So last week I was on vacation (many kudos to Justin for filling in on the FND) and, as I reported on Monday, had a fantastic time. Getting back this week, I had on my schedule an 8+ hour drive to Omaha on Wednesday with a return trip on Thursday. I was excited to be in Omaha for two chats, but not enthusiastic about all that car time. Well, I have to report that I was overwhelmed with the reception to Strong Towns ideas in Nebraska and thoroughly impressed with some of the forward-thinking policies they are in the process of adopting. I'm going to share a little bit more next week and am looking forward to the (tentatively April) release of their transportation plan to share that too.
A couple of years ago we were having Curbside Chats with groups of two and three people. In Omaha on Wednesday we packed a movie theater. Thank you to everyone that made that happen. We'll be back soon, for sure.
Now on to the week's news.
- What could I possibly say about this fantastic article in the Atlantic Cities by Emily Badger? She called me on Monday and we had a very enjoyable conversation, one that pushed me a little outside of my comfort zone but in a reflective kind of way. I wasn't actually thinking much would come of the effort (I thought it was background to a larger story, actually) so was really blown away not only by the quality of the writing but by how she captured the full essence of what I was trying to communicate. Please read it -- it explains a lot of what we are doing here in a way I don't make central to our weekly discussions. I especially liked this part:
Sure, economic arguments are often environmental ones, too (saving on gas also saves the environment!). But Marohn only ever mentions this under his breath, like, “oh, by the way, reinvesting in our existing infrastructure is good for the environment, too.” He says he sometimes ticks off environmentalists by acknowledging their worldview as an afterthought instead of up front.
“The ones that are intellectually honest kind of get it, that we’re talking about the same thing, we’re just starting from a different place,” he says. “If we want to reach the mass of humanity in this country, we need to start somewhere else.”
- So I get home from vacation and, amid the 800+ emails I have waiting for me, is a notice that the lineup for the panel I am speaking on at CNU 20 has changed. As if it wasn't enough that I am being teamed (I use that in the way a bat boy is "teamed" with the real baseball players) with such accomplished writers as Chuck Bohl, Peter Katz and Philip Langdon, but they went and added to the lineup one of my personal heroes; James Kunstler. Seriously, I don't want to wake up from this dream.
- By the way, CNU has also listed me as a "CNU 20 Coming Attraction" and describe me as "a widely acclaimed urbanist." Again, this feels rather comical from my seat, but immensely flattering nonetheless. I'm only passing it on because, if you love Strong Towns and what we are doing here, you'll really enjoy CNU 20. And I promise we'll get a chance to meet and talk and dine together because that's what you do at a Congress: meet interesting people, share ideas and get inspired to take action. It is a very personal and intimate gathering, so be there if you can (and come to NextGen for an even more personal and intimate experience).
- Someone who actually is a widely acclaimed urbanist is my friend Mike Lydon of the Street Plans Collaborative, who will also be speaking a number of times at CNU 20. Mike is one of the smartest and most insightful professionals I've met, not to mention a very kind and fun person, so it was exciting to see him interviewed this week by the Next American City. Many of you will know Mike best from his work with Tactical Urbanism (you can find Volume 2 right here). Check out the article -- lots of insights.
What we’re talking about are safer streets for everybody, and how that’s accomplished is by making the changes that make cycling easier. What that really means is not necessarily just accommodating doing things on a bike, but narrowing the number of lanes overall, widening sidewalks, shortening pedestrian crossing times, making cyclists and pedestrians more visible—all these things add up to a safer street, not just for cyclists but for people driving. Too often the point is missed that we’re really trying to make a safer city for everybody—no matter how you get around—and we start to segment these things into different modes [of transportation] that we prefer. That’s a losing proposition from the beginning. It’s got to be for all modes, not just for one.
- While I've significantly limited the amount I am actually gambling on the stock market (and if you own stocks or bonds in this rigged system, you are essentially gambling), I find it useful to follow the financial world fairly close. If nothing else, it has given me an entire alternative terminology to go along with the rare insight CNBC provides. Apple computer this week announced that they are taking the billions of dollars they have accumulated in cash and start providing their shareholders a dividend. Friend of Strong Towns, Kaid Benfield, would like to see them give back a little more (or at least not spend it on their new corporate campus).
While communities all up and down the Silicon Valley are trying to repair sprawl by replacing it with smart growth, Apple is actually taking a site that is now parking lots and low-rise boxes and making it worse for the community. Yes, it will be iconic, assuming you think a building shaped like a whitewall motorcycle tire is iconic, but it will reduce current street connectivity, seal off potential walking routes and, as I wrote some time back, essentiallyturn its back on its community. With a parking garage designed to hold over ten thousand cars, by the way.
- Maybe Apple should just buy the City of Buford, WY (population 1). A few people sent that article to me, perhaps finding it novel, but not knowing that I actually have a secret plan to someday purchase a derelict, near-abandoned, small town (there will be plenty on the market in the coming years) and convert it, over time, to a Strong Town with thousands of people, a town square, a community theater, lots of surrounding farm production and -- if it is in Minnesota -- an outdoor ice skating rink in the middle of town. We all have our dreams.
Don Sammons, the sole resident of the town of Buford, Wyoming, is putting his property, and hence entire town, up for auction at the starting price of $100,000,the Wyoming Times reports (h/t The Atlantic). The deal includes a U.S. zip code, a historic school building, a three-bedroom home and the town's only source of revenue, a gas station and convenience store called the Buford Trading Post.
- Eliza Harris, who along with Edward Erfurt need your vote for the CNU Board if you have not already cast it, sent me this article on two community volunteers that were turned in, by the city engineer, to the board of engineering licensure for "practicing engineering without a license". They were offering their feedback on the engineer's plans, which they did not embrace for a number of logical reasons. I would offer that while I believe this type of thuggery to be an anomaly in the profession, there is a certain defensiveness that is natural and I think going to become more omnipresent as realities begin to force engineers to change their approach. Fortunately, while the two may have been intimidated by the possibility of fines or imprisonment, they were ultimately acquitted and continue to serve as volunteers. The story by their lawyer is well worth your time.
The Complaint had been filed by David E. Beach, an engineer with the City of Beavercreek. Beach had, at one time, been the City Engineer and had worked with Jerry & Roger on bicycle issues during his tenure as City Engineer. He knew what Roger & Jerry did and understood that any actual “work” had to be designed, approved and paid for by the City officials. Nonetheless, Beach submitted a complaint to the Board, claiming that a Powerpoint presentation which Jerry & Roger had prepared and submitted to the City Engineer, City Council and others amounted to “engineering” by non-engineers and asked the board to “…stop the practice of traffic engineering by unqualified members of this Committee…”
- This graphic was shared with me this week and, since I looked at it a long time while thinking about the implications, I thought I should share it as well.
- And thanks to our friend Chris Wilson, we now have the "popsicle" standard for determining walkability. While it won't work here in Minnesota in January, it is a good way for those in Joplin, MO, to get their minds around good neighborhood design.
"What we heard from some of the citizens is that they want to live near their goods and services," says Troy Bolander, the Planning and Community Development manager. "There was a perfect analogy in one of our hearings is that a citizen wrote down 'I want to be able to take my Popsicle, walk out my door and get my goods and services without that Popsicle melting.'"
- And finally this week, ponder for a second what the most popular ride in the history of Disney theme parks is. Many people think it is one of the thrill rides, or a classic like It's a Small World, but it is actually the hang gliding simulator Soarin' over California, which is at EPCOT and also at Disney's California Adventure theme park. The reason it is so popular was evident to me last week as both my five year old daughter and my 60 year old dad went on it with the rest of our family and all loved it. Everyone enjoys this ride -- I actually spent half my time just watching their faces as it was their first time. It's a great moment I've been reliving in my head (with the music from the following video) all week.
Take care, everyone, and have a great weekend.
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