I have waited for this day for a long time. Yes, it is Good Friday and, yes, I feel immensely humbled by that fact. But like a little kid sitting in church on Christmas Eve, if I am honest with myself there is a limit to my piety today. In a couple hours I am heading to Target Field for the very first Twins game ever to be played there. It is an exhibition game, but there is still new grass on the field. Glory on all fronts today.
I hope that you find time for reflection and feelings of peace this weekend, whatever tradition you may observe.
- The UK Guardian had a very interesting article this week about the design challenge brought about by hyper-urbanism, the continued growth of dense urban areas. And while the article has an international flavor to it, the truisms hold here in America where growth is shifting to urban areas.
For the first time in history, more people live in cities than in the countryside. By 2050, three quarters of us are expected to be urbanites. That's a lot of people heading for the bright lights. But here's the scary part: most of this growth is happening in places where millions of people already live in slums.
- The question for us is going to be whether or not we are going to be able to embrace this trend or whether we are going to fight it. Our entrenched commitment to subsidizing the "American Dream" of an estate in the countryside is quite powerful. This article in the Boston Globe ponders whether the time is right for America to become less anti-urban.
Over the past 60 years, cities have been hit by a painful policy trifecta: subsidization of highways, subsidization of homeownership, and a school system that creates strong incentives for many parents to leave city borders. Nathaniel Baum-Snow, an economist at Brown University, has documented that each new federally-funded “highway passing through a central city reduces its population by about 18 percent.’’
Subsidizing transportation decreases the advantage of living close together in cities, which should make every urbanite worry about the Senate’s fondness for using highway spending to fight recession. The current Senate jobs bill calls for a more than $30 billion increase for transportation over the next two years.
- A change in emphasis from new growth on the periphery to existing towns and neighborhoods is going to require a new emphasis on our public spaces. On the periphery, we compensate for the terrible built environment by buffering our personal space from it as much as possible. In an urban environment, we don't have that option. Fortunately, as shown in blog postings like this from the NY Times, there is still a lot of space available to work with.
- If you are having doubts about the impacts of government spending on how we orient our communities, consider Salina, Kansas where they are trying so hard to get their population up to 50,000 to qualify for "automatic" government funding that they are doing things like this:
To build enthusiasm for the census, the community just held the 2010 We Count Music Fest at Salina's convention hall. Seventeen bands from all over the area performed at the free event. The Wii theme included a Nintendo Wii tournament, with the winners taking home new game decks. The smaller kids flocked to inflatable slides.
Organizers say the music fest drew about a thousand people. They hope that if everyone is counted, Salina's population will officially top 50,000, which many consider to be a magic number. Salina area Chamber of Commerce president Dennis Lauver says it's all about economic development.
Ironically, I doubt they will use any of the newfound largess they will receive for passing 50,000 to throw another music fest or other community event. Better to just build roads. It's all about economic development, after all.
- Salina had better move quickly, however, because the engine of growth - the housing tax credit - is about to expire. It is bizarre to think that our economy may be so precariously balanced that the ending of this subsidy could send us sliding.
Arguments for extending the tax credit a second time are just beginning. Robert Shiller, a professor of economics at Yale and co-developer of the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shillerhousing price index, is an early advocate. He thinks the credit was a bad idea that nevertheless the market cannot do without.
“You don’t make drug addicts go cold turkey,” Mr. Shiller said. “The credit interferes with the market in an arbitrary way, but ending it now would be psychologically powerful. People will be in a bad mood about buying a house.”
- If you doubt our contention that Euclidean zoning codes are a bastion of backward thought, read this article in the NY Times about how we put the "family" in single-family.
- The NY Times also had a compelling article about the fiscal state of our states. You know we are desperate when we are trying some of these, amazingly short-sighted schemes:
New Hampshire was recently ordered by its State Supreme Court to put back $110 million that it took from a medical malpractice insurance pool to balance its budget. Colorado tried, so far unsuccessfully, to grab a $500 million surplus from Pinnacol Assurance, a state workers’ compensation insurer that was privatized in 2002. It wanted the money for its university system and seems likely to get a lesser amount, perhaps $200 million.
- Finally, let's make sure and Take it Outside, like Joe's mother tells us to. I plan to.