Yesterday I delivered the Misunderstanding Mobility report (which is still being put together) as a presentation to the Minnesota Chapter of the APA. Besides again realizing that one can never be a prophet in their own hometown, I had a new epiphany yesterday: I'm getting out of touch.
I spent from 1995 until really just this year regularly attending city council and planning commission meetings here in Minnesota. I was not attending as the featured speaker or someone with information to share but as just another consultant justifying their fee. It was these meetings -- in one year I did 200 meetings and total I'm sure I am well over a thousand -- that painfully demonstrated to me the dysfunction of our current system of growth and development.
This year I have probably attended less than ten meetings and, at the same time, have been inundated with thoughts, comments, emails (sorry to those waiting for a response, but I'm just swamped with them) and of course great conversations about Strong Towns and all the different things going on out there. All of you have actually given me hope! I start to get optimistic as I hear about everything being done to reform our system as well as hear from all of you trying to do it. The Strong Towns Network has been therapeutic for me too. There is great strength in knowing I'm not alone. And not completely crazy.
Well, my own therapy -- and believe me, that is what this blog and our other efforts have been -- has also taken me away from the co-dependent, dysfunctional, roller coaster of daily interaction with local government officials. Things are really messed up in our cities. Events like yesterday, hearing some of the stories and looking into the whites of the eyes of the people telling them, reminds me how far we have yet to go. This whole Strong Towns thing is just getting started.
And if you have already taken the red pill -- as Andrew Burleson said this week -- and now can't close your eyes to the reality around you, this may be therapy for you as well. Let's keep each other on our toes, okay?
On to the news.
- Thank you to the website Pirate4x4.com for their review of my book, Thoughts on Building Strong Towns (Volume 1). I love the unexpected places that our work shows up. If you would like to help me spread the Strong Towns message, consider writing a review of the book on Amazon. Of course, you should read the book first.
The book tries, rather successfully I think, to show the problems that our current development patterns have in regards to the finances of our Cities and Towns. He also delves into some of the social problems that he views it has created.
While the author tries to remain non-partisan his viewpoints are fairly Libertarian. As a point to this in the book he calls stop lights despotic.
- As opposed to roads, which provide movement between places, streets are a platform for creating value. This is not coming my TED talk or the upcoming Misunderstanding Mobility report but a great blog out of New Zealand called the Aukland Transport Blog. He quotes two of my favorite bloggers -- Steve Mouzon of the Original Green and Patrick Kennedy of Walkable DFW -- and includes a great map the author created that further validates Joe Minicozzi's work on the value of the traditional development pattern.
Most interesting to me is the location premium that still exists for property in the lower Queen Street valley. Who could have predicted that 100+ years from the heyday of downtown Auckland that the highest land values would still be centred on Queen St and its associated network of quirky lanes, arcades and back streets. What will it be like in the next 100 years? What ever happened to “place doesn’t matter”?
- Last week I was speaking in Ohio and so did not have an opportunity to make it to Long Beach and CNU's transportation summit. Reports back were fantastic, however, including this series of videos that featured John Horsley, the Executive Director of AASHTO. For those of you unfamiliar with AASHTO, it is their "Green Book" that is the Bible for engineers stuck in the dogma of the 1960's when it comes to traffic engineering. That he would make a quote like this (thank you, Faith Kumon, President of Strong Towns, for the transcription) warms my heart indeed.
The nexus is going to bring us together is better than any dynamic I’ve seen in the last 20 years and that is the issue of financial sustainability. States are broke. Cities are broke. Counties are broke. We can’t build the stuff in the old way because we can’t afford the land use pattern of sprawl. This era of fiscal constraint is going to be with us at least for 10 years. We don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel at the federal level to add resources..
- A few weeks ago I was inundated with Tweets from the Pro Bike Pro Walk conference (I was not in attendance) where apparently Mark Gorton (founder of Streetsblog) spoke very highly about the work we are doing here. I was alerted to the conversation again this week, also on very flattering terms (**blush**). Since I'm embarrassed to say that I don't know Mark Gorton, I did some research to inform myself. If you are like I was then, be like I am now. You'll be better off.
- One of my favorite books -- a book that influenced my thinking tremendously -- is Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers. I put it on our Strong Towns essential reading list. One of the concepts in the book is 10,000 hours, the notion that one needs to work 10,000 hours at a task to become great at it, no matter if they are ever considered a "prodigy" or not (see my prior lament on the 10,000 I spent doing local government meetings). In the book Gladwell talks about Bill Gates, his success and how these 10,000 hours -- as well as his age and where he grew up -- really made his ascension possible. This week I came across two videos, one of Gladwell explaining the 10,000 hour concept and the second on Gate's take on Gladwell's work. I thought they were fascinating insights and wanted to share them with you.
- If you live in a city that is waiting for a Federal grant or some type of state assistance to do that project that you consider "essential" for your future prosperity, or if you are that place trying desperately to find that large employer that you can steal from some other community to give you a chance at a successful future, may I redirect you momentarily to Christchurch, New Zealand. After months of earthquakes devastated major parts of the city, residents took restoration into their own hands. A little Tactical Urbanism thinking along with some shipping containers and now you have a city making real progress. Look at the photos -- this place just popped up and it looks better than most of our urban areas (my apologies, Kansas City). You want to wait for the false hope of someone else fixing your place or you want to get out there and do it yourself?
While reconstruction of the city hasn’t started yet, temporary buildings made from converted shipping containers have popped up on vacant sites: dairies, an art gallery, a furniture shore, boutique dress shops, bars and cafes. And in the central city an entire shopping precinct has been built from them. The Re:START Mall opened in late October 2011, the initiative of a group of retailers who anchored their development around Ballantynes, the venerable Christchurch department store. Around 60 shipping containers–stacked and placed in various configurations, pierced with windows and folding doors and painted in a bright and cheerful palette – have been fitted out as high-end shops and cafes.
- In an effort to toughen us all up and help us see how the other side thinks, check out the display of mindless propaganda coming from the indoctrinated at The Economic Collapse Blog in their piece 21 Facts about America's Decaying Infrastructure that will Blow Your Mind. It actually did blow my mind, especially the realization that a large number of people actually believe the second "fact". Have hammer. Find nail.
- And here is one editorial writer from Halifax, Nova Scotia, that totally gets the Strong Towns message. Unfortunately, he seems to be a minority opinion. Do him a favor: at the top of the article is a rating button. Please give his article 5 stars to offset all of the fools that are giving him low marks (it is currently rated just 2.8 stars). We need this message to be read, and the debate expanded, beyond the regular trolls.
According to a number of knowledgeable observers, right now the city is perversely encouraging growth in areas that drive up its costs while discouraging development in areas where it saves the most money.
Over time, if nothing changes, that can mean only one thing. The amount of money the city will need to collect from taxpayers has to go up.
- Coldwell Banker, the real estate sales company, put together a Suburbanites Best Places to Live infographic. I'm not going to bash the concept or the rankings -- we're always going to have suburbs and I'm fine with that so long as they pay their own way -- but I do want to point out the graphic they used for ranking "amenities". Not a museum or a park or a great place but a gas can. Kind of gives the whole thing some context, does it not?
- And finally, being of Norwegian descent but (sadly) a long time separated from my grandparents and great grandparents that actually spoke Norwegian, I found this little clip from Conan to be hilarious. The Marohn name is actually Russian, although the rest of the family is pretty much Norwegian. Go figure.
Enjoy your weekend everyone. See you back on Monday.
If you would like more from Chuck Marohn, check out his new book, Thoughts on Building Strong Towns (Volume 1).
You can also chat with Chuck and many others about implementing a Strong Towns approach in your community by joining the Strong Towns Network. The Strong Towns Network is a social platform for those working to make their community a strong town.