Thursday, June 25, 2009

Trust Fund Kids and Gulf Drilling

Oil is like a zillion dollar trust fund given to us by super-rich grandparents, which we have been spending with reckless abandon.  In fact, we've been profligately paring down the principle, under the drunken delusion that the endowment is endless.

Oil under the Eastern Gulf of Mexico is like a $10,000 savings bond, also given to us by our forebears.  A nice sum which, if invested wisely, could provide useful, if modest, dividends, but really just chump change by comparison.

In the hands of this oil-drunken club kid it would be pissed away in an evening of revelry and forgotten before tomorrow's bloody mary's.

So, I say that as long as we are carrying on the hopeless oil binge, we should not be permitted to touch that precious and very limited local reserve.  And by no means should we kid ourselves that it's enough to forestall the end of the party.  

IF, and WHEN we have retooled our energy infrastructure to use renewable sources for everything they can be used for (electricity, most ground transportation, building power, etc.), AND we use fossil fuels for only those tasks which require them (flying, certain heavy industries, etc.) - in other words, when we could make that Gulf oil "go further" - THEN we should tap that sub-Gulf oil.  

Furthermore, because it may be one of our last domestic reserves, we should save it for last.  To burn it up now - when it will make the least difference - and not have it when we will need it most would be the pinnacle of prodigal irresponsibility.

But what about the tourists?!
In a country suffering the DT's of oil withdrawal, we will forget caring about Florida's tourism industry.  In fact, that industry is currently so dependent on oil that it's not truly an either-or debate, anyway.  Instead, it's a debate over when that oil gets drilled.

And for my money, the longer we hold on to that oil the better, and we even then we should drill it only if we've shown enough responsibility to handle it like grown-ups.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What's a boy to do?

There is a nexus between agriculture, human habitat, jobs, economic development, renewable energy, education and entrepreneurship; the way our species functions.  For the last century that nexus was a system based on fossil fuel, a system which is unsustainable by definition, and which in fact has been proven to be rather destructive in many ways.  

For the coming century it'll have to be something different.  Something sustainable.  Our challenge is to get there from here - while avoiding or mitigating the potentially  (or according to Jim Kunstler, certainly) disastrous consequences of the passing of worldwide peak oil output.

The question I ask myself is:  what should a community, a place, a business, an individual, do TODAY to begin this transition.  More specifically, what should Longleaf, Longleaf Development Company, Frank Starkey, do today to begin this transition?  
reintroduce real agriculture
introduce on-site power generation; solar, wind, etc.
turn "waste" streams into resource streams:  harvest rainwater and sewage, recycle and compost  (man, do I wish I'd installed a good old windmill-powered well downtown, instead of a dumb submersible pump!)
encourage entrepreneurship in the Longleaf economy by providing places for businesses to incubate, and supporting the existing businesses
and somehow, there are educational opportunities in all this - with the preschool and elementary school in town, but also with middle, high, technical schools, and the community college and university.

Boy, I'm going to need some help!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Vitamins - good and useless

Health experts tell us that some cheap vitamin tablets are useless because they don’t dissolve.  Even though they contain ingredients that would be beneficial our bodies, they pass through without ever being absorbed into our system.  We may tell ourselves “I took my Vitamins” but in reality, we’ve gained none of their benefits.

When it comes to urbanism, many jurisdictions - including Pasco County - fall victim to the same misperception.  While the community leaders may correctly view TND or New Urbanism as a good antidote to urban sprawl, they compartmentalize it in a “pill” - in the form of a few TND projects.   However, on their own these isolated neighborhoods fail to contribute most of the benefits of good urban principles to the larger area.  In fact, their success as TNDs is indeed hindered by the fact that they are surrounded by suburban sprawl.

Well-intentioned TND ordinances, like Pasco’s, create the problem of the cheap vitamin pill.  The ingredients - the principles of urbanism - are good, but they are too encapsulated.  Unless they become integrated into the whole “body” of the built environment, their benefits are equally isolated.  They become nothing more than the County's way of telling itself “I took my vitamins” while its patterns of habitation continue to be malnourished.

For THIS argument, I concentrate first on the principle of interconnected streets (and the implicit creation of blocks).  Second behind that is the principle of mixing uses.  Third is the principle of the fine grain.  Beyond that are numerous other important principles.  I'll deal with each of these topics individually in upcoming posts.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Rays Stadium

I've posted the following to the St. Pete Times Editor, in response to today's editorial.  (see the link above)

The current discussion about future regional growth focuses on transit, infill and redevelopment.  The Stadium should be the leader in that shift, and a downtown location is the place to do it.

Think small and think urban.  The problem with the Trop is that it’s too big, and too suburban.  


The new stadium must be smaller, but so must the scale of development that goes with it.  The mammoth mixed-use project that would be needed to make the stadium succeed in any of the “new” locations is untenable.  In downtown, however, the supporting development of restaurants, offices and residential can be accomplished in smaller increments, by a constellation of smaller developers and investors, building on what is already there.


It's not enough simply to locate the stadium downtown, it has to be part of downtown.  Remake the current site as an urban environment.  1) reconnect the street grid, creating a dozen or more new blocks; 2) build the new stadium closer to downtown, and pull it right up to the street 3) locate a TBARTA rail station nearby, configure the area’s streets to absorb more game-day parking, and bury whatever dedicated parking is left in a mid-block garage, shared with other uses.

The financial model of this approach is far more reasonable than the alternative sites.  It requires much less public investment and risk, increases community buy in, and enhances the city’s most valuable asset:  Downtown. 

Blog Number One

Rather than write my thoughts, observations, analyses, and ideas in the form of letters with no addressee, essays to no-one in particular, or journal entries to myself, I have decided to throw them out there to the Blogosphere.

I hope someone else finds these to be of use, and that this corner of the internet improves an actual street corner in the real world.  

I believe in urbanism.  The Congress for the New Urbanism's Charter ( is a good place to start for an overview of urban principles.

"Urbanism is what civil society builds when energy isn't cheap.  You do the math."

It'll probably take me a while to get the page set up the way I like it, so bear with me, and if you have any suggestions on layout, and gadgets, please send them along.