My time in Vegas last weekend was mostly spent sitting by the pool with a laptop getting caught up on writing, but I did get a chance to get out and see some of the city. It is an amazing testament to either our hubris or to how wealthy we once were that a place that has no functional reason for existing beyond indulgence (is that enough?) has been built on such a grand scale. I'm not predicting the implosion of Las Vegas in the immediate future, but you can see how the edges are starting to fray. As the lottery people say, gambling is simply a tax on people who are bad at math. Perhaps we'll never run out of those people, but there is a kind of eating-your-young feeling about testing the theory.

But I have to say, there is nothing more fun than watching the World Cup in the sports book at a casino. I watched USA-England and was amused by the nationalism from the patrons on both sides of the Atlantic. "Jolly good sport", as I was reminded.

Enjoy this week's news:

  • I poked around the City Center complex in Vegas a little bit. As I've learned more about architecture I've discovered that I am not a big fan of modernism (I've never been, but was not fluent enough in the vernacular to put a name on it), but the planning side of City Center has interested me. I came across this article upon my return and thought it was a good summary to pass one. Like Vegas itself, one part interesting, one part delusion. I find it impossible to respect a rating system that can give a building like this in a place like this numerous awards for being "green".
  • An article in a publication called Artvoice discusses the notion that we brought up here following CNU: that we have overbuilt commercial properties. For many local government officials, this is a very difficult reality to face.

Until recently, the conventional wisdom in the national real estate industry was that when America emerges from the recession, retail will come roaring back. Retail trade took a major hit in 2008 and 2009 when 10 million Americans lost their jobs, and more than a million lost their homes, and the theory of the rebound has been that retailers are going to benefit from the newly invigorated American consumerist feeding frenzy, just like in the olden days of, say, the middle of 2006.

But that consensus is creaky. Two market research specialists named Gruen, writing in the most recent volume of the Urban Land Institute’s cleverly titled journal Urban Land, wave the caution flag about retail stores. Mayors and other officials who are trying to revive downtowns in small cities, they warn, had better pay attention to some demographic shifts and behavioral changes in the post-recession world.

  • Jon Commers, one of the founders of Strong Towns, has a column in the Minneapolis Star Tribune YourVoices section. He's been prolific with a couple of great articles over the past two weeks. We had an apparent hundred-mile-mind-meld when we wrote essentially the same column about the presidential reaction to the BP oil spill. His is better. Jon also wrote a real out-of-the-box column about making better use of our public investments in bridges. Of course, the small minds commenting on the story missed the point. No surprise there. 
  • This article on life after peak oil made the front page of the New York Times. Even more surprising, it was really not condescending. While we don't subscribe to the more apocalyptic aspects of the peak oil movement, there are pragmatic aspects of self-sufficiency that we can't help but admire. 
  • I am sure a lot of planning "professionals" are sneering at the notion that a college student could create a viable plan to revitalize a significant chunk of a major city, but we love the idea. It is this kind of innovation - the ability to think outside the bureaucracy - that is going to drive the change we need.

He [Daniel Jacobson] lays out a route that would link two BART stations, the Oakland ferry, Amtrak and main AC Transit lines. He projects residential and commercial growth along the rail line, identifying 125 acres of underutilized land adjacent to the line. He provides job projections for the next 20 years. He also provides a road map for local, state and federal funding to pay for the $92 million price tag of the streetcar line.

  • The bureaucracy could use some innovation on my "favorite" little local project here in my hometown. Options range from brutally expensive to astronomically expensive. Underlying assumptions, however, are limited to just one: congestion is an evil that must be vanquished at any cost. Note that nobody ever asks why the amount of traffic doubles while the population stays stagnant.

The project is proposed to cover about a mile of College Drive, from Quince Street near Brainerd High School to Crow Wing County Road 48 west of Central Lakes College on the Brainerd-Baxter boundary. The purpose of the project is to improve safety and traffic flow, which by 2030 is expected to almost double to 28,700 vehicles daily.

  • Incidentally, I know the place where this tragic accident took place. The roads are nice and wide and "safe". It is really disgusting that we live in a society where an elderly man can't walk across the street next to his own house. Our sincere sympathies to this family.

Robert Slipka was crossing the street near his home when he was hit just after 8 a.m. at the intersection of Lake Road and Devonshire Drive, which does not have stoplights or a marked crosswalk.

He was taken to Regions Hospital in St. Paul, where he died from his injuries on Tuesday night.

  • I was going to lead with this article on the deflated housing market, but the topic is just getting old. We're really not learning much from this recession. This is not a national malaise as much as it is a national delusion.

"The economy is growing and the housing market is still in recession," said Eugenio Aleman, senior economist with Wells Fargo Securities. "It's not going to contribute to growth, but it is not going to pull the economy back down."

  • This topic too. We have this massively complex national economy, where everything is connected, interwoven and tightly wound, and we constantly tinker with it without any real understanding of what the total outcome will be. For example, we issue Build America Bonds to help local governments and then are shocked when it does not exactly work out that way.

As if all this were not enough, Wall Street banks — which have pocketed hundreds of millions of dollars in fees from the program — are now releasing research reports warning that states’ financial woes may make the bonds less attractive. Some banks are even telling investors how to bet against Build America Bonds.

  • One thing we can count on: Superweeds. If nothing else proves how collectively stupid we are, this has to. Then again, I'm sure if we simply do MORE of the same it will all work out. (For those who struggle with iSarcasm, note how the cause of the problem - the intensive use of pesticides - is also the proposed solution to the problem.)

The Wall Street Journal writes, "Hardy superweeds immune to the Farm Belt's most effective weedkiller are invading fields, prompting a counterattack from agribusiness that could leave farmers using greater amounts of harsh old-line herbicides."

  • I don't share a enough music here even though it is a passion of mine. I came across this video of the Roots doing a little warm up with Ice Cube on the Jimmy Fallon Show. I had it in the original news digest, then took it out - not exactly a tune I will share with the girls here at home (5 yo and 3 yo). Then my gansta apprentice Justin here goaded me into including it. The Roots actually cleaned up the words a lot from the original, so if you offend easily just don't look them up. Enjoy the sweet groove and your weekend.


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