This week I have been sequestered in my office, working until 3 AM on two nights, to finish off a report for a small town here in Minnesota. This is for my real job - the one I am paid to do with Community Growth Institute. I'm sharing this information here because a) it explains why there are 400+ emails in my "unread" folder (sorry everyone) b) it will explain why this News Digest is so short, and c) because I hope to share the report with you here once the city has had a chance to comment on it. We basically took a simple project to design a couple of cross sections showing a bike path and turned it into a redux on the economic and social change of small towns, as represented in this one community. In other words, I got a little carried away, but hopefully they appreciate it. My sharing it here is to hopeful get a tough, open source review from all of you. That would be a great help and we can teach each other something.
In the meantime, enjoy this week's news.
- Our posting on Complete Streets versus Complete Roads sparked some discussion, which is what we had hoped. Complete Streets is an awesome concept, one that can be made that much better by connecting it to a Complete Neighborhoods approach. Leda Marritz (Twitter) of the blog Deeproot.com understood the point we were making in a blog piece on the same subject.
I really liked Marohn’s analysis of what a complete street is and what a complete roads (I’d be curious to hear what the engineers out there think). The language we use in these discussions is so critical to the realization of our shared goals. The complete streets vs. complete roads division also resonated with me because it illustrates the challenges of coordination and communication between different project stakeholders. One project can mean vastly different things to the various people involved in its execution, and everyone is advocating along their own interests and priorities.
- And Stephen Stofka of the blog Crossing the Lines used our piece to discuss the European concept of the "naked street". I had heard of this before, but not in detail, and Sofka's description certainly makes it sound like something we need to start incorporating into our places.
Naked streets are primarily European, and emphasize narrow streets lined with pedestrian uses and amenities, no signage whatsoever, no barrier between pedestrian and motorist whatsoever, and very subtle (texture changes are popular) differentiation between vehicular and non-vehicular "zones" on the street. Since scale and detailing prioritizes the pedestrian, a naked street is in essence a pedestrian zone the motorist "borrows" for the duration of his trip. Since this is not the motorist's element, the perception of a lack of safety, on his part, is greater, and thus (ironically enough) the street is safer*. They are clearly rooted in traditional urban paradigms, and are thus of great interest to Old Urbanism, as a nascent movement of sorts. Unlike complete streets, narrow streets can fit in far narrower rights-of-way--even as narrow as the 12 ft.
- The Old Urbanist site also took our conversation in a unique direction, talking about pedestrian safety and pointing out how the revered Jane Jacobs did not think cars should be on parity with pedestrians (which is the thrust of Complete Streets) but that the public realm should be a pedestrian space. Some great insights.
This is why I think Jane Jacobs was on point in when, in terms of improving the city's streets and other public spaces, she referred to "an attrition of automobiles by cities" (Death and Life, p. 474) rather than today's "efforts to improve pedestrian safety." The difference may seem minor, but Jacobs' statement identifies the culprit not as insufficient accommodation for people on foot — which implicitly acknowledges the primacy, or at least inevitability, of the automobile — but the automobile itself, the culprit behind pedestrian deaths along suburban arterials and urban streets alike.
- I also got a kick out of the work of Bill Lindeke on the Twin Cities Sidewalks blog comparing the Old Economy Project that Refuses to Die (aka, St. Croix River Bridge) with the infamous Bridge to Nowhere. He called our article on the matter a "terrific screed" (thank you) and had some insightful comparisons of the two projects.
Amy Klobuchar last week provided one of the more nauseating moments in recent Minnesota politics when she came out in support of Michele Bachmann's sprawling bridge to nowhere proposal in exurban western Wisconsin. Klobuchar's support means that almost the entire Minnesota congressional delegation is on record in support of breaking environmental protection rules for an unnecessary 700+ Million Dollar sprawl-inducing freeway bridge through the Federally protected St. Croix river valley.
- And I continue to be blown away by the rich and beautiful ways in which Chuck Wolfe uses our work. In this article he compares the images of my hometown of Brainerd in its 1894 version with the organic and functional design of an African village. As usual, beautiful photos accompany the elegant prose.
- NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman had a column about social volatility in China. It is worth a read, but I'm going to go back to my arguments against consolidation (blog, podcast) and pull this nugget out of his piece.
The second trend we see in the Arab Spring is a manifestation of “Carlson’s Law,” posited by Curtis Carlson, the C.E.O. of SRI International, in Silicon Valley, which states that: “In a world where so many people now have access to education and cheap tools of innovation, innovation that happens from the bottom up tends to be chaotic but smart. Innovation that happens from the top down tends to be orderly but dumb.” As a result, says Carlson, the sweet spot for innovation today is “moving down,” closer to the people, not up, because all the people together are smarter than anyone alone and all the people now have the tools to invent and collaborate.
- A while back we had a piece that looked at the scary implications of higher interest rates. Well, is that inevitible time upon us? The Washington Times suggests it may be.
Though a significant rise in interest rates could be toxic for a softening U.S. economy, the Federal Reserve has said it will end its program of purchasing $600 billion in U.S. Treasury bonds as planned on June 30. The Fed is estimated to have bought about 85 percent of Treasury’s securities offerings in the past eight months.
That leaves the Treasury, which is slated to sell near-record amounts of new debt of about $1.4 trillion this year, without its main suitor and recent source of support, and forces it back into the vagaries of global markets. Among the countries that will have to step forward to prevent a debilitating rise in interest rates are China, Japan and Saudi Arabia — and even hostile nations such as Iran and Venezuela with petrodollars to invest, according to one analysis.
- And while you are contemplating the implications of higher interest rates, know that our nation's banks are using their too-big-to-fail implied backstopping of the Federal government to continue business as usual, making sure that they get theirs before the whole thing blows up. No joke.
None of America's largest banks raise money on the free market. Every single one of them is propped up by an implicit taxpayer guarantee that is very similar to the backstops provided to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
It is a huge subsidy by taxpayers to the banks, enabling them to be far more profitable than they would be otherise.
- If you are interested in some more CNU 19 coverage, check out our podcasts where we are now posting clips from the Congress. You should also swing by CNU 19's Liveblog where they have a summary of blog coverage, including a link to this site (thank you). And for the video watchers out there, you can check out the 1st and Main YouTube Channel where they have a number of videos put together during the conference.
- And for those of you who did not believe it possible, here is a video of Andres Duany actually delivering a Pecha Kucha style presentation - 20 slides, 20 seconds each - and he did it like a pro. Enjoy.
Enjoy your weekend.
Earlier this year we started collecting donations to cover the cost of producing a DVD version of the Curbside Chat. Our goal was to connect with 100 of our readers that would be willing to donate $25 each. We've taken quite a bite out of this so far -- we've signed up 37 -- but we still have a ways to go. If you value what you read here or what we produce in our podcast, please do what you can to help us spread this message.