I spent nine years in the Minnesota Army National Guard. During basic training, the guys from down south did not believe the stories those of us from Minnesota told about driving out on the frozen lake to "ice fish." They absolutely thought it was a hoax, even when I produced photos. Then the movie Grumpy Old Men came out and introduced the country to our special form of recreation. I say all of this because this coming weekend, literally three miles from my house, is an event billed as the World's Largest Ice Fishing Tournament.

While I enjoy the occasional ice fishing adventure (not as often since the girls were born), I don't fish in this tournament. At least not anymore. In the three years I was in it I caught only one fish (it is really more of a lottery when you have that many people out) and it was so cold that the fish froze solid before I got it to the weighing station (about three minutes or so). Since having your eyes freeze shut when you close them for too long is an experience everyone should have at least once, I invite everyone up for a great weekend on the ice. It is for a good cause, so if you're here, send me a Tweet and I'll put some hot chocolate on for you.

Enjoy the week's news:

  • Our friend Riordan Frost with MN2020 had a blog post this week discussing highway subsidies and pointing out that Republicans often have a double standard when it comes to favoring highways over transit, incorrectly believing the former is not subsidized while the latter is. Frost quoted us here in his analysis, and for that I thank him, as well as added this comment to his post:

And for the record, I am a conservative Republican and believe you are right on the mark here with your analysis.

  • For anyone out there still waiting for a "recovery" that feels like 2005 all over again, here are a couple of scary, but real, statistics. Housing starts dropped more than expected while the number of homes entering foreclosure continues to climb. In fact, we have ten times the number of homes in the foreclosure process than we are currently building in a year. That means every new home built is going to be competing with ten homes that banks or drowning property owners are trying to unload. In short, don't expect a construction boom anytime soon.

“With sales still near record lows and a lot of unsold properties in the market, there’s very little reason for builders to add more homes to the supply,” said Sal Guatieri, a senior economist at BMO Capital Markets in Toronto, who had forecast starts would drop to a 527,000 rate. “Housing remains a key downside risk to the economy.”

  • Another problem that we have with housing is that we have a huge mismatch in the type of housing the market is demanding today. Baby-boomers are trying to unload those suburban houses so they can scale back and retire, while young people starting families are opting for smaller, more urban homes. In short, who is going to buy all of these single-family homes?

Gen Y housing preferences are the subject of at least two panels at this week’s convention. A key finding: They want to walk everywhere. Surveys show that 13% carpool to work, while 7% walk, said Melina Duggal, a principal with Orlando-based real estate adviser RCLCO. A whopping 88% want to be in an urban setting, but since cities themselves can be so expensive, places with shopping, dining and transit such...will do just fine.

  • Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke suggested that it might take 4 to 5 years for employment to return to "normal levels." Either that, or it might just take 4 to 5 years for us to accept high unemployment as "normal." Bernanke indicated that there is "increasing evidence that a self-sustaining recovery is taking place", but then indicated that it could be derailed by things like a depressed housing market, deep spending cuts and layoffs from state and local government and rising gasoline prices. And what are the odds of those things happening?
  • The headline of this article was "The difference between roads and streets," which is an entire chapter in a book I am writing (stay tuned). One of the simplest, yet most elusive, concepts in modern society. The piece describes it well.

A ‘road’ and a ‘street’ are different and so are their respective implications on safety. By definition, the street is a three-dimensional collection of adjacent buildings and the central spine that knits them into a public life. On a street in an urban setting, the speed of cars is calmed, directly and indirectly, by traffic lights, stop signs, pedestrian crossings, or even the shady trees or the lively bustling streetscape. By contrast, a road is simply a linear traffic conduit devoted to vehicular movement which is often touted in the imagery of ‘freedom’, ‘speed’, or ‘sleekness’ by car advertising companies.

  • Do you believe in miracles? Yes! And this type of thinking is coming from my home state too. We can only hope that the politicians with the purse strings don't meddle with the logic of doing more with less in our transportation system. 

Rather than measuring transportation capacity in terms of traffic volumes, planners have focused on moving people. The 2030 plan calls for using congestion pricing to help encourage transit, carpooling, walking and biking. The Twin Cities envision a network of “transitways,” which will serve the region through passenger rail, bus rapid transit or express busways. Compact, transit-oriented development will be built in clusters along these corridors. The plan also calls for clustering jobs near transportation centers and encouraging mixed-use development, [Arlene] McCarthy [Director of Metropolitan Transportation Services for the Twin Cities Metro Council] said.

The overall strategy is to pursue high-benefit, low-cost projects. “We’re asking the question, ‘Can we provide the majority of the benefit at a much lower cost?’” McCarthy said. “We’re finding that we can do that.”

  • Of course, we badly need some trickle down logic here. I've avoided talking about it here because I don't want this blog to devolve into simply me calling out all of the idiotic decisions my local elected officials make (even though many of you egg me on), but the College Drive project we wrote about and podcasted about is going ahead. Perhaps I'll do a larger column on it some day in the future, but for now I simply can't wait until the country is completely broke. It seems to be the only way we'll save us from ourselves. Here's a choice quote to give you a flavor of the local mentality:

The district also could utilize the playground area at Lincoln Education Center for additional parking. Lund said he obtained an estimate from a local contractor, and to revert the playground to a parking lot would cost about $98,000. The district has about 50 parking spaces there now and paving the playground would add an additional 70 spaces.

  • We've written and podcasted a few times here about fiscal insanity known as the St. Croix Bridge project, a $668 million bridge for exurban commuters connecting the eastern shoreline of the St. Croix river with the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. In this context, it was quite funny to see this article about a science fair where students developed alternate ideas. Each was just as practical as the current proposal, including my favorite, the ferris wheel.

Shad Kraftson, 12, concocted the Ferris wheel idea. Platforms would stop on each side of the river to let cars get on and off the ride. The Bayport boy built his model with four platforms, but more could be added. And each would accommodate multiple vehicles.

"I thought it was something different," Shad said. "And the boats can get through all the time."

  • Finally, sometimes the only defense in the court of public opinion against a charge of craziness is to point out someone even more insane than yourself. In our defense, I present Exhibit A:

 

Have a great weekend and, if you value what you read here, please consider a donation to help spread the word about building Strong Towns. We're three guys working to change the world. Your contribution will make a big difference.