I love doing the Friday News Digest - seriously, I come across a lot of great stuff each week and it is really fun to go through it and share it here. Unfortunately last week I was not up to much of anything on Friday. This week, I was so busy my stack of news stories is backed way up. What that means for you, my dear reader, is that you are going to get mostly last week's news digest. Ignore the dates - you won't know the difference.

This was a great week! I had some real invigorating discussions with some intelligent people, got to catch a Twins game where we actually won, finally got my MP3 player back (missed my audio books and podcasts on those long drives) and got a new tune emailed to me from my best friend. Home with the girls today and camping at the headwaters of the Mississippi this weekend. I hope your life is this enjoyable.

Whether it is or isn't, make sure and enjoy this week's news: 

  • The Daily Yonder put together this article about Towns that Build Entrepreneurs and I have to say they are right on. It is a study of small towns in Oklahoma. The four areas of emphasis they took from the study should be the economic development playbook for Small Town America.
    • A heavy emphasis on Main Street
    • Putting Aside Your Differences
    • Focus on Your Assets
    • Diversify Yourself  
  • The Minneapolis Star Tribune has been doing some good stories on the financial condition of cities. By good, I mean stuff like this article on city efforts to "pare back", which tells about some of the struggles that cities are going through but really is short on analysis as to the underlying reasons. Perhaps it is because they, like most city and town officials (and other newspapers), are not understanding what the true imbalances created by our growth model are. The lead gives you a clue 

"As Minnesota cities complete their preliminary 2010 tax plans, there are rumblings of a fundamental shift: More and more, cities are looking beyond nips and tucks toward structural changes in how they operate -- sharing services with other cities, perhaps, or tapping new revenue sources -- that will allow them to weather the present and prepare for an uncertain future."

The sad thing is, most small towns really do believe that sharing a building inspector or pooling with a neighboring town to buy paper clips at a reduced price represents a "structural change". We are in for some harsh wakeups. 

  • Sanitary sewer infrastructure is some of the most expensive to maintain. This article in not about maintenance, however, but simply about cash-flow for a system that is overextended. If forcing current users to pay for excess capacity in the system is difficult, wait until the cost for the miles of inefficiently developed pipe comes due. Debt-and-subsidy-fueled growth has cash flowed these systems until now. With debt maxed and growth behind us, there is nothing left to masks the true costs. 
  • More calls to bypass state legislatures and provide aid directly to big cities. While the VP acknowledges the obvious, the article dances around the subject (or assumes its readers know) that the political patronage system favors rural areas over urban in terms of dollars per capita. We keep reminding people of the population shift to urban areas and how that is going to change the patronage system after the next census. This is another reason why small towns need to stop relying on big government subsidies. 
  • So many small towns are "parking-crazed" to the point where they give up valuable property from the tax rolls (not to mention degrade the destination effect of their downtowns) just to get that extra space. The ROI for doing this is immensely low (negative really) compared to other development strategies, yet so often the mindless mantra is "parking, parking, parking". While this issue has not been studied extensively in small towns (at least not that I know of), there are plenty of urban dwellers aware of the issue. Say....how about truly building mixed use and giving people an option not to have to drive and park? Hmmm....... 
  • While I don't pretend to be as smart as Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, it has been somewhat amusing to me (or troubling) that people seem to be soothed by his assertion that the recession is likely over. If you want to join me in the land of cautious cynics, read this fantastic article about how economists got things so wrong. Group-think is dangerously blinding. 
  • I'm an early adopter of all things technological, which means I've actually done this and had some success at it. (Although my proposal for a presentation on the effort was rejected by the Minnesota Chapter of the American Planning Association for their conference last year - funny.) 
  • Sherco haze all in my brain. Lately things just don't seem the same. Actin' funny, but I don't know why. Skuze me, while I kiss the sky. (By the way, she's smart and good looking, and I'm glad she doesn't read this blog.) 

  • I have already admitted on this blog to having a few too many late night meetings with small town traffic cops. Never tried this. Might.