Today I am taking my oldest girl to see the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Minnesota Science Museum. Actually, she wants to see fossils and I want to see the scrolls, so we'll do a little of both. She starts kindergarten in a couple of weeks which means six years of spending every Friday together is coming to an end. I've been incredibly lucky to have that flexibility in my schedule and I'm trying to focus on being grateful. I also still have a wonderful 3yo to hang with, one who has rarely had her dad's undivided attention, so it will be an exciting autumn of change for us all. I hope everyone can find some fun in the last week's of summer.
Enjoy the week's news.
- Former Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan stated in the NY Times that the Bush tax cuts, which are about to expire, should not be extended. The debate over more or less tax cuts is not specifically of interest to us here, but we've talked a lot of the long-term impact of a financially unsustainable mode of living. A tipping point event, like the failed sale of federal treasuries, is not out of the realm of possibility according to Greenspan.
“I’m in favor of tax cuts, but not with borrowed money,” Mr. Greenspan, 84, said Friday in a telephone interview. “Our choices right now are not between good and better; they’re between bad and worse. The problem we now face is the most extraordinary financial crisis that I have ever seen or read about.”
Mr. Greenspan, who led the Fed for 18 years until he retired in 2006, warns that without drastic action to increase federal revenue and reduce the long-term growth in health care costs, bond investors could make a run on Treasury securities, driving up the nation’s borrowing costs and leading to another global economic crisis.
- NY Times columnist and Nobel prize economist Paul Krugman also lamented the tax cuts, but his other points are interesting for how off the mark they are. We're not going to argue over a well-paid population, but the last thing this country needs is yet more infrastructure. We have more than we can possibly maintain already and it is not very well utilized on top of that. It makes phrases like this sound just plain ignorant (but note, I have no Nobel prize).
Everything we know about economic growth says that a well-educated population and high-quality infrastructure are crucial. Emerging nations are making huge efforts to upgrade their roads, their ports and their schools. Yet in America we’re going backward.
- Also in the NY Times, a story about the extremes that some communities are going to make their budgets work. Closing libraries, eliminating bus routes and shutting off lights....is this all worth it just to be able to live in this crazy and inefficient pattern we have chosen to assemble ourselves in?
Her tires were slashed, she said. Her car was broken into. Strange men showed up on her porch. Her neighborhood had grown deserted at night, ever since four streetlights in a row were put out on Airport Road, the street outside her mobile home park.
That is why Ms. Cunningham, 41, and her son Jonathan, 22, were carrying a flat-screen television out of their mobile home on a recent afternoon. “I’m going to pawn this,” Ms. Cunningham said, “to get a shotgun.”
- The city of San Francisco is trying a new experiment in pricing parking and I think it is brilliant. The video below explains how it works, but the thing that I find most refreshing is that it is designed to be revenue-neutral from the current system (revenue from parking fees will be higher, but revenue from fines for illegal parking will decline). In other words, this is not some government scam to raise more revenue but a real reform designed to improve how the system functions by making the market response mechanisms real. This is a pilot project and it certainly will take time to work out the kinks and identify problems with the approach, but we applaud the innovative thinking.
- An article from Reuters titled "Smart money in real estate is on smart growth" was passed around this week in a number of planning-related circles. If you only made it through the first few paragraphs, you missed what might have been the most interesting insight: ROI.
Elected officials and bureaucrats like Gochnour and Rockville's Sternbach are also being mindful of the public purse, said Joseph Minicozzi, a real estate developer and city planner in Asheville, North Carolina who has done research there and in Sarasota County, Florida.
His work shows that local governments reap much more in taxes from urban centers than from malls or "big box" retail like a Wal-Mart, but pay more to build suburban infrastructure such as sewers and streets.
In the city and county of Sarasota, for example, 3.4 acres of urban residential development consumes one-tenth the land of a multi-family development in the suburbs. But it requires little more than half of the infrastructure investment and generates 830 percent more for the county annually in total taxes: that's $2 million from the city structure and $238,529 from the suburban one.
What's more, suburban housing takes 42 years to pay off its infrastructure costs. Downtown? Just three. "I'm preaching to Joe and Jane Six-Pack who want to be subsidized. These (city) centers produce a tremendous amount of revenue and then hemorrhage it out to the suburbs," Minicozzi said. "We don't have a rational discussion on the true costs of the way we manage land."
- If you are not nervous over the financial crisis and its implications on our future, it is starting to look like maybe you should.
“We’re in a lousy middle between the economy picking up on its own and falling off a cliff,” said Cathy E. Minehan, a former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. “And that makes policy-setting really hard.”
The announcement on Tuesday, after the scheduled meeting of the Fed committee that sets interest rates and monetary policy, confirmed what had been widely discussed among economists and business leaders in recent days: the Fed would move more decisively if the economic picture darkened.
- The Denver Post ran a series of color photos of small town life in the Depression/WW II era that are stunning to look at. I've seen them passed around Facebook and Twitter so you might have seen them already, but if you have not, it is well worth taking some time to check them out and think about where we have come from. We are not descended from fearful men.
- Finally, I am Facebook friends with Clay Jenkinson, creator of The Thomas Jefferson Hour (and sometimes Thomas Jefferson himself). This week he posted pictures of a place in Nebraska called "Carhenge", a replica of the famed Stonehenge using retro automobiles instead of gigantic rocks. I was unaware of this little bit of Americana, but I have to admit that I am impressed by the creativity and attention to detail. I wonder if people in 2,000 years will find it and assume it was built by aliens.
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