This Friday finds me, along with Jim Kumon and Gracen Johnson, in Ponderay, Idaho. I just finished a radio show and am getting ready to dig into some plans and codes as part of an effort we have going on here. After spending a lot of time in big cities, it feels good to get back to my small town roots. Lots of struggles here, but lots of potential too. The job of a Strong Towns advocate is to see both with as clear a vision as one can have.

Enjoy the week’s news.

  • This week we launched our new website. Thanks for all the great feedback. For those of you wondering, we are working to get the strongtowns.org domain directed correctly. Right now, you need to type the www before the address. Annoying, I know. We have been reassured all the settings are right and it is just something that needs to resolve across the interwebs. Let’s all have patience.
  • One other important feature of the new site is a section we made for newcomers, information that will help them get up to speed quickly. We’re included some select blog posts there and some video. I posed a question in the discussion forum asking your opinion on whether or not we got the mix right. As readers of this blog, I’d love your feedback on what would help you share this message.
  • Our friend Matthias Leyrer had a nice summary of the National Gathering including some thoughts on what we did Sunday morning to develop a Strong Towns Strength Test. More to come on that soon, but in the meantime:
It’s a hard question to answer, but we came up with a few questions that you could ask to probe your city. Here’s some examples:

If the President came to visit, is there a part of your town you’d be embarrassed to show him? (Full disclosure, I came up with this one and I like it.)

If the the price of gas quadrupled, would your town survive?

Can a 5th grader understand your zoning ordinances?

If your main street was destroyed, could you rebuild it under current code?
We are Seeing Cracks in the U.S. State Sector and an Unprecedented Multi-Year Run of Credit Deterioration by Some Local Governments
  • To build on that Janey Capital Markets newsletter, there’s this: Washington politicians with close ties to the banking sector are pushing regulators to consider municipal debt equivalent to cash as a “safe” asset. Banks could then hold municipal debt – which is experiencing an “unprecedented multi-year run of credit deterioration” – as part of their capital requirements. Now, I’m sure that won’t include poorly-rated debt, yet I think we have to seriously question the soundness of most of it, even the highly rated stuff. Either way, I don’t get a warm and fuzzy feeling when the likes of Chuck Schumer are pressuring regulators to loosen bank capital requirements.
Municipal securities currently don’t count as a “high-quality liquid asset” under the rule, which means they won’t qualify under the new funding requirements. State and local officials have said the exclusion could prompt banks to retreat from the municipal debt markets, forcing governments to scale back spending on roads, schools and other infrastructure projects financed with municipal bonds.
From July to August, the “Core Consumer Price Index” did not move. That means zero inflation, if you use the measure of inflation the Federal Reserve uses when setting monetary policy. But core CPI omits volatile prices like food and energy. If you have a family, you’re probably pretty aware that food and utility bills are a big factor.

The result: The inflation measure that guides Fed decisionmaking has little resemblance to the inflation measure that guides family budgetmaking.
More than 40 percent of the respondents foresee lower pay and benefits for workers. Roughly half favor outsourcing work over hiring staffers. A growing share prefer part-time employees. Nearly half would rather invest in new technology than hire or retain workers.
  • In fact, in Los Angeles more and more people are finding that becoming a streets vendor is a more stable and secure way to make a living than the current incarnation of the American Dream, or as I’ve taken to calling it, Modern Mercantilism.
Street merchants also factor into the region’s growing economy of sole proprietors. Working alone has become a popular business model since the recession as companies cut jobs and boosted productivity and many workers were forced to stay in the labor pool past retirement age.

”A lot of the businesses we encounter are one-man or one-woman shops,” said David Berkus, a counselor with the greater Los Angeles chapter of nonprofit small business association SCORE. “They’re looking for ways to give themselves some job security.”
  • Take everything you’ve read so far and then watch this happy video of a small town finally making it with their build-it-and-they-will-come strategy. This is so frustrating. We actually believe that success is this easy: just build a road and you get a Chipolte. The traditional development pattern was idiot-proof while our current approach gives idiots millions of dollars to play with, every incentive to think big and no constructive feedback short of absolute failure.
  • And for those of you that are waiting with baited-breath for your Tesla or for Elon Musk to save America, pull the curtain back and see that it’s more of the same, only bigger. I thank Richard Florida for being so bold as to question the wisdom of this deal. These are not investments. An investment has a real, measurable rate of return. They are political deals given the veneer of credibility by calling them investments.
If we use the state’s own estimate of 22,000 total jobs, then Nevada is paying more than $56,800 per worker. Using the more reasonable figure of 9,750 jobs, the picture is even bleaker: Nevada is paying nearly than $132,000 per job. Looking just at the direct 6,500 jobs the plant says it will create, the number jumps to more than $192,000 per job. And it the plant ends up creating only half that amount, as some predict, the figure balloons to a staggering $385,000 per job.
  • If you want transit, build a place. It doesn’t work the other way around. The huge, regional systems we’ve set up to fund transportation and pick projects are not coming anywhere near optimizing our investments.
The council’s draft 2040 Metropolitan Transportation Policy Plan “is not an urbanist vision,” protests U of M transportation guru David Levinson in a new blog. “It is, unfortunately, not a bold vision. It is a fiscally constrained vision. It is a vision of an organization ... representing seven mostly suburban counties.”

That last point goes a long way to explaining why the council’s drawing boards are now full of rail and bus lines extending far beyond the limits of Minneapolis and St. Paul — a politically expedient counterbalance to the first two light rail lines that serve only the core cities, the airport and the Mall of America.
  • Thank you to Matt Hardin for the Tweet of the Week.
  • I have been a supporter of installing flags to help people cross the street. In fact, we’ve done them in Brainerd (to the consternation of a few public officials). That being said, where these types of tiny investments have worked is where they have been used by individuals and groups to point out to public officials that people outside of a car actually use the intersection and – just maybe – we should take that into account. To see a city, or even a DOT, doing this from the top-down seems crazy to me. If you know you have a problem, Fort Lauderdale, get out there and fix it. Don’t just give someone a flag and hope they make it.
After three years, the Seattle Department of Transportation dropped the program claiming that “people kept stealing the flags” and that they didn’t notice a marked impact from the program. After ending the program, they allowed residents and community organizations to create their own programs and provided a set of guidelines for users to follow.

Berkeley found similar results when it dropped the program in 2004, estimating that about 2 percent of pedestrians used the program and many did not use them properly.
  • A cyclist is arrested – ARRESTED – for biking in the right lane on a stroad and messing up the perfect plans of the traffic engineer. We can debate whether cycling there is smart (I wouldn’t do it) or a basic American right, but I am just happy that we are having this conversation. The comments here are fascinating as they capture the messy conversation we should be having everywhere in this country.
The shoulder is not part of the road and cyclists are not required to ride there. That’s not an opinion, it’s the law. Most shoulders are dangerous places full of glass and debris thrown by careless drivers. HAVING SAID THAT, as a cyclist I completely disavow and disassociate myself from what Cherokee Schill has been doing. Forgive the pun, but this is a two-way street: cyclists need to be considerate of motorists and motorists need to be considerate of cyclists. Riding down the middle of a major 55mph congested highway and going out of your way to be belligerent to motorists is a horrible example of a cyclist, and the majority of us are not like that. If it were me, I would first choose a different route. I do my best to be considerate of motorists whenever I’m on my bike, and I follow the laws. My only wish is that motorists would do the same. That includes understanding the laws (e.g. we are not required to ride shoulders and sidewalks) and, for God’s sake, STOP THROWING YOUR GLASS, TRASH, CIGARETTES and other crap into the bike lanes.
  • Drive through visitation, for those of you too busy to grieve or console. I must admit, when I was younger I hated funerals and selfishly wished we just didn’t do them as a society. Now that I’m older and have been through some, I’ve come to appreciate the need for those left behind to gather, to see friends and loved ones supporting them and to get – however fleeting in this day and age – a sense of community to help them through a tough time. My friends, it’s the least we can do for each other.
“The funeral industry is changing rapidly. So my intent was to bring something here that was accessible to the community,” Phillips said.

As cars pull up to the drive-thru, curtains move back after a sensor in the ground detects a vehicle’s weight. Sharise Phillips, manager of the funeral home, said the drive-thru offers protection from inclement weather and comfort for the disabled.

”We wanted to provide convenience and accessibility for our customers for the times and days they don’t want to get out of their vehicle,” she said.

Visitors at the event welcomed technology into the funeral business.

”I think it shows how far advanced people are, especially since we live in such an advanced society,” Sylvia Brantley said.
  • Cool TED video.
  • And finally, this is the kind of thing I just find amazing – an entirely new creature people happened upon in the deep. I love the whole world – it’s such a brilliant place. Boom-de-yah-da.

You can now pre-order my next book – a Kindle ebook titled A World Class Transportation System – which will be released on October 7. However, if you are a member of Strong Towns, we will send it to you for free (details to follow). In short, it is a great time to become a member. You must join by October 1 to get that deal, so don’t delay. And for those of you wondering what is going on with the backlog of stuff I’ve written, there is an update now on my personal site.