Ben Bartosik

May 21, 2024

Took a bit of a Richard Sennett detour and decided to go back and read the other two books in this trilogy first. So I'm going through The Craftsman right now.

First, I love this way he talks about Hannah Arendt as a teacher.

"The good teacher imparts a satisfying explanation; the great teacher — as Arendt was — unsettles, bequeaths disquiet, invites argument."

In a book about craft, I appreciate the nod to what skilled teaching is a capable of. A significant portion of my interest in reading this book in particular is in thinking about craft and skill in the age of AI. I think it is Sennett's separation here between good and great that we risk losing.

May 16, 2024

"People move through a space and dwell in a place."

In Building & Dwelling, Sennett draws this interesting relationship between spaces and places in terms of the speed at which people travel through them. He makes an interesting note around the way in which we can take in more liminal visual information when we are walking as opposed to being in a vehicle. This speaks to the role of a place in nurturing a desire to slow down and take in all the sights and sounds that it has to offer.

He also noted how the anxiety or frustration around the speed at which we are able to move through a city is a relatively new thing that came as we attempted to "improve" it. Slow movement through cities used to be the norm and this kept people in a far more relaxed state. Now, as sought to make moving through cities at greater speeds a goal, when it slows down it feels as though something with the city is broken.

Mobility then became a core goal or urban planning. And in the process, places to linger were reduced to spaces to get through.

May 13, 2024

Started reading Building & Dwelling by Richard Sennett and I'm honestly quite surprised I have not read any of his stuff before. It feels like a strange oversight in the trajectory of my thinking over the last decade or so. I was so immediately taken by him that I ordered the other two books in this trilogy. One of the more interesting connections is finding out that he was taught by Hannah Arendt, someone whose thinking has really inspired my own over the last couple years.

In this book Sennett is exploring the relationship between the built environment of cities (the 'ville', or buildings) and the character of life within them (the 'cite', or dwelling). He begins by posing the question, "should urbanism represent society as it is or seek to change it?"

He points to several hallmarks of modern cities emerged almost accidentally, as urban engineers were often trying to improve the quality of life of people within cities. One example he gives is smooth stone paving for streets was initially thought up in an attempt to make it easier to clean up horse droppings and hopefully by making them easier to clean, people would be less likely to dump their garbage all over them. This had the added effect of making streets cleaner and more useable as a social space.

March 12, 2024

Reading an article this morning that talks about how turning the struggle for safe streets into a culture war is a lose-lose situation. The author's point is that you won't get anywhere by demonizing the large majority of people who drive. He instead argues that the goal should be drawing the circle of empathy big enough for as many people as possible.

"Every parent has fear that their teenage kids won't make it home alive. Every parent fears putting their baby into the car seat in the back of the car. Everyone with elderly parents fears finding out that they have been involved in some kind of traumatic crash while behind the wheel...

Everyone wants the street in front of their own home to be safe. Start with that. Here are all the ways your street is designed to kill people. When you show people, they get it—and they get their part in it."

I remember reading a similar idea around activism that suggested drawing your 'line of division' in such a way that gives you the most allies as possible. This is something that progressive causes just do not seem to understand, often pushing for full agreement on an issue before collaboration. We need to draw a larger circle.

This seems especially true when dealing with multisolving opportunities in which we are trying to rally multiple issues around a shared solution. Not everyone is going to be aligned on every aspect of all of those issues, rather we must paint a picture of a better future that the most amount of people can agree with. Embracing a new spirit of collaboration across our differences will be the defining value of the coming decades.

I hope.

March 8, 2024

Came across a great substack yesterday that I went down a bit of a rabbit hole reading entries. The topic is something I care a lot about, the intersection between kids, technology, and trying to live an alternative to our increasingly digital world. Bonus, the author seems to live in or around Toronto. Here's a taste from one of her posts on reclaiming leisure time in which she reflects on how her grandmother spent her time:

"She gardened and made spectacular flower arrangements in every room. She sat on her porch and watched birds at the feeder. She made dozens of handmade quilts. She made travel scrapbooks, wrote a daily journal entry, called her children and grandchildren weekly, mailed birthday cards to everyone, hosted friends for lunch, and volunteered in her community. She had a huge dollhouse (because she never had one as a child) that was meticulously decorated, with tiny electric lights. She only watched TV at night when she grew tired of reading. Her days were spent on tasks that may have appeared work-like, but also seemed to give her satisfaction and pleasure.

It seems that we, collectively, as a society, have forgotten that there is value in active pursuits and that relaxation can be found in doing and creating, not just lying on the couch and passively consuming."

Of course there are other factors to consider in the way lifestyles have drastically shifted between two generations and I want to avoid romanticizing the past too much, but there is certainly a truth to considering what we could gain if we gave up time spent just staring at our phones.