Showing posts from July, 2013

The parking dilemma

(Shoup in Paris, from his website)

Donald Shoup is an economist at UCLA who in 2005 published the definitive book on motor vehicle parking. It is a massive work (which alert readers will recognize as code for "I didn't read all of it"), painstakingly describing studies by himself and others. But it comes down to this: free curb parking creates all manner of problems for society. The solutions are to allow fewer parking spaces, charge more for parking, and (maybe) require limits on parking spaces.

Shoup lists in chapter 5 a number of ways free parking creates harms: it subsidizes cars (all taxpayers provide a resource that decreases the cost of car-driving), distorts transportation choices (because driving is cheaper), warps urban form (all those parking spaces) and debases urban design, increases housing costs, burdens low-income households, damages the economy and degrades the environment. In busy areas free curb parking means individual drivers "cruise" for …

A gathering of spirits in Cedar Rapids

Author Parker Palmer commended community spirit to a large audience at First Presbyterian Church in Cedar Rapids last night. He urged the listeners to "imagine how we might live our political lives as people healing the whole," and not to become discouraged either by others' rage or the lack of tangible results.

(Parker J. Palmer, from
Palmer is the founder of the Center for Courage and Renewal in Seattle, Washington. Joining him on the program singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer and pianist Gary Walters, making for an interesting mix in which Palmer's pithy observations were punctuated by Newcomer's songs (including "Better Angels," on which Palmer is credited as co-writer) and a couple instrumental improvisations by Walters. The evening concluded with Newcomer leading the crowd in two of her songs, "If Not Now" and "Peace Like a River." So we got the glow of a folk concert combined with the extended commentary of …

Geography is destiny?

The New York Times yesterday reported at length on a study of economic mobility by metropolitan area. The results reported in the Times focused on the chances of a child whose family was in the bottom 20 percent of incomes moving into the top 20 percent by age 30. Not surprisingly the chances aren't very great overall (8 percent), but the variation across areas was striking. They ranged from 11 percent in Salt Lake City, San Jose and San Francisco, to 4 percent in Atlanta, Charlotte and Indianapolis. That may not seem an awfully wide range, but note that if all outcomes were totally random 20 percent of people in each quintile would wind up in each quintile. Getting 11 percent of a poor population into the top 20 percent is fairly impressive, while 4 percent is pretty darned close to zero.

[For the record, Chicago's score is a weak 6.1 percent. Cedar Rapids scores 12.6 percent, higher than any of the larger metropolitan areas.…

Why historic preservation

Historic preservationists, with whom I have spent some quality time, feel like their animating passion is unappreciated by a lot of developers. They quote developers telling them things like, "Sure, people miss such-and-such a building for a while, but eventually they forget."

Did anyone actually say this? If they did, they said something that is accurate, but only at the surface level. I will personally admit to an amazing inability to remember whatever was there before what's there now. [Wasn't that always there? Weren't we always at war with Eurasia?] Today there probably are people who drive down 3rd Avenue and think, "People's Church used to be there. What a cool old building that was. That thing that took its place sure is butt-ugly." But even in such egregious cases, such comments will--as the developers know--diminish with time.

 And soon we'll forget where the A & W was, where they put your tray in your car window well into the 1990…

Peace and quiet

My son Eli and I spent three days in Chicago last week, my second visit to the Windy City this year.
(Lakefront, looking north from Ohio Street Beach, 7/16/13)
Being in a more dense, urban environment than I'm used to means there are more people, a faster pace of life, and more ambient noise.These are part of what make urban life attractive to many people. Phrases like "sleepy old town" and "quiet evening at home" are typically not intended as compliments. Yet it occurs to me that (a) some people choose to live in suburbs and small towns because they want to live away from the crowds and noise; and (b) everyone probably needs some measure of peace and quiet in their lives.

We shouldn't overstate the contrast. It gets noisy in Cedar Rapids, too, even on the toney southeast side. There are car alarms, ambulances, outdoor speaker systems, barking dogs, unmuffled motorcycles and lawnmowers, not to mention several people seem to be in daily training for the leaf…

Third Places in the City of Five Seasons?

Ray Oldenburg's book, The Great Good Place (Paragon House), was published in 1989. Much of its social commentary has dated, but its central message not only endures, it seems to have inspired a movement.
Oldenburg argued than that America was suffering from the loss of casual gathering places, such as the neighborhood taverns, corner stores, soda fountains and coffee shops that had been been a key part of American life prior to World War II, and are still found in much of Western Europe. He coined the phrase third place, referring to the "great variety of public places that host the regular, voluntary, informal, and happily anticipated gatherings of individuals beyond the realms of home and work" (p. 16). Personal benefits of third places (ch. 3) include an accessible set of friends, spiritual uplift, an improved and broader perspective on humanity, and the opportunity for novelty. Social benefits (ch. 4) include a forum for free association, gentle social control, &qu…

Who is My Neighbor?

The e-mail signature of one of our Illinois correspondents includes a quote from Jane Addams (1860-1935): "The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain, is floating in mid-air, until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life." It's taken from a speech she gave in 1892, "The Subjective Necessity for Social Settlements," and appears in her autobiography which was published in 1910.

The tricky part of the last phrase is not the word "common," as all but the most strenuous of individualists would agree that our lives are importantly connected to other people. The tricky part is "all of us." With whom do we share common life? Who is in our community? And who is out?

In Luke chapter 10, a lawyer asks Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?" It's a freighty question, because Jesus and the lawyer have just agreed that the command in Leviticus 19:18--You shall love your neighbor as yourself--is at the core …

Should CR get rail service?


Fourth of July in Cedar Rapids

(Blake Blvd on Independence Day)
July 4 in America comes with a variety of meanings, besides the explicit one of being the anniversary of U.S. independence. It certainly is also a celebration of civic life. Much of what we do on the Fourth we do together, with family, friends, and--this is where the civic part comes in--bunches of fellow townspeople. In Cedar Rapids the celebration gets stretched out over several weeks, coordinated out of a downtown office by the Freedom Festival, which is a non-profit corporation with a board of directors and staff and everything.

But with apologies to Chalk the Walk, the Balloon Glow, and Movie Night at the Kernels, the big day remains the Fourth. This year the Fourth was exceptionally fine, weather to write home about. The day began early, with races through the southeast side sponsored by the Cedar Valley Running Association. The route took them down Grande Avenue, a block from my house. I caught the end of it; you can't quite see runners or s…

Thinking about bicycles (part 2)

After writing my last post about bicycling, which mainly was about the role of bicycles in our evolving transportation matrix, and how we might cope successfully with the transition. I was thinking about what I wrote as I rode my bike to work on a mostly-empty street. I began to wonder about how much of what I preached was unwittingly located in the context of a small city with not very much traffic (except for certain times of the day on certain streets, which I can and do avoid). If I could rethink that piece I would try to sound a little less sure of myself.

My friend Bob thinks and rides in a quite different context from me. He lives in a city that has a much larger population than Cedar Rapids, and is more compact and so the streets are more crowded. Bob indeed comes to conclusions quite different from mine. He writes:

Many bicyclists fought hard to get bicyclists the right to be on our roads. Along the way, they looked very hard at all the safety issues and concluded that bicyc…