Is there some big movie coming out today? Actually, the last Dark Knight movie was so good -- one of the best movies I've seen -- that I'm a little apprehensive about this one. Can you possibly top Heath Ledger as the Joker? Stunning. As typical, Justin (of podcast fame) and I were going to take in the midnight showing until my wife stepped in and let me know she wanted to go. So now I have a date night so if there are any spoilers, keep them to yourself. 

Enjoy the news.

  • When I became a dad nearly eight years ago, my top annoyance during my wife's pregnancy was all the people who told me, "your life is going to change forever." My life was pretty good at the time and I didn't appreciate the "told you so" prequel, assuming instead that I would just add my little of bundle of joy to my existing life like a papoose slung over my back. Well, on August 24, 2004, my life changed forever. Now, I can't wait to spend part of next week in Florida telling my good friend, Edward Erfurt, The Restless Urbanist, how rest is going to become a little harder to come by and how his life is going to change forever. Pay it forward. Congratulations, Michelle and Edward. 
  • Huge thanks to Mark Brown, founder of Car Free Baltimore, and the blog Secret Republic, for their tremendous analysis of the difference between roads and streets. Yes, he generously quoted me, but the coolest part was the Nassim Taleb reference. Excellent analysis that goes far beyond the Strong Towns reference.

Pick the average state highway, urban arterial, neighborhood street with average speeds of 35+ mph, or run of the mill downtown arterial which prioritizes auto traffic, and you’ll see an example of a road. Often, these roads try to be both a street and road, but fail at both. For instance, a state highway designed to funnel traffic as quickly as possible with numerous curb cuts serving auto-centric big box stores is neither an efficient road nor a neighborhood enhancing and economically vibrant street. By trying to serve both through and local trips in such a mono-modal fashion, and by encouraging inefficient and economically draining development patterns, we see that these types of roads erode instead of create value for cities.

  • After Monday's post on San Bernardino, I had a few Californians gently suggest that I was a little off base, although in typical California fashion they did not quite explain where my lapse was precisely. Nonetheless, I accept that I am not an expert in all things Golden State (although I loved touring the state doing Curbside Chats last spring). This column from George Skelton of the Capitol Journal will probably make everyone a little angry, but was recommended to me and made, IMO, some really good points.

Chiang believes the inexplicable state-local financial snarl has tied many cities in knots, leading to bankruptcies.

"It has been very clear that state government has been an unreliable partner to city government," the Democrat says. "We need to change the relationship…

"And if we're going to fix California, we're going to have to fix the revenue structure…. We've gone astray from how the property tax historically had been used: to pay for local activity, such as education."

  • Speaking of great Californians, I just found out that a chapter written by my friend Howard Blackson is included in this new book about Urban Design Practice. I didn't know he could write in British, although that makes some sense now that I think about it.
  • Speaking of books, a report out this week indicates that adult fiction ebooks outsold hardcovers last year. I wonder how non-fiction ebooks are doing. Check back sometime around August 1 -- they may be doing a tad better then.
  • Congratulations to our top contributor, Nate Hood, who was published this week in the Star Tribune. A very good column on a STROAD in the Twin Cities, one that has frustrated me many times. Don't mind the commenters, Nate -- they are always extra snarky there at the Star Trib.

What to do with these types of roads is always contentious and the City of St. Paul and MnDOT often seems like they’re at odds. While residential property owners would certainly benefit from reduced traffic, the business owners like it – especially if they are fortunate enough to have off-street parking. The trouble continues when MnDOT concerns itself too much with LOS ("level of service") and “the standard”. This often translates to: how do we make the cars move most efficiently? The model criticized by urban planners has changed for the better in recent years, but still struggles to deal with places like Snelling and Randolph, a place where urban meets suburbanmeets pedestrians meets highway meets potential bike lanes.

  • And as long as we are talking about being published, I finished a column today for PE Magazine. You may recall that I was a little hard on the publication in my recent essay, Engineering's Echo Chamber. They graciously invited me to pen a column, which I did. I won't run it here until the magazine is published, but I did preview a substantially completed draft over at the Strong Towns Network.

When we build a new highway connecting two cities, economic growth flourishes. Markets are opened up, mobility increases, employment opportunities abound and an entire cascade of economic benefits occurs. When we go in a generation later and fix that highway, we experience no such prosperity, only the costs of construction and delay.

Worse yet, like a river swelling in a steady rain, when we build these hierarchical networks and then induce cheap and easy growth on the periphery, we experience enormous, costly failures throughout the system. All of this has occurred while our liabilities climb exponential to our revenue stream, a disparity we can no longer gloss over with debt.

  • Saving the depressing stuff till the end this week (no pun intended), CNBC asks the question, How close are we to the new Great Depression? Don't let this headline put you off -- this economist, Richard Duncan, is a pretty sharp guy and I find his analysis to be really sound. He's certainly describing one scenario in a world of many possibilities, but the fact that this is not a remote possibility should be a wakeup call to anyone not yet alarmed about the state of our economy. 

"We’re in a very unfortunate position to be here,” Richard Duncan, author of The New Depression, warned on CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” Monday.

“When we broke the link between money and gold, this removed all constraints on credit creation. This explosion of credit created the world we live in, but it now seems that credit cannot expand any further because the private sector is incapable of repaying the debt it has already, and if credit begins to contract, there’s a very real danger that we will collapse into a new Great Depression,” he argued.

  • I found this CNBC article equally fascinating for the question that was never asked. Foreclosure Crisis Hits Older Americans Hard simply glosses over why 57 year olds are struggling with mortgage payments in the first place. I realize we are a highly mobile society and, especially during the housing boom, it was not uncommon for people to move around the country on a whim. That being said, if you are in your mid-50's and are taking on a 30-year mortgage with little to no equity to buy down the payment to an acceptable level, something's wrong. We may need to rethink this whole American Dream thing. 

According to AARP:

  •  About 600,000 people who are 50 years or older are in foreclosure.
  • About 625,000 in the same age group are at least three months behind on their mortgages
  • About 3.5 million — 16 percent of older homeowners — are underwater, meaning their home values have gone down and they now owe more than their homes are worth.
  • Finally, I have to apologize to everyone in New York that I know and yet failed to contact when I was in town this week. If you subtract out my travel time, the one meeting I had and the necessary time spent catching up on my sleep (which had reached critical levels of depravity), I was in the city about three hours. Based on my experience last time, that's about the time it takes to cross town in a taxi. Next time, I promise. Until then...

 

Charles Marohn is the Executive Director of Strong Towns. Saturday night he will be at the movies, but between now and then he'll be working on Monday morning's blog. You can support Strong Towns by making on donation, or chat directly with Chuck and learn more about implementing a Strong Towns approach in your city by joining the Strong Towns Network, a social space for those actively working to build strong towns.