jane jacobs

Teacher Appreciation Day

My college asked me to write about my favorite Professor as he's receiving a Distinguished Faculty Award this year. Since he's recently been promoted to Interim President of the school, I'm fairly certain he's too busy to read this in between now and when it is published :) so here's a copy for you, in honor of National Teacher Appreciation Day.

It was the greatest fortune in my academic experience to have Professor Pat McGuire as my advisor, my mentor and my teacher.

McGuire brought to life all of the facets of economics in ways that were tangible, lifelong and multidisciplinary. Today, when I walk through the streets of New York City, I see the “ballet of the city sidewalk” in my every step - “never repeating itself from place to place…(and) always replete with new improvisations,”* because he (and Jane Jacobs) taught me to see it that way. He and Professor Spates even took our class to meet Jane! We sat on her porch in Toronto on a beautiful crisp Spring day - what a great honor - and a memory that we will all cherish for our lifetimes.

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Because I was his student, I see that companies need diverse representation in boardrooms and in design rooms because, like cities, “(they) have the capability of providing something for everybody only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”*  He encouraged us to bring our individual backgrounds to our economic studies and the world around us -- because, in fact, the world needs more diversity in thinking, building and dreaming.

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Prof. McG was the very first teacher I had who challenged the status quo - only after he taught it to me. A memory of this was in Urban Economics -- a difficult class that required quite a lot of work, we were discussing the week’s reading - a controversial book about white flight and the changing American City. Professor McG led an open discussion and after we talked through the various elements of the book, he pondered aloud “well, isn’t anyone going to ask me what I thought about the book?” So we asked, what did he think of the book? “I hated it!” he exclaimed. (Dramatic pause!!!) This was shocking to me - the first (and maybe only) time a teacher ever pulled a bait and switch - in Economics class, no less! He went on to give us good reason to doubt the entire ‘gentrification’ (and underlying racism) that the book espoused. Flash-forward to now, as a 10+ year, very happy resident of America’s largest city, I’m so glad that Prof McG showed us it was possible (and critical) to think differently.

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I could go on and on about the things he taught us, the ways he ingrained complex topics into our developing minds - the multiplier effect, his laugh, “feel the power” at the Federal Reserve, his intense love for Alan Greenspan, the macroeconomic flow chart, his ability to be my teacher for four years but when election time came, I had no idea who he was voting for. His camaraderie and banter with Jim Spates (and so many other colleagues). Again, the laugh.

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Besides the things he taught me, though, he believed in me. His great faith in me has propelled me throughout my lifetime. Knowing he is rooting for me and encouraging me - both while I was a student and in my career has been the greatest gift from my time at Hobart and William Smith. For this, I am most grateful.

** With homage and gratitude to Jane Jacobs for many lessons - particularly those in quotes above - and especially the ones learned on her porch.**

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dynamically stable systems -- my tribute to Jane Jacobs

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I've always been inspired by Jane Jacobs' observation of cities and economies. Her thesis in her work, The Nature of Economies was around dynamically stable systems and how they avoid collapse.  

Efficient ecosystems do four things, she said:

  • bifurcate
  • create positive feedback-loops
  • ensure negative controls
  • adapt to emergency

It occurred to me after hanging with my friend (and Summit roommate!) Leyla Acoroglu:

^^ my awesome Summit roomie

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...that we all live in many independent and efficient ecosystems everyday.  Our world, of course, the largest and most common denominator ecosystem that we all share.

The environment, atmospheric conditions, our garbage production and carbon emissions we know and collectively acknowledge affect us now and will affect us in the future.

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We're each individually members of concentric circles - institutions of learning, groups of friends, people bound by shared interest or property.  They are, though, not as independent as we may think they are.  They need common denominators to function, people to bind them.

They are, in fact, more like interconnected concentric circles with multiple points of crossover and connection.

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Bifurcation happens when we begin to identify in different circles or groups...technologist, teacher, athlete, mom...our individual identities (chosen and unchosen) begin to allow us to see similarity and difference in each other. My friends who are having babies are joining a new group 'mother' - which will now be an identity they share with mothers all over the world.

When we receive positive feedback that these groups are working (mommy groups, lobbying groups, athletic endeavors like a marathon), we double-down. Technology is like this too: we find a market-segment need and solve for it.

With regard to technology, Uber is a perfect example of these first two steps in Jane's theory.  Bifurcation occurred when Uber's co-founders observed a need in the market: a cab to their location in Paris. The trial runs for Uber perfectly mimicked the market conditions we'd hope for: since Uber's founders basically disregarded the established Taxi and Limousine Commissions that govern local taxis, they were able to receive positive feedback fairly quickly validating this was a worthy idea. The positive feedback loop was validation enough to continue to grow this emerging company...Thusly, ensuring negative controls were in place. By the time the government and regulating bodies came to call, Uber was a profitable company - able to hire the talent they need to keep Uber in major cities.  Therefore, adapting to emergency has become second nature to this company that seemingly can know no bounds...

Back to mommy friends, the groups we create for ourselves in small and large help us to create dynamically stable systems...and ones that we feel safe in.