Bread is not my usual subject in The Fairbanks Pedestrian.  However, I’m entering the below recipe in the Tanana Valley State Fair, who claims that my recipe will become property of the Fair.  The recipe is posted here first under a Creative Commons License (see below).  All-purpose flour has been replaced with bread flour.

Note: All grains are measured by weight, not volume.  5 oz. flour = approx. 1 c.

Mix together: • 20 oz. sourdough starter, consisting of equal weights bread flour and water • 16 oz. bread flour • 5 oz. water.

Cover loosely and let sit in a warm place 24 hours.

In a saucepan, combine: 25 oz. whole milk • 10 oz. water • 10 oz. raisins (chopped first or pureed in the liquid) • 4 oz. unsalted butter.  Heat slowly and simmer, stirring frequently, until butter is melted.

Stir in: • 3 oz. whole-grain cornmeal • 3 oz. flaxseed meal • 3 oz. ground sunflower seeds (roasted, salted) • ⅔ oz. (1 Tbsp.) table salt.

Turn heat to lowest setting, cook for 30 minutes with lid on, remove from heat, and allow to cool, covered, at least an hour.

In a large mixing bowl, combine: • “Porridge” from above • 12 oz. (approx. 1 c.) honey • 26 oz. whole-wheat flour • 3 oz. amaranth flour • 3 oz. oat flour • 3 oz. buckwheat flour.

Cover tightly with plastic and let sit 12-24 hours in a cool place.

Final dough
Knead together: • Soaker from above • Preferment from above • 5-10 oz. flour, bread flour and whole-wheat mixed in equal parts by weight.  Start with 5 oz. to dust work surface, between pre-doughs, and on top of layers.

Put dough in a large mixing bowl or stock pot oiled with olive oil.  Cover with a damp cloth and let sit 8-10 hours, until dough doubles in size.

Shaping and baking
Mist work surface and four bread pans (approx. 9” x 5”) with spray oil.  Divide dough into four equal portions.  For each piece, fold corners in to form a rectangle and flatten into a rectangle about 9” x 13”.  Fold the dough in thirds, letter-style, tapering the ends slightly; fold the ends toward the seam; and lay loaf seam-side-down in pan.  Let rise in a warm place 1-2 hours.  Meanwhile, preheat oven to 325°F.

Brush loaves with milk, sprinkle with rolled oats, and slash lengthwise along the center.

Bake at 325°F for 45-50 minutes, rotating each loaf 180° after 30 minutes.

Let cool on racks at least 1 hour before slicing.

I am grateful to Peter Reinhart, whose book Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads informed this recipe, and to Ruth Allman, whose Alaska Sourdough spawned and informed my early sourdough baking.

Creative Commons License
Powerhouse Breakfast Bread (Recipe) by Paul Adasiak is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/122702030.

Brush loaves with milk, sprinkle with rolled oats, and slash lengthwise along the center.

I left before the FNSB Assembly had voted — in fact, at least an hour before public testimony had finished — but word has it that Ordinance 2011-32, a soft-pedaled version of a zoning ordinance defeated 4-4 a few months ago, was defeated by a vote of 6 to 3.  Voting against were Natalie Howard, Michael Dukes, Matt Want, Tim Beck, Joe Blanchard, and Diane Hutchison.  Voting for were Nadine Winters, Karl Kassel, and Mike Musick.  I give my thanks to those last three.

I do not feel civil this morning.  I fear that Fairbanks is a damned town, again and again making itself a less fit place for a civilized person to live.

I am angry and heartbroken tonight.

By a 4-4 vote, the Borough Assembly just failed to pass Ordinance 2010-09, which would have created two new zoning types: a “retail hot spot” and a “supporting commercial district”.  These new zones — which would have been merely codified, not even applied — were one of the key governmental tools for encouraging businesses to invest in quality retail building downtown.  And now it’s fucked, thanks to Michael Dukes, Matt Want, Natalie Howard, and Joe Blanchard — none of whom owns a god-damned square foot in downtown Fairbanks.  (According to the FNSB Assessing property database.)

I can’t get into the particular arguments the detractors used — I’m too heartbroken right now — but I do want to thank Assembly members Nadine Winters, Diane Hutchison, Karl Kassel, and Mike Musick, for their “yes” votes, as well as Mayor Luke Hopkins for putting the ordinance forward, David van den Berg of the Downtown Association for his ongoing work with downtown business owners and the revitalization effort, and everyone who testified in favor of the proposed ordinance, including the near-unanimity of downtown business owners who supported it.

No doubt the detractors are comforted by their free market and anti-government ideology.  My curse on them is that all their cars break down, and then they can see how much they like their WalMart shopping and their living out on Chena Fucking Hot Springs Road.

It’s enough to make me want to ditch this Borough, this un-community, for a place civic-minded enough to say, “We will take these restrictions on ourselves and impose them on others who may sometimes be unwilling, because public will is sometimes more important than some individual jackass who might want to stand in the way of 100% consensus” — and then to torch this fucking place on my way out.  (Please understand, I do not mean the “torch this place” thing literally.  It is an expression of my disappointment and my feeling of hopelessness for Fairbanks’s future.)

Vivat communitas!  Stadtluft macht frei!

Ten important places

Here’s a nice way to measure your neighborhood: Do you have ten interesting places?

I’ve just begun The Great Neighborhood Book: A Do-it-Yourself Guide to Placemaking by Jay Walljasper — a concise and uplifting guide to making a neighborhood not only worth living in, but worth envying.  (I have added it to my “Further reading” page.)  Like me, Walljasper envisions a neighborhood as more than a geographic region: it is a place for society, commerce, and beauty.  It is a place where people have regular business and see each other often.  It is “owned” by the locals.

In the introduction, he suggests an exercise in “zooming in” (my words).  First, consider your region: write down the ten most important places you go, places you recommend to visitors.  Then, zooming in, consider your city, and write down the ten most important places there — like a park or a neighborhood.  Then,

“Zoom in and think about one of these places and try to write down the smaller places that make up the place.  For example, if you named the main street as an important place, whate are the little places on that street where you enjoy spending time?  You can shop there, of course, but if your main street is truly a good place, you can also sit outside on a bench and talk to your neighbors, get a cup of coffee nearby, and enjoy the passing scene.” (p. 4)

Over lunch, I decided to try this with my own neighborhood.  What were the ten most interesting places within walking distance of my house?

First, a note about the above question.  I stand firmly by the assertion that a neighborhood’s boundaries are limited by walking distance: you may be able to walk farther than the edge of your neighborhood, but if a place is too far to walk it’s not in your neighborhood.  Also, “walking distance” is a fuzzy idea.  Researchers on pedestrian behavior have found that most people are happy to walk places within five minutes; farther than that and they start choosing to drive, postpone their trip, or not go at all.  Obviously, it reflects average, aggregate behavior, not the behavior of every individual.  If we adhere strictly to this, a neighborhood (as a place you walk) will be no larger than a circle one half-mile in diameter: five minutes from center to edge.  However, I’m willing to stretch this — if for no reason other than that Fairbanks is mostly not built that way, and I should cut us a little slack.

So, what were the most interesting places within walking distance of my house?  I could think of only five:


Interesting places (green, yellow) near my house (in the yellow oval). Original image courtesy of Google Maps.

  • Noel Wien Library
  • Seoul Gate (Korean restaurant)
  • Arctic Bowl (Bowling alley)
  • Chena River, especially the waterfront by Lathrop Street
  • Denali Elementary School (where my kids enjoy the playground)

Maybe I could go a little farther and include Gambardella’s or McCafferty’s, maybe the fountain downtown.  My wife suggests Chartreuse, a new clothing store at First and Wickersham.  But those all feel a little out of “my turf” — I don’t feel the same sense of ownership of them and of the streets around them.

In the image at right, note that where I live — near this peculiar triangle bounded by 6th, 8th, and Bonnifield — is about as far as it’s possible to get from all those destinations yet still be roughly “between” them.  And the nearest is an eight-minute walk away (unless you count the Chena River, whose nearest point is only five minutes’ walk).

Eight minutes!  I once looked at a Census map and discovered that my neighborhood was one of the most densely populated in the Fairbanks area.  Why should anybody living in a densely populated neighborhood have to walk eight minutes to reach the nearest point of interest — especially when most people won’t leave their houses on foot for anything over five minutes away?  People need reasons to walk: the pleasure of fresh air is not enough.  If we have so few reasons to walk around our neighborhood, how are we going to meet our neighbors? and how are we to become neighborly?

So, Fairbanksans: tell me about your neighborhoods.  Can you walk to ten interesting places?  And what are they?

Tomorrow (Tuesday, October 6) is a day of local elections in the Fairbanks North Star Borough.  I’ve done a little work on one campaign, enough to make me sad for the state of electoral politics.

I spent one evening and one morning recently (in separate weeks) working for a particular local candidate.  (I’ll say that he’s male, because it makes the pronouns easier.)  On the first occasion, I was “phone banking”: doing voter identifications from a list of registered voters.  We were to find out whether each voter supported The Candidate or not, and, if not, whether the person would like more information about The Candidate, or whether they supported another person.

Having done voter ID calls on an issue campaign before, the tactic seemed familiar to me: we wanted to figure out whom to call on election day with a reminder to get and vote, and whom to leave alone (with the hope that they’d forget).

On the second occasion of helping The Candidate, I did a “literature drop”: leaving leaflets about The Candidate on people’s doorknobs.  Again, I worked from a list of registered voters.

There shouldn’t be anything remarkable about targeting voters.  But what troubled me was that our lists were already targeted: at least one major party affiliation was entirely absent, and our job as phone-bankers or lit-droppers was to narrow it down further to those not hostile to The Candidate, and ideally only those likely to support him.  These people we would hit with more literature and phone calls, so that as many of “our” people would get out and vote as possible.  Thus would The Candidate win: by getting out his supporters in greater numbers.

What’s so wrong with that? you ask.  How else are candidates supposed to win?

Well, it’s not the idea that a candidate should get his or her supporters to the polls in greater numbers that bothers me.  It’s that, from a pretty early stage, we were targeting voters and focusing only on those most likely to support The Candidate.  Where, I asked The Candidate on day two, was the place for people to discuss what the important issues were and whose solutions were best?  There was nothing in what we were doing that was meant to convince people of the urgency of our issues or the suitability of The Candidate to address them better than any of the others.  “Right,” The Candidate chimed in.  “Where’s the public discourse?”

The problem, he said, was that there wasn’t much of that going on anyway, so we were stuck with “get out the vote” tactics.  The candidates get to answer a questionnaire that’s published in the News-Miner, and there are a handful of radio appearances and candidate forums where they may get a two-minute opening statement and then forty-five seconds to answer any questions.  There really is no chance for substantive debate or discussion.

So, here’s a question for everybody: in an age when political strategizing has been reduced to “getting out the vote” (of those who already support your candidate), how do we foster public discourse around elections?  Given a number of candidates about whom we may know little to nothing, how do we learn meaningfully about their views and intentions?  How do we discuss the issues in a way that leaves us open to learning and persuasion?  And whose responsibility should it be to see that this civic discourse takes place?

Up for election are: Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor; FNSB Assembly seats A, F, and G; Fairbanks City Council seats A and B; North Pole Mayor; North Pole City Council (two vacancies); FNSB School Board seats A, B, and G; three Borough-wide bond and ballot measures; and two city-wide ballot measures.  Read the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner‘s 2009 Municipal Election overview for stories on the candidates and their answers to the News-Miner‘s questionnaires, and on the ballot measures.

I’ve recently had a discussion on the News-Miner site over the proper application of taxes.  My opinion seemed to raise some people’s ire, though I don’t think it’s that radical: taxes can be, should be, and in fact already are being used to direct social behavior.

Somebody wrote a letter to the editor condemning the proposal under consideration to replace the City of Fairbanks property tax with a sales tax.  (For those who don’t live here, the City of Fairbanks covers about 32 square miles, has a population of 35-40,000, and sits within the Fairbanks North Star Borough, which is larger than Rhode Island, Delaware, or Connecticut and has a population of 95-100,000.  Even counting smaller communities within the Borough, it’s clear that most people here live outside the city.  The City and the Borough have different public officials, offer different services, and assess their own, separate taxes.)

I tend to oppose sales taxes: even with exemptions for food and medicines, they inevitably hit the poor harder, since 3% of cost is much harder to bear for someone below the poverty line than for someone in (say) the upper 25% of earners.  I expect they also tend to reduce commerce, or drive it to those places with a lesser tax — in our case, to the commercial areas outside the City but within the Borough.

If the proposed sales tax is only within the city and replaces city property taxes, then won’t it encourage people to (1) buy residential property within the city and (2) locate their businesses outside the city?  (I’m no economist or expert on taxation, so please tell me if I’m off the mark.)  While I like the idea of drawing more people into the city to live, I also want them to be able to do business here.

My suggestion — that taxes should be used to encourage some activities and discourage others — raised some people’s bristles.  Yet how can it be otherwise, if it’s a correct premise that people on the whole will avoid activities that require them to pay more in taxes and will prefer activities that allow them to pay less?

Obviously, it depends on the activity — but it’s no accident that governments (from local to national) offer tax incentives that they think will encourage economic growth.  I think that it’s also the logic behind exempting non-profits from taxes: non-governmental agencies do a lot of good work, but they’re less likely to do it if they have to pay heavy taxes, and most likely if they need pay none at all.

If you’re going to have taxes at all, there is no “neutral position”. There is no “just run the government”.  There is no “leave people alone”.  Every tax has an effect on people’s economic behavior.  You don’t want taxes being used for social engineering?  Too bad; they already are.

Unfortunately, for large parts of our tax structure, it looks like the social “engineers” were working blind, or didn’t have clear instructions from the firm that hired them.  Now we have a set of largely accidental blueprints for a haphazardly built structure, much of which appears to be constructed on shaky ground.

For example: Currently, buildings are assessed at a greater rate, and count for more of our property tax, than land. (My house is assessed at $131.19 per square foot, while the land is assessed at $3.50.) This provides an incentive for people to live on large plots of undeveloped land and to keep the assessed value of their houses low. And, since assessors usually judge only by external appearances, it provides an incentive for people to keep their properties looking ugly and run-down.

Whether meaning to or not, we have chosen to promote large, undeveloped lots (and the resulting increase in driving time, since people will live farther away from each other) and an ugly, degraded human environment.

As an alternative to that structure, I would support a local tax that was based on the total number of automobile-miles traveled by any car owner living in the Borough — perhaps a product of the miles traveled and the gross vehicle weight, since automobile travel both (1) pollutes the air and (2) furthers the disintegration of community life. And I would support a property tax that was based on lot size rather than building value, since the current tax structure promotes large lots, few capital improvements, horizontal rather than vertical growth, and land speculation.

For now, though, set aside the particulars of what I think should be encouraged or enabled.  The core of my argument is:

  1. Various levels of government are necessary, money is needed to run them, and that money is raised from taxes.
  2. Every tax on a behavior (including the purchase of a product) discourages that behavior (not for every individual, but at the aggregate level), and the lack of a tax encourages it.
  3. Therefore, the very existence of citizen-funded government results in some activities being privileged and others being de-privileged — by virtue of the tax structure alone, completely independent of the criminal code or the mandates of particular government programs.
  4. Since taxes already have this effect, we may as well be deliberate about how they are applied. We should have some social principles in mind.
  5. The guiding principle for taxation should be promotion (or enabling) of the common good.  (I’m fond of the Constitution’s language about more perfect Union and general Welfare — but I recognize the fallacy of appealing to authority.)  At the very least, taxes should not encourage activities that promote selfishness at the expense of the common good.

Of course, the question of what constitutes the common good is a thorny one, and there will be no absolute consensus in a community of 100,000.  But the difficulty of the discussion does not excuse us from having it, nor does the impossibility of absolute consensus excuse us from the obligation of collective, deliberate self-determination.

Corrected 20 August 2009

Readers of today’s News-Miner will already know: the FMATS Policy Committee scrapped the idea of a roundabout at the north end of Cushman St. and voted to plan for one-way traffic on the bridges south of the intersection.  I fear that their decisions have just driven a nail into the coffin of downtown revitalization efforts.

The Fairbanks Metropolitan Area Transportation System Policy Committee “voted 5-2 to abandon talk of a roundabout,” with Assemblyman Luke Hopkins and Fairbanks Mayor Terry Strle voting no, and “voted 4-3 to plan for one-way traffic on bridges to the intersection’s south.”

Current plans are to build a bridge joining Barnette St. (to the south of the Chena) with Illinois St. (to the north).  Barnette, Illinois, and Cushman, along with Doyon Pl. to the west east and Terminal St. to the east west, would intersect at a single point north of the river, between The Big I and Immaculate Conception Church.  The Illinois Street Reconstruction Project has been under discussion and in planning for decades, and it seems finally ready to move forward.  My understanding is that FMATS has recently been deciding whether to choose a roundabout or a signalized intersection.

While I have little experience driving roundabouts — they’re not very common in the United States, and I could count those in the greater Fairbanks area on one hand, even if missing three fingers — everything I’ve read about them suggests that they both increase safety and speed traffic flow.  For one example, Slate recently ran a piece called “Don’t be so square: why American drivers should learn to love the roundabout” that makes the following points:

  1. Roundabouts are safer than traditional intersections because they reduce the number of possible places of collision, eliminate the left turn against oncoming traffic, slow people down rather than encourage them to “beat the light”, and reduce the severity of accidents.
  2. Though vehicles appear to be moving slowly through roundabouts, average travel time through the intersection is actually reduced, because nobody has to sit through a ninety-second light cycle.
  3. Stop-and-start queuing is energy-inefficient (burns more fuel), and studies have shown roundabouts to waste less energy and to cause less pollution.
  4. Roundabouts are good for public space: they require less pavement than signalized intersections, increase pedestrian and traffic safety in neighborhoods, and offer the chance to actually beautify an intersection.

The article does not address roundabouts in subarctic climates, or the safety of trucks, RVs, and other large vehicles going through them.  It’s possible that winter driving conditions present some complication that makes roundabouts unworkable.  But I doubt it.

What has me more worried than FMATS’s rejection of the roundabout is their decision to plan the Cushman and Barnette bridges for one-way traffic.  Making those bridges one-way puts a major kink in the plan currently being pursued by the City of Fairbanks to turn both Cushman and Barnette two-way — and a two-way Cushman St. has been a central feature of the Vision Fairbanks downtown revitalization plan.

Some of the arguments for two-way streets in retail districts go like this:

  • People are more comfortable driving fast on one-way streets, while two-way streets make them (on the whole) drive more slowly and cautiously. Pedestrians are more menaced and less welcomed by fast vehicular traffic. Creating a pedestrian-friendly environment is crucial to a central commercial/civic district.
  • With two-way traffic, businesses can be seen easily by drivers in both directions — for example, a cafe will be seen by both the morning and the evening traffic, so it’s more likely to get unplanned, drive-by business.
  • One-way streets require more out-of-direction travel for people to reach their destinations. (“Is that it? Damn, I passed it. Well, let’s circle the block.”) This frustrates drivers and over time makes them less willing to enter an area.

Vision Fairbanks has tremendous promise. But the decision to plan for one-way bridges may well hamstring the revitalization.  The planning consultants who drafted the original plan stressed that two-way traffic is a linchpin of making Cushman a thriving retail district.

I’m worried that the Vision Fairbanks plan is now being bled to death.  If two-way traffic is as crucial as it’s been made out to be, the new retail and civic hot spot will be a bust.  Then, of course, all the nay-sayers who distrusted city planners from the beginning will come out, crowing, “I told you so!”  And those of of little imagination will have proven themselves right.

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.