting the residential from the commercial, they make it far less amenable to residents to take advantage of the shops, restaurants, and entertainment in the commercial side of the property. What’s more, the Museum at Prairiefire itself is deeply flawed in that it is not built with the ability to expand in mind. The current structure is small, built more like a community arts centre and less like a great temple dedicated to nature.

Our over-reliance on cars here in the United States is flawed at the utmost degree. Should there be a major energy crisis in the near future, the vast majority of our cities and states will find themselves paralysed, unable to function owing to the lack of oil to fuel our cars. Developments like Park Place and Prariefire might be able to last for longer, owing to their relative compactness compared to the more traditional suburban sprawl, yet their isolation amidst the sea of suburbia will soon find these two developments in the same situation as the traditional suburban developments.

Our cities must first and foremost be self-reliant; we must be able to grow our own food, and use our own renewable energy sources to power all aspects of our lives. Yet along side this if we are going to build smart, self-sufficient cities, we must build them more compactly, with ourselves in mind. Just consider, if you are suddenly without your car, and don’t have the option of taking public transport, how will you get around? You could certainly walk around your city, but that prospect is only truly viable if said city is designed for walking.

Today, I generally prefer using metric to the more traditional imperial standards of measurement, yet that most old-fashioned of imperial measures, the league, is one that should be maintained. It keeps us humans at the centre, and reminds us of our own physical limitations and abilities. When we consistently push ourselves far beyond those abilities, we endanger the stability of our societies, making any potential crisis even more disastrous.