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Friday
May252012

Friday News Digest

This is a bittersweet day for me. Nearly eight years ago, my oldest daughter Chloe was born. I was very lucky to be able to arrange my schedule so as to spend every Friday home alone, just the two of us. Spending family time together is important, of course, but there was nothing like that one day a week the two of us were there with only the other. After two and a half years, Stella was born and joined us on Fridays, making it three of us, something that continued until Chloe started kindergarten.

Since then Fridays have been all about Stella. Spending time alone with Chloe as an infant and toddler is a way different experience than being with Stella as a 4 and 5 year old. I've not only come to know and deeply enjoy her but have developed an appreciation for what it means to be the second, and youngest, child. With the school year coming to an end, Chloe will be joining us next week and, while I am looking forward to that, I know that with Stella starting kindergarten herself this fall, this will be our last Friday with just the two of us. I don't want to be overly dramatic, but I can't help but pause and notice how fast this time has gone. I'm so lucky to have been able to spend all this time with such an amazing person. 

Stella Faith proudly displaying the fact that she is big enough to ride the Kali River Rapids ride at Disneyworld this past March. Despite her height and enthusiasm, in the end she was too nervous to go. I made sure and let her know I wasn't disappointed. Next time, Steef.Enjoy this week's news.

  • For those of you in Minnesota, it has been a while since I've given a Curbside Chat presentation where you could easily attend. That changes here over the coming month, beginning next Wednesday in Roseville where the Independence Party of MN has invited me to speak in their Independent Thinking series. I'm really excited about this one as they are expecting a really good turnout. If you can't make that one, check out the entire list of upcoming Chats and, if there are none near you, make a request and we'll see what we can make happen.
  • I was intrigued and flattered with a recommendation this week from the Land Use Prof Blog. We appreciate the link and are glad you found us.
  • Last Friday I was on MPR with Tanya Snyder of DC Streetsblog talking about the future of the exurbs. If you haven't heard that, it is worth a listen. You can also read Tanya's account on, where else, DC Streetsblog. The feedback I've gotten is that everyone loved the lobster analogy. Our long time readers know what inspired that.
  • And the blog Reinventing Parking linked to the guest essay from Michael Brown we posted earlier this year. It was an excellent piece that we've received a lot of feedback on. If you have a similar story, are a good writer and would like to try your handiwork out on this stage, we're accepting guest submissions for some of our off days (we routinely publish on Monday, Wednesday and Friday). Just email me at marohn@strongtowns.org and we'll see what we can do.
  • So who's sitting around waiting for the federal government to appropriate some money that will trickle down and help their city grow again? A highway project, maybe, or a new sewer system? Or how many cities have recently done projects with federal dollars, infrastructure they are now obligated to maintain, confident in the belief that you needed to get your share now and worry about the long term costs later? You may want to stop and consider not only your own solvency, but the solvency of your partner. What can't continue forever, won't.

The big difference between the official deficit and standard accounting: Congress exempts itself from including the cost of promised retirement benefits. Yet companies, states and local governments must include retirement commitments in financial statements, as required by federal law and private boards that set accounting rules.

The deficit was $5 trillion last year under those rules. The official number was $1.3 trillion. Liabilities for Social Security, Medicare and other retirement programs rose by $3.7 trillion in 2011, according to government actuaries, but the amount was not registered on the government's books.

  • I'm becoming more convinced that the planning profession and the traditional advocates for "sustainability" have no clue what Agenda 21 is about. Too many simultaneously dismiss their concerns as ridiculous yet overestimate their potency as an organizing force. I think this is based on the pervasive and unfortunate belief that most people, especially those that may be found at a Tea Party rally, lack intelligence. Most Americans are incredibly intelligent and won't follow idiotic suggestions over the long run, but most also are highly skeptical of government, especially planners. (And rightly so, or do I need to mention urban renewal, suburbanization and other social experiments perpetuated by government planners to make the obvious point.) Here's another article in the same, disappointing, vein, complete with snarky speak and condescension. Read this and ask yourself how you would rephrase this from a Strong Towns perspective to build consensus among a broader audience.

To give you an idea of what they're aiming for, here are some of Minneapolis' goals: lowering green house gases, reducing air pollution, providing alternate forms of transportation, increasing bikeways, maintaining the tree canopy, having zero beach closings, boosting green jobs and redeveloping polluted industrial sites.(I didn't see anything about forced abortions or taking away people's right to travel.)

  • There are two ways to deal with that that fear Agenda 21. Get them to speak with precision about what they fear and respond to them the way Connie Moran has. The first will help many of them discover their own beliefs -- which, because most people are intelligent won't be incoherent -- and the second will give them an historical reference point in their own idealized past, a past they are yearning to return to. Notice how she doesn't try to argue walkability or sustainability but talks like a mayor, using terms like "market driven", "safety" and "choice".

Mixed-use buildings have been in Ocean Springs for over a hundred years, when many families lived above their shops. Developers want to build them now because they are market-driven. "Complete Streets" refers to making our streets safe not only for cars, but also for pedestrians and cyclists -- so we may offer transportation options for our citizens that do not bind them to their car.

New Urbanist principles create more freedom of choice, more housing opportunities, and more convenience. After Katrina our citizens demanded a more "walkable" community. We have built that in our Front Beach Master Plan (which won the 2010 Award of Excellence for best planning project from the Mississippi Municipal League) and in our Downtown Revitalization project.

  • I was interviewed a couple of months ago for a class project from the graduate program at the Humphrey Institute. It was fun and I like how they used my quotes, but it was especially neat to be featured along with the former VP of the United States. Not something that happens routinely in my life.

  • And while we spend $670 million on the Old Economy Project that Refuses to Die, policymakers in Washington D.C. deliberate on just how aggressive we are going to be in propping up our failing transportation systems. I find it incredible that we are debating a national budget for transportation that, on the high end, is going to be $55 billion per year when a state like California (to use just one example) has an annual maintenance deficit of $37 billion. Note that California's deficit already depends on a federal government that fully funds transportation.

Mica said Republicans on the conference committee were willing to work with Democrats on finding common ground on transportation funding, but he added "we're going to have to pay for this and pay for this responsibly.

"We're not going to raise taxes," Mica said. "Anyone who wants to raise taxes, you're on the wrong committee."

  • A preview of coming attractions: Detroit is looking to permanently shut down half of their street lights. Half the lights are shut down today because there is no money to maintain them. This policy shift would simply consolidate the ones being maintained to neighborhoods where it makes sense, a quite intelligent -- albeit politically difficult -- approach if you think about it.

  • There is a certain segment of our readership that always gets angry with me when I talk about public safety issues. Sorry, but I have to pass on this report, which addresses an issue I have seen from the public servant side of the ledger (the side that is benefiting from these transactions -- not the "criminal" side) that is not only ripe for abuse, but is being widely abused. Such abuse is a natural outcome of the complex systems we have created, where the public servant has six degrees of separation from the public they are serving. Again, this is not a flaw in the character of individuals but a flaw in systems that make this approach not only advantageous, but arguably necessary. Your disgust with me may be registered in the comments section.
  • Minneapolis needs you, Ethan Kent, my friend from the Project for Public Spaces. I'm not an architectural critic or one deeply immersed in the nuance of the historic preservation debate, but I am one who is ready to move on. Convince me otherwise.

These days two of the plaza’s three fountains no longer work, their pumps and lines not easily replaceable. Concrete is stained and crumbling, exposing rebar. The reflecting pool is dry more often than not. And those intimate spaces are occasionally put to unsavory uses. Peavey Plaza’s time may be up. Even aspreservationists argue for rehabilitation of what they consider the finest surviving example of Mr. Friedberg’s work, the City of Minneapolis, which owns 75 percent of it, has commissioned a significant redesign of the space. The plaza has become another battleground in the wars being fought around the country between preservationistsdetermined to save what they see as underappreciated Modernist designs and cities and developers pushing to move on.

  • Steve Mouzon had some practical insights on skyscrapers that anyone advocating for increases in density should understand. Higher density is badly needed, but it must be accompanied by good urbanism and quality placemaking. Density alone is more a problem than a solution.

In most moderate climates, passively-conditioned buildings benefit from exterior walls with thermal mass, a property almost completely missing from glass curtain walls. Unfortunately, high-rise buildings cannot be retrofit with massive walls because the building structure would not support the many tons of additional weight. This, combined with the issues above, mean that glass-clad buildings that cannot be retrofit will be uninhabitable in a period of unaffordable energy costs.

  • I've only had the time to scan this report, but the question in the title -- Are we strangling ourselves with one-way networks? -- can definitely be answered YES and, from the conclusions that include a page of "strategies for restoring two-ways", this looks like a valuable read.
  • And for my Facebook friends that have been teasing me because Rhapsody started posted the songs I listen to on my timeline and they are rather young and girly, I offer you this glimpse into what Friday is all about here. This is Stella's current favorite band and song. I'll post this any day that she is still young enough to love it.

 

Enjoy the three day weekend, everyone, and please do what you can to honor those we are memorializing. I wish you all a safe, happy time. See you back here on Tuesday.

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Reader Comments (5)

Regarding that link to the asset forfeiture issue, I think it is highly relevant because the rise in these actions is driven in no small part by the municipal budgetary crisis you're been analyzing with the infrastructure Ponzi scheme thesis you have.

May 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterOmri

Regarding Peavey Plaza:

There is a very good reason that Peavey Plaza is crumbling and needs an overhaul: it's falling apart because the City ignored it and never properly maintained it. The reason it didn't do these things is because I don't think people ever cared for this plaza in the first place. It is classic Brutalism.

But, that isn't the moral of the story (let's ignoring the fact that Brutalism doesn't lend itself well to the human environment). If you have a piece of infrastructure and you don't maintain it properly for 30 years, it will fall apart. End of story. This is another classic example of an American town deciding to pay the price to start over and build anew, as opposed to just maintain its basic, existing infrastructure.

May 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel

I'm not typically one to toot my own horn, but I just published a post on my blog which I think may be of interest to the Strong Towns crowd. http://walkeaglerock.wordpress.com/2012/05/24/a-look-at-eagle-rocks-relationship-with-parking/

May 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWalk Eagle Rock

The Agenda 21 paranoids have short memories. When the interstate highways were built, property rights were paved over. Remember Rondo?

Here is a gem from the past. The first half is slow, but then the city of tomorrow is revealed over the second half.
http://archive.org/details/ToNewHor1940

May 26, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterpatfromigh

Nathaniel, that's a very interesting point! It seems like people rarely bother maintaining things they don't really care about! This gets to the whole issue of building things "worthy of our affection" (as Kunstler would say, I suppose).

Similar Brutalist boondoggles are falling apart and are slated for replacement elsewhere, and I'm not sure it's worth throwing good money after bad by fixing up and maintaining these stark - and often dysfunctional - public places. Maybe this is one of those situations where spending money on a (hopefully more lovable and enduring) replacement is worthwhile?

The tricky bit is: Will the replacement plaza really be better so it has the potential to endure over the ages? If it's replaced by another fashion stunt (another starchitecture boondoggle that'll age badly and go out of fashion), then Minneapolis will have to engage in yet another costly round of raze-and-replace efforts in less than 30 years. I wish our "edgier" designers would stop with the art stunts and just build timeless public places that would be maintained for generations because they're lovable.

May 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMarc
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