Friday Link Roundup – February 6, 2015

New Climate Economy. Here is a data-drive dive into the economic waste caused by suburban sprawl. The monetary shortfall to maintain our infrastructure could be made up entirely by eliminating the waste caused by car-dependant cities. This analysis is conducted on a macro-scale, but it’s probably true for individual cities as well. We could see great cost savings by making our cities more dense and walkable. via Alex Steffen

Small Is Bountiful. This New Yorker article beutiflly discusses the way small business is making a comeback and contributing to the identity and economic stability of cities. via

6 charts that show renewable energy is getting cheaper. Absolutely critical to making our suburbs environmentally sustainable is to ensure electricity consumption comes from renewable sources. Thankfully, it’s becoming more cost-competitive to do so. With such spread out housing, suburbs actually have an easier time of deploying small-scale distributed solar systems than more urbanized areas. via @drgrist

Friday Link Roundup – January 30, 2015

My favorite planetary thinker, Alex Steffen, is hosting an online workshop starting on February 3rd, focusing on tackling the planetary crisis we currently face. He posted an explanation of the challenges, and opportunities, he sees for the future, and how we can better position ourselves to improve the world through these challenges. If you can do participate in his workshop it sounds like a great opportunity.

19 tweets that explain how we’re stifling electricity innovation. David Roberts summons a wonderful tweet storm highlighting the ways our electricity grid is deeply dysfunctional and how it’s stifling progress. Resilient and sustainable towns need to do more of their own power generations, but that really requires distributed power, local storage, and flexible microgrids. via @drgrist and @grist

Maison garage: old parking as tiny home in Bordeaux, France. Here’s a video of a small garage being turned into a home. Just imagine this happening throughout our suburban residential neighborhoods. Replacing car storage with livable space would dramatically increase the density of our suburbs. via Strong Towns

6 Major Design Trends Shaping City Life In 2015. While these trends won’t all be realized in 2015, this is a great vision of how urban living will evolve over the next generation. These are all trends that can be embraced by today’s suburbs to create a more sustainable future for our communities. via @jen_keesmaat

Friday Link Roundup – January 23, 2015

I’m still trying to figure out how to write these link roundups. This week, instead of just copying a key paragraph from the body of the linked article, I’m writing about why these articles are relevant. This is a bit more work, but also provides more context.

Unlikely Radical – Your right to park on your street. As suburban neighborhoods become more dense and walkable, the concern over parking will be paramount. Suburban residents cannot live without a car, literally. Nor can they imagine life without a car, even if there are other, more convenient options to get from one place to another. They will fight increased density with limited parking simply because they cannot imagine how it could possibly work out. Of course, for it to work, cities must ensure the neighborhoods are walkable and served by transit, otherwise everyone will continue to want a car despite the density. via @StrongTowns

Popular Science – Welcome to the Maker-Industrial Revolution. Local production of globally designed products is the future of manufacturing. This distributed manufacturing holds incredible potential for rebuilding industry within our suburban communities. via @urbanophile

CityLab – How Local Sales Taxes Target the Poor and Widen the Income Gap. Not only does an over-reliance on sales tax drive cities to make poor land use decisions that favor chain and big-box retail located in regional shopping centers, it also makes it more difficult for large portions of the community to grow their own, and their community’s, wealth. via @CityLab

NPR – Building Sponge City: Redesigning LA For Long-Term Drought. Redesigning for long-term drought will be a critical component of securing the sustainability of our cities in the Southwest. One concept introduced here unsuitability of steep-pitched roofs to arid climates. There’s a reason most native architecture from dry and warm climates around the world use flat or shallow pitched roofs. via @AlexSteffen

CityLab – How the Trucking Industry Could Be Vastly More Efficient. During the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles the city banned trucks from the freeways during the day. This greatly decreased the amount of traffic on the roads. Smarter truck routing that minimizes the number of vehicle miles for trucks would have a great direct benefit to the economy and economic sustainability of our road systems. Unfortunately it would also enable additional sprawl since people would be more comfortable driving further distances due to less traffic and shorter drive times. via @CityLab

Link Roundup – Friday, January 16, 2015

This week’s Link Roundup brings us a couple stories about the death of auto-dependant retail and the renewed life of walkable retail, a prediction on instability in the Middle East and its impacts on oil, transportation, and the continued decline of our suburban communities, one city’s attempts to save a half-developed neighborhood, and the places kids play.

  • Saudi Arabia Plunges into an Abyss.  John Robb, who has a sterling track record of predicting events in the Middle East, sees Saudi Arabia as ISIS’s next target. The impacts on the price of oil and the global economy would be dramatic if the current Saudi state is destabilized. This would rapidly drive up the cost of transportation, and likely speed the demand for urban, walkable communities and hasten the decline of our suburban neighborhoods.
  • The Child Inside. “A community not built around children is no community at all. A place that functions socially is one in which they are drawn to play outdoors. As Jay Griffiths argues in her magnificent, heartrending book Kith, children fill the ‘unoccupied territories’, the spaces not controlled by tidy-minded adults, ‘the commons of mud, moss, roots and grass’. But such places are being purged from the land and their lives. ‘Today’s children are enclosed in school and home, enclosed in cars to shuttle between them, enclosed by fear, by surveillance and poverty and enclosed in rigid schedules of time.’ Since the 1970s, the area in which children roam without adults has decreased by almost 90%. ‘Childhood is losing its commons’.”
  • Dallas shoppers turning to small retailers for unique holiday gifts. “Alternative shopping is more popular than ever, with Dallas shoppers looking for unique items, from the bohemian to the upscale. The Bishop Arts District has blossomed, and the Design District, Henderson Avenue, Deep Ellum and the Plaza at Preston Center are all largely populated with shops run by their owners.”
  • What to Do With a Dying Neighborhood. “There are very few stories where a half-finished development has been saved from ruin. The rescue of one such development, by the city in which it is located, is being heralded as a potential solution to some of the worst mistakes of the housing crisis.”
  • The Shopping Mall Death Spiral. “The shopping mall is the epitome of America’s Suburban Experiment. From a local government standpoint, it was the golden chalice of development, a winner-take-all prize in our race to the bottom. Whoever got the mall was able to steal from their neighbors that fraction of a sliver of retail taxes that local governments receive. When consolidated in one place, that could add up to a significant amount of money, at least for a while.”

Link Roundup – Friday, January 9th, 2015

Each week I will try to provide a set of links that relate to the topics I’m discussing here. Many of these will be coming from Twitter, so if you follow me there you’ll likely have already seen most of these.

Injustice at the Intersection illustrates a few of the ways the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) is hostile to pedestrians. The MUTCD is the primary guiding document on when and where to place stop signs and lights, turn lanes, and crosswalks.  The California MUTCD is available online.

The Real Reason U.S. Gas Is So Cheap Is Americans Don’t Pay the True Cost of Driving has an interesting statistic, an additional 20 to 70 cents in taxes per gallon of gas would be required for the gas tax to sustain road and bridge maintenance. Right now, the general taxpayer is making up that difference whether they drive or not, or more likely, roads and bridges are just going unrepaired.

America’s Suburban Experiment. “And now, as budgets everywhere are frayed, our leadership obsessively seeks – in true Ponzi scheme fashion – more and more growth using this same, experimental model. America’s cities don’t need more growth. What they desperately need is a different development pattern, one that restores the resiliency and financial productivity of the pre-automobile approach to a modern America.”

How the suburbs could go from rot to rad. “Because these suburbs are also the first generation of the kind of large-scale cookie-cutter development that has come to define American suburbia, they’re also a harbinger of the trouble that lies in wait for all of our suburbs. Economies of scale made the mega-burbs affordable to build and buy, but what happens when, an entire suburb of ’80s McMansions hits its expiration date at the same time? We’re going to find out.”

Wal-Mart: An economic cancer on our cities. “Even low-rise, mixed-use buildings of two or three stories—the kind you see on an old-style, small-town main street—bring in ten times the revenue per acre as that of an average big-box development. What’s stunning is that, thanks to the relationship between energy and distance, large-footprint sprawl development patterns can actually cost cities more to service than they give back in taxes. The result? Growth that produces deficits that simply cannot be overcome with new growth revenue.”

Seeking more than a few good transportation engineers. “Knowing the futility of finding better solutions [using traffic studies], Sadik-Khan was clever. When a big change was warranted, she proposed the idea as a temporary test. Traffic studies are notoriously unreliable—they often overestimate traffic substantially, contributing to the design of larger, faster streets and roads that discourage walking and induce more traffic. The system is guaranteed to confirm conventional practice. Traffic studies often delay projects for years and raise costs.

“A temporary test project, instead, generates real-world data in real time. When these tests worked, the city made the changes permanent. Then new changes were proposed.”