This week my oldest daughter started kindergarten - all day, every day - and I realized she is in the same building that not only I went to kindergarten at, but the same building that my father went to kindergarten. Most readers of this blog are likely thinking "neighborhood school", but think again. This was probably the original suburban campus school. It sits on a four-lane highway and, while there is a street light and a crosswalk, the crosswalk leads to literally nothing. It terminates in a drainage ditch. I've seen moms with small children trying to navigate the space between the side of the road and the ditch while cars zoom past. It is hard to think about what it was like when I used to ride my bike - and my dad certainly walked - and believe that we are better off today driving our kids and dropping them off in the drive thru queue like they were converse-cheeseburgers. (This little rant might signal a little bitterness on my part because this is my first Friday in six years without her home with us. We miss her a lot but are really proud that she loves school and "getting her learn on".)

Enjoy this week's news: 

  • Minnesota Public Radio has launched an important web/radio package called "Cities in Crisis" that will be of particular interest to our home state readers. The focus of the work is on the tenuous financial situation our cities find themselves in (in many ways reflecting the focus of our Curbside Chat discussions). We're very fortunate here in Minnesota that the quality of our public radio is one of the best - if not THE best - in the country. I'm thankful they are pouring resources into this important topic and am hopeful that they are going to have a lot of insight that will benefit towns and neighborhoods everywhere.

Across outstate Minnesota this fall, cities are asking themselves whether to turn off street lights, reduce police departments, delay street repairs, raise property taxes, levy fees on electricity bills and more. Political and economic winds are forcing communities to examine — in a way they haven't for decades — what services they consider most important and how much they should pay for them.

  • The rate on the 30-year U.S. Treasury note rose this week as a modest $13 billion bond sale faltered slightly. This likely signals one of two things, neither of which is real great for America. The first is that there are simply not enough governments, corporations and investors interested in buying our debt. The second is that there is nervousness about the U.S. Government being able to repay the debt - that is, to pay in real and not inflated dollars. Either way, this translates into higher rates (we need to offer a higher rate in order to attract the buyer) and it does not take someone gifted in mathematics to understand that paying a higher interest rate on our national debt is going to hurt our ailing budget. And it will hinder our ability to repay also, so you can see how this has the propensity to spiral very badly, very quickly, at some point (think Greece as a recent example). I'm not in the buy-your-ammo-and-build-your-bunker camp, but I can see it off in the distance from where I sit.

“There’s a lot of supply [of US debt notes], not just here, but globally,” said Thomas Tucci, head of U.S. government bond trading in New York at the primary dealer Royal Bank of Canada in New York, before the auction. “There’s concern about the global supply picture and if rates will attract enough buyers.”

  • For years I argued with my friends in the affordable housing racket that their efforts -- as well-intentioned as they may be -- were helping to inflate the property market, undermining the very efforts they were making. With housing prices going in the opposite direction now, there is a strong argument to be made that our efforts to artificially maintain inflated prices continues to damage the most vulnerable, largely to the benefit of the middle class (and their bankers and investors). An article in the New York Times this week provided some perspective on this.

As the economy again sputters and potential buyers flee — July housing sales sank 26 percent from July 2009 — there is a growing sense of exhaustion with government intervention. Some economists and analysts are now urging a dose of shock therapy that would greatly shift the benefits to future homeowners: Let the housing market crash.

When prices are lower, these experts argue, buyers will pour in, creating the elusive stability the government has spent billions upon billions trying to achieve.

“Housing needs to go back to reasonable levels,” said Anthony B. Sanders, a professor of real estate finance at George Mason University. “If we keep trying to stimulate the market, that’s the definition of insanity.”

The further the market descends, however, the more miserable one group — important both politically and economically — will be: the tens of millions of homeowners who have already seen their home values drop an average of 30 percent.

  • Here is a "shocker": Cash for Clunkers was a wash. Is it really so hard for economists to understand that, when you accelerate a buying decision forward using financial incentives and inducements, that level of demand is not going to exist later on, especially when the inducements go away? I'm all for creating jobs, but robbing tomorrow to pay for today seems like the strategy that got us here in the first place.

The government's "cash for clunkers" program boosted auto sales by 360,000 during the two months it was in place, according to a new study.

But in the seven months that followed, sales were down by 360,000 compared with what they would have been without the program, the study found.

The implication: The program didn't bring new buyers into the market. But it encouraged people who would have bought a car anyway to make their purchase a few months sooner.

  • I felt a great leap of joy in my heart when I read this article about the proposal being floated to remove an entire section of highway in New Orleans. That we are even discussing this seriously (thank you, Andres Duany) gives me hope that the insane, costly and destructive formulas for "growth" that we have used for two generations may be nearing an end.

[Jeffery] Schwartz emphasized to me the context in which the highway had been built. It replaced a wide boulevard lined with big, beautiful trees. The areas nearby “used to be some of the most affluent African-American communities in the country,” he said. Along Claiborne, “there used to be 160 businesses; now I don’t think there are thirty.” Keeping the road in place seems unlikely to help matters much, since the elevated highway literally cuts a scar through the neighborhood and fills the air with the smell of gas and the noise of automobiles.

Removing the highway and replacing it with a boulevard would increase travel times for those now using the highway by between three to six minutes, but little else would change for the average driver.

For the pedestrian, however, taking the highway out would mean a whole new way of thinking about the urban environment in New Orleans. Said Crim, “the basic structures of the neighborhoods are still around,” but connections are really lacking. Both he and Schwartz noted that Claiborne connects four major public housing projects, two sports franchises, two hospitals, and several historic neighborhoods. It has the potential to be the city’s most important main street, especially if the boulevard redevelopment incorporated some sort of transit investment as well.

  • The funny thing about this article on backyard chickens is that this city is almost the definition of a small-town, rural lifestyle. If you go back forty years I'll bet you that three out of four homes in this town had chickens, and that as part of an entire local-food economy that included gardens, poultry, modest numbers of ungulates (goats, sheep and maybe a cow). When did we import such craziness into our small towns?

Paul Krey did a lot of research before bringing 14 chickens to the backyard of his St. Joseph home. While his plan was to get a few hens as pets and eat their eggs, his interest in backyard chickens is part of a trend toward urban sustainability.

“I’ve started to go more green and saw it as a learning opportunity for my daughter,” Krey said. “It’s about knowing what’s going into your food.”

Krey has been raising chickens since April. But when one of his neighbors reported his small coop, he learned that backyard chickens were prohibited by city ordinance.

  • Finally, I posted this video on my own Facebook account telling people I laughed so hard I was almost sick. My peeps on FB have largely found it more disturbing than funny, which has made me thinking about my mind a little. Some people rubber neck at accidents, some gossip about their relations, some get into crime shows with grisly murders, etc... None of those are really for me, but being a political junkie, I do find the disastrous stump speech irresistible. By the Albert Einstein quote, I had to stop and take a break to catch my breath. You have been warned.


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