A few things to know this week: June 17, 2019
Happy Monday! Every week here, we package up a collection of things that caught our attention during the week. The following list is compiled by the whole Verdunity team — our favorite relevant or thought-provoking pieces of news, commentary, research, discussions, or cat videos we came across (or were thinking about) this week.
Here are this week's things to know:
This Richard Florida piece asks a fundamental question I find to be overlooked in so many discussions of community, place, and governance: how should we define the suburbs? Along with providing a couple of excellent examples for additional reading (already added to my list!), three different definitions are briefly explored. While some of the conclusions aren't new, the one that caught my attention is an observation of density in suburbs. Long story short, suburbs are more complex than we tend to fully realize; it's definitely worthy of further discussion and study. – AJ
For years the narrative around infrastructure spending has been that we need more, more, more. The requests for additional funding are also typically followed with plans for how the money will be used for new technologies and expansion projects. But what good will new stretches of highway and interchanges do in growth areas if the older highways and bridges that opened up access to these new areas in the first place fall apart? What if the water, sewer and local street networks we depend on daily reach the point they no longer work? I've advocated for nearly 10 years now that we do need more infrastructure spending at the federal, state and local levels – but with the caveat that the majority of those dollars go to maintaining what we've already built. Our team focuses primarily on the funding gap in local governments and what is needed just to maintain streets, water and sewer, and I can't tell you how many times I've heard people say some version of "well, the state and federal government will have to chip in." I hate to break it to you, folks, but our state DOTs and especially the federal government don't have the money they used to because they too have their own funding gaps and are up to their eyeballs in debt payments. This op-ed does a nice job of framing the discussion that needs to be happening at the federal level and offers some proposed solutions to get us headed in the right direction. – Kevin
This is my favorite read in a very long time. Why? It reminds us how complex cities are, and urges us to find enjoyment in every interaction. Using all of your senses and powers of observation, any trip can instantly go from mundane to inspiring. It is this spirit that drives so many of us to do this work – but we need to be reminded of it sometimes. Places don't just happen all on their own; how we engage is a big part of the equation. I'd argue that cultivating community includes challenging ourselves to be active and mindful, connecting with our surroundings. – AJ
As many communities begin to transition from a car-centric, service-oriented mindset to a more community-focused, mixed-use development pattern, an effective form-based code can make an enormous difference in getting desirable results on the ground. Given my exposure to form-based codes on the lower end of the spectrum I found this piece from Smart Growth America to be a useful look at the what could be the future of many cities’ codes. – Ryan
In the fall of 2008 I studied abroad in Barcelona. While there I discovered one of my favorite city planning superheroes, Ildefons Cerda. If you've ever marveled over Barcelona's incredible grid, you should take the time to meet its designer and champion. He also coined the term "urbanisation." Way ahead of his time, he went largely unappreciated for over 100 years until local architects in Barcelona began rediscovering his brilliance. Cerda deserves a much greater reputation than's he's received so far and this article offers a decent introduction to the man and his work. – Felix
There's a common belief in this country that increasing federal debt is okay because the GDP will continue to grow at a rate that allows us to pay for the additional debt. This is true to an extent when the interest rate is below the GDP growth rate. But, as this article points out, the United States continues to borrow more year after year, increasing deficits that make it harder and harder to get the exponential growth required. Then when you factor in that state and local government agencies are also dealing with increasing debt obligations and flattening growth rates and the growing percentage of people suffering personal financial stress, it becomes a very fragile situation that we are less likely to grow our way out of. At every level of government and in our personal lives, we need to be much better stewards of our resources and begin adjusting our expectations to align with what we have the cash to pay for. – Kevin
A big passion of ours at Verdunity is aligning people and resources in your community in order to make more meaningful progress as a result of comprehensive plans. In this Little Things podcast from Strong Towns, Jacob Moses interviews Ed Morrison from Strategic Doing. Ed's organization hosts workshops around the country leading residents in conversation to find the projects or legislation that will have the most impact in their community. His methodology was the most interesting for me: (1) Think horizontally instead of vertically, looking to your networks for help instead of handouts or funding; (2) frame your conversation around your opportunities instead of your problems; and (3) find your 'big easy' - a big win for you that your community can rally around, yet is easy enough to be accomplished and finished. – Tim
Cities should strive to set up an environment that allows for family life to flourish, but the reality in many cities is that the zoning code dictates what passes as an acceptable family structure. When cities have zoning codes that rigidly delineate which people may and may not live together – not on the basis of the health or safety limits of residential structures but merely on the basis of a particular viewpoint of what family "should" mean – they are discriminating in ways that have real, damaging effects. This well-stated piece argues that "it's wrong to exclude perfectly healthy and safe uses of residential housing simply because some of the neighbors disapprove of the form that family takes," and that formal family zoning "also reinforces the racial and economic segregation effects of low-density zoning in general." It's perfectly okay for our cities to set limits on what kinds of behavior we will and won't allow, but this should be based on whether or not a certain behavior harms other members of the community, rather than simply not conforming to their views on what is "normal." – Jordan
Hey, city people:
Have thoughts on any of the links above? Think we missed something essential? We’re discussing these topics and more over on our brand-new online community, exclusively for local government employees.* Sign up for the Community Cultivators Network and join the discussion!
* The network is currently only for those wonderful folks out there who work in local government. If you’re not currently working for a city, town, or county, we still love you (and are sure many of you would add value to the community), but we want to keep our commitment to making this a community focused specifically on our friends working in local government. Thanks for understanding!