News and Views: February 17, 2017

Solutions to the challenges our communities are facing today and in the future will depend on bringing perspectives together and thinking differently about how we approach development and infrastructure in our neighborhoods. We hope this weekly snapshot of what our VERDUNITY crew was discussing this week will help inspire more communication and sharing of ideas.

Featured on the blog this week:

Do you love your city? For Valentine's Day, Kevin explores what makes places lovable and who plays a role in improving communities. Did you know less than 25% of people feel attached to their community, and only one percent of people are actively engaged in efforts to make their neighborhoods and cities better for everyone there. We challenge you to stop being a consumer of your city and become a #strongcitizen by sharing your time, talents or treasure with your neighbors and city leaders.

What we're reading this week:

FINANCE/ECONOMY

5 Simple Urban Fixes for Unpredictable Times (Governing)

Our communities are faced with more and more maintenance demands with a limited pot of money and resources to address them. This author thinks its time for communities to think small and simplify things. We agree 1000%.

Transportation Funding, Scrapping Obama-Era Rule Among Federal Priorities for Regionalism Group (Route Fifty)

The National Association of Regional Councils held its 2017 National Conference this week in Washington. The main discussion focused on the uncertainty around what the Trump Administration and Congress will do regarding infrastructure funding. Efforts to eliminate a rule related to modifying metropolitan planning area (MPA) boundaries and designation of MPOs that went into effect last month were also a priority.

The Oroville Dam Disaster is Yet Another Example of California's Decline (LA Times) & 20% of Dams in Populated Areas Lack Emergency Plan (USA Today)

The majority of the country's 84,000 dams were built between 1950 and 1980, when the post-WW2 suburban sprawl development model kicked into high gear. The Oroville Dam crisis in California is a preview of what Texas and other states that have implemented the same build big and grow fast model over the past 50 years can expect in the near future. The fiscal and environmental consequences of this development approach are being revealed in California now, just like they will be in Texas. As the LA Times Op-Ed author writes: "The crisis at Oroville is a third act in the state's history: One majestic generation built great dams, a second enjoyed them while they aged, and a third fiddles as they now erode."

States Would Feel Impact of Federal Tax Reform (Route Fifty) &  Why the City of Dallas Fears One Tax Change in Congress Could Cost It $82 Million (Dallas Morning News)

As part of tax code reform, Congress is considering eliminating tax exemptions for municipal bonds, a longstanding program in the tax code that saves states and local governments money on bonds they use to fund infrastructure projects. States across the country and cities like Dallas are arguing that this change will cut valuable revenue from their coffers. 

ENVIRONMENT

The Business of Biodiversity (Stanford Social Innovation Review)

The benefits of environmental conservation and restoration reach far and wide, and across all sectors. More businesses need to realize the positive effects biodiversity has on their bottom line—and more governments need to pass legislation that protects biodiversity.

Dallas Student Hopes to Save Bachman Lake (NBC DFW)

Follow-up with the Dallas high school student who seems to be the only person who cares about making Bachmann Lake clean and safe to use.

SOCIAL/QUALITY OF LIFE

The Swedish-Inspired Way American Cities Are Trying to End Pedestrian Deaths (Governing)

#visionzero, #slowthecars and other efforts to change how we design our streets to make them safer for pedestrians are gaining momentum across the country. This article highlights Vision Zero efforts around the country and gives a tip of the hat to Sweden, where the idea originated. If your community has not adopted VisionZero as policy, please encourage them to.

The Stadiums that Ate Texas (CityLab) & D Magazine response

Texas ranks 38th out of the 50 states in per-pupil education spending, yet we are building high school football stadiums that are bigger and nicer than many college facilities. The popular planning site CityLab and local publication D Magazine weighed in this week.

Downtown Revitalization - Christians, Please Read (Tony Warriner)

In this post from 2014, A Pastor from Fort St. John, BC (Canada) shares his thoughts on why improvements to slow cars down and improve walkability in their downtown should be embraced by Christians and the religious community. It's a few years old, but still just as relevant. Thanks to our friend John Lettelleir from the City of Frisco for sharing this link with us.

Cooking Up a Food Revolution in Detroit (Next City)

Getting capital to start a business can be a near-herculean task for many entrepreneurs of color. "In Detroit, as in cities all over the U.S., people of color have fewer assets and often credit histories that reflect a lack of having the cushion of assets to fall back on when times get hard. A new study from Demos found that two-parent black and Latino households have just half the median wealth of single white households." That's where the Entrepreneurs of Color Fund comes in. It helps provide capital for those whom the regional banks turn away, and seeks to eventually establish a sustained banking relationship for folks who have historically been excluded. Hopefully other cities—and charitable foundations—are paying attention to this example. 

RESOURCES

Books: For the Love of Cities and Love Where You Live

This pair of books from Peter Kageyama (which Kevin featured in this week's blog post on lovable cities) really dig into what it means to have a relationship with your city or neighborhood. "As cities begin thinking of themselves as engaged in a relationship with their citizens, and citizens begin to consider their emotional connections with their places, we open up new possibilities in community, social and economic development by including the most powerful of motivators—the human heart—in our toolkit of city-making."

Bonus!

Strong Towns Annual Report and Active Towns fundraising

Two of our favorite non-profit organizations have big things going right now. Strong Towns just released its 2016 Annual Report. If you're not a member of this organization, you can join for as low as $25/yr. It will be the best $25 you spend, we guarantee it! Also, our good friend John Simmerman at Active Towns has been sharing stories and great videos featuring places around the country that reflect healthy living, biking and other outdoor-oriented, active living environments. John's ramping up for his next tour and is seeking donations and other support. Check out his Patreon page for more info.

Want to learn more about making your community more financially strong, healthy and environmentally resilient? Sign up here and let us know which topics you're interested in.