Friday, March 18th, 2011


The cost of government has to go down. It can’t keep growing. It has to someway level off…I don’t think the taxpayers at the present and in the future can afford the costs of government. I don’t believe they can, because the cost of government is going up faster than the cost that you can bear in your own pocketbook. I firmly believe that. It cannot go up so significantly each year for the cost of government. And that’s why you have to look at the value of various government services to taxpayers. – Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley

For those of you in Chicago, I will be giving a lecture on the past, present, and future of the transportation infrastructure and quality of space in downtown Chicago. It’s part of the Friends of Downtown Chicago monthly lecture series on Thursday April 7th at Noon at the Chicago Cultural Center at Washington St. and Michigan Ave. Admission is free so come on down – and please say Hi if we haven’t met.

This will be my last Urbanscope post. While my news roundups are popular, they are also among the most time consuming I produce – and obviously I’ve already read all the articles. If you are interested in seeing a variety of curated links from me, you can follow me on Twitter. Also effective immediately I’m reducing my regular posting schedule from four to three times per week.

One of the ideas coming out the Livability Summit CEOs for Cities held in Indianapolis was holding a design competition to rethink Monument Circle. Well, Indy just did. You can check out the competition web site if you are interested.

Top Stories

1. Stephen Goldsmith: Progressive government is obsolete – “For cities to survive, we need a post-progressive approach in which the efficient creation of the common good is the shared goal of labor, management and citizens alike. This means rethinking the rules of the early 20th century in light of the realities of the 21st century. A system that hires without discretion, promotes without considering performance, and lays off teachers without regard to merit cannot truly serve its citizens.”

2. WSJ: Bruised Feelings and Skinned Knees Litter Suburban Sidewalk Politics – This is an article about controversy over installing sidewalks in suburbs. I think it’s a perfect illustration of my previous post about the need for generational turnover for change to really happen in our cities. Note the ages of the people who are opposing sidewalks. This isn’t about a back to the movement. It’s about something as basic as whether kids will have a safe way to get to school.

Government, Government Everywhere

The indispensable Chris Briem has an amazing infographic of a word cloud showing every single unit of state and local government in America scaled by number of employees – all 90,000 of them. This is incredible to behold. Here’s a preview image:

You can see the full version by downloading this 50MB PDF file – if your computer can handle it.

Mapping Place Marks

Floating Sheep put together this interesting cartogram of Google place marks by county/state:

Ring Roads

Via the Transportationist, here is a neat graphic of ring roads of the world:

Details Matter

Livability and quality of experience are often driven by the smallest details. Copenhagenize has tirelessly shown us these in that city. Here’s one example I recently noted in Chicago. At the new Grand and State L station, the new design has a ramp along the edge of the stairway so you can roll your bicycle to the subway:

Unfortunately, this only seems to go from the street to the mezzanine, and not from the mezzanine to the platform. Nevertheless, this shows how a little thought can go a long way. Very nice.

World and National Roundup

NYT: How flaws undid Obama’s hope for high-speed rail in Florida

This Big City: Is High Speed Rail the Future of Cities?

Transport Politic: Financing the nation’s infrastructure in an era of cutbacks

Wheels.CA: The science behind traffic jams – This contains a cool infographic that is unfortunately too big to fit here.

BLDGBLOG: Aerotropolis: An Interview With Greg Lindsay

Copenhagenize: Bicycle freedom in Japan and beyond

NYT: Green Development? Not in My (Liberal) Back Yard

WSJ: How Washington ruined your washing machine

Kaid Benfield: Is there a downside to intelligent or smart cities?

Jason Tinkey: Youth Explosion

The Economist: Bogotá’s rise and fall – Can Enrique Peñalosa restore a tarnished municipal model?

NYT: For City’s Transportation Chief, Kudos and Criticism – The manufactured media tempest around bike lanes just goes to show what a few influential NIMBY’s can accomplish. The Guardian bike blog picks up on the Park Slope bike lane dispute in a piece called “How one New York bike lane could affect the future of cycling worldwide.”

The Economist: Rust Belt Recovery

Global Midwest: A master plan for higher education in the Midwest

Charlie LeDuff: My Detroit Story

St. Louis Energized: What does new thinking for the future of St. Louis mean?

Indianapolis Business Journal: Angie’s List lands $53 million investment – I’ll doubtless get dinged for boosterism on this one, but Indy’s downtown has quite a burgeoning tech scene going on. Angie’s List employs 400 on the Near East Side and Exact Target 500 downtown, with several other startups around too. It’s starting to represent some serious private sector investment and jobs in a downtown that needs it.

Forbes: America’s Second Largest High School Gym Is Just About a Goner – Coverage of the pending closure of the legendary Anderson, Indiana “Wigwam.” While certainly not entirely or even primarily to blame for this, I can’t help but once again note the terrible decision by the IHSAA to go to class basketball.

Indy Star: Why Indy can learn from two cities that created great neighborhoods – Some great props for Columbus, Ohio in here. (Chicago is also mentioned, but already has the cred).

nextStl: Census 2010 and the state of St. Louis

Vote With Your Feet: Walking Chicago’s Pulaski Road

UrbanCincy: Cincinnati Expatriate Neil Clingerman

Sagrada Familia

Domus is running an article on Sagrada Familia, the still under construction church in Barcelona designed by Antoni Gaudí. It includes some simply stunning photographs that are by themselves worth a visit, in addition to the delightful article.

Quality of Space in Chicago

The Chicago-Lakeview Chamber of Commerce and its associated business improvement district put out an interesting proposal this week for a landscaped trail running underneath the L from Paulina to Southport, along with other possibilities:

While there are potential issues like noise, which is excruciating under the L, I think overall these sorts of ideas are exactly what Chicago ought to be looking at.

Lee Bey agrees, and talked about how this could be a model for other neighborhoods in a segment on Fox Chicago (h/t Ashvin Lad).

Building Better Blocks

Here’s a great video out of Dallas about something called the “Better Block Project.” Frustrated by a lack of complete streets in Dallas, a group of people took it upon themselves to do a demonstration project themselves on a single block in Dallas to show what could be done. It’s a temporary installation, but they spent less than $1000 total, which shows that you don’t have to spend big money to achieve great results. (If the video doesn’t display, click here).

Have a great weekend, everybody.


10 Responses to “Urbanoscope”

  1. Wad says:

    While certainly not entirely or even primarily to blame for this, I can’t help but once again note the terrible decision by the IHSAA to go to class basketball.

    Aaron, why would you implicate yourself in the decision to close the Wigwam? 😉

  2. Clorow says:

    That ring road thing has an error – the giant black thing in the background isn’t a ring road! That looks like Highway 6 and FM 1960 in Houston, which certainly don’t make a loop.

  3. Alon Levy says:

    Obama’s HSR grant for Florida failed 100% because of Rick Scott, the Tea Party, and Robert Poole. It’s not because the program was flawed; from Florida’s point of view, it was free money.

  4. Jason Tinkey says:

    Thanks as always for the linkage! I hope I can make that lecture, unfortunately I never know my work schedule until the week before.

  5. Evan Summers says:

    The NYT starts charging for content and Aaron Renn cuts back on his blog… This has been a tough week for great writing. 😉

    The Urbanoscope has been one of my highlights each week: comprehensive, diverse, well written and engaging.

    It’s obvious the time and effort you put into it. I suppose that it’s only fitting that its exceptional quality shall be it’s ultimate demise.

    Good luck on the new format!

  6. Thad says:

    @Alon: Thank you! Every Florida resident (except the 48% of the 42% of voters who voted for Skeletor the Slasher) was POed, even the Republicans in the legislature. Look at everything else he’s doing to our state, it’ll be a wasteland by 2014.

  7. david vartanoff says:

    re the NYT article. Sadly this gloss on the issues misses some of the details which turn out to be the real story. Specifically in Berkeley (Oakland and San Leandro) the misdesigned $250 million BRT is also opposed by some transit advocates. We believe it is unneeded given traffic patterns on the two arterials where it would replace current services. Only in rush hour is traffic heavy enough to require striping lanes for bus only use. That, of course could be done without years of dithering, EIRS, and thousands of staff hours filling out Federal paperwork. The current “Rapid” service is already time competitive with BART subway service for some riders, and after the Rapids end @ 7PM locals are often faster due to light ridership and traffic. (BTW this route has AC Transit’s highest ridership)

  8. George Mattei says:

    The article comparing Columbus and Indianapolis is enightening, but there is another side to the story. While Columbus has built up many great neighborhoods, Indinapolis’ downtown has received much of their love. To me they are very similar cities, and Indy has the “star power” and great downtown, but Columbus has the depth of great neighborhoods.

    Now it appears that they are tackling their weaknesses-Columbus is making significant investments in its downtown while Indianapolis seems to be looking at the close-in neighborhoods. Maybe 20 years from now they will be in the same place.

  9. KCartsy says:


    I have been a long time fan of Urbanoscope and I hate to see it go. However, I am sure your new format will be, at the least, just as enlightening!

    One request: Kansas City, MO/KS is often overlooked on your blog, although by latest census numbers it had a significant increase in population size for both the city and the metro. Needless to say, it is a significant burgh in the midwest and one that, as compared to others in the region, has had some success. I would respectfully submit that your analysis as to the KC metro/city would be a welcomed one.

  10. Neil B says:

    Aaron, looking forward to meeting you at the luncheon at the Chicago Cultural Center. I’m a Loop-living stalwart and a longtime Urbanophile reader, so I’m excited to hear your thoughts on downtown transport infrastructure.

The Urban State of Mind: Meditations on the City is the first Urbanophile e-book, featuring provocative essays on the key issues facing our cities, including innovation, talent attraction and brain drain, global soft power, sustainability, economic development, and localism. Included are 28 carefully curated essays out of nearly 1,200 posts in the first seven years of the Urbanophile, plus 9 original pieces. It's great for anyone who cares about our cities.

About the Urbanophile


Aaron M. Renn is an opinion-leading urban analyst, consultant, speaker, and writer on a mission to help America’s cities thrive and find sustainable success in the 21st century.

Full Bio


Please email before connecting with me on LinkedIn if we don't already know each other.



Copyright © 2006-2014 Urbanophile, LLC, All Rights Reserved - Click here for copyright information and disclosures