My wife and I went to see Dave Matthews Band this past Wednesday in St. Paul, which is a little more than a couple hours away from where we live. A late night when we are still trying to settle into a new schedule with kids in school, but worth the time. The only thing better this week was watching my Twins sweep the hated Chicago White Sox. I'll be at Target Field Saturday with my padawan to welcome them home. Send me a tweet and we can share a dog and a Dew.
Enjoy the week's news.
- Kaid Benfield this week featured Friend of STB.org Brendon Slotterback's work in a post on LEED development. LEED is sometimes criticized as being an urban-only approach, but Benfield and Slotterback have shown that small towns and rural areas are also LEED-ready, and that LEED does reward spatial considerations. The examples were from Minnesota, which made it extra enjoyable for me to read since I know many of these towns. Then at the end of the post, completely gratuitously, Kaid gave props to Strong Towns. Thanks Kaid - we appreciate it.
- Hypothetically, let's say that your hard-working cousin loans you a ton of money that you promptly use to add a relaxation-room addition to your house, take a vacation and buy a bunch of consumer electronics. Then let's pretend that you are also going to need to borrow even more money in the future from this hard-working cousin - whose kids, by the way, go without many necessities of life as they are quite poor. You need the loans for things like paying the mortgage, buying groceries and putting gas in your vehicle, as well as more vacations and electronics. Would starting a family feud with this cousin be something you would even consider? Unfortunately we are, but logically our "hard-working cousin" doesn't seem to want to roll over.
Ding Yifan, a policy guru at the Development Research Centre, said China could respond by selling holdings of US debt, estimated at over $1.5 trillion (£963bn). This would trigger a rise in US interest rates. His comments at a forum in Beijing follow a string of remarks by Chinese officials questioning US credit-worthiness and the reliability of the dollar.
- Chris Farrell of Minnesota Public Radio had a blog post this week about housing prospects. His conclusion is the same as ours: housing is going to struggle for some time. The Star Tribune reported that Twin Cities metro home sales were down 34%, but they also reported that prices seem to be stabilizing. With oversupply and only nominal demand, stable prices do not seem possible for long (unless our policies artificially prop up housing prices).
[Morris] Davis argues that two triggers behind the foreclosure epidemic. First, homes are worth less than the mortgage. They're underwater. To paraphrase the philosophers, that's a necessary but not sufficient condition. The second foreclsoure trigger is unemployment. Well, the past few years have the worst housing market and the worst labor market in 60 years. " Both foreclosure triggers are still in place," writes Davis.
- And just to prove that you can always find someone to agree with you no matter how insane your analysis, here is a blog post trying to make the case that we are getting ready for a boom in new retail store openings. This just shows again that the "space where real estate, retail and development meet" is actually a netherworld of fantasy, just like the retail sector of the economy.
- A really depressing picture of where our wealth has gone - building our homes. The McMansion, the Garage-Mahol and the Lawyer-Foyer are starting to look less like simple excess and more like the systematic character flaw of a delusional people.
- Mike Lydon told me about the Better Block Project and we had shared the links here earlier this year. Mike recently tweeted an update on the project, which is amazing in its scope and ingenuity. We need to find a way to replicate this process over and over and over again across the entire country.
- At Community Growth Institute, we deal with day-to-day permitting in a number of rural communities, and that inevitably means we run into issues with sewer systems. This article captured the process many local governments go through to convince people not to drink their own sewage. It is a tragically comic article, which by the end descends into the irrelevant and ridiculous punctuated by this quote.
“I’m not putting a new septic system in. Mine is fine. I take a dump at work,” said Phyllis Kaderlik.
- We are a non-partisan group here at Strong Towns, which is a sometimes difficult line to walk in this election season. While this Tom Friedman article had some political overtones (which are interesting, but which we'll avoid commenting on), this quote really resonated with me in a Strong Towns kind of way.
So much of today’s debate between the two parties, notes David Rothkopf, a Carnegie Endowment visiting scholar, “is about assigning blame rather than assuming responsibility. It’s a contest to see who can give away more at precisely the time they should be asking more of the American people.”
- No joke, this article about the Boy Scouts building a castle a few miles from my house was on the front page of my local newspaper. Unfortunately, I had just finished reading Kunstler's The Long Emergency and so all it did is reinforce the thoughts of pending apocalypse swirling in my head. When the lights go out we'll be one of the few places in the country with our own castle to accompany the new feudalism. Not sure if I'll be a prince or a serf - time will tell. Hopefully the "wacky science lab" in the basement will be built by then. Better than a dungeon.
- If the trend of banning back yard chickens continues, I may need to make this my cause. Having grown up on a farm, I never understood people who could sleep within a half mile of a busy highway yet be woken up by the crowing of a rooster. The ordinance that was denied would actually have banned roosters, banned breeding (a little gratuitous once you ban the rooster), limited homes to six hens and required permission from the neighbors. Listen to the quotes from these nanny-state public officials.
Council members said negatives like chicken coop noise and waste smells outweighed the benefits of homegrown eggs.
“My main concerns are property values,” said Councilman Bryan Belisle. He said chicken coops could clutter small lots and create a negative factor in neighborhood home sales.
Belisle said enforcing the rules needed to allow chickens would also be difficult for city regulators.
Most residents would follow the rules, said Belisle, “but some may not be so courteous.”
Councilwoman Renee Tessier also raised concerns about small yard sizes and neighborhood disruptions.
“We don’t have the sized lots to accommodate this,” she said.
- Finally, while this video series was a little cheesy in its narration, I did find the first one worth watching, if only for the quotes from Ben Bernanke. I am sure Mr. Bernanke is a much more intelligent man than I am, but after hearing his 2005 analysis on the economy one has to admit that either a) he doesn't know what he is talking about, b) he knows what he is talking about but is too afraid to tell us truthfully, or c) he thinks he knows what he is talking about but the system is so complex that he can't possibly know. I side with Nassim Taleb and pick "C".
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