This may be a brief edition of the News Digest, we'll see. My transition from regular to diet Mountain Dew has gone well, to the point where I've actually found myself having more energy on a day-to-day basis (at least more consistent energy). Of course, the lack of the sugar crash has simply enabled me to stay up and work later, something that doesn't go with the early rising of getting my daughter to her kindergarten orientation this week. At this point I need a night of sleep. Like I said, we'll see.
An exciting little development close to home....I may have found some new office space in Brainerd that fits both my tastes and budget. When I first opened up shop here with Community Growth Institute, I wanted to be in downtown Brainerd. Our office there was really a dive. I tried to make it work but the repeated flooding from normal rain events finally drove us out. We've been in our current location in Baxter since 2005. Real affordable, great owner and very convenient, but being lost in suburbia is a burden "mitigated" only slightly by the fact that our office is in the basement and has no windows. Kind of tough in the winter when you arrive and leave in the dark. It is not that I was looking but it was one of those opportunities that presented itself. I'm a little giddy because it is an historic building, really nicely done, has windows and is actually cheaper than our current (very affordable) arrangement. The stars apparently have aligned.
Enjoy the week's news.
- This has been an amazing week with the release of Thoughts on Building Strong Towns (Volume 1) and all of the great feedback. Thank you to those that have purchased a copy and a special thanks to those that have gotten one for someone else. I had a report of someone buying ten copies, one for each candidate for their local city council. Incredible. A thank you also for those of you that provided a review on Amazon. This comment by my friend Norman Wright gave me a case of the giggles.
Charles Marohn is the ten-foot tall great-nephew of Paul Bunyan who traded his ax for a pen and, with a single stroke, wrote this fine book that made every reader a better, smarter citizen.
- One other thing on the book -- and I'm going to add this because it will likely be fleeting -- long time readers have seen me disagree with Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman from time to time. In such instances I always point out how he has one more Nobel Prize than I do (I, of course, have none). Well, this week Thoughts on Building Strong Towns (Volume 1) quickly shot up to #1 or #2 in a number of Amazon categories, which, for the time being gives me a tiny bit of bragging rights.
- Our favorite super hero, Cap'n Transit, followed up on our piece about park roads with a good story about his western travels. Or more precisely: travails. There is very little transit out west and so his alter ego was far out of its element. Who is this masked man, Cap'n Transit? I actually know, but I won't ever tell. I'm hoping we get to meet in person when I am in New York twice over the next two months.
The big attraction on Mesa Verde is a bunch of 800-year old apartment buildings. The people who lived there - ancestors of today's Pueblo, Navajo and Hispanic peoples ("Hispanic" having a very specific meaning in this area) - didn't have cars, or even wheeled vehicles. They didn't put their dining halls twelve miles away from their residences and five miles away from the other interesting things. They had walkable urbanism.
- I also want to acknowledge Minnesota Green Cities for including Monday's piece on park roads on their Best Practices list. Let's make Strong Towns the default option for the next generation of American development.
- Christian Preus, a landscape architect in Ocean Springs, MI, has been working really hard to put on a design symposium to bring his community together around the concepts of good urbanism. He's done it before, but this year I'll be speaking at the event. If you are in the Gulf Coast area, this will be an intimate setting and registration is free.
- My nomination for best new blog of the year: Stroad to Boulevard. What is being done there to show the possible is nothing short of brilliant. Keep at it, please. People need to see that this stuff is all possible.
A stroad is a street-road hybrid that frustrates everybody who uses it. Roads connect clusters of destinations, streets are the spaces between those local destinations. Roads are fast, wide and straight; streets have intersections, crosswalks, parking, cyclists and sidewalks.
Stroads are commonly called Arterials in North America. They are an anachronism, surviving only by inertia from 1960s traffic engineering guidebooks.
The multi-way boulevard is the time-tested squaring of the stroad circle: a road with a tree-separated narrow one way street either side.
With great Rights of Way come great possibilities.
- Two other interesting web sites I was alerted to this week. The first is a group out of Finland called Brickstarter.org. Their ongoing blog contains information on different platforms that can be used in neighborhoods and communities to advocate for and initiate change. Definitely worth keeping an eye on.
We are sketching a system that would enable everyday people, using everyday technology and culture, to articulate and progress sustainable ideas about their community. The Brickstarter project explores the ideas behind these systems, and will provide the blueprints for a platform that can turn possibilities into proposals into projects. By creating its prototype, we aim to stimulate more productive debates about 21st century governance and local decision-making.
- The other is a site dedicated to improving Tyler, TX, called HackTyler.com. Their August 21 post was a real gem and pointed out something very important; dogmatic political beliefs really have no place in local government. I say that with both sides in mind, although this post focuses on the extreme conservative approach that would rather see a city crumble than pay even modest levels of taxation. While I tend to the more limited government side of the ledger, Hack Tyler is speaking truth in my eyes.
The notion that any city can progress without investment is ludicrous. It is not only socially unjust to the majority of residents who can’t manufacture their own luck, but it isn’t even sound by the principles of those who would argue government should be run like a business. After all, what business survives without capital investment? Would Brookshire’s, Trane and Suddenlink be the poster children of Tyler industry if they had never invested in equipment or facilities? Could they be expected to compete with only volunteer executives? (Tyler’s Mayor and City Council are volunteer positions.) No, of course not. Are low tax rates good for business? Undoubtedly. But so are good infrastructure, high-quality schools and a diverse community. These are the things that separate a successful city from one that simply survives.
- Our friend Kevin Klinkenberg at the New Urbanism Blog had a great post about the value of low speed rail. We are so fixated on the high speed version, evidently believing that low speed is antiquated, that we completely disregard what would be the easiest, most cost effective and transformative transportation improvement we could make in this country today: restore passenger rail service.
We like to think of rail as something that’s expensive – a luxury we cannot afford. Instead, we pour our money into less-efficient forms of transportation, with very dubious return on our investments. And, for all the talk about the failures of Amtrak, we overlook the fact that except for Southwest, airlines simply do not make money. It’s time to get beyond the either-or, and recognize what can very easily be accomplished today and tomorrow, not just five years from now. And, importantly, we need to recognize the importance of networks. As we’ve seen with bike lanes, the better the network, the greater the amount of users.
I’m with Robert [Orr] – 3 cheers for low-speed rail!
- Over at the Strong Towns Network, I reported on a private interaction I had with a local official from Pine Island over complaints they had on Nate Hood's most recent piece. A big part of the disagreement centered on their belief that new businesses will flock to a suburban business park they are building on the outskirts of town. I'm not sure what trends they are looking at, but it is certainly not what I'm reading.
Many analysts have said a desire to recruit younger, tech-savvy workers drives the job shift to downtown. Tony Smaniotto, senior managing director at Studley Inc., said cost control is another factor.
Downtown space is associated with higher rent and taxes. But Smaniotto said companies can realize savings by putting people in space that’s more efficient than a suburban campus, where grounds must be landscaped and atriums heated.
“When companies are under financial pressure, labor and real estate are two expenses to throttle down right away,” Smaniotto said. “The corporate real estate needs to be much more nimble and flexible.”
- Congratulations to our good friend George Linkert for all his efforts in Mound. His new site -- A Place in Mound -- is something I take some personal pride and satisfaction in see up and running. Keep going, George. You're making it happen.
- Speaking of George, on Facebook he recommended the hilarious tweet thread of N165, the first rock on Mars to come in contact with the instrumentation on the Curiosity rover. now when I say "hilarious", understand that physics was my favorite class in college (after philosophy) and I've seen every Star Trek movie multiple times.
- As long as this is degrading into the ridiculous, Kerry Hayes of Memphis -- about as cool a dude as there is -- recommended the KimKierkegaardashian twitter handle, a feed that blends the philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard with the tweets and observations of Kim Kardashian. Well done.
So many live, as it were, away from themselves and vanish like shadows: Check out the fab photos from my Beachside Bash.
It seems essential, in relationships and all tasks, that we concentrate only on what is most significant and important: Bringing sexy back.
- Finally, today is my oldest daughter's birthday. Chloe Grace Marohn turns eight and we're going to have a great day celebrating. Combine that with the very real notion that my youngest, Stella Faith, is starting kindergarten next week and I'm feeling a little overwhelmed with the pace of change here. My brother played the following Jimmy Fallon video for me a couple weeks ago and I immediately thought, "that is what my Fridays home with the girls is like." Here's to always having fun.
Take care, everyone, and have a great weekend.
If you would like more from Chuck Marohn, check out his new book, Thoughts on Building Strong Towns (Volume 1).
You can also chat with Chuck and many others about implementing a Strong Towns approach in your community by joining the Strong Towns Network. The Strong Towns Network is a social platform for those working to make their community a strong town.