Three straight weeks without a weekday evening off culminated this week in a day long open house in the City of Walker, Minnesota. It was a tremendous time with a lot of good ideas and conversation. I'm working on the news digest Friday evening this time because I spent the day dancing and singing with two little girls, an even more tremendous undertaking that was overdue.

As I sit here now, I realize that the news is a little strange this time around. Enjoy.

  • What Would Jesus Do? In 2009, he probably run for a seat on the city council, seek a change in the zoning ordinance that would allow him to "do unto others", be thwarted by zoning bureaucrats and then be marginalized by other city officials. Peace through effective coding.

“It’s just that the activity [providing food to the homeless during an outside service] is not permitted in a residential zone,” Ravenstein said. “We certainly appreciate churches and community organizations that help out the community in any way possible. There are just certain activities that are relegated to certain zoning districts.”

  • The Federal Highway Trust fund got another bailout, this one for $7 billion. The DOT had actually requested $20 billion, but the lower level was approved so a new blueprint for transportation could be considered before we went and spent serious money. The $7 billion will fund payments to states through the end of September which, of course, we know are being used wisely.
  • So if economic growth is slowed, unemployment goes up....less income tax paid, less sales tax paid, lower property tax receipts.....let's just spend more.
  • One of the obvious fallouts of the housing decline that local governments are just starting to realize is that, as housing values drop, so does property tax receipts. What property owners have long realized is that, no matter how much housing values drop, the actual amount of tax they pay is not going to.
  • Since we are so certain that this entire recession thing is just a short-term situation and that soon we'll return to normal (and by normal, we mean the debt-induced boom of the past 10-15 years), let's go ahead and borrow to make ends meet.
  • And if that seems crazy, you can just ask this guy, who most certainly has a reasoned and view of the entire situation.

"Pearson said that’s because he believes optimism will get the country out of the recession. And he believes a positive attitude will help get the area’s real estate market back on track."  

  • It is not surprising that exurban areas - that weirdly developed space between suburban and rural areas - are being hit hardest by the recession. Development there is largely driven by cheap land values, which makes them attractive to marginal developers and first-time homebuyers looking for their slice of the American dream. High energy costs and rising unemployment hits these areas hard, creating a downward spiral of foreclosure and property value loss. The article, from the Daily Yonder, gives good insight into this situation. 
  • This is a great article that highlights the various degrees of failure that arise from suburban development (the model copied by small towns since its inception post-WW II). It links in one spot to this article, which focuses on the financial failures of the infrastructure aspects of this growth pattern. Well worth reading. 
  • There is a part of me that thinks this is great. There is another part of me that is disgusted by it. The former would be the side of me that supports open and transparent government. The latter is the part that has been subjected to relentless and ignorant attacks over the years in my role as a public official. Sitting here tonight, I know the former has to win. That is the job, and - for better or worse - the people doing it need to accept it. (Note that I also believe that, on a local level, you ultimately get the government you deserve). 
  • The greatest ideas are the simplest. 

  • I've said before that my dream dinner would include conversation with a handful of people I admire, including the late Jane Jacobs. There are a couple of new books out on Jacobs. The first, Wrestling with Moses by Anthony Flint, details how Jacobs and New York's Robert Moses clashed over urban policy. From a review:

Moses lives in urban lore as the ruthless New York bureaucrat who forced highways through neighborhoods with no regard for real lives in the way. Jacobs is his antithesis, the Greenwich Village everywoman who enshrined the virtues of messy vitality in her still-potent "The Death and Life of Great American Cities." 

  • The second book, Genius of Common Sense, goes into Jacob's life story and delves into what inspired her and the influence she had. For some short perspective,

"Though Jacobs’s ideas were lobbed like grenades from outside her era’s planning and architecture establishment—she had no formal training in either—her defense of cities’ apparent disorder has become more widely accepted. Jacobs’s celebration of “mixed-use” neighborhoods where old buildings take on unexpected but important new functions has more adherents today, it’s safe to say, than Le Corbusier’s alienating towers-in-the-park planning approach does." 

  • Then there is this story that explains why Japanese pagodas don't fall down, even in earthquakes. Again, simplicity is amazing in its beauty.
  • And finally, while this has nothing whatsoever to do with planning small towns, it does have everything to do with how a planner of small towns spends his Friday. You go, girls.