Sunday Summary – September 20, 2015

Image of Sunday Summary logoOh my, but it has been a lively week on After the late summer lassitude, writers have roared back with more meaty posts than we’ve seen in any single week for quite a while.  And, although we don’t try to set a theme, this week’s posts manage to cohere around American cultural icons (cars, single family homes) and how our rhetoric reinforces these ideas.

Development patterns

Why Aren’t We Building Affordable Houses Anymore? is more accurately about another question asked and answered by Monte Castleman: “So what do you do if you’re lower middle class and want a [new, single-family detached] house today? You either have to settle for new multi-family housing instead, or a used house.” Answers proposed for why that lower middle class person does not have the choice of a new, affordably priced house include consumer demand, developer preference and policy decisions. Commenters take up both the details (providing useful information on such things as construction costs and consumer trends) as well as identifying the bias inherent in “settling” for either a “used” house or “stack and pack” multi-family housing.

High Rises and the Transect looks at high rise (6 or more stories) residential buildings and opposition to them. Rather than trying to put these buildings only with others like them, Alex Cecchini provides numerous examples of neighborhoods where buildings from different transects coexist very nicely: “we need to be more willing to accept development that feels out of context” and “focus less on building height, density, even a structure’s design elements and instead bring our attention to the public realm” rather than protecting private interests by keeping big buildings out.  The comment section includes a conversation between Monte Castleman and Alex Cecchini about preserving neighborhood character and/or expectations, as well as many others considering how expectations, politics, and other factors play into building (or fighting) high rise buildings.

An overview of the transect as it relates to form-based codes.

An overview of the transect as it relates to form-based codes.

Walking, biking in context and language

Two posts this week catapulted off to Planetizen and MinnPost as well as pulling in large numbers of comments here. It’s no accident Matt Steele’s Walk-Shaming in the Media responds to biased reporting of a recent bus-pedestrian collision, but moves on to the broader context of reporting by the (traditional, mainstream) media which privileges motorists in multiple ways and reinforces the cultural presumptions that driving without delay or interruption is the desired goal. Commenters are almost completely in agreement and offer their own examples.

Live Closer To Stuff follows a passionate defense of suburbs in the Strib but goes beyond to ask how “policy choices and marketing-driven cultural influences of the past” favor suburbs, then challenges the assumptions that we are supposed to want a single family home with a yard which, to be affordable (see above) is far away from everything else and driving is the default.  Comments are plentiful and carry on the conversation about proximity to stuff, local government aid (and other urban/suburban resource allocation issues), transit, and preference.

General Motors Ad

Two others

In some ways, these two posts also fit the larger theme of the week of challenging cultural assumptions for automobile transportation which is cheap, fast, and convenient. Rosedale Expansion is a Great Opportunity for Roseville and for access on foot or by bicycle by the people who liver close by this mall says Walker Angell. Commenters consider the proposals and whether they’d be used, but also propose putting high density at the mall itself to capitalize on a mall’s transit hub role.

Local Control Over Speed Limits: Slow Cars and Save Lives takes a first person near death bike ride experience in Saint Paul caused by a fast-moving (but not speeding) driver to ask about speed limits. Speed limits are set by state law with only limited exceptions to the 30 mph default speed which cannot be sensitive to neighborhood contexts. Returning the power to set speed limits to local government is proposed as a solution. The other part of the picture is how any collision would be reported: as an accident with victim-blaming observations about helmets rather than a look at how the design and context make bicycling and walking more difficult and dangerous. Commenters consider the interaction between design and speed, provide numerous examples of streets where speed is an issue, note other states’ policies, plus one comment about bikes breaking the law (but only one).

Satellite image of Rosedale. Existing parking decks are beige color on SW corner. (Image: Google Maps)

Satellite image of Rosedale. Existing parking decks are beige color on SW corner. (Image: Google Maps)

Other interesting stuff

Sectors of the Twin Cities Metro Area looks at how the metro area gets carved up for advertising or cable TV service and wonders out loud how well those generalizations work and “How else do we think about the different chunks of the metro area? Wealth? Biomes? Shades of vinyl siding? Grocery store preference? Religiosity? Preferred bad TV shows?”   Shut Up and Take My Money…Before I Board is a quick piece advocating for an “off-board fare collection mechanism” to speed up bus boarding and travel times which take our cash, card or smart phone payment while we’re waiting for the bus.

fare cards

Audiovisual department

Video: Gil Penalosa 8-80 Presentation in Saint Paul is the approximately hour-long video of Gil Penalosa’s recent talk in Saint Paul about building equity and activity into cities.

Charts of the Day of the Week: Two charts this week more or less related to the week’s theme of the cultural supremacy of the automobile and the suburbs: Climbing “Mount Auto” (from the new book “The End of Traffic and the Future of Transport,”by writers David Levinson and Kevin Krizek) and Road Funding by Source (via Strong Towns).

Map: Map Monday: Midwestern Electricity Plants

Photo-journeys: Two posts show us places and experiences. A Year as a Bike Delivery Guy takes us around the Twin Cities to the (widely varied) places where sandwiches needed to be delivered.  Main Street – Grand Marais, Minnesota continues David Levinson’s Greater Minnesota (and a bit beyond) road trips.

Comic: Roadkill Bill: Part 6 of Vincent Van Gogh in America continues Ken Avidor’s saga of the cloning of Vincent Van Gogh.

Mount Auto

As September cruises into deep Autumn and the Autumnal Equinox this week, we know you’ll start to hunker down inside at your keyboard.  Perhaps you saw something this week to get you thinking? Perhaps you’re editing those summer photos and see a story emerging? Think out loud and write about it for us (or join our thoughtful, non-troll comment conversations).  Have a great week!

Betsey Buckheit

About Betsey Buckheit

Betsey rides her pretty blue city bike, walks her energetic black dogs, and agitates for more thoughtful, long-range decision-making in Northfield, MN. You can follow her blog at