This week I was fortunate enough to hang with Brother Brent for the opening of Target Field. Thank you to everyone who I chatted with through Facebook and Twitter during the six+ hours we were there. And to top it all off, my team just keeps on winning. I am under no delusions that April in Minnesota will forevermore be sunny and bright, but right now the world from here looks like a beautiful place to be. Boom de ya da.
Enjoy this week's news.
- I have some gratitude from Strong Towns to pass around. First, to David Levinson who mentioned Strong Towns in a blog post. We're not near the point where "the learner has become the master", but I am flattered to know that one of my favorite professors reads our stuff. (For those that don't know, it is me that is the learner here). Also, thank you to George Osner and Michael Lawyer for passing our stuff along on Twitter, and to (the brilliant) Steve Mouzon (of the Original Green) for sharing some link love with us. We really appreciate it, all of you.
- This week Friend of Strong Towns, the Antiplanner Randal O'Toole, debated James Kunstler at Brown University. The topic was Building America: Who Should Control Urban Growth–Planners or Markets. I heard about the debate ahead of time on Kunstler's podcast and have now read a summary of the exchange on O'Toole's site. Wish I could have been there. These two are intentionally-provocative, but my sense that they are both thoughtful, decent people who care about the future of the country is reinforced by the Antiplanner's posting.
I’ve never met Kunstler before, and I was a bit nervous since he hasn’t exactly been friendly on his blog. But he turned out to be very warm and congenial. We share many recreation interests and I am sure we could be friends if we didn’t live on opposite sides of the country, which (despite our mobility) might be a bigger barrier than being on opposite sides of the political debate.
- The Daily Yonder wrote about a new report by Mark Drabenstott on economic development in rural areas titled Past Silos and Smokestacks: Transforming the Rural Economy in the Midwest. From my quick reading of this, it looks like he is right on the mark. I am going to give it some time over the weekend and am real excited to do so given this excerpt:
The rural Midwest could have an economic future as bright as its vibrant past. But it is basing its twenty-first-century future on a twentieth-century playbook. This is not a recipe for success. Towns and counties compete with neighboring towns and counties for jobs and investments. Industrial recruitment—“smokestack chasing”—is the norm. Economic development agencies spend millions on infrastructure and tax breaks to lure companies from afar instead of creating new jobs at home. Boosters sell the rural Midwest as a cheap place to make things, ignoring the region’s many other economic assets—its natural resources, its hard-working people, its central location, its schools and universities, and its scientific base, among others —that could all be leveraged into a competitive new economy.
- In some kind of "shocking" revelation, the Star Tribune reported that flight to the exurbs stops cold. This may be a surprise to some, but the new normal is going to look a lot different than the old normal. This is the essence of Strong Towns: our development pattern has not generated sustained prosperity. We can either change it ourselves, or the market will change it for us. Painfully.
All these trends would be much more pronounced, say some who live in outlying towns, if by some stroke of magic they could leave: if they were not upside down on their mortgages and forced to write $20,000 checks to escape.
"We're stuck there," said Jason Hanson, who bought a townhouse in Farmington with his wife in 2005. At the time, moving farther out was a way to get more space for less money. Now with a baby and a dog, the distance from work and everyday amenities has turned into a drag.
- With populations returning to metropolitan areas, and with the obvious economic advantages of a more efficient development pattern, there is a push to bring streetcars back to neighborhoods. Know why this is not a joke? Because it is supported by the AARP, now representative of the bull-in-the-china-shop generation known as the baby-boomers.
- More subsidy of the highway trust fund, this time in the form of 19.5 billion in something called the "Hiring Incentives and Restore Employment Act." I'm sorry, Randall O'Toole, but if this system even remotely worked we would not be having multi-billion dollar deficits in this fund. One thing he and Kunstler probably agreed on this week is that the way we spend money on highways has to change dramatically. Of course, once again the politicians sell this irrationality by suggesting it provides jobs. You tell a lie often enough and....
"Hundreds of thousands of construction workers and state department of transportation employees from across the country are breathing a collective sigh of relief now that the president has signed the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment Act," said AASHTO Executive Director John Horsley.
- At Strong Towns we really enjoy the work of Bruce Katz. This article is kind of inside-baseball, but I enjoyed it.
- I've talked before about the odd social phenomenon here in Minnesota of the municipal liquor store, affectionately called the muni. Kind of along the same lines as the lottery; somehow the state benefiting from vice just doesn't seem to be as abhorrent to people as private individuals doing so. This article from my local paper on the declining revenues for muni's reminded me again of the backward incentives we rely on. Pay for your roads by drinking more, smoking more and gambling more. Come on - do it for the children.
- After seeing this, I may have to move.
- Finally, after my posting Monday on inflation and then Tuesday on The Big Short, someone sent me this 60 Minutes interview. If you are not going to read the book (you should), you can get a decent overview in this segment and the one that follows it.
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