Self-Employment Key to Expanding Rural America’s Revival

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In many ways, these are the best of times for rural America. Rising commodity prices for food, fiber and energy have revived the economy in much of the nation’s heartland. But still, many rural communities still are losing population, particularly among the young, and suffering unacceptably high rates of poverty. What accounts for this “best of times, worst of times” scenario?  read more »

GIS and Online Mapping: Stretching the Truth Scale

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When I began my land planning career in 1968, one of the first things I learned about was the use of the Rubber Scale. What is it? Rubber Scale was a term used by civil engineers and land surveyors to describe an inaccurate plan that ignored the physical limitations of the existing terrain. To say that the planner or architect had used a Rubber Scale to create a beautifully rendered plan with pastel colors and soft shadows cast from tree stamps was a negative comment, since these plans were pretty much worthless to the engineer and surveyor that had to make the plans conform to regulations.  read more »

The Urban Energy Efficiency Retrofit Challenge

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I was welcomed home to Chicago from visiting family on Christmas Day by a cold house and a gas furnace that wasn't working. The next day a repair tech gave me the bad news about a blown circuit board that would cost over $500 to replace. But I heard that were was a $1500 tax credit for energy efficient upgrades that was expiring at year end. With $2000 in “free money” to spend, I thought maybe furnace replacement might be a better option. At eight years old, the furnace might have more years of life.  read more »

Here Comes Barack Cameron?

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President Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair were so “like-minded,” according to one Los Angeles Times writer, that they brought new meaning to the U.S. and England’s “special relationship.” Blair’s later embrace of George W. Bush, however, was less satisfying, leading to widespread ridicule that the PM was the Texan’s favorite “lap dog.”  read more »

The Dispersing of Urbanism

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For more than a century, people have been moving by the millions to larger urban areas from smaller urban areas and rural areas. Within the last five years, the share of the world population living in rural areas has dropped below one-half for the first time. The migration to the larger urban areas has spread to lower income nations as the countryside seemingly empties into places like Chongqing, Jakarta and Delhi.  read more »

Is China About to Decentralize?

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More than a car, plane or train tick, the “Hukou” (the residential permit system) is the key to mobility in China.

I can still remember what my junior high English teacher said to my classmates and I, “I really worry about you guys; if you don’t study hard, not only will you not be able to get a job, you will probably have nowhere to stay, while the kids from the countryside; at least they will have some land to grow plants on and a house to live in!” (In my junior high school, all of my classmates had an urban hukou.)  read more »

Fuzzy Thinking by Famous Economists

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Edward L. Glaeser, in an end-of-year piece for the New York Times, claims that generous housing supply is the reason that Texas’s economy is performing so well. As he says in his final paragraph:

“Housing regulations, more than those that bind standard businesses, explain the Sun Belt’s population growth. If New York and Massachusetts want to stop losing Congressional seats, then they must revisit the rules that make it so difficult to build. High prices show that the demand would be there if the supply is unleashed.”

This can’t be true.  read more »

The Heartland Rises

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The change in congressional power this week is more than an ideological shift. It ushers in a revival in the political influence of the nation’s heartland, as well as the South.

This contrasts dramatically with the last Congress. Virtually its entire leadership — from former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on down — represented either the urban core or affluent, close-in suburbs of large metropolitan areas. Powerful old lions like Reps. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) of Harlem, Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) of Los Angeles and Barney Frank (D-Mass.) of Newton, an affluent, close-in Boston suburb, roamed. The Senate was led by Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who loyally services Las Vegas casino interests while his lieutenant, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), is now the top Democratic satrap of Wall Street.  read more »

Coalition of the Unwilling

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This week the UK government announced an ”end to anti-car policies” reversing the guidance to local authorities to dissuade citizens from using their cars in favour of public transport. Charges for parking will be reined in, they promise.

It should be good news. The comically-named ”traffic calming” schemes put in place by the outgoing government were deeply unpopular. Still, we are getting used to taking our announcements from the new coalition government with a pinch of salt.  read more »

Yes, We Do Need to Build More Roads

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Road are clearly out of fashion in urban planning circles. Conventional wisdom now decries roads in favor of public transit, walking or biking in developments designed to mimic traditional 19th century urbanism. Common refrains are “we can't build our way out of congestion” or “widening roads to cure congestion is like loosening your belt to cure obesity.” Also frequently noted is the vehicle miles traveled has – at least until recently – outpaced population growth.  read more »