Buffalo makes waterfront decisions

Not mentioned in this WIVB-TV clip about a meeting last night in Buffalo is that the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp reportedly also engaged Fred Kent, founder and president of Project for Public Spaces. Kent, who recently introduced the idea of "lighter, quicker, cheaper"  redevelopment that's become the activist battle cry, will help the city establish a market place in the historic district and and otherwise advise waterfront redevelopment.

Rod Blagojevich as...

...the Pimp of Pistachios? The Kernel of Corruption?? The Duke of Nuts???

Great Lakes cities in the wake of recession

Brookings today released its Global MetroMonitor, which measures the performance of the world's 150 largest metropolitan economies before, during and after the Great Recession. Surprisingly, Detroit and Cleveland are singled out for their "significant rebound." Here's how, according to the report, metros across the greater Great Lakes ranked globally in the 2009-2010 recovery:

44. Minneapolis
46. Detroit
49. Cleveland
62. Cincinnati
81. Columbus
82. Chicago
83. Milwaukee
120. Buffalo
128. Rochester
129. Pittsburgh
137. Indianapolis

Green Alleys in Chicago

Architect Janet Attarian, who directs the Chicago Dept of Transportation's Streetscape and Sustainable Design Program, describes the city's green alley initiative. 130 down. Approx 13,000 to go.

(via the McGraw Hill Construction's Video Library)

A call for ideas to improve downtown Cleveland

More at Your Changing Cleveland and @YourChangingCLE

Real rail talk on Wisconsin radio

A call-in show with ordinary people hashing out Wisconsin's high-speed rail controversy. Listen to the podcast here.

A supporter mistakenly refers to "light speed rail."

An opponent suggests the "dadgum thing" will never secure funding.

Scott Rogers, co-chair of the West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition, and the show's principal guest, offered this final thought:
Proverbs says it's not good to have zeal without knowledge. So if you feel strongly about this study it and learn as much as you can.

Thanksgiving from Detroit 2010

The General thanked the nation. The Kid rocked the nation. The Lions bored the nation.

The play by play...

"Modern" streetcars arrive in Grand Rapids, MI 1926

This is a promotional video for the Grand Rapids Railway Company, whose aim was "to make your service the best in the United States." They succeeded for a while, building an advanced urban transit system for the era that was eventually dismantled. This PR video, however, could use Charlie Chaplin and the City Lights Orchestra.

(via @StreetcarGR. Also, hat tip to the Grand Rapids Historical Commission and the Grand Rapids Public Library)

Big ideas for downtown Madison

The draft Downtown Plan (PDF) for Madison, WI recommends 10 'big ideas' to focus on for the next 25 years:
  1. Reconnect downtown to Lake Mendota and Lake Monona
  2. Establish building standards that maintain "dramatic" and "postcard" views of the skyline and Capitol
  3. Build a new transportation center near Monona Terrace
  4. Improve transportation connections to, through and around downtown
  5. Promote sustainability via higher building density, mixed use and multi-modal transportation
  6. Strengthen the identity of individual neighborhoods and districts
  7. Embrace the preservation of historic structures
  8. Identify large sites for redevelopment and infill and adopt policies that stimulate investment there
  9. Reenergize the Mifflin area
  10. Transform an underutilized downtown block into a 1.75 acre public park


The mega-trends, as summed up at Economics 21, seem to favor dynamic mobility providers over one-trade car companies.
Part of the longer-term problem facing GM and the U.S. automobile industry more broadly is that while automobile sales in emerging economies are increasing robustly, they are decreasing in the mature economies of Europe, North America, and Japan. Aging populations, deleveraging households, higher gasoline prices, denser metropolitan areas, and the advent of sharing platforms like Zipcar have dampened demand, and many if not all of these trends are likely to accelerate.
(via Reihan Salam at National Review)

Great Wall of China ... in Wisconsin

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Photographer Michael Sears recently published this photo, from the Kohler Design Center, to cover a story about the advancement of toilet technology at the Wisconsin-based company.

Studio Gang's bird nest

Between hints to drive a Ford, Margaret Cavenagh, managing architect at Studio Gang, the Chicago-based firm that designed the wavy Aqua skyscraper, talks through the elegant design solution for building a transparent birdwatching center that birds won't fly into.

(via GOOD)

Michigan cities plead and beg

The latest signs of the increasingly dire budget mess facing Michigan communities...

In a letter to outgoing Governor Jennifer Granholm,  the attorney for the City of Hamtramck argues that the right to declare bankruptcy, and finally work around rigid union contracts, is critical for his and other financially distressed cities to achieve fiscal stability.
Some so-called experts pretend that it is some great mystery why governmental units like Detroit Public Schools, Ecorse, Highland Park and Hamtramck are chronically underfunded. But there is no mystery. The "experts" do not want to confront the reason that stares them in the face: These governmental units cannot afford their labor contracts and state law gives them almost zero flexibility to do anything about that fundamental fact, especially where revenue projections do not pan out due to unforeseen circumstances. Instead these experts rely upon the canard that these units are broke because they are run by incompetent crooks. While some of these governmental units have suffered from isolated issues of mismanagement and corruption, the problems are much, much bigger than that.
In a letter to churches, schools and other nonprofits, the Mayor of the City of Mount Clemens took hat in hand and asked organizations that typically receive donations to give them:
One of the most challenging dilemmas the City faces in trying to balance its budget each year is that 42 percent of the property in Mount Clemens is tax exempt. These properties receive the same services as the tax paying properties which places a tremendous burden upon the 58 percent of property owners that pay taxes......The City is asking tax-exempt properties to consider playing a part in helping to support our municipal budget. 

Columbus Pride

In the New York Times Style Magazine, Tim Murphy reports that Columbus is emerging as "a Midwestern gay mecca." The city, Murphy explains, has a welcoming spirit, strong social networks and "gayborhoods" where a significant segment of the population is gay men, lesbians and bisexuals. Although "the town's most fashionable young man" exclaims Ohio's capital still lacks the cosmopolitan appeal of the big city:
Columbus isn't awful if you find your niche to plug into. But it can be tough. It's very Abercrombie-cornfed-jock-I-eat-at-Max-&-Erma's-and-Bob Evans. Some of the older gay men are a little more sophisticated. 

What about GM's closed factories

Paul Clemens argues that, despite "New" GM's successful stock offering on Wall Street, "Old" GM's ruins will continue to haunt Main Street:
For General Motors, divided into its “Old” and “New” halves, there’s an inescapable paradox: the only possible route to future profitability is to create, through plant closings, monuments to past unprofitability. 
It’ll be fun, for a day or two, to look at the scoreboard, and to see what G.M.’s shares are going for: $26? $29? $33? $35? The numbers on the exchange will change; it’ll be great, and a welcome, temporary relief from the numbers, still difficult to comprehend, of jobs lost and plants closed. Soon enough, though, we’ll have to go back to watching what’s actually happening on the field, where there’s still a blowout in progress, with the home team way behind, and no one, seemingly, with the foggiest idea what to do about it.

Losing LeBron

Pitch for a promising documentary about LeBron's first season in Miami, as told by Clevelanders.

The filmmakers, both from Boston, launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise the money and make the film. They hope to raise $10k to cover production costs and buy 50 flip cams for select Cleveland participants to generate content for the production. Donate here. This could be real interesting.

Twin Cities metro mistakes

Myron Orfield explains in MinnPost why the Metropolitan Council, a regional planning agency, has struggled to fulfill its mission of guiding "efficient growth" in the Twin Cities area:
The council decided for whatever reason not to consider job clusters when reviewing cities' comprehensive plans. Before, under the older councils, the plans were disapproved if new jobs weren't clustered in areas where jobs already existed. 
But starting in about 1994, they began to see the rules less as regulation than as a kind of public relations. They took regulatory structure and made it just happy talk. They wanted everyone to be happy together. 
The local comprehensive plans had always been negotiated between local governments and the Met Council. But starting in the '90s, they were just rubber-stamped.

Another important thing that happened came in about 2001 when they decided to open up a huge area near the edge for two-acre residential lots. They basically got rid of the MUSA line [the Metropolitan Urban Services Area, a kind of growth boundary] and discontinued the principle that development had to be orderly and contiguous. That was a big mistake.

The council said basically that the remedy for getting too fat is to loosen your belt.

Carbon Dioxide dynamics

Dr. Harvey Bootsma explains the scientific effort to understand whether the Great Lakes are a source of, or a sink for, carbon. Turns out those invasive species can be useful.

via Chicago Tribune


After GM's CEO rung the bell on the NYSE, President Obama held a press briefing to say, among other things, that American taxpayers stand to make money on the company's IPO. I'll watch the mail.

RAX ready for launch

The Radio Aurora Explorer, or RAX, satellite launches tomorrow from Kodiak, Alaska. It's designed and built by University of Michigan students and the primary mission is to study how plasma irregularities way out in space affect communication signals between Earth and orbiting satellites. Selfishly, I hope this knowledge some day supports innovation that eliminates dropped cell phone calls.

Let the trading begin

Buffalo matters

An advertisement for The Queen City produced by the Buffalo Niagara Convention and Visitors Bureau. Football fans will appreciate the analogy from Eric Walker of PUSH Buffalo:
Buffalo is a city of fighters. Anybody who knows the Bills history knows we won't give up no matter how long the odds are. We are a Thurman Thomas city. Keep those legs moving and eventually something's going to happen. The yards come. Inch by inch.

Great Lakes water budget

In the latest Inside Muskegon podcast, Dr. Al Steinman, one of the region's most respected aquatic ecologists, talks about the International Upper Great Lakes Study, which has the incredibly complicated task of determining how to best manage lake levels in the largest system of fresh surface water on Earth. He also explains why - much to the chagrin of many beach front property and boat owners - stable water levels are bad:
Some people want to have stable water levels so they can predict what's going to happen. I would argue that's a disaster for our coastal ecosystems. The coastal wetlands need fluctuating water levels - highs and lows - in order for the vegetation to grow over time in a dynamic way. Those wetlands help provide habitat that make our Great Lakes such an important fishery, commercially and recreationally. The trouble is humans keep moving into areas where they want stable water levels, or hardened shore lines, and that basically decimates our natural ecosystem. You cant have both. 

Scrambling in Toronto

The City of Toronto recently established its third pedestrian scramble. City Councillor Kyle Rae explains why.

Volt Victory

Just in time for the IPO...

From Motown to Grow-town

From Michigan State University, an enlightening analysis (PDF) of the food production potential on Detroit's vacant land - of which researchers catalogued more than 44,000 parcels covering more than 4,800 acres.
According to these calculations, putting between 263 acres (high productivity biointensive yields) and 1,660 acres (commercial equivalent yields) into production could supply 31 percent of all the fresh vegetables and 17 percent of all the fresh, non-tropical fruit that Detroiters eat each year. Increasing the seasonal availability of crops through the use of storage and season extension where possible pushes the potential portions of the produce supplied to 76 percent of vegetables and 42 percent of fruit. This would require between 568 acres (biointensive) and 3,602 acres (commercial).
So high potential for food, lower number of people, or a bit of both.

Why do you love your community?

That's the question the Knight Foundation aspired to answer with a three-year, 26-city survey designed to better understand the factors that emotionally attach people to where they live.

Researchers consistently detected three metrics - a city's openness, aesthetics and social experience - that seem to drive the extent to which people care about their place.

I'm not convinced that's a groundbreaking discovery. But the info maps created to measure and track a city's performance on key indicators is interesting to play with. Here are the links to that data for the greater Great Lakes cities studied.

Fort Wayne
St. Paul
State College

Also, video reports for some:

Ford and the future

Ford today announced 19 launch markets for the 2012 Focus Electric. Auto aficionado Jay Leno test drove the car, which will be built at Ford's Michigan Assembly Plant, and said "this I think is the future."

Cleveland on cusp of comeback?

The first in a series of reports from WXYC exploring Cleveland's "Brain Gain."

UPDATE: Part 2

UPDATE: Part 3

Dedicated Detroit resident

Betty Corley tells Time why she doesn't intend to leave her unnamed Detroit neighborhood, despite nearby home demos, plans to shrink the city and even a burned human torso in the bushes across the street.

Chicago mayor race

Over the weekend a trio of candidates - Rahm Emanuel, US Rep. Danny Davis and IL State Senator James Meeks - officially announced their bids to become the next mayor of Chicago.

Emanuel, a former three-term Congressman with a cool $1M in his warchest, also launched this ad:

UPDATE: Carol Moseley Braun officially gets in

Roundup of rail reactions

An admittedly incomplete attempt to catalog the politicians' recent passenger-rail-paper-pushing around Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, New York and D.C.

Nov 4: Wisconsin Gov-Elect Scott Walker issues a statement announcing his team is "exploring all legal options" to stop the Milwaukee-Madison rail project and redirect the money to fix roads and bridges.

Nov 4: Wisconsin DOT Secretary announces that, at Gov. Jim Doyle's request, he'll "temporarily interrupt" work on the rail project.

Nov 5: US Congresswoman Gwen Moore of Milwaukee issues a statement saying it's critical that work on the rail project continue.

Nov 5: NY Gov-Elect Andrew Cuomo sends a letter urging US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to redirect to New York any unwanted rail funds from states like Wisconsin and Ohio because "high speed rail could be the 21st Century Erie Canal for New York State" and "now is the moment to build."

Nov 8: Wisconsin's outgoing Governor Jim Doyle issues a statement saying the idea that rail funds could be spent to fix roads is "pure fiction."

Nov 8: Secretary LaHood responds to letter (PDF) to WI Gov-Elect Scott Walker saying rail money can not be used to fix roads and bridges.

Nov 8: Ohio Gov-Elect John Kasich sends a letter (PDF) to outgoing Gov. Strickland demanding he "immediately cancel all contracts relating to your rail program."

Nov 8: Kasich sends a letter (PDF) to President Obama saying he will terminate Ohio's Cincinnat--Columbus-Cleveland passenger rail project. Freight rail and highways, he says, take priority.

(Note the so-called 3C line is backed by more than 80 letters and resolutions of support from a broad range of groups including the AFL-CIO and the Sierra Club.)

Nov 9: Wi Gov-Elect Scott Walker reportedly sends letter to President Obama saying road and bridge spending is Wisconsin's priority.

Nov 9: A spokesman for OH Governor Strickland reportedly tells Kasich to go fly a kite via an e-mailed statement to a Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter.

Nov 9: Secretary LaHood responds (PDF) to Ohio's Kasich by in part informing the Gov-elect that stimulus funds paid for 492 road, bridge, transit and airport projects in the state.

Nov 10: The Watertown Chamber of Commerce sends a letter (PDF) to Gov Elect Scott Walker saying that cancellation of the Madison-Milwaukee project would be "an extremely poor decision" that would "stymie economic development."

Nov. 10: Illinois Governor Pat Quinn reportedly releases a letter in which he recruits the Spanish train manufacturer Talgo from Wisconsin to Illinois.

UPDATE Nov 11: Milwaukee Common Council sends a letter (PDF) to Secretary LaHood saying Milwaukee-Madison rail service will "improve mobility, provide more travel choices, create wealth and promote economic development.”

UPDATE Nov 16: Three U.S. Congressmen - all from Wisconsin - issue a statement that shouts "local control" and introduces legislation that would allow states to return rail money and help pay the federal debt.

UPDATE Nov 18: The Minnesota AFL-CIO sends a letter (PDF) to Gov-Elect Walker saying the midwest's global competitiveness depends on upgrading to a 21st century transportation system.

Action on Airport City

A short promotional video on the proposed Detroit Region Aerotropolis. Supporters now are hopeful that Michigan's lame duck Legislature will muster the courage to help the initiative finally takeoff.

Signs of the times

There's a growing set of unique images in the Rust Belt flickr pool. Pittsburgh photog Randy Fox has an affinity for interesting signs.

Free Lunch in Buffalo

I haven't read David Cay Johnston's Free Lunch. But Buffalo State College economics professor Bruce Fisher writes that the culture of subsidy illuminated in the book is alive and well in Buffalo - perhaps at great expense to the city's urban vitality.
Welcome to downtown Buffalo, New York, where for the past 40 years, massive public investments for big projects have, year after year, project after project, proceeded as follows: A useful historic building is left to rot, then demolished at great public expense, then replaced, if at all, by a hugely expensive, publicly funded structure that worsens the already enormous glut of downtown office space.

Half-speed rail

Wisconsin Governor-Elect Scott Walker uncorks perhaps his strongest argument yet against alleged "high-speed" passenger rail in Wisconsin: it's too slow. (Although it's strange he didn't localize his case. We know the Milwaukee-Madison line will go about 80 MPH to start, and eventually up to 110 MPH after proper infrastructure is in place.)
Rail projects such as the one proposed in Wisconsin are notorious for inefficiency and cost overruns. In Ohio, the so-called high speed rail line from Cincinnati to Cleveland is expected to average only 50 miles per hour. Wisconsin simply can't afford this level of inefficiency...
So one potential compromise ... make the trains go faster???

Rare fighter planes in Lake Michigan

Lots of them. Chicago's WGN has the story.


Another Asian Carp study

Balce Ceneta of the Associated Press took this photo of two Asian Carp on a platter in Congress. Scientists recently identified 36 possible pathways the fish possibly could follow into the Great Lakes.

Nutritious, delicious and mobile

Marvin Jenkins, a truck driver for Peaches and Greens, which operates a mobile veggie stand serving inner city Detroit, tells NPR what residents like to eat in one of America's largest food deserts.

HOST: Mr. Jenkins, what's on your truck right now?

Mr. JENKINS: I have peaches, plums, apples, oranges, strawberries, broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, cucumbers, garlic, bananas, watermelon - whole watermelon, watermelon cups.

HOST: Oh my goodness. Okay, okay, now, it's almost too much. It's almost too much. It's almost more than I can take.

HOST: What's your favorite, Mr. Jenkins? What's selling well and what's your personal favorite?

Mr. JENKINS: Well, bananas, they sell real good. Watermelon cups, they sell real good. Really, all of it sells real good.

Clevelander to Kasich: Get on board

Angie Schmitt, a Cleveland resident, wrote an open letter to Ohio Governor-Elect John Kasich, who says that a new passenger rail spur linking Cincy, Cbus and Cleveland is not in Ohio's future.
It makes me question my future in this state. I read today that fewer young people across the nation are choosing to get driver’s licenses and purchase cars. This is part of a national trend away from car-based lifestyles. I consider myself a part of this movement. But the message I am getting from the state of Ohio is that there’s no room for people like me here.

John Norquist: Buffalo, tear down this Skyway

Congress for New Urbanism President and former Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist says Buffalo's Skyway is like the Berlin Wall separating the city from its waterfront. He also says it would be cheaper to tear the highway down. The popular movement for such "out of the box" thinking seemingly continues to grow locally.

Kill rail, kill jobs

Antonio Perez, President of Talgo, the Spanish manufacturer of rail cars, says he's "shocked" Wisconsin has stopped work on the Madison-Milwaukee line. He recently opened a plant in Milwaukee - improvements for which the City committed up to $35M - and was hiring workers to build the cars. Fox 6 Milwaukee has the story:


The busiest corner in Chicago filmed by Edison

This video is part of the Erie Railroad Series in Thomas Edison's film catalog.

Michigan's new blinking yellow arrow instructions

Notably, MDOT has disabled the comment section for this new video.

Sherbourne Common

Toronto recently cut the ribbon on Sherbourne Common at the edge of Lake Ontario, and joined Chicago in substantially raising the bar for urban waterfront projects in the Great Lakes.

Meijer pilots EV charging stations

Meijer, the major American grocer which ranked #18 on Forbes' 2008 list of America's Largest Private Companies, today announced they'll install the first EV charging station in their home region of West Michigan. Upon learning the news, local clean energy advocates quickly calculated the potentially much bigger implications:
This is great news. We have two of the biggest advance battery plants in the country under construction. It's important for us to be the leader in this field, and for Meijer to be an early adopter of this technology is exciting.

Off the tracks in Wisconsin

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel today says that passenger rail projects like the proposed Milwaukee-Madison line "could be an important economic development tool" but "residents are unlikely to support a system they perceive is being shoved down their throats."

The alleged "quiet deal" that provoked the editorial is likely more easily explained by stupidity and cowardice, not conspiracy or corruption, in the Democratic Party.

Wisconsin is broke and unemployed. One smart play - economically and politically - if you can sell it - is to publicly own, celebrate and lead $810 million to hire workers, place orders with suppliers and build modern infrastructure that connects two vital cities and better positions the state to compete in the 21st century.

The Democrats instead apparently opted to hide. They reportedly sealed the deal on a weekend and apparently didn't even issue a news release. Why not? Money and jobs is good news.

Republicans shrewdly seized on the their opponent's fear, using it to fill the rail deal full of spikes and win the governor seat. Informed observers now say "it's R.I.P. for high-speed rail in Wisconsin."

Update: Wisconsin DOT "temporarily interrupts" project work to "assess real world consequences" of completely killing rail line. Who's the most credible, independent auditor in the state?

"Rail not in Ohio's future"

That's what Ohio Governor-Elect John Kasich said in his first post-election press conference. Dayton's WDTN has the story:

Build things in the Rust Belt

Forbes contributor Rick Ungar offers one perspective on why the Rust Belt today glows red - hopelessness - and what the Obama Administration might do to position for a shot at success in 2012 - invest in infrastructure.
For those who would argue that we are in no financial position to rebuild our infrastructure, these voices should understand that they are throwing in the towel on America’s economic future.
They should understand that they are putting us on the path to resembling the lesser developed countries south of our border rather than pointing us towards a future where America is, once again, the leader in all things. 
Here’s the good news – the jobs lost in the mid-west are precisely the type of jobs that are replaced when we build things. Things like high-speed rail.

NY Gov-Elect: Mandate is clean up Albany

PA Gov-Elect: My goal is to make PA #1

Pennsylvania Governor-Elect Tom Corbett in his victory speech said his goal is to "make Pennsylvania the standard of excellence, the standard of excellence when it comes to creating jobs ... education, energy, agriculture and tourism."
"I believe this to be a generational election. When our children are leaving ... 25 percent of them leaving after graduation to go find jobs elsewhere. I hope you have the same goal as I do: to welcome them back home to Pennsylvania."

WI Gov-Elect: Help is on the way

"My first act is to declare an economic emergency," Wisconsin Governor-Elect Scott Walker said in his victory speech. He also committed to generate 250,000 new jobs in his first term and stop passenger rail from Milwaukee to Madison.
"People are scared. They're scared about the economy. They're scared about their own job, or their spouses' jobs, or their neighbors' job, or their kids' job. Tonight I get to tell you 'you don't have to be afraid anymore.' Help is on the way."

OH Gov-Elect: We're going to raise the bar

MI Gov-Elect: Cities are fundamental

Michigan governor-elect Rick Snyder put urban revitalization - along with common sense taxes, customer service oriented government and natural resource stewardship - high on the list of priorities in his victory speech.

8m 30s into the speech...
"It is fundamental that we restore our central cities. Michigan will only be a great state when it's cities, and particularly Detroit, are on the path to being a great city again."

Plan of Chicago 1909

OH rail debate

Ohio Governor Strickland says $400 million for the 3C passenger rail is a smart investment that will help create the right conditions for jobs and growth. His Republican challenger John Kasich has said it's "one of the dumbest ideas I've ever heard." The Ohio Poll's final prediction for the race suggests a majority of Ohioans might agree.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the pop ups are those of Cbus Tranist, who edited the video. They do not necessarily reflect the views of GLG. But why would you wanna reject $375M in fed infrastructure money?!

The new Chevrolet pitch...

... sounds similar to Jeep's summer ad. Seems Detroit is feeling nostalgic. Locally headquarted Little Ceaser's too may return to a past message.

Will Chicago's next mayor like bikes?

The chief of Chicago's Active Transportation Alliance tells the Sun-Times why he's hopeful the city's next mayor will be pro-bikes:
"I think we're on the cusp of some dramatic changes, whether it's really getting a robust bike-sharing program in Chicago or starting to see the addition of separated bike lanes. It's really got a lot of steam now, this movement toward bikeable, walkable, transit-friendly communities."