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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!

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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.

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November 10, 2021  

”Zillow Offers”…Homes to Investors, Not Homeowners

For the past couple of years, the website Zillow has expanded their business model into the home speculation and flipping game. The “Zillow Offers” program offers cash for homes, followed up by Zillow going in and implementing home renovations—and the company planned to do this with thousands of homes in 2021.

Yet now, two months before the year has even ended, Zillow announced that not only would it no longer be buying homes, but it also needs to offload thousands of the homes it did buy —and not to homeowners and landlords, but to institutional investors. Additionally, the company will be laying off 25% of its workforce, and estimates that it’ll lose over half a billion dollars.

Why? That’s the question on today’s episode of Upzoned: Using a recent article from The Verge as a springboard for discussion, host Abby Kinney and regular co-host Chuck Marohn discuss the possible reasons why Zillow has had to reverse course on its foray into the home-flipping business.

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November 3, 2021  

The Gathering ”Swarm” of Small-Scale Developers

It’s no secret here at Strong Towns that the many places that urbanists consider to be the most enduring and timeless and wonderful—from small towns to big cities—were the result of incremental development. In other words, they weren’t the result of careful planning, but rather of a decentralized process with ad hoc adaptation over time.

Rooted in the creation of these places were ecosystems of tradespeople, laborers, lenders, and small-scale developers. The latter, in particular, are the focus of Strong Towns Senior Editor Daniel Herriges’s recent series, Unleash the Swarm: Reviving Small-Scale Development in America’s Cities.

In this week’s special episode of Upzoned, host Abby Kinney talks with Daniel about incremental development, and what work still needs to be done in order to truly build up a “swarm” of small-scale developers across North America.

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October 27, 2021  

Regulating by Use

Question: As the demand for office and retail space shrinks (especially with changing workplace habits, the rise of online retailing, and issues with the global supply chain), and demand for residential and warehousing space (think Amazon fulfillment centers) grows, are our zoning codes prepared to adapt to rapidly changing consumer needs?

A recent article from Market Urbanism Report, by author Scott Beyer, says no, and that the way we regulate property primarily by land use has caused major mismatches between what is allowed and what consumers actually want. To address this, Beyer offers two suggestions. First, that cities should become more adaptable by updating their zoning codes to focus on demand for more residential and warehousing space. Second, that we should eventually consider an approach to zoning that leans away from regulating by use, altogether.

This week on Upzoned, host Abby Kinney and regular co-host Chuck Marohn “upzone” this article, and how it ties in to the larger market urbanism conversation—and what parts of it do and don’t jive with a Strong Towns approach to zoning reform.

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October 20, 2021  

The ”Great Supply Chain Disruption”

From ports to warehousing to trucking to railway systems, the supply chain is clogged across the board, and it's causing all kinds of ripple effects on a global scale. It’s just one of the many consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, recently dubbed the “great supply chain disruption” by Peter S. Goodman in The New York Times

This week on Upzoned, host Abby Kinney and regular co-host Chuck Marohn “upzone” Goodman’s article, discussing how what was once expected to be a temporary phenomenon (an unintended consequence of the pandemic lockdowns) is increasingly being viewed as a new reality, one which could require a substantial refashioning of the world shipping infrastructure.

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October 6, 2021  

The Global Energy Crisis Is a Story of Fragility

Millions of people around the globe are soon going to feel the impact of soaring natural gas prices—or so says an article recently published in Bloomberg Businessweek titled, “Europe’s Energy Crisis is Coming for the Rest of the World, Too.”

European governments have been warning their citizens of blackouts, factories are being forced to shut down, and other sources of energy, such as wind turbines, have not been producing enough output to pick up the slack. Gas is becoming more necessary and more expensive, especially in climates where gas is relied on to heat homes during the winter. And the crisis is spreading beyond Europe.

This week on Upzoned, regular host Abby Kinney and co-host Chuck Marohn “upzone” the rising costs of gas—i.e., they look at it through the Strong Towns lens. They discuss how the underlying story here is the fragility of these large, complex, interconnected systems, and how it impacts us all at the local level.

Then, in the downzone, Chuck needs a vacation from his vacation and Abby is getting ready to welcome a special guest to Kansas City (hint: it’s Chuck).

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September 29, 2021  

A Downtown Baseball Stadium in KC: Who Pays?

In a recent press conference, John Sherman, the primary owner of the Kansas City Royals, was asked if the team was exploring the possibility of building a new stadium in downtown Kansas City. This is something that’s been talked about in Kansas City for years, and it’s a question Sherman gets asked often. It made news this time because Sherman publicly acknowledged that, yes, the team was exploring that option (among others) and that he anticipated some level of public funding would be needed.

In this episode of Upzoned, we’re talking about the potentials and pitfalls of a downtown stadium and how much (if any) of it should be paid for by Kansas City taxpayers. Regular host Abby Kinney and co-host Chuck Marohn are both out for the week. Subbing in for them are Rachel Quednau, program director at Strong Towns and host of The Bottom-Up Revolution podcast, as well as John Pattison, the Strong Towns content manager…and lifelong Kansas City Royals fan.

Rachel and John evaluate the case for building a new stadium in Kansas City’s downtown, its risks and rewards, and why the clock is ticking for the Royals on whether or not to pursue this. They also discuss whether or not the economic rationale for public funding—more jobs, more tax revenue, etc.—is likely to live up to the hype.

Then in the downzone, John describes a book that has him taking photographs of his pencil sharpener (the promised pictures are below), and Rachel recommends this weekly digest from her Strong Towns colleagues.

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September 22, 2021  

CDOT‘s Proposal for Transit-Induced Pollution

The Colorado Department of Transportation recently drafted a new rule that would require state and local governments to measure and potentially offset greenhouse gas emission impacts of transportation projects.

In this scheme, local government entities would have preset greenhouse gas emission budgets, and would be required to offset emissions if they exceed those budgets when implementing transportation projects. That could take the form of transit services, bicycle infrastructure, zoning decisions that enable density, et cetera. If these public entities do not meet requirements and don't offset emissions, then the state may restrict their use of certain funds. (Note that this is literally the wording of the legislation itself: "certain funds." It doesn't specify which funds.)

This, of course, all comes as CDOT is slated to receive billions of dollars of new funding from the state and the federal government. The intent of the new rule, then, would be to shift conditions that are currently enabling status quo infrastructure investment that would continue to spread Colorado's development pattern out farther and farther.

This week on Upzoned, Abby and Chuck take a look at an article from Colorado Public Radio that tackles this subject and they "upzone" it—i.e., they look at it through the Strong Towns lens. They talk about what does and doesn't work with the top-down, bureaucratic approach this legislation is taking to address our development and climate issues.

Then, in the downzone, Chuck is following up on old characters, and Abby's gearing up for a fun trip.

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September 8, 2021  

Let‘s Talk Great Streets

This week on Upzoned, we're shaking things up with something a little different: To celebrate the launch of the newest book in the Strong Towns series, Confessions of a Recovering Engineer: Transportation for a Strong Town, host Abby Kinney is interviewing Strong Towns President and author of the book, Chuck Marohn.

In particular, they discuss the fifth chapter of Confessions, which is all about great streets. So many cities bear remnants of formerly great streets—streets that were originally designed to be wealth generators, supporting public space and public activity. Those streets have since degraded in favor of allowing the free flow of cars, to move people in and out of cities as quickly as possible. Undoing this degradation is going to be a vital task for this generation, and generations to follow.

So, have a listen as Abby and Chuck discuss the insights Confessions provides about streets as platforms for building wealth, strategies for planning streets (including the use of a street design team), and more! Then afterward in the downzone, Chuck and Abby are both brushing up on their history, though Chuck's readings place him on the other side of the world, whereas Abby's studies situate her a little closer to home.

And if you're interested in reading more of Confessions of a Recovering Engineer, order it today at wherever books are sold!

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