This weekend I will be with my wife's family to celebrate my mother and father in-law's 50th wedding anniversary. These are two of the kindest people I know (and trust me, I've been married long enough where I have no obligation to say that). They have always been overly generous to (not to mention patient with) me ever since I was a high schooler dating their youngest daughter. I have come to admire them greatly, especially as an example of the mutual respect that it takes to spend fifty years together raising a family and supporting each other. It is an accomplishment to celebrate and admire. Congratulations, Bill and Jean Meyer.

Enjoy the week's news.

  • Andrew Price is perhaps my favorite blogger sharing his stuff on the Strong Towns Network. His non-native eyes (he's from Australia) and youthful inhibition combine with good instincts and a talent for communication. This week he built on Monday's post (Sandbox Brainerd) by proposing an idea he called "special urban zones" where experimental approaches normally constrained by the code could be tested.

The sandbox approach gives us a powerful platform to incrementally experiment. I am highly critical, both of static so-called 'comprehensive' plans, and of modern zoning. With sandbox urbanism, we can rebuild our towns and cities from the ground up, incrementally - through trial and error without risking a lot of time or money, as we have done throughout history - because we cannot always predict what will happen.

  • James Bruckbauer with the Michigan Land Use Institute is asking some tough questions and I love it. We need to be doing this in every state across the country.

At a time when transportation budgets are crippled and state and federal governments struggle to dig themselves out of major transportation deficits, is it time to start measuring true return on transportation projects?

Right now, the state and local communities have very little evaluation criteria in place. Is it time for better measurements?

  • Utah is a great state, but its small towns do suffer disproportionately from really destructive highway design through town. As the blog About Town points out, we can do a lot better and spend a lot less money doing it.

This was a crushingly oppressive place. Coalville has some old buildings and has cool spots, but actually moving through the built environment was unpleasant and difficult. I walked between several businesses and government buildings while I was there, and the entire time I had to fight the temptation to get back in my car and drive from block to block.

  • Some of my best friends and most thoughtful people I know are planning to gather in Louisville next month for a Place Summit. While I can't make it (I'll be in Washington State and British Columbia), Nate Hood is going to be there along with many of my NextGen friends from CNU. A local paper previewed the event, many parts of which are going to be open to the public. If you're in the Louisville area, stay tuned.

Next month, about 50 of the United States’ top urbanists – the people who are redefining how Americans live – are coming to Louisville for a major summit October 25 through October 27.

Place Summit is a “working weekend” that brings together city planners, planning and zoning experts, economic development officials, architects and New Urbanism advocates. This will be the third Place Summit, which launched at famed New Urbanist pioneer Andrés Duany’s New Orleans house in 2010.

  • This is the best editorial I've read in 2013. Copy and paste then change the words and send it to your own paper. Absolutely right on target.

It is the height of selfishness — and, might we add, stupidity — to ignore the long-term economic and financial consequences of the decisions we make today about where to build our roads, bridges and sewers. Those who act as though there is no cost to those decisions display astounding levels of shortsightedness and foolishness.

People who argue in the name of private property rights that they should be able to build their homes, office buildings, shopping centers, warehouses or factories wherever they want miss an important point: The exercising of their rights creates obligations that local, state and federal governments must pay to maintain the infrastructure extended to those properties. 

And who is the source of the money those public bodies must shell out to meet those obligations? It is other private citizens through their tax dollars. 

It is ironic that many of the people who use the private property defense to justify their contributions to urban sprawl also are vocal opponents of big government. They are among the first to complain about rising taxes and out-of-control government spending, yet they don't stop to consider how their actions add to the burden government must carry.

  • We're very lucky here in Minnesota to have a group of bloggers passionate about transportation posting regularly at streets.mn. This week, Walker Angell made the provocative case that our (meaning the engineering profession's) mindless application of traffic regulations teaches kids to disrespect the law. I couldn't agree more. The experiment he ran was revealing on many levels. Can't wait for Part 2.

For one month this summer I decided to strictly obey every traffic law while riding my bicycle, on segregated paths whenever possible. This turned out to be somewhere between excruciating and nearly impossible.

At every signal-controlled intersection I would have to wait longer, sometimes much longer, than vehicles in the traffic lanes. Vehicles traveling in the same direction as I, might have a green, but I would have to wait through an entire phase of lights to get a white crossing signal, even when there were no cars anywhere in sight. At some intersections it would take me five to seven minutes just to make a legal left turn (press beg button, wait for crossing signal, cross, press beg button for next crossing, almost fall over trying to get back in position to cross, wait, cross).

  • And I was going to wait to share this video because I have a lot of comments on it (I will still try to do that), but it just can't wait. Enjoy.

  • Dublin is embarking on a new plan to convert their urban STROADs back into streets. Not only should all large cities be doing this, but small and medium ones as well. This is the thing we'll look back on in a generation and be shocked that anyone ever did things differently.

It is based on a number of assumptions, including the need to “actively discourage” through-traffic in the city centre, give greater priority to pedestrians and improve interchange between public transport services.

New traffic signal timings would be introduced so pedestrians have to wait no more than 45 seconds to cross a busy street. Bus routes would also be reconfigured to reduce “layover time” in the city centre and improve their efficiency.

  • The Colorado legislature has created an Economic Gardening program. If you're still doing economic development the old subsidize and gloat method (which I call the caveman approach), well...eat, drink and be merry.

"Rather than hunting and gathering to bring in an Intel from California with incentives and tax breaks," says Lee, who sponsored House Bill 1003, "economic gardening focuses efforts to bring the tools and expertise to local businesses" to help them prosper.

Economic gardening can give rise to hundreds of small businesses that employ thousands of people; if a handful fail, layoffs are few. But if a community seeks to have only a couple of mega-employers, each employing thousands, then a downturn could bring disaster, as it did when Intel pulled out of Colorado Springs in 2007 and laid off at least 1,000 people.

  • Kaid Benfield calls out the Washington Post this week for their (my word) lazy and (his word) disappointing reporting on the "need" for new roads in a DC suburb.

But here’s the thing about building new roads to serve sprawl:  They give some temporary relief to congestion, maybe for as long as five to even ten years in some cases, but then they fill up and themselves become congested, because the new roads make it easier for developers to build and promote more new development.  Study after study has shown that new road capacity enables and invites new traffic.

  • And finally, I feel guilty laughing at a frog flying through the air (although I can't help laughing), but a better laugh (with just a little guilt) was had by me listening to this video of what supposedly is a genuine voicemail. If it isn't, the guy is a great actor. (Note: Language not completely appropriate for work.)

Hope you have a great weekend. See everyone back here Monday.

 

We've started a contest over at the Strong Towns Network for those who like to write and have some thoughts to share. Even if that is not you, come and hang out with us there. There is a good conversation going on and we'd all benefit from your thoughts. 

And if you'd like more of my work, check out my 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.