A Temporary Leave of Absense

As many of you know, one of my  favorite things to discuss on this blog is the intersection of the fields of urban planning and economic development, particularly as it relates to building strong local economies. This coming November, I have an exciting opportunity to prove my mettle in these areas by taking the American Planning Association’s American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) exam. Unfortunately, I’ve come to the realization that the best time I have to prepare for this exam is the same one I use to research and write for this blog. Continue reading

Fighting the Local Curse of Bigness: A Case for Store Size Caps

imageWhat I loved about Northwest Hardware in Austin, Texas was the phenomenal customer service. Every time I went in, someone would talk to me in detail about my project or problem and steer me in the right direction, even if their solution was less expensive than what I was originally thinking. Sadly, we stopped by a few weeks ago only to discover that it had recently closed.  The loss felt strangely close to me. After all, as a consumer I’d like to be able to shop with my values of supporting small and independent businesses that anchor the local community. Yet with the disappearance of stores that provide this option, I find myself pushed into a handful of large, consolidated big box options that lack the intimacy of a community shopping experience. Continue reading

Redefining Success in Our Economy

imageBy all accounts the famed basketball coach John Wooden is one of the most successful in the history of the game. He boasts an all-time winning percentage of over .800 (620-147), and won an incredible 10 national championships over a twelve year period (from 1963-1975), which included four perfect seasons (1964, 1967, 1972, and 1973) and an 88 game winning streak. Despite all his victories however, a deeper look into Coach Wooden’s philosophy reveals that winning was something he actually never talked about, as he did not believe that success should be judged by comparison with anyone else. Continue reading

Questioning a Driverless Future

imageI was in Dallas last week attending the Congress for the New Urbanism’s CNU 23 Conference, turning over the question “how do we build places people love” with professionals as enthusiastic about city design as myself. One concept that kept popping up was that of the driverless car. What bothered me about the surrounding discussion though was this attitude of inevitability regarding our driverless future. No one seemed to be stopping to ask whether such technology actually provides a net benefit to our quality of life. To be sure, such cars may provide several benefits from a possible reduction in traffic fatalities to better mobility for the elderly, disabled and others isolated by our auto-oriented society. But what about the potential pitfalls? Have we considered those? Let me just share a few unanswered questions of mine ranging from the concrete to the philosophical: Continue reading

Curbing the Need for Speed

imageBack in my city planning days, the two requests I heard most often from neighborhoods were 1) traffic calming to lower speeds and 2) sidewalks to give pedestrians a safe place to walk apart from the cars. Modern planners today satisfy these requests with what are called “complete streets”, in which each mode of transportation has its own separate lane – the street for cars, bike lanes for bikers, sidewalks for pedestrians. While the design makes a lot of sense at first glance, it’s actually a far cry from what we used to consider a complete street. Check out this amazing video filmed in San Francisco in 1906 and you’ll see what I’m talking about: Continue reading

Growing Deep

imageThe unique flavor of local businesses is as beautiful as it is important, helping to make each place special and combating the spread of “Anywhere, USA” towns. Yet one thing that has perplexed me is how do these same businesses retain their local image in the face of success? Isn’t expansion and the franchising of stores the logical next step?

Well, I recently discovered that growing deep in place can be an alternative to growing broadly. Here are two great examples of this concept: Continue reading

A Slow Money Economy

Sandbox turtleThis past weekend, Paula, the baby and I took a roadtrip from Austin to Dallas along Interstate-35. Along that drive I was struck by the number of chain and franchise restaurants that lined the highway. Where were the local businesses? Why wasn’t there a better mix of both local and national dining options? Continue reading

Morgantown’s People Mover

Transportation is one of my favorite topics here at The New Localization. It’s so basic and yet it’s such an economic, environmental, social, and political heavyweight. It has everything to do with the design of our cities. As late as the 1970s, we Americans were still dreaming of new and innovative ways to move people from Point A to Point B, but fresh ideas today seem a bit harder to come by.

That’s why I was pretty excited to discover this radical transportation mode operating in Morgantown, West, Virginia: Continue reading

An Economy That Works for Everyone

I was touched today by a brief documentary that appeared in the New York Times called “Hotel 22” by Elizabeth Ho. This eight minute video documented the use of a 24-hour bus route by the homeless of Silicon Valley to get some temporary shelter and relief from the streets.  In watching the documentary, I kept thinking that our economy must do better for the least among us, for those who may not be W-2 employable. Why do people without money or the means or opportunity to make money have to live like this? Continue reading

“I Have a Dream”

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“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered at the March on Washington, August 28, 1963

Since finding the incredible online resources of the Schumacher Center for a New Economics, my nightly routine has included washing the dishes to a Schumacher Lecture.  One of my favorites is the below lecture by Van Jones, founder of Rebuild the Dream, in which he gives an amazing account and commentary on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” Speech.” Continue reading