This is the last Friday of the summer. My two daughters go back to school on Tuesday, something that is now an annual tradition mixed with sad and happy emotions. Everyone is excited and there are all the old and new friends, so that generates a lot of happy. Dad is a little sad, though, as I have to once again give up our Fridays of hanging out and being together. We've got some plans to enjoy this last week of summer. Hope you do too.
Enjoy the week's news.
- Last week I was in Greensboro, NC, home of Kristen Jeffers. I met Kristen, who blogs at The Black Urbanist, when she was speaking at a CNU NextGen day and I instantly found her compelling. She is deep thinking, an eloquent writer and speaker and a very kind person to boot. I'm very excited about where she is going with this post, which was too kind in how it refers to our work. I'm equally inspired by you, Kristen.
While I truly don’t want the center city to yield to the gilded class, I don’t want us to give up on making good places because we don’t live or can’t afford to do so. I also don’t want those of us with massive privilege to forget that it doesn’t take much for anyone to fall on hard times and not all dealing with hard times are lazy and uncommitted.
- I did an interview a few weeks ago for a publication called EcoBuilding Pulse. It is a quick little piece that is good for sharing with the uninitiated.
“The city feels wealthy from the initial private investment, but if you go a couple of decades out, the tax revenue the city collects is only a very small fraction of what it costs to maintain that infrastructure. Auto-centric development makes us more financially fragile and weaker because you are actually becoming poorer over time--that’s the story of America’s cities post-World War II,” explains Marohn.
- I really like Randy Simes with UrbanCincy. He's a dude I just enjoy hanging out with, which I'm going to prove to you. He recently shared, among other things, the Streetsfilm clip on Strong Towns that was released. Check out the video at the 5:38 second mark. There's me smiling and laughing with none other than Randy Simes. By the way, he's a blogger and podcaster well worth following.
- My blog post on the A-Rod City was passed around quite a bit and earned me some fun feedback from hardcore Yankee fans. My favorite was from Christa Franzi with Camoin Associates. As a footnote, we bantered on Twitter and are friends, at least as much friends as a Yankees fan and a Twins fan can be.
I love the Yankees. And like any true Yankee fan, I love a good Yankee bashing. In his recent blog post, Charles Marohn definitely gets his Yankee bashing in -- he’s a Twins fan -- but he also makes some thought-provoking comparisons between the Yankee’s strategy of throwing money at top players to try to buy more wins and how some communities approach economic development. Too many communities are chasing the next Alex Rodriguez -- also known in my household as “A-Roid”. They’re pursuing the big, flashy, expensive, high-risk project that gets everyone excited but has a high potential for blowing up. Instead, communities should be working on growing from within and nurturing the smaller things that build towards resilient, sustainable economies (i.e. Posada and Cano). Baseball fan or not, this is a fun read that’ll get you thinking or at least a little fired up.
- The New York Times ran a beautiful and inspiring story about the city of Hamburg, NY, and their decision to forego the wide road approach when that option was presented to bisect their town. Instead they chose a street, their Main Street, a bold and hopeful approach. Sarah Goodyear, writing for the Atlantic Cities, honored us by connecting my Confessions of a Recovering Engineer piece with the story. We need so many more of these.
In fact, all of Hamburg’s Main Street was redesigned to slow vehicles, a technique known as traffic calming. Two lanes, instead of the three that had been planned, were built, and the lanes’ width was shrunk from 12 feet — highway-size ribbons that invite drivers to go fast — to 10 feet. That created more room for trees; on-street parking, which is good for businesses; and “safety lanes,” which provide room for drivers to open car doors safely and also serve as de facto bicycle lanes.
In the two years after the reconstruction, car accidents on the new road dropped by 66 percent and injuries by 60 percent. For Mr. Kuminski, the project’s big lesson was “bigger is not better.”
- Rona, the Canadian equivalent of Home Depot or Lowes, announced that it is going to close a dozen or so unprofitable stores. One that is being closed near Toronto is only three years old. Oops. The big box model is very fragile, far more than many people realize. Get ready for more of this.
Even by the standards of so-called “big box” stores, the Rona set for closure is enormous. A corporate press release sent out at the time of its grand opening three years ago proudly boasts of its 100,000 square feet of floor space. As strange as it can be to consider, this building — again, a mere three years old — may never find use again. What other company, or even business model, requires that much floor space in an era where shopping habits are increasingly shifting online?
- The fragile, and declining, nature of the big box retail model did not stop a Tampa-area county from giving subsidies to a serial-subsidy-demander Cabellas. The $6.25 million subsidy was approved 6-1. Note that, while there is an obvious immediate return on investment (there always is with the Growth Ponzi Scheme), the problem is always the long-term return on investment. No calculations there, as usual.
"I have a very clear conscience in supporting this project," said Commissioner Sandra Murman, who as recently as last week expressed concern about the cost. "This is about economic development at its best."
"In my 10 years on the County Commission, the county has not had an economic development opportunity that generates such an immediate return on investment," said Commission Chairman Ken Hagan, who has championed the project for the better part of two years.
- If you are a broke state DOT, heavily indebted with your cash flow going largely towards debt service -- not road maintenance -- what do you do? I've long contended that it is going to be local governments left to pick up the tab (or oversee the final stages of decline), and now we see the Texas DOT -- one of the most fiscally stretched -- proposing just that. It feels like this effort will be rejected, but that is likely a short term rejection. The long term math is unavoidable.
A proposal that could lead to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) handing over maintenance of close to 2,000 miles of state highways in major metropolitan areas of the state to local governments in those areas has set off a firestorm of commentary from local government officials. They are describing the plan as “a very crippling move,” a “trading off of state responsibility” and a “massive unfunded mandate.”
- What happens when you ask highway engineers to plan a transit system? You get a system designed for commuters -- low speed, transit STROADS -- and the 1950's mentality of growth instead of one that supports and strengthens productive places. Mike Hicks at Streets.MN shows how spending billions on transit has left the great city of Minneapolis -- Minnesota biggest and most important city -- with a pretty pathetic rail system.
- So even if your fire department somehow believes that they don't have a stake in whether or not the city remains financially solvent, you can still get over their objections to narrower, cheaper and more productive streets by resizing the equipment. A lot cheaper than resizing every street.
- It is hard to believe that a guy could lose his driver's license for driving too slow, although I'll say that late at night on a rural road you are more likely to get pulled over for driving 10 mph below the speed limit than 10 mph above (at least my experience). Still, people have driven drunk, driven high, killed people and run over pedestrians and not lost their license. Bizarre.
Constans said Monday that he has worked as a disc jockey at weddings and parties since he retired from the U.S. Postal Service, where he was a mail carrier. He often drives home late at night on weekends — which is when "I run into trouble," he said.
Constans told a lower court judge that his Ford Ranger pickup truck's "sweet spot" for gas mileage is 48 mph and that has helped him put 278,000 miles on it. And since he has only liability insurance on the aging vehicle, he wants to avoid hitting an errant animal should it cross his path.
- The national government in the UK is urging cities to get over their "anti car dogma" and build more parking. While this shows that "dogma" when it comes to the automobile is not simply an American phenomenon, it also reveals the competing incentives and values of the federal and local governments. More parking and an active strategy to get more people to drive into the city will goose GDP and unemployment numbers artificially in the short term (a federal priority) but will leave the city worse off financially in the long term (a local concern). Thank goodness it seems to be only easily-ignored rhetoric and not tax incentives and subsidies, which are more difficult to resist. Who can respect someone named Mr. Pickles anyway?
"Draconian Town Hall parking policies and street clutter can make driving into town centres unnecessarily stressful and actually create more congestion because of lack of places to park," Mr Pickles said."Anti-car measures are driving motorists into the arms of internet retailers and out of town superstores, taking their custom with them.
"Over-zealous parking wardens have inflicted real damage on local economies and given many towns and councils a bad name.
"Town Halls need to ditch their anti-car dogma. Making it easier to park will help support local shops, local jobs and tourism."
- Here in the US, however, we have perfectly aligned the federal and the local government priorities (very efficient that way, it is why we are vastly more successful at everything) with, of course, those federal needs of GDP and unemployment taking priority. We can see this very clearly in Detroit where there is no "anti parking dogma" but where abundant parking has created a flowering of prosperity an insolvent city with an inadequate tax base. Lots of parking with few places worth going to -- sounds like many downtowns I know.
- This article was sent to me by a blogger this week. I'm not sure if he thought it was great to have bloggers given so much credibility -- the title was Sales tax can fund transit expansions, bloggers say -- or if he thought this was a great way to fund transit. Be careful what you wish for. Sales tax can fund transit expansion. Sales tax can also fund war, corporate subsidies and highway expansions. Sales taxes create slush funds that are correlated with consumption of unrelated products and services, not correlated with demand for productive transit systems. If you want viable transit, you need to first support productive places, not funding shortcuts.
"Folks here in Metro Vancouver want more transit service and we need it to unlock some of the economic potential," said Pachal, who founded the South Fraser OnTrax blog.
"This will actually end up saving people in the long run. Once people south of Fraser have the choice, they might have to get rid of vehicles."
Pachal said if the "Leap Ahead" plan was approved, many projects like the SkyTrain to UBC and the light rail in Surrey could be built and operational within seven years.
- Change is most often felt earliest at the margins. A 66% percent property tax increase in one rural Utah county is such an indicator.
"I'm here to tell you that I believe that we need to raise taxes," said a resident at the meeting. "That's not going to restore the cut employees, that's not going to restore to the glory days."
Workers in nearly every department were affected and residents have seen delays in services. The county has even resorted to un-paving several roads because it just can't afford the upkeep of the pavement.
- I love this article and the beautiful things a creative mind can do with simple LED lights.
- And finally, this one's for you, Mike.
Enjoy your long weekend. If you are compelled to engage in labor, make it a labor of love. See you all back next week.
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