Yesterday I had an opportunity to visit Duluth, MN, for a speaking engagement with the League of Minnesota Cities. The entire event was delayed an hour -- and almost didn't happen -- due to the tremendous amounts of rainfall and flooding that occurred Tuesday into Wednesday. I have good friends and family in Duluth and am thankful that they are not injured and that their property and persons remain sufficiently above water. I didn't see much in terms of destruction during my visit, but the water levels all along the ride there were pretty unbelievable. I've not seen that amount of water since my National Guard unit was mobilized for flooding in the Fargo/Moorhead area about 15 years ago. So thankful we don't have reports of any serious injuries (zoo animals tragically not withstanding).

Stay dry and enjoy the news.

  • Walter Chambers of the Great Streets San Diego blog took Monday's post and put it to good use there in Southern California. I hope you all understand that the most flattering thing you can possibly do for me is take our work and apply it to your community. Thanks so much, Walt. Keep working to build a strong town out there in San Diego.

San Diego is facing the same issues – streets, sewers, and water infrastructure that is falling apart – yet what we here from City Hall (and the U-T) is that San Diego needs a new Chargers Stadium and new Convention Center, or it will fail to compete with rival cities. It’s already failing – but not because of an old stadium.

  • There are a lot of pictures out there of destruction caused by the flooding in the Duluth area. Minnesota Public Radio has some of the most captivating photos, including one of the suspension bridge at Jay Cooke park (photo #9). The one below was shared by one of my Facebook friends and was just mind blowing. A lot of this destruction was to basic infrastructure, particularly roads, bridges and retaining walls. I've not seen or heard any engineers interviewed, but the correct professional reaction to all of this is humility. I often think that engineers should be required to annually visit mountains, canyons, glaciers, oceans and other massive natural features just to give their professional endeavors some balance and humility. We are ultimately so small.

  • Of course, if you are a member of the Strong Towns Network, you probably had occasion to see this video explaining the 100-year rain event. Times like this remind me that the most important knowledge to posses is an understanding of the limits of your own knowledge.

  • Hopefully the planners and engineers in the Duluth area will do more to leverage whatever aid or assistance they receive than those in Mississippi have done with Katrina aid. How much of this aid has gone to actually help people and the communities they live in and how much has gone to feed the machine? I don't really know, but I suspect knowing would just be depressing. I'm going to be in Mississippi this October for a Curbside Chat -- maybe I can find some answers then.

The Harrison County water and wastewater plans were based on estimates that its population would grow as much as 76 percent by 2025. But the population actually dropped from 2000 to 2010, a period over which the wastewater plan expected to see 34 percent growth, according to the U.S. Census. Other studies have projected far less growth by 2025, including one estimate at 5 percent.

  • Congratulations to the Rochester region in upstate New York for initiating an economic gardening program. I'm hoping this program works out so well for them that they forsake the economic hunting model completely. That is, except for prospect hunting for the Minnesota Twins AAA affiliate Red Wings. 

“Obviously, we need to focus on our existing companies,” said Peterson. “While we do a lot of work to attract new businesses to the region, it’s equally important that we help the companies that are already here employing people grow.”

  • A friend sent this story about a bi-partisan vote to essentially divorce highway spending from gas tax revenue. He asked for my reaction and I told him it was one of the most depressing articles I had read in a long time. I'm not against more money for transportation, per se, and I'm also not against efforts to limit spending to the gas tax. What is depressing is that we continue to solidify an approach that fails to correlate our demand for transportation with our willingness to pay for transportation, an approach that is seen as pro-growth (in a 1950's mentality kind of way) but which, unfortunately, is literally bankrupting us. Oh America...

Faced with the choice between drastically reduced spending on infrastructure — a reduction of 30% or more if spending on transportation were to match revenues, according to some estimates (because of the fall-off in collections from the federal fuel taxes, which have historically paid for national spending on roads and transit) – or keep spending in line with demand, rather than the money available, the majority of elected officials across the political spectrum continue to select the latter.

  • Samuel Staley at Real Clear Markets makes the brilliant case against doing what the last article report is being done, divorcing demand for transportation from any type of market force that would reflect a willingness to pay. The article is spot on -- we've massively overbuilt our highway systems and now have to have a national conversation about how we back off from those commitments -- so he should drop words such as "likely" and "may have" which make his point seem less certain. It is okay to call the kettle black.

It is this reality of overbuilding that should sober ideas about infrastructure spending "paying for itself" or "filling a need," particularly in an advanced and mature economy such as the one within th United States. Certain parts of the Highway System certainly showed positive economic gains, but many other segments were unnecessary - or at least not necessary at the time the government built them. While spending federal dollars on road development is not the only arrow in the quiver of the pro-stimulus argument, a more sophisticated look at our experience with the Interstate Highway System at least suggests that Washington should be careful about simply dropping billions more dollars on the economy without considering the potential inefficiencies they create.

  • It is rather odd that the California Chapter of the APA would choose to oppose legislation to reduce parking minimums statewide. While I agree with the notion that -- in a broad sense -- the state does more harm than good when they intervene in establishing local land use standards, it is interesting to note how systematic these parking standards, despite really rational information to demonstrate the harm they do. Can the planning profession reform itself? It really needs to get aggressive about trying or legislatures across the country are going to continue to try and do it for them. I hope the people at Market Urbanism stay on top of this one.
  • Thank you to Danny Page for recording and then uploading the video of my speech at NextGen9. If you want to work on this project, we're already moving ahead, but you can jump in by emailing me at

  • For those of you that want more information on a land tax, here is a good pdf article that was sent to me this week.
  • Finally, while I usually don't appreciate baseball related "all time greatest" lists because they tend to have an East Coast bias (especially from ESPN), but I was intrigued with this one on the Top 25 Single-Game Performances in MLB post season history. I'm sure Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series was fantastic, but my #1 and #2 are just behind him on this list. 

And we'll see you tomorrow night (or how about Monday). Have a great weekend.


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