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Showing posts from January, 2010

Where We Live

If you stop by here for the occasional urbanism-related commentaries, you're probably also reading Aaron Renn's The Urbanophile. It's a very good blog on some important topics, particularly to those of us in the Midwest. But there's something about the author's posts that have been getting under my skin for a while, and I think I finally know what it is. Despite being a very urban-centric blog, a theme that runs across many of the posts is a sympathy toward, even a defense of, suburban areas and populations. Check out these posts to get a taste of what I mean.

(from flickr user Dean Terry)

Renn has no qualms about believing"a great city needs great suburbs" and I'm not writing this post to debate the significance of suburbs to cities or metro areas. In discussing urban topics, it's tempting to believe that the places people live as a function of their preference for that kind of place. I think that's only a small piece of the puzzle, and a serio…

The Culture of Reading

I read a lot of books. I hate bad books. For every book that is on my Shelfari profile, there was probably about 1 book that I started, read 50 pages, and then quit, because it wasn't any good. I've heard that a personal library shouldn't consist of the books you've read - it should consist of the books you want to read. Sounds reasonable... if you're wealthy. I'm not. So for the moment, I have to rely on the public library as my personal library.

(from Flickr user Troy Holden)
For all the hype surrounding the iPad, I figured I'd throw in my own two cents. On this question, Daniel makes a few notable points:

Two features of the iPad have started to impress me. The first is the iBook Store. As someone who likes reading books and also tends to live in places with rather brutal winters, the ability to be up at around 1 a.m. and decide I want to buy a new book and start reading it immediately is very tempting. There’s also the utility of the iPad for higher educat…

Wrestling With Suburban Poverty

Elizabeth Kneebone's new Brookings report on the suburbanization of poverty is getting a lot of press in the blogosphere. Suburban poverty is an important, albeit extremely challenging, issue to decipher. Did middle class individuals in the suburbs become poorer over the past decade? Did poor people from the city move into the suburbs by their own will? Or was the a demographic swap where wealthy people pushed poorer people out of urban neighborhoods and into the suburbs? I think the answer literally depends on where you are. Each of these scenarios is plausible in one metro area or another, but not universally applicable as an explanation for the growth in suburban poverty.

But this isn't a post about the cause of suburban poverty. My question is how we, society, are going to deal with poverty as it, for lack of better words, sprawls out.

(from Flickr user Mark Strozier)

The suburbs in most, if not all, metro areas were built for a very specific purpose and to accommodate very …

Stop, Go, Whatever

Via Greater Greater Washington, this video of motorists making the "Idaho Stop" in Philadelphia is shocking to some, although I'm not sure why.

I've said it before but it's worth saying again: the perception of a "safe stop" is a relative, not an absolute, phenomenon. In other words, when a bike slows from 10 mph to 5 mph, the bike still maintains 50% of its momentum. When a car slows from 30 mph to 5 mph, it maintains only 17% of its momentum. It looks like the car has come much closer to making a full stop.

Let's call it the relative speed fallacy, because ultimately, it's the absolute speed at which a vehicle (car or bike) travels through an intersection that determines how dangerous that maneuver is. But hey, if cars were somehow restricted to traveling no greater than 10 or 15 mph in our cities, I see no reason they shouldn't be allowed to roll through stop signs either.

On Not Being Rich

Blast from the past... here's a 2008 article in the Washington Post about how rich people spend their time, featuring one of my favorite psychologists.
Nobel Prize-winning behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman has found, however, that being wealthy is often a powerful predictor that people spend less time doing pleasurable things, and more time doing compulsory things and feeling stressed... Rich people spent much more time commuting and engaging in activities that were required as opposed to optional. The richest people spent nearly twice as much time as the poorest people in leisure activities that were active, structured and often stressful -- shopping, child care and exercise.
I was in Whole Foods with a fellow broke college student recently, and he made a comment that went like, "the thing that bothers me the most about not being rich is that I can't walk in here and try all of the expensive cheese they have for sale."

(from flickr user Zengrrl)

Robert Frank's b…

Commuting Meets Technology

I'm finally out of the dark ages. I got an Android smartphone over the weekend and have since been in the process of exploring the Android apps market.  One thing I've immediately noticed is the really wide range of usefulness in the apps. For example, the WeatherBug app is fantastic. It automatically determines your location and gives you exact conditions for that location. On the other end of the spectrum, Google's Goggles app is supposed to be a type of 'visual search' where you snap of photo of something and Google searches for it. In each of my attempts to use it, the app hasn't returned any search results. I even took a photo of a bottle of Pepsi (figuring it as a common houseful item) and got nothing.

Somewhere in the middle is this app called Waze. Have a look at their 'guided tour':

Some people might look at it and comment on the amazing evolution of technology or on the incredible value of social networks. To me, Waze says something important ab…

If Citizens Could Give Parking Tickets

Here's a thought experiment: imagine you're walking down the street on your way to the bus stop or the library or to pick up lunch and you notice a series of cars parked at expired meters. If you, as an ordinary citizen, could give these drivers a parking ticket, would you do it?

(from Wikipedia)

I think the overwhelming response to this question would be no. In fact, it's been documented on several episodes of A&E's Parking Wars that random pedestrians (some of whom admit that they don't even own a car) are sometimes the most hostile toward the meter maids writing the tickets.

Now consider this: you're in your car on the way to the bank to make a quick deposit. There isn't anywhere to park near the bank, and there are a series of cars sitting right in front of the bank with expired meters flashing. On your way into the bank, would you give these cars a ticket?

I'd hypotehsize that people would be more likely to give a parking ticket in the second s…

Nobody Walks There

This is the sidewalk outside of a big-box center about a mile from where I go to school, captured yesterday afternoon.

There are a few things to note. First, it hasn't snowed here in quite a while - at least a week, possibly longer (I can't really remember). Second, this isn't a sidewalk next to a road of secondary importance, this is the sidewalk next to perhaps this suburb's most important arterial road.

Now, the suburb in question doesn't plow this sidewalk because, they would argue, it's not worth the cost of plowing since nobody walks there. But that begs a bigger question, why doesn't anyone walk there?

It's true. Even on the sunniest summer day of the year, the ratio of pedestrians walking that sidewalk to cars driving past could easily round to zero. The big-box center was designed under the assumption that everyone would drive to it. The Target store doesn't even have a door facing the street. If you want to shop at Target, you have to walk…

Amtrak County

I picked up Waiting on a Train by James McCommons earlier this month from the public library. Judging from the cover (something I should have learned in elementary school not to do) I wasn't expecting much. There was a little blurb from John Grogan, author of the popular autobiographical book turned movie, Marley and Me. And before I got to the meat of the book there was a forward by Jim Kunstler, a guy who, although I agree with most of what he has to say, really pisses me off.

I'm one of the 97% of Americans who has never been on an Amtrak train. It's not that I've never thought about it... it's just that every time I looked into it, compared to flying, Amtrak was either more expensive, less convenient, or both.

I'm not a train nut like many of the folks that McCommons encounters during his travels. Consequently, it turns out that there is a lot about the passenger rail system in this country that I was completely unaware of. McCommons's book is a surprisi…

Tech Innovation or Completely Unnecessary?

I caught this clip about the new Tabbed Out iPhone app on Headline News yesterday (and the story again as a preview for the late local news).

Part of me wants to think that this is a very cool innovation in the world of bar payments; another part of me thinks it's a solution where there isn't a problem.

The key is that Tabbed Out is really only a useful tool at bars where a significant number of the customers have smartphones and are willing to use them for this purpose. I don't know if that critical mass exists or if it ever will. Maybe it does in a few bars in cities like Austin and San Francisco; but I think this one, for as cool as it is, might be a pretty tough sell.

Why Did Geauga Lake Fail?

Last month, Cedar Fair, owner of the now-defunct Geauga Lake amusement park in Aurora, Ohio, announced its intent to sell itself to Apollo Management. The news comes a little more than two years after the company unexpectedly announced the closing of Geauga Lake, and it's re-raising questions about exactly what happened at the former hundred-plus year-old historic amusement park.

(from Wikipedia)

There are a few speculative theories about why Geauga Lake failed. I don't find any of them particularly compelling on their own; but it's necessary to know them.
Theory One: Cedar Fair purposely closed Geauga Lake to eliminate competition at its flagship Cedar Point property.Theory Two: Despite the company's best effort, Cedar Fair couldn't repair the damage done during the Six Flags years. Additionally, a host of variables outside of Cedar Fair's control (high gasoline prices, consistently bad weather, population loss in Ohio, etc.) are subsequently to blame.Theory Thr…

The Problem of Urban Inequality and a Defense of Gentrification

Gentrification is a hot topic. The term 'gentrification' itself has become infamous, even in the circles of people who typically are at the front lines of the gentrifying. The process is typically described like this: Corrupt real-estate developers (usually with inside political connections) target a run-down urban neighborhood where lots of happy (albeit not very wealthy) people live.  Some sort of "land grab" occurs, rich people start to move into the neighborhood and rental prices start shooting up. Long-time residents can no longer afford a modest apartment; long-time businesses leave so that Starbucks and Pinkberry can have retail space. A once-proud neighborhood becomes a yuppie magnet.

The problem is that I don't think it's a universally accurate description of what's happening in America's urban environments. It's a black-and-white way of thinking that only works when it does.

(from flickr user bondidwhat)

Gentrification is sometimes singled…

Economies of Beer Agglomeration

By summer, Cleveland could have its own "brewery district" when Akronite Andy Tveekrem and Sam McNulty open their new brewery and beer garden across the street from the Great Lakes Brewing Company in Ohio City.
If all goes according to plan, there will be a new microbrewery and beer garden on West 25th Street come June. Tveekrem is joining Sam McNulty to create the Market Beer Garden directly across from McNulty's Bier Markt, just north of the West Side Market. McNulty also owns Bar Cento and Speakeasy, both of which are adjacent to the Bier Markt. McNulty feels that landing Tveekrem for the new brewery project was destiny. 
In talking about this with a few people, several have questioned whether these guys are cannibalizing the brewpub/upscale bar market in Ohio City. I don't think so. If anything, I think the move will be mutually beneficial for everyone in the neighborhood.

(from flickr user temporarySPASTIC)

The Planet Money folks did a great podcast about what ha…

On Declining Auto-Ownership

The declining trend of car-ownership in the United States has been getting some attention in the media lately. And of course, there are plenty of narratives to describe why it's happening:

And the overall drop in car ownership has prompted speculation that the long American love affair with the car is fading. Analysts cite such diverse factors as high gas prices, the expansion of many municipal transit systems, and the popularity of networking websites among teenagers replacing cars as a way of socializing.
These are all logical explanations, but the first two fail to account for the reasons why car culture developed as strongly as it did in the first place. People didn't fall in love with cars because fuel was historically cheap, it just helps that it was. Transit, if anything, has become worse over time, especially in recent years, in many cities; although in other cities new capital projects and transit-oriented-development have made it better.

How about this for an explanat…

Political Circus

If you haven't yet watched Anderson Cooper's behind-the-scenes report on the 2008 election from Sunday's 60 Minutes, check it out. This stuff is genuinely ridiculous.

I don't think many would deny that politics is a dirty, calculating game; but stories like this make it look like an all-out circus. Is it even possible for politics to take place without all of this nonsense?

Re-Thinking the Role of Public Transit

Here in Cleveland, public transportation is in crisis-mode. Funding from sales tax receipts is down, relations with organized labor is shaky, and big devastating cuts are imminent. So the transit agency (RTA) has called for a series of public meetings to discuss the state of affairs.

These meetings are little more than orchestrated political theater. RTA's strategy seems simple enough. First, announce more cuts than are necessary and get riders really riled up. Next, hold a series of public meetings across the city where angry and frustrated riders show up to yell at RTA management; make sure that there is plenty of news media present. Then, save a couple of bus routes that were slated to be killed and chalk it up to the 'democratic process' or 'grassroots organizing' or whatever makes people feel warm inside. Finally, while everyone is distracted by their small 'victories', slash most of the service and leave the system mostly crippled.

(from Wikipedia)


Career Bleg

As loyal readers may know, I'll have my bachelor's degree in economics in a few months (this May, to be exact) and I'm currently one of many suckers motivated young people in search of an entry-level career.

(from flickr user bjmccray)

I'm a true believer that some of the best careers are found in the "hidden job market" - so I'm making an appeal to you, loyal readers, to contact me or pass along my bio (my personal website is a great resource) if you are aware of an entry-level careers I may fit well. A quick browse of this blog's archive should give a pretty good idea of my skills and interests.

270,000 Pounds of Apples

Via Treehugger, last month they posted this very cool video about food waste.

Even cooler is the "how it's made" video.

I've got to admit, the first time I watched it I actually thought they'd filled a subway train with apples, but for a public service announcement about food waste, what sense would that make?

John McCain's Legacy

I'm no fan of John McCain, but suffice to say that as far as U.S. Senators go, he's not necessarily the least respectable of the bunch (that award probably now goes to the gentleman from Connecticut).

Regardless of how much longer McCain's going to be around in politics, I can only imagine his 15 minutes of retirement coverage now. He'd probably like to be remembered as the Republican Party "maverick" or for his work on campaign finance reform or his service in Vietnam. Perhaps he wouldn't mind being remembered as a guy who was tough on "pork barrel" spending or managed to win the Republican nomination for president that one time.

(from flickr user Wigwam Jones)

At the end of the day, today's news/gossip/entertainment/celebrity media (aka the mainstream media) will remember McCain for bringing Sarah Palin into the world. Whether you love her or hate her, it's hard to deny (though impossible to prove) that Palin wouldn't be anywhere ri…

Highways Are Not (Economic) Public Goods

I was recently having a discussion about transportation policy with a respectable economics professor of mine. I asked whether he considers highways to be examples of public goods, he did; but his case was weak, in my opinion. Below is my case that highways are not public goods and should not be treated as such in economic analyses.

(from flickr user Nitro101)

Before I proceed, I should probably define a public good. From Wikipedia:

In economics, a public good is a good that is non-rivalrous and non-excludable. This means that consumption of the good by one individual does not reduce availability of the good for consumption by others; and that no one can be effectively excluded from using the good. In the real world, there may be no such thing as an absolutely non-rivaled and non-excludable good; but economists think that some goods approximate the concept closely enough for the analysis to be economically useful.
I've heard two examples which I think best illustrate the nature of a …

Struggling Cities Can Become Bike Meccas

I'm still amazed by the fact that New York City installed 200 miles of bike lanes in the past 2 years. It's an incredible accomplishment, especially in light of the fact that New York City is so heavily congested that making space for bikes essentially means taking space away from cars, an issue that is usually highly contentious.

(from flickr user Jaszek PL)

One of the best things about biking in a city like Cleveland, on the other hand, is that (for better or worse) there really isn't a lot of traffic or congestion because the city's population has taken such a beating. This may actually be hugely beneficial to cities that want to become more bike friendly. Streets with light traffic are theoretically easier and cheaper to convert into streets with bike facilities and with less of a tradeoff than you might experience in a city like New York.

Assuming that struggling cities don't want to struggle forever, building these facilities before the tides turn would seem t…