Happy Monday-After-Thanksgiving, everyone! We are officially in the time of year when everyone gets a little more rotund and (hopefully) a bit more cheerful. This is the turkey-coma installment of the Strong Towns Monday Member Blog Roll!
I’m going to start us out off-script with a nugget of pre-Thanksgiving good news: Train tickets home to good ol’ York, PA from NYC before Thanksgiving were not only very expensive when I looked at them a couple weeks ahead of time, but they were practically sold out. I figured this was due to the hoards of people leaving the Big Apple for the holiday weekend and the practical impossibility of increasing rail passenger capacity in and out of Manhattan due to tunnel constraints, but I was surprised to discover that it was the Philadelphia - Lancaster, PA portion of the trip that was mucking up my easy trip home.
Since the early 2000’s, the Philly - Harrisburg tracks have seen massive ridership increases to the point of being Amtrak's only money maker not named the NE corridor. The segment has seen constant investment over this time period and travel times are decreasing (it’s one of the highest speed regular services in the country now). On top of this, the classically idiotic PennDOT actually subsidizes Amtrak services along this line to make it more price competitive and take cars off the roads. Towns with stations are seeing increased investment nearby and some are regional exemplars of urban revival (like Lancaster). Good stuff is happening in the lower Susquehanna and Schuylkill Valleys. Trains in PA for the win!
Now back to your regularly scheduled programming…
Thanksgiving is a time for reflection on what we have, and with that comes thinking about what life could be like without things that we take for granted. Our friend Dave Alden at Where Do We Go From Here? has been exploring the connection between urbanism and senior living, recently by examining a topic that strikes a little too close to home – Alzheimer’s. Definitely worth a read and some thought.
As you sit down to Thanksgiving dinner with parents or other aging family members, give a little thought to where you want them to live their final years. And think about how urbanism can help fill a need.
While we’re contemplating what we’re thankful for (and gravy-smothered everything)…BAM! Black Friday rears its ugly head earlier now – on Thanksgiving itself! I’ve heard a lot of opinions about this phenomenon (I have a strong one), but Bruce Nesmith of Holy Mountain does a good job of explaining why it’s probably not a great thing.
So I think we're right to feel uneasy at this latest development of modern life, at whatever level we feel the unease, and however inconsistent it might be with our behavior. Starting Black Friday on Thursday late afternoon harms rather than enhances our common life. Formulating a response is tricky, though.
One benefit that a Thanksgiving devoid of shopping specials provides us is a venue to have in depth, interesting conversations that broaden people’s horizons (or that send your Uncle Jim berserk). Rational Urbanism’s maestro Steve discovered that his 4k sq. ft. French Second Empire Revival with a walkscore of 87 is one heck of a giant turnip compared to the societally-overrated deviled eggs (yeah, I said it) piece of suburbia his mom owns.
When I brought up the topic at Thanksgiving dinner my nephew said: “Of course, grandma’s house isn’t in the middle of a crime ridden neighborhood”. Keep in mind, he was in that crime ridden neighborhood at the time, and has been many times with his family, including the time his son dropped his brand new android phone on the side street where our guests park and it was recovered and returned to him by a total stranger.
If anyone really wanted to get some polarized opinions to go with their Thanksgiving dinner, they needn’t look any farther than the goings-on in Ferguson, MO. Our prolific friends at nextSTL keyed a debate-inducing piece on the logic and effectiveness of shutting down a highway in protest, and what that says about our national culture. Lots of interesting conversations are emanating from the carnage in Ferguson.
Shutting down Interstates is a powerful and meaningful symbolic protest. It disrupts the thing which has materially enabled self-segregation. We have sacrificed our communities to allow people to pass through, fast. The symbolism of forcing a pause is powerful.
Another interesting conversation that I’m sure many a Strong Towns planning-type has had, and one that is relevant to Ferguson, is trying to describe how the ‘traditional’ American doughnut layout of metropolitan wealth – all the good stuff in a ring around the void in the center – is not just an unnatural pattern of development, but it’s being replaced by the ‘new doughnut’ where the core is becoming valuable again and the decay is spreading outward in an echo of early suburban sprawl. Johnny Sanphillippo of Granola Shotgun uses a great combination of photos and simple heuristics to explain how the suburbia many know is likely to fail.
If you want to see the in-between stage of this process check out the 1980’s and 1990’s retail centers. The strip malls are still freshly painted and the landscaping is well maintained, but most of the storefronts are empty. There’s just too much retail space on offer with too few businesses looking to fill it. This isn’t a result of a temporary economic downturn. It’s a feature of never-ending outward expansion.
Speaking of trying to get people to understand a point that by now seems self evident to our bubble of the world, Strong Towns contributor Jesse Bailey of Walkable West Palm Beach is doing everything he can to get a local STROAD rightsized, including writing up a nifty letter with lots of diagrams to get the point across.
A better Quadrille Boulevard is possible. And it can be done in the course of routine maintenance and resurfacing that is already scheduled. This letter presents several alternatives for FDOT to consider in its upcoming resurfacing project.
Finally, I’m going to end with a TV recommendation courtesy of the aforementioned Dave Alden: The Planners is a BBC show that goes through the decision-making process of UK local government planners in an array of situations.
All four are good planning conundrums. And all four offer compelling television, at least for land-use geeks. Enjoy. There are lessons to be learned that can be applied to arguing effectively for urbanism.
Don’t forget, if you’re in the Western Mass and/or NYC world this week, Strong Towns is coming your way! There’s a Curbside Chat in Springfield on Tuesday and the first ever Strong Towns on Tap at the Brooklyn Brewery on Friday. Get your Townie on!
I hope that did wonders to kill your Monday blues. Thanks for reading the Monday Member Blog Roll.
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