Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A History of Parking Garages...

A short but very interesting article on one person's history of parking garages:
The first garages were sometimes converted stables, sometimes other large buildings adapted for new use and sometimes built for the purpose (by auto clubs that worked to defend drivers against the entrenched horse-and-buggy partisans). Early automobiles were not all-weather vehicles -- engines could freeze and exposed leather seats needed special care -- so early garages were heated and protected from the elements. They were, in general, much better integrated into the urban fabric than garages built decades later..

Early in the history of the garage, two philosophical currents emerge. Is the car a machine, to be stored as efficiently as possible? Or is it an extension of our quintessentially American mobility, which often is considered to be almost the same thing as freedom itself? From this split emerged two very different kinds of garages.

The mechanized garage was efficient at housing machines. Drive in, hand the car over to an attendant, and a system of elevators and turntables moved the car to its place. But that lacked the freedom of the other model, the ramp garage, which eventually led to the self-park garage that we are all but addicted to today. You drive in, you drive out, you stay as long as you want.

The architecture of the old mechanized garages was generally superior -- more beautiful, exuberant and sensitive -- to that of the ramp garages that replaced them.

Upcoming Speaking Engagement...

On February 8th, I'll be speaking at the New Partners for Smart Growth conference on this topic:

Long Strides in Smart Growth Coding in a Short Time CM-Approved

Smart growth isn't just for progressive municipalities on the coasts. Nor is it simply for quaint hamlets nestled in natural resources. Communities across the country are finding that coding for smart growth is possible in a relatively short period of time given the right mixture of political will and community advocacy techniques. This session reveals how two communities — one in the Deep South, the other from the Midwest — successfully fostered smart growth development through the adoption of the SmartCode and a Traditional Neighborhood Development ordinance, respectively.

* Nathan Norris, Director of Implementation Advisory, PlaceMakers, L.L.C.
* Chad Emerson, Assistant Professor, Jones School of Law, Faulkner University
* Robert Thompson, Executive Director, Porter County, IN

If you are at the conference, stop by and say hello...

Sunday, January 27, 2008

A Good Resource for...

...dispelling the myth that increased density is an inherently bad thing.

Sites We Read...

Now and then, I like to share websites/blogs that Daily Sprawl regularly follows.

Here's an interesting one (though not directly related to sprawl--it does often cover some related issues).

Smart Growth Law Seminar

Over at the law school, I teach a Smart Growth Law Seminar every other spring.

This year, I've assigned less reading and replaced it with more multimedia resources.

Last Thursday, we watched this video from the Massachusetts School of Law.

Very thought-provoking.
Betsy and I just returned from a wonderful weekend here. I'll post pics and other details about this sustainably-designed community later this week.

For now, Daily Sprawl wonders how many people continue to have what we'll call a "Mr. Wissner Moment":
Mr. Wissner has had more than a few fretful nights since he became "peak-oil aware," as he calls it, about 30 months ago. In embracing the theory that the world's oil production is about to peak, Mr. Wissner has tossed himself into a movement that is gaining thousands of adherents, egged on by soaring oil prices, the rarity of big new oil finds and writings on the Internet.

There are now dozens of "relocalization" working groups scattered from Maine to Southern California pushing for people to spurn cars, buy local produce and work where they live. Mr. Wissner's own congressman, a Republican nuclear physicist named Vernon Ehlers, is part of the 13-member congressional Peak Oil Caucus formed in late 2005. City councils from Bloomington, Ind., to Portland, Ore., have passed peak-oil resolutions to gird for the looming crunch.

Many converts, like Houston oil banker Matthew Simmons, remain firm members of the suit-and-tie energy establishment. Others have gone "off-grid," cutting ties to the mainstream economy and growing yams in their garden as they wait for the coming chaos. Mr. Wissner and his wife fall somewhere in the middle -- alienated by a car-obsessed culture, but still part of it.

Ms. Sager remembers well her husband's conversion. She returned home one afternoon in August 2005, from her job as a software engineer for General Electric Aviation and found him at his computer, deep into a Web site he had found while researching gas prices called
Read the whole thing at the link above, including an interview video.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Monday, January 21, 2008

New Downtown Montgomery Revitalization Group... here for details.

A Big Day for Charlotte...

...and its efforts to combat sprawl.

Photo courtesy of uptownliving at

Avoiding Excessive Antibiotics...

...if you use or prescribe antibiotics, then please carefully read this important article:
Yet the problem goes far beyond one bug and a handful of drugs. Entire classes of mainstay antibiotics are being threatened with obsolescence, and bugs far more dangerous than staph are evolving in ominous ways.

"We are on the verge of losing control of the situation, particularly in the hospitals," said Dr. Chip Chambers, chief of infectious disease at San Francisco General Hospital.

The reasons for increasing drug resistance are well known:

- Overuse of antibiotics, which speeds the natural evolution of bacteria, promoting new mutant strains resistant to those drugs.
- Careless prescribing of antibiotics that aren't effective for the malady in question, such as a viral infection.
- Patient demand for antibiotics when they aren't needed.

Heavy use of antibiotics in poultry and livestock feed, which can breed resistance to similar drugs for people.

Sprawl Housing Crisis Solution?

Here's an interesting one from Jim Cramer:
U.S. banks are taking a beating in the market because of the billions of dollars in subprime mortgages they have on their books. And with the insurers who backed the loans in danger of going belly up, there doesn’t seem to be a bottom for these stocks. If that ever happened, Cramer said, the entire system would collapse dominoes style.

It’s his ultimate doomsday scenario, and he fully believes it could happen if the government doesn’t act quickly. But instead President Bush announced plans for a stimulus package that would put a small chunk of change into the pockets of American taxpayers. Washington seems to think that consumer spending might be the jumpstart this economy needs.

But Cramer thinks different. And that’s why he laid out his Game Plan for saving the U.S. economy Friday.

The government needs to buy these mortgage insurers – MBIA , PGI Group , MGIC and Ambak – he said. The insurance covering municipal bonds could be sold to Warren Buffett or the highest bidder. Then Washington could guarantee the loans at 50 cents on the dollar. That way, even if all of the whole $500 billion worth defaulted, it would only cost $250 billion to lift the economy out of this rut.
P.S. Watch the Video...

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Montgomery's "Blizzard of 2008"...

Okay, so there was less than 1/8 of an inch of snow here at The Waters.

But, hey, that's 1/8 more of inch that the neighborhood has ever seen...

The Future is Now...

...when it comes to high speed rail as an alternative to air travel:
High-speed rail is generally defined as public transport by train that exceeds 124 mph. Given that definition, the United States also has high-speed rail services, but just barely. Amtrak’s Acela Express runs along the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington D.C. at speeds of up to 150 mph. That’s better than sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on Interstate 95, but it’s nothing compared to the trains now testing in France, which go more than twice as fast.

In thrall to the automobile and air travel, U.S. rapid train service never really took off. But now with highways packed, airports gridlocked and bridges crumbling, America has fallen way behind the rest of the developed world (and even some less developed parts) when it comes to creating a high-speed rail network.

Indeed, lightning-like rail service is popping up in countries where you might not have expected it. In South America, Argentina is forging ahead with plans to build the continent’s first high-speed network linking Buenos Aires and C√≥rdoba. Based on French TGV technology, the “Cobra” bullet trains should be able to reach speeds of 199 mph just in time to carry passengers to Argentina’s 2010 bicentennial celebrations.
[Now its just time for the U.S. to join the progress...]

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Now Las Vegas Strip Sprawl is...

...starting to suffer:
The developer of the $3 billion Cosmopolitan Resort & Casino says its lender, Deutsche Bank, filed a notice of foreclosure on the property for a construction loan of $760 million that just matured.

Developer and owner Ian Bruce Eichner says in a statement that his company is working with Deutsche Bank and Merrill Lynch to find new investors.

Eichner tells The Associated Press in the statement that, "This action by our lender comes as no surprise."

He blames challenges in the real estate and capital markets for difficulty in raising capital for the project, which is now under construction.

The 3,000-room high-rise casino and hotel is due to open in late 2009 between the Bellagio casino resort and the CityCenter casino complex on the Las Vegas Strip.
I personally don't gamble but enjoy visiting the Vegas Strip because it is such a surreally designed place. The juxtapositioning of Paris, Italy, Monte Carlo, and King Arthur's castle (among others) jars the senses so much that its briefly entertaining (plus, the place has great shows like Le Reve and even better restaurants).

All that said, the time is ticking on Vegas since, as much as almost anywhere, its success is tied to the availability of cheap airfare--something that Peak Energy is going to mercilessly dispose of for most Americans of modest means.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

How Do You Cut Gas Demand... better sync up with available supply?

This federal panel suggests a large increase in the gas tax:
Federal gasoline taxes should be raised up to 40 cents per gallon over five years, a special commission urged Tuesday in calling for drastic changes to fix aging bridges and roads and reduce traffic deaths.
The two-year study by the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission is the first to recommend broad changes after the devastating bridge collapse in Minneapolis last August. It warns that urgent action is needed to avoid future disasters.

Two Interesting Updates...

1. At least one Nissan exec thinks that the U.S. car culture is about to undergo a fundamental change:
Unlike most executives, he welcomes the imposition of new U.S. fuel regulations that mandate 35 miles per gallon by 2020.

"It is not an issue" for Nissan (NSANY) he says.

He expects the new regs to drive more small cars, improved technoloy, and a broader variety of shapes and sizes, as designers try to get more variety out of similarly-sized vehicles.

But he points to some discouraging global trends that don't bode well for the industry.

He notes that consumers in Japan are losing their mojo when it comes to cars. The population is aging, and younger drivers would rather spend their money on new cellphones and Internet access.

"Japan is increasingly not interested in new cars," he says.
2. Meanwhile, the scope of the permanent housing market correction continues to expand:
Nationally, the variety of communities facing a wave of foreclosures is striking. Many areas of go-go growth—the Southwest, California’s Central Valley, much of Florida, eastern Colorado, Greater Atlanta—have been hard-hit. So too have portions of the Rust Belt, and a narrow east-west strip running from Tennessee into Arkansas. The places encompass run-down neighborhoods as well as areas with at least a veneer of affluence. (On the street pictured below, many of the houses sold for $400,000 or more.) If nothing else, the meltdown forces us to consider how much uncertainty may lurk beneath the surface of apparent prosperity; an ample suburban house could be an asset or a liability, depending on the terms of the mortgage and the direction of the local market.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Is $180 Per Barrel...

...where oil prices really start to hurt the overall economy?

That's what these two well-respected experts believe.

The problem is that they don't think the big 1-8-0 is that far away...

Some Additional Advice...

...from one Long Emergency prognosticator.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Ghost Malls?

Thanks to a colleague for sending along this interesting article from Slate:
So far, America's real-estate agony has been confined largely to the vast residential sector. Commercial (office buildings) and retail (malls, strip malls, big boxes) real estate have held up rather well, even though those markets were propelled by the same factors that sent housing into orbit: easy credit, an abiding faith in perpetually rising asset values, and misplaced optimism about economic expansion.

But when the economy slows and threatens to go into recession, it's usually bad for all classes of real estate. And when the slowing economy is led by pooped-out consumers, it's usually disastrous for the tenants of malls and strip malls—and for their owners and lenders. All of which suggests: Get ready for the ghost mall!

Monday, January 7, 2008

An Interesting Upcoming Conference...

...from the SmartCoast group in the Mobile area on "green" smart growth strategies.

Click here to learn more.

My Guest Column... the Montgomery Advertiser addressing the proposed Judicial Building redevelopment ran in today's paper.

There will be a public meeting at 5.30pm at the Landmarks Foundation auditorium in Old Alabama Town to discuss this important issue.

Daily Sprawl hopes as many people as possible can join us...


Here is another recent editorial from the Anniston paper.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Books That Seem To Matter...

...continuing the Daily Sprawl series on interesting books that generate thought-provoking ideas related to sprawl and sustainability topics, we offer our latest recommendation:

The World Without Us by Alan Weisman

Now remember: just because a book makes us think, doesn't mean we agree with its entire argument. That's certainly true in this case.

However, Weisman's premise is really fascinating: What would happen to Earth if humans were gone all at once?

Now, for starters, while a speculative exercise, The World Without Us is not something akin to I Am Legend. No mysterious viruses, aliens, or asteriods kill us off. Rather, Weisman simply consults with various experts to consider what would happen--if we all weren't here anymore--to that which we humans have created.

Some of the conclusions are quite interesting (and, frankly, not surprising). For instance, very little of our current built environment would last long against natural forces (save some of our most complex polymers).

Rather, if we go, that which would last longest would likely be our stone buildings of many years ago (apparently, along with most of our true ceramic-tiled bathrooms).

Anyhow, if you are looking for a good read, try The World Without Us. If nothing else, it will make you think about the big picture.

And, that's a good thing, right?


This video is kinda strange but quite an interesting animated summary of Weisman's book.

One Problem Continues... begat another:
A new crisis is emerging, a global food catastrophe that will reach further and be more crippling than anything the world has ever seen. The credit crunch and the reverberations of soaring oil prices around the world will pale in comparison to what is about to transpire, Donald Coxe, global portfolio strategist at BMO Financial Group said at the Empire Club's 14th annual investment outlook in Toronto on Thursday.

"It's not a matter of if, but when," he warned investors. "It's going to hit this year hard."

Mr. Coxe said the sharp rise in raw food prices in the past year will intensify in the next few years amid increased demand for meat and dairy products from the growing middle classes of countries such as China and India as well as heavy demand from the biofuels industry.

"The greatest challenge to the world is not US$100 oil; it's getting enough food so that the new middle class can eat the way our middle class does, and that means we've got to expand food output dramatically," he said.
That garden that I'm planting with my 4 year and 6 year old this winter, well, its looking like a real good skill to learn after all...

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Dave Pollard of is asking some good questions:
But there's a bigger problem looming with shoddy goods, services and infrastructure. They have an extraordinarily high maintenance and replacement cost, measured both in dollars and in hours of work. When the economy is humming, this is manageable. But what happens when an economic collapse occurs or a permanent resource scarcity emerges? What if suddenly people cannot afford to replace last year's load of crap with this year's? What happens when the cost to transport the raw materials stolen from struggling nations to the Chinese slave-labour factories, and then to transport the manufactured crap from China to centralized super-warehouses and then to super-stores in distant mega-malls and then to your home and then to the toxic landfill sites back in struggling nations, suddenly becomes prohibitively high? What happens when the phone lines and servers and networks and power grids go down and the utilities can't afford to pay workers to fix them because none of the customers can afford to pay their bills? Or because some new disease has so spooked everyone that the people who maintain the shoddy, vulnerable, fragile, under-serviced infrastructure on which we depend so heavily just refuse to show up for work at any price?

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Credit Crisis Looks to...

...not just kill much of the housing market but the automobile and the credit card segments to.

Which leads to an interesting question that was recently posed to Daily Sprawl: Who's fault is all this mess?

The answer is complex but, primarily, two-fold:

1. The consumers who continued to buy, buy, buy on credit with seemingly very little thought as to the consequences. Of course, these individuals are everyone's neighbors, friends, and even relatives so its hard to be too hard on them. But, ultimately, most of the credit mess resulted not from required expenses like medical bills but from completely unneeded purchases out of people's realistic means.

Or, stated another way, did you really need that boat and Suburban to pull it?

2. The loaners. Whether it is a bank, credit union, finance company, or any variation of the same, you have to wonder who in the heck was running these ships as they headed directly for dry ground. Seriously, these companies are supposed to have intelligent people as their CEOs and COOs and EVPs and other acronymed execs.

Yet, very, very few of them seemed to appreciate the basic mathematical reality that if somebody is making $50,000 per year with existing debt of, say, $15,000 that they cannot afford a $350,000 house or two $29,000 vehicles--or, worse still, both!

It's as if the reality that a good portion of these loans would end up in default--again, because basic math suggested so--never occurred to these corporate heads.

So, who is at fault?

Almost everyone. After all, there aren't many people in the U.S. who either didn't take or give too much credit--more than could possibly be afforded.

Oil Price Predictions...

...from one leading economic commentator:
The logical conclusion from these trends, I think, is that oil production beyond 2009 is likely to fall well short of the sum of growing demand and increasing declines in old fields. They lend credibility to the statistical analysis done by Chris Skrebowski that indicates we will see the benefits of numerous new, primarily land-based projects scheduled to come on stream in 2008 and 2009, after which supplies will become significantly tighter, falling off a cliff by 2014.


Fearless Prediction

Considering all of the above, my five year forecast for the oil price range is:

2008: $80 - $140

2009: $105 - $195

2010: $150 - $250

2011: $175 - $325

2012: $275 - $500
Please read these numbers carefully and understand their significance. These predictions are not from someone considered to be a Peak Oil theorist but, rather, a conventional economic observer.

The idea of $200 per barrel in just two years is becoming increasingly more likely. Plans for dealing with this cost in fueling your vehicles and heating/cooling your home should begin now as the Family Budget will soon take a much different shape.

The reason is simple: The Oil Cost of Everything...

Another School Sprawl article....

The (sadly) ironic part of this article is that the principal worries about the danger of his students walking to nearby restaurants when, under his sprawl school solution, many more students would be driving automobiles and buses to school.

An activity that is significantly more dangerous for teenagers than walking along a city street.

Consumption and Sprawl...

...this NYT story discusses how our country's large consumption rates (as compared to much of the rest of the world) aren't even needed to maintain a high quality of life:
Real sacrifice wouldn’t be required, however, because living standards are not tightly coupled to consumption rates. Much American consumption is wasteful and contributes little or nothing to quality of life. For example, per capita oil consumption in Western Europe is about half of ours, yet Western Europe’s standard of living is higher by any reasonable criterion, including life expectancy, health, infant mortality, access to medical care, financial security after retirement, vacation time, quality of public schools and support for the arts. Ask yourself whether Americans’ wasteful use of gasoline contributes positively to any of those measures.