Today I'm in the city of Detroit Lakes, MN, to give a talk titled "Beyond Complete Streets". I wound up spending the night here last night when spring winter refused to exit stage right. After the events of this week, I'm not going to complain about the weather, but it is beginning to be quite surreal. Anyway, I'm going to walk the very fine line between between a substantive critique of Complete Streets, including how we can improve on the concept, and dashing the aspirations of some well intentioned advocates. Wish me luck.

Enjoy the news.

  • Congratulations to the city of Memphis on taking the brave and prudent step to halt horizontal expansion of the city. This is a really important first step and I'm very proud to have played a modest part in getting that message out. Keep the momentum going -- you guys are truly national leaders in this conversation.
  • Next week we kick off our first initiative in Operation More George, that being A Better Brainerd. We've got the website up and running -- some good content there -- and a Facebook page to expand the conversation. Our first event will be a kickoff party on Tuesday at the Sunshine Kitchen & Moonshine Lounge. If you are in Central Minnesota, come and join us.
  • The Washington Post had one of the most important stories of the week with the question Can governments learn to fail fast? I always feel a need to point out that local governments have an aversion for risk largely because we residents demand that our world be orderly. This helps create the dumb money effect we've been talking about here recently. Governments need to take risks, but they need to be small, experimental and have the potential for high upside. In short: fail fast.

Too often, if government tries to move quickly, officials just come in for criticism for not planning enough, spending money on temporary measures or doing things that look slipshod. If they move slowly, they’re attacked for taking too long, spending too much or “gold-plating” everything.

In management, there’s a principle called “Fast/Cheap/Good”: You can only get two. Without realizing it, the way people react to government programs pushes them away from fast and implicitly away from cheap as well. The lessons from startups are clear: We’re better off with a lot more fast and cheap, and by experimenting, we can get something that’s even better than slow. Can we allow our public servants to make this happen?

  • Thanks to Placemaker Scott Doyon, I now know to check out the art in the T Terminal when I fly into Atlanta this week. I'm going to be there for a talk with Town Hall Roswell (open to the public) and, if my good fortune and schedule allows, get to hang out with some New Urbanist friends, including Scott. The art he featured on the Placeshakers and Newsmakers blog is from Meg Aubrey and it captures, in an intriguing way, the experience of much of the modern American landscape.

“Lawn Care,” oil on canvas, by Meg Aubrey

  • Speaking of New Urbanist friends, I came across this short video of John Anderson talking about street widths and a CNU initiative to work with fire marshals. I'm hoping to recruit John to be part of an off-program event I'm setting up at CNU, something I've explained to people as a mashup of Oxford debating and American Idol. Watch the video and you'll see why John is a great character to get a conversation going. (Warning: language issues here -- not appropriate for some work or kids.)

  • In Vancouver, BC, more people are starting to question why the financial rigor applied to rail and other transit initiatives is not also applied to highway projects. Agreed, and that's the proper way to frame the conversation as well. It is stunning to watch governments hand wring and demand all kinds of financial data for a rail project -- information they should be asking for -- and then allocate ten times that sum without any debate on dubious highway projects. Rigor needs to be a frame of mind, not a political tool.

Transit is an orphan, sitting beside the road begging for new taxes while road, bridge, tunnel, rail and airport builders go straight to the provincial and federal treasuries and get what they need out of existing revenue.

Approvals for big new highway projects just keep rolling on, with public consultation limited to whether the new crossing should be a bridge or a tunnel. The big decision – committing to a multibillion-dollar replacement –is made out of the public eye by unelected boards with the provincial cabinet’s blessing.

  • Jimmy Hexter and Jan Mischke blogging at the Harvard Business Review had some very good insights and recommendations on fixing infrastructure problems around the world. Their South Korean reference (see following quote) ties into the observations I made on Monday here about a Singapore mindset. This wouldn't be my preferred way to about things, but I can accept it where it is rigorous.

Governments need to evaluate costs and benefits rigorously and prioritize accordingly. South Korea's Public and Private Infrastructure Investment Management Center has saved 35% on its infrastructure budget by rejecting 46% of the projects it reviews, compared with only 3% previously. Making more strategic choices has the potential to save $200 billion a year worldwide.

  • I have to run and give this talk on Complete Streets, so I'm going to bank some stuff for next week and end now with this video. I've never watched Parks and Rec but have been told I would like it. I might, especially because this is hilarious on multiple levels.

Be safe out there, everyone, especially my friends in the NE and those of you impacted by snow and ice here in Minnesota. See you all back here on Monday.

 

If you'd like more from Chuck Marohn, you should really get a copy of his recent book, Thoughts on Building Strong Towns (Volume 1). It is a primer on the Strong Towns movement and an essential read for those wanting to get up to speed quickly.

You can also chat with Chuck, Nate Hood, Andrew Burleson, Justin Burslie and many others over at the Strong Towns Network. Join the conversation on how to make yours a strong town.