Friday News Digest, NFC Championship Version

I apologize in advance to any STB reader from New Orleans for what I expect to happen to your home football team this weekend. Understand, I've been where you are at. In 1998 the Vikings were the best team in football and were hosting the NFC Championship game in the Metrodome. A trip to the Super Bowl was assured until, NO!, the only missed field goal of the year by Gary Anderson and the game slipped away. Your former kicker, Morton Anderson, broke our hearts with a successful field goal in OT sending Atlanta to the Big Game. 

I hope to meet some of you this spring at the American Planning Association conference, which is being hosted in New Orleans. I promise not to pronounce your city's name like a Minnesotan (New Ore Leens) but instead say it like a local (Nor-lens). The last time the conference was there I was introduced to blackened food (oh my - yummy) and playing craps (paid for my trip). You've been good to me, Norlens, but this is our year. I'm truly sorry it had to be you.

Enjoy this week's news.

"Defeating congestion is the wrong goal. All the high-value locations are both urban and congested—congested with not only traffic but with money, people, great food, art, and music." 

  • I have not quite decided if my representative, Chairman of the House Transportation Committee Democrat James Oberstar, is the greatest problem we face in building Strong Towns or the only man who can possibly solve the problem. This week it is the former.

"The congressman voiced criticism of both former President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama for being too concerned with how transportation projects would be paid for."

  • And while Representative Oberstar indicates that billions in road building has somehow reduced unemployment, there is a growing consensus that this is simply not true. Can we wean ourselves from road-building-mania yet?

"Unfortunately, the need for fast action meant the nation had to rely on existing “business-as-usual” delivery systems. As a result it thwarted any conversation about real reform and reinforced the approach of spreading money around instead of targeting investments. The administration’s one spatial directive of investing in so-called economically distressed areas only made a bad situation worse."

  • This was a great column from Thomas Friedman about knowledge flows and the nature of value in today's marketplace. China was the backdrop for the article, but the analysis of the Command and Control approach versus the Network Approach could be applied to many aspects of America's evolving economy as well.

"We are shifting from a world where the key source of strategic advantage was in protecting and extracting value from a given set of knowledge stocks — the sum total of what we know at any point in time, which is now depreciating at an accelerating pace — into a world in which the focus of value creation is effective participation in knowledgeflows, which are constantly being renewed."

  • We've been labeled "negative" here at times for suggesting that communities should be striving for stagnation in their housing markets because the only other alternative at the moment is decline. Say hello to fellow negative-thinker Edward Glaeser of the Harvard School of Economics.

"There is no reason to expect a big post-slump jump, and every reason to expect that prices and construction levels will continue to muddle along for quite some time. Don’t expect prices to return to their boom levels for years, if not decades."

  • Nationwide, while new home construction was down slightly, the Commerce Department is happy to report that permits for new construction were up by 11%. Great news, until you consider that the 11% is growth off of the lowest level of permitting since 1959. This is like having a dollar, losing ninety cents of it, gaining back a penny and calling the penny 10% growth. Of course that might just be me being negative....think happy thoughts....think happy thoughts....
  • As long as we are into happy thoughts, here is some peaceful optimism from James Howard Kunstler. The article is titled, "Six Months to Live."

"Why would anybody think that the housing market is going to keep levitating? A big fat "pig" of adjustable rate mortgages (i.e. mortgages that will never be "serviced") is about to move through the "python" of the housing scene, shoving millions more households into default and foreclosure. Meanwhile, local and regional banks are choking on real estate already in default that they are afraid to foreclose on and have been keeping off the market through 2009 in order to not send the price of houses down further and put even more households "under water" for houses worth much less than the face value of their mortgage. I doubt that the banks are doing this out of the goodness of their hearts, but whatever the motive, this racket of just sucking up bad loans can't go on forever. At some point, a banking system has to be based on credibility, on loans actually being paid back, or it will break, and we are close to the breaking point."

  • As long as we are tripping on good vibes, might as well add this "rant" from Andres Duany. Read it - it is brilliant analysis. In fact, the best of it (IMO) is in this video if you want to listen:

  • This almost makes me want to switch my beverage of choice from Mountain Dew to freshly ground, deep, slow-roasted coffee. My goodness, do we need to rid the world of ridiculous zoning codes or what?
  • And finally - go Vikes. Put your money where my mouth is.