May 18th, 2010

[LINK] "Subway tunnels in the sky"

The Globe and Mail's Marcus Gee is profoundly skeptical that in a time of fiscal restraint, the Ontario provincial government is going to fund an expansion of the subway network.

Transit czar Rob Prichard has a message for those who dream of criss-crossing Toronto with new subway lines: get real. Mr. Prichard, chief of the Metrolinx transit agency, says he is buttonholed all the time at cocktail parties, on transit and even by people on the street who ask him: “Why aren’t you building more subways?”

The question clearly drives him a little mad. First of all, he tells them, 12 kilometres of the proposed Eglinton light rapid transit line – one of the priority projects for Metrolinx – run through an underground tunnel. The big, modern LRT cars would whiz along as fast as a subway. A second priority project, replacement of the aging Scarborough rapid transit line, would run on dedicated track at subway speeds.

On two of the other main rail projects planned by Metrolinx, the Sheppard and Finch LRT lines, a subway makes no sense. The density of people and buildings on those suburban routes is not even close to enough to justify the enormous expense of building, then operating, subway lines. Subways cost around three times as much as light rail. Expanding the Spadina subway north to York University, for example, is costing about $300-million a kilometre. Do the math. At 33 kilometres, the Eglinton LRT, if converted into a subway, would cost $9.9-billion, about half the size of the national defence budget.

Yet some of our candidates for mayor seem to think they can conjure subways out of the wind. No fewer than four of the six main candidates have talked about expanding the subway network.

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

  • Acts of Minor Treason's Andrew Barton makes the point that isolationism really can't work for the United States.

  • Castrovalva's Richard speculates about the consequences of the Liberal Democrats' coalition with the Conservatives, approving in principle of the idea of coalitions, fearing the impact it might have on the Liberal Democrats' future, and suspecting that the coalition government's program won't do enough to fix Britain's problems.

  • Centauri Dreams explores the questions of what sorts of life forms and biospheres will exist on worlds different from Earth.

  • Daniel Drezner writes about the uproar surrounding a Lebanese-American woman's winning the Miss USA contest. She clearly won on her own merits--I can see that--and Daniel Pipes' racist suggestion of some sort of Muslim affirmative action in beauty pageants is without basis.

  • Extraordinary Observation's Rob Pitingolo wonders why more people don't use cash: it's often easier, and financially sounder, too.

  • Geocurrents' Martin Lewis argues that recognizing Somaliland's independence is not going to trigger the collapse of states across the world, owing to its highly particular circumstances.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money's Charli Carpenter celebrates the Saudi woman who beat up a virtue policeman, although she also warms that the woman could face very serious legal consequences.

  • Murdering Mouth is not impressed by the sharply falling quality of the Chicago Tribune, reducing news content and having bad writing and making online reading difficult, and is skeptical about the future of newspapers generally.

  • Mark Simpson suggests that some straight soldiers in the US military might act gay--uninhibited, self-mocking, et cetera--because it's funny, not because they're in the closet.

  • Strange Maps reproduces a map of the Netherlands showing the surprisingly sharp differences in the sorts of first names given to Dutch children by parents in different regions of the country.

[LINK] "OtF Core: Ethical Futurism"

Jamais Cascio of Open the Future has posted a very interesting 2006 essay on the ethics of being a futurist.

Futurists — including scenario planners, trend-spotters, foresight specialists, paradigm engineers, and the myriad other labels we use — have something of an odd professional role. We are akin to reporters, but we’re reporters of events that have not yet happened — and may not happen. We are analysts, but analysts of possibilities, not histories. We’re science fiction storytellers, but the stories we tell are less for entertainment than for enlightenment. And, much to our surprise, we may be much more influential than we expect.

It’s not that no futurists have considered ethical issues before. Foresight professionals regularly grapple with the question of what kinds of ethical guidelines should govern futurism, in mailing lists, organizational debates, and academic papers. But — to my surprise — neither of the two main professional organizations for futurists, the World Future Society and the Association of Professional Futurists, have any lists, documents or debates on the subject available to the public. This doesn’t mean that futurists are inclined to behave unethically or amorally, but simply that there seems to be no overarching set of principles for the field, at least none open to the broader community in which futurists act.

As I gave this some thought, it struck me that futurists are not alone in thinking about tomorrow professionally. Most business consultant types also concern themselves with what may come, with the results of corporate decisions and organizational choices. But the difference between that sort of business consulting and foresight consulting comes down to the difference between outcomes and consequences. Outcomes are the (immediate or longer-term) results of actions; consequences are how those actions connect to the choices and actions of others, and to the larger context of society, the environment, and the future itself.

The specific principles he comes up with are worth considering indeed, based on responsibilities to future generations and honesty. Go, read.