The Art of The Imaginable

Road to Resilience

“…  Her enthusiastic two-hour presentation, punctuated with dramatic readings, wry humor, and songs, traces the evolution of the love story across the centuries. The emphasis is on the evolving role of women and the emergence of feminist sensibilities. The crowd is thrilled by the literary depth and intellectual breadth of the evening and rewards Katrín Jakobsdóttir with a standing ovation, which she graciously accepts before heading back to her day job—as prime minister of Iceland.” (The Nation, Apr. 2, 2018)
One can’t help having leader-envy when comparing Ms. Jacobsdottir to the leader of our  country.  What a difference it would make to have a leader with a deep sense of history and understanding of the important issues of the day and a sense of what the future must bring.   As much as I would like, I don’t think such a person could step into our presidency today.  We are the foremost protagonists of the status quo and too obsessed with empire.  Only a small country with no reputation or position of power to defend could so easily accept that the status quo is no longer viable.

Aside from the need to counter a heavily patriarchal society such as ours, the rise of women has another distinct advantage.  Women are a traditionally underrepresented group and are not so heavily invested in the status quo.  In addition, Ms. Jacobsdottir is only 45 years old, which means she is even less invested in the status quo.

If we have learned anything from the first year of this presidency, it is that this country has a lot of resilience.  Having maintained some sense of order and purpose despite unprecedented incompetence and buffoonery at the top, we should be able to see that we could survive well thought out and critically needed change.

We need to start taking Ms. Jacobsdottir’s perspective.  Where politics is traditionally considered the “art of the possible”, she sees it more as the “art of the imaginable.”  I think that most of us can see that the future is coming at us a lot faster than we ever expected and that it is changing the grounds of all our assumptions.  Just a few years ago the possibility of the demise of the internal combustion engine as our prime mover or the transition to 100% renewable energy were dim prospects in the foggy far future.  Those are not nearly so world changing as the prospects for artificial intelligence and automation.  Those will call into question our very basic premises of what it means to be a person, or people, in this world.

Given that we will be thrown out of our cradle whether we like it or not, why can’t we use a little more imagination solving our immediate problems?  I look at the recent planning process here in our community, and I see that once again, we visualized our future as an extrapolation of the present, as if climate change, resource depletion, automation, and who knows what else are just marginal factors.  It’s true that we really can’t see where the rapidly changing trends will put us in the future, but we could at least use our imagination and try to come up with creative solutions seeing that much of the status quo is no longer working.

As an owner-builder and an urban planner, what I find most frustrating about our plan and our current thinking is our inability to see solutions for housing all of our people regardless of income.

By privatizing all of our land, we have created a land commodity market that anyone could see from the very start would eventually exclude people with lower incomes.  We can reestablish public lands simply by buying them back, as the Vashon Maury Island Land Trust does now for open space and vital natural functions.  Community Land Trusts for all land uses, not just open space, are well established across the country, even here on Vashon.  If the status quo model for development offers no solutions for affordable housing, the answer is not to just wring our hands, the answer is to try something else.  Why can’t we look to secure the rental stock we already have so that it doesn’t continue to disappear?  Back in the 70’s, the County offered to buy development rights to preserve agricultural land.  The rights purchased then have preserved those properties to this day.  We could do something similar for rental housing or we could offer to buy it outright.  The institutions that brought us this problem are not going to give us the solution.

The housing market, the building codes, the financial institutions, and the building industry we have today are broken.  The world does not need to revolve around the for- profit development model.  We need to employ the art of the imaginable.  The institutions are going to change, so let’s build the new ones with people and Nature as the top priorities.  I hope that women can lead the way.