Friday News Digest, Summer Kickoff Edition

First of all, Happy Birthday to my Strong Towns colleague Jon Commers. (You can send him a greeting on Facebook or Twitter - don't tell him I told you.) Jon will always be my elder, but we both share the pleasure of having end-of-May birthdays. Growing up this meant the end of school always included a great party. As an adult, it means Memorial Day weekend is a time of family and fun. I hope your weekend is as enjoyable as ours and that, amidst the fun, you can find some moments to honor those who have sacraficed so much for this country.

Enjoy the week's news:

  • Wow - this was cool. A thank you to Scott Doyon at Placemakers for mentioning us in some great company in his post about the future of planning. Placemakers has some great writing. If they are not on your blogroll, they should be.

That’s why I see such promise in the current breed of young urbanists: they’re carrying less baggage from the era of illusion. They’re good at working together. They excel at building communities of shared interest. And they’re used to stripped down, technology-enabled, DIY solutions.

In an era of seemingly new realities, they’re the ones who get it.

You can see it as the Next Generation of New Urbanistsspawns a new era of discourse and debate at CNU 19 with their Open Source Congressand AuthentiCity design competition. Or in the efforts of Strong Towns, where Charles Marohn and company deliver harsh economic medicine to any community willing to take it. You can even don your Che Guevara beret and embrace the screw-the-system splendor ofTactical Urbanism, an open source book from Mike Lydon, Dan Bartman, Ronald Woudstra and Aurash Khawarzad, or check out “Low-Cost & High-Value Ideas for Cities” on Facebook.

There’s no shortage of examples and yet it’s still just the tip of the iceberg.

  • I've had to laugh at the continuous flow of traffic we have received from a comment from this post on the site The post takes on self-proclaimed fiscal conservatives that also simultaneously promote big government spending on roads (Michele Bachmann, anyone) and other subsidies for the American pattern of development. Someone with the moniker Neglected_Center wrote this, and they are right on:

This is an issue that should be put to all the red state Tea Party nihilists who think the deficit is caused by welfare queens and immigrants. The way it is laid out at in the article below is the way it should be framed - essentially that regional sprawl is subsidized by state and federal largess (i.e. earmarks)  and that deficit hawks should be for making these areas pay their own way and get off the backs of the cities and blue states who provide more federal money than they get back (the opposite of most red states).

  • Strong Towns was also mentioned recently by The Transportationist, David Levinson, who supported our assertion that "roads" and "streets" are different and need to be treated so. The Old Urbanist also flattered us with his remarks on the same topic. Finally, our friend Della Rucker worked us into a very insightful piece she wrote about the folly of projecting the future and the need for a new approach. Well said, and thank you all.
  • I occasionally drop in on the virtual world created by one of our other friends, Nathaniel Hood of Nate's Job Search. I am not sure if Nathan has a job yet or not, but if you are in need of someone to do some planning-related work, you really need to solicit a resume from him. I really admire the fact that Nate has not sat idle but has honed his skills in the public realm by blogging about the city around him and also offering his insights on Twitter. From what I see, he has a good eye, mature planning instincts and he writes well too. This guy deserves a job - anyone out there hiring?

I think our system for promoting innovation, which is funded by a combination of government grants and private enterprise, struggles with large and adventurous projects, such as clean energy. The private sector is terrific at producing lots of experiments (just think of Silicon Valley) but not at funding expensive, long-term projects. Government grants can do that but are often rather risk-averse. One promising approach to get the best of both is innovation prizes. Another is to use a far more risk-loving system of grants.

  • Thank you to my NextGen friend Dan Bartman for helping me to like football again, if just a tiny amount. Who knew that diva Steve Smith would give us a legitimate lesson in the excesses of the American development pattern. 

On his house being on the market and what that means: "I think it's important that people realize I am not packing my bags. As far as why my house is for sale, we built this huge house and we just don't have any business living in it. It seemed like a great idea, and then we moved into this big house.

"We started cringing at all that space we had. For me, it was a little bit vain that I have this big house with this big yard. People saw my house was on sale and said it was me sending a message. Really the message I sent was to my kids: Dad made a mistake. This isn't how we are supposed to live. This isn't what I should be projecting. If we don't do this now, what incentive do I give my kids to reach for? You make a lot of money and then you go blow it? I don't want to be a statistic. I want to be a good steward."

  • More evidence that housing is not coming back and also suggestions that our efforts to prop it back up artificially is only stealing from future prosperity. A familiar theme.

Prices were propped up in 2009 and early 2010 by federal stimulus programs, such as tax credits worth up to $8,000 for first-time homebuyers, Humphries said. That program “was stealing demand from the future,” weakening shoppers’ appetites now even as housing affordability is at its three-decade high, [economist Stan Humphries] said. 

  • And it is interesting to note the psychology of people as things start to unwind. A few years back, mortgage fraud was rampant but little reported. Why? Because everyone was getting rich. Oh how times change...

At the height of the U.S. housing boom, in 2006, more than 37,000 fraud reports were recorded. In 2001, before the housing market heated up, there were 4,695 reports of suspected mortgage fraud.

Much of the suspected fraud being reported took place several years ago and is only now coming to light, according to Lexis-Nexis's Mortgage Assert Research Institute, a data service, which issued a report Monday highlighting the statistics.

The past suspected frauds are surfacing as financial institutions and mortgage lenders, still handling a high number of mortgages falling into default and foreclosure, take "a look back to see if people misstated or misreported their income," said William Grassano, an agency spokesman.

  • We've long held the delusion that "innovation" and "technology" will ultimately save us from the consequences of our bad decisions and that our future selves, sensing the stress, will figure a way out of this mess before things get too painful. There is no question we will innovate responses to our changing world, but I would not kid myself into thinking that this automatically means we'll be more prosperous (at least as prosperity is currently defined - largely as our level of consumption). Still, some innovations may increase our quality of life, removing blight and adding joy all at the same time. While I doubt whether this is a real and not a doctored photo, this billboard converted to a swing would accomplish both.

Click on picture for original article.

  • I recently came across this video of an intersection at rush hour in Holland. Fascinating and eye-opening at the same time. I hope we here in America will soon understand that the most successful places are those that borrow ideas from other places and improve on them, not places that insist on the superiority of their own approach without even a base level of knowledge of an alternative. 

  • And finally, this Memorial Day weekend is going to be one of family getting together, good food on the grill, bonfires and all the joy of a summer kickoff. Don't forget to take some time to honor those veterans throughout the ages that have been compelled to go to battle in service to our country. It is easy to overlook their sacrafice, but important that we remember the steep price that has been paid on our behalf.

 Be safe and enjoy your weekend. CNU 19 coverage starts next week.


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