News and Views: March 31, 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.

What we're up to this week:

Strong Towns Summit

This week is the first-ever national Strong Towns Summit, and Kevin and Kristin are in Tulsa giving presentations, making friends, and sampling all the finest local delicacies (that last part I'm assuming). You can live-stream that event here. Kevin will put together a blog post next week summarizing the weekend.

Know Your Watershed series

In case you missed it, we've created a landing page for our series on North Texas watersheds. When rain falls in your neighborhood, where does it end up? How much land drains into your favorite local lake? Why is it that the people can swim in the Trinity River in Fort Worth but not in Dallas? Understanding where our water goes (and where it comes from) is the first step in knowing how to take care of the places we love.

So far, we have pages for three watersheds—the latest addition is Rowlett Creek—and we will continue to both feature new watersheds and add info/media to our existing pages. Have questions, comments, or want us to highlight your watershed next? Let us know! We're on the Internet.

What we're reading this week:

Okay. Let's get to the reading.

Finance/Economy

Gulp! Water increasingly unaffordable for many Americans (CBS News)

Water. Most of us in this country take it for granted, but it's already unaffordable for one in 10 households—and that number is forecast to triple in five years, according to a Michigan State University study. As with so many other problems, this hits our poorest citizens the hardest. The culprits? Aging infrastructure that's costly to repair, and the effects of climate change (stronger and more frequent storms, and prolonged droughts, to name a couple). In Texas, we're seeing water rates jump particularly fast. Says Elizabeth Mack, co-author of the study, “You think access to water is a problem only in developing countries, but it’s becoming an issue in some parts of the U.S.”

The wrong way to pay for our roads and bridges (Governing)

We need to raise the gas tax, but that's not the long-term solution for our transportation needs. It's time for an honest conversation with the public.

Environment

Before the flood: the value of mitigation (Governing)

Billion-dollar natural disasters are becoming the norm in the United States. Since 1980, catastrophes of this magnitude have affected all 50 states, hitting five to 10 times each year. Cleaning up after these increasingly frequent disasters is incredibly costly. But investing in mitigation can drastically reduce the damage done (and cost to replace what's been damaged) when floods and other disasters strike. 

Department of Environmental Protection misses boat, fails to turn tide on polluted stormwater (NJ Spotlight)

This op-ed is about the State of New Jersey DEP's missed opportunities to clean up its waterways. The same article could be written about the State of Texas and TCEQ.

Social/Quality of Life

How fire chiefs and traffic engineers make places less safe (CNU Public Square)

Steve Mouzon makes the perpetually essential point that there is a disconnect between the values of the people designing our streets and those of us who use them on a daily basis. We're told that wider streets make us safer—they let our enormous fire trucks breeze in whenever and wherever they need, theoretically make crashes less common because of the extra space—but the reality is the opposite. Wider streets with less 'stuff' (trees, seating, and anything else that might make it a pleasant pedestrian experience) along them encourage faster driving, and more frequent (and more deadly) crashes. Mouzon takes aim at proposed measures to eliminate on-street parking and street trees in Celebration, FL. It's worth a full read, but the upshot is that doing so will undoubtedly leave the town a less safe (not to mention less enjoyable) place. This is an especially pertinent issue in Texas.

This Neighborhood Is Transforming By Letting Artists Buy Its Vacant Homes For Cheap (Fast Company)

Some inspiration from the Garfield Park neighborhood of Indianapolis, where a plan is helping artists fix up and settle in abandoned houses, and then making sure they can afford to stay once things start improving. (Check out the work of the Riley Area Development Corporation, as well as the absolutely awesome art/placemaking nonprofit Big Car Collaborative. Full disclosure: Indianapolis native writing this, but the Big Car folks are just the coolest.)

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