With Tristan around, the sad I felt changed from sad like watching a balloon drift out of sight to sad in an it’s-good-to-know-your-soul-works way.


“River of Dreams” by Dana Fortune. See more of the artist’s work here.

“How are you doing, Buttercup?” he asked.


“All right.” I shrugged. “I guess.” And then I asked him, because for some reason it’s easy to talk to him, “When you first thought you were falling in love with Kristen, did you ever get scared? Because I get that way with Sky, and I think that I might have sort of screwed stuff up.”

Tristan looked at me, and he said something I’ll always remember. “Let me tell you something, Buttercup,” he said. “There are two most important things in the world — being in danger, and being saved.”

I thought for a moment of May. I asked him, “Do you think we go into danger on purpose, so we can get saved?”

“Yes, sometimes. But sometimes the wolf comes down out of the mountains, and you didn’t ask for it. You were just trying to take a nap in the foothills.”

Then I asked him, “But if those are the two most important things, what about being in love?”

“Why do you think that’s the most profound thing for a person? It’s both at once. When we are in love, we are both completely in danger and completely saved.”

(An excerpt from one of my favorite books, “Love Letters To The Dead,” by Ava Dellaira. I was recently reminded of it by a friend who read the book for the first time — and loved it as much as I did.)

“Good habits formed at youth make all the difference.” – Aristotle

What if Yankton wanted to help its teens develop the good habit of voting?

Well, we wouldn’t be alone.


Supporters of lowering the voting age in San Francisco at an advocacy day in 2015. (Courtesy of CityLab).

Two Maryland communities have, in recent years, decided to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote.
And, yes, those two communities — Takoma Park and Hyattsville — are still with us.


The issue of allowing teens to vote has been brought forward in a variety of municipalities, school districts and states in recent years. See here and here and here.
Several organizations, including the National Youth Rights Association, FairVote and Generation Citizen, have been advocating to lower the voting age.

I am excited about exploring the possibility of allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in Yankton’s municipal elections, because I think they have an important and legitimate voice that we need to hear. As we know, many of Yankton’s youth — and the youth of this region in general — leave after high school graduation and never return (at least not permanently).

What happens when we do listen to our youth?

This recent article from Dakotafire gives us insight. Take a look at this excerpt:

(Craig) Schroeder (a senior fellow of New Generation Partnerships at the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship) thinks there’s been a shift in mindset to believe that if you grew up in a small community you might want to continue living in one. Some rural communities have seen a 25 percent increase in population.
It’s important for rural leaders to figure out what students want.
“What would make them want to stay?” Schroeder asked.
From his perspective, allowing students to have an impact on community decisions is an important step.
Youth need to tell the adult leaders in their hometowns what they want that community to be, Schroeder said.
“It’s important to make youth aware of these opportunities and train them in leadership and entrepreneurship, to give them an opportunity to direct the course of their communities,” he said.
His research developed three key interlocking concepts community members can use to develop youth:
1.    Entrepreneurial education and career development
2.    Youth involvement and leadership in the community
3.    Community support of youth enterprise.
“If young people are involved in improving their community it causes them to have a greater investment in their community,” Schroeder said.

As we have more talk of entrepreneurship in Yankton and efforts are undertaken to involve youth in those conversations, what if we also gave them the power to vote in municipal elections? (Maybe the school district would also want to expand its voting parameters …)

I know you have many questions.

One of the first ones I get from people I’ve discussed this with is, “Have you spent time with many 16-year-olds? Do you really want them voting?”

Research has shown that the political contributions of 16- and 17-year-olds are on equal footing with other age groups. Here is an excerpt from the 2012 study, “Voting At 16: Turnout And The Quality Of Vote Choice”:

Critics of lowering the voting age to 16 have argued that such teenage citizens are not able or motivated to participate effectively in politics and that this both drives their turnout decisions and means that their electoral choices are of lower quality. We have tested whether these criticisms have an empirical basis using evidence from Austria, the one European country where the voting age has already been lowered for nation-wide elections.
Our findings prove the critics wrong. First, we do not find that citizens under 18 are particularly unable or unwilling to participate effectively in politics. Second, while turnout among this group is relatively low, we find no evidence that this is driven by a lacking ability or motivation to participate. Instead, 18- to 21-year-olds are if anything the more problematic group. Finally, we do not find that the vote choices of citizens under 18 reflect their preferences less well than those of older voters do. In sum, lowering the voting age does not appear to have a negative impact on input legitimacy and the quality of democratic decisions. This means that the potential positive consequences of this reform merit particular consideration and should also be empirically studied.

So what would it take to allow 16- and 17-year-olds the to vote in Yankton’s municipal elections?

Well, I’ve not had a lawyer familiar with South Dakota state law offer an opinion, but Generation Citizen completed a legal feasibility study of all 50 states. It found that cities in South Dakota can likely lower the voting age without any resistance from the state legislature:

Cities and counties can lower the voting age for their local elections through charter amendments.
The South Dakota state Constitution and election code both grant the right to vote to those 18 and older, and do not specifically prohibit those under 18 from voting (Const. Art. 7 § 2 and SDCL 12-3-1). Any county or city in South Dakota can adopt a charter, and “A chartered governmental unit may exercise any legislative power or perform any function not denied by its charter, the Constitution or the general laws of the state” (Const. Art. 9 § 2). A state statute lists the restrictions on power of home rule units, and this list does not include elections. Therefore, it seems that home rule units (cities or counties) in South Dakota can lower the voting age for their local elections through charter amendments. Charter amendments must be approved by voters.
One problem: Yankton is not a home rule unit. However, many other communities our size in the state are, and it is a subject that is currently being researched by the city’s legal council. (To be clear, that research is not being done due to this topic.)
So it appears that if the citizenry of Yankton were interested in expanding our voting age, it would not be an overnight process. But it could be done if the will were present.
What do you think? Is it time to allow 16- and 17-year-olds the ability to vote and have a voice in Yankton?
If any Yankton youth — or adults — want to explore this issue further, let’s talk!
If you’d like to read more, check out these links:

“Why We Should Lower the Voting Age To 16”

“Lowering the Voting Age To 16”

“Top 10 Reasons To Lower The Voting Age”

(This is where I’m obligated to mention that these views are entirely my own and do not necessarily represent the opinions of the Yankton City Commission or City of Yankton staff.)

The Best Music of 2015

Posted: January 24, 2016 in Uncategorized

The best music of 2015.

Because the first month of 2016 has nearly passed, I thought I should wrap up my thoughts on the past year. I’m usually running a bit behind, you know …

My top 10 films of 2015 were published Friday in the Press & Dakotan. You can find that story here.

And this, my friends, is my unadorned list of favorite albums of 2015:

10. Twin Shadow: Eclipse

9.  John Grant: Grey Tickles, Black Pressure

8. Icky Blossoms: Mask

7.  Dave Gahan/Soulsavers: Angels & Ghosts

6.  Susanne Sundfor: Ten Love Songs

5. The Soft Moon: Deeper

4. Post War Glamour Girls: Feeling Strange

3. Grimes: Art Angels

2. Chvrches: Every Open Eye

  1. Sufjan Stevens: Carrie & Lowell

Here are a few more highlights from the year:

Girl Band: Paul

Low: Lies

Deerhunter: Snakeskin

School of Seven Bells: Open Your Eyes

Carly Rae Jepsen: Your Type

LA Priest: Oino

Robin and La Bagatelle Magique: Love is Free

Brandon Flowers: Lonely Town

Sarah Bethe Nelson: Paying

Jamie xx: Loud Places


I could honestly keep going and going and going, so I’ll stop here.

Until next time, keep the music alive. Most days, I’d be lost without it …

Architecture can be inspiration.


This is a view of downtown Yankton circa 1903.

If you’ve traveled to the great cities of Europe or the National Mall in Washington, D.C., for example, I’m sure you’ve experienced the power architecture can have on the human mind.

Now, think about the architecture of Yankton.

What architecture in our small rural city inspires you?

If you have any answer at all, I’m going to guess you said one of five places — downtown Yankton, the Meridian Bridge, the Yankton Federal Prison Camp (which, of course, was formerly Yankton College), the Mead Building and the Bishop Marty Chapel.

What do all of these places have in common? They were built well before World War II and the Modern architectural styles that became popular in the post-war period, when the focus turned to new building materials, mass production and rapid construction.

The problem with much of the architecture built in the last 70 years — at least in the Midwest — is that it is geared toward automobiles and doesn’t inspire much awe among its inhabitants. It is mostly bland, insular and does not create a sense of place. More importantly, it does not create a sense of community.

With all of that said, it’s probably easy to understand why my mind became electric while hearing the following discussion take place between author, social critic, public speaker and blogger James Howard Kunstler and Chuck Marohn, the founder and president of Strong Towns. This is not a complete transcription of the podcast but instead one that captures the points I found relevant.

James Howard Kunstler (JHK): I’m always amazed at the stupefying ugliness of Midwestern towns — especially as they have evolved after the second World War. You see remnants of some pretty good stuff at the old town centers. But, most of the time, it has been obliterated. It’s as though some of the worst tendencies of American culture are amplified in the Midwest — all the bad choices, all the short cuts, all the fakery. Especially the total absence of artistry in our surroundings. How do you account for that in the Midwest?

Chuck Marohn (CM): … I think the stunning thing about it is, we’re actually proud of it. … These are very good people, and they care about their places, but it’s a little bit bewildering.

JHK: It’s mystifying. Because I agree with you — I think, in many ways, they are good people. But they have this amazing appetite for that immersive ugliness that I tend to describe as entropy made visible.

CM: … We need people who travel more … Part of it is, you see the world around you. You compare — they’ve got a nicer Olive Garden than we do. Let’s put brick siding on the next one … You get that kind of introspection here.

JHK: That’s some pretty shallow introspection.

(James relates that the latest example of this Midwestern architectural malaise he witnessed was in Sioux Falls.)

JHK: It had about 1 1/2 blocks of old urban fabric surrounded by this gigantic supernova of crap. That’s normal.

(James goes on to say that, when he goes to Midwestern towns, he often searches for postcards with some sign of urban memory of what the town was originally. He notes that many communities were new after 1865 — Yankton was incorporated in 1861.)

JHK: You look at a historic photo of Sioux Falls in 1880, and you realize all of that stuff is less than 25 years old. Now it’s all gone, of course. Is there any cultural memory … of what was good?

Listen to the whole podcast here. Learn more about Strong Towns here.

Kunstler puts into words what I’ve felt about Sioux Falls and its charmless urban sprawl for a long time. (And considering all the advice Sioux Falls Mayor Mike Huether has had for Yankton of late — advice, for the record, with which I generally agree — I had to laugh at Kunstler pointing out that his adopted community also has plenty of work to do.)

I think we do have that cultural memory, though it grows more faint with every passing year. Unfortunately, we live in a state/region that does not put a lot of emphasis on preservation, so many of us have given up hope that these buildings can be preserved except in rare circumstances.

(Remember all the buildings of historical significance the State of South Dakota destroyed on the South Dakota Human Services Center campus in the last couple years? To say the efforts to find uses for those buildings were half hearted is being generous, and it is only through the heroic efforts of the Mead Building Committee, the Yankton County Historical Society and the friends of those entities that the Mead Building still has a shot at a future as a cultural center and museum. The Yankton County taxpayers gave the project a huge boost in 2014 with approval of a levy that will raise money for the Mead restoration and other historical projects in the county.)

As Onward Yankton, the City of Yankton and Yankton residents plan for the downtown and community-wide development, I think it is important for us to keep in mind this “cultural memory of what was good” and fight to preserve and recreate it whenever possible.

Yankton has the benefit of natural beauty — the Missouri River and the rolling hills that surround it — which many of our peers do not.

Let’s build on that and the historic architectural foundation that remains and not give in to the ease of the “immersive ugliness” that already occupies too much of our surroundings.

What community landscape will inspire us, will encourage us to walk and to congregate, and will help ourselves and visitors see that, while we don’t have a California climate, we have the warmth and richness of community that weather cannot rival?

The Yankton City Commission voted to commence with an improvement project on the north end of Douglas Avenue this week.

It’s a decision that has been five or more years in the making.

Here is what the project entails (and more details can be found in this Press & Dakotan article):

Yankton City Manager Amy Nelson said the project is $1.6 million, with $100,800 to be assessed. The project will include rebuilding Douglas Ave. between Anna St. and 31st St. and adding curb, gutter and sidewalks along the stretch of roadway. Currently, the road beyond Anna St. has no sidewalk or shoulder.

Commissioner Charlie Gross opposed the resolution because he believes it sets a bad precedence. I respect his decision, as it is an element of the debate that I struggled with, too.

Ultimately, I came to support the project for the following reasons.

I’m the first to admit that this is not an ideal solution.

It does not adhere to our subdivision ordinance, and some will question the fairness of making an exception.

Instead of a clear black or white — or good or bad — decision, the commission is left with a deafening gray of competing considerations, values and goals. It is in this gray area that I have struggled to find clarity for the last several months, knowing that the time for a decision would arrive.

Questions that come to mind are:

1) Should an exception to our subdivision ordinance be made for these property owners? Are we creating a precedence that we may regret in the long term?

2) If the matter went to court, does the city have the weight of the law on its side?

3) With the development already in place along North Douglas, can we wait — possibly decades — for current or new property owners to change their minds on the matter and put off the installation of curb and gutter, storm sewer and sidewalk improvements?

4) As more development happens to the north, and pedestrian traffic increases, are we putting people at serious risk of injury or death by not having a sidewalk in place along that stretch?

5) Currently, a developer has indicated that it will not build homes on property it owns along North Douglas unless the city carries most of the financial burden of this infrastructure project. With the need for housing in the community now and in the future, is it worth more to Yankton to make this sacrifice in order to gain more homes? Thus, we create new opportunities for those wishing to live in our community while increasing our property tax revenues and, potentially, sales taxes revenues.

These questions and more have swirled around my head and led to many conversations with those who are for moving ahead with this proposal and those who are against it.

But now, as the question is asked, I must come to a decision.

And my decision is yes.

Yes, we need to set aside history and our normal requirements to address this specific circumstance.

Yes, we need to think about the long-term future of our city. Douglas Avenue has been, and will continue to be, a major north-south thoroughfare for our residents. We need the proper infrastructure in place — especially sidewalks — in order to ensure orderly development and improve safety.

Yes, we need to encourage the development of more housing that will contribute to the growth and prosperity of our community.

So while this resolution is not ideal, it is at the very least a compromise by which both the city and the property owners along North Douglas can live.

In the short term, the City Commission and our staff will, perhaps rightly, be questioned about the fairness of this agreement in comparison to what we ask of others in regards to our subdivision ordinance.

But I’m confident that, in the long term, history will judge the agreement favorably as one that made the best of a frustrating situation and did the greatest good for the community.

People often ask me, “What have you been up to this summer?”

Often times, I don’t remember what I’ve been up to this summer.

It’s such a blur.

But here is a reminder.

I’ve seen a lot of good concerts during the last several months.

Here is a recap of some of what I’ve attended:

Soft Moon:


Jenny Lewis:

Version 2IMG_1120

The Decemberists:


The Ghost Wolves:


Jason Isbell:


Mac Demarco:






Future Islands:


Courtney Barnett:


Sarah Bethe Nelson:


The Good Life:


This is a painting by Craig LaRotonda. To find out more about his amazing work, visit http://www.revelationart.net/.

This is a painting by Craig LaRotonda. To find out more about his amazing work, visit http://www.revelationart.net/.

Greetings seekers of the eternal light.

Summer’s twilight is beginning to press hard on our chests, and so begin the chills through our bodies and the slow descent into winter’s darkness.

It is the most magical time of year, as celebrations of harvest and the transience of life cast a strange spell over the landscape.

But before we pass over into our autumnal existence, let us look back and the music that sustained us through the summer.

I offer you two hours worth of songs, some old but mostly new, that enlivened my heart and mind during these past several months. I invite you to feast upon them with me.

(This is all a very fancy way of saying: I’ve made a Summer 2015 Playlist, and I’m excited to share it with you!)