As those of you that read Monday's post know, last Friday I was in New York City. I gave myself two hours to get to the airport and get checked through for my flight out, about double the time I thought it would take. Turns out it was not nearly enough. A couple 9/11 checkpoints later and I'm spending the night on a bench at JFK. I believe JFK was the first airport built in the United States, shortly after Orville and Wilbur Wright made their maiden voyage in fact. It is debatable as to whether it has been improved substantially since then. I actually stayed up until 4 AM reducing my email backlog, so if you wrote me before last week and are waiting for a response, better resend. I took care of them all before crashing beneath what turned out to be the loudspeaker for arriving flights, which started arriving at 6 AM. Gotta love New York.

Enjoy this week's news.

  • I'm really honored to be one of the speakers at Monday's TEDx1000Lakes in Grand Rapids, MN. It is a great lineup and I know it is going to be a great time. I finally get to meet in person my favorite Minnesota blogger, Aaron Brown (aka Minnesota Brown). I'll be sure and give him a big man hug. The event is reportedly going to be streaming online and, if that is the case and I get the address, I'll post it on Facebook and Twitter. Otherwise, I'm sure we'll have some video here sometime next week. My talk is called, "The important difference between a road and a street." The title alone may put them to sleep - I'll do my best.
  • I also wanted to start out this week's digest by thanking Susan Miracle of the blog Poultry and Prose for giving me a Versatile Blogger Award. The subtitle of her blog is, "Stories from a free-range writer on a five-acre idea farm". That is awesome. Ours is truly a group effort here, but on behalf of all of us, thank you very much.
  • Fellow NU NextGen'r Mike Lydon wrote a book review this week of For the love of cities by Peter Kageyama. As an engineer, I never thought I could embrace a concept like "loveability" but I must admit, it actually works out to be a pretty solid design standard. Best of all, lovable places don't get upset with you if you forget to take out the garbage or decide to feed the kids cotton candy before bed. Just sayin'.

"Livable is good—it's a fine aspiration that we have yet to achieve on any large scale. But I think we can do better. Instead of merely livable, I think we need to start thinking about how we make our cities more lovable. When we love something, we cherish it; we protect it; we do extraordinary things for it."

  • This story by NPR about Walmart has to be the funniest story of the week. Is Walmart a Magnet for American Mayhem? Great alliteration. They actually have some amazing statistics in the article that make the case that Walmart is no more bizarre than society in general, but still.... If you don't have time to read the article, here's my favorite line:

In many ways, Walmart today is more than a shopping experience or a primo spot for people watching. It is a pumped-up fun house on the carnival midway that is contemporary America.

  • And we forget -- or never even knew in my case -- that before Walmart there was The Great A&P. Thanks to Friend of STB Eli Damon for sending me that piece on the predecessor to the big box giant. Creative destruction gives me satisfaction that someday (perhaps soon) the pumped-up fun house on the carnival midway that is contemporary America will no longer be around.

"You limited the merchandise to high-turnover merchandise," Levinson says. "You kept limited hours; you didn't give credit; you didn't give delivery; you could run the store at very low cost and you could pass those low prices on to your customers."

  • I started reading Ryan Avent's Kindle Single "The Gated City" on my flight out of JFK, but was forced to stop out of fear from the flight crew that my HTC EVO may inadvertently signal the auto-pilot to try and land in the Hudson River. There was an essay from Avent and a short audio interview in the NY Times that is worth reading. Avent's basic argument: greater density equals greater job growth. We agree.

Economists studying cities routinely find that after controlling for other variables, workers in denser places earn higher wages and are more productive. Some studies suggest that doubling density raises productivity by around 6 percent while others peg the impact at up to 28 percent. Some economists have concluded that more than half the variation in output per worker across the United States can be explained by density alone; density explains more of the productivity gap across states than education levels or industry concentrations or tax policies.

  • Our friend Chris Wilson shares my "lament" that, had Congress not extended the transportation bill for six months as they did, highway construction would have soon come to an end in many places, such as his neighboring state of Kansas. The most interesting thing to consider in all of this is the fact that we're talking about an 18.3 cent Federal gas tax. It should scare the heck out of states to comprehend that, should the Federal government repeal that tax and turn things back to the states (not a far-fetched concept), it will take a LOT more than 18.3 cents to make the cars go. Now ask: where's that extra money coming from today? The answer: it's not.

Most of the new projects in the 2010 transportation program were designed to preserve the state's road system, Younger said. If the federal money dries up, Kansas would scale back expansion or new construction projects and focus dollars on preserving other roads and bridges.

  • And from legendary Tweeter George Osner comes this story of insanity from the Sacramento Bee, which reported on the city of Roseville, CA, and its plans to expand its boundaries by 4,700 acres, add 30,000 new homes and spend at least $150 million on public infrastructure to make it all happen. Are these people aware of the fact that Sacramento -- a mere 20 miles away (which, in California, is just four hours by car) -- has the 10th highest foreclosure rate in the country? As of July, one in every 239 homes in California was in foreclosure, the second highest rate in the country. I suspect some champagne is chilling in the back room at some engineering firm waiting for this delusion to come to least the build-the-infrastructure component. For the rest, you're on your own dudes.
  • St. Cloud, a major city here in Central Minnesota, just rejected a Complete Roads policy (they actually called it a "Complete Streets" policy, but they don't actually build any streets in St. Cloud). I love St. Cloud, but their car-obsession is not only extremely expensive, it has badly damaged what would otherwise be great neighborhoods. One comment from the article buttresses my critique that, while a tremendous and important idea at the policy level, at the implementation level Complete Streets is a con-game by engineers and politicians to get more money for building the same high-speed roads in neighborhoods where they don't belong. They will gladly suffer the sidewalks if it gets them more cash.

Mayor Dave Kleis also spoke in support of the policy. He said having the policy will help the city receive grants, federal and state money.

  • I love this article by Phillip Langdon at New Urban Network about turning parking spaces into little public parks and gathering spaces. It is so simple, the tradeoff so overwhelmingly positive and fleeting.

  • I've not had a chance to read a new book on extracting shale gas from rural Pennsylvania called The End of Country by Seamus McGraw (Seamus is one of my favorite names by the way), but there was an article on in the The Daily Yonder that got me to thinking more deeply on the issue. It's clear to me that we're going to pull this stuff up out of the ground -- regardless of what happens environmentally -- so long as the energy gained in extraction exceeds the energy spent. The exploitation of these poor, rural areas reminded me of the book Crude World, which painfully reported on one atrocity after another perpetrated in the name of oil resource exploitation. Pennsylvania is not going to turn into Equatorial Guinea anytime soon, but we should pause at some point, take note of our desperation and at least try to recall it someday when we are reviewing lessons learned.

One particularly worthwhile section of the book depicts a feud between two neighbors. One neighbor works the only real resource he has — his land — by quarrying different areas in rotation. He sees his work as a give-and-take relationship, where he must never take too much and must allow the land to heal. 

The other has a more romantic relationship with the land, believing it should not be touched and that his neighbor is doing irreparable harm. 

Yet they both stand up against Cabot Oil & Gas, breaking rules at their expense. And in the process, these neighbors, once at odds, learn what they have in common.

  • And finally, huge kudos to the city of Toronto and their engineers for figuring out a way to make the stormwater drain into a real work of civic art. I'm being very serious; we need more of this kind of thinking. It is multi-dimensional, adding value to something that, with the standard approach, would simply cost money and detract from the civic space. They are planning to recover the cost, sure, but I'll bet this returns even more, especially if they continue to build on this mentality. Now I really love Toronto.

While some people may criticize Waterfront Toronto’s choice, others believe the art is a worthwhile investment. Waterfront Toronto chair Mark Wilson sees it as a catalyst for the further development of the East Bayfront neighbourhood. “The park has already helped us attract private and public sector partners who are working with us to transform this former industrial area into a dynamic new community,” he says. The City plans to recover the cost for the art feature—$1.9 million—through development fees as part of Waterfront Toronto’s public art strategy. 

Hey Toronto....frost on the ground here yesterday. My two Samoyeds are happy pups. Hope you are too and that everyone out there has a wonderful weekend.


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