Friday News Digest

I'll start this blog entry by acknowledging that my bravado regarding the Vikings last week means extra humility this week. That was tough, especially since it was clear that the Vikings were the better team. Clear to me, anyway. The mistakes and turnovers were not indicative of our season, so it was especially tough to see it end in a volley of turnovers.

On the bright side, this weekend is Twinsfest at the Metrodome. We'll be there with the girls and lots of family to enjoy a Dome dog, see some Twins players and, in general, anticipate spring and the return of baseball. If you'll be there, send me a tweet and perhaps we can enjoy a Coke and a nacho and talk about Twins baseball.

Enjoy the news of the week.

  • This line of thinking by Nancy Levinson, the editor of Places, both gets me excited and depressed. She nails the symptoms of the current problem so elegantly and precisely (an inefficient land use pattern that destroys environments, causes obesity, has created a declining standard of living, etc...). But everything blows up when she identifies what she feels is the cause (Americans and their preferences) and the solution (more government spending redirected to other endeavors). From the article

Obama and his advisors have failed to grapple with the root causes of the crises, which is the American way of life, "our profligate consumption," the big house and the wide highway and the exurban spread. 

We are not going to solve any of these problems fighting the American dream. We can, however, start talking the universal language of finance and give all Americans the opportunity to pay the full cost of their dreams themselves. If we did that, we would see our dreams evolve to be more in touch with Levinson's hoped-for reality, albeit with a different motivation (financial, not Utopian).

  • If you doubt how Federal spending is drastically shaping our land use patterns in a ridiculous way, ponder some of the thoughts contained in this article in my hometown newspaper. Instead of planning for the future of the town, instead of taking stock of the strengths and weaknesses of the community and building a common vision for the future, instead of pondering the long-term financial situation of the city (which is not good), they are simply trying to find a way to get more crack from the dealer.

"...the committee's work was not a capital improvement plan but an attempt for the city to start positioning itself for future funding."

  • I would be interested to know if other states have the long history of the "muni" that we have here in Minnesota. I'm not a drinker, so I don't have not had any opportunity to check out the potential for a municipal liquor store in other parts of the country. At least one city thinks it is a business worth being in. Local government and booze - a natural combination if there ever was one.

The city got into the booze business back in 1947, as a way to help pay for municipal services and some special projects -- the same reasons the city has decided to remain in the liquor business now.

  • This week is was reported in the NY Times that union membership is now mostly public employees. I add this to the digest not because there are any specific land use ramifications, but because the Strong Towns vision requires reform and, along with businesses interest, there are a lot of government bureaucracy interest in maintaining the status quo as long as possible.

“At the same time the country is being squeezed, public-sector unions are a rising political force in the Democratic Party,” he said. “They depend on extra money for the public sector, and that puts the Democrats in a difficult position. In four big states — New York, New Jersey, Illinois and California — the public-sector unions have largely been untouched by the economic downturn. In those states, you have an impeding clash between the public-sector unions and the public at large.”

  • Home prices are up slightly in November. Home sales plunge in December. See a trend here? (Hint: There isn't one, primarily because the forces impacting home prices right now are largely artificial.)
  • This short piece from Christopher Leinberger of The New Republic on suburban and exurban housing decline explains the mechanisms alluded to in my previous bullet point. Consider:

As reported on the front page of the Washington Post earlier this week, the Federal Reserve, the Treasury, and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have spent well over $1 trillion over the past year in propping up the securitized mortgage market and assuming untold risk of further mortgage defaults in the future. This is more than the bailout of the banks, AIG, and the car companies combined.

The most salient line in the article is the final one (but please, read the entire thing - it is short and worth the time).

The worst outcome of all would be if the bailout of housing, and particularly sprawl, left us without the resources to invest, especially on infrastructure and transportation choices, in the future. 

  • Someone put a lot of time and money into this graphic, which details the "cost of congestion" and what large cities are doing to combat traffic snarls. Amongst the choice of remedies: Freeway ramp metering, Freeway incident management, Arterial signal street management, Arterial street access management and HOV lanes.

One obvious remedy that is apparently not being tried: Mixed-use zoning. 

And by the way, it is the only one that has any hope of actually solving the problem. Reduce the need to make trips because there is no way we can build - or engineer - our way out of congestion.

  • A look at the food list for the new Twins stadium. Noticeably absent: Sweet Martha's cookies. We may have to start a petition.
  • Finally, readers know my affinity for the planning principles employed in the "small towns" know as Disney theme parks and resorts. While it has been posted before, this analysis of the rural/urban transect found in Toon Town is fun reading. And if you want a song in your head for the weekend, consider "I Love the Whole World", which has been in my head since I heard it earlier this week. Boom De Ya Da.


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