Shifting Sands of Time

Bill CoadyBy Bill Coady

In my short career in science, I was introduced to the idea of a “paradigm shift.” Basically a paradigm shift occurs when when an old scientific theory is either replaced or altered so much as to create a completely new world view. An example of this was the shift from Newtonian physics, where the universe was thought of as a giant clock to quantum mechanics where nothing, it seems, is certain.

The same kind of thing can happen in society as well. There have been many paradigm shifts over the last 100 years or so, one of the biggest has been the changes brought about by the automobile. In the past neighborhoods included everything people needed: houses, stores, workplaces were all clustered together because people mostly walked to their destinations. With the advent of the car, these functions could be separated, with houses in one place, stores in another and workplaces in a third. This world view has been codified in our zoning practices. Not saying that one or the other is better or worse than the other, just that at one time dense multiuse city neighborhoods were “normal” and now separate clusters are “normal.”

It takes a lot of energy to shift the world view like that. Shifting from muscle based transportation to machines took about 100 years or so. And the shift was only made possible by abundant and cheap energy resources. But it might be possible that another paradigm shift is in the winds. If energy is no longer cheap and abundant, then everything that is now “normal” will have to change. A new “normal” will develop. Many people are thinking about a new world view in many different areas, and I saw a nice indication of this a few days ago.

Click for Larger ImageLawns are for Losers” the bumpersticker proclaimed. Yes, the sticker was on the back of a truck which belonging to Tom Girolamo, the owner of Eco-building and Forestry, LLC , but the message is more about changing a world view than directly promoting his business.

The close cropped, “golf course” lawn has been a symbol of prosperity and order for 60 years or more here in America. In fact in many places, Wausau included, this has been codified. People are not allowed to not mow their lawns or to have certain “weeds” growing there. Because the “golf course” lawn is completely unnatural, especially here in Wisconsin, it exists as a social convention. And social conventions can change.

To most people a more natural approach to a yard in Wisconsin would look chaotic, “weedy” and maybe even unkept. Although a properly planted and maintained natural yard should not run afoul of Wausau’s noxious weed ordinance (which says certain weeds need to be controlled or eliminated in yards) that does not mean the neighbors won’t complain. Last I saw, Wausau’s ordinances specify that plants in your “lawn” have to be less than 12 inches high, a height exceeded by many native grasses and plants.

In science when the paradigm is in the process of change, sometimes that science is said to be in “crisis,” which can be true when two groups of people just completely (and honestly) see the world in different ways. Perhaps in the coming world lawns ARE for losers, even though now a “nice” lawn is seen as the sign of a winner. Only time will tell.

In the meantime, I do hope that people will have the freedom to move in the direction of more eco-friendly yards and that our city ordinances and other laws will reflect that.

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29 responses to “Shifting Sands of Time

  1. I think that when I buy a house someday it will probally not have a yard, and will just be across the street from a park. That way it will be someone else’s job for upkeep.

  2. If you take a look at the various committee meeting minutes for the City of Wausau, they are coming to a similiar conclusion.

    The City is currently considering some changes to the weed ordinance as some natural vegitation doesn’t fit. It is hitting close to home as a parkland dedication that is currently on hold to the city would make more sense with the natural vegitation than it would with the manicured lawn.

    I, however, am a fan of the lawn. I bought a 3 acre parcel just outside city limits and went through 6 fairly heavy-duty lawn mower blades reclaiming the back half of the lot.

  3. You can have your lawn and be ecofriendly too. Its as easy as mowing your lawn at a height of at least 2.5 – 3 inches. The taller grass height will cover bare spots and be more resistant to foot traffic. It will also require less water and be more tolerant to dry weather. Plus weeds will have less of a chance to establish themselves as the taller grass will help keep weeds from gaining a foothold.

    Prairie and natural grasses can look great in a landscaped natural lawn. But I think there is a distinction between a naturally kept lawn and one that is unkept. The city’s noxious weed ordinance addresses the unkept lawn.

  4. I am a lawn nut. I have at least 30 books solely on grass, lawn care, lawn design, landscape GOD KNOWS.

    Two years ago we made a comitment to an organicly grown lawn, focusing on working with the neighbors as to what makes sense for our neighborhood.

    It is a lot harder, and lot more labor intensive.

    But I love it. I love not worry about chem lawn and dogs or any of it.

    I love Dr. Jerry Baker.

    Ede Gale is a ninja

  5. A research center in Texas investigates native plants and how a normal lawn may not be so nice for the little creatures that share our world with us. The center is called the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Research Center (http://www.wildflower.org) named in honor of the wife of President Lyndon Johnson and is a beautiful place to visit as it’s also a nature center open to the public. The Center’s investigations include three distinct lawns with different grasses-plants-flowers:

    1. a normal formal lawn with Kentucky Bluegrass and other normal plants-flowers found in most of the USA requiring plenty of water, fertilizer and mowing.

    2. a native formal lawn with Buffalo Grass and other native plants-flowers set in a traditional formal lawn but require less water, fertilizer and mowing.

    3. a native informal lawn with Buffalo Grass and other native plants-flowers. The informal layout reduces the amount of time or upkeep required by a homeowner because an informal design helps maximize the effectiveness of the inherent qualities in native grasses-plants-flowers.

    BUTTERFLIERS AND BEES: The important idea is that nice bugs like butterflies and bees are aware of the big-picture because the researchers noticed that the butterflies and bees hop from one native plant or flower to another while hopping over the normal lawns and it’s usually fertilizer-laden/stressed-out grasses, plants and flowers!

    TASTY AND HEALTHY: One of the theories as stated by the researchers at the Center is that the nice bugs have an abundance of tasty and healthy native species to choose from in the Center’s gardens and courtyards so why choose lunch from stressed-out grasses, plants and flowers even though they are on your flight path! The normal grasses, plants, and flowers are stressed-out because they are asked to survive in a climate where they were not meant to live and that is one of the factors for the input of more water or fertilizer, or additional mowing because they don’t look so good when un-mowed.

    BUFFALO GRASS: The researchers at the Center say that Buffalo Grass is more tasty and healthy in the Texas climate because it is a drought-tolerant warm-season grass that turns a nice gray-green with the return of warm weather in spring but as it is a warm-season grass it begins to turn brown with the start of cool weather. The cool-season grasses live a little differently because they look best in the cooler weather but require more inputs in warmer weather. That is a perception shift that the leaders of the Center hope could become the norm. The blades of Buffalo Grass grow 3-12 inches but it’s a low-growing grass where the blades fold-over each other versus standing up that leaves a low grass height with little mowing required. It does have a particular look that is different than cool-season grasses but it’s a look that is more normal that unmoved Kentucky Bluegrass. The researchers at the Center realize that the simple notion of a nice lawn is not so simple because most things in life are a complex web of science, economics, psychology, perception, and perhaps self-confidence.

    STRESSED-OUT: The shifts and world views posed by Bill in “Shifting Sands of Time” are perhaps adaptable to other issues too. For example, in our food industry we place cattle, chicken and hogs in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) where the confinement of animals living close together contribute to their susceptibility to stress, illness, and the addition of antibiotics to feed. Butterflies and bees at the Wildflower Center have learned to hop over stressed-out food sources because the nutritional value or taste are not to their liking.

    TOO MUCH WEIGHT: Many issues are what they are and we can accept them if we want but at what point do we hold back for too long or procrastinate too much where any shift or change in a world view becomes exceedingly expensive or difficult to shift because the weight to switch towards another intention is so large that it becomes nearly impossible to afford the move?

    HOP, HOP! Maybe continual discussions in open forums like WausauBlog will lead to policy and actions that provide butterflies and bees an abundance of healthy and tasty places to hop!

    Sources for Buffalo Grass:
    Wildflower Center includes a photo of Buffalo Grass: http://wildflower.utexas.edu/plants/result.php?id_plant=BODA2
    Wyoming seed company summarizes Bufflalo Grass:
    http://www.windriverseed.com/BUFFALO.htm

  6. Thanks, Kevin — maybe you would like to write something every week?

  7. I have read this post a few times today, and I find it inspiring that something like this is coming from a blog that I sullied with talk of Lip Balm and ninja. What a brilliant topic for discussion, and a flat out elevation of what Wausaublog is. I applaud this post, and the new tone of the blog over the past few posts. A real raising of the debate is being had.

    So I shall jump in. I think it is time for the city council to do just what is being called for here. To let Mike Morissey focus on downtown, or whatever he is up to, and bring in someone to focus specifically on residential work. I think that these issues all fall under the same office, and I think that might be a mistake.

    I also think it is time for our city council to speak of ecological concerns. Why not spend some of the money we are going to give to further discussioin of the 400 block or the city band(what a flat out insane concept that is) and hire a person to come in and evaluate our citys ecological health, and future ideas.

    Why not make our city carbon nuetral, and our city government a paper free work place? What about alternative energies for our jails and for our public buildings?

    Why does the city not have a comprehensive river front plan? Sure we have one that talks about big buildings, and tax based and all of that, but do we have one that talks about the RIVER? Or fish? Or pollution?

    Why not mandate that new commercial construction, I repeat NEW, at the very least explore alternative energies? Can you imagine the national press we could get if the big Dudley buidling, or the Palladin(or whatever the across the street from The Cobblery is called) were using at least a passive energy source such as solar? Or had employed a grey water recicling concept?

    I thank Bill for this post. This was an amazing turn for the power of grassroots media, and again his work should be applauded.

    It was a real gauntlet thrown down here.

  8. Dino,
    Do you watch the council meetings? I watch them religiously and I can tell you there is a faction on the council that will vote against anything Mike Morrissey proposes. Next time you see a meeting watch Tom Miller, Deb Hadley, Sherri Abitz, Steve Foley, and Bill Forrest. They then contact a random swing vote on the council and try to block progress. How do you expect anything progressive to occur in this town with people like that on the council?

  9. Shirley,

    As a hopeless progressive romantic, I say this…I do not expect anything progressive to happen. It is funny how you somehow equate Mike with progressive, I do not think that is the case at all.

    I do not expect the city council to be anything other than what the city council is right now. A sort of device that is working with property developers and the like.

    I do not fault the city council for being what it is. That is like faulting a tree for not being a donut. Its a tree. Its a city council.

    If anything, the city council is a direct reflection of the city that we live in. Isnt it?

    I would like to see a city council that cares about solar energy, that just gives up officially on the 400 block and stops discussion of the damn thing…let it go, let people talk privately and bring a proposal.

    I would like to see the city council expand on mass transit in this city.

    Its also funny that you mention those names, as I remember a few months ago the allegation sort of flew around that some of those names did something that violated voting ethics…being honest I do not recall…but I think it was about the Mayors appointments to commitees or something.

    I think Wausau is a blank slate. Anyone can do anything, and it will go, because no one is doing anything.

  10. Interesting discussion. It’s important to have community buy-in on initiatives and there are various ways to achieve it. With the restaurant smoking ban, for example, it was done through referendum and the discussion leading up to that vote.

    Mandates that appear heavy-handed and at odds with property rights can run into legal and political problems, along with creating an image of the city that can place it in an unattractive position for beneficial development/redevelopment projects.

    Regarding the River Edge, there is a plan and you can look at it here:

    http://www.ci.wausau.wi.us/infosubcon.asp?dep=27&tid=2&sid=4

    There is also an active commission and we have budgeted nearly a quarter million dollars this year to continue work on the project. Commission members:

    http://www.ci.wausau.wi.us/infosubcon.asp?dep=27&tid=2&sid=4

    Residential property inspection and commercial economic development activities are currently in separate areas, which may not be the best way to handle things and it is something that we have been discussing.

    Shirley is also correct in that the council has some sharp divisions and differing visions among the members. While it has always been a forum for debate and deliberative decision-making, this edition is more factional than others upon which I’ve served.

  11. Dino,
    I agree in general with what you are saying but all of the new development downtown is due to the work of people like Mike Morrissey and Jim Rosenberg. In spite of what ever Deb, Tom, Bill, Steve, and Sherri are up to. I think the word to use to describe this town is Apathy.

    Lack of interest or concern, especially regarding matters of general importance or appeal; indifference.
    Lack of emotion or feeling; impassiveness.

    I assume they will all run unopposed in the next election and maybe even turn over a few more seats. When the citizens of Wausau continue not to care they’ll vote Deb Hadley in as mayor. Then there will be no progress in Wausau. Mike will retire and Wausau will slowly die off.

  12. It would be good if people began thinking about the Spring 2008 election right now. We have a number of seats representing districts of nearly 3400 residents on the strength of less than 150 votes. That’s ridiculous and it illustrates Shirley’s point about apathy better than anything I could possibly add to the conversation here — but it’s obvious that she’s paying attention and I’m grateful for people like that.

    For Dino’s benefit and others who may be interested, here are the members of the River Edge Commission:

    http://www.ci.wausau.wi.us/infosubcon.asp?dep=3&tid=8&sid=52

    You can view the River Edge Master Plan here:

    http://www.ci.wausau.wi.us/infosubcon.asp?dep=27&tid=2&sid=4

    We’ve budgeted just less than a quarter million dollars this year to continue with implementation of the plan.

    I’m “listening” to the conversation here with interest, as I often do. 🙂

  13. Shirley,

    I respectfully disagree. The new developments downtown exist with Mike’s assistance, they exist because Mr. Dudley, and the partners in the Palladiaum (Or whatever) are willing to put up buildings with their money.

    At least that is how I see it.

    I say that we as a blog should excite the City Council. They should now know people are watching what they do, and are interested in the results.

    Wausaublog is watching!!

    I vote for a city commitee to explore alternative fuels, and ways to become carbon nuetral.

  14. What about this Wausaublog, why not publish the minutes from the meetings here? Is that something we could do?

  15. Are the minutes not available on the city site? That is where they should be.

  16. but people do not go the cities site.

    nearly 40000 people come here for not only city stuff, but the revealing of secret ninja identies, food reviews, and pretty pictures.

    I think that might be an interesting service to offer as well.

  17. The city website is sad. A total bore. the blog could do a much better job than the bureaucrats. One would think if the city wanted to interest people in the town they’d do a better sell/

  18. At least, on the city website, we don’t have to read that “Ed Gale Is A Ninja” for the 50,000th time…

    I’ve really enjoyed these last few discussions, and I agree with all parties that this blog is once again hitting its stride. I would’ve liked to see more discussion of Jodi’s comments concerning the business-centric quality to Wausau’s culture, and I noticed that the brief discussion of city poverty disappeared almost as quickly as the latest picture of the Dudley Tower went up, but you can’t win them all, I guess.

    Even though I disagree with some of of what’s said here, I’m so pleased to see this virtual community once again engaging in a substantive way. All parties concerned deserve credit for that.

  19. Bill, thanks for digging my old post out of the SPAM file. (I thought it was lost forever, which is why I repeated the references to the River Edge plan and commission.) I agree with Charles Hughes about the value of substantive discussion. Thought-provoking ideas tend to build on each other, so thanks to all who are offering them.

  20. Jim,

    Thanks for those plans. I know they are out there, but the city website is mind numbing in its sense of impenetrability. It makes this sort of thing almost unworth it.

    Sorry about the Ed Gale comments Charles. Just trying to make a joke. Apparently it was not funny.

  21. It’s certainly true that both the city and county websites are not very engaging. Some areas need updates, too. On the bright side, they still contain a lot of useful information for those who seek it out and its far better than nothing.

    Neither Wausau nor Marathon County has a person specifically assigned to the public information function and there are times when it shows. As someone who has worked in that field for many years, I think it may be something worth considering in view of the size, impact and stakeholder makeup involved. A well-conceived, comprehensive effort in this area would allow people to engage more efficiently and effectively with their government.

  22. the city website may not be attractive, but it is functional. I get my agendas and meeting minutes… I have access to city ordinances. It does what I need it to do.

  23. I called city hall this week and apparently there are plans to update the city’s web page.

  24. I’d like to see some of you who read this blog run for city council or get involved in the races some how. I’m trying to find someone in district 11 to run. If anyone has any ideas let me know.

  25. Shirley,

    I technically live in Weston. Home of the superior dog park.

    Maybe County Board would suit me.

  26. I think the wausau website needs an update, it looks like a very early 1990’s webpage, which has the unfortunate sideaffect of convincing people that the website is probally not updated vary often, and if it is, it probally isn’t very interesting. Perhaps Wausau should take a page from their http://www.wausaudevelopment.com site, and add a bit more color, and a slightly better layout to the site. Even weston has a more interesting website.

  27. although I am surrounded by the city of wausau on three sides…. my fire pit, 38′ camper and I live happily in the Town of Wausau. I have plans for a 40′ x 70′ outbuilding on the back of my lot, something the city would never allow…. so no annexation plans until that is built, and my septic system fails. Until then… give me low taxes.

    If it happens, I assume I will be in Bill Forest’s district and sure, will give it a run.

  28. P.S. Dr Rent for State Assembly?

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