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How successful cities are like marijuana

Photo by Spreng Ben.

If you've got an acre of land, and a magical get-out-of-jail-free card, which cash crop do you grow -- wheat, soybeans, or marijuana?

That’s a good metaphor for a city's decision to invest in its downtown versus sprawl, says Joe Minicozzi, the new projects director at Public Interest Projects. Minicozzi uses the pot-vs.-soybeans hypothetical because people intuitively grasp the value of cash crops -- that an acre of high-grade weed throws off 10 or 20 times as much income as a food crop.

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Lorax statue lifted from Seuss estate

Someone stole a statue of the Lorax from Dr. Seuss' estate. The sculpture, made by Dr. Seuss' stepdaughter, weighs 300 pounds, so whoever stole it must have been really strong, brought friends, and really wanted the thing. The Los Angeles Times reports:

The thief or thieves apparently rolled the statue and stump down a hill and into a getaway vehicle, according to the San Diego police.

Who would commit such a heinous crime? Here are our (very, very speculative) theories:

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Aging boomers who can’t drive will be trapped in unwalkable cities of their own making

Judging by how pedestrian-unfriendly the average American city has become, all our aging parents apparently enjoy being prisoners in their own homes, reports the AP. Because, oops: There comes a point when you can't legally drive any longer. And if you depend on your car, that means you’ll have to … depend on your children instead. Fuck.

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Plane commutes on the rise

An increasing number of people are commuting to New York jobs from hundreds of miles away or even the other side of the country, according to WNYC's Transportation Nation. There are about 4,000 regular plane commuters, accounting for more than 1,000 tons of carbon every week. Has nobody told these people about the internet?

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Trainspotting: Transit vote could bring new life to a gritty city

Photo by Charlie32480.

Here’s the $8.5 billion question: Can suburbanites be convinced to care about cities again?

Urban America is hoping so. For some cities, it’s a matter of life and death. And nowhere is the question more relevant than in Atlanta, where citizens will vote this summer on a massive regional transportation initiative that would stitch together a city and suburbs that have been divided for decades along racial, economic, and political lines.

The all-too-familiar storyline goes like this: Back in the 1960s and ’70s, Americans bolted from urban centers like concert goers from a burning theater, leaving cities smoldering, sometimes literally. And while urban industrial might built the suburbs, suburbanites were content to leave cities on the ash heap of history.

Witness the 1971 vote in Atlanta and its outlying counties over creating a tax to build a regional mass transit system. The vote broke down along racial lines, says Robert Bullard, a longtime Atlantan who is widely considered to be the father of environmental justice. The largely African American city and two counties voted to support the system, while two other counties, both predominantly white, opted out. The joke at the time was that MARTA -- the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority -- was short for “Moving Africans Rapidly Through Atlanta.”

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Out of reach: How sprawl jacks up the cost of ‘affordable’ housing

Each year, U.S. taxpayers spend billions to subsidize affordable housing for low-income Americans. It’s an important part of the social safety net we’ve built to keep families and the elderly from falling through the cracks. But there’s a problem: A lot of that housing has been built far away from public transit, schools, and jobs. As a result, residents drive long distances, burning gobs of gas -- and huge holes in their wallets -- in the process.

For many residents of affordable housing, transportation and housing costs eat up over half of their income. For a struggling family, this can make healthy food, higher education, and health care seem as far-fetched as President Newt.

Lately, however, there’s been a push to alleviate transportation costs for low-income families. Efforts on the state level show some promise, and officials at the federal level are expressing interest as well.

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If people got rid of their extra cars, they could afford an extra house

The average American family owns 2.28 cars, and even in genuinely car-dependent areas they could probably get away with one. How much does that excess auto capacity cost? Enough that if everyone ditched their unnecessary vehicles, they'd save an average of $186,425.03 over 30 years. In a lot of places, that's enough to buy another house. At very least, it's more than enough to move to a more expensive area that's more transit-accessible or requires a shorter commute.

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World’s worst elected official makes the case for sprawl

"Well, let me state it unequivocally: I love sprawl," says L. Brooks Patterson, county executive of Oakland County, Mich. "I need it. I promote it. Oakland County can't get enough of it," he continues, in an essay posted to the Oakland County website. Why should any of us care? Well, Patterson appears to be in a position of power, especially if you live in southeast Michigan. And unlike other people in positions of power who make absurd sprawl-feeding, bike-busting laws -- ahem Congress -- he’s laying all his reasoning out on the table.

Read more: Cities, Politics, Sprawl, Urbanism

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You work 3.84 minutes per day to pay for your bicycle, 2 hours for your car

James D. Schwartz of The Urban Country recently calculated that Americans work on average two hours out of every day to pay for their cars. Now he's figured out that a bicycle costs only 3.84 minutes. And that's being conservative, assuming you'll drop $1,500 on a new commuter bike every five years, after which it will have zero value.

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Why the 21st century will see migration back to the Rust Belt

In the 20th century there was a mass migration to the Sun Belt, because everyone thought that living in a warm climate and having a big house would make them happy, even though actually it made us diabetic and addicted to oxycontin.

But now that climate change means the Sun Belt is becoming the Drought Belt, you might want to go north, says NRDC's Kaid Benfield -- unless you like living in a desert slum made out of crumbling McMansions and ruled over by teen superpredators whose street-legal assault rifles sport Ron Paul stickers, that is.