Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Hiking the newest section of Coates Bluff Trail, one marked by Feico Kempff this week

P1100146 by trudeau
P1100146, a photo by trudeau on Flickr.

Mon at the ABS meeting I got a gift from Feico Kempff: a map of a newly ribbon-blazed Coates Bluff Trail extension.

Did not imagine I would be using it on Wed afternoon.

But I had an intrepid group of student nature trippers who said, "Is there someplace we could trek different from last time?" Having just come over the Monte Carlo bridge I thought, Why don't we tuen east and explore the Feico extension? We did it.

Twas a terrific adventure. We came out on the side of the construction site neat Stoner and Fant. We trekked over to the skate park, then back to Magnet. About an hour and 15 of walking. Best parts: the ridge above the slough, the bamboo forest, the pile of cross-trail logs over which we had to climb.

Happy students and teacher.

If you have not lately been on the Coates Bluff Trails - there are now 3 pathways - I highly recommend you slip out there. It is lyrical.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Better Shreveport bicycle advocacy fits ComFound, Blue Cross efforts to offset obesity

The fight against obesity in the Shreveport area has started, says KTBS. Healthy Green and into the Outdoors kicked off Saturday, and its goal is to get you fit. This comes after an announcement last year from the Blue Cross, Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation that detailed an initiative to fight obesity.

"We want people to get healthy," Community Foundation Executive Director Paula Hickman said. "We want them to live environmentally sound practices, and we want them to get up and moving outside."

Her organization and others will promote healthy eating, exercise and green practices locally through several healthy living projects. The most important is the creation of community gardens around Shreveport. Hickman says obesity is an expensive problem in the area.

"Our community has about a 27 percent obesity rate, and that's costing us about $150 million a year," Hickman said.

More than a million dollars has been poured into Shreveport . . .

Read more

Saturday, February 23, 2013

NLCOG Bike Path and Strategies for Changing Public Prayer Customs in Local Government at Next Meeting

At one of ABS' recent meetings public prayer was discussed.  We noted the possibility that politicians might welcome to opportunity to grandstand in favor God, love, and all that's sacred. That means we need to creative with our strategies, not bullying.  Along the way we can be affirming and uniting as well.  (Atheists believe in love and sacredness too, by the way.) So, such strategies will a topic at the next meeting.

The first topic at Monday's meeting though, will be NLCOG's new bike trail.  If you're in favor of bike paths, bike lanes, etc.  Come and discuss it with us.  

And by the way, we'll have a guest from the press who'll be interested in your thoughts!

(Summaries of the last two meetings are coming; thanks for your patience!)

Friday, February 8, 2013

Gender Neutral Bathrooms and Public Prayer Discussed at Last Meeting

Sara Whittington, Lani Duke, Carolyn Manning, Barbara Jarrell, Maurice Loridan, Loren Demerath, Victoria Provenza first discussed the need to identify gender neutral bathrooms and encourage their proliferation.  The group then discussed the current public prayer customs in local government.


Sara Whittington is a Centenary student and member of the living-learning community “Node,” devoted to practicing social change through technology and design.  The website is the technology in this case, where people can type in a zip code and see the gender neutral bathrooms in the area.  The group is also working on a design for gender neutral bathrooms symbol that isn’t “binary,” i.e., that doesn’t imply one is either male or female, masculine or feminine.  Loren pointed out that research in biology, psychology, sociology and anthropology shows that gender is more complicated than that.  (Many cultures in the course of history have had a third gender, a variety of sexual orientations have been accepted as well.)

It was noted that progress in including people can go in fits and starts.  Carolyn recalled dance clubs back in Austin in the 80’s where the bathrooms were gender neutral.  

Maurice says he sees single stall unisex bathrooms, and asked if we’re talking new construction for larger bathrooms?  Loren said, not necessarily.  At Earlham College in Indiana in 1980, he seems to recall that his dorm just relabeled gender specific bathrooms to be unisex and the urinals simply went unused.  Carolyn said in some places they construct a partition for the urinal area. 

Still "binary" based, but gotta love the text!

At Colorado College's library
Sara said they’re starting on Centenary’s campus and have gotten funding for signage.  They’ve located 26 single stall bathrooms.  To the end of finding a suitable non-binary symbol they’ve created a pinterest account for reviewing images they’ve come across or developed.  While some noted that a binary symbol would suffice, Loren said it presents a design challenge that can be fulfilling to overcome for Node, and also its success would have the benefit of pushing people’s thinking.  He noted that politically correct language does the same thing: by using the term “First Year” instead of “Freshmen,” or “Police Officer” over “Policeman,” it makes it a little less likely that we think of those positions as necessarily occupied by men.  Loren said his daughter is a bit more likely to think of being a cop as a career option.  The same goes for “B.C.E.” (“Before Common Era”) rather than “B.C.” (“Before Christ”), or “C.E.” (“Common Era”) instead of “A.D.” (“anno Domini” -- “the year of our Lord”), preferred by many to acknowledge that not everyone’s Christian.

Doesn't matter what that placard is covering up, does it?

Along those lines, among the signs that were discussed, were “All Bodies Welcome,” and a circle with an arrow, cross, and equal sign (designed by Barbara Jarrell on the spot).  Others featured here are from the Node blog.

It was noted that the mayor has acquired funds to install bathrooms at Riverfront Park.  Perhaps he’d be willing to make one gender free.  Other locations were thought of: George’s Grill is single stalled, Pierre Bossier Mall in the food court, the All Souls Unitarian Church Office, Target and Walmart both have family bathrooms that could be converted with signage.  (It was noted that in such busy places, people object, saying that the priority should be for dealing with babies and accompanying children, but if they’re heavily used enough to cause those complaints, it shows a need for gender neutral bathrooms to be established in some way that doesn’t affect families negatively.)  Certainly, someone said, there are plenty of gas stations with single stall mens’ and womens’ that could be converted to just two unisex bathrooms.  It was countered that men tend to be less clean in theirs, though maybe they’d be cleaner if it was unisex.
(But no clue with the colors mean)

All of those subtleties to making progress aside, there is a need in Shreveport-Bossier to identifying single stall bathrooms that could be interpretted as unisex and therefore gender neutral, and enter them in  ABS folks are encouraged to email Loren with locations and he’d be happy to enter them.

Victoria, who teaches at Magnet High School, talked about students who have gender identification issues.  Could this raise awareness of gender ambiguities and increase resentment against those people?  Carolyn disagreed and said the child is likely already being bullied.  Barabar said if you just put up the signs unannounced, before any discussion, people may just accept it.

It was asked what the priority is for Node, and for us in ABS: having a bathroom or having a progressive symbols done first?  It was thought the former should be the priority.  It was noted that they used to have bathrooms for African Americans and European Americans here.


The group discussed public prayer in local government.  Loren said he’s been dismayed when prayers end “in Jesus’ name.”  

Lani noted there was a woman who’d objected to reindeer being displayed on public property, but others said many symbols can have religious associations without being actually religious.  

Loren mentioned the more inclusive endings used at President Obama’s recent inauguration: “In In Jesus’ name and all who are right and holy,” and simply, “In your name.”  Loren also mentioned how the Chaplain has ended invocations at Centenary, “In the name of all that we hold sacred.”  Barbara said at some Interfaith gatherings the leader will say: “take a moment to pray in your own tradition, after which I will pray in mine.”  She’s also heard, “Pray in the name of the one who loves us all.”


It was noted councilpersons would probably like to disagree with us on this and to win votes in their constituencies.  It would also give them free media time for their campaigns.

Loren asked if this amounted to a tyranny of the majority, then?  The response was that it was.  Loren said it was too bad, since it marks Shreveport as non-progressive and unwelcoming of diversity, and that won’t help a community grow, at least not this day in age.


On the positive side, Loren mentioned he’ll be interviewed next week for a story on smart growth, and discussed with the group what places he should suggest they visit with the reporter doing the story. Maurice noted we need to describe how residents living right near the retail at 70th and Youree can’t walk or bike there.  He described the retail spaces as islands floating in oceans of car-only terrain. Maurice said the places out past the grid neighborhoods of Highland and South Highland are where they really need bike-ped infrastructure.

Carolyn talked about the need for bike lanes downtown.  It was noted that the presence of bike racks is going to change the attitude downtown.  The head of Brookshires was grateful that Maurice told them to move it out so bikes can fit on both sides.

Addressing sprawl should be an issue in the interview.  Outer developments want our water and sewer services but the tax base doesn’t pay for itself.

It was noted an objective for the city should be to decrease rental and increase home ownership. There are programs such as HAPI that work to that end.  How to raise income levels is the issue, and to fix infrastructure is part of the key.  

Sprawl thins our resource budgets though.  Dara said that impact fees is what the developers should pay: a big chunk to compensate for the infrastructure improvements that their building are going to demand.

In Douglas County Colorado, Victoria mentioned, outside of Denver, they had to build all the infrastructure completely built before they gave the first housing permit.

The parish seems a step ahead of the city in terms of shaping a healthy built environment.  For example, last year, resolution 182012 in the parish required planning for a bike-ped plan.

Kathryn and Cynthia have each taken a turn graciously hosting our monthly social meetings at their respective houses, and this Monday will be Loren's turn.  He's at 115 Atkins Ave.  BYOB or nibbly, or just yourself!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Gender Neutral Bathrooms, Public Prayer, Trails, and Urban Planning, All Topics at ABS Meetings

At the last Monday’s ABS meeting, Loren Demerath, Maurice Loridans, Lani Duke, and Feico Kempff discussed the construction around Coates Bluff, refinements to the new larger loop of the Coates Bluff trail, how Shreveport’s new unified development code may need to be different from that of other nearby cities, the next dog park fundraiser, and gender neutral bathrooms.

At the next meeting on Monday the 4th, the following topics are on the docket (though anyone is free to add to the agenda):
  • Sara Whittington will speak to the group about Centenary’s gender neutral bathroom project, and ABS’s potential for helping make it city-wide.
  • Loren Demerath will suggest that ABS propose to the City Council that it use a universally inclusive prayer format.  The form that is now typically used is not inclusive, often being: “In Jesus’ name, Amen.”  (Loren wonders if the invocation performed at President Obama’s recent inauguration might provide a model: “In Jesus’ name, and the name of all who are holy and right we pray. Amen.”  Or, maybe just “In the name of all that we hold sacred, Amen.”)
Other likely topics:
  • reports on bicycling parade route as improvised “Cyclovias,”
  • news on downtown development or the dog park
  • opportunities for trail development--Coates Bluff and elsewhere
  • strategies for shaping the unified development code.

Feico brought his ma.and described the new Magnolia Charter School, and the apartments at Riverscape (its Phase 1 of construction), and the Coates Bluff apartments also has slabs down and apartments.  

Maurice has repaired the bridge at “Monte Carlo”.  Over two weekends he worked to repair it.  He said the problems were probably caused by too many people on it at one time, but it’s now stronger than it was.

Lani asked if people can help.  Maurice said trails always need maintenance and beseeched us all to groom as we go and clear things that have fallen.  He customarily carries clippers...

Later in the week Loren ran into Jon Soul who said that day he’d taken out a whole class of his early elementary aged students on the whole larger loop of the trail for the first time.  He said the kids loved it, one saying something like, “This is like a whole amusement park out here!”  Loren remarked that children are often better bellwethers of the beauty of nature than adults, who are less accustomed to being outside, without creature comforts, and enjoying things that aren’t marketed to them as entertaining.

The group described to Lani how the Coates Bluff trail emerged as a product of the leadership of Jon Soul, Montessori Director of Outdoor Education and ABetterShreveport member, s, and Montessori parents under the leadership of Jon Soul, and more recently Centenary students during last year’s “Big Event”.  Lani then talked about Pinehill Park (.org) in Rutland, Vermont.  She said it started out by people making their own trail, and as folks used it, it got better and now there are several races up there annually, it’s adjacent to ballfields, and used quite a lot.  We told Lani about Shreveport’s beautiful Stoner boat launch area bike trails complete with carpeting to prevent erosion and set up with obstacles on the inland trails.  The trails go all the way down to the Jimmy Davis bridge.  Meaux rode them the other day.  (He actually used a car to get his bike there.  M. noted that every three times he starts his car he needs a new inspection sticker!)  Maurice said most of those trails were made before mountain bikes by dirt bikes, and he used to drive a dune buggy in there.  They’re more narrow now.

The group discussed the project of Centenary’s living learning community, “Node” to facilitate gender neutral bathrooms.

Symbols indicating unisex toilet
Maurice said he wouldn’t be comfortable using a stall next to someone else of a different sex.  Loren described how he wasn’t either when he first used that style of bathroom in college, but said he got used to.  Loren mentioned how they seemed to work as depicted in the recent series “Battlestar Gallactica”.  Nonetheless others described how they thought they’d be uncomfortable too in side by side stalls that are gender neutral.

When asked why this is an issue, Loren explained how people can get harassed and feel uncomfortable in bathrooms if they aren’t expressing the right kind of gender.  This may not be a problem for most people, most of the time, but small adjustments can eliminate the problem altogether.  

It was noted that now many family bathrooms would qualify as gender neutral.  Parents and grandparents can be in awkward situations, worrying about kidnappings, abuse, etc., and want to accompany their charges.

Plus, Loren noted, it’s more efficient.  Lani noted how when Denver International was being built there was a movement to make twice as many bathrooms for women because they take more time.  A move to more gender neutral bathrooms would reduce that inequity.  Maurice noted how portalets used to be labeled male and female, but that changed once we realized it was basically the same, and women ended up waiting longer than men.  Now, portalets tend to be gender neutral.

Loren described’s effort to identify gender neutral bathrooms by location, such that people can enter the zip code and find the nearest bathroom that’s gender neutral.  Many single toilet handicapped bathrooms would qualify as gender neutral; and, many single toilet bathrooms in gas stations could also easily be relabeled as gender neutral, i.e., “unisex”.

(Sad you missed this interesting discussion? We’ll continue it this week for the first 15 minutes of the meeting. Sara Whittington will have to get to class at that point, but until then she’ll be telling us the project at Centenary, and we can ask her about how we can help identify bathrooms city-wide.)

Maurice noted that there may be bathrooms behind the bandshell, and if those bathrooms are open, we could have meetings there.  It was noted it could also be a great place for drum circle or yoga.

In discussing Centenary student Amanda Hock’s proposal for rennovating the shell, it was noted that the benches are old and the concrete has worn down over time and become rougher.  

Maurice wishes they’d do the band series in the milder months because it’s got thermal mass that soaks up sun.  If they were sprayed with something “albedo” (white) it would be less hot; stadium seats or yoga mats could be used too.

The group de-briefed on our meeting with Dara Sanders.

It was noted and if they give Dara the reins we’d be happy for her to have them; but will the good ol’ boy groups give those reins.  To this point the city’s development has been largely at the whim of developers who are able to negotiate a zoning decision making process that is based on a minimalist, outdated Master Plan.  Hence, our sprawl, neglected downtown, abandoned properties, and lack of walkability and bikeability.  (The Caddo Parish Commission, though, has made admirable strides recently; witness the various steps described by Commissioner Matthew Linn on that day’s “Time for ABetterShreveport” radio show with Carolyn Manning.)  

Here’s hoping the one person in city government who is professionally trained and experienced in urban planning will be given the power by city officials to help us.  It’s promising.  Members of the City Council have been as suitably impressed with Dara as ABS has.  And the rest of the city is getting a chance to see that too.  In a recent article in the paper Dara was quoted on the priorities of the unified development code and what it can do for the city.

It does seem as if the code is a chance to influence the city’s decision makers and residents, and increase awareness about what’s possible for Shreveport.

Maurice asked if they want the new development code to be unique, why go outside to get a consultant?  Lani and Cynthia noted that a consultant would be neutral, and Maurice agreed, also saying they’d be persuasive.  The uniqueness comes any city’s unique topography, industries, college town nature (or not--as in our case), the kind of river or water bodies it has (the Red River ain’t the Mississippi, etc.).  

It was noted that ABS has consistently been energized by people who’ve arrived or returned to Shreveport from outside and have brought fresh ideas.  The dog park came from a women from Austin, Lani’s noted on Rutland, Vermont, Maurice describing Cyclovia in Bogata, Colombia, Garrett Johnson on bicycle coops in Boulder Colorado, Loren on linear parks in Quito, Ian Webb on greenways in Roanoke, Kathryn Brandl on trails in Minneapolis, Jon on trails in Los Angeles, Carolyn Manning on downtown revitalization in Grapevine, Texas... we could go on and on!

Matthew Linn was a guest on the radio show that night.  He’s told Cynthia that the money that the Parish received from Red River Waterway Commission is being held in a trust fund by the Parish.  Cynthia will follow up with Michael Corbin and pursue the issue again.  The council has taken action, as has the Mayor, so if nothing happens it seems like we have to wait now.

ABS has long noted the importance of “the public realm” in creating a sense of community, increasing the quality of life by providing opportunities for socializing, public performances, and civic discourse.  Coffee shops and cafes (not to mention bars, barber shops, beauty salons, dog parks, swimming pools, or any place where people can come together and socialize) are often mentioned as important for that.  Many cities that rank high in quality of life have active “scenes” in that regard.  And so, ABS has always rooted for places like the Naked Bean.  One special feature it has is a performance space.  Their new location, near the corner of Highland and Kings, features more space than they’ve had previously.

March 8th, a Friday, will be the date of the next Dog Park fundraiser.  It’s entitled “Throw Me A Bone,” taking off on the name of the band that will be playing, “The Bone Diggers”.  It will be at Mojo’s, which is catty corner from The Blind Tiger.  The dog park fund will gets whatever people donate at the door.  (There are some PG rated games that will be played, btw, with bones as a theme--now you know.  Come to the next meeting and Cynthia will hilariously describe them for you!)  Doors open at 7:30, band starts at 8:00.

Join us for our next weekly meeting, Monday the 4th, 6:00-7:00 p.m., at the Wright Math Building on Centenary’s campus.  All are welcome!