Friday News Digest

A funny thing happened on my way to the city this week. I left home Wednesday headed to New York for a meeting with side plans to meet up with some of my favorite people, Ian Rasmussen and Mike Lydon. Drove to Minneapolis and flew to Chicago for a connection. We pulled away from the gate on time and all looked good until we stopped and waited. And waited. And waited. Shortly there was an announcement that snow in NYC was "delaying" our flight. Everybody off. Wait a couple hours to find my flight canceled. Rebooked for a later flight; same fate. Got a hotel and tried again the next morning to no avail, so I found myself flying back home, which felt very ridiculous, especially since we have NO SNOW here in the land of snow.

Come on, New York. First you start messing with hurricanes -- that's Florida's gig. Now you have early snow -- that's ours here in Minnesota. What's next, earthquake? Is this all some kind of meteorological tantrum because of the Yankee's poor playoff performance? (Seriously....ready to cry "uncle" yet? Be safe, New Yorkers.)

Enjoy the week's news:

  • One of the interesting people I've had an opportunity to meet and interact with through CNU is Kevin Klinkenberg (and his brother, too). Kevin writes on The New Urbanism Blog where he offers a steady stream of insight. This week I came across his TEDx talk and, as would be expected, full of insight and heartfelt, personal testimony on the impact of the housing crisis. Nice work, Kevin.

  • I love Canada, even more so now that Calgary's Mayor has let it be known that the city isn't going to tolerate builders proposing "crap". Offensive? Less offensive to me than the one life cycle disposable places we have been building for two generations. Way to go, Calgary! (Edmonton too, for that matter.)

Pressed afterwards, Nenshi wouldn’t explain what “crap” projects he was specifically referring to. But he did mention a planned big-box project at the far end of 17th Avenue S.E. that the Calgary Planning Commission approved this month over protests by the mayor and city planners.

Nenshi’s comment evoked a famed 2005 remark by Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel, about the provincial capital’s architecture: “Our tolerance for crap must be zero.”

  • Another place I love is Memphis. Can't wait to get back there. Thank you to Smart City Memphis for their two part series highlighting the work Strong Towns has done there. Part 1 and Part 2.

“Memphis suffers from the same central challenge on the periphery that most American cities have; sixty years of investment in a development pattern that is not financially viable.  Fortunately, while Memphis has experienced significant horizontal expansion, it did not grow as robustly as other cities.  This becomes a blessing today, because, now that we understand the bad economics of America’s suburban experiment, we see Memphis has proportionately less to fix than other similarly sized cities.  There is reason for optimism today.”

  • Gillian. The only name I think that is more beautiful is Kirsti. I did respond to this post in a convoluted way, which I'll share with you if she posts it.

Marohn had a funny way of looking at things, what makes money - over the long-term -  works.  Can the “value creation” public art brings to a place be quantified?  There are several studies I’ve heard of in the last year focused on gauging the economic impacts of cultural attractions (read the City of Providence report here).  Of course, Public art has the ability to create value, but how is it captured?  Could a public art project be analyzed using the Strong Towns approach?

  • Facebook is especially fun when like minded friends can bomb (with logic) a particularly narrow minded piece published in the mainstream media. Feel free to join in, friends.

No parking permitted on Alma and only limited spaces are available on East Meadow, a half-block away. When I buy five bags full of groceries, I don't want to carry or cart them a couple of blocks. Grocery shopping is not the highlight of my twice-weekly trips, simply a task. Just like eggs, I want it over easy.

  • Oh planners become more irrelevant to this world every day. I was asked last week in Topeka what to do with planners who cling rigidly to their 1950's zoning codes. My answer: wait for them to lose their jobs. It won't be long. When your community is failing financially and you are not adding net positive value to it, you are ultimately going to be asked to leave. (That was a gentle wakeup call for all you planners zoners lurking here. You are most welcome here at Strong Towns, by the way. We need you.)

City code requires ground covers to be planted in a way that gives off a finished appearance so neighborhood lawns are clean, and inviting -- keeping property values up.

Helvingston has decided not to listen to the city.  Instead, he's trying to petition the code to allow for veggie gardens in the front yard.

He's gathered more than 200 signatures, including one from his neighbor, Shelly Snow.

"(I'm) definitely not bothered by it.  As a matter of fact, we love it," she said.

Helvingston hopes the city will reconsider the code when he meets with a code board in December.

  • I had a chance to meet Aurash Khawarzad earlier this year and, as I suspected I would from our Facebook interactions, liked him a lot. Now he comes forth with his own low cost traffic counting device -- an absolutely brilliant hack. This is going to be on the top of my Christmas wish list.

Khawarzad says he and Ullrich began developing TrafficCOM on a recent trip to Moscow, where sustainable transportation advocates had invited them to help figure out where that traffic-choked city could put bike lanes. Khawarzad says he realized that they needed solid data on traffic conditions to begin making recommendations, and the project began evolving from there. They received key support, in the form of a small stipend and some feedback, after being invited to participate in the recent San Franscisco Urban Prototyping Festival.

Here’s how it works: You can buy a TrafficCOM device for $139 (traditional traffic-counting devices cost about a thousand bucks). That gets you a pre-assembled device that is ready to use out of the box. Follow instructions about where to set it up, and you can be counting traffic right away. When you’re done, connect to your computer with a USB cable and upload the data, which will be mapped on the TrafficCOM site.

  • And finally, wouldn't it be nice if it actually ended like this.


On a programming note: next week is going to be devoted to our annual fundraiser, Give to the Max. I'm really excited about all of the things we have to share with you about 2013 and beyond. Please hang with us all week and do what you can to help us share this message.