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Readers: What Makes You Optimistic?

Posted by: Michelle Conlin on June 5, 2009

janet sadik-khan.jpg For our summer double issue here at BusinessWeek, we are putting together a special report on the Case for Optimism. We want to hear what is making our readers optimistic. Then we’re going to wrap it all up and turn it into a user-generated masterpiece for August beach reading, just as we did in last summer’s issue. So I’m going to weigh in with my own little ditty of optimism, in the hope that you will share your thoughts on what is making you optimistic in our comment box. Please also check out our new blog, The Case for Optimism. We are dying to hear from you! Here’s your chance to see your comments transfered into the stuff of old-fashioned print magazinedom.

My current micro case for optimism: I pedaled into the BusinessWeek mothership this morning on my three-wheeled rickshaw, a.k.a. one of the deep and true and I-swoon-over-it-daily loves of my life.

Public policy planners call this “active transportation”: when a metropolis-dweller like me, all flabbed up with winter layers, uses my bodily self to get me to work as opposed to sitting in a car or hopping on a train. This is lifestyle redesign par excellence: taking what was once a wasted dead zone—a study in sedentary—and turning into a meditative mini workout. Free transportation plus free calorie burn plus faster commute equals a net net net positive gain.

What was different about this morning’s commute was that I took a tour through the new Times Square. Over Memorial Day Weekend, NYC Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan—she of the smashing capes and hipster-bureacrat brain—had her people use some paint, some traffic barriers, and some chairs to transform a sliver of Broadway into a neon-swathed simulacrum of Piazza San Marco, the famous Venetian no-car zone. That’s Sadik-Khan above, courtesy of New York Magazine, looking all leggy on a photo-shopped runway of grass.

Car lovers, business owners, parking garage moguls and cabbies were at first apoplectic. But here’s the delicious truth of this new Piazza for the People. If the experiment bears out the research, it will make the experience of Times Square better for everyone. The plan is projected to actually cut traffic, congestion and pollution while at the same time making what was once one of the most dangerous triangles for pedestrians a far safer, more liveable space.

So much talk of sustainability hinges on being less bad. Less plastic. Less packaging. Less resource use. But less bad isn’t the answer. The true value comes from delivering more good.

What the new Times Square represents is an eco hat trick: a win for pedestrians, for drivers, and the environment.

Sadik-Khan, a former senior vice-president of the international engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff, is a case for optimism because she is blending the Jane Jacobs idea of the sidewalk as community mash-up with the ambitions to do for New York’s sustainbility movement what the last century’s planners did for the age of the combustion-engine and asphalt.

A green Robert Moses.

Already, Times Square is a quieter, less noisy, more liveable place. Change is wrenching. But in the macro view, such public space makeovers are one of those no-cost structural changes that delivers more good, as detailed in the excellent new book from Jeff Mapes called Pedaling Revolution.

For her part, Sadik-Khan took her cues from Copenhagen, widely known as perhaps the best designed city on the planet. You can read more about her in the recent profile in New York Magazine.

The title of the New York magazine story was something I got a taste of this morning: Honk, Honk, Aaah.

Reader Comments


June 6, 2009 2:19 PM

a very good initiative in these times when you only get to hear the R word everywhere!! cheer us up with some positive news.


June 8, 2009 7:24 PM

OK, this is clearly trying too hard. We all realize BW has a mandate to be cheerful no matter what. But if ever there was a time for realism, this is it.

Put down the chirpy phrasebook. Do the hard work and dig for data. Please.

Debra Ellis

June 9, 2009 10:01 AM

I love the new Times Square. The transition from the seedy 1980's when I lived there to a unique urban space is amazing. It shows what happens when people stop looking at what is and start thinking about what could be.

My optimism comes from watching the people who are not featured in the evening news. They include parents taking second jobs for their children to have a better education; laid off workers accepting under-employment positions until a better opportunity appears; and companies seeking new ways to provide quality service and products to their customers.

Today's economic climate is a temporary cycle that requires adaptation. Choosing a pessimistic response makes a downturn a permanent condition for people and companies. Every challenge has a corresponding opportunity. You will find it if you look hard enough.

While our market dynamics are changing, new opportunities for companies to attract, engage, and retain customers are appearing. Social media combined with traditional marketing levels the playing field. Global reach is available to companies of all sizes. The possibilities are endless.

I've always been a Business Week fan. Your focus on optimism is keeping me coming back for more. Thank you.

Kraig Feighery

June 10, 2009 7:32 AM

Thank you Michelle Conlin for this great topic. I put my "optimeter" on everyday and due to an overload of feedback, I had to take it in for service. I am of the belief that negativity will always be ruled by positivity. I see two kinds of people in life day to day. There are those that (F)ace (E)verything (A)nd (R)ecover or (F)lee (E)verything (A)nd (R)un. My parents taught me to be a survivor, not a victim. Why you may ask? because victims don't recover.

Thanks again,


June 12, 2009 7:52 AM


Judith Williams

June 12, 2009 9:05 AM

When calling on small businesses in New England as and indepdent agent for Aflac, I see the determination and innovation that keep our economic machine churning. These people are improving their products and processes and dealing honestly and efficiently with customers. The focus on renewable energy is exciting. Every day I see local government workers climb poles, fix streets and keep our towns and cities functioning. The state and federal government could help by streamlining their processes and reducing burdensome paper work required of small and mid-sized businesses. The small business owner's daily struggle to meet reporting and tax requirements hobble their productivity, and in some cases, threaten their survival. I continue to be optimistic that state and federal government will root out corruption, because we all know that it hampers growth and our quality of life.

William Babbitt

June 29, 2009 5:13 PM

What makes me Optimistic? Awareness. Think about the knowledge and conversations that are going now that were not going on a year ago, two years ago, three?

Things were "colored" in the shade of the good life for many. We had relatively low interest rates, jobs were so plentiful, remember not long ago when there was a sign in a every shop and business up and down main street? HELP WANTED!

What happened? Things were so good we quit paying attention, no need for awareness when things are going good.

How quickly it changed. But here is why there is plenty of room for optimism.

First, learning the hard way is one way, and one way that seldom is forgotten. I know from now on, I will not sit back and let the good times roll without wondering or asking why.

Awareness, look at the blogs, political involvement, social involvement, information is sought out, not ignored.

We had a few bad apples get away with things right in front of our eyes, I doubt that will happen again.

When we talk, when we gather data, when we are smart enough to gather data from both sides of a controversy, we become aware. When we become aware we share, it spreads, not pounding out absolute political viewpoints, finding, searching, researching, reading, blogging, water cooler meetings, all these things are now very important.

We are becoming aware, and if we are not stupid, not bound to one ideal, willing to listen, learn and become aware of what is really going on. Who, what, how when, open minded, and spreading the truth, we all become aware.

So many now are aware, wanting to be informed and aware with some reserve, we got burned by our own lack of attention to what was going on around us.

Like a tourist on vacation, they tell you to be aware in a strange area, keep you guard up, look around, not paranoid reactions to every incident, just simple open minded awareness.

We won't forget, we have not sorted it all out yet, but we are LOOKING AND WATCHING, much more than years past, we are hurting, we have lost a battle but not the war.

With awareness, the "HELP WANTED" signs will reappear as fast as they disappeared. Hey I was wrong on many things, I left it up to the people in charge, I didn't check their voting record, I was busy with all is good, no more.

From now on, I will listen to both sides from right politics to left politics, from what is going on with my investments, to what is going on in the world around me, and my family.

Awareness, and the guts to admit when you are were wrong, the guts to switch, the guts to fight it out, the guts to stand up, the guts to say I KNOW, and I won't have it, yes there is plenty of room to be optimistic.

It is difficult to bounce back, but so encouraging to know there are others with you, learn and be aware.

The knowledge that we built the best Country in the World, and will put it back on course, with a little effort on everyone's part, is a hell of a reason to be optimistic!

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