Friday News Digest


I am home from steamy Lafayette – which they claim was rather mild for August – and ready to report that the trip was a success. Like every local government, there are a lot of challenges, but this is a place doing more right than wrong and truly is asking a lot of hard questions. We made a lot of progress and it looks like Joe Minicozzi and I will be headed back later this year to follow up. Can’t wait. In the meantime, I’ve been so immersed in Lafayette that I feel way behind on the news (and my sleep) so this week is going to be a short version of the news digest.

Enjoy the week’s news.

  • We’re getting closer to the Strong Towns National Gathering. If you are waiting to get registered, don’t wait any longer. This is going to be a memorable event, one that is going to dramatically influence the direction of this movement. You are going to want to be there.
  • Denver has to be one of this country’s success stories for planning great urban places, proving that even places that “get it” don’t always do smart things. Spending $25 million fighting congestion by adding two lanes to an urban street is definitely in the head scratching category. Let me say again: in urban areas, congestion is the solution, not the problem. Congestion is showing you there is demand; focus on building a great place and improving your transit options and let the market respond to congestion by maturing the land use pattern. Spend less, get more. A final note: it is really sad that the two options presented clearly point to the traffic signals as being the problem yet there is no proposal for a continuous flow intersection. Back to the 1980’s on this one, Denver. So unnecessary.

Due to the buildout of both the Lowry and Stapleton neighborhoods, two lanes is no longer adequate on this portion of Quebec and traffic is worsening during peak times.

Public Works has been studying the issue as part of its Quebec Alternatives Analysis and had its last public meeting in July, narrowing the list down to two viable options for improvement: keeping Quebec a two-lane street and reconfiguring it to make it four lanes at intersections; or reconfiguring the entire length to four lanes.

  • Here is a blog post that, while about Atlanta, could really be about almost every city in the country and, thus, about the American experience in general. We tell ourselves we are awesome, we go build huge things to allegedly prove our assertion, yet we fail to do all the small, simple things that quality demands. I thought this was so right.

The problem isn't that we want to be "world-class." The problem is that we aren't taking the necessary steps to achieve it. The best way to do so is by promoting more walkable blocks on a human-scale street grid; emphasizing slow, incremental, sustainable growth for vibrant neighborhoods; and actively discouraging automobile use through our street design and building codes.

Instead we stress the "world-class" — or "transformative," "iconic," and "catalytic" — project without regard to its relationship to the neighborhood and overall city. We see them as standalone projects and cross our fingers waiting for admiration and accolades so we can once again declare our "world-class" status. If we can just replace Spaghetti Junction with the Brooklyn Bridge and throw up an Eiffel Tower next to Centennial Olympic Park, then we can declare victory.

  • And speaking of being right, few people are more right than Texas visionary Patrick Kennedy. He is proof that one person with a great vision, focus and passion can make miracles happen. I love this guy – he is a case study – and if Highway 345 gets torn down, it could change everything for more than just Dallas.
  • Here in Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes, some of our suburbs are actually running out of water. While we look and sneer at the ridiculousness of places like Phoenix and Las Vegas where they seem incapable of solving their obvious water problems, we fail to realize that we are just as incoherent. This makes the six questions posed by Brendon Slotterback so uncomfortably obvious as to be embarrassing. I want the answers.

Where is the conservation alternative?  The cost and feasibility of  reducing water use are not analyzed as part of the report.  Building nothing and simply asking/incentivizing/requiring people to use less may be the cheapest option.  According to the report, water use in 2010 was 92 gallons per person, per day in these communities. The ratio of peak day demand to average day demand ranges from 1.7:1 in Forest Lake to 5.9:1 in Lexington.  The report hints that this is “mainly attributed to irrigation and outdoor water use needs”.  Sprinkling lawns in other words.

  • It was nice to see Bloomberg Business Week reference our argument (The Monkey Parking Arbitrage) in a piece on the Monkey Parking App. Since we ran that piece, in addition to the people who are deeply offended by the very concept, I’ve had quite a number of people send me horror stories about the San Francisco housing market, talks that add to one of the more bizarre situations I’ve heard of. I still laugh when I think of the commenter on our site who started their counter-argument with, “Let’s say you have a rent controlled apartment….” Yeah, let’s do that. Then let’s pretend you can just print money without consequence….

Don Shoup, a professor at UCLA and perhaps the world’s foremost authority on parking policy, says the apps serve an important purpose, but not the one the startups think they do. “What I like about them is they reveal the mispricing of public services. Places such as San Francisco and Boston are killing the messenger,” he says.

  • It is election season here in Minnesota and we have seen the parade of politicians with their golden shovels doing the ground breaking for public boondoggles of all varieties. One of the most common is the convention center, an “investment” designed to lure free-spending visitors to town. What could be better? A new book exposes the folly of the convention center racket. Will it matter? Probably not until we are completely bankrupt.

There was a little over 36 million square feet of exhibition space in the United States in 1989. By 2011, that number had nearly doubled to 70.5 million. The problem is that in the midst of a decades-long convention-space explosion, demand has remained flat at best.

Group members acknowledge there are a lot of obstacles to overcome, including city building and zoning rules and possible resistance from neighbors.

"You have certain towns that have held back and others that have really pushed up further," Hansel said. "I would venture to say that we're probably looking at double-digit increases since the end of last year, but that has a lot to do with the interest rate environment with people that had been waiting on the sidelines while the market was depressed and realizing that things are starting to move."

  • And finally, I’d like to congratulate my partner here at Strong Towns, our Executive Director Jim Kumon, and his wife Faith on the birth of their baby boy. Victor Gerald was born on August 4 and the three of them are doing well. This is a really exciting step around here and I can’t wait to get to know this person who is emerging to share our world. It gives an added dimension of meaning to our work. While this commercial gets a little, well….commercial towards the end, as a dad I enjoyed it and hope all the others dads out there do as well. Being a dad totally rocks.

Enjoy your weekend. I’m on vacation next week – some last bit of family time before school starts and my travel schedule explodes – but we have some really amazing things planned so check back Monday.