Friday News Digest (Saturday Version)

I apologize to readers who tuned in on Friday for the regular news update. The past two weeks have been crazy ones at Community Growth Institute, and I just spent the last three days doing comprehensive plan meetings in Maine Prairie Township, the City of Emily and now today (Saturday) in Blueberry Township - all in Central Minnesota. There were great events, but they cut into my blogging (and sleeping) significantly.

I am sitting here Saturday evening getting caught up on the news and was hoping to watch Frost/Nixon, but it apparently is not on pay-per-view tonight. Since the Twins already played (and lost to the Yankees), I'm watching reruns of The Practice. Still, feels good to be home.

Enjoy this week's news. 

  • Ironically though, the Pew Research Center is reporting that Americans still rate their cars as their top necessity (88%), more necessary than a clothes dryer (66%), air conditioning (54%) or TV (52%). That only 12% of Americans consider a car a luxury actually astonishes me....I would have guessed even less. 
  • Eden Prairie, Minnesota is not exactly small-town America, but I found this article about a fight there over the engineering profession's obsession with curb and guttered streets (an obsession shared by many planners). 
  • The City Journal presented a great article this week arguing that our obsession with promoting home ownership has repeatedly produced calamitous financial results. From the article:

"As Washington grapples with the current mortgage crisis, advocates from both parties are already warning the feds not to relax their commitment to expanding homeownership—even if that means reviving the very kinds of programs and institutions that got us into trouble. Not even the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression can cure us of our obsessive housing disorder." 

  • Which makes this article in the Star Tribune about continuing housing price decline interesting. In the article they indicate that we are reliant on new home-buyers to prevent further housing declines. Oh no. Since we are now actually requiring things like down-payments and a credit history, we've dramatically shrunk the ranks of eligible new home-buyers. That means one of two things. Either we accept further decline in housing values, or we subsidize new home-buyers (see prior news link from the City Journal). 
  • Unfortunately, the decline in housing values is not the only threatened real estate sector. Nowhere is this twin decline more evident than in Las Vegas. Despite the racy cover photo on this video, it does a good job of describing what has happened in one of the nation's formerly fastest-growing cities. 

  • One of the problems that small-towns everywhere face is the flight of their youth, but few communities can admit that this is a good thing and even fewer really understand what to do about it. This article talks about the problem, and hints at the predictable and wrong solution that everyone tries, which is to throw more money at the engineer.

"Kelly's state agency (Office of Rural Community Affairs) provides grants for communities to improve infrastructure — a way to become more attractive to prospective employers and new residents, she said."

If all small towns needed was sewer and water, they would be printing money today with all the infrastructure we have built. But when the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. 

  • And here is a term that I fear our small towns are all going to need to grow accustomed to: Regional Governance
  • The City of Bloomington is, I believe, the third biggest city in Minnesota and could really be part of the Tri-Cities (not the Twin Cities). That having been said, here is a smart idea that every city, big and small, should consider.  
  • Here is a simple idea that the people in a great Minnesota small town came up with, sans any local government. I love the people of Pequot Lakes. 
  • And for those of you that have been offended by my musings on a Government Bubble, or thought it a ridiculous notion, please take 4:21 to watch the following analysis from the Wall Street Journal on the possibility of California filing for bankruptcy.  

  • Or you could read this article and listen to the audio on Minnesota Public Radio on how the State of Minnesota hired over five thousand people since enacting a "hiring freeze".