Dear Mom and Dad: You Succeeded

http://s3-ec.buzzfed.com/static/enhanced/webdr02/2013/2/27/22/enhanced-buzz-25186-1362020717-1.jpgI had the good fortune of catching up with a grad school classmate of mine earlier this month.  Like me, he is a child of immigrants: Nigeria, in his case.  And, like me, he is a man of many pursuits: in his case, Ph.D., not-for-profit executive, and health care entrepreneur.

Invariably, the conversation led to our shared experience as children of immigrants, and how that shaped our sense of self and purpose.  Our families' life circumstances and reasons for coming to the US had many differences, but in both cases what they forged in our parents was a tireless commitment to doing whatever it took to provide for their children and make sure they had a chance to thrive in this country.

My friend and I both noted that our life pursuits, broader and riskier than that of our parents, sometimes engendered caution and disapproval from them.  When you are in a new country, don't speak the language, and have a family to provide for, there isn't much space for taking chances.  No, your best bet is to find a well-paying technical job, work your tail off at it, keep your head down, and live well below your means to make sure your family is set up.

Indeed, for both my friend and I, our parents followed this game plan to a T, sometimes to extreme and comical effect.  Oh, the stories we shared!

It occurred to my friend and I, though, that though that we were stepping out from the kind of career types our parents knew and encouraged, our parents ought to satisfied rather than upset.  Their whole lives were about scraping and clawing so we could have the opportunity to be exactly who we have turned into: hard-working, motivated, and free to choose the career that allowed us to thrive.  In other words, just like them in attitude and ethic, but with a whole horizon of opportunity before us, rather than the more limited paths available to them.

As a parent, I worry and fret and pray and work and fight and stress every day, that my children will turn out OK.  Everything I do, I do so that they will carry on what I believe in but have greater and greater freedom to express that in ways that are true to who God made them to be.  I long to hear from my kids someday that I have succeeded in accomplishing this.

I have told my own parents this before, but it bears repeating and I am making note to do so next I talk to them, which is that after all they have sacrificed and stressed and hustled and harangued, they too have succeeded in accomplishing everything that mattered to them.  I am carrying on the same ethic because it is deeply engrained in me by them.  I stand before a vast playing field of opportunity, and it is vast because of them.  And, I am going for it, thankful for my parents who made it possible and thinking of my children for whom I do all I do.


Lazy Linking, 137th in an Occasional Series

Stuff I liked lately on the Internets:

137.1 The humans who screen out genitalia and gore from your FB feed wrd.cm/10qAzwi @wired

137.2 The real reason for less scoring in baseball: ump evals mean bigger strike zones nyti.ms/1z1fzKO @upshotnyt

137.3 Detroit, hot new manufacturing hub for two-wheeled vehicles for.tn/1nDoT3o @fortune

137.4 Some of my favorite things at this link, incl: play, GIS, Design Collab, Azavea bit.ly/1pAK2a9 @nextcityorg

137.5 Ferguson got the way it was thru racist land use policies theatln.tc/1vpO5vL @theatlantic


Philadelphia Parks Alliance Annual Fundraiser at Reading Terminal Market

I am honored to be on the event committee of the Philadelphia Parks Alliance’s Celebration 2014, its annual fundraiser that this year will take place on Sunday, November 16 at Reading Terminal Market.  Parks are part of what make Philly great.  And the Parks Alliance are part of what makes Philly's parks great.  So if you are a lover of Philly and its parks, you should support the Parks Alliance.
The event will run from 6pm to 9pm, with a special pre-event tour of Reading Terminal Market starting at 4:30pm.  Kids are welcome (my two will be there), and among other activities there will be a silent auction (always fun for window shopping or real shopping).  
I may be hitting some of you up individually, but here’s three big group asks:
      (1) Buy a ticket.  This is easy.  Tickets are $100, or $150 if you want in on the tour.  
      (2)   Donate an item for the silent auction.  If you or your company has access to in-kind contributions, like a gift certificate for your restaurant, a product from your store, tickets to a sporting event or cultural performance, or a vacation home, please consider sharing it with the Parks Alliance.
      (3)   Be a sponsor.  Sponsorships start at $500 and are a great way to connect your company to a great cause.  My firm is a sponsor.  
Click here for more information on the Parks Alliance, the event, and how to help.  Hope to see you there, and let’s come together and support our parks in Philadelphia!


Friendly Philadelphians

http://media.philly.com/images/600*450/I-120519522.jpgMy first week in Philly as a college freshman, I remember stopping at the corner Wawa for a hoagie.  The person who took my order could not have been more disinterested in my food purchase.  Somehow, the order made its way to the back counter, the sandwich got made and wrapped, and then it sat there just feet from me.  I tried in vain to get my order-taker to transport my food from the back counter to me, and when I finally flagged them down they expressed so much disgust at being interrupted that I actually got embarrassed at their public harrumphing instead of being enraged at their lack of care.

Customer service was so scarce in the Philadelphia of my college days that I still recall picking up a movie from Blockbuster in California when I was visiting my parents over the holidays, and when I got home I noticed it was the wrong movie in the box, so I drove back to the store in a huff, ready to do battle with the whole staff if I needed to.  Only I got three words into my tirade and the person apologized profusely, leapt into action, recruited a fellow staff person to assist in getting me the right movie, and then apologized some more.  And here I was all wound up for a real fight.

Fast forward to the present, and the times they have a-changed.  Earlier this month my family stayed at a hotel downtown, and every single staff person there was absurdly friendly.  They were funny, cheerful, eager to serve, and genuinely engaged in making our experience top-notch.  I even got a great vibe from the cabbie who drove us home.

A lot has changed between the Philadelphia of my college days and today's Philadelphia.  For your own proof, hail a cab or stay in a hotel.  Or go back to that corner Wawa I went to way back when; I'll bet you they take food orders in a much more pleasant manner now.


Digital Killed the Analog Star

http://rlv.zcache.co.uk/digital_killed_the_analog_star_tshirt-rb8e62deb48cc448b9cb22e2ec9279df7_f0cke_324.jpgSince we formed Econsult Solutions in January 2013, we have been much more aggressive about our self-promotion.  One manifestation of this is our email newsletter and related blasts.  I like to joke that if I make it down the street without tripping, that's cause for sending out a mass email.  All kidding aside, though, we do want people to be aware of what we are up to, and impressed enough that we are doing lots of good stuff that they will want to hire us.

Obviously, so many emails can get on some people's nerves, and we have had our share of unsubscribes.  But the majority of the feedback, at least to my face, has been overwhelmingly positive.  People like receiving these news blasts, they admire that we are doing lots of good things, and they commend us for being active and consistent in our marketing.

It tells me that I can be less concerned about the possibility of "too much email."  Years ago, there were more people who did not like and in fact got quite enraged when their inboxes were stuffed with promotional messages.  Nowadays, people have gotten more comfortable with higher volumes of information.  We can choose to read, save, or trash any given email without feeling like it took a whole lot out of our lives.

From the sender's side, this is great news.  We want people to read our blasts, of course.  But even if they don't, the fact that they received it and registered in their head that we did something newsworthy is a plus for us.  And if they delete it immediately, at least they did not do so in a rage.  In other words: lots of upside, very little downside.

Perhaps we are finally moving into a fully digital world.  I've made this point before, but digital is different than analog.  It used to be that how much space an entry got in an encyclopedia set was correlated with that entry's importance, which made sense when you were physically producing the things and there were real costs associated with having to print more pages.  When Wikipedia first came out, and Britney Spears' entry was longer than St. Augustine's, people thinking the old way got upset, because that meant Britney Spears was considered more important than St. Augustine.  But in a digital world, a longer entry means nothing. 

Of course, if we send so many emails that any one email gets devalued to the point of nothingness, that's not good, either; that's the modern-day equivalent of the boy who cried wolf.  But I like that we regularly blast our honors and actions to our subscribers, because that's what I want in return from people and organizations I want to keep abreast of.  There are some things about this brave new digital world that aren't half bad.


Like or Unlike

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6e/Dallas_skyline_and_suburbs.jpgMy attendance at a regional planning meeting triggered a question that I'd like to pose to all of you.  Here's the question.

On the one hand, we are becoming a more tolerant society.  We are more comfortable with diversity of all kinds.  Younger generations harbor a fluidity in social norms, relationships, and beliefs that stands in stark contrasts to the stereotyping, mistrust, and self-segregation of old.  All of this argues for households making location choices that favor mixed settings, where you are neighbors with others who are different from you.  Sameness, after all, is boring and passe; diversity is hot. 

On the other hand, there is a growing gap between the have's and the have-not's, and the fork in the road is education.  So families with means are increasingly insistent on making sure their kids are in the best schools, which means sorting oneself with others like you.  Furthermore, we are becoming more politically polarized, so we are less and less likely to live in a politically heterogeneous neighborhood and rather more likely to dwell among others of your party persuasion. 

So which is the stronger force: the desire to be with others not like you or the desire to be with others just like you?  Obviously, for individuals and households, this is a deeply personal question, and furthermore one's answer may change over time as you go through various stages in life.  But, all in all, is one pull going to be stronger than the other?  Whichever it is, it will have profound implications for local government, land use patterns, school district budgets, and transportation infrastructure, to say nothing of the social influences we subject ourselves to.

So, what do you think?  Like or unlike?


Too Long For a Tweet, Too Short for a Blog Post XI

http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2011/04/08/plastic.freinkel1_custom-9ef5ba3ed81966639e150a5a39a2d34e1893e76b.jpgHere's an excerpt from a book I recently read: "Plastic: A Toxic Love Story," by Susan Freinkel.

I’ve looked at photos of dozens of dead Laysan albatrosses — pictures that capture in the starkest way the threat plastics pose to the natural world.  Every carcass seems a mockery of the natural order: a crumbling bird-shaped basket of bleached bones and features filled with a mound of gaily colored lighters and straws and bottle caps. The birds are dissolving back into the ground; the plastics promise to endure for centuries.