Thursday, August 2, 2012

Back from Vacation Linkages

As I ease back into the swing of things after a trip to Denver and Boulder, I gradually shed the ennui and inevitable malaise after visiting places that, at least on the surface, seem to be more headed in a uniform and purposeful direction into the future.  I'll post some stuff on my visit when I have the time, for this one must be kept short as I'm still catching up with work after taking a few days off.

First up, Frack it.  Frack it good.  Dallas city council debated fracking regulations proposed by the taskforce.  Sides were clear and predetermined, most likely by amount of donations accepted from the drilling lobby.  Certainly, we'll arrive at some awful and arbitrary compromise while suggesting compromise is actually a good thing in this case.  Often yes, compromise is necessary to set policy, advance change, adapt to ever-altering circumstance, whilst mitigating overly radical and potentially dislocative adjustment.  Evolution happens slowly.

However, in this case I'd rather it come down firmly in one side or the other.  Why?  Because if we're to continue the course of Detroit and fully hollow out the core despite the wave of pent-up demand pressure to move towards the city core, might as well accelerate the die off process.  Make it as unlivable as possible and just be done with it mercifully (and profitably!).  It's the focus strictly on the short-term and the antiquated, like mayor of Toronto Rob Ford's vision of a waterfront replete with monorails, a megamall, and a ferris wheel.  Drill in the Trinity.  Drill in city hall plaza. Drill Main Street and Belo Gardens.  Let's just go full bore 19th century industrial city that was the jumping off point for 20th century suburban flight.

There's that.  Or, there is the other option.  One that follows some actual vision for the city and understanding of future challenges (do we want to potentially contaminate water, the most important resource of the 21st century?)  Let the exurbs fight for raison d'etre.  As cities repurpose themselves as places of amenity and desirability, placing wells all over the place is counter-intuitive.  The land is too valuable.  Ensure its long-term livability and you won't have to go chasing every little short-term money grab.
A new study from the Pew Research Center finds that (surprise!) SA, Houston, and Dallas are the most segregated cities by income.  Furthermore, those three cities have had the greatest delta over the last 30 years towards increased disparity.  These things tend to feed on themselves and snowball, particularly as the high income areas become exceedingly disinterested in paying the necessary offsetting costs via taxes for this segregation (for opportunities like education).  The issue at hand is far more tangible than the flowery, plannerly ideal that different people should interact with each other.  Those interactions will happen inevitably within the right framework.

However, with the wrong framework, planners often try to force it (and even if they don't, agenda 21 types assume it).  It also isn't an amenity in the completely out-of-touch manner which Forbes cool city index (which is dreadful -- when your metrics spit out terrible results it's time to revisit your metrics), which approaches "access to ethnic interaction" as if it's some kind of zoo exhibit.  No, the real issue and detriment of income segregation is part and parcel of its very cause, that the wealthy like services nearby (amenities), and that often requires working poor to be employed there.  But if there are no opportunities for the poor to live nearby, they are coerced into crippling transportation costs via car ownership or utterly beaten down by long mass transit commutes (if they're even available).  Thus, furthering the divide, then reinforced by zoning which restricts the type and quantity of housing in certain areas.  It takes massive leadership to reverse this course.  Do we have it?
Lastly, Atlanta's regional voters shot down a proposed tax which would pay for $7.2 billion in transportation investments including considerable mass transit options.  Planners everywhere had a sad as odd bedfellows, the Sierra Club and the Tea Party both opposed it (though for differing reasons).  Not me.  Why?  Because the majority of these dollars go to massive regional initiatives and it's those same regional interconnectivities allowing sprawl and the spreading out of people to unsustainable and destructively fragile degrees.  We need less regional infrastructure.  Yet, because it is clogged and the mass transit that exists is flagging, we assume we need more of it.  These are the kinds of investments that cost a lot and yield little when we need to be strengthening local interconnectivity (and global, but Hartsfield is already massive my outsider guess is that isn't the issue) which is lost via all of the regionally-focused infrastructure.  Adding more merely keeps the zombie ambling along, looking to feed on whatever little signs of life it finds.  Instead, cities should focus on strengthening individual neighborhoods, their walkability, quality of life, strengthening opportunities, and the kind of low cost, big return investments that make those previous characteristics a reality.