Lazy Michael Hsu

Pike Power Lab, Mueller, 2013

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Elan East Apartments, Manor Rd, 2014

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These two projects are less than half a mile apart, and given the longer lead time on the larger apartment project, there’s a chance they were in design at the same time. I hope the owners pooled their order and got a discount on the materials!

Lying with Maps

As readers are likely aware, Project Connect made their recommendation for the first phase of urban rail Austin’s next transit investment last Friday. Many others have written about the selection.

One thing that I haven’t seen mentioned among the numerous failings of this “data driven” process is the way the map of the recommended subcorridors subtly changed in the six hours between the CCAG presentation and the official map currently posted on the Project Connect website. For your viewing pleasure, here’s the first map:

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Affordable Housing Rent-Seeking

M-Station, one of the projects developed with funds from the 2006 bond. Image via Foundation Communities

M-Station, one of the projects developed with funds from the 2006 bond. Image via Foundation Communities

Last night Austinites approved $65M in new bonds for affordable housing. This was a huge reversal from just one year ago, when a similar proposition was narrowly defeated.

It’s now clear that affordable housing advocates were quite shocked by the defeat last year, and they campaigned hard to win this time. The branding was better–”Keep Austin Affordable” vs. “Yes for Homes,” the outreach was better–we received at least a half-dozen direct mail pieces, and the ground game was way better. I don’t recall a single canvasser last year. This year we had campaign volunteers knock on our door at least four times. So, kudos to the campaign. They won at the ballot box, and that’s all that matters in that game.

And yet, even putting aside the policy questions around the bond, the entire thing strikes me as extremely troublesome. Here we have a group of organizations that got together to fund a campaign that will issue public debt, the proceeds of which will be distributed to those very organizations! As I commented last night on twitter, that is substantively no different from any interested party using political influence to secure some kind of preferential treatment or, in this case, direct disbursements from the public treasury. We have a word for that kind of behavior: rent-seeking.

I don’t dispute that many of the recipients of these bond funds do good work. In fact, I have a great deal of respect for many of them. I just don’t think you can draw lines between “good” corruption and “bad” corruption.

Cities & Families

The other night I posted a set of tweets questioning the conventional wisdom that cities should prioritize the interests of families and children in policy. Brad called it a “mini blog post,” so I decided to repost it here in its entirety.

I received a couple replies making the political case (largely that parents are over represented at the ballot box), but that’s not really the issue I was trying to get at. That any given group which wields disproportionate political clout tends to get their way is hardly a novel idea. The most incisive response (which I am unfortunately unable to embed) was this:

because it helps support their suburban ideals since 50 years of history tell us kids = suburbs!

I think there might be something to this.

The “but what about the children?” argument is evergreen (and ever specious), and it serves an anti-urban agenda as well as any other. In this case the thought process of the anti-urbanites would go something like this:

  1. Cities should be good for kids.
  2. Urbanism is bad (for kids).
  3. Suburbanism is good (for kids).
  4. Therefore, our cities should attempt to mimic the suburban form.

That is, of course, ridiculous on its face, but if you’re an anti-urbanite trying to justify your agenda, I can see how you might dupe yourself into believing it.

“Green” Sprawl

There’s an interesting piece in The Atlantic Cities this week on a proposed “green” greenfield development in Southern California. The piece focuses on a proposed “I-15 sustainable community,” and the author’s central point is that it’s impossible for this low-density suburban-style housing to be “green” given the proposed location. Since I have some familiarity with the area (my grandparents used to live just across I-15 from the proposed site), I think he’s absolutely right. You really cannot get to anything in the area without driving at least 20 minutes, and that’s with I-15 traffic cruising at 80 mph. Each one of these 1,700 homes is certain to have at least 2 cars, and the increase in VMT will more than offset all the “green” features of the development.

That said, the most important part comes after most readers’ tl;dr line:

It seems to me that the planning office should be encouraging green revitalization and redevelopment within cities and towns, and encouraging the addition of new green features to existing suburbs.

Herein lies the problem. Why are developers proposing “green” sprawl? Because building anything “within cities and towns,” especially in-fill housing in existing neighborhoods, has become effectively illegal in so many jurisdictions. The demand for new housing is still there, and if it can’t be built it in the urban core, it’ll have to be built as sprawl. Once you’re on that path, it makes sense to go “green” since green sells, especially in present-day California.

I doubt the Valley Center Planning Group really needs to do anything at all to “encourage” development in already urbanized areas, they just need to tear down the current barriers. I’m not sure that building the same housing in Escondido would really be “green” either – it’s always struck me as something of a bedroom community for San Diego (30 miles to the south) – but it’s almost certainly better than even more sprawl.

Sunrise in Barton Creek

I got up and went for an early hike in the greenbelt this morning. As usual for this time of year, the creek was bone dry.

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I wanted to take advantage of the cooler weather to break in my new boots, and while it certainly beat hiking in the 90s (or 100s!), my feet were still extremely toasty. I’ll take that as a good indicator that I won’t have issues with cold feet up in the mountains.

Here’s the GPS data:

New Boots!

I took advantage of the market for mountaineering gear up here in PDX to pick up some new boots. They’re Scarpa Mont Blanc GTXs, and my first pair of genuine mountaineering boots.20120826-144954.jpg

My feet got incredibly cold while climbing Pico de Orizaba back in March, so these have been on the wish list for a while. Now I need to get some crampons and start planning the next trip!