Selected writings


My writings

I’m headed back to the farm

(Harvard & Radcliff Class of 1975 35th Anniversary Report, December, 2010)

I spent most of my childhood summers at my grandparents windswept farm on the eastern fringe of the American Great Plains, near Lincoln, Missouri.  They had a horse, cows and a coop full of busy, clucking, egg-laying former dinosaurs known as chickens.  

There were fish in the stock tank and an ancient, gnarly old pie-apple tree near the clothes line that squeezed out lumpy, tart fruits called Northern Spies.  The pigs were about as smart as we were and not much cleaner.  We hauled hay, worked in the garden and picked up errant ears of corn left behind by the harvester.  For fun, we drove to town with my Grandfather in his 1956 chevrolet pickup truck to read comics at the drugstore.  The indoor plumbing was supplied by rainwater so we hauled buckets of impossibly cold, crystal-fresh water from the well to the kitchen for cooking. 

It was paradise.

Today, my parents live on a small farm near a big spring just west of Springfield.  Aside from the river bottom, the soil is poor, but the demand for fresh, local food is a rising tide.  Near them, we’ll build a LEED certified house with nearby oak and walnut timbers I’ll trim and notch together.  We’ll plant fruit trees and hybrid chestnuts and things the Japanese Beetles don’t like.   Am I supposed to do this? 

Near the house-site, I found a creamy white, oval-shaped flint disk with razor sharp edges on all sides.  It fits in your palm.  If you were a Native American midwife and your hands were bloody and you needed to cut an umbilical cord... it would be perfect.  

This is a sign, I tell my wife.  This is a sign.

*  *  *

The Bus Station to Nowhere

(News-Leader Letter to the Editor, March, 2011)

It takes a lot of federal money and a lot of well meaning people to create a giant public absurdity.  In Springfield, this will forever be known as the Bus Station to Nowhere.

Start with City Utilities.  Their staff and board privately repeat the following themes like a mantra: ‘We don’t want the bus system; we don’t like the bus system; will you please take the bus system off our hands? ’

This explains why we operate a sub-par bus system with archaic routes and busses that stop running when people need to get home from work.  But how does it explain a new terminal?  That’s where free money from the Feds comes in: a gift from Senator Bond and a Senate Transportation Committee.   So when you combine “I hate this job” attitude with free government money you get 400 large diesel busses threading their way through an already busy intersection at Elm and Kimbrough for no purpose.

The Bus Station to Nowhere sets in concrete a crazy bus route that requires riders to travel downtown regardless of their actual destination.  Is that the way you drive your car?  “Honey, I’m headed to Andy’s to get you some frozen custard so I’ll be circling downtown for three hours watching it melt first.”

Maybe this stupendous waste of money and resources would be amusing except that MODOT estimates over 30% of our population has no easy access to cars.  Except for the rising gasoline prices.   Except for the thousands of tax & utility paying citizens who depend on public transportation, inept as it is.  Except that busses and texting pedestrians are a bad mix.

In the middle of this traditional CU mix of closed door meetings and bureaucratic stonewalling comes Board Member Dan Scott.  On his own nickel, he spends hundreds of professional hours providing an alternative to the current horse & buggy routes with one that serves a lot more people for NO ADDITIONAL COST.  Further, his routes don’t require a single new bus terminal and they don’t require it to be placed at the intersection of Elm and Kimbrough.  Maybe we need two smaller terminals, North and South on larger avenues.   Maybe we need four tiny ones to also serve neighborhoods in the West and the big industries on the East.   Maybe we need to think about bedroom communities nearby.  Dan’s work leads to the question that would be asked at the many public meetings that weren’t held:  “Why build a new bus terminal first and then pick the best bus routes later?”

Our future as a city depends on great public transportation.  The Bus Station to Nowhere will be a lasting monument to conflict of interest, bad attitude, poor planning, wasted money and squandered opportunities.

Honk if you think Springfield deserves better. 

*  *  *

Get Smart

(News-Leader Letter to the Editor, March 9, 2009)

A City Utilities (CU) SmartGrid will save ratepayers money.  It will tie into national and state electrical SmartGrids being planned by the President and the Governor.  Ratepayers save money; CU saves money; the State saves money and our Nation saves money.

Google and General Electric have announced technology that allows each consumer to know exactly how their electricity is being used; how much that is costing and what they can do to save money.  This requires data communications between ratepayers and CU and fortunately, we already own a foundation for a local SmartGrid:  it’s called SpringNet.

SmartGrids encourage “real time pricing” that let consumers buy energy for their homes and business when the cost is low.  Whether you are drying clothes or running an industrial oven, an informed ratepayer makes better decisions.

SmartGrids are useful in storms or emergencies because CU can selectively turn off non-essential loads or appliances when power lines go down or generating facilities are knocked off line.  Currently, CU blacks out whole sections of the city under such emergencies and people with critical dependance on electricity are left in the cold.

SmartGrids use load-management technology to cycle off residential and commercial air conditioners on the hottest days of summer to minimize peak demand for electricity.  Peak demand is what forces Springfield ratepayers to build new coal fired plants (as we are doing now), but load management is a lot cheaper.   Most people never know their air conditioning has been off for a few minutes for several hours each year.  But they can pay a lower rate because they have agreed to purchase “curtailable” electricity.

SmartGrids will be essential when electric vehicles become widely available in the next two years.   An electric car can demand as much electricity as a small house and in Europe, SmartGrids are being built to manage the batteries in each car.   Car battery management reduces system peak problems because batteries become a type of energy reservoir (or “flywheel”) that delivers energy when it is needed.

The President has made alternative energy a national priority.  Springfield cannot continue to burn coal without paying more money for carbon taxes, captive transportation fees (single provider railroads) and higher costs for CO2 pollution.   Alternative energy is intermittent, so a SmartGrid is the best tool to manage this supply and distribute it when needed.  Electric car batteries can be programmed to buy cheap solar and wind energy when available and to sell it back to the grid when CU needs it.   All these transactions happen automatically, according to the wishes of the consumer and utility.

A SmartGrid is not a conservation mandate that forces people to do without.  It is a garage sale for energy:  consumers know the cost of energy and they make the best decisions how to use it.   Everybody wins because we get more usable energy for less money with less idle generating equipment.  We pollute less, waste less and we keep more Springfield dollars in the economy.

I’m not convinced a Springfield SmartGrid will require a rate increase.   But, I’m absolutely certain a new power plant will require one.  Now is the time to get smart.

Learn more about SmartGrids and all kinds of energy at the Ozarks New Energy Conference, April 30 and May 1 at MSU.  

*  *  *

Eyewitness to the Impeachment

(News Leader Letter to the Editor and Springfield Business Journal Letter to the Editor, February 11, 1999)

On Monday, February 8, 1999, John Twitty and I were eyewitnesses to the final arguments in the Senate impeachment trial of President Clinton.

The Scene

A guard with a spiral wire speaker in his ear opens the ornate door to the Senate and leads us to the front row looking down at a remarkable tableau.

The Senate Chamber is small and intimate as a downstairs den.  Festooned with carvings and quiet splendor, this is a throne room in a civil religion we call America. 

Senators focus their attention on the Well of the room.  From this depression, a gruff man in a wheelchair scours the audience with dark eyes and pours forth words that rise and fall till I find myself leaning forward to gather them all.  I touch the top rail and the Guard reacts with hysteria.

A minor offense nearly forces my removal from high office. 

The eccentric Chief Justice wears a black robe with four gold bands on each arm and his thick glasses make you wonder... is he asleep, angry, bored?  He chews gum and gets up mid-sentence to arch his aching back.   Supreme Court cases that will carve gold letters of great law in marble panels receive exactly one hour of oral argument.  This case has festered four weeks.

Large tables of slumped-over advocates, Managers and Defenders, make nests of paper and watch their work’s fortune in the face of the jurors.

Charles Ruff, the President’s counsel,  nears the end of his two hour defense of a man raised just south of Springfield.  With a relentless recital of doubt and an hour to spare, he gives up his voice to his antagonists.

Trent Lott asks for a recess.  Some Senators bolt for the doors, and some stay to play politics. Tom Harkin and Trent Lott reach a compromise and Harkin circulates to pitch the deal to others.  Dianne Feinstein scribbles a draft of a censure statement.    A Page arrives with an important package.  A Senator tears it open to reveal glossy color photos of.... Monica?  No!  A family vacation!  Bob Kerrey maneuvers his prosthetic leg next to John Kerry  and the two tall gray Vietnam vets joke about a blue dress.  Strom Thurmond plows past colleagues who still have their hearing like a man headed into a sandstorm.   The man who ran for President against Harry Truman is a blackhole of history.  Ted Kennedy finds comfort in the water glass that palsied hands carry to his lips and back.    Joe Biden shows off his best Rotary Club Clutch as he cruises the floor bear-hugging friend and ideological foe alike till Lott announces the Senate will be assembled and from cloak rooms they appear.  Ruff told the Managers they shouldn’t touch this case with a ten foot poll, but here they are, pushing uphill against a withering volley of indifference.

They are mostly Southerners storming the high ground, waving a tattered flag of honor.

McCollum of Florida sets up Canady from Florida and now we see the strings forming from the Well to each desk.  With each fierce word the Senators on the right are pulled to the lecturn, eyes on point.  On the left, the gale of disgust leaves the strings limp and those seated fall back to find refuge behind books and scribbling yellow pencils.  The words burn and the call to arms lifts us to the edge of our chairs.

If Canady had whipped a new rope over the nearest outstretched marble hand, there would have been a hanging... but no.   Bryant from Tennessee rises to flatter, wander and repeat till the ground gained is lost.

Now comes our neighbor Asa Hutchinson from Arkansas.  His voice rings and thunders to make Dan’l Webster proud, but in such detail that his righteous figure almost melts into a quicksand of swirling he-saids and she-saids.

Rogan from Southern California places each polished word before our ears, but now we feel the steel frame of the seats. 

Graham from South Carolina speaks from scribbled notes and he treats the squirming audience with humor and sly persuasion.  The room almost sighs to be free from the puritanical thrashing.

Finally, we see the figure of Henry Hyde rising and then rising again till he towers over the table, at least two men high.   He is huge and topped with long silver hair and giant Harry Carey eyeglasses.  He is shaped like he wears a hula hoop for a belt. 

Built for power, not speed;  he shuffles to the lectern.  He is funny, and devastating when he reads from a copy of the Democratic censure proposal that is stronger than the Articles of Impeachment and if everyone in the room could vote for that, well then, they could convict.

We listen with affection;  but the only conviction Henry Hyde has won is the one shared by everyone in the room: the votes do not exist for removal.

Hyde retreats and Lott clears the field with a rapid motion.  

Outside, brilliant blue-white bursts of light show where shadowy news crews hold vigils on the balconies of Congressional office buildings and among huge hardwood trees.   Only about three hundred people were in the room for this great test of democracy and once outside they scatter until suddenly, we are alone.

*  *  *

Times Beach times two: Coal Tar

(News Leader Letter to the Editor, February 2, 2010)

Do you remember the Times Beach, Missouri scandal from the ’80’s?  A company produced a defoliant for Vietnam but the waste product was laced with dioxin, a deadly cancer causing poison.  Instead of paying to dispose of it properly, they sold it in tanker trucks to a local contractor who spread it on city streets to hold down dust.  Times Beach had to be evacuated and abandoned.  The toxic streets were bulldozed and burned at taxpayer expense.  

Welcome to Times Beach times two: the Springfield chapter.  

In our case, companies start with coal to produce a high carbon product called coke, used to make steel.  The waste product is laced with PAH’s (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) which include deadly cancer causing agents, including the grandaddy of industrial toxic waste: benzo[a]pyrene.

Rather than pay the estimated disposal cost of $500 per barrel, they mix it with clay and sell it to contractors who spread it on top of asphalt parking lots for schools, daycare centers, hospitals, churches, businesses and homes right here in Springfield, Missouri.

Hundreds of thousands of pounds of this toxic waste are spread and distributed throughout our city each year.  PAH’s are also in waste oil, burned hot dogs, cigarettes and lots of things; but nothing compares with the volume and public exposure to tons of these toxins on parking lots. 

Coal tar pavement may contain up to 50% deadly PAH’s by weight.  As you can see for yourself, it wears off.  Where does it go?   You breath it.  You track it into your house and it hides in your carpet.  Your kids play on it at school and they carry it into classrooms.  It washes off in rains and go down our rivers where it kills microorganisms that feed fish.  PAH’s contain long lived poisons that don’t easily dissolve in water.   They remain in our stream sediments like billions of tiny time bombs. 

The United States Geological Survey found “two homes near Chicago with PAH levels in their driveways at thousands of times the amount that would trigger a toxic-waste site cleanup”.  We have homes and apartments just like that throughout Springfield.

If you put a healthy tadpole in a cup with water and 300 PAH parts per million; you kill it.  Water runoff ten times times this strong are coming off coal tar parking lots and we walk in it.  Then we carry it to every floor in our city with our shoes.  

Maybe you’re thinking this is an Erin Brockovich movie or a nightmare, but it’s really a poison magic trick:  A coal tar sealer contains EPA priority pollutant toxic waste.  When you spread it in front of a daycare center, however, it becomes safe for children.  When you scrape if off and put it in a bag, it magically turns back into toxic waste.

We are conducting hearings on City Council on these poisons, and to the credit of the local contractors who coat parking lots... they have been very cooperative.  They have safe alternatives to coal tar that last as long and cost less according to their suppliers.

Because misery loves company, you should know that Springfield is not alone.  Thousands of towns and cities are being poisoned by coal tar sealants, mostly east of the Mississippi.  This entire scandal is a recent discovery and it came to our attention by a local volunteer citizen board known as the EAB, the Environmental Advisory Board.  We owe them a huge debt for their hard work and dedication.  Because of their work, the City of Springfield, local hospitals, our school system and others are now aware of the risks.

Click on these reports so you will know the truth.  I encourage you to act swiftly to help us protect our families and our streams.

*  *  *

Wondrous Stories of the Maker Faire

(News Leader Letter to the Editor, June 4, 2009)

Like a modern Marco Polo, I return to you with wondrous stories of the Maker Faire in San Mateo, California in the heart of Silicon Valley.   An estimated 70,000 people paid to see the fire breathing, high-tech, steam powered American future.

I saw a fire truck that belched fire, and

a mammoth mechanical fist powered by shrieking diesel motors and controlled by two guys who sent us colorful hand signals, and

a skating Barack Obama robot pulling a human in a cart, and

hundreds of homemade rockets hissing into the sky and parachuting to earth, and

giant mechanical cupcakes motoring between weird mutant bicycles, and

a guy building round aquariums to display gently undulating jellyfish, and

a huge ten-foot tall skull built from abandoned computer parts with LED monitors for eyes, and

a clock being built by a former Disney Imagineer that will operate for 10,000 years, and

an Airstream trailer stuffed with pinball machines… played by kids who had never seen a pinball machine, and

A foot long, 60,000 volt electric bolt from four C-batteries that barked like a dog, and

a $700 machine that reads your computer design and makes an object out of plastic… or sugar!

I saw Starwars technology morph with Jules Verne Victorian imagination into an alien artform known as “Steampunk.  There were Steampunk belly dancers in a magic show and they drove a car shaped like a giant mechanical copper snail.  Teams of young blacksmiths hammered out Steampunk artifacts for wide eyed kids.

The two guys who made jetting streams of Mentos and Diet Coke famous were there spewing on legions of laughing spectators.

There were buildings full of kids assembling robots, electronics and gadgets.   There were buildings of kids tearing apart electronics, gadgets and appliances to see what was inside.

Art cars covered with ink pens and pinwheels or shaped like a shark prowled the parade grounds.

Remote controlled battleships fought battles with B-B’s in big tanks ringed with spectators.

Human beings rode on human powered amusement rides and listened to rock bands powered by ranks of laughing men and women pedaling bicycle generators.

Huge steam powered tractors rocked and whistled.   Tiny gasoline engines wrestled from old abandoned washing machines jiggled and wheezed and popped back to life again.

Crowds surged around two (two!) all-electric Tesla sports cars and there were many Prius sedans tricked out as plug-in hybrids that you could charge in your garage and drive for pennies per mile.

Are you tired of hearing that we are beat down and unemployed?  That we are waiting for a bailout or a handout?  That we don’t make anything here in America anymore?

So, let’s fix what we have.  Make what we want.  Invent it.  Build it.  Grow it.  As I saw in San Mateo: we have to ReMake America.

In the surging wild-eyed crowd of thousands, somehow I found Dale Dougherty, the guy who started Maker Faire four years ago.   I asked him if he thought Springfield, Missouri, the Duct Tape capitol of the world, could support a Maker Faire.  He explained that Maker Faires mainly serve local people.  That the Do-it-Yourself movement once meant remodeling, but now covers technology, science, art and crafts.  That he wanted to get Makers out of their shops and basements and garages and celebrate them.

And standing in the middle of this brilliant reawakening of American talent..  he looked at me and said:   "Do you like what you see here?  Then go home and make your own Maker Faire”.

Like I could say no.

*  *  *

Let’s re-think transportation right now

(News Leader Letter to the Editor, July 12, 2009)

Let’s re-think transportation in Springfield right now.

We got through the last gasoline crisis, so let’s prepare for the next one.  And while we’re at it, let’s look at the carbon crisis, the car-congestion crisis, the ozone crisis, the obesity crisis and the demographic crisis.

The multi-vitamin for what ails us is better transportation.  That includes bicycles, electric cars and combined fleets of natural gas powered trucks and busses.

City planners say Springfield’s low density doesn’t support a new BRT or Bus Rapid Transit system; but consider demographics.  Baby boomers are retiring and with that comes a critical need to transport people who can’t drive.  If the city doesn’t make plans now, Boomers will move to states that are planning for all-age transportation.  We’ll leave and we’ll take our retirement funds with us.  A good transportation system serves all ages, abilities and income groups, not just the Triple A’s:  Able, Adult and Affluent.

Natural gas prices are way down because of new discoveries and horizontal drilling technologies that can reduce the cost of driving natural gas powered vehicles to half the cost of gasoline.

The Mayor has called for the reform of our current horse-drawn-carriage bus route system and a public discussion about a modern grid to take its place.  That decision will tell us where we need a new bus terminal and how big it should be.

The Ozarks Transportation Organization is looking at regional transportation strategies to reduce car pollution that is leaving Springfield dangerously close to EPA non-compliance for health-threatening pollution levels.  Twenty eight percent of adults in Missouri are dangerously fat and obesity rates are rising as fewer people walk to work or school or play.

We stand at the crossroads right now.

If we are going to spend $3 million on a new bus terminal, put photovoltaic panels on the top and offer free electricity to anyone who drives an electric car downtown.  Buy a station that liquifies natural gas and get a bid from local companies like the Springfield ReManufacturing Corporation to rebuild the huge bus and truck fleets at CU, Springfield R-12, the City and Greene County so that these vehicles can operate for about half the fuel cost with drastically lower pollution and carbon emissions.  Combine R-12 and City bus routes and fleets so that we can serve more people and students for less money.    Build the Springfield SmartGrid so we can lower electric rates and prepare for the coming tidal wave of electric powered cars.  Set our sights to become a Gold-Level “Bicycle Friendly City” by making it safe and easy to get around town on two wheels.   Expand the Greenways system so people can walk safely all over town.

All of this should be talked about right now.

We don’t have to spend more money; we already have the most expensive transportation system on the planet.  Our goal is to spend money smarter.  The payoff is huge:  lower fleet fuel costs, less citywide pollution, less car congestion, better transportation access for more people, lower carbon emissions, more kids with rides to school and more people getting healthier riding bicycles and walking

Honk if you agree.

* * *

It ain’t comin’ back

(News Leader Letter to the Editor, September 19, 2008)

Here's an amazing coincidence. Ten years ago, Springfield paid about $100 million for natural gas and coal. This year we will pay that plus $150 million.

That means our town will pay the money required to fix the police and fire pension problem, except the money is going to Wyoming and Oklahoma and Louisiana.

And it ain't comin' back.

I believe rising energy costs are like a patient hemorrhaging his life into bloody sheets. Some people believe, like Dick Cheney, that energy efficiency is a "personal virtue." But it is also a city virtue. and we need a citywide plan that can benefit everyone -- renters and owners regardless of income or savings account balances.

If carrying water in a bucket were a community project, and that bucket had a big hole in the bottom, then we could divide everyone in Springfield into two camps.

Some folks would deal with the problem by continually fetching more water. They don't know how to fix a bucket or they aren't motivated or they don't have the time, or whatever.

The other group would fix the hole in the bucket. Maybe they have to spend money and maybe they have to learn a new skill, but they were raised to fix holes in buckets. This is the group I'm speaking for.

Our problem is much worse when you take into account all the fossil fuels purchased in our greater Springfield area, including gasoline. According to the feds, we buy these with over a billion dollars in Springfield cash that leaves town each year and never comes back.

Now before us comes a City Utilities budget. CU is a great company with an excellent board and employees. I plan to vote for their natural gas base rate increase because they are good stewards of our money. But I plan to vote against their operating budget because it doesn't fix the hole in the bucket.

Fixing 100,000 energy-obsolete homes and businesses in town will require thousands of tradespeople, and it will require lots of building materials. We're already spending the money; too bad we're using it to build new malls in Laramie.

The responsibility to stop the systematic impoverishment of Springfield by energy price increases belongs with the City Council. Once we decide we want to keep our money and put people back to work, CU will play their role with distinction.

We need a plan and we need it now.

*  *  *

Do More with Less Carbon

(News Leader Letter to the Editor, April 21, 2009)

We are torching our children's fossil fuel supply and leaving behind empty coal mines, empty oil wells and empty natural gas fields.  

C02 pollution is the evil twin of our fossil fueled spending spree.  If the earth were the size of those globes we had in grade school, the atmosphere would be the thickness of a layer of varnish.  Into that thin layer goes carbon dioxide crud from billions of sources, day and night.  This spectacular spew of gas traps heat and causes weird weather: tornados in February, killer hurricanes, rising oceans, droughts and other plagues.

Humans have raised the average temperature of our only planet about 1.5 degrees F.  The skeptics say big deal.  But if yesterday you were 98.6 degrees F and today you are 100.1 degrees; you feel sick.  You lose energy, your body aches and it uses the higher temperature to kill off an infection that would otherwise get worse.

Hmmm... rising temperatures to kill off an infection. 

For most of human history, fewer than a billion people shared the planet:  plagues and disasters took care of "excess" population.  Read your Bible for details.  But since the discovery of fossil fuels, we have almost 7 billion mouths to feed.  

We feed everyone with fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, processing, storage, transportation and food preparation with banks of ancient energy we call fossil fuels.   Over hundreds of millions of years, sun nourished plants grew, died and were stored for us.  We convert these ancient plants into new plants because we’re hungry.  The waste we spew into our atmosphere.

Most of the fossil fuel on this planet is owned and operated by a handful of giant corporations and dictatorships including Exxon, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Venezuela, & Nigeria.  The people who control carbon riches could fit on a small yacht and they probably do when they fix prices and buy rogue scientists, radio entertainers, pancake-makeup pundits and corrupt politicians who mouth the same cheat sheet:  “Keep drilling and digging and burning”.

And we do.  The Feds estimate the greater Springfield area annually buys fossil fuels with 1.5 billion dollars that leave town and never come back.  Our prices go up, our freedom goes to dictators and the weather gets weirder.  

Our best solution is to do more with less carbon.  We should energy-upgrade 100,000 buildings in Springfield to provide jobs for thousands and keep money here where it belongs.  We should grow, process and distribute local food sustainably, with less fossil fuel, using good land conservation practices.  Local farms can provide new jobs and better food for less energy.  We need energy efficient transportation.

We should pay attention to the calamitous build-up of carbon pollution in our atmosphere because if you want to grow food, you need good weather.  Our burning of carbon will decline with scarcity and that will solve the CO2 problem but that’s like selling your car for gas money. 

Learn more at the Ozarks New Energy Conference, April 30 and May 1 at MSU.

*  *  *

Here’s a selection of published pieces.  Most are from 2007-2011, but I included the eyewitness view of the final arguments at Bill Clinton’s Impeachment Trial.

Wanna Get Away?

(News Leader Letter to the Editor, September 30, 2010)

Springfield electric rates are going up 16% right away and there are requests for an additional 7% over three years.  We expect BNSF rail rate increases on coal deliveries in a few years and there will be higher costs for the carbon pollution that comes with burning mountains of coal.  In sum, nothing will stop new rate hikes for coal fired electricity in our region.

Wanna get away?

Today in Springfield, you can get an historically cheap fixed rate mortgage on a house.  If you use some of that money to put solar Photovoltaic (PV) panels on your roof, you can make your own electricity for almost the same price the local utilities will be charging.    Then you can cap your own rate to yourself… for the next 30 years.   That’s how long your solid-state PV panels will be making pre-tax, fixed-rate electricity.     At night, you can buy electricity from the utility… because Net Metering is the law in Missouri.  Someday soon, you’ll have an electric car in the garage so you can supply your own fuel from your own roof and sell the excess to City Utilities.

Insulation, windows and appliances are radically better today than they were a few years ago, so you don’t need as much energy to live better.  New green buildings are going up because they are cleaner, healthier and cheaper to operate.

New mid-range wind generators are now on the market for you folks in the country and if you have a pile of wood nearby, there’s a company in Ozark making great little small steam powered electrical generator sets.  

There are exciting new developments in solar technology, local farm supplied energy crops, small scale nuclear generators, local hydroelectric power stations, hybrid cars and bio-fuels.  

If you want to get off the rate hike escalator, then show up at the the Ozarks New Energy Conference at MSU on October 7 and 8.  We’re close to selling out our biggest auditorium, so you need to act now.  

The ONE conference starts early on Thursday morning with a remarkable presentation of Photovoltaic powered homes by an engineer from California who has done over 100 Certified Net Zero Energy projects.  You’ve got to see it to believe it.

Dan Chiles is the co-founder of the ONE Conference and a Board member.  He is Mayor Pro Tem of the City of Springfield.

*  *  *

The Restoration of our City Square

(A speech given at the beginning of the restoration of the City Square, November 5, 2010.   Thanks to Mike Brothers for his help.)

We’re here today at this historic crossroads to pull up bricks on an important and historic restoration project.  Renovating historic homes and buildings is a garden variety activity these days.   In Springfield, we’ve restored several landscapes, including parts of the Jordan Valley and Fassnight Park.

But where we stand today is not entirely a living space, nor it is simply an open space. The design of Park Central Square as drawn by Lawrence Halprin & Associates nearly 40 years ago brings together the natural and the urban and seeks to create a place where we can gather in groups, reflect in solitude, be entertained or simply pass through on a pleasant stroll through our ever changing weather.

Lawrence Halprin had a clear vision for places such as our Square. He called this “an active space for pubic assembly, devoted to pedestrians and their needs and comforts.” He showed an active interest in this place, one of his many brilliant designs, just months before he died last year.

We are gathered here today to restore his work to serve the changing demands of our great city and our citizens.   This is not a cosmetic or a radical do-over. This is a renovation of a valued public asset.  Look around you... in a city that today, has over 80 square miles, this is a small space has been the heart of Springfield, Missouri for over 170 years.

This place holds tight...the ghosts of gangsters, flappers, immigrants, Confederate soldiers, Union soldiers, U.S. Presidents, Grapes of Wrath refugees, victims of mob violence and thousands of star crossed lovers who rode horses in from farms to spend Saturday evening in the Queen City.

This is the stage for the deadly shootout between “Wild” Bill Hickok and Dave Tutt and for every western movie that copied it.   This was a relay station for the Butterfield Overland Stage.  Both the Trail of Tears and Route 66 pass through this very place where we stand.

You and I are not the only ones to see the great historical value of this place.  This is the first work of Lawrence Halprin, a Presidential Medal of Arts winner, to be added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Halprin was a great urban design innovator,  known around the world.   Springfield, Missouri can claim Park Central Square as “a Halprin” right alongside his other major works such as the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C., Ghiradelli Square in San Francisco and the Haas Promenade in Jerusalem. Halprin reasserted the landscape architect’s role in regenerating the American city. He made vital social and pedestrian spaces out of formerly marginal sites. That’s certainly true of our Square — it was essentially a parking lot before Halprin and his project manager George McLaughlin reshaped it.

Some of the elements they added — which we will restore — include the fountain inspired by our limestone bluffs... shade trees, a gazebo and stone seating blocks.   For decades, and with other things on our minds apparently, we let this work fall into decline.  Trees and seating blocks were removed. A perimeter wall was added that blocked easy access from all sides.  The Square became a symbol of a downtown falling into decline.

But now, downtown is roaring back with vim and vigor.   And this beautiful square will be restored to its rightful place as the front porch for our town, our region and the world of visitors who will find this place to be the best we have to offer.

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