Friday, July 16th, 2010
1. True Economics: The Future of Our Cities – An interesting look at a number of points around economic changes, skill concentrations in cities, talent shortages, etc. from a European perspective.
2. Greg Hinz: Springfield Taking CTA, Metra Riders on Road to Nowhere – Talking about the Illinois capital plan, Hinz talks about how transit got pimped again, noting: “Roads and schools have received big initial allotments of the billions of new state bonds that have been or are about to be sold. In fact, the Illinois Department of Transportation says this year’s budget for road work is its biggest ever….. But transit? The thing that millions of us Chicago-area folks rely on to get to work every day? Not one penny. Zip — even though, as of next week, the state will have issued $3.2 billion in bonds under the new program…I guess the money that goes for transit is a different color than the money that goes for roads…instead of giving money directly to the CTA and Metra and Pace, the Legislature gave it to IDOT to administer.”
3. Detroitblog: Graveyard Shifts. Detroitblog is arguably the very best there is. This piece hits close to home. Growing up, I know there were many times local car repair shops and such did work for free or at deep discount for my single mother because they knew she needed it and had no money to pay. Because it was a tiny rural community, they knew her and her situation intimately, which is why there’s so little scam-ability in a place like that. Real Grapes of Wrath style. All of those places I remember are gone today. Most of them passed with their owners. I’m no Wal-Mart hater, but I can’t help but wondering what this means to our social fabric in America.
4. Chicago’s Transit Chief – A nice profile of CTA president Richard Rodriguez.
Is the Smart Grid a Dumb Idea?
National Geographic has an interesting article on the smart grid this month. It’s clear that there is no single thing that is the “smart grid.” Rather, it’s a collection of things ranging from upgraded transmission lines to new wind farms to so-called “smart meters.”
Things like mainline transmission upgrades seem straightforward. We’ve under-invested there for years. But the smart meters that are being rolled out across the country give me pause. First, they are a huge privacy risk. It seems likely that, especially with so many samples to analyze, that real time information on electricity consumption would let the electric utility know what you are doing – that uses electricity at least – at any given time. Listen up, kids, you think they can spot your grow lamps now…. I’m not sure adequate safeguards are in place.
Also, there seems to be relatively little consumer benefit. There’s a lot of talk about saving money, but consumers are already complaining about their bills going up. These meters will not, for example, help me by introducing consumer choice about my electricity provider the way we have choice on broadband providers. That would be a real game changer. We are still captive to a monopoly supplier at the residential level.
Which brings me to the final point, which the author of the article makes for me:
When consumers are given a price difference, they can choose to use less of the expensive electricity and more of the cheap kind. They can run clothes dryers and dishwashers at night, for instance. The next step is to let grid operators choose. Instead of only increasing electricity supply to meet demand, the operators could also reduce demand. On sweltering summer days the smart grid could automatically turn up thermostats and refrigerators a bit—with the prior agreement of the homeowners of course.
The principal reason for these meters is to introduce “real time tariffs”. In other words, airline style pricing. Now I’m all in favor of “congestion pricing” and demand management, but the tagline at the end – and which I can see the author with a smirk on his face as he wrote it – shows the risk. In the politicized world we’re in, how likely is it that in fact a market price will be chosen? These “smart meters” frankly enable involuntary rationing of power when someone decides you are consuming more juice than you should be.
I realize this sounds a bit black helicopter, but whatever the motivation for these meters, there is clearly huge scope for abuse of this technology. I think we ought to take a breather on deploying it until we’ve had a more robust public debate on the issues and put appropriate safeguards in place.
New Indian Currency Symbol
Apparently India decided they needed their very own currency symbol:
Looks like an inverse euro symbol with some garish flair. AOL keyword: Not Good. (h/t Ryan Avent)
World and National Roundup
Vanity Fair: Architecture’s Modern Marvels
The US DOT just awarded a major round of circulator grants. This includes $25 million for the Cincinnati streetcar, $25 million for a St. Louis trolley loop, and almost $35 million for BRT in Chicago. Transport Politic has complete coverage and a full list of the winners.
NPR: Cities’ woes will linger, thousands of jobs will go – a story on municipal finances
Technology and the City: Why city branding fails
I can appreciate Joel Kotkin’s contrarian nature, as I have more than a streak of it myself. He’s bullish on the Great Plains, and wrote a piece last week called The Great Plains Are Great Again that prompted a couple of responses. One is from Richard Longworth, who talks about the urban-rural split in this region. And Jim Russell makes some related points in War for Talent: Sioux Falls.
Richard Layman: It’s not enough to be smart, you have to be productive – rent seeking doesn’t count.
Richard Layman: Is Montreal the number one city for bicycling in North America?
Time: What Lies Beneath – the salt mines of Detroit.
Time Detroit Blog: Getting a Regional Attitude
WSB-TV: Giant quarry is centerpiece for a new park on the Atlanta Beltline – Reading the extolling of the virtues of this old quarry as both a water reservoir and a recreational amenity, I can’t help but wonder what the reaction would be if someone proposed a new quarry in a similar location today.
Here’s a photo from downtown Columbus, Indiana that makes a point related to my previous blog post. It’s some concrete barriers and a fence around a construction site. Note the pride of place in spray painting their “C” log on the barriers, and the colorful artwork. This is totally superfluous, which of course it is why it is so very important.