Friday News Digest

I had the good fortune to see Alice in Wonderland in 3D on Thursday night. What a fun, delightful movie, especially with the added 3D imagery. Those of you that regularly read this blog know that I am a Disney junkie and so the film, a kind of sequel to the original cartoon, evoked some fun memories. I only wish my kids were old enough to see it, but my five year-old is still afraid of Swiper and so Burton's version of Wonderland would give her nightmares for a month. I'll take them to Toy Story, which comes out in June.

Enjoy this week's news. 

  • A special thanks to Kaid Benfield of the NRDC for the link love. I hope we get a chance to meet some day soon as we here enjoy your work as well.
  • Minnesota Public Radio provided some interesting analysis this week on why the housing market is not out of the trouble yet. From adjustable rate mortgages about to reset to banks finally being forced to come to grips with bad loans, it seems there is more downward pressure than upward.

Sources in MPR's Public Insight Network have told us the market's been in a foreclosure lull as lenders hold off on moving against borrowers in default because of the requirements the Obama administration has put on them to try to work things out with the homeowners. That won't last.

  • I understand how solutions to address the housing crisis are generally a nasty lose:lose proposition. We subsidized the market to get people into homes they could not afford. Now we have the problem of unwinding that system. Do we let prices aggressively correct (perhaps over-correct in the near-term) and drive millions into foreclosure and reduced mobility or do we continue to subsidize the current pattern of development to keep prices as stable as possible? Each approach is a disaster for real families, our national financial situation and the health of our communities. We don't have the magic answer, but I have a hard time believing that requiring banks to slash or eliminate payments for some people is the answer. We have a lot of the wrong type of housing in the wrong places - I think we avoid facing that reality at our peril.

Do the neighbors next door who lived beyond their means — the ones who, say, bought that house they could not afford, or who binged on home equity loans to buy new cars and flat-panel TVs — really deserve to be bailed out with taxpayer dollars? Do they deserve to have some of their debts forgiven? And is that fair to the cautious ones who paid their mortgages?

  • And speaking of perverse, at the same time we are requiring banks to skip payments and lower principles for underwater homes, we are also trying to induce them to lend more.

[Federal Reserve Chairman Ben] Bernanke said the Fed "will not be able to wait until things are completely back to normal" before it starts to boost rates. But the Fed wants to make sure that the economy is on a sustainable growth path and that jobs are being created, he said.

The Fed also wants to see more lending by banks before it starts tightening credit, Bernanke said.

  • And at the local level we are also doing our best to artificially induce more of the same. Here in Central Minnesota we have the City of St. Augusta reducing, eliminating and deferring development fees in order to get their mojo back. Message to the many, many cities trying this approach: The style of development you're using did not pay for itself before the recession, so giving it away now is more than absurd. As we wrote on Wednesday, it is a classic transaction of decline.

In an effort to spark housing development, the St. Augusta City Council decided this month to waive the city's portion of building permit fees and delay collection of water and sewer access fees until a new home is occupied or 90 days after the permit is taken out, whichever comes first. City Administrator Bill McCabe said council members hope the move will attract home-building projects.

  • We enjoy the work of Tom Friedman and would specially recommend a recent column titled A Tea Party without Nuts. The interesting thing about this particular article is that I have had seen it referenced by writers I know on the left and the right. For good reason.

When your political system punishes lawmakers for the doing the right things, it is broken. That is why we need political innovation that takes America’s disempowered radical center and enables it to act in proportion to its true size, unconstrained by the two parties, interest groups and orthodoxies that have tied our politics in knots.

  • That day that seemed so far off it would never come.....well, it's here. And just in time (not).
  • Like pretty much everything else in our built environment, digital signs and billboards are not the problem. The problem is where we choose to put them. What would Time Square be without digital billboards? I know this thought is abstract for some, but when we force Americans to drive so far each day for their basic needs, we inevitably create a built environment that is blighted, sterile and prime for mindless signage. We can try to fight that through regulation, or we can simply stop subsidizing bad growth policies and focus on building strong towns and neighborhoods - great urban spaces.
  • The first step towards building great urban places is understanding street design. A post from shows how setting a design speed of (gasp) 20 mph has dramatic safety benefits.

The safety effects of the 20 mph zones have been enormous for pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers alike. In London, serious traffic injuries and fatalities have fallen by 46 percent within the zones, according to the prestigious British Medical Journal. Deaths and serious injuries sustained by children have dropped 50 percent. There's even a small spillover effect, with areas immediately adjacent to 20 mph zones seeing an eight percent reduction in total injuries and deaths. The science is so clear that in 2004 theWorld Health Organization endorsed 20 mph speeds as an essential strategy to save lives.

  • And finally, in honor of my hometown Twins signing superstar catcher Joe Mauer to an eight-year contract, I present one of my favorite Twins Commercials. In it you will see how the Twins are trying to get their mascot, the beloved (at least by my girls) T.C. Bear, to move to outside habitat. Enjoy your weekend.