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Showing posts from December, 2011

Brewing a Good Cup of Joe

For a while now I've been enjoying food shows - mostly stuff on the Food Network, like Good Eats and Iron Chef; but recently I've started watching America's Test Kitchen, which really is a fantastic show. Like many things on public television and public radio, America's Test Kitchen does a good job of communicating information without diluting it with a lot of fluff.

Another one of the things that makes the show so good is that they don't just show you recipes, they review different brands of ingredients and different pieces of kitchen equipment. Here's a segment that they did on drip coffee machines.

Not surprisingly, most of these machines make a pretty bad cup of coffee. To me, the idea of paying a hundred or more dollars for an appliance that makes coffee as bad as a cheapo machine makes me cringe. Of course, the reviewer does make a good point - fancy bells and whistles may simply be disguising the fact that the "guts" of the machine aren't any…

Profits at Non-Profits

Last week I was walking home from work, and without my iPod and earphones, had little ability to block out the loud conversation taking place behind me. One woman was telling another woman that she needs to get out of the non-profit sector because "there's no money in non-profits".

Meanwhile, over at Mother Jones, Josh Harkinson has argued that non-profit credit unions often serve their customers and their employees more effectively than giant corporate banks. I think this points to a fundamental misunderstanding, by a lot of people, about what it means for an organization to operate as a non-profit.

(from I-5 Design & Manufacture on Flickr)

There are some complicated legal and accounting details when it comes to classifying non-profits, but I think it can be summed up as simply as this: A non-profit organization is an entity that does not have owners or shareholders; a for-profit company is an entity that does.

A lot of people think "non-profit" is synonymous …

Traveling by Air

Later today I'll be boarding a plane and flying to Ohio for the holidays, just like I did last month for Thanksgiving, and dozens of other times this year, for a variety of reasons.

Last month I heard a pretty interesting interview on public radio with Andrew Thomas, who's written a book about the airline industry. I've always felt like kind of an out-of-place urbanist when it comes to air travel. From my experience, many urbanists love trains, buses, and bikes, while air travel often seems to get shunned along with the automobile as an occasionally necessary evil.

(from thomas23 on Flickr)

Without a doubt, one of the biggest downsides of airports is that they're almost always on the outskirts of cities. Train stations, on the other hand, tend to be centrally located. A downtown-to-downtown trip by air often involves ground transportation on both ends that can be expensive, and frankly, a pain. Asking someone for the "airport pickup" is a favor that usually requ…

How Demolition Came to Mean Stabilization

Yesterday's lead story on 60 Minutes was about vacancy and abandonment in Cleveland. This is an issue that hits close to home for me.

I started studying the problem in 2008. Back then the pressing question was how to target HUD money to strategically knock down blighted houses. The amount of money that HUD had to distribute wasn't nearly enough to take down all the vacant and abandoned houses, so using it wisely was key, and it still is.

I want to emphasize that even though 60 minutes may have opened a lot of eyes to demolition in Cleveland, it's not something that's new. The idea of knocking down houses as the means to saving neighborhoods may seem counter-intuitive, but it's been the prevailing strategy for several years now. Detroit has been following a similar strategy as well.

I do want to add something to the 60 Minutes analysis - a piece of the story that I don't always feel gets told. Foreclosures may have fueled vacancy in Cleveland, but foreclosure is no…

Cities, Urbanism and the Appeal of "New"

There's been a lot of chatter around the blogosphere about Christopher Leinberger's New York Times op-ed that I think really hits the nail on the head when it comes to the issue of what's ahead for fringe suburbs.

(from Mark Strozier on Flickr)

Basically, the hypothesis presented is that fringe suburbs are headed downward, and I think this piece of evidence is really the most damning.
Many drivable-fringe house prices are now below replacement value, meaning the land under the house has no value and the sticks and bricks are worth less than they would cost to replace. This means there is no financial incentive to maintain the house; the next dollar invested will not be recouped upon resale. Many of these houses will be converted to rentals, which are rarely as well maintained as owner-occupied housing. Add the fact that the houses were built with cheap materials and methods to begin with, and you see why many fringe suburbs are turning into slums, with abandoned housing and r…

Sprawl Killed the Mail

The fact that the U.S. Post Office is basically a failing enterprise is nothing new. Figuring out where things went wrong is becoming a common theme in the blogosphere.

(from Bennett V on Flickr)

Jordan Weissmann has this post over at the Atlantic that proposes several compelling theories, but it glosses over one that I've written about in the past: sprawl.

Sprawl is a problem for the postal service for the same reason it's a problem for regular citizens... you have to drive everywhere, gasoline is expensive, traffic is congested, it's hard to get places, etc.

When I think about a postal carrier doing a route in a city, I imagine them taking a push card and walking from the post office to houses and offices. The number of pieces of mail they can deliver per ounce of effort has got to be so much higher than the carrier who has to drive, in his/her truck, from one house, then to the next house, then to the next house.

Of course, for reasons of "fairness" or otherwise, t…