Monday, November 28, 2011


Urban planning expert Chris Leinberger points to the deeper cause of the housing crash, and believes the the exurbs are done for good thanks to demographic changes and preferences for dense, walkable regions and a focus on livability:
By now, nearly five years after the housing crash, most Americans understand that a mortgage meltdown was the catalyst for the Great Recession, facilitated by underregulation of finance and reckless risk-taking. Less understood is the divergence between center cities and inner-ring suburbs on one hand, and the suburban fringe on the other.

It was predominantly the collapse of the car-dependent suburban fringe that caused the mortgage collapse.


The shift is durable and lasting because of a major demographic event: the convergence of the two largest generations in American history, the baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) and the millennials (born between 1979 and 1996), which today represent half of the total population.

Many boomers are now empty nesters and approaching retirement. Generally this means that they will downsize their housing in the near future. Boomers want to live in a walkable urban downtown, a suburban town center or a small town, according to a recent survey by the National Association of Realtors.

But what happens to the half-built suburbs in the middle of nowhere? Peter O'Dowd investigates:
Holway says letting land go back to nature – farming and parks – is one solution for the most unattractive zombies.

Farmers across the country are reclaiming land from developers, according to the Wall Street Journal. One Arizona dairy farm paid $8 million for a large alfalfa field that developers had planned to use for houses. The land had fallen into foreclosure.

"Some of these far-flung subdivisions, people really do want them to go away," the planner said.

Holway believes the defunct land closest to the urban core still has a chance. Some day, demand will breathe life back into the market, and just as planned, the dirt will become new houses.

Greening vacant lots can have community-wide benefits:
A control group of unimproved vacant lots was selected with a methodology designed to ensure fair comparability to the greened lots. The study, which was published earlier this month in the American Journal of Epidemiology, correlated the lots with data from the Philadelphia Police Department and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Household Health Survey.

Vacant lot greening was associated with significant reductions in gun assaults across all four sections of Philadelphia in the study and with significant reductions in vandalism in one section. Greening was also associated with the reporting of significantly less stress in one of the sections of the city and with more exercise in another. Cholesterol numbers were lower to a statistically significant degree for the greened areas across all four city sections.

The Nature Conservancy partners with commercial fishers in California in what could be a model for creating sustainable fisheries. Collaboration certainly seems to cause less antagonism than prosecuting lawbreakers; when the feds stepped in to try to stop illegal fishing in Gloucester, Massachusetts, the community rebelled.

An appetite for gold is destroying Peruvian rainforests.

Rob Stavins on redefining what successful climate talks in Durban should mean.

If you care about animal-welfare, you should probably be concerned with how dog breeding is inducing animal suffering; what is cute to humans can be dangerous to the animal (related slideshow here):
“There is little doubt that the anatomy of the English bulldog has considerable capacity to cause suffering,” Dr. Nicola Rooney and Dr. David Sargan concluded in one of the reports, “Pedigree Dog Breeding in the U.K.: A Major Welfare Concern?” “The breed is noted to have locomotion difficulties, breathing problems, an inability to mate or give birth without assistance. . . . Many would question whether the breed’s quality of life is so compromised that its breeding should be banned.”

In the United States, some veterinarians, breeders and animal-welfare experts are beginning to wonder the same thing. Last spring, the Humane Society organized its first conference on the topic of purebred-dog health and welfare. The society’s chief executive, Wayne Pacelle, told me the conference signaled the beginning of a new era for his organization, which until recently has been focused on what he calls “more obvious” forms of animal cruelty. “Inbreeding and other reckless breeding practices may not be as bloody as dogfighting or as painful to look at as puppy mills, but they may ultimately cause even more harm to the well-being of dogs,” he said.

Though a number of breeds were discussed at the conference (including the Cavalier King Charles spaniel, which is beset with severe heart and neurological diseases), the bulldog stole the show. “It is the most extreme example of genetic manipulation in the dog-breeding world that results in congenital and hereditary problems,” Pacelle said.

The folks at RealClimate chime in with their concerns regarding the new paper in Science that suggests we may be over-estimating climate sensitivity.

An open letter to university presidents and chancellors. (h/t Katelyn)

Just because you're a US citizen doesn't mean you won't be harassed by ICE agents who then try to deport you (h/t Wonkette):
[T]housands of U.S. citizens have been snagged along the way, in part because agents operate in a secretive judicial environment where detention hearings are held out of public view.

After a detailed examination of federal immigration records, Prof. Jacqueline Stevens of Northwestern University estimated this year that about 4,000 American citizens were illegally detained or deported as aliens in 2010. In a study published last summer, she found that as many as 20,000 citizens may have been wrongly held or deported since 2003.

Heather's Happy Link of the Day™ for today: Modern Squash.

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