I apologize to STB.org readers who logged on last Friday to read the news and were disappointed to get nothing but the prior day's post. What can I say - I'm mortal, and a true spring fever has struck me (the kind that lands you in bed, not the fun kind that has you playing outside after a long winter). With the snow gone here in Central Minnesota, I'm going to try to balance some catch-up sleep with some outdoor time this weekend. That and watch my Golden Gophers beat Xavier and win again Sunday to make it to the Sweet 16. Hope your weekend is equally sunny.
Enjoy this week's news:
- A shout out to the planning students at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. It is great to see you include some Strong Towns thinking in your education. Gives us hope for the profession of planning. If you ever need a guest lecturer, I'd love an excuse to see the campus.
- Speaking of the planning profession, this is not really news but I thought I would let everyone know that I was nominated by some of my peers for the 2010 Outstanding Small Town and Rural Planner award. It was quite nice to be thought of in that way and I thank everyone who had a part in that. However, I found out this week that, not only did I not win, but apparently I lost to "nobody". Seems that, after reviewing the nominations, the committee opted to not make an award this year. There is some subtle irony there that has given me a little chuckle all week.
- The renderings of designer Steve Price of the firm Urban Advantage were featured in a blog post. They depict the standard, lifeless landscape we have all become desensitized to and then, as you watch, it morphs into something different, something far more desirable and, most importantly, something real and quite possible. I am not able to figure out how to display a sample here, but you'll have to trust me that they are worth the trip to the story and to his website, where there are a number of examples.
- As long as we are thinking outside the box, there is a new book out by William Mitchell titled Reinventing the Automobile: Personal Urban Mobility for the 21st Century. It envisions traditional mobility systems as part of an intelligent network and a new type of car (custom made for actual urban life) as simply an intelligent networked device, sharing and gathering power and information over the network. As Mitchell points out in one article,
“....the architecture of the traditional automobile has been around for a hundred years now and responds to a set of conditions that made sense in the year of Henry Ford but doesn’t make sense anymore.”
- Until the world Mitchell envisions evolves we will be building the traditional transportation systems, which include the planning profession's latest fad: rail. Wired Magazine takes up a touchy subject that has been pointed out by Strong Towns, Randall O'Toole and others with two eyes and a brain: rail lines cause sprawl. At least the trendy (and expensive) way in which we are building them across the landscape today does. Planning-by-fad is the type of group-think mentality that threatens the credibility of the planning profession (if we have any left). Rail lines are incredible where they are paired with great urbanism (Strong Towns and neighborhoods). Rail lines to suburban park-and-rides are simply sprawl in a more-expensive package.
- The League of American Bicyclists got a boost this week when Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood announced a "sea change" in the way we build transportation systems, elevating pedestrian and bicycle mobility to an equal par with auto mobility. If this policy includes the way project dollars are focused, we could be in for some great changes that strengthen our towns and neighborhoods while getting our financial house in better order by slowing spending on wasteful projects with no ROI.
We are integrating the needs of bicyclists in federally-funded road projects. We are discouraging transportation investments that negatively affect cyclists and pedestrians. And we are encouraging investments that go beyond the minimum requirements and provide facilities for bicyclists and pedestrians of all ages and abilities.
- The Walt Disney Company, amongst many others, have studied the elements of urban design as a way to manage large crowds and reduce crime. This blog posting by Brian Delas Armas talks about this concept and had some provocative thoughts:
Depending on police to solve all crime problems is equivalent to depending on emergency room doctors to be primary care doctors --- it's expensive, it's not their job, creates a culture reliant on catastrophe to get any attention, and much better if we prevent the catastrophic stuff from happening in the first place.
- The NY Times ran an article about the cost of maintaining our water and wastewater infrastructure. I'll summarize: We built it. It is old and needs to be replaced. We have put that off, but can't much longer. It is going to cost a ton.
An E.P.A. study last year estimated that $335 billion would be needed simply to maintain the nation’s tap water systems in coming decades. In states like New York, officials estimate that $36 billion is needed in the next 20 years just for municipal wastewater systems.
These costs seem very low to me, actually, but either way we are going to be forced to prioritize these spending decisions. Do we focus on ROI and maximize our investments or do we continue the political patronage approach and do thousands of projects like this one?
- You might be a redneck if your town has this sign, which apparently means "Attention - Drunks".
- Finally, I am happy to say that I received my opening day tickets for Target Field in the mail this week. If you are looking for that perfect gift for your wife or female significant other, may I suggest Victoria Secret's new line of Minnesota Twins apparel. I'm hoping they become standard apparel around our household (but not holding my breath on that one).