We had a beautiful Christmas at the Marohn household this year, encapsulated by the sheer joy and overwhelming anticipation of my six year old and three year old girls. In my time off, I managed to prepare 18 different kinds of cookies, many varieties inspired by my late grandmothers, treats that filled us with happiness and fond memories. Our massive tree fell over for the second year in a row, a tradition we don't want to keep but seem insistent on tempting fate by the size of our selections. I also got a chance to catch up on some reading (and some sleep) and even managed a couple of major projects around the house. All-in-all, could not have been a better December. I hope yours was equally glorious.

Welcome to the New Year. Enjoy this week's news.

  • We have a little bit of catching up to do with our gratitude, but have to start with our friend Kaid Benfield. I had turned off my computer prior to Christmas through the New Year so I didn't see his "Favorite posts of 2010" piece until this week. Amongst the references to some great columns, he mentioned us as one of his favorite blogs, which is humbling as Kaid is an excellent writer and well-read himself. His kind and generous promotion of our work last year is a big part of why our readership has grown so tremendously. Kaid, thank you.
  • In early December I was interviewed by Paul Dechene of the Prairie Dog Magazine in Regina, Saskatchewan (that's in Canada, eh). We had a great interview and I could tell Paul was a good reporter that really got the subject matter, so I was not surprised when the article turned out excellent. The way he used the quotes to play off each other was very compelling. Take some time and read it - well worth the effort. I have an article on some Canadian controversy sent to me by a friend that I am going to feature in the coming weeks, so look for more concerning our friends to the north.

Marohn has an alternative model that could reduce the long-term costs of development. He argues our current focus on outward growth needs to be chucked for more robust zoning codes that encourage maturing neighbourhoods.

“I’m all about infill,” he says. “But what’s really needed is to mature those neighbourhoods. So when you have a neighbourhood of single-family homes, a good form-based code would, over time, mature those into duplexes or something that would have a higher level use. Where you have duplexes those may be matured into row houses. So, your neighbourhoods are in a constant state of growth.

“It’s a step beyond infill; it’s maturation.”

  • I also had a really nice talk with Riordan Frost of Minnesota 2020 this past week. In his work there he featured our "No Car Left Behind" post in a piece he did centered around airport queues. Minnesota 2020 does some great work. I'm grateful that the people there are adding our stuff to the discussions they are leading.
  • In other works, the National Complete Streets Coalition featured our work and our video Conversation with an Engineer (currently ranked #41 most-watched non-profit video on YouTube) in a piece they wrote in December. An economist writing in the blog The Part Time Epistemologist used our blog as a jumping off point for a broader discussion on cycling. And Lubov Mazur, writing in the Albany Patch, featured our writing in an opinion piece she wrote about how traffic control devices are counterproductive. Good work, all of you - thank you connecting with us.
  • Jim Kunstler had his annual prediction column this week and, as in the past, it was an excellent and provocative read. I'm going to use one of his points to show the concerns we have raised here about the imminent bankruptcy of many of our cities is a viewpoint that can be arrived at irrespective of ideology. As said by Kunstler:

Everybody is worried now about the fate of states, counties, and municipalities. Just about all of them are broke one way or another. A state and muni bond bail-out would only send interest rates to the moon, meaning the absolute end to lending and servicing of existing debt and, well, really all business as usual. I don't think it can happen. It will be interesting to see what does happen to states and localities if left to dangle slowly slowly in the wind. If they can be induced into some kind of real bankruptcies they'll get rid of a lot of dead weight - which will, very unfortunately, also mean lost jobs, incomes, and homes, since so many people are on a government payroll of one kind or another - but how else do you get out from under unendurable promises to pay for people to play golf?

  • On the same day we heard that from Kunstler, we got more of the same from the other side of the political spectrum in Pat Buchanan. In his column, "Is a bond crisis inevitable?", Buchanan looks at the situation in the Euro and compares it to our collection of states, finding some eerie similarities.

How does the Fed prevent a series of municipal bond defaults by cities and counties that lack the tax revenue to pay their bills and whose credit rating has reached a junk-bond status where they can no longer borrow?

Congress would have to vote the bailout money. But will a House that owns its majority to the Tea Party approve half a trillion dollars to bail out Democratic-run cities or Obama’s home state or Jerry Brown’s California?

This June, the stimulus money runs out, and as housing prices continue to fall across America, property tax revenue will fall.

The Feds are about to stop bailing out the states, and the states, on shortening rations, will stop bailing out counties, cities and towns.

We may be closer to the falls than we imagine.

  • I'm an early adopter of technology, so if I controlled the purse strings for a city, all of our street lights would look like the ones featured in this article on innovations in traffic signals.

  • For those of our readers that have found frustration with the work of Randall O'Toole, the self-titled Antiplanner, one place to find some common ground would be with his view of user fees. Quoting from a CBO report, O'Toole continues his consistent mantra of promoting user fees as an efficient way to bring demand more in line with financial reality. If you truly want to end sprawl, here's the American way to do it.

Projects that primarily provide local benefits should primarily be funded by the locals, while projects that provide more national benefits could get more federal funding. Federal funding of primarily local projects would “result in too many projects, or projects that are too expensive, being undertaken.” 

  • Finally, while I realize that this video has already gone viral and so I'm likely sharing something with you that you saw weeks ago, in the off chance that one of our readers missed this (and in acknowledgement that I both love Handel and flash mobs), I present you with a final bit of holiday cheer.

 

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