High Speed Rail: Fast Track To Nowhere

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Given that Warren Buffett ponied up $44 billion in cash and stock to take private the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, I wonder why President Obama is betting that the way to lift the country out of stagnant growth is to invest another $50 billion, in public funds, to swing aboard the dream of high-speed intercity rail.

According to the administration, new money needs to be allocated to such high-speed rail (HSR) projects as those between San Diego and Sacramento, Orlando and Tampa, and — my personal boondoggle favorite — the DesertXpress between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, a $4 billion bet that getting high-rollers to the blackjack tables will lift the U.S. economy out of its doldrums.  read more »

Subjects:

Why Housing Will Come Back

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Few icons of the American way of life have suffered more in recent years than  homeownership. Since the bursting of the housing bubble, there has been a steady drumbeat from the factories of futurist punditry that the notion of owning a home will, and, more importantly, should become out of reach for most Americans.  read more »

Unmanageable Jakarta Soon To Lose National Capital?

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Jakarta is the world's third largest urban area with 22 million people (Note 1) and the second largest metropolitan area with 26.6 million people (Note 2). Jakarta is the capital of the world's fourth most populous country, the Republic of Indonesia, which has 240 million people (following China, India and the United States). Jakarta is located on the island of Java, which covers slightly more land area than the state of New York and has 8 times the people (135 million).  read more »

Urban Plight: Vanishing Upward Mobility

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Since the beginnings of civilization, cities have been crucibles of progress both for societies and individuals. A great city, wrote Rene Descartes in the seventeenth century, represented “an inventory of the possible,” a place where people could create their own futures and lift up their families.

What characterized great cities such as Amsterdam—and, later, places such as London, New York , Chicago, and Tokyo—was the size of their property-owning middle class. This was a class whose roots, for the most part, lay in the peasantry or artisan class, and later among industrial workers. Their ascension into the ranks of the bourgeoisie, petit or haute, epitomized the opportunities for social advancement created uniquely by cities.  read more »

Fortress Australia: Groundhog Day

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A decade ago, politics in Australia lurched to embrace all things rural, happily demonizing urban interests. This happened in response to a renegade Politician – Pauline Hanson – who for a time captured public sympathy with populist anti-immigration sentiments, threatening to unseat entire governments in the process.  read more »

Time to Hate Those HOAs (again).

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The foreclosure crisis has been devastating for millions of Americans, but it has also impacted many still working as before and holding on to their homes. Even a couple of empty dwellings on a street can very quickly deteriorate and become a negative presence in the neighborhood, at the least driving down prices further, sometimes attracting crime. Untended pools can allow pests to breed. Many animals have been abandoned and shelters report overflowing traffic.  read more »

The Livable Communities Act: A Report Card

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With much fanfare, the Banking Committee of the United States Senate approved the Livable Communities Act (S. 1619, introduced by Democratic Senator Dodd of Connecticut). A purpose of the act is expressed as:

...to make the combined costs of housing and transportation more affordable to families.

The Livable Communities Act would provide financial incentives for metropolitan areas to adopt "livability" policies, which are otherwise known as "smart growth," "growth management" or "compact city" polices.  read more »

Cities: Size Does Not Matter Much Anymore

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The heart and brain are certainly not the largest organs in the human body, but they are arguably the most important. Why? The heart, through a miles-long network of capillaries, keeps every part of the body supplied with nutrients, and the brain, through an equally extensive network of nerves, provides instructions to every part of the body about what to do with those nutrients. They are important not because they are big, but because they are connected to everything else.  read more »

Where’s Next: November May Determine Regional Winners

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As the recovery begins, albeit fitfully, where can we expect growth in jobs, incomes and, most importantly, middle class opportunities? In the US there are two emerging “new” economies, one largely promoted by the Administration and the other more grounded in longer-term market and demographic forces.  read more »

A Mass Transit New England Ramble

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To escape the summer crowds in the Hamptons, I rode the S92 bus (fare $1.50) for almost three hours, as it cruised the south and north forks of Long Island, before leaving me at the ferry that connects Orient Point to New London, Connecticut.

I might end up late to some meetings, but this way I could monitor the progress of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, at least as it pertains to the more than $8 billion earmarked for high-speed trains, if not buses and ferries.

Not many Hampton People leave on a local bus, which in this case was filled with Latino day laborers, giving it the air of a John Steinbeck novel. I was headed to New England, and I wanted to see if I could make a circuit to Providence, Boston, Amherst, and Keene entirely on public transportation.

Conclusion: Mass transit works better as a White House sound bite than as a way to get around New England.  read more »