Of all the important things to discuss this week, the most important BY FAR is the fact that pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training this weekend. YES! We're born again, there's new grass on the field. This has been such a mild and easy winter here in Minnesota (enter viscous winter storm stage left) that it hardly feels like we've earned baseball's return. I won't complain. The groundhog may have seen his shadow, but when baseball season arrives, good things are always around the corner.

Next week is a huge week here at Strong Towns. On Wednesday I'll be testifying at the Minnesota Legislature in front of the House Property and Local Taxes committee. Audio/video link to follow. The next day I'm headed to Dallas, Texas, for a Curbside Chat and a chance to meet some of my favorite bloggers and urban activists. All the more reason to scoff at winter.

Enjoy the week's news.

  • I've not done a News Digest since Scott Doyon of Placemakers published this article on Punk Rock and the New Urbanism.  In it, he compares me and other New Urbanists to leaders in the punk rock movement. While not a punk rock expert, I was very humbled by the call out and believe that being called the Ian Mackaye of the New Urbanism can only be received as a compliment. Bonus that my wife liked it too! Thank you, Scott. Good fun and great writing.

A self-described “recovering engineer,” Chuck Marohn is on a mission. Like Ian Mackaye, he compels people — or, in this case, towns of people — to take ownership of their inherent value, follow their own path, steer clear of destructive behaviors, and become more of what they’re capable of becoming.

Some people find the blunt edge of his truth unsettling. He doesn’t care.

  • And this week I was made aware of the following TEDx video of Scott's fellow Placemaker, Hazel Borys, who gave a presentation, "Confessions of a Former Sprawl Addict". I've expressed my admiration for Hazel here in the past -- she is not only very smart but also a great communicator. We both have children that are the same age and I appreciate how she includes the experiences of her son in this presentation (which starts around time marker 51:30).

Watch live streaming video from tedx at livestream.com
  • It was with a slight tinge of scandal that a few of my friends shared this article from the Wall Street Journal on Facebook recently. The so-called "Prius Fallacy" is one that rubs many the wrong way, but which the intellectually honest need to acknowledge. As Steve Mouzon points out, it is Original Green principles -- not gizmo green or gadget green -- that are truly viable.

A favorite trick of people who consider themselves friends of the environment is reframing luxury consumption preferences as gifts to humanity. A new car, a solar-powered swimming-pool heater, a 200-mile-an-hour train that makes intercity travel more pleasant and less expensive, better-tasting tomatoes—these are the sacrifices we're prepared to make for the future of the planet.

  • A great example of modern green thinking can be found in Marshall, MN, where a new energy-efficient design is turning out to be anything but, thanks to a myopic design that apparently overlooked the impact of an ungreen parking lot.

Since moving into the new library building, Hulsizer said, "the electric bill is substantially higher." The January electric bill in 2011 was about $977, compared to more than $4,500 in January 2012.

The new building had been promoted as being more energy-efficient, Hulsizer said.

Olson said the library building and its heating system could be checked for defects like cracks or improper seals, but he didn't have many more suggestions.

City Administrator Ben Martig said there were other factors that needed to be examined, including whether the cost increase was affected by parking lot lighting. The old library building was served by city streetlights, without having to power additional lights in a parking lot, he said.

  • The debate going on in Washington right now seems to vacillate between 1930's thinking (building roads creates jobs) and 1950's thinking (expanding auto mobility creates prosperity). These approaches are based on a narrative of history that simply does not apply to America circa 2012. Edward Glaeser had a great piece in Bloomberg this week making the Strong Towns case for a more strategic approach.

Infrastructure investment only makes sense when there is a clear problem that needs solving and when benefits exceed costs. U.S. transportation does have problems -- traffic delays in airports and on city streets, decaying older structures, excessive dependence on imported oil -- but none of these challenges requires the heroics of a 21st century Erie Canal. Instead, they need smart, incremental changes that will demonstrate more wisdom than brute strength.

We are literally dashing around at night. Often, there are only two of us. People respond to it really well.  Lots of people pass by. Ordinary people just really like to see billboards covered up with poetry. They find it really refreshing I think. So, we’ve never really got into any trouble.

  • Building on that and on Jon's recent piece on St. Paul's artist in residence, I wanted to pass along this article about integrating art into common infrastructure. While I'm not inspired by these quasi-modernist bus shelters, I am excited about the possibility of a public realm having more value. Perhaps we could start simple by getting rid of the utility boxes, lift station controls and dumpsters that seem to be ubiquitous throughout the common wasteland that comprises our public spaces.

  • I have to pass on this David Brooks column, which to me contains some deep and important insights on the impact of the Suburban Experiment, particularly use-based zoning that segregates all uses into socially-homogonous pods. His key insight -- that we've lost the social cohesion that enforces a common culture, ethics of acceptable behavior and likelihood of success and prosperity -- is one that I've heard from deep thinkers as disparate as Andres Duany, the late Patrick Moynihan and Pat Buchanan. Please read the entire thing, especially if you consider yourself wedded to the narratives being put forth by our two major political parties.

Republicans claim that America is threatened by a decadent cultural elite that corrupts regular Americans, who love God, country and traditional values. That story is false. The cultural elites live more conservative, traditionalist lives than the cultural masses.

Democrats claim America is threatened by the financial elite, who hog society’s resources. But that’s a distraction. The real social gap is between the top 20 percent and the lower 30 percent. The liberal members of the upper tribe latch onto this top 1 percent narrative because it excuses them from the central role they themselves are playing in driving inequality and unfairness.

It’s wrong to describe an America in which the salt of the earth common people are preyed upon by this or that nefarious elite. It’s wrong to tell the familiar underdog morality tale in which the problems of the masses are caused by the elites.

The truth is, members of the upper tribe have made themselves phenomenally productive. They may mimic bohemian manners, but they have returned to 1950s traditionalist values and practices. They have low divorce rates, arduous work ethics and strict codes to regulate their kids.

Members of the lower tribe work hard and dream big, but are more removed from traditional bourgeois norms. They live in disorganized, postmodern neighborhoods in which it is much harder to be self-disciplined and productive.

  • I've yet to share some of the great coverage we received in Mason City on the Curbside Chat we did there. I was deeply impressed with what is going on in Mason City and, since they would like a return trip, am hoping to get back there sometime soon. Here's the TV interview that super Strong Towns advocate Marty Walsh and I did prior to the chat. I had to laugh when the anchor called us "Town Strong", a caveman derivation on our name.

  • While Strong Towns is non-partisan (and our staff and board actually hold very different political views), we need to applaud Betty McCollum for being the only really vocal advocate against the Old Economy Project that Refuses to Die. I suspect her isolation on this issue will subside when some of the state legislators start to understand that spending hundreds of millions on one bridge to Wisconsin (a) won't create growth, (b) won't create more than temporary construction jobs, and (c) will take money from important maintenance projects that need to happen in their districts.
McCollum took the opportunity to air her objections to Senate-passed legislation that would exempt the proposed bridge from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, a plan that seems to be on hold in the House, where it is being carried by Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann.
 
“It represents bad fiscal policy, bad transportation policy, and bad environmental policy,” said McCollum, noting that the fiscal watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense has branded it a “Bridge to Nowhere.”

Thanks everyone. I hope you all have a fantastic weekend.

 

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