Both Sides of the Fence

A Tosa resident since 1991, Christine walks the dog, cooks but avoids housework, writes and reads, and enjoys the company of friends and strangers. Her job takes her around the state, learning about people's health. A Quaker (no, they don't wear blue hats or sell oatmeal or motor oil), she has been known to stand on both sides of the political and philosophic fence at the same time, which is very uncomfortable when you think about it. She writes about pretty much whatever stops in to visit her busy mind at the moment. One reader described her as "incredibly opinionated but not judgmental." That sounds like a good thing to strive for!

Babies, buildings, and government size: Confused in the pursuit of happiness

Escheweiler Buildings, Wauwatosa Common Council, Happiness, Forest Exploration Center

The other day my daughter, her dear friend, and the dear friend’s adorable baby, my pretend grandbaby, were in the kitchen talking and laughing. Buddha Baby grew restless so I handed him a whisk and metal bowl. Happy beyond expectation, he played for a very long time. No colorful expensive plastic products were involved, and I thought about all the time, energy, and money I had spent as a young mother obtaining stuff I believed would make my babies smarter and happier.

 Do you know what makes you happy? Chances are you think you do, but you don’t. The same is true of most of us, according to a growing body of fascinating research that says what we think we know about our own happiness is usually wrong. Researchers from the University of Chicago Center for Decision Research say we get stuck because we exaggerate the good features of what we prefer (or are being sold) and exaggerate the bad features of what we don’t prefer (or have already decided not to buy). We remember the worst of an event disproportionately. And we rely on beliefs that just aren’t true. You can read more about it  here: 

I guess perceptions about happiness and choice came into play when the media decided what parts of the October 23 Wauwatosa Committee of the Whole meeting to cover. They decided we would be happier to hear about the size of the Common Council than about what is happening with the Eschweiler Buildings or the Innovation Park project.

Good enough reason to think that. Apparently 72% of voters in an advisory referendum said they would be happier if the council were smaller. I’m assuming those who want downsizing think it will save money, and that will make them happy. But it won’t. The research suggests that they won’t even notice the dollar saved on their yearly tax bill but will continue to believe it’s too high. Their misery will continue.

I think more heads are better than fewer heads. But the size of the council will not affect my happiness in the least, one way or the other. If my alders respond to what I care about I will be happy, whether it’s one alder or two. If they don’t, I won’t. Business will get done, and whether I know how the sausage is being made will continue to depend on how much I bother to snoop around.

Other researchers say that being selfish makes us happy. The pursuit of what gives us pleasure but doesn’t hurt other people makes us happy.

And that’s why I know destroying the historic, interesting Escheweiler Buildings and replacing them with apartment boxes or research park boxes will reduce my happiness and, I think, the happiness of many of us. This piece of land is right there, seen and used every day. It'a part of our daily consciousness.

Anyone with a few decades on the planet knows about the creeping uglification of the world around us, and of the transfer of public places to private ownership for exploitation.  My selfish rule is you don’t make things uglier, less green, less available so that a distant business can make more money.

Help them find a way to make money without land grabs and razings.

Which is quite possible if the Forest Exploration Center proposal to use the buildings as the classrooms they were built to be goes forward. Friend and fellow blogger Tom Gaertner's article is the best source of information we have about that win-win-win solution, which hangs on the slender thread of future fundraising.

Developer Mandel Group wins: they unload the buildings that don’t suit their agenda while moving ahead with their profit-making operation.

The community wins: it gets to preserve appealing architecture and public space and use it for the benefit of future generations.

And eventually, though not on their present time-frame, the University of Wisconsin Real Estate Foundation wins. They get the money they need to seed their next building moves, and they get to be seen as good guys who preserve local history and create a legacy, as UWM once did with the old Downer Seminary buildings.

The meeting got heated around the urgency of addressing the University’s need for cash now. One side of the issue, overly simplified, is we must help them do what they want quickly because it’s the least worst way of development we can expect, and UWM won’t budge. The other side is that’s not really our problem: it’s theirs. Let’s take the time to do this better.

You know where I stand. I have spent a lot of time learning what really makes me happy. Giving the next generation what it needs to blossom--beauty and tools, education and ways to be in nature. Walking under trees, in fields, and around interesting places (though the addition of bathrooms and coffee shop would be a plus). Watching the snow fall in the back yard but not the front today. Seeing neighbors and acquaintances work together to preserve what’s good and make things better.

If you believe a sea of warehouses, acres of denuded land, and a developer's bottom line will make you happy, then I'm guessing you are a developer. But even then the research suggests you might be surprised by how little that does for your own deep joy.

More links follow. Enjoy!


This site uses Facebook comments to make it easier for you to contribute. If you see a comment you would like to flag for spam or abuse, click the "x" in the upper right of it. By posting, you agree to our Terms of Use.

Page Tools