Next week I will be in Atlanta attending the Congress for the New Urbanism and so the lineup for this blog is going to change for the coming days. Like last year, I plan to do some live blogging and provide commentary on the congress. If you caught the end of our podcast yesterday, I also teased my presentation at NextGen indicating that I would add the slides/links and (hopefully) the audio by the end of next week. If you are in Atlanta, let me know. For the rest of you, please follow along and give me your feedback. I'd like to try and bring as much of the conference to you as I can, so check back often.
Enjoy the week's news.
- The Havard Business Review had an article that should be a must-read for city officials planning investments to get their community through the recession and beyond. The message: growth on the periphery is waning while there is a large population shift into urban areas. Businesses that want to prosper will recognize this shift and get in front of it.
To put it simply, the suburbs have lost their sheen: Both young workers and retiring Boomers are actively seeking to live in densely packed, mixed-use communities that don’t require cars—that is, cities or revitalized outskirts in which residences, shops, schools, parks, and other amenities exist close together. “In the 1950s, suburbs were the future,” says University of Michigan architecture and urban-planning professor Robert Fishman, commenting on the striking cultural shift. “The city was then seen as a dingy environment. But today it’s these urban neighborhoods that are exciting and diverse and exploding with growth.”
- Three of my favorite columnists wrote this week about the Greek debt crisis. George Will, James Kunstler and Thomas Friedman form a very broad spectrum of opinions, but they all shared similar insights on this issue. Business as usual of unsustainable levels of debt needs to end if we are going to have renewed prosperity.
Excerpt from Greece and GM: Too weak to fail by George Will
Under crony capitalism, when government and corporate America merge, both dissemble. Now American taxpayers also own a little bit of a small nation. They provide the U.S. contribution of 17 percent of the assets of the International Monetary Fund, which is giving Greece $39 billion (the IMF also is contributing $321 billion to a "stabilization" fund for other eurozone nations with debt problems). So the U.S. government, which would borrow 42 cents of every dollar it spends under the president's 2011 budget, is borrowing to rescue Greece and others from the consequences of their borrowing.
Excerpt from And Chicks for Free? by James Howard Kunstler
The question begging itself here, of course, is how Europe intends to come up with roughly a trillion in bail-out money. Sell Portugal to China? Cut Greece up into bait and catch whatever fish are left in the Mediterranean Sea? Frankly, I'm stumped. Talk about robbing Peter to pay Paul.... All the European nations are already so hopelessly enmeshed in chains of unfulfillable counter-party obligations that the bail-out might as well be a game of musical chairs played in the Large Hadron Particle Collider, set to the tunes of Karlheinz Stockhausen. The European bail-out is, in fact, an absurdity.
Excerpt from Greece's Newest Odyssey by Thomas Friedman
[Greek prime minister, George Papandreou] is just back from meeting fellow European Union leaders, who decided to try to stave off a Greek meltdown and an E.U. crackup with a show of overwhelming force — committing nearly $1 trillion to support the economy of any ailing member state. But over a lunch of Greek salad and grilled fish, Papandreou makes clear that he knows that the deal with the E.U. was not your garden-variety bailout-for-budget-cuts. No, if you really look closely at what it will take for Greece to mend its economy, this is actually a bailout-for-a-revolution. Greece’s entire economic and political system will have to change for Greeks to deliver their side of this bargain.
- Slate Magazine makes that the case that the US approach to terrorism is not nearly as effective as that of Jane Jacobs. While people may disagree that the Jacobs approach applies to terrorism, the principles as applied to towns and neighborhoods is stunningly effective (and affordable).
In her 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, self-taught urban scholar and activist Jane Jacobs observed that sidewalks and their users are "active participants in the drama of civilization versus barbarism" (by "barbarism," she meant crime) and that a continuously busy sidewalk is a safe sidewalk, because those who have business there—"the natural proprietors of the street"—provide "eyes upon the street."
- Tom Friedman had a great column on energy policy. Towards the end he outlined words he would like to see President Obama deliver in defense of a tax on carbon. It goes as follows:
“Yes, if we pass this energy legislation, a small price on carbon will likely show up on your gasoline or electricity bill. I’m not going to lie. But it is an investment that will pay off in so many ways. It will spur innovation in energy efficiency that will actually lower the total amount you pay for driving, heating or cooling. It will reduce carbon pollution in the air we breathe and make us healthier as a country. It will reduce the money we are sending to nations that crush democracy and promote intolerance. It will strengthen the dollar. It will make us more energy secure, environmentally secure and strategically secure. Sure, our opponents will scream ‘carbon tax!’ Well, what do you think you’re paying now to OPEC? The only difference between me and my opponents is that I want to keep any revenue we generate here to build American schools, American highways, American high-speed rail, American research labs and American economic strength. It’s just a little tick I have: I like to see our spending build our country. They don’t care. They are perfectly happy to see all the money you spend to fill your tank or heat your home go overseas, so we end up funding both sides in the war on terrorism — our military and their extremists.”
- While I first wondered if this article was about my yard (it is titled, Here Come the Superweeds), it is actually a brief summary of the penicillin effect as applied to weeds. Indiscriminate spraying of herbicides has created a class of "superweeds" that are resistant to herbicides. This is so obviously predictable to anyone that has studied the Theory of Evolution. The damage we humans have done to our ability to fight infections by the indiscriminate use of antibiotics is nothing compared to the systematic undermining of our capacity by agriculture. Amazingly, the "solution" here is likely to be more and stronger herbicides. Are we destined to fail?
"To fight them, Mr. Anderson and farmers throughout the East, Midwest and South are being forced to spray fields with more toxic herbicides, pull weeds by hand and return to more labor-intensive methods like regular plowing," the reporters write. “We’re back to where we were 20 years ago,” said Eddie Anderson a Tennessee farmer who will plow about one-third of his 3,000 acres of soybean fields this spring, more than he has in years. “We’re trying to find out what works.”
- Finally, to get ready for CNU in Atlanta I am sharing a video called Sprawlanta produced by an organization called AmericanMakeover.TV. It documents some of the decisions that have made Atlanta one of the most expensive and inefficient places built in America and how they are now changing that in incremental ways. It is great quality and very insightful. Enjoy.
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