Granny Flats and the Struggle to Build Additional Low-cost Housing

ADU“Granny Flats” or ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units) inspire a lot of excited talk right now. These are small carriage houses built in the backs of homes on land that would traditionally be a garage or a yard. They can contribute to making a more walkable, healthy, and affordable city, but they’re having trouble getting off the ground in the U.S., even in cities that allegedly love them.

The reason for this is regulation: limitations around who can live in the home, aesthetic concerns or (and this is the most onerous and counterproductive one) parking. Growing cities that pay lip service to remaining affordable are unwilling to serve the citizens who aren’t drivers and this keeps them from continuing to attract young, talented people. Read more

Picking Winners in The Walkable City

Cabrini Green High Rise

Cabrini Green High Rise

Resources don’t distribute evenly in cities. Public schools are funded by property taxes, so places with expensive property get better-funded schools.  Only so many houses can sit by the beach or near a public transit line. Neighborhoods will, by necessity, sort themselves into rich and poor based on the cost of property. People sort themselves by ethnicity, and the poorer less enfranchised people will have less power to influence the city governments to spend resources on them. City governments have to decide what they want to do about this. Do they want to put wind in the sales of the neighborhoods that are sailing upward or do they want to try and make the distribution more equitable?

Modern Urbanism has a lot to say about how to make cities and communities more viable. One strong conviction is that making places more walkable can break up segregation, bring wealth into communities, buoy local businesses and make the people in those communities healthier, but it’s not free. Read more

Walkable City – Review

Walkable-Cities-CoverKanye West first became famous for his music, but now his outrageous statements raise him to a level of notoriety far beyond his musicianship. The Kanye proclamation that sticks in my head comes from an impromptu speech to Harvard students. “I believe design can save the world.” I don’t know exactly what ills was looking to save the world from, but after reading Jeff Speck’s Walkable City, you quickly get the sense of many of the things wrong with this world that could be solved by applying the lesson from this direct and entertaining book.

Walkable City moves quickly. The structure makes sense. The reader understands the gravity of the stakes. The author delivers well-reasoned prescriptive solutions to the problems he calls attention to. Walkable City has the courage of its convictions and rather than simply pointing out problems it prescribes solutions. How wide should lanes be in streets?  Ten feet.  And the book is quick to explain why. How much is all the parking in Chicago worth? A lot more than the 1.2 billion Morgan Stanley paid for it. It’s a book that picks fights* and wins them. Read more

Deadly Class – Trade Waiter

Wes Craig and Rick Remender’s Deadly Class features some of the most striking covers in comic shops right now. Just look at them:
Cover DClass Read more

Google Buys, Kill Songza

A few months ago Google announced it had purchased Songza. This should not have had a large impact on music lovers or musicians. The owner of the website that streams their music is not necessarily important to listeners. Unfortunately, Google stopped the streaming altogether.


The fear had been that Google would treat the property the way Apple treated In that case, after Apple bought Lala, they claimed they intended to incorporate Lala into their larger business and only temporarily. Ultimately, Apple just shuttered Lala.

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Asthma in Atlanta

Atlanta OlympicsJeff Speck’s Walkable City entertains and terrifies by turns. I will review it when I’m finished reading it, but I couldn’t wait to share this fascinating anecdote about the Atlanta Olympics.

“During the 1996 Olympics, nearly 2 million people descended on the city of Atlanta effectively increasing the city’s population by 50%. Most of the visitors – I was among them – spent many hours huffing around the hot, crowded sports venues. Yet, during that time, asthma hospitalizations surprisingly declined by 30%.”

The cause of this drop was not a freak chance or magic, it was a drop in auto traffic. Atlanta had warned its residents against trying to drive through the ultra-crowded city center, and this temporary increase in public transit created an immediate public health benefit. It’s a striking example of the negative externalities of building for car travel rather than walkability or public transit.

Abandoned Corporate Headquarters, Spurned Suburbs, and The End of Sprawl

GE Headquarters

GE Headquarters

The Wall Street Journal ran a story today that highlights the fallout from building sprawl. It explores US suburbs’ struggle to deal with abandoned corporate headquarters.

“Companies from General Electric to Weyerhaeuser are pulling their headquarters out of leafy* suburban campuses and moving downtown.”

The small communities that host these headquarters make huge infrastructure investments to accommodate these employers. They’re also asked to grant tax breaks to woo these companies. Even dinosaurs like Sears, a few years from extinction, can extract this type of benefit by playing one suburb or state against another. Unfortunately for towns like Upper Saddle River, outside of New York, which recently lost Pearson Education, these companies can’t extort the talent they need in the same way they extort the communities they occupy. Read more

Astro City Review – Trade Waiter

Lovers quarrelAstro City won its first Eisner Award two years before the founding of Google.  No wonder it’s recognized as an institution.

When I first picked it up the series, five years ago, it blew me away. The stories are so personal and specific. They concern people’s work and their lives instead of some monster of the week. Astro City, the place, feels like a real city in part because the people there are as likely to be doormen and secretaries as they are to be cosmic juggernauts.

This book is about what it’s like to love a difficult person, what it’s like to get older, and it’s about punching evil doers dressed as chess pieces. Like the rest of the series, it documents details and specifics, it tracks and builds consistent evocative settings without feeling small or atmospheric. It adds to a terrific body of work.

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In Real Life Review – Trade Waiter

Cover IRLThis graphic novel reminds us that the world is crawling with unsavory underground markets. People in the rich world sometimes feel uncomfortable about the existence these grey economies, but they rarely go out of their ways to do anything about them, not because they’re bad people, but because it can be hard to know the right thing to do. This issue sits at the heart of In Real Life.

Writer, Cory Doctorow, and artist, Jen Wang’s, story concerns a middle school gamer girl, who’s a powerful fighter and a skilled player in a male-dominated world of massive multiplayer games. The hero, named Anda, in an oblique reference to Ender’s Game, discovers gold farmers (players employed to acquire and sell in-game items) who she sees destroying the economy of the game. Anda gleefully begins to taking these farmers out and to collect real cash bounties. The moral quandary comes out when she realizes that these gold farmers are people in poor countries who depend on farming for their livelihoods. Read more

Fascinating Visualization of the Relationships Between European Languages


This image comes from a Teresa Elms post on Etymologican, the original post and commentary are well worth a read.

I’d love to see a similar chart for the many Spanishes of the world. In particular I would be interested to know if Mexican Spanish is closer to American English than Spain Spanish is to UK English, I would imagine it is.

Hat tip:

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