TGIF. This has been a thoroughly miserable week, and while no terrible tragedy has befallen me or any of my loved ones, it has been just bad enough where it has become almost comical.

Last weekend gave me a massive, splitting headache that lasted into Monday. I actually fell sound asleep at my desk Monday afternoon, went home and went to bed. Fourteen hours of sleep later -- headache still in effect -- I find out that I had slept through a really important meeting with a community that I dearly love with a project I am passionate about (but behind on). I had thought the meeting was Tuesday evening. Credibility hit.

Wednesday went better, but that evening my seven year old daughter came to the bedroom door to say, "I think I'm going to be sick." Unfortunately for my wife and me, she was far too prescient as moments later she was sick all over the floor. This prompted another (unproductive) day home on Thursday with sick child. Remember that city whose meeting I missed on Tuesday? Well, I missed a lunch meeting with that city's mayor on Thursday. He called -- "where you at, dude" -- sitting alone at the restaurant when I was helping sick child. Additional credibility hit. Fortunately he later discovered my email and phone call and we will reschedule. (Slight credibility restoration.)

Then to top it off, I left the office today to head to another important meeting and discovered that I had locked my keys in the building. I had to call my friend and personal savior, Justin, to let me back in, but I was still 45 minutes late.

And while the entire time my email and phone message banks are filling to capacity, I have this sinking feeling that any minute I'm going to remember that absolutely critical thing that I was supposed to have done but overlooked. If you're waiting on something from me, a friendly reminder is called for at this point.

I would have actually taken the Friday off except for the fact that the very sweet Susan Traver last week wrote on our Facebook site that she lives for the Friday News Digest. How can I possibly fail to deliver with that type of anticipation?

Susan, enjoy the news.

  • Next week I am headed to Mason City, Iowa, for a Curbside Chat that was arranged by Marty Walsh, director of Main Street Mason City. If Mason City is just a fraction as cool as Marty is enthusiastic about it, this is going to be awesome. This week it looks like we've scheduled Chats in San Diego and Modesto, California, as well as in New Mexico, with final details to be worked out in each. It is really invigorating to see such passion for spreading the Strong Towns message.
  • Closer to home, a friend forwarded me this blog post on the Mn/APA's website. My response: "You've got to be kidding me?" I'm not a prophet, but for crying out loud.... The crazy thing is that I know they're reading our stuff over at city hall the moment it is published. I guess I'll take it as a positive sign that we're impacting them and, if nothing else, they are starting to ask some important questions. Hopefully they won't go to the same place for advice that they went last time.
  • In last week's Friday News Digest I mentioned Nate Hood's take on Cape Coral, Florida. I'm trying to get Nate to CNU20 in West Palm Beach and I had hoped to head over here with him for some on-site reporting, but it seemed a little to far for the value added. All the same, congratulations to Nate for having his find become Jim Kunstler's Eyesore of the Month for January. And if you want more Nate, you should read his latest piece on his decision to abstain from sports overconsumption. From JHK:

Get a load of where our heads are at in the USA as 2012 arrives on the scene. Family Fun Walk on a nine-laner, anyone? Welcome to the Enviro Nirvana of Cape Coral, Fla. Costs $42 million, by the way. As if you needed any more reason to think that the state of Florida is absolutely fu_ _ed. 

Happy New Year, everybody, and don't let those Mayan priests clutter up your weltanshauung!

Thanks and shout-out to Nathaniel Michael Hood for sending in this humdinger.

  • Instead of building $42 million auto highways that create no value, some cities in Sweden are building a $4.1 million bike "superhighway". It has four lanes, on and off ramps, no intersections, wind protection and periodic service stations. (Want to bet you can't buy a Big Gulp and Twinkie at that service station?) I had a city council member recently argue that adding sidewalks to streets was "social engineering". What would he call a society where 60% of the population bikes or takes public transport? Who knows, but as a fiscal conservative keenly aware of our fiscal and energy problems, I would call it "resilient". Probably some pretty good looking people, too.

The proposed bicycle superhighway would, in addition to four lanes (2 in each direction) have exits but no intersections, two types of wind protection (low bushes as well as solid fencing) periodic bicycle service stations, and would take eight years to complete.

Total cost of the superhighway is estimated to be about 50 million Swedish crowns (US$ 7.1 million).

We already know that building bicycle infrastructure is magnitudes cheaper than building new car roads, and better for our health and our air quality. So, what will the first U.S. cities be to build this type of interurban.

  • Good thing it doesn't get cold in Sweden -- we all know you can't actually bike in the cold. Like here in Minnesota. Brrrr..... No way. (This girl is just too cute -- I put this in for you, Justin. If she can do it, so can we, right?) 

  • Someone on this site linked to Strong Towns in the comments section and it prompted me to read the article, which prompted me to take a baseball bat to my chair and then to sob uncontrollably and, finally, to collect my thoughts and write a coherent word of advice. Putting a gas station in the middle of a traditional neighborhood is just another example of the financial backtracking I've been talking about so far this year. Here was my comment:

Just from the one photo I can see that this neighborhood has good bones. There is so much that could be done here. This article and the comments reveal more than a tinge of desperation. Good long-term decisions require long-term thinking.

It would be very sad to believe that the highest and best use of this property is a gas station. The amount of revenue created from a gas station will not come near to justifying the amount of public infrastructure in place here, and that is before you take into account how it would devalue the neighborhood.

It should also be noted that a “food desert” is not a naturally occurring phenomenon but a byproduct of an unproductive and warped land use approach. Doing further damage with a gas station is not going to be the long-term answer. Restoring the traditional development pattern that this neighborhood was built to prosper with is a more sophisticated and complex approach, but will ultimately be more successful.

I wish you all the best of fortune.

  • Crossover knowledge utterly fascinates me. I deeply admire people who can take gained wisdom from one arena and apply that knowledge to a completely new endeavor. This was the genius of Steve Jobs, for example, who who took design and mashed it up with technology. I came across an article recently by Victor Ginsburgh, a professor of Economics of Art and Culture (which sounds really cool, actually) who looks at studies of "experts" and their inability to predict success and failure or identify quality. Applying these insights to ratings agencies, he asks the simple question: why should we expect them to be any better?

In artistic skating, evaluation depends on the incentives and the monitoring faced by judges. Lee (2004) points out that they face an “outlier aversion bias” because they may be excluded from further competitions if they cannot explain why their rating is at odds with the mean of other judges. Therefore, they manipulate their ratings to achieve “a targeted level of agreement with the other judges,” which essentially implies that their judgement is based on previous achievements, and not on the one that is unfolding, since they have to cast their votes a couple of seconds after the performance of each skater.

  • And for those of you that believe that the American economy is stable, that we are out of the depths of recession and headed for recovery, that our banks are solvent, that we can overcome Europe's failings, that Middle East instability is a significant concern but not a mortal threat to us, that our debt levels don't matter all that much, and that we should just continue on with the Suburban Experiment confident with the knowledge that we are a great nation, you probably won't care that our top creditor and major producer of imported goods is not the stable, unified and homogonous country we like to think it is. Pass the freedom fries, dude.

sorry....the online magazine Foreign Policy will not let me excerpt a quote, but read the article anyways

  • And finally, some new Nassim Taleb that was just uploaded in 2012. I can't get enough. Hope you find value in it too.

Have a great weekend, everyone. Next week I'm going to try and wrap up the series on the two different blocks -- traditional and auto-oriented -- by talking about how to fix the situation now. See you Monday.


If you find this material interesting and would like to know more about how to apply this thinking to your community, join us at the Strong Towns Network, a social enterprise for those working to implement a Strong Towns approach.