I want to start off this News Digest with a rare bit of advocacy for a much-admired colleague and sincere friend, our collaborator here at Strong Towns, Jon Commers. He has been nominated, and is now a finalist, to serve on the Metropolitan Council, an intergovernmental body here in Minnesota that deals with all of the issues we touch on at Strong Towns -- land use, infrastructure, finance, etc... -- in the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area. This is a big deal, and I would love to see him named to the council.

Jon and I are an odd collaborative pairing. While he grew up and still lives in the urban setting of St. Paul, I come from a farm carved out of the woods of Central Minnesota. Jon has an extensive background in public finance and policy while I am a more technical, engineer type. Jon is very active politically with the DFL, while I am active on the other side of the political aisle, a decade into a run as KAXE's weekly "Republican commentator". That I have such a strong affinity for Jon is a testament not only to his warm personality and great integrity, but also to the strength of his insights and his intelligence. He is truly one of Minnesota's emerging leaders, and it is my tremendous honor to be collaborating with him on this Strong Towns venture.

The final decision on the appointment will be made by Governor Mark Dayton, a former commissioner of economic development. I think he'll no doubt appreciate Jon's tremendous project experience, his service as the chair of the St. Paul Planning Commission, his deep understanding of the complex issues facing the Met Council and his commitment to the future of the Twin Cities region. Best of luck, Jon, from all of us here at Strong Towns.

Now on to this week's news!

  • It was a lot of fun to have our stuff picked up this week by Michael Caputo over at Minnesota Public Radio. The Insight Forum he runs has had a great thread going inspired by Monday's post on busing. Combine it with the discussions we have had here and I'm just very proud of how these ideas are being intelligently debated. You guys rock!
  • Within Monday's post we were very clear that we were addressing transportation issues related to suburban, exurban and rural school districts, not urban areas, which are distinctly different. Despite our clarity, we were drug into a debate going on right now over proposed changes in the St. Paul School District. We won't protest being made the innocent whipping post but instead simply encourage the people of St. Paul to get involved in this important discussion (even though it is unrelated to our post).
  • Outside of what is going on in Egypt, I feel like the biggest story of the week is the Wikileaks report that United States officials credibly fear what has long been rumored: that Saudi Arabia is overstating its oil reserves. While one may question just why an autocratic monarch ruling over an unproductive desert floating on oil and inhabited by millions of unemployed, sex-starved young men indoctrinated in radical Wahabism would have reason to inflate its strategic importance in the world, we should not rush to conclusions. After all, we should first listen to what our government says to us (and not what Wikileaks reveals that our government actually believes).

  • And as long as we're on the topic of oil, there is a really good three-part series of James Kunstler that was picked up by Planetizen this week. It is a good, current conversation on peak oil, geopolitics, history... Well worth your time. (By the way, I'm still waiting for that Facebook connection, Jim.)

  • As long as we are channeling apocalypse here, Planetizen also had a link to a quirky, yet really cool, site dealing with hyper-resilience. These guys are creating prototype machines so that they can function at near-modern levels post-meltdown. I'm an engineer so, even though I'm not building my own bomb shelter, I thought this was cool.

GVCS in 2 Minutes from Adam Mitchell on Vimeo.

  • I understand the fear of change and the creeping dread that we will no longer be able to show the world how mighty we are by overpaying for traffic signals so we can waste time stuck at red lights -- we sure showed them who's the world's sole superpower, didn't we -- but maybe a more austere time will ultimately force us to accept a European innovation, albeit one from Ancient Greece. Wait...didn't the Romans have aqueducts? Damned socialists!

Roundabouts with Brainerd’s proposed College Drive reconstruction project brought up debate at Tuesday’s Crow Wing County Board meeting. 

“Being a good American that I am and thinking we fought a war with Europe over some things, this is one of those things that seems to me to be European,” [Crow Wing County Commissioner Paul] Thiede said.

  • I quite frequently have local officials from small towns tell me, with a straight face, that they are "completely built out" and, if they are to see any growth at all, it must be horizontal. My advice to them is always the same: Get out of your car. The huge gaps in our development pattern may not be apparent at 65 mph, but on foot they are like deserts. This made a quirky story of a woman in Lansing (a shout out to our fans in Lansing, where STB is well read) who is dedicated to walking every mile of road in town stand out. This should actually be a mandatory undertaking for all public officials, especially ones spending millions of dollars on Old Economy projects (see prior bullet point).

Ariniko O'Meara trudges through the snow when something catches her eye. She stops and pulls out her camera to document it. In the shadow of an Interstate 496 overpass and across the street from a Grand River boat launch, a hand-painted sign in the window of a small brick building advertises: "Ike and J's Bait and Crafts."

It's these details, the intricacies of Lansing, that O'Meara savors. "I call them little gems, or the little prizes that you find by walking," she said. She is bound to unearth plenty of hidden treasures as she pursues her goal to walk every street in the city of Lansing. All 410 miles.

Four Loko—that high-octane alcohol- and caffeine-fueled malt beverage that drew the ire of federal authorities late last year—has found a new and appropriate role in the energy cycle:automotive fuel. A Virginia ethanol recycler is taking shipments of the product, which has been pulled from store shelves in several states, and recycling it into ethanol for use in gasoline. 

  • Finally, I think I join most Americans in wishing freedom and prosperity for the people of Egypt. They are an inspiration and I'm in awe of the courage they collectively have shown. I was reminiscing today on the fall of the Soviet Iron Curtain because I am hearing an echo of history in the same elite laments over the value of stability. My friends, our truths are still self-evident, and endowed on all of humanity. Here's a trip down memory lane.

 

This week we started a campaign to connect with 100 of our blog readers that are willing to give a tax-deductible contribution of $25 each, with the money raised going to produce a video version of the Curbside Chat presentation. The Chat program has been very successful, with more demand from communities than we can reach in person. A quality video presentation will help us spread this message, and so we are turning to you. We're already down to 98 - thank you for supporting Strong Towns.