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February 23, 2022  

Blaming Drivers for the Mistakes of Traffic Engineers

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, pedestrian fatalities have grown to record levels. In 2020, they were up roughly 5% from the previous year, and pedestrian deaths per vehicle miles traveled was up 21% in that same year. Preliminary data from 2021 suggests that this trend is only continuing.

Originally, experts believed that the opposite would happen: they asserted that pedestrian deaths were going to decrease due to reduced driving during lockdown and stay-at-home orders, and increased numbers of people working from home. Instead the emptier roads are permitting people to drive faster, so the official narrative has pivoted to blame accidents on increased anxiety levels, increased alcohol consumption, and the general fraying of social norms.

This narrative was repeated recently in The New York Times, in a piece titled “Pedestrian Deaths Spike in U.S. as Reckless Driving Surges.” So, today on Upzoned, host Abby Kinney and cohost Chuck Marohn take this piece and “upzone” it, analyzing it through the Strong Towns lens. Here’s a hint: The problem has a lot less to do with driver error and a lot more to do with bad street design.

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February 16, 2022  

Free (Rural) Land: Any Takers?

“Would you take free land in rural America?” asks a recent article in The Hustle. Because, as it turns out, small towns in Kansas are basically giving away free land and ultra-cheap houses.

Of course, land and housing are commodities that have become the center of many of our debates in expensive cities across the country, and even beyond. As such, small towns in rural Kansas are experiencing a small real-estate boom of their own, as price-conscious urban dwellers seek out different opportunities and lifestyle options outside of the city.

Because these small towns have lost so much of their tax base over the years, and are struggling to pay for basic public services, they’re doing whatever they can to welcome these urban newcomers. Today on Upzoned, Abby Kinney is joined by special guests Jay Stange, Content Manager at Strong Towns, and Kevin Klinkenberg, Executive Director of Midtown KC Now. They “upzone” this story, examining it through the Strong Towns lens and asking each other: (1) What does this mean for the future of small towns, and (2) would you take free land in rural America?

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February 9, 2022  

Where Does Cohousing Fit in the Housing Ecosystem?

After her marriage of 17 years ended, Holly Harper, a consultant and entrepreneur in Washington, DC, rented a one-bedroom apartment for herself and her daughter. Harper wanted to own a home again (it was a priority for her financial stability) but she was a self-employed, single parent in an expensive city. What to do?

In two recent articles in Insider, Harper tells the story of how she became “a post-divorce homeowner” through cohousing. Harper now lives with two other single moms, and their five children, in a multi-unit home in Washington. Harper estimates that she saved $30,000 last year by cohousing. “The financial, social, and emotional benefits have been life-changing,” she writes. “Not only do I get to save money every month, but I get to live beyond my means by pooling our extra belongings and using them when needed.”

This week’s Upzoned looks at cohousing and the essential role it can play—should play—in a city’s housing strategy, and how it can make homeownership a reality for more people. Host Abby Kinney, an urban planner in Kansas City, is joined this week by guest co-host John Pattison, the community builder for Strong Towns.

Abby and John talk about where cohousing fits in the housing ecosystem, and the ways in which towns and cities make it easier or harder for people to pursue. John also talks about his own family’s experience with cohousing—or something very like cohousing—and the financial and social benefits it has brought them.

Then in the Downzone, Abby talks about her upcoming trip to the CNU gathering in Oklahoma City, and John recommends a recent National Geographic article about why the restoration of Notre Dame cathedral begs the question: “Restore to what?

A reminder: Nominations for the Strongest Town contest are due by Sunday, February 20. Want to highlight the progress your town or city is making toward becoming stronger and more resilient? Nominate your community today!

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February 2, 2022  

Can Corporate Campuses Urbanize the Suburban Experience?

Following WWII, many corporations fled from city centers to settle down in the suburbs alongside homeowners. Now, though, it seems that some large companies are pivoting their real-estate models toward building more compact, mixed-use centers, rather than the typical single-user suburban office park for their corporate campuses.

A recent New York Times article by Keith Schneider describes this as the “urbanization of the suburban experience.” It points to several examples, such as Capital One’s 24-acre campus in Tysons, Virginia; Walmart’s soon-to-be 350-acre headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas; JPMorgan Chase’s regional headquarters in Plano, Texas; and Microsoft’s future 90-acre regional headquarters on the western edge of Atlanta.

Many of these examples have some kind of public-interfacing, mixed-use, residential component to them—a merging of both the modern models for corporate campuses and retail, mixed-use centers as a way of dually anchoring the development project. But is this approach a net positive or a net negative when it comes to suburban development? Find out today as host Abby Kinney and co-host Chuck Marohn “upzone” this story, unpacking and analyzing it through the Strong Towns lens.

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January 26, 2022  

No Insurance for Wildfire-Prone California

In September of 2020, an article was featured on Upzoned titled, “They Know How to Prevent Megafires. Why Won’t Anybody Listen?” It discussed the frustrations that people working on the ground in forest fire management felt, knowing that the fires were being caused by decades of overzealous fire oppression and the lack of controlled burning efforts. They knew that the situation was only going to get worse—and sure enough, nowadays California is having to take a reactive approach to the situation, rather than a proactive one.

Today, host Abby Kinney and Strong Towns Senior Editor Daniel Herriges follow up on this story, looking at the current situation in California. They discuss a new article from POLITICO that highlights a different approach to the problem: discouraging development in hazardous areas from the get go. This is happening primarily because insurance companies are starting to recognize that they cannot continue to insure properties in high-risk areas.

Is this the right answer? It’s certainly a very controversial move, and some argue that we can’t afford to raise insurance rates during a housing crisis. Join Abby and Daniel as they “upzone” this controversy, analyzing it through the Strong Towns lens and exploring why it is that seemingly “nothing will deter people from moving into some of the most disaster-prone corners of the United States.”

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January 19, 2022  

Weaponizing Historic Preservation

Today on Upzoned, host Abby Kinney and regular co-host Chuck Marohn are joined by a special guest: Shomari Benton, the co-founder of Benton Lloyd & Chung (a law firm in Kansas City, Missouri, that specializes in land use and real estate). He is also an avid urbanist, historic preservation advocate, and small-scale developer.

Together, they discuss an article from The Atlantic by Nolan Gray, titled “Stop Fetishizing Old Homes.” Gray takes a rather spicy approach to talking about historic preservation, and how it has ultimately harmed the capacity for many cities across the U.S. to develop a sufficient number of housing units in a housing crisis.

He argues that the fetishization of old homes has encouraged our society to weaponize preservation in a self-righteous pursuit that clouds the more important need of building more housing. According to the author, we need to start getting serious about new construction, as opposed to preserving old housing—which he compares to poorly maintained, unsafe junker cars being forced back into service after their intended lifespan.

What’s the Strong Towns take on this conversation? Find out as Abby, Chuck, and Shomari “upzone” it!

Additional Show Notes

January 12, 2022  

Population Growth and the Housing Crisis

Upzoned is back after a short hiatus for the winter break! To kick off 2022, Abby Kinney and regular cohost Chuck Marohn are looking at an article from Bloomberg, titled “U.S. Housing Crisis Only Gets Worse as Population Shrinks.

While this may seem contradictory, a smaller population does not necessarily result in more affordable housing for those looking for it. The author, Conor Sen, argues that people don’t want to live in places that are shrinking, and there will be even less housing demand in metro areas that were stagnant before the pandemic.

Sen’s suggestion? When thinking about housing dynamics, we should start framing the U.S. as “384 metro areas (plus 50 million Americans who don't live in places big enough to qualify as a metro area) rather than one continuous country.” He argues this could help us understand where in the U.S. we might see continued decline or growth in population, and that national population stagnation could mean that housing affordability issues will worsen over time as people leave declining metro areas.

Abby and Chuck “upzone” this notion of population growth driving the prosperity of cities, analyzing it through the Strong Towns lens—starting with the underlying premise that drives this article’s thesis, in the first place.

Additional Show Notes

December 15, 2021  

Disaster Relief for America‘s Housing Crisis

$75 billion of support for at-risk renters and homeowners was distributed during the COVID pandemic to prevent evictions and foreclosures. Such a level of funding was spurred under the context that our country is facing an unprecedented and unpredictable emergency situation that is requiring disaster relief—but what about when the pandemic ends?

Should we consider reutilizing the systems that have been set up during COVID to distribute federal aid, to alleviate the pressures of the housing market? That’s what host Abby Kinney and regular co-host Chuck Marohn discuss on this week’s episode of Upzoned, where they address this “wickedest of wicked problems” through the Strong Towns lens.

Additional Show Notes

November 24, 2021  

The Infrastructure Bill, Racial Equity, and Local Government: How Should the Money Be Spent?

The moment everyone has been waiting for has finally arrived: The $1 trillion infrastructure bill is being signed into law. The bill will deliver $550 billion in new federal investments over the next five years, and includes $110 billion in new spending for highways, bridges, and roads. It also includes $105 billion for transit and rail investments, $65 billion for broadband upgrades, and a whole lot more—everything from investments in airports and ports to environmental remediation.

As one might imagine, the original aspirations of the bill from the perspective of a lot of people were not necessarily met, as the legislation required a consensus from all ends of the political compass. According to a recent article from The New York Times, critics of the bill are not only concerned with the particulars of what is funded, but also how the funding will be administered.

The decision for how half the money is spent falls on the states, meaning that states that are not aligned with what the federal government envisions for infrastructure spending (particularly with regard to racial equity) could neglect projects that would remediate the negative impacts of past infrastructure decisions, and potentially invest in projects that make matters worse.

This week on Upzoned, regular host Abby Kinney and special guest Strong Towns Board Member John Reuter take this article from The New York Times and “upzone” it. That is, they examine it through the Strong Towns lens—which was already plenty skeptical of the infrastructure bill to begin with, as our readers and listeners know!

Additional Show Notes

November 17, 2021  

The ”Bikelash” Phenomenon (and Why It Shouldn‘t Scare Local Leaders)

You may have noticed that bike lane projects tend to draw ire from neighborhood residents, but once they’re actually in place, residents realize they like their community when it’s more people centered and less car centered. Moreover, they tend to vote to reelect local leaders who implemented the bike projects in the first place.

A recent article from The Guardian examines this pattern in different international cities, where new bike infrastructure is first created, and, subsequently, the local leader (usually a mayor) who led the project gets reelected. This, in spite of the backlash (or, if you like, “bikelash”) that such bike projects get in angry tweets and article headlines.

The reasons behind this phenomenon are the subject of this week’s episode of Upzoned—hosted by special guests Strong Towns Program Director Rachel Quednau (who also hosts The Bottom-Up Revolution) and Strong Towns Board Member John Reuter.

By the way, it’s also Member Week at Strong Towns, and podcasts like Upzoned wouldn’t be possible without the support of our members! So join today to support the movement and help get this message out to more people who, like you, believe in making our places stronger and more financially resilient.

Additional Show Notes

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