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My wife told me a Ukranian “joke”

A Ukrainian caught a goldfish and was promised to get anything he wanted – but with the condition that his neighbor gets twice as much.

“So if I’ll get a house, my neighbor gets two?” he asks.


“And if I ask for a cow, my neighbor gets two cows then?”

“You are right.”

“Then I want to lose one eye,” he finally wished.

I live in Mobile, Alabama. Though we are the longest continuously settled city on the Gulf, we spend a lot of time looking with envy towards Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Atlanta, and mostly New Orleans. So much so, in fact, that there was a little teeny bit of schadenfreude when Katrina hit and left us relativly unscathed. It is now 7 years later and New Orleans has rebuilt herself. She is a major economic force on the Gulf Coast and demands respect. Meanwhile, Mobile is still struggling.  New Orleans school system, not functioning prior to Katrina and completely destroyed by Katrina and the aftermath, has recovered to a great extent. The New Orleans health care system is in the process of refocusing care delivery where it is needed (though the state of Louisiana is doing its best to screw it up under the guise of “improving care”). Granted, there are still problems (such as violent crime) but we in Mobile are once again looking to New Orleans and saying “Why can’t we be that cool?”
As a physician I interact with many folks in the course of my day. I have a vested interest in improving the built environment so that my patients will be able to walk and/or bicycle to where they need to go (Our Walkability Score 38, New Orleans 55, National average 43). I want my patients to have access to healthy foods (55% of our restaurants are fast food restaurants as opposed to 44% in New Orleans). I don’t want to spend the rest of my time here reflecting wistfully on what might have been so I am going to offer a list of things we (and others in a similar fix) can do to make where we live a better place.
  • Buy and live local and encourage others to do the same – for example, one  New Orleans neighborhood away from the French Quarter is cool because it includes Magazine Street, a shopping district that goes on for several miles and has some very nice, locally owned shops. After Katrina, a Whole Foods relocated to that area. It relocated because of Magazine Street, not the other way around. If everyone picked out 3 LOCAL businesses and spent $50 a month there, we could create destinations for bike rides and walking.
  • Put some there, there – New Orleans is a unique, European-style city that happens to be in Louisiana. Every community needs to strive to create a sense of place. Mobile has some very unique features (Mobile Bay, many historic districts, the third largest river delta) that we have not made an effort to make user friendly. Rather than hide our assets from visitors as well as our own citizens, we need to put money into infrastructure development.
  • Embrace diversity – What New Orleans has is that it is an international city, not really a part of Louisiana. The world is a big place and European-Americans are becoming more and more of a minority. Europeans all live near and visit other countries with regularity. Even if we do not do so, we can’t afford to be seen as intolerant and parochial in our understanding of the world. Support public education in the broadest sense, not just to teach the 3 R’s but to force us all to look at the world through other peoples’ eyes.
  • Embrace environmentally friendly living – New Orleans is fortunate (not done intentionally) that the French Quarter (really dating back from Spanish times) was spared urban renewal. This is a unique built environment that was designed pre-car and people actually live there (I did when in medical school). Americans tend to be car focused. In a recent article, long commutes were linked to poor physical and mental health. Being able to walk or bike to work allows exercise to occur without special effort or gym memberships and provides for additional time for additional physical activity. Seek out opportunities to reduce your energy footprint and better health will follow, not only for you but for your family and neighbors as well.