Last week I escaped with my family from our home in snowy, cold Minnesota to Texas. When we got off the plane and the guy at the rental car booth was in a parka with a double-wrapped scarf, stocking cap and choppers, it should have queued me in that I would not be dipping in the outdoor swimming pool. It actually took twelve inches of snow to convince me that Dallas is a destination best consumed in the spring or fall. The beautiful relatives we stayed with there warmed us greatly, but unfortunately, returning home last weekend was not much of a shock. I spent part of the week looking for a conference to attend in a warm climate. I've now joined the Florida Health Care Coalition and will be attending their annual conference in Orlando next week. It will likely snow.

Enjoy this week's news:

  • I need to start off by saying thank you to the Antiplanner Randal O'Toole for participating in our debate series last week. Coordinating with me on vacation was not easy, but he was very patient and generous with his time. I thought it was a good discussion and apparently he did to since we are going to be having a second round starting Monday. Check back then to get two different views on whether or not we should require states to do transportation planning as a condition of getting federal money for highways.
  • There was an article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune last month that I missed but is so fascinating I had to bring it back here to the News Digest. It is about a meeting where the Met Council (regional planning agency) informed some exurban counties that highway funding was drying up. (Oh really!) The quotes are so incredible in how they reveal the problem we face. It is simply shock, like Darth Vadar telling you he is your father. Can't be, although my gut says it probably is true. Read the article, but I'll give you one quote here:

"In general, the highway system we have today is essentially what we will have going forward," the Metropolitan Council's top transportation staffer, Arlene McCarthy, told a workshop at the University of Minnesota. "We need to wring every little bit of capacity from the infrastructure we have."

No one found the message more unsettling than officials from Scott and Carver counties, two places expecting major growth and counting on new highways to go with it.

Highways to go with it or to induce it? 

  • My best friend this week was frustrated with the country's economic policies and I advised him to read some Keynes so at least he understood the arguments behind deficit spending (not that he would agree). Then David Levinson, a (favorite) professor of mine from graduate school, tweeted this video that just explains it all. This one is for you, Mike.

  • We have a lot of work to do here at Strong Towns. It looks like even Pleasantville has bought the false reality that you can build your way into prosperity by spending on public infrastructure.

Residents might also need to reconsider their traditional resistance to new development in light of the pressing need to generate more revenue, [Mayor] Scherer said, citing the long-opposed idea of building a multilevel parking garage downtown. “We want to make sure the lack of parking doesn’t thwart business development,” he said. “We need the tax dollars.”

  • Those of you waiting for the housing market to turn around, it just may....and head south. Next month two of the many blocks artificially propping up the housing market go away - the first-time homebuyer tax credit and subsidies maintain low interest rates. Will reality hit and prices move to align with demand? 

"The headwinds that are working against the housing market will certainly intensify at the end of March," Anderson said.

  • I'm a Generation X'er and, like many of my ilk, I place much more faith in Generation Y than in the Baby Boomers. Watch what they do - they are not dumb or terminally near-sighted.
  • If you want to further understand the mess we are in, read this Op-Ed piece from Bob Herbert of the New York Times writing about Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. When talking just about bridges, he explains precisely how we have built ourselves into decline.

“When I took over as governor,” he [Rendell] said, “I was told that Pennsylvania led the nation in the number of structurally deficient or functionally obsolete bridges. We had more than 5,600 of them. So I put a ton of money into bridge repair. We more than tripled the amount in the capital budget, from $200 million a year to $700 million a year. And I got a special appropriation from the Legislature to do $200 million a year extra for the next four years.”

The result? “Well, the good news is that we repaired a lot of bridges,” said Mr. Rendell. “The bad news is that by the end of my sixth year, the end of 2008, the number of deficient or structurally obsolete bridges had gone from 5,600 to more than 6,000.

“The reason is that we lead the nation in bridges 75 years or older, and the recommended lifespan for a bridge is 40 years. So every time we fixed two, three would bump onto the list.” 

  • From time to time we recommend the writing of Howard Kunstler here on this blog. I really enjoy Kunstler. Even though we would probably not agree on many of the solutions, he has the problems nailed cold. This week I gave a presentation on community design for small towns based on our recent tour of Celebration, Florida. Then I saw this presentation from Kunstler - similar topic, way better delivery. A word of caution for those at work and not familiar with his style: keep the speaker volume low because the occasional F-bomb will fly. My favorite quote takes place at 4:48 (classic Kunstler).

We have about 38,000 places that are not worth caring about in the United States today. When we have enough of them, we're gonna have a nation that's not worth defending. And I want you to think about that when you think about those young men and women that are over there in places like Iraq spilling their blood in the sand and ask yourself what is their last thought of home. I hope it's not the curb cut between the Chuck E. Cheese and the Target store, because that's not good enough for Americans. 


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