News and Views – February 3, 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.

NEWS HEADLINES

FINANCE/ECONOMY

Why the State Budget is Such a Mess (Texas Tribune)

According to Texas State Comptroller Glenn Hegar, lawmakers have around $105 billion to spend in the next budget cycle. Estimates to continue current levels of service are coming to $110-$115 billion, leaving a significant shortfall. This is the gap we would have with the current property tax legislation that Gov. Abbot and others want to tighten the reigns on (see article on Senate Bill 2 below), and does not include funds for any new services. What happens when service levels start to drastically decline as a result of the continued tax cuts and caps? If this discussion doesn't happen in this budget cycle, we're sure to see it front and center in the next one. It's already happening in cities throughout Texas and across the country as infrastructure maintenance obligations pile up and pressure to keep taxes, tolls and user fees down continues.

Gov. Abbott seeks more dollars for Texas' incentive funds (San Antonio Business Journal)

Gov. Abbot wants to increase Texas' (economic development) incentive funds by almost $200M, citing the program's success in bringing new businesses and jobs to the state. Sen. Kelly Hancock, a Republican from North Richland Hills is questioning whether these funds are needed to be competitive and what would happen if Texas doesn't continue its aggressive financial incentives policies.

A Closer Look at Senate Bill 2: Lowering the Current Revenue Cap (Texas Association of Counties)

Sen. Paul Bettencourt and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick are championing legislation that proposes to reduce local agencies' revenue cap from the current 8% to 4%. Advocates of the bill argue that the rise in property taxes are exceeding the growth of housing incomes, putting homeowners in jeopardy of getting priced out of their homes. The majority of cites and counties are lobbying against the bill, citing concern about their ability to continue to provide basic services with revenues that are already insufficient. This article on the Texas Association of Counties website does a good job of explaining what the revenue cap is and the top 10 problems with lowering it.

ENVIRONMENT

Affordable water may soon dry up, especially if you live here (PBS News Hour)

“Aging infrastructure is a problem for everybody, and water scarcity is becoming a bigger problem in many regions as well. There have been years of disinvestment for water infrastructure, and it’s starting to come back to us now.”

SOCIAL

How The Systemic Segregation Of Schools Is Maintained By 'Individual Choices' (Fresh Air)

In an interview on the Fresh Air podcast, journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones explains that when it comes to school segregation, separate is never equal. Sixty-three years after Brown v. Board of Education, many schools remain segregated or have re-segregated. "As long as individual parents continue to make choices that only benefit their own children ... we're not going to see a change."

Affordability, millennials, and the next Baby Boom (CNU Public Square)

Affordable, alternative, and family friendly urban lifestyles (CNU Public Square)

The Public Square blog has a pair of worthwhile articles on urban living with kids. The first argues that attainable housing for millennial families with children is poised to become one of the largest market demands in the near future. In the second: creative living arrangements offer urban lifestyle options for families with children.

How urban geometry creates neighborhood identity (City Observatory)

Our perception of a neighborhood's identity tends to be shaped by what the majority of the buildings look like (i.e. single- vs. multi-family). In many neighborhoods, perception can tell a misleading story about the neighborhood's residents—and it can generate real power imbalances. 

RESOURCES

Podcast: Strong Towns Podcast - A Design Thinking Approach to Infrastructure

In this conversation with Chuck Marohn, Professor Thomas Fisher from the University of Minnesota discusses a design thinking approach of bottom-up vs. top-down decision making, and the danger of building the wrong types of infrastructure for the future of America. The combination of balancing grey (built) and green (natural) infrastructure is at the core of our firm's philosophy and work we do.

Website: Strengthsfinder.com (personality profile tool)

Kevin and Kristin did a presentation recently on how our team uses the Strengthfinder tool and our individualized "Top Five" reports to define roles, build teams, and communicate. We were surprised to hear that many in the audience had never heard of this tool and have received great feedback from the talk, so we thought we'd share it here as well.

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