Your Views: What vitality and livability share

(Photo by Aleksandra Kochurova)

To the editor:

The Feb. 7 Times editorial, “Vibrancy must be balanced with livability,” characterized an intriguing tension between vitality and livability in Alexandria. But the two manifest a core commonality. In each, the city would physically be generating a high level of energy, and hence, change.

Change works on systems. Without sounding too pedantic, a system is any pattern of information that manipulates energy to perform work. In an efficient system, information coordinates work on initial energy to create more subsequent energy.

An example of a system is the relationship between the brain and our muscles when performing a task like hunting. If we spend too much energy pursuing a rabbit, the energy from calories obtained is less than that spent. The same principle of economy applies to information and work.

Imagine a brain that acts by reason instead of instinct when hunting. This increase in information cost would consume more energy but would presumably get fewer net calories. Finally, consider if we never felt fatigue in our exertions. We would fast wear out our muscles: increasing work and sharply reducing energy metabolism soon thereafter.

The above limitations in a system are also true when applied to Alexandria, even if a city is more complex. We can spend too much energy on nonessential projects. We can reduce information efficiency with too many redundant or harmful ordinances. And when we numb our sense of total work exertion, we can fast rip through and damage our ability to obtain and use energy.

The result of violating this basic economy of relationships is spending energy, not to grow net energy, but to pay for information costs and strain work limits. This cycle can rapidly dissipate energy, moving in a very short time between the appearance of progress and a sudden correction.

Livability and vitality are rightfully seen by council as positive steps forward. But to focus too intently on the slider between them is to miss and neglect the foundation shared by each. They are the surface-level products of spending energy to make net energy for this city. They are not referenda on whether we want the city to change or not. Change will come inevitably, as it always does. How we handle this change, in other words, how we spend the energy it can produce, is the real question.

So next time you assess a proposal, whether for stricter or looser guidelines, more or less engagement or greater or fewer liabilities, try asking how the proposal changes our city’s balance between energy, work and information.

-Kevin Dunne, Alexandria