Crossing the line

Metro briefs for today. (Whew, am I sick of food trucks, although I appreciate Jef Nickerson for saying what’s on my mind: “I’m not saying Food Trucks should be banned, far from it. What I would like to see is, the city thinking about ways to encourage other forms of street food, be they micro-storefronts, push carts, Food Trucks, or something else.”)

1. Chris Leinberger tries to make nice with Joel Kotkin by pointing out that the latter is stuck in the old city vs. suburb dichotomy, hung up on municipal boundaries. This is still necessary that many years after David Rusk‘s “elastic cities” hypothesis? And for a writer based in the southwest, with its highly elastic cities? I’m more inclined to chalk it up to willful ignorance.

(Since I grew up in an “elastic” city with a regional school district, all of which consisted principally of low-density sprawl that overran and embedded a few country towns, I’ve always thought this distinction was a complete canard. Of course “auto-dependent sprawl” and “walkable urbanism” can both exist in either city, suburb, town, or country. Duh.)

2. Delhi is following Singapore and writing traffic tickets based on photo evidence of infractions posted to Facebook. I typically would support measures to improve the ubiquity of traffic law enforcement, particularly as regards public safety, but this raises serious concerns about due process. I wonder how much supporting evidence would be necessary to verify that such photos haven’t been doctored: untampered EXIF data? GPS tracks showing that the car was at that location?

3. “Chicago taxpayers [will] cry” over the $11 billion that the Morgan Stanley joint venture [JV] will make over the term of the parking meter lease, according to Bloomberg’s Darrell Preston. (The JV also admits that the amount it spent on new meters amounts to a mere $40M.) Interesting that the JV is issuing what amounts to parking-meter revenue bonds — except priced as corporate bonds, not as tax-exempt municipal debt. (I’ve been saying all this time that an easier and more cost-effective way to tap into the future revenue stream would be for the city to jack the rates and issue revenue bonds. The primary reason for not doing this is that it would add debt to the city’s books, thereby lowering its credit rating — and that the proceeds from municipal bonds are subject to greater City Council scrutiny under Illinois law than the proceeds from a PPP. Well, the city got a downgrade anyways.)

Meanwhile, of course, San Francisco — which pioneered parking meter revenue bonds back in 1994 — has just launched SFpark, its municipally run advanced market-pricing scheme. The startup costs are underwritten via a loan from the MPO, interestingly, to be paid back with the enhanced revenues. And guess what else? The city still retains the flexibility to do cool things with its public space, like curbside bike parking. Imagine that!

4. An interesting participation exercise from the Next American City, sponsored by IBM’s Smarter Cities ad campaign: The Next American City Challenge on Tumblr.

5. Speaking of Tumblr, TakeMeWithYou is a WPB Make Believe project that used the “community disposable camera” model of storytelling. This was suggested as one idea for our WPB plan outreach process; glad to see that it came up with some fun results.

6. Great article by Fred Mayer on the Twin Cities (and Madison) bike economy, which he estimates at over $300M in revenues annually. One might think that the bike industry should prove to have a particularly lucrative local multiplier effect: it’s relatively light on capital and heavy on labor, and generates positive local externalities — quite unlike driving, which sucks money out of other sectors of the economy and sends almost all of its capital costs out of the local economy.

7. Park51, or the Cordoba Initiative, is obviously a local zoning matter — and as such, national Republicans have zero say. Perhaps that’s why they’re fast falling into line to “stand against the Ground Zero mosque,” since it’s completely painless: it will undoubtedly happen, and they can look like they’re doing something (paying lip service to the insane base) without actually affecting any real change. Yet watching this is frightening: for government to step in and “stop” Park51 wouldn’t just prohibit the free exercise of religion (1st Amendment) but also deprive the rightful landowners their property (5th Amendment). That this self-described “Don’t Tread on Me” crowd can show off that much contempt for personal freedoms just makes it all the more obvious that such “freedoms” only apply to their selfish selves.

8. Tom Philpott over at Grist notes that even most rural farms, much less urban farms, don’t make money. It frustrates me that so many people are so hopelessly naïve about farming’s poor economics: after the U.S. has spent trillions of dollars paving over farmland because it’s uneconomical, suddenly now farming will be profitable enough to underwrite demolition and infrastructure work to undo it all? This goes double for architects who concoct schemes featuring purpose-built “vertical ag” megastructures for agriculture (the very definition of a “factory farm”), or those positing urban farms as the solution for just about everything urban-decline related.

For instance, last year’s Re-Burbia competition finalists included exactly two approaches that comprehensively evolving suburbs through individual initiative. The rest of the schemes were a collection of inflexible (and therefore inherently unsustainable) megastructures (the sort of megalomaniacal thinking that got us into this mess of cloverleafs, malls, and McMansions), one-off tech gizmo wonder panaceas, or land-use transformations that betray a complete misunderstanding of economics (farms and wetlands are great, but they just don’t pay the rent).

As Alex Steffen (via Allison Arieff in Good) points out (and as SF Streetsblog commenters echo), it’s a folly to think that any vacant land (even in stagnant cities) should automatically be best thought of as agriculture, particularly permanently; in many cases, such land could best enhance regional sustainability (and the regional economy) if used to enhance walkability instead with more housing, retail, or workplaces. The difference between zero and ten food miles is nothing like the difference between ten and 2,000. Eliminating the first 99.5% of the food miles is easy and necessary, so let’s not obsess over the last 0.4%.

(And really, this has nothing to do with the orchard. Honest: that necessarily has to be open space of some kind.)

9. “[C]limatologists have long theorized that in a warming world, the added heat would cause more record highs and fewer record lows. The statistics suggest that is exactly what is happening. In the United States these days, about two record highs are being set for every record low, telltale evidence that amid all the random variation of weather, the trend is toward a warmer climate.” Justin Gillis [NYT]

Less serious:

10. Oh, how I’ve giggled at the now-repaired-again Milshire Ho sign. (Backup photo.) For the longest time, I just assumed it read “Wilshire.”

11. Oh, and while we’re in Logan Square, my friends’ HGTV makeover aired in June. Check this page for when it’ll re-run.

12. Not metro at all, but a recent party joke was about a theme band called “Ayn Rand Sex Scene.” Given her newfound popularity…