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Friday
May182012

Friday News Digest

This morning at 9:00 AM CST I am going to be a guest on Minnesota Public Radio's Daily Circuit. Tom Weber -- who I really enjoy -- is hosting and appearing with me will be Tanya Snyder, the Capital Hill Editor of Streetsblog. We are going to be discussing the future of the exurbs, which data suggests are slowly dying. I will confirm that data but question whether the pace will continue slowly or speed up dramatically at some point. You can tune in live from the MPR website or catch the podcast later.

This is going to require taking some time away from Stellaworld (which is what my five year old calls Friday when I'm home with her), but it is only an hour and then I'll be back to catching up after missing two Fridays in a row. She starts school in the fall so every Friday I miss home with just her is a tragedy. No more for a while.

Enjoy the news of the week.

  • I wanted to start this week by acknowledging Erik Reader and the Reader Area Development blog in Peoria, Illinois. He ran a short post last week recommending us to his readers. Thank you - that was very kind. The blog is a rather new and I found the author's bio compelling. He's one of us: smart enough to have real dreams and crazy enough to follow them. Hope we meet someday soon.

Reader Area Development, Inc. was established in 2011 by Erik W. Reader, a Financial Analyst at the time who realized he had a weak spot for renovating neglected properties. Reader left a career in the cubical with a software development company to move cross-country from Dallas, TX to Peoria, IL. The mission was to get involved locally with community redevelopment efforts, when time and money permitted purchase properties to rehab, and to become an advocate of all things smart and sustainable. 

Creek Freak has written about LID – Low Impact Development. It’s basically a sort of “green building” standard that requires new buildings to detain and/or infiltrate rainwater. While I think that LID is a step in the right direction, at least compared to development as usual, it’s nowhere near the end of the work on getting to healthy creeks and streams.

  • I love watching our work be taken and applied to local problems elsewhere. The site Transportation Nexus did just that this week with a piece about Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago. The author said it was a "complete road" and that it furthered the mentality of a "45 mph world". Awesome! Then came the recommendation, which was spot on. Keep going!

If we’re really concerned about safety and about reducing pedestrian, bicycle and auto injuries and fatalities in this city, speed cameras are not the answer. Better design is. This is what I would recommend:

Reduce the width of the lanes to 10′ widths, perhaps even dropping a lane. Most of Milwaukee Ave. south of the UP-NW line into downtown is two lanes. This frees up room for the bike lane. In addition, there will be room for a median with protected pedestrian crossings.

  • The term STROAD is catching on so widely I had to change one of the chapters of the book I am working on to include it. I hope it doesn't become polarizing to anyone (except engineers) the way "sprawl" and "smart growth" have because I would like to continue using the word. It's like penicillin, people. Use it sparingly, only when it is needed and only when it will be effective. Let's all do our part.

One highlight from Marohn’s discussion was a pervasive feature on the American landscape that he termed the “stroad.” With its auto-centric design and drive-in commerce, a “stroad” tries to function as both a street and a road. Marohn described stroads as the “futon of transportation options” because they try to do too many things — accommodating businesses and moving cars, pedestrians, cyclists and transit users — while doing none of them particularly well.

  • The important conversation over Elvis Presley Boulevard continues in Memphis. I'm only highlighting this again because I so badly want them to do this the right way. Getting this one right could be a watershed moment for so many things there. If you live in Memphis or have friends/family that do, encourage them to get involved. We need lots more success stories like this one to help Memphians forget about this one (so sorry, Griz fans).

Two and a half years later, Victory is a flagship of the revitalized Broad Avenue Arts District in Binghamton, an area once left for dead that’s experienced a resurgence of its own thanks to the spirit of ownership of a group of new tenants determined to make the previously blighted area thrive once again.

  • If you need another CNU fix, my friend and fellow NextGen'r Joe Nickol wrote an insightful piece about the pivot point we are at with the New Urbanism. This is the essence of the change that I alluded to in my final remarks at the Why We Write session, a conversation that comprises the entire Kunstlercast this week. My comments are at the 1 hour, 16 minute mark (and with all respect to Duncan who thought the session was great, I will fault nobody for skipping the entire thing).

As a next generation of urbanists, we firmly believe that what we have built is not disposable.

Our historic neighborhoods, towns and cities are not just our built heritage but hold the key to the sustainable future of communities across our country.

We have the great opportunity and responsibility to leverage what we have learned through building in a controlled, lab-like setting of our new towns, resort towns, and edge towns and get back to the urban field to begin the monumental task of regenerating our cities, towns, and neighborhoods.

  • Despite the good and honest efforts of many bright people, I am highly skeptical of the idea that we will have wide scale suburban retrofit or "sprawl" repair. Pick your favorite term, the idea is that we start to fix the urban fabric (or create an urban fabric) in these places in response to the failure of the Suburban Experiment. In theory, okay, but if I live in a suburb and am going to be retrofitted into a poor rendition of a real place, why don't I just move to a real place? And if I can't sell my home or otherwise leave, but I want to, I'm not likely to vote to make the very expensive, structural changes necessary to make it all happen, let alone the uber-expense of simply maintaining the infrastructure already in place. I'm becoming more convinced that we're ultimately going to find ourselves, once again, experimenting on the poor in a cruel reversal of urban renewal.

I did visit a housing development last year that offered “quartets,” McMansions subdivided into four units with four separate entrances. These promised potential buyers the status of a McMansion with the convenience of a condominium, but the concept felt like it was created more to preserve the property values of larger neighboring homes than to serve the needs of the community’s residents.

  • Shocking news from Southwest Minnesota that the Mn/DOT District there has re-investment needs over the next ten years that exceed revenues by 30%. Is is shocking because, if that is actually the number, that's pretty low. I think going out 25 years would be a tremendous eye opener. It is good to hear someone actually openly discussing this problem that pretty much all engineers and transportation planners in senior positions understand.

In a story in the West Central Tribune, the state said the area’s main corridors — state Highway 23, and U.S. Highways 212 and 71 — will continue to be maintained to meet MnDOT standards for mobility and pavement condition, but within a few years motorists will find pavement conditions on portions of nonprincipal arteries — state Highways 9 and 4 were among those named — will not meet MnDOT technical standards. Business leaders said this would have a negative effect on Willmar and the region.

  • The fact that this conversation does not open up with a frank and honest accounting of our projected revenues and projected obligations -- and the enormous gap therein -- means that I can't take it seriously (or respect those that do). I don't even think such an accounting is contained anywhere in our dialog. It is taboo. Mn/DOT, you lost me at "dreams and wishes" (which for me would be teleporting and ice cream on the way home from work, respectively).

Instead of obsessing about today's road problems — cursing those potholes and traffic construction delays — MnDOT wants us to take a long-term view, looking 50 years down the road with transportation dreams and wishes.

The state agency is holding a series of 10 workshops around the state, looking for ideas about transportation in the future. They're calling it MinnesotaGo.

"Minnesota GO is our opportunity to hear from Minnesotans about their expectations for transportation today and for the next generation of Minnesotans," said Tom Sorel, MnDOT commissioner. "We are committed to creating a transportation system that will sustain and connect a vital economy, healthy environment and strong communities."

  • Congratulations to South Bend for hiring one of the best minds on the market, Scott Ford, to be their economic development director. I know Scott through NextGen and have immense respect for his talents. Way to go, South Bend.

"Scott will be a great leader for the city of South Bend's neighborhood and economic development staff," Buttigieg said. "This department is critical to the growth and quality of life in South Bend, and Scott brings the vision, experience and work ethic to make an immediate impact."

  • A dear friend of mine told me that she heard this story from NPR and it reminded her of me so she recommended that I listen to it. I saved it here to listen to and share but the night is late and I'm not going to be able to preview it before posting it. Hopefully it is not about some psycho nut from high school.
  • Finally, while I sit on a school board for a local charter school, and I am interested in helping the students learn about geography as a prelude to understanding cities, places and everything I am passionate about, I can't see us investing in Zombie-Based Learning. Although apparently many others did as his project is more than funded. Geez, my eight year old has nightmares over a book we read on Pompeii; I'd hate to see what zombie math did to her.

Take care, everyone, and have a great weekend.

 

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Reader Comments (1)

Thank you for your kind words, I am very honored to be mentioned on this great site.

Erik

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