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Take It From Me

Be a Green Organizer

You and your neighbors can fight sprawl

Local and state agencies can make decisions that degrade both the environment and our quality of life, contributing to climate change, habitat loss, flooding, sprawl, and a host of other ills. But it isn’t a sordid conspiracy that drives the cumulative insults to our common spaces. Administrative agencies are designed to allow public participation, and the earlier you get involved and the more you arm yourself with information, the better.

The fact of the matter is that most agencies are staffed by volunteers with varying levels of expertise and limited time. They can’t always investigate permit applications thoroughly. By contrast, most applicants for permits are well represented by engineers, consultants, and attorneys. By intervening, you can correct this imbalance and foster better decisions. Here’s how:

Organize. Tap the resources around you. Many people enjoy using their skills to give back to their community. Form a voluntary association and give it a dignified name like The Shoreline Environmental Trust or The Westville Historical Preservation Group.

Designate and Delegate. Choose a leader or coleaders. Break up the work into smaller assignments (for example, neighborhood photos, research on resident species, and data on flooding).

Call on elected officials and established organizations. Groups such as historical societies, Audubon, Trout Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Soil & Water Conservation Districts can offer immeasurable help.

Find some experts of your own. If the issue is technical, like stormwater calculations and flooding, nutrient impacts to downstream ponds, adaptive reuse of historic structures, or environmental health threats posed by hazardous substances, retain an engineer, hydrologist, or other consultant to advise you or to submit testimony.

Respect agency members. Keep in mind that they often welcome constructive assistance and information unclouded by emotional pleas or ad hominem attacks.

Clients often enlist my services as an environmental lawyer at the last minute, or even after the fact, lamenting the cell tower, McMansion, mall, marina, or subdivision in their backyard. It need not be so. If you’re proactive, you’ll be more effective. You’ll also feel more connected to your community and more in control of your slice of the world.

Web 2.0 Primer

As a consultant for web-based nutrition businesses, I get to witness the evolution of web technology and observe its effects on businesses’ operations, bottom lines, and objectives. One of the most important developments I’ve seen in recent years is Web 2.0—that is, the trend toward using the Internet for new kinds of interaction and collaboration. Blogs, wikis, and social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook are all part of Web 2.0. Blogs are now recognized as invaluable for marketing; they help to establish brands and reach customers. Wikis (web pages where anyone can edit or add to content) greatly enhance opportunities for collaboration within an organization or among different groups. And social networking sites are key for passing on information and opinions—it’s hard to imagine viral marketing campaigns without them.

Web 1.0 changed business by putting more information in the hands of more people. Now Web 2.0 is changing business by connecting people and letting them be heard.

How to Spot a Good Bedside Manner

The four things patients value most

Some clinicians believe that if they know their medicine, a good bedside manner is icing on the cake. But it is not. Studies have shown that compassionate care leads to superior decision making, increased compliance with treatment plans, and better health outcomes. How does your health-care provider rate? Or, if you are a provider, how good is your own bedside manner? A few years ago, the Kenneth B. Schwartz Center (theschwartzcenter.org)—the health-care nonprofit of which I am executive director—asked patients and caregivers nationwide what makes health-care relationships work on a human level. Here are the key traits they identified:

Listening instead of lecturing. Patients want caregivers to make eye contact, sit down when speaking, and show emotion or empathy in response to statements like “I’m scared.” They want a clinician to ask their opinions about treatments, yet offer guidance when complex choices must be made. And they don’t want to feel that their caregiver is rushing on to the next patient.

A shared frame of reference. Most patients want to feel a sense of common ground with the care provider. Some clinicians establish a bond by sharing personal but appropriate information.

Validation of patients’ emotions. Patients want a caregiver to acknowledge their fears, even while helping them hold on to hope if their illness is serious.

Small acts of kindness. Patients attach powerful importance to times when a caregiver remembered a birthday or simply asked, “How was your night?”

The Next Big Apple

On our family’s homestead in the Litchfield hills of northwest Connecticut, I have 20 acres of orchard under cultivation. Some customers have been coming here since my father started selling fruit in the 1930s. Back then, people wanted peaches and McIntosh apples. Now they want peaches and Macoun apples. When my son takes over, I predict that they will want peaches and Honeycrisp, the hot new apple on the horizon.

A Honeycrisp is a cross between the Honeygold apple and the ever-popular Macoun. The Honeygold, a fairly new apple, is itself a cross between the Yellow Delicious and the eighteenth-century American apple variety called Northern Spy. A Honeycrisp has the impressive size of a Spy, the incomparable sweetness of a ripe Yellow Delicious, and the magnificent bite of a snappy Macoun. I am happy to report that back in 1995, I planted about a dozen Honeycrisp trees, which are now producing nicely. I have also grafted several other older apple trees over to Honeycrisp. So this year, I have enough Honeycrisp to meet the growing demand.

Customers put me in an uncomfortable position when they ask if I prefer a Macoun or a Honeycrisp. The Honeycrisp was named the state apple of Minnesota, where it was developed. The appealing story is that a junior high school girl successfully promoted this designation through the Minnesota state legislature. I consider the Macoun to be the unofficial state apple of Connecticut. As the same bloodline runs deeply in both apples, I choose the easy way out and say I love the two of them equally. But I am willing to make a stronger statement about a recently cultivated offshoot of the Honeycrisp, dubbed the Zestar. Despite the extravagant claims made for it, I find it to be inferior to the Macoun and the Honeycrisp. Horrible name, too.

What are you an expert on? Share your life-enhancing tips with “Take It from Me” (tuftsmagazine@tufts.edu or Tufts Magazine, 80 George Street, Medford, MA 02155). If we publish your submission, you will receive $50.

  © 2008 Tufts University Tufts Publications, 80 George St., Medford, MA 02155