Wednesday, June 10, 2015


I retired the first of April.  Up until then I had imagined I would keep working as long as I felt I was making a contribution.  I was never one to distinguish much between work and not-work.  Since I enjoyed my profession, thought of it as part of who I was, and it was something I viewed as making the world a slightly better place, why stop doing it?  Of course we all know what they say about our plans.

The agency I worked for had been changing steadily over the past few years, and not for the good.  It was not the same place as sixteen years ago when I started.  Over that period there was a steady storm of cuts at the Federal and state level to programs that funded what I did: assist developers with designing and developing housing for people with disabilities.  This was the most difficult to house population, and the most expensive.  So when state and Federal budgets were cut, programs that targeted this population suffered the most.

The budget cuts precipitated a phenomenon I think of as the agency death spiral, kind of like the neuronal cascade of death.  In response to cuts in program funding, management did not become creative in finding new products to serve new customers, but rather cut programs back to fit the new, reduced funding levels.  Once this started to happen, staff that didn't agree with this strategy started to leave and staff that only cared about a paycheck stayed, and the agency became even more risk averse and committed to serving safer, more affluent populations, prompting more good staff to leave, and on and on until my personal tipping point was reached and one day I realized there was no one left who remembered why I was hired, or cared enough about special needs populations to fight for them. So I announced my retirement.  They wanted to have a reception for me, but I declined.  I didn't trust myself to not make some comments to some people that I would regret later. 

This work is part of me, though, so I will continue to do it.  I have created a company, Living At Home LLC, to provide design and construction management services for residential accessibility, energy conservation, and hazard remediation.  Essential elements for allowing individuals as they age or experience illness or accidents, to continue living at home (get it?).  My website is at Sparks Architecture.  I have a particular interest in the design of accessibility solutions for older homes in urban settings, which means my clients, in contrast to my career up to this point, will be well-to-do.  I hope there will be funds available to make housing accessible, affordable, and safe, for low-income Americans, but the way things are going I'm not optimistic.

I would be remiss if I didn't go a bit further, knowing I'm going to offend some, but I've never approved of people who criticize government actions without differentiating one party from another.  The cuts in programs that fund housing for the poorest, most needy Americans that have occurred continuously over the past 15 years have been perpetrated by Republicans, and would have been worse if not for the objections and opposition by Democrats.  And what makes it even worse in a state like Kentucky is that a majority of poor and disabled adults vote for Republicans, and the more they vote for them, the more the programs they rely on are cut.  In my nightmare imaginings I see the last poor, disabled person left alive in the state, staggering out of the last homeless shelter, carried into an inaccessible voting location, and voting for a Republican who has promised to close that last shelter.  So, I have retired.  I admit defeat.  I no longer have the energy to rage against the dying of the light.