Two weeks ago my DVR stopped working. I'm not a huge TV watcher but, when I do sit down, the DVR keeps my time efficient. Losing it made the tube nearly worthless to me. Then the TV itself went out. Ours was a 1995 vintage set that, while only 26 inches, needed a moving crew with a forklift to relocate. While we enjoyed some good reading time with it gone, I must admit that I kind of like our new 32" flatscreen. So that's what was happening on the edge of the set all those years it was cut off.

Enjoy the week's news.

  • This has been kind of a crazy week with our two postings on the ASCE report (Monday | Tuesday) generating a ton of emails, phone calls and comments. Among them, we'd like to thank Kevin Klinkenberg at his New Urbanism Blog for linking to our piece and adding his kind words. I typically find it bad form when the author of a piece quarrels with every poster in the comments section, so I generally lay back and, having spoken my mind with the post itself, let people react without my heavy hand. This week, though, I've been drawn into the discussion on Monday's post over at the New Urban News site. I must say, it has not always been civil (unlike most of the stuff here - thank you to our readers). After being a little frustrated today, I wanted to say thank you to the commentor @Kathryn who wrote:

Thank you for your calmly considered, fact-checking analysis, and for maintaining your tone in the face of less civil discourse.  I appreciate your willingness to "name the elephant" that you tackle in your site.  We need to think deeply about where we are, and where we are headed, and we are in peril from both fear-based propaganda and false beliefs about how prosperity is created (or, I would contend, even how prosperity is defined).  We also cannot think deeply together while sneering at one another.  I appreciate your refusal to do the latter, and your focus on the former.

(blush)

  • I also have to thank Strong Towns Evangilist Jake Krohn for not only sending me a quote from Upton Sinclair that I used repeatedly in this week's podcast (you'll have to listen to get the quote), but totally rocked in the New York Times' special section on the St. Croix Bridge. The section is an interesting overview of the Old Economy Project that Refuses to Die and the many perspectives that surround it, so it is worth a read even without the rubbnecking at Krohn's masterful work.
It's a shame that the planners from the Minnesota-based Strong Towns Group weren't involved in this debate, as they have presented a consistently coherent argument against the Stillwater bridge that is based less on the environmental sins of this plan and more on the general idea that this project represents a notable case of an "old economy" project that just won't die:
  • I met Joe Minicozzi at CNU 19 in Madison and was blown away by the deep, yet simple, insights that he had into the financial implications of our development pattern. It was so compelling, we ran his talk in one of our recent podcasts. Minicozzi's work was featured prominently this week in Glenwood Springs, CO, in an article that is well worth the read.

Across the board, other downtown commercial and mixed-use buildings outperform their big-box counterparts using the per-acre tax revenue comparison, both in Glenwood Springs and Rifle.

It's like comparing the value of a vehicle based on miles per tank (large-format commercial mall) versus miles per gallon (mixed-use downtown development).

“Many communities have tended to look at real estate on a miles per tank basis,” Minicozzi said in a recent interview. “But if you look at it on a miles-per-gallon basis, all of a sudden the data on that vehicle changes.”

  • There are a lot of cities that gambled during the boom years and rolled a snake eyes. This story on Pine Island, MN, was sent to me some time ago and got buried in the pile. It is worth dragging out here now if only to remind us what can (and ultimately will) happen when we veer from the path of resilience.

An alternative plan could be tricky for Pine Island, which promised MnDOT that the project would create at least 182 biobusiness jobs over the next nine years. Pine Island would owe MnDOT up to $3.65 million if the jobs aren’t created. The city could seek to renegotiate the deal, promising to create jobs in another field, but would then have to promise a “significantly higher” number of jobs than the 182, according to [Mn/DOT Project Manager Terry] Ward.

“The reason we want to see some results is because that was the overall reason why the project was funded to begin with,” Ward said.

  • If people were offended by our approach to the ASCE report and infrastructure funding in general -- essentially demanding that we invest in projects that have a real, financial ROI -- those people are likely to be really upset with House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica. Representative Mica has said that, when it comes to transportation spend, we are only going to spend the money that has been collected. That means transportation spending will be limited to gas tax revenues, as was originally established. While I find this approach a little overly simplistic, the Infrastructure Cult is sure to apolplecitc.

Rep. Mica said he is insisting on a long-term bill because states and businesses need to have the certainty of the federal government's funding commitments before they embark on major construction projects. A short-term bill, he said, "gives you sidewalks, it gives you repaving."

Rep. Mica has proposed a six-year, $230 billion bill that would slash transportation spending by about a third from existing levels. His plan would be funded by gas-tax receipts. House Republican leaders, hoping to cut the deficit, have imposed rules forbidding borrowing money from general tax revenues to finance transportation projects.

Along the south coast, the Foothill South toll road is a 16-mile, six-lane highway to be funded by tolls that, for the project to pencil out financially, are expected to be so expensive that only wealthy drivers would choose to pay them.

  • A city that was, by their own admission, mismanaged discovers they have less money than they thought they had. Much less, especially for them. What do they do with no reserves and no "Plan B"? They beg.

[Planning Commissioner George] Custer says that half a dozen citizens have agreed to give the City a loan if a loan from the bank does not materialize, but the list of citizens will remain anonymous for now.

Not all of the citizens solicited to loan the City money were happy. Eddie Roberts, an 87-year-old man, and well-known figure in the City of Oakridge and Westfir, says Custer, a man he has never met, asked him to loan the City money, to which he replied no.

“Why would I loan them money if they can’t even balance their checkbook each month?” asked Roberts.

  • At Community Growth Institute (my other job), we have used Clockwork Media for our web page for the last ten years. We used to share office space with them when we were both startups. I have always liked them personally and it was no surprise for me to see them featured on bikewalkmove.org for their corporate bike culture. One of the top guys there, Chuck Hermes, commutes 40 miles a day by bike! That's leadership. Check out that article for some good ideas on creating a bike culture at work.

With co-founder Chuck Hermes leading the way, nearly 20 Clockwork employees choose to make biking a part of their daily (or in some cases weekly) routine. Chuck bikes more than 40 miles a day to and from Stillwater.

“I’m a life-long cyclist—I’ve had pictures of bikes on my birthday cakes for years,” Chuck says. “I take the Gateway trail to work almost every day. Sure it takes more time, but it also means I’m a more productive employee. And, maybe more importantly, I’m happier and I’m a better husband and father as a result.”

  • It has long perplexed me how the newest and most expensive of subdivisions will be lined with these hideous-looking utility boxes. It is the rare community that puts these warts in the right place. AT&T wants to add nearly 500 of the biggest kind to San Francisco, which is prompting some debate in one of America's most interesting cities.

The challenge is particularly daunting in a dense city like ours, where some older neighborhoods lack the street trees and shrubbery that can shield things like utility boxes from sight.

In such districts, there's no obvious place to hide the "telecommunications cabinets" that AT&T wants to install as part of an effort to bring fiber-optic service into homes and businesses. The cabinets are 48 inches tall, 52 inches wide and 26 inches deep.

Now multiply this by 495 - the number AT&T hopes to install, down from an original request of 726 - and it's no wonder groups like San Francisco Beautiful fought so hard to have city leaders put the telecommunications giant on hold.

  • If you are an elected public official, just take a minute and read this article. I've seen this scenario play out too many times, even by well-intentioned people.

When a council is divided into contentious voting blocs, an administrator has to pick sides - or do as little as possible.

"When you have two people on the council who are not happy, you can get in a difficult position if you make a recommendation and two of them don't agree," said Craig Waldron, who has been the Oakdale city manager for 18 years. "You are not necessarily creating the best future environment with them."

  • Thank you to my friend and fellow-NextGen'r Ian Rasmussen for sharing this video on the mathematics of our places. I found it fascinating and think you might as well, even if you are not necessarily a math person.

This weekend we pause here and honor my mother-in-law, who not only turns 70 but is one of the most generous and selfless people I've ever known. May you all be so lucky with your in-laws.

 

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