Next week I am returning to Bismarck, ND, to speak at their League of Cities gathering. I really enjoyed my time there last year and was thrilled to be invited back. After I leave Bismarck, I head to Minneapolis where I'll be holding a Curbside Chat at a gathering of the American Institute of Architects. If any of my architect friends have some advice for what their colleagues at AIA should be hearing, I'd love to receive it. I've got at least one grudge they are going to hear from me on.

Enjoy the week's news.

  • Strong Towns is big in Canada. I've been interviewed by more Canadian-based newspapers and radio stations over the past month than from those here in the U.S. One of those reporters, David Fleischer, put together a good piece of original stuff that ran this week on YorkRegion.com.

The conclusion that the post-Second World War suburban pattern wasn’t working was an idea to which he gradually came after growing up in a small town in the midwestern United States. Municipalities benefit from the funding that comes with growth, but then get stuck with maintaining infrastructure. “This exchange — a near-term cash advantage for a long-term financial obligation — is one element of a Ponzi scheme,” Mr. Marohn wrote.

He admits surprise at the strong reaction to the essay he published on his blog a few weeks ago. For many planners and politicians, it’s become “an explanation for why they’ve done everything right but not gotten the results they expected”, he said. 

  • I also need to say thank you to Gary Kavanaugh of Santa Monica Patch for working Strong Towns into a larger piece on changes proposed to Lincoln Boulevard, a major thoroughfare in Santa Monica. He totally gets it. Hopefully the city officials will too.

I think much of what Lincoln suffers from can be best described by Charles Marohn. He is a civil engineer who has taken up writing and speaking on urban- and town-planning issues through Strong Towns, an organization he co-founded. During his recent TEDx talk in Minnesota, he eloquently tackled the difference between a road and a street, with further elaboration in a follow-up podcast. As he defines it, a road is, in essence, simply a connection between two places, while a street serves many types of land uses and ways of getting around.

When the characteristics of a road and street become muddled, the result rarely serves either purpose well. Lincoln seems to be a perfect example of a street with an identity crisis, wondering if it is just a transportation throughway for a lot of cars, or something more than that. Lincoln has developed strip malls, supermarkets and various uses, but that all adds on top of the significant amount of traffic just trying to get to end destinations.

  • If you are looking for some follow up or related coverage to the piece we ran on Monday about a new Vikings stadium, a site called The Deets ran a piece summarizing recent posts on this very hot topic. They used a term I had not heard before -- Wilfare -- which is a witty play on the owner's last name Wilf. As of today, it looks like the process of democracy is going to thwart the stadium for the time being. We'll see.

Charles Marohn at Strong Towns Blog makes a very strong case for while it’s idiotic for the public to subsidize a stadium plan that wouldn’t leverage the public’s previous and current investments in roads, bus routes, LRT and train lines.

  • Ever have a hard time imagining what good design looks like? Still think that higher densities always are unattractive or undesirable? Don't think architecture matters? Take a few minutes and check out the photos from South Main, a brilliantly designed neighborhood in Beuna Vista, Colorado. I'm blown away by the vision of my friend Jed Selby, fellow NextGen'r and CNU board member. The attention to detail of the local craftsman is simply amazing. Can you believe we used to build like this everywhere?

In a project like South Main, density is key. Under 40 acres of the South Main project contain 250 lots, and 320 total dwelling units are planned. Underneath typical zoning constraints, this many units would have swallowed between 160 and 640 acres, not to mention extra miles of infrastructure like roads and pipes.

  • If you are having trouble attracting investment along that newly renovated street -- the one with the extra lanes, less parking and faster speeds that your engineering recommended -- then its time for Plan B: red light cameras. Turn that drag strip from a financial boondoggle to a windfall overnight. Who said engineers don't create value?

"Privatized traffic law enforcement systems are spreading rapidly across the United States. As many as 700 local jurisdictions have entered into deals with for-profit companies to install camera systems at intersections and along roadways to encourage drivers to obey traffic signals and follow speed limits.

Local contracting for automated traffic enforcement systems may sometimes be a useful tool for keeping drivers and pedestrians safe. But when private firms and municipalities consider revenues first, and safety second, the public interest is threatened."

  • In today's system, it is hard for me to support an increase in the gas tax, even though it would be the second thing I would do if made U.S. Dictator for a Day. (For the record, the first thing would be to issue an order fixing daylight savings time so that each spring, instead of moving the clocks ahead an hour, we moved them back twenty three.) I use the qualifier "in today's system" because, if you look at who supports the gas tax and why, it is all the agents of the status quo suburban growth ponzi scheme.

“That’s been the tragedy here. The frustrating thing is for the first time in decades, we’ve gotten all the key players on the same page in supporting an increase in the user fee,” said Pete Ruane, president and CEO of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association.

The players came together in 2009, and it was a strong coalition — the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, labor groups, cities, states and county groups banded together. Truckers also joined with the manufacturers whose goods they transport.

  • While I was really proud as a father to be able to take Dorothy and the Wicked Witch out trick-or-treating, my favorite Halloween costume this year by far comes from fellow CNU NextGen'r Matt Lambert (Twitter) who went as The Original Green, Steve Mouzon. I have visions of the Flying Mouzons in West Palm Beach next year.

  • Ever wonder how we're going to get out of this mess? The answer is, as always: one step at a time. Here are some innovative steps by designer Eric Brown for salvaging a standard cul-de-sac.

Post real estate melt-down, many commissions have been focused on this type of repair work. In many cases, it is much like the power went off and simply left half-finished developments lying about.  Our goal is to try to repair these areas as best we can and set them up to grow into a type of meaningful place. This begins by tackling the process of transformation of the ever common cul-de-sac.

Ironically, or perhaps not so much so, the word cul-de-sac means “bottom of the bag” in French. So the bottom of the bag in this case, gets you the residential equivalent of a fast food drive through, easy for cars but bad for humans.

  • I have to admit that I laughed really hard when I read that a group called the Optimist Club was recently started in my hometown of Brainerd. Think they'll invite me to speak at one of their gatherings? Really though, delusion and denial is a less harmful approach to dealing with our problems when compared to "reality" TV and alcohol. Good luck to them.

Optimist Clubs are dedicated to the promotion of optimism as a philosophy of life and to providing service to youths and to their communities.

  • I'm guessing the people that did this were not on their way home from the Optimist Club?

Several manhole covers and catch drain basin grates have been stolen from streets in the Brainerd Industrial Park in what police believe is a new target for scrap metal thieves.

  • Thanks to collaborator Nate Hood (Twitter) for alerting me to Jim Kunstler's Eyesore of the Month, a bizarre crosswalk to nowhere. Speaking of Kunstler, while we are not yet Facebook friends (I'm still extending the virtual hand), we have emailed each other and there was a passive suggestion that we do a podcast together sometime. I think I scared him off when I offered to drive there when I was next in New York -- I'm such a huge Kunstler fan and I'd love to chat with him -- especially since he thought I was driving from Minnesota (from that perspective, I must have seemed more stalker than interesting podcast guest). I'll keep you posted.
  • Finally, I was sent the following video parody that I wanted to share. I am a huge LOTR fan (watch the extended versions over Thanksgiving break as an annual tradition) and thought this was a really funny and witty take on that theme.

 

Enjoy your weekend everyone. No snow here yet, but I believe we can see it from where we are.