This morning I walked down Bowers to Fletcher and charted a straight-away course towards the new Dunkin Donuts for some early morning caffeination. On the way, I noticed the WWI monument to the "Sons of the Acre" who paid the ultimate price between 1917-1919. The three services involved were separated by different sides of an obelisk, and I noted that the Navy figured just as heavily as the ground services back then in the casualty count. But the bigger picture realization was this -- I had probably driven past that monument over a hundred times in the past year, but had never stopped to take note.
As I'm still working my way through Tom Ricks' The Gamble, I saw an instant parallel to the newer, post-Rumsfeld, post-Casey strategy that Gen. Petraeus implemented in Iraq in 2007: If you want to get to know an area and its 'human geography' you have to get of your vehicle and you have to walk the streets. From 2003 to 2006, we failed to heed this basic Counterinsurgency (COIN) tenet and we paid the price for it -- counterintuitively, perhaps, when you expose yourself to the population more, you make yourself safer...when you hide behind blast walls, you not only fail to protect that very same population, but you also put your forces at greater risk.
So when I made my way over to the National Park Visitor Center for the Lowell public art tour led by Paul Marion and Rosemary Noon, this was definitely the first thing on my mind -- in military-ese, we were getting ready for a dismounted patrol on our all-weather personnel carriers (i.e. we were going to walk on foot). For a fuller description of the sites visited, I would have to steer you to the summary that I'm guessing will soon makes its way to www.richardhowe.com, but the big-picture lesson is about the value of getting around on foot. If you're trying to understand an area, be it Baghdad, Herat, or your own city or town, this is the way to go.
It might be the only way you learn, for instance, that there's an official Ed McMahon bench near MCC -- you would never see that from your car.
The 'intel' worth putting out here is that there will be more of these walks coming up now that the warm-weather season is here. There'll be formal 'tour' sort of things led by experts -- like today (outdoor art) or last week (Civil War), as well as informal stuff just designed to get out, move around, and explore the sights, smells, and sounds.
It was also great to see a Lowell Police Officer on a bicycle patrol on Market Street Friday night. Besides the greener, more cost-efficient side to those types of patrols, they're in many ways far more effective than vehicle patrols. I guess it all depends on your objective (takes away the high-speed chase possibilities), but a bicycle puts the police officer in a more up-close, personal light vis-a-vis the population he or she is protecting. It's also far more effective in quickly responding to quality-of-life type crimes and infractions -- it can go into a lot of nooks and crannies that a car can't, and it's a heckuva lot easier to get out of.
I'm sure the business owners with the sidewalk seats, who are constantly trying to get skateboarders and cyclists to stop flying into their patrons (as has actually happened at Centro, more than once) are taking note.