This week I was able to participate in an exclusive deal for an elite group of Minnesota Twins season ticket holders. I was one of the lucky few (or so I thought) allowed the first chance to buy a ticket for the opening home game of the season. I was thinking this was my one opportunity to sit behind the plate, but no. Even though I logged in seconds after the designated time to make my purchase, I wound up in the outfield bleachers. I'm not going to complain because it is March and, despite three inches of snow this week, I actually got to spend time thinking about baseball at Target Field. Can't wait to see that grass.
Enjoy the week's news.
- We had a great Curbside Chat in East Grand Forks last year and we love City Administrators like Scott Huizenga that are bold enough to blog. Seriously, it takes some courage and leadership to put yourself out there for constituents. Thanks for the reference, Scott, we're so happy to be part of your discussion. Supporting you and other public officials is a big part of why we are here.
What I love best about the guys at Strong Towns is their political diversity. One of the partners in the non-profit is a liberal Democrat; and the other is a card-carrying Republican. Strong Towns continues to show how sustainable development is not only environmentally conscious, but it also makes fiscal sense for the taxpayer.
- I also have to say thank you to Charles R. Wolfe, a Facebook friend and fellow blogger, who last week referred to our work here in the same sentence with Steve Mouzon (Original Green). I joked that it was lucky for me that my last name starts with the same letter and has the same cadence as Steve's (otherwise it may not have been selected for the sentence), but it is an honor to even be on the mind of someone like Wolfe. Thank you.
- Our friend Riordan Frost of Minnesota 2020 connected the young with the old in an article about the necessity of building complete streets. Citing an AARP report, Frost points out that the communities we have built are not designed to stand the test of time. Thanks Riordan for including our work in your analysis.
The AARP report focuses on engineers and planners, who are on the front lines of designing our streets. As the report points out, these planners and engineers usually learn their profession in a car-centric manner. This is what leads to wide roads where cars can safely drive at high speeds through neighborhoods. The AARP report recommends slower, more narrow streets with higher visibility for pedestrians and cars alike. Of course, if streets are going to be designed for all users, they need sidewalks as well, which many suburbs lack completely.
- Friend of STB Sid Burgess was apparently the impetus behind this article spreading Strong Towns thinking. A blast from our past - thanks Sid! We still need a good phone call. Also, Gordon Price of the Price Tags blog from beautiful Vancouver picked up some of our work this week. Nice blog - thanks for the love.
- A few weeks ago we wrote about school busing and how it provides a enormous subsidy for people who have chosen to live remotely, forcing many districts to transfer money from the classroom to transportation to meet their mandate to bus every kid. Now the state of South Dakota is actually voting to remove the busing mandate altogether, allowing schools to choose whether or not to provide transportation. Read the article comments if you want a great discussion on a complex issue.
- From way out in San Diego (oh, would I love to be in San Diego right now), a gentleman named Gil Miltenberger wrote an opinion piece on the value of narrow streets. I got connected to it through Google Alerts as he included a reference to our Confessions piece at the end of the article, but this is good stuff on its own. I love the fact that he says (I paraphrase) stick it to your stupid traffic calming measures and instead just stop building the streets for fast cars. He even uses simple math in his argument for those too ignorant to get it - just awesome! It looked like this was Gil's only venture in opinion writing at this paper. I hope he does not let the uninformed commentors dissuade him from continue to advocate for Strong Towns.
If you trip over the same rock every day and skin your knee, don't buy more Band-Aids ---- move the rock. The problem isn't the lack of a city traffic-calming program, it is the unwillingness of cities/counties to change their planning and traffic policies.
For instance, I live in an Oceanside neighborhood of 98 homes, and our curb-to-curb street width is 36 feet. Why 36 feet? I don't know; it sure seems like a lot of asphalt.
Well, 36 feet provides for parking on both sides of 8 feet each and two-way traffic lanes of 10 feet each (8+8+10+10 = 36).
But there's no need for so much parking. Our street is not a "collector/arterial," so why is it so wide? It can't be because of the number of cars per day (98 homes x 3 cars/day = 300 trips, probably less). A long section of our street is straight, and people drive way over the 25 mph speed limit.
- Last week we referred to an article by Mary Newsom at The Naked City blog. I got an email from a reader this week telling me to check out one of Newsom's latest posts on building a bypass to bypass an old bypass. Great post - really struck a nerve as I've seen this happen soooooo many times. What a colossal waste. On my drive to Minneapolis I get to drive past many new Wal-Marts built along bypasses and many old Wal-Marts boarded up along the old bypass corridor. This is the essence of the American economic development strategy and our Mechanisms of Growth. If you are not a reader of The Naked City, check it out.
The problem, of course, is that you can hardly go anywhere in North Carolina, or even in the country, and not find a state-taxpayer-built highway envisioned as a "bypass" that has become a traffic nightmare because the local government involved allowed extreme highway glop to be built along it. Even places as comparatively traffic free as Albemarle have clogged bypasses. Shelby wants a bypass of its bypass. They are all what former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory has referred to as "corridors of crap."
- Grist had an interview with James Kunstler this week that was great. I also used a couple of Kunstler quotes in our most recent podcast (Is growth the solution or the problem?). But as our long time readers know, my life will not be complete until I can count Jim amongst my Facebook friends. I've had the virtual hand of friendship extended for so long now, but he's left me just hanging there. Ouch. Read the Grist article - great stuff from a brilliant thinker.
The way we've come to do commerce in the USA the past 50 years -- big box chain-store retail -- is not a permanent fixture of the human condition, though for many it has been appended to the list of icons that make up our national identity: mother, apple pie, Walmart.
I maintain that any activity organized at the colossal scale will tend to fail in the face of the compound crises of energy, capital, and ecology (climate change). Giant governments, giant universities, giant retail operations -- all these things will wobble and fail in the years ahead as reality compels us to downscale and re-localize.
The big box chain stores rely on economic formulas that have no chance of surviving under the new stresses loose in the world -- procedures like Walmart's vaunted "warehouse on wheels," which relies on the incessant circulation of tractor-trailer trucks traveling vast distances on the interstate highway system (itself subject to failure in a capital-scarce economy).
- The Washington Post ran a "debate" (I use those words loosely) between columnist Ezra Klein and our Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, this week.. Apparently Vilsack took umbrage with a Klein assertion that rural areas are heavily subsidized. While I concur with Klein's point, I thought I could understand a counter argument. That is until I read it. I could not find a compelling or coherent argument, and there are many that could have be made. For example, explain this:
I grew up in a city. My parents would think there was something wrong with America if they knew I was secretary of agriculture. So I’ve seen both sides of this. And small-town folks in rural America don’t feel appreciated. They feel they do a great service for America.
- And finally, in preparation for spring and that feeling of hope eternal, here's a little something that made me smile.
If you listen to our podcast and would like to do us a favor, go to iTunes and give us a rating. If you listen to our podcast, have already given us a rating and would like to do us another favor, go to our donations page and become a supporter of the podcast. If you've done that, then sync up, put in your ear buds and tune into our latest podcast; Is growth the solution or the problem?