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Friday
Apr112014

Friday News Digest

Our Executive Director, Jim Kumon, has been up in Brainerd the past two days and last night, instead of working on the News Digest, he and Justin and I opted to take in the late showing of Captain America. Probably predictably, Cap’n is my favorite of the superheroes and I thought this latest movie was a lot of fun. I got home around 12:30 AM and sat down to get started when the week of travel began to catch up with me. Sorry this is going to be a brevity version of the FND and then, with the sun out, I’m going to wrap up this week and enjoy spring. I hope that you can do the same.

Enjoy the news.

  • I want to start this week by referring everyone to a website for Deb Hubsmith, the bike and pedestrian advocate, who was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Lukemia and is recovering from a bone marrow transplant at this moment. I think the thing that tugs at my heart the most is how this incredibly alive person – so full of energy for other people – has to spend so much time in relative isolation because of a weakened immune system. The world is missing out, but hopefully for not much long. Friends are holding a fundraiser to help Deb recover and get back to her calling. The details are here and, if you have the capacity to help, you can also make a donation.
  • Thank you to the Streetsblog Network for highlighting my essay on the bike lanes in front of my church. I heard from a lot of people about how this is a problem in their communities a well, particularly observant Jews who cannot drive on the Sabbath. The city council wound up tabling the proposal and followed the time honored tradition of referring the matter to a committee, in this case the bike committee. It isn’t clear to me, however, how the bike committee would possibly have time to look at this since they are scrambling to get a comprehensive bike and trail plan together by the end of 2016.

An Eighth Street resident, who said she was a parishioner and an avid bicyclist, said the practical side for the bike lane would be Willow Street’s south side. She gained laughter from the crowd by saying she hoped she didn’t offend [Father Tony] Wroblewski or if she did, she’d have to go to Father Daniel Wieske for confession.

  • And thank you to Kevin Klinkenberg again for including Strong Towns not once but twice this week. Put his website on your blog rotation – good stuff.

Infrastructure of virtually all kinds is costly and the budgets are increasingly too strapped to even maintain what we have. Chuck Marohn has an excellent deep-dive into the problem (as it pertains to Minnesota) here, including some specific recommendations on what to do. It's thought-provoking and worth the read. Here's hoping more cities (and states) start to find ways to maximize resources first by managing demand, rather than resorting to only supply-side solutions.

  • There is a rumor (partially confirmed) of a National Geographic series featuring the work of Jason Roberts, Andrew Howard and The Better Block. That might make me get television again. In the meantime, it was great to see these guys and their important work highlighted in Forbes.

While Duany is engaged in trying to work with cities to create lighter weight regulatory regimes for redevelopment, Jason and his compatriots just do it. They flout regulations and then invite city officials in to see the difference it makes. The whole talk is great, but if it’s too long, watch from about seven minutes in, for an account of how Jason and crew reconstructed a block with popup shops, plants, and outdoor seating, to show what it could become. Particularly striking is the schedule of fees the city of Dallas charges for improvements that, if anything, the city should be paying to people who are willing to improve the neighborhood.

  • The site Greater Places asked a provocative question this week: what if streets had nutrition labels? Most brilliance comes simply from asking the right question, but they also give a stab at the answer and it is really good.

  • Two cities I have done Curbside Chat in now have taken steps to advance the concept of Economic Gardening. I’m not claiming Strong Towns was the catalyst – cities that call us tend to be places already thinking on their own in multiple dimensions – but it is great to see it happen. Pueblo County, Colorado is a natural being so close to Littleton, the birthplace of Economic Gardening. The other place is Rochester, NY (the other Rochester for you Minnesotans) where I saw lots of great things happening last year. If you’d like to know more about Economic Gardening, listen to my podcast with EG guru Chris Gibbons.

  • By the slimmest of margins, the Brainerd city council approved a local food truck to be present at the grand opening of a new ballpark in town. A city’s approach to food trucks is a rough but fairly good indicator of the prospects of that community. Where staff and officials see them as a powerful force in revitalizing areas on the mend, they can be leveraged for great success as the first increment of private investment needed to get a place moving. Where staff and officials see them as predators instead of upstarts, forcing them to battle for every event and relegating them to a parking lot where they bring little beyond food to the table, I would call that city, well....stupid.

The city’s park board recommended granting approval with the stipulation of Prairie Bay donating 10 percent of its sales to the Miracle Field fund. Prairie Bay agreed. But when it reached the council chambers, members were divided on whether to allow the food truck a one-time exception to attend the grand opening. Scheeler said he was concerned about the precedent should there be a future event.

  • There is a lot of talk in this country about the gap between the rich and the poor, but as we experience each day, it isn’t the stuff of revolutions. The overthrowing of conventional order is rarely, if ever, led by those on the lowest financial rungs. They are too busy hanging on and, quite frankly, too easily appeased by those in power (when you have very little, it doesn’t take much to make your life better). Revolutions are most generally led by the second tier of leaders, those who are doing well but see both the excesses of the elites just above them and the dysfunction that it creates below. It is these people that can both do better for themselves while simultaneously making lives better for many others, a magic place for the human conscience. It is articles like this one from CNBC – along with the stuff I read in the book Flash Boys – that give me hope that our revolution is fast approaching.

From an economic perspective, the most dramatic wealth gap is between middling millionaires, who have seen only modest gains, and the booming billionaires, who now seem to defy economic gravity. It's between the guy making $300,000, who still feels poor, and the man who made $37 million a day for a year. Both are lumped together by politicians, the media and even economists as "the rich" or "the 1 percent," who are gaining at the expense of everyone else.

  • Michael Lewis and his book Flash Boys continues to grab headlines. My mentor, George Orning, is a big fan of Charlie Rose and so I’ve learned over the years to appreciate his interviewing style. This one brought out some new stuff from Michael Lewis and I thought was worth watching.

  • One of the most exciting people I’ve run into locally is Max Musicant. Not only does he have a great name, he has a great approach towards making our cities work. I wanted to share this article because it made me really happy to see someone so dynamic get out of the big city and employ his talents in a small town setting. In a week when I was forced to read the copy/paste comprehensive plan “prepared” by a hack consultant with a large engineering firm who is clueless about what it means to be a small town, Max’s work is even more of a breathe of fresh air.

Although zoning, maintenance and hard data about traffic and pedestrian activity are important elements of placemaking, the real magic lies in how a particular space engages people at the human level, Musicant said.

“Just stop and watch and listen closely,” he said. “Talk to people who are using the space.”

Thanks everyone. Enjoy your weekend and remember to be back here on Monday for more Strong Towns.

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