• I Wish I had a more Walkable City

     

    One of the things I love doing during The Undeniable Tour was taking walks. I often spent my first evening in a new city getting my bearings by walking around the neighborhood. In many cities (Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle) I could easily find a grocery store, drug store, coffee shops, things to do, and plenty of people watching within a mile of my hostel. I loved it. I barely drove when I was in the cities because it was more convenient and more fun to walk. My friend to relocated to Seattle from Gilbert, AZ said they gave up their car because they could walk to most of the places they needed to go. For everything else, there’s public transportation, taxis, Uber, and rental cars.

    Phoenix Arizona Downtown Night Aerial Photo from Helicopter by Jerry Ferguson from Flickr (Creative Commons License)
    Phoenix Arizona Downtown Night Aerial Photo from Helicopter by Jerry Ferguson from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

    I didn’t have any plans last Friday night and I decided I wanted to get out and take a walk around 7 p.m. And then I thought about what’s in my neighborhood within walking distance and there really isn’t much, so I loaded up Rosie the basset hound and we drove a few miles to Tempe to walk along Mill Ave. She loved all the new smells and letting everyone love on her. (My apologies to the staff at The Handlebar. I let her walk into the bar when a group of patrons near the door was excited to see her.) I enjoyed getting out to relax in the warm night air.

    It’s ironic that Phoenix, a desert city, is so spread out. You would think that the hot weather would inspire builders and people to want to stay close to work and day-to-day conveniences. With a walkability score of 38 (out of 100), that is definitely not the case. (Phoenix’s bikeability score is 52.) The walk scores for my home and work zip codes aren’t that much better, at 49 and 54 respectively. I looked up Tempe since I lived near the Phoenix/Tempe border and they fared better with a walk score of 50 and a bike score of 75.

    I think there is hope for Phoenix. It appears that more people are moving closer to the city and there seems to be a higher demand for conveniences within walking distance and effective public transportation. I’m lucky than I’m not as dependent on my car as others since I lived right next to a bus stop and I’m close to two light rail stations, one of which that has a park and ride. I’m starting to consider what I would have to do to be able to bike to work, especially on the days when I don’t see clients and I’m just working in my office. I friends gave me some recommendations about the best way to transport my laptop with me.

    One of the things that’s missing from many neighborhoods is having grocery stores, drug stores, and similar conveniences close to home. Even downtown Phoenix and many places along the light rail lack these essential businesses. Our transit system is doing a great job at getting us to major venues and town, but they’re not necessarily getting us to where we need to go on an everyday basis.

    For now, I will have to drive most of the times that I need to go somewhere but I hope that will shift and Phoenix will become a place where transit lines and bike-friendly routes will become the most desirable locations for day-to-day conveniences.

  • Did you see the story last week that Paul Nungesser is suing Columbia University? He’s the student who is accused of sexually assaulting Emma Sulkowicz (and other students), which inspired Emma to create the performance art piece called “Carry that Weight” after he was cleared of responsibility in regards to her alleged rape by the school.

    Visual arts major Emma created this piece for her senior thesis where she committed to carrying a mattress everywhere she went as long as she attends the same school as her accused attacker. Paul is suing the school, claiming that “Carry that Weight” is a harassment campaign against him and as a result, its damage to his reputation and job prospects. He also claims that he has been on the receiving end of pervasive threatening behavior by other students who call him a “serial rapist” when he attends school events.

    (I must use terms like “accused” and “alleged” because this is a situation where the suspect has not been found guilty of any wrongdoing in a court of law. Please don’t interpret this to mean that I don’t believe Emma or any others who speak out about being sexually assaulted.)

    Protester with Placard by WeNews from Flickr (Creative Commons License)
    Protester with Placard by WeNews from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

    This development in this situation leaves me frustrated and emotionally torn. On the one hand, I am a strong advocate of the idea that people are “innocent until proven guilty.” I believe in this ideology because I don’t want to see that justice system manipulated or people being punished based on one person’s word. I believe when a person is accused of a crime, they deserve in their day in court and that it’s the prosecution’s job to build the case against them.

    On the other hand, my limited experience with the criminal justice system has taught me that sexual assault cases are very hard to prove. As a lawyer I find myself regularly quoting Tom Cruise’s brilliant line from A Few Good Men: “It doesn’t matter what I believe. It only matters what I can prove.” Sometimes justice can’t be done because the evidence isn’t there to paint a clear enough picture of what happened. That doesn’t mean that the victim isn’t telling the truth. Studies show that very few people lie about being sexually assaulted.

    If Paul attacked Emma or any other student (and I believe he did), part of me endorses the idea that he and others like him that get away with sexual assault deserve the natural consequences of their actions. They deserve to have tarnished reputations and to be called out for the wrongdoings that they committed. It’s too easy for a rapist to go unpunished because there isn’t enough physical evidence and/or the statute of limitations has run out. And then they can turn around and victimize the person again by claiming they are being defamed when the victim has the strength encourage to call out their attacker for what they did.

    Given that Paul is suing Columbia University and not Emma directly, I think he’s just trying to get money out of the situation. I would not be surprised if he filed this lawsuit in the hopes that the school will pay him a comfortable settlement in exchange for dropping the case.

  • Person + Passion + Social Media = Change

    I saw two films over the weekend: The Hunting Ground and #chicagoGirl. Both of these documentaries featured young activists who are fighting against horrible problems – sexual assault on college campuses and abuses of power in Syria respectively. The something that I find it so captivating about both of these films is none of these activists waited to be asked to help. They just started doing what they thought was right, at many times putting themselves in danger, and doing what they have to do to try to make a difference.

    I love seeing this type of passion in people – working on a cause every free moment, even at the expense of schoolwork, a social life, or sleep. This is when you know you’re working on something that matters, when you sit down to work on a project for an hour and the next thing you know six hours have passed. I love when I’m in this zone.

    Fire Sparks by Kirrus from Flickr (Creative Commons License)
    Fire Sparks by Kirrus from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

    The other thing I love about these films is seeing how social media allows people all over the world to connect and work on a cause. In #chicagoGirl, we see how 19 year-old Ala Basatneh is a major player in the Syrian Revolution by coordinating activities from a Chicago suburb and posting videos that end up on news stations like CNN. In The Hunting Ground, Annie Clark and Andrea Pino use platforms like Skype to connect with other survivors of campus sexual assault and teach them how to file a Title IX complaint against their school if they don’t handle their case correctly.

    It is so incredible to see what every day people are able to do with social media. It’s a platform that anyone can use to raise awareness, connect with others, and promote change without having to ask permission from the government or any other type of authority. I absolutely love it.

    The problems related to campus sexual assault in the Syrian Revolution are ongoing. If either of these issues are important to you, please get involved however you can. And if there is another cause that you have passion about, don’t wait for an invitation to get involved. Join and online community related to your issue, and if there isn’t one, start it.