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Showing posts from June, 2012

Spontaneously Planned Eating

My last year of college, I was infamously bad at cooking, and more of my meals than I should probably admit were enjoyed at local watering holes. On-face, eating out seems way more expensive than cooking, but I had a solution to that... I would only order the daily specials at local restaurants. For example, 40-cent wing Mondays, half-price pizza Tuesdays, or $5 burger and fries Thursdays.

(from Kevin H. on Flickr)
A friend of the blog once asked, "what if you don't feel like eating pizza on Tuesdays or Burgers on Thursdays?" It caught me off guard, because I never really ate meals based on what I felt like (sans for the occasional evening visit to a restaurant). It was always just based on what I figured I could afford.

These days, I cook a lot more; but my meals are still meticulously planned. Every Wednesday I get the Harris Teeter circular, I look at the best sales and make a meal plan based on that. On Friday I get the weekly "e-Vic" email, make adjustment…

Urban and Suburban Farming

Last weekend I read a very interesting article by Hannah Wallace in Spirit Magazine during my flight to Cleveland. The story is about Joe Cimperman, a Cleveland city councilman who is taking urban farming to the next level.

(from eustatic on Flickr) 
Urban farming is a hot topic in the Rust Belt, where cities have an unfortunate amount of vacant property. If vacancy is inevitable and proper development is hopeless, planting some produce on the land seems like a better use of the land than anything else.

The benefits of having locally grown food seem obvious and have been documented; and when it comes to vacant lots, it's usually local laws that are stopping farming from happening. Zoning, for example, might permit a land parcel to be used only for residential purposes. An urban farm would be considered an agricultural or industrial use, and thus would be illegal. Politicians like Joe Cimperman are slowly changing this.

In cities where land is expensive and vacant lots are more the …

Criminality and Motoring

Daniel Ikenson has an interesting post over at Cato-at-Liberty about the ordeal he went through after his car was towed in DC. It's written as a story about big bad government and municipal incompetence. But it's also full of ideological holes that are worth noting.

(from tvol on Flickr)
The author opens by describing the parking situation near Nationals Park:
About three blocks from the stadium, there were plenty of legal parking spots along the street and signs indicating how to pay for parking by telephone. It would cost $1.50 per hour or about $10 total – a steal compared to the $30-$40 being charged in the nearby lots. The Pay-by-Phone system was simple enough to use: I registered my tag and my credit card number by phone, and was messaged a “Parkmobile” app to use for loading and reloading the meter from my phone. Sweet and simple! This is curious because a true libertarian would likely believe that the price for parking should be whatever the market can bear. If the l…

House Hunting

After years of living without cable TV, it's now an amenity that my landlord includes in my rent. I usually put on Food Network in the background while doing something else, like writing this blog; but I have caught a few episodes of House Hunters. Turns out, the show is completely phony. That's good to know, but if it weren't, the show would make absolutely no sense.

(from sean dreilinger on Flickr)
Think about it. You never see someone lose a house because of a botched inspection, or because they get outbid by another prospective buyer, or because they can't get the right financing. In fact, you never see any other house hunters - it's almost like the three houses they see are temporarily removed from the market and the contestants on their show get their unconditional pick of property.

Anyone who has house hunted in DC or a similarly big city, especially in the rental market, knows just how absurd the show's concept is. The idea of being able to view three p…

Rust Belt Cities: Who's Coming? Who's Going?

Last weekend Angie Schmitt pointed me to an article by Douglas Trattner in Fresh Water Cleveland. The author suggests Rust Belt cities, left for dead, are suddenly booming again. Angie was suspicious of some of the claims and I offered to check it out. Let's start with the article...
Daily, it seems, another cultural sociologist is writing about the current trend of reverse migration -- young creatives fleeing the Coasts in droves in favor of "decaying" industrial cities like Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Detroit. These cities, you see, are appealing because of the decay. That and ironic pleasures like bowling, pierogies, and polka.

Of course, there is enough truth and fiction in that charming narrative to choke a thesis on contemporary demographics. The truth is, young people are moving back to cities like Cleveland, Detroit and Pittsburgh -- and at rates that outpace those of posh suburban zip codes. Offering the promise of a better (cheaper) quality of life -- and yes, t…

Capital Bikeshare's Elevation Challenge

Last week after I posted about Capital Bikeshare's Reverse Rider Rewards experiment, Mr. T in DC tweeted this in response:

@bikeshare needs to better incentivie uphill trips to Ward 1! There's some anecdotal evidence that suggests that people are riding CaBi bikes downhill to get to wherever they're going, and then taking the bus or Metro back uphill, rather than trying to huff it and puff it on one of the heavy red bikes. It's something that was discussed last year on Kojo. In theory, it makes perfect sense.

I dug into the data and found that it's happening to an extent - more people are riding CaBi bikes down hills than back up them; but it's not happening at quite the exaggerated rate that some people seem to suggest.

The truth is that the majority of Capital Bikeshare trips start and end at about the same elevation. I looked at 327,680 trips taken from January through March of 2012 in the District (unfortunately I had to exclude Arlington due to issues with…

The Ultimate Rent Control

I recently heard homeownership described by an academic professor as "the ultimate rent control". It's an interesting perspective, and one that's generally true, especially in high-cost cities where rents are rising with seemingly no end in sight. When it comes to affordable housing, buying a home, at the very least, means locking in a monthly payment that will be roughly the same for the next 30 years, regardless of how the price of anything else in the economy changes.

(from allaboutgeorge on Flickr)
The reason I say this perspective is unique is because people often talk about homeownership in less practical, more idealized ways. Take this blurb from an NPR story on the subject, for example.
The economic hammer has fallen especially hard on 20somethings — part of the so-called Millennial Generation or Gen Y born roughly between 1975 and 1995. Plagued by high unemployment, many have had to delay careers, marriage and having children. And the idea of owning a home is…

Rebalancing Capital Bikeshare Stations

Capital Bikeshare is great, and I really love having it. This recent post over at DCist, however, reminds me that unbalanced stations are still one of the system's major flaws. I've experienced both full and empty stations, as I'm sure anyone who uses the system enough has or will.

(from Mr. T in DC on Flickr)
When I first heard about CaBi, my initial reaction was "won't everyone just ride them downtown in the morning and back out in the afternoon?" The person who was telling me about Capital Bikeshare completely brushed off the concern, saying "oh don't worry, there are guys with trucks to move them around".

Of course, guys with trucks can only do so much and can only move so quickly, and there are currently no other mechanisms in place to rebalance stations. Last summer there was an experiment called "Reverse Rider Rewards" that was designed to encourage CaBi members to rebalance stations during the morning rush hour. It ran during Ju…

Where College Graduates Don't Stay

Sabrina Tavernise has an article in the New York Times about the growing educational divide in American cities. I'm glad that she chose to highlight Dayton, Ohio because I know a ton of people in DC that went to school in Dayton. For that matter, I know more people in DC who went to college in Dayton than any other metro area of a similar size. There is a huge University of Dayton alumni network in DC; and their alumni take a lot of pride in it. But the flip side of it is that all of those grads are no longer living in Dayton.

(from Jordan Weaver on Flickr)
I think Tavernise's opening paragraph is easily misinterpreted.
As cities like this one try to reinvent themselves after losing large swaths of their manufacturing sectors, they are discovering that one of the most critical ingredients for a successful transformation — college graduates — is in perilously short supply.  But wait, who exactly is in short supply? Is it people graduating from college in that city? Or is it …

Gasoline Isn't That Expensive

Over the weekend someone made an interesting case to me. This person argued that when you think about the total cost of driving, gasoline isn't actually that expensive, relatively speaking. It was an interesting point-of-view, because when I hear people complaining about how it's so expensive to drive, usually they complain about the price of gasoline.

(from TheTruthAbout on Flickr)
There are really only two costs that every driver must always pay every month... there's the cost of insurance, and the cost of fuel.

Let's say I have a pretty run-of-the-mill insurance policy in DC. It's better than state minimum liability coverage but not quite comprehensive coverage either. $80 per month sounds reasonable for this sort of policy. Now let's assume I drive a pretty average car that gets 30 miles per gallon on average and is completely paid off.  Let's also assume that gasoline costs $4 per gallon. That means that for the same $80 I could drive my car 600 miles.…