Lansing Field Trip: Michigan Public Service Commission

Today marked my quarterly pilgrimage to the great center of Mitten-power, that is, Lansing, Michigan. I go up every few months for the Energy Waste Reduction work group meeting. The EWR committee is convened by the Michigan Public Service Commission in Lansing’s western inner burbs, and evolved alongside the Michigan Energy Efficiency For All (MEEFA) initiative that I also was a member of. (Elevate Energy‘s Briana Parker convenes MEEFA and is also a member of the EWR group).

Normal people may know “Energy Waste Reduction” as simply “energy efficiency.” Our beloved former governor Rick Snyder decided that the rebranding was an easier sell to spending-averse Republicans. Reducing incidence of a bad thing, the idea was, is better than creating a new thing. Cumbersome though the term is, I kind of agree with the objective. Waste is a bad thing. Efficiency is a good thing. But in a state where people think that buses are a communist conspiracy, it’s probably a point well-taken.

It is always a lively turnout. We had no coffee– I was reminded that the state can’t afford it and companies can’t donate it because public servants can’t accept gifts. But it was still a great program. Highlights below.

  • Maddy Kamalay from MDHHS presented on its weatherization initiatives through the Bureau of Community Action and Economic Opportunity (BCAEO). The Bureau is weatherizing about 2,500 homes per year at an average spend of $9,500 per house. MDHHS conducted research to understand the root causes why 836 applicants were denied weatherization assistance, called “deferrals.” Roof repairs accounted for 22% of deferrals. This issue has come up in a number of previous meetings. What if you need to weatherize your home, but principally you need a new roof? 66% of the roof-related deferrals auspiciously did not necessitate roof replacement, which can be far more expensive than simpler repairs.
  • Representing MDHHS and the Michigan Public Health Institute, respectively, were environmental epidemiologist Gillian Capper and Climate and Health Adaptation Program Manager Aaron Ferguson. Ferguson presented on managing climate change impacts in Michigan and Capper presented on research correlating weatherization implementation with substantial, quantifiable reduction in medical costs.
  • Jen Shutts, with whom I had previously liaised during my brief stint as Chief Lead Inspector for the City of Detroit, presented on statewide lead safety initiatives. Working with federally-funded programs has allowed the state to expand some of the scope of their work to cover not only lead in construction and housing but also in water supply. This has come up frequently in recent months with lead-contaminated water. However, water testing is not required in most jurisdictions, including Detroit through its rental registration ordinance. The rental registration program has a long way to go, Shutts thinks, but she is encouraged by the city’s push to include lead safety in it.
  • Habitat for Humanity, which does not have an active presence in Detroit these days, presented on a similar initiative.
  • Elevate Energy and Consumers Energy did not present, but had representatives present. EGLE (pronounced “Eagle” and rebranded from MDEQ under Gretchen Whitmer and following the Flint crisis) also attended.

My biggest takeaway? EWR’s work is evidencing a growing nexus between public health and energy as far as both funding sources and outcomes. As weatherization initiatives have struggled to find and maintain funding, the ever-increasing cost of healthcare means that demonstrable outcomes are a huge incentive for healthcare providers to invest in this work as well. In lay terms, if your home is a more comfortable temperature and is built with healthier materials, you might be less likely to catch a cold. $10,000 is expensive for an insulation retrofit. But $10,000 is a bargain if it saves you $200 a month on your heating bill and saves you $10,000 in medical bills. Research now demonstrates in dollars and cents how this can work.

Weatherization involves repairs to the building envelope of existing buildings. Work can include air sealing, insulation retrofits, window replacement, and roof repairs. (art by Olena Ostapenko)

The then-Chief Risk Officer of Wells Fargo Advisors once told me that if you’re not making money in a bull market, you’re doing it wrong, but if you can make money in a bear market, you’re a genius. This advice applies to the scarcity of working with community development dollars: If you’re building a million-dollar house and you can’t swing net-zero or close, you’re probably doing it wrong. If you can build energy-efficient affordable housing, you’re definitely doing something right. And if you can demonstrably reduce healthcare and operating costs (utility bills) in affordable and low-income housing, you may well be quite clever.

Partnerships are crucially important in making this happen, which necessitates thinking outside the box. A few years ago, these were just ideas, and now there’s a body of research indicating that it’s being done and that it works. Thus is progress forged!

I also ran into Joel Howrani-Heeres of the City of Detroit Sustainability Office, Tim Skrotzki of Elevate Energy, Brett Little of West Michigan’s GreenHome Institute, and Justin Schott and Brittany Turner of EcoWorks– a who’s who of the best and the brightest in the state’s energy and sustainability scene!

Before leaving, I stopped for lunch (as I do on every trip) at Naing Myanmar, one of my favorite restaurants in the entirety of These United States. If you aren’t enjoying a papaya salad, plate of stir-fried noodles, or aromatic, spicy fish soup, get thee to this spot immediately.

Onward, and stay tuned for more EWR goings-on!

Posted in Energy Efficiency, Energy Poverty | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

All Aboard, RTA 2020: The Business Case For Transit

I’m moving into the end of the year with an announcement about some exciting upcoming goings-on. RTA 2020: The Business Case For Transit will be a multifaceted initiative to study, analyze, and educate Southeast Michigan about the implications of a regional transit expansion ballot initiative in November 2020. The study will focus primarily on the parallels between public finance and consumer finance in thinking about transit accessibility. I will be working with Transportation Riders United, Metro Detroit’s largest transit and mobility advocacy nonprofit.

And, of course, it will all be chronicled here. The initiative will cover:

  • Nuts and bolts: How infrastructure projects like this get funded, functionally.
  • Tradeoffs in the infrastructure development process.
  • Dollars and cents: How consumers benefit from transit expansion (microeconomic).
  • How the region as a whole will benefit from transit expansion (macroeconomic).
  • How RTA expansion would happen on a functional level.
  • Managing risks to implementation.

TAKEAWAYS FROM THE LAST TIME AROUND

The project will build on surveys conducted in 2018 about the viability of the RTA proposal to hundreds of nonprofit, public sector, and private sector respondents while working with TheHUB. This research generated a few articles including this very long one, but did not ever get finished in its entirety. We ran out of funding. I started a new job. And transit isn’t really much of a priority for TheHUB’s leadership– so it goes, Michigan. I did, however, learn a great deal from these surveys, which got a total response rate of about 1/3 out of about 400 respondents.

Stories were spread across the map, but the takeaway was pretty simple:

  1. We need better, more affordable ways to get around the region.
  2. Lack of transit is a huge hurdle to economic development.

While we learned a great deal, the study did not come to any earthshattering conclusions. The biggest takeaway was that RTA was extremely limited in its outreach efforts. A primitive funding structure limits the RTA by statutory fiat. Leadership and organizational vision, in the opinions of a number of respondents, are similarly hamstrung. I’m trying to fill this gap by pushing for direct outreach to stakeholders, both to educate and listen. I’m also trying to embrace an approach that will bring policymakers and leadership together with community stakeholders to better communicate about what’s going on.

This will hopefully inform a more stakeholder-led process of figuring out what a better plan would actually look like. RTA’s limited revision last summer didn’t get much traction, but it also lacked much in the way of concrete details. People want more details– and they want to be involved. It’s also a catch-22, because the RTA itself can’t conduct much outreach without more funding. And SEMCOG and MDOT frankly seem to be far more worried about highway expansion than building an equitable mobility landscape.

It is possible to imagine this process getting easier with the recently proposed Macoxit, if you will, from the RTA, wherein Macomb County would leave the RTA and Washtenaw, Wayne, and Oakland would continue on their own. I’ve already written about what this will mean, and the takeaway from many onlookers is, well, “have fun going it alone!”

We are, however, hopeful, and I’m looking forward to telling some good stories.

COMING SOON TO A BLOG NEAR YOU

I’m not yet sure about the pace of production for articles. But I’m hoping for a major update every month leading up to the hopeful inclusion of a transit expansion millage on the 2020 ballot. Meanwhile, my dear readers have enabled this through your loyalty and periodic contributions! We are now up to a whopping $75 a month in contributions. Please consider subscribing to the tune of an affordable 25 cents a week or more!

In the mean time, stay tuned. I will link to new articles on my new Mobility page and will continue working on Detroit Park City.

Looking forward to seeing what we can put together in 2020.

Posted in Business & Economics, Public transit, Transit infrastructure, Urban Planning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Challenging The Automotive Paradigm in Reagan Democrat Country

I found out the other night that there are people in Macomb County who actually refer to the Gratiot FAST bus as the “Heroin Express.” Yea, it were 3am, and I couldn’t sleep. So I delved into a Facebook rabbit hole, as one is wont to do. (I know, I know.) The idea is that drug dealers from the city will come out to the suburbs. Similar to the common right-wing refrain that Mexicans smuggle drugs through illegal border crossings (they don’t, actually), this is, well, how people view public transit in Southeast Michigan and elsewhere, where the automotive paradigm remains king.

According to these same people, Coleman Young singlehandedly invented municipal corruption, and Detroit is responsible for all of the problems of the suburbs. Except when anything good happens in Detroit. Then, we can probably thank a suburbanite. (As an aside: You almost get inured to the insidious racism here. It’s far different from the jarring racism of St. Louis. Hardware store owners would casually drop an N-word here or there. “Well, you’re white, you know what I’m talking about!” they’d say. I mean… I don’t. But.)

Back to the Heroin Express, though. I now really wish my brain could un-learn this information that is taking up valuable space in my memory. I’m relegating this information to the place of other information I wish I could unlearn. Like knowledge of the existence of those electronic drivetrain shifters on bicycles. Or of those fish that eat your skin when you’re getting a pedicure. (That’s… really, slightly disgusting.)

On the flip side, it’s great if Mark Hackel doesn’t believe in public transit and instead would rather his strip mall county go it alone. A ballot measure that lost by a handful of votes in 2016 would surely pass by a landslide in 2020 if Macomb were ejected. The one sad part of this is that neither voters nor the executive are connecting the dots in what it would mean to maintain minimal SMART service without an expanded RTA millage.

Mark Hackel’s county web page describes two of the three goals of county government as delivering services “economically” and “efficiently.” I am not sure that this means that government can be simultaneously “equitable,” an elusive third ‘e’ in a county that fights tooth and nail against public infrastructure spending.

Hackel and others have criticized the RTA millage as double taxation. I’m not sure how people fail to understand that “double taxation” means being taxed twice for the same transaction. In this case, the RTA expansion is an expansion. It’s not a double anything. And, per capita, it still leaves us far behind real cities that have real budgets for transit. Hackel isn’t alone and has some vocal allies– among them Leon Drolet, whom Crain’s recently gave a microphone for God knows what reason.

There are over 800,000 people in Macomb County. That includes nearly 50,000 low-income residents. The cities bordering Detroit account for more than a quarter of the population. This means that, much as Macombers gripe about those dirty poors in Detroit getting a free ride from their hard-earned dollars, they will benefit from increased access to an 8 Mile transit corridor, if nothing else (this is well-documented by research in economic development that demonstrates that transit creates opportunities both along corridors, within the nodes that it is connecting, and within broader regional context). Hey, I ain’t even trippin’. I’d take it. But the “Heroin Express” comment is just proof that we have major arguments to work on that are cultural as well as legislative or economic.

This article is part of a series on The Business Case For Regional Transit as we move into 2020.

An ancient SMART bus in downtown Detroit.

Posted in Business & Economics, Public transit, Urban Planning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Detroit Park City #3: Dog Walks In Morounville

The other day (awhile ago, sorry about the delay), I deviated from my morning routine and took the hound down by the river. I greeted a parishioner entering the prosperity theology church, outside which a Challenger and a Caravan with custom modifications were illegally parked across crosswalks. Crossing some police tumult at Fort Street, where several cops shrugged at a caravan of cars driving the wrong way north on Grand Boulevard, whilst supervising the taping off of a door at the Crest Motel, we crossed into the elegant, tree-lined median and trudged south.

It was overcast. The day of the Free Press Marathon, and overhead soared a plane advertising a Chevrolet dealership, because trucks. What a time to be alive!

Man’s Best Friend. Jack “Jackford Mostly White and Brown Dog” (b. 2010) is a 66% Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and 34% Rat Terrier. He derives his softness from the cavalier, and his intelligence, speed, longevity, and love of playing fetch and proclivity for barking at squirrels from the terrier.

 

TOWARD THE RIVERFRONT

The industrial corridor of Fort Street (and the highway) is a solid edge to Southwest’s more residential neighborhoods. Not a whole lot of residential structures south of Fort, though Grand makes an attempt.

The new riverfront dog/skate park are pretty nice and a welcome addition to the neighborhood. The dog park was built on top of some sort of toxic soil covered over with a bunch of clay and then clean soil. The grass is green and trees are growing, and the pups tussle and bark whilst the skaters skate. One day, allegedly, the riverfront trail will continue down this-a-way. It has been rumored that the Gordie Howe Bridge will even have a bike lane, though I don’t believe a word of it!

As Jack Dog snurfed his way across torn up sidewalks, strewn with glass and debris, I found myself wondering what the hell the plan is for all of this space so close to increasingly valuable real estate markets of Southwest, Corktown, and Downtown. Shockingly, a bunch of them are owned by our man Moroun. You don’t say! It is unlikely that they would factor into the geriatric obstructionist’s longtime goal of building what I call “Ambassador Bridge ‘Too,'” because they’re so far away from the bridge.

The Moroun Imperium has long coveted the idea of a replacement for the agéd, 1929 structure. They even went so far as to build an approach for the new bridge, skirting the permitting process. When you’re a billionaire in a dying city, permission is given often, forgiveness by universal default. Someone needs to convince the dude that Ambassador Bridge “Too,” much like “fetch,” is not happening. Stop trying to make it happen, Matty! (I recently mused on the Bridge’s 90th birthday and some ideas for its future.)

I found a few lots. They’re not technically surface parking lots, but they are vacant, and there were cars parked on them when I was there. They’re also near enough to prime real estate that I think we should develop them.

In the great white gentrifying spirit of renaming neighborhoods, we’ll call this Morounville. If Gilbert and Ilitch have their own villes, why not create one for The Ambassador himself? This would seem better than “West Side Industrial,” the current “official” name for the adjacent (to the east, really) “neighborhood.”

For context: Southwest Detroit’s riverfront evidences the better part of a century of decline of heavy industry. The city owns much of the land in this picture, including the upside-down, T-shaped chunk along the riverfront. The connecting section of Jefferson was at some point vacated to expand the now-vacant marine terminal. The gargantuan Port building still stands, though, and is one of the largest vacant buildings in the city. Note the peculiar orientation of the Port building, which matches neither the street nor the contour of the river’s edge.

THE SITES

The first lots I looked at total 8.944 acres and have a total recorded sale value of $985,000. There are a few lots that don’t have recorded sale values listed. This means that either their sales were not recorded because Wayne County’s records are garbage, or some other murky business is going on. Either is possible.

West Grand Blvd., looking south toward the riverfront. The Ambassador Bridge is visible to the far left of the image. As Grand is an unusual sort of Ringstraße, it features a unique mixture of both residential and industrial districts. This section is unusual in hosting a residential district given that it is south of Fort Street. (The freeway vaguely is meant to divide the more residential districts of Southwest Detroit from the more industrial districts, at least this close to downtown.) There are, however, no homes on the east side of the street (left side of this south-facing photo).

Unsurprisingly, their taxable rate (land value / 2) is less than half of the recorded sale values, meaning Moroun is getting a deal on taxes.

In aggregate, we’ve got 13.051 acres of mostly vacant land (outlined in red below). That’s 569,000 square feet from Fort Street to Jefferson. 2019 equalized value for the total area is $387,200– less than a dollar a square foot of taxable value. Compare this to vacant land downtown: a surface parking lot near Joe Louis is valued at $23.66 per square foot. A lot on Lafayette on the edge of Quickenville is valued at $33.34 per square foot. Even surface lots in Corktown have tax assessments that are 5-10 times the rate of these lots.

That’s bizarre.

But not surprising. During my 45-minute tenure with the building department, it always shocked me that enforcement would go after, say, mom-and-pop businesses for things like temporary signs (sandwich boards, for example, are illegal in the city of Detroit), but would allow all manner of tomfoolery from the Ambassador Bridge crew.

A FOIA request I submitted (after I was mysteriously terminated the day before the end of my probation) to learn the fate of two tickets written to Dennis Kefallinos and the Moroun Empire- was dismissed because “the records in question do not exist.The records do not exist! (That’s a second Mean Girls reference. Maybe I can see why they got rid of me.)

So, we’ve got some critically undertaxed, critically underdeveloped land. It’s very close to downtown and very close to our closest natural asset, the river. Below the lots in question are highlighted in pink on a roughly-drawn map:

Fort Street forms the northern boundary and Jefferson curves around on the lower boundary. Grand Blvd. is indicated by the green median strip in the center-right of the image. This image represents approximately 66 acres of near-riverfront property. The green cutout in the bottom right of this image is where the riverfront park is.

Railroad gerrymandering: This is a real parcel. Especially in industrial districts, you can get weird shapes from railroad sidings and spurs cutting through random places at weird angles.

THE PROJECT

 Let’s think about the remaining buildings in the neighborhood and what we want to complement. The Detroit Port Terminal. The old railroad buildings. Industry along Fort Street. I would want any new development to honor this architectural heritage rather than, say, building vinyl-sided subdivisions. But not pseudohistorical– I just want to match the general vibe. Grand Boulevard is the only portion of the area with single-family homes, and it includes some apartments as well.

Most buildings will have zero lot lines and maximize density closer to the riverfront with more modest densities closer to Fort Street. I’m thinking about the space subtractively– that is, maximizing the spatial potential and then “deducting” from it, which is in stark contrast to the “additive” model of suburban development, plopping down the lowest-density thing you can on a greenfield space.

The heart of Morounville, a landscape of vacant lots and abandoned warehouses. This is Jefferson Avenue, looking west toward Mordor, a.k.a. the gas flares of Zug Island. The Swain lots are on the right of this image, and the lot to the left is city-owned and part of the expansive set of riverfront parcels.

Here’s what I came up with:

Some napkin pro forma figures that that development costs would run a cool $445 million for the whole project, excluding infrastructure costs. This works out to eleven buildings, with floor-area-ratios ranging from a low of 1.70 for the West Fort residences to a high of 11.12 for the Swain East Apartments (the central, three-towered, diagonal chunk in the orange image above).

1. Fort Street Site – North Building: 42,635 s.f. footprint, 197,038 s.f. GFA

2. Fort Street Site – Center Building: 35,479 s.f. footprint, 116,786 s.f. GFA

3. Fort Street Site – Jefferson Building: 36,000 s.f. footprint, 244,000 s.f. GFA      

4. Fort – Connecting Frontage: 4,475 s.f. footprint, 11,411 s.f. GFA

5. West Fort Residences: 191,350 s.f. footprint, 325,295 s.f. GFA

6. West Grand Townhouses: 50,344 s.f. footprint, 161,000 s.f. GFA

7. Swain East Apartments: 90,651 s.f. footprint, 1,008,000 s.f. GFA

8. Swain West Apartments: 73,000 s.f. footprint, 508,300 s.f. GFA

To put that amount of money in perspective, $445 million is equivalent to less than two Duggan-sponsored demolition bond issues, or the cost of two tickets and four beers to see the Red Wings lose.

The existing site (above) and the proposed development footprint (below). Development along Grand Boulevard is intended to match the street’s residential character. The Jefferson Avenue buildings match the zero lot line profiles of existing buildings.

I didn’t get into a granular level of design for these sites, but, based on the cursory layouts in Sketchup, they seem to involve quite a bit of open space, allowing for a healthy flow of foot traffic, and for more development and event traffic along the riverfront in the future. 

PARKING CONCERNS

None of my figures include any parking lots to speak of. Plopping down 2,000-4,000 new residents in a small area might well create some traffic problems, so, considering the amalgamated lot that would stretch from Vinewood on the east to include the lot on the west side of Swain, this could be developed into underground parking. A two-story, underground garage could provide 1,284 spaces across a total area of 213,000 square feet. This could provide parking for tenants, residents, commercial visitors, and visitors to the new-and-improved Riverfront park. MoPop West, maybe.

Based on my previous estimates of cost and spatial inefficiency, this would cost $33,384,000. In cost terms, this is equivalent to 232 apartments. Though it represents less than 8% of the total project cost, it may be useful to consider alternatives to plentiful parking:

$33 million could fund, by my estimates, six fully electric buses per hour along Fort Street to cover a round trip distance of about 12 miles, and, let’s, say, another six buses to go up Grand Boulevard every hour (connecting with Vernor and connecting to Midtown via Warren), at a break-even ridership of 60 passengers per hour. Not impossible to imagine that given that this development project would add 2,500-4,000 permanent residents– and accompanying service sector jobs.

ITE figures suggest this project would generate 12,600+ trip ends per day for residential traffic and about 2,700+ trips for commercial space across the projects. If transit accounted for 25% of these trips, that’s more than enough for a break-even on bus routes.

Underground parking structures are extremely expensive to build. If parking is an absolute must, though, they allow for far more efficient land use than sprawling out surface lots as far as the eye can see.

CONCLUSIONS

Beyond development– because we know that’s unlikely: The city should reassess these properties. BSEED should go after the owner with aggressive enforcement. Write them a blight ticket for every styrofoam cup on each lot. Speculation becomes far less valuable when you’re paying $200 in fines every week. And it’d be a hell of a lot better than doing what we’re doing now, treating preferentially wealthy landowners while the city struggles with an epidemic of eviction and foreclosure.

Is it time for a vacancy tax? This would hit absentee owners of especially huge industrial parcels really hard. Really, we should consider anything that can incentivize development. After all, this is enough vacant land to build an entire, new neighborhood with some great river views. Stay tuned for more entries in Detroit Park City.

Posted in Real Estate, Urban Planning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Making Detroit Great Again– Through More Surface Parking

Well, this is awful. Today, developer Emmett Moten began demolition of the Detroit Saturday Night Building. This will give him a handful of surface parking spaces, which, he says, he needs, because reasons. Moten has been trying to demolish the building for years. City Council is apparently cool with it.

And now we’re left with another gaping hole in our built environment. Less density, more runoff, less tax revenue. I covered the inaugural protest of the new group, Detroiters for Parking Reform, of which I am a member, last month, and will continue to report on developments.

It must stop.

Posted in Demolition, Historic preservation, Parking | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Canada Trip V – Struggles of Canadian Ascendancy

It’s easy to go from the decaying infrastructure of a city like Detroit to a cleaner, more prosperous city like Toronto. One is astonished by the functionality of the city. Storefronts are occupied! Buildings are being built! There are streetcars that run with some frequency! Everyone is in love!

I first visited Toronto in January 2016 at what I’d term the beginning of my “Canada” phase. The Canadian dollar had just backed off a plunge to historic lows. It was a frigid Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, and we had but youthful exuberance and ate our way through the city. I bought a stupid expensive coat that was handmade in Toronto out of worsted wool that has gotten me more mileage (kilometerage?) than most of my other purchases. Yea, tho they honor not the Doctor, the Canadians had a good little thing going in this city, we thought.

It’s a fun town. I was eager to come back for my study immersion program. We stayed off Yonge-Dundas Square, Toronto’s answer to a question about Times Square asked by nobody. The plaza is ringed by shopping centers and overpriced restaurants and permeated with jostling teenagers, Chinese tourists, panhandlers, and a motley array of buskers and artists. In my limited off-time, I visited old haunts and new destinations, riding buses and streetcars. Little Italy. Trinity-Bellwoods Park. The Islands.

Brick, mansard roof, mural, and glassy condos all meet in Toronto’s complete lack of urban design continuity.

Things are not by any means perfect. Transit connectivity is sometimes limited, though it still mostly possible to get anywhere within the core city in well under an hour. (In Detroit, trips within even the 7.2 can take over an hour on transit.) The transit system is not only inadequately connected, it’s also fairly illegible to someone unfamiliar with it. Signage is weak. Toronto has some of the ugliest corridor streetscapes of any city I’ve ever lived in (trailing slightly Hamtramck, Michigan). Automotive congestion chokes the city and gets worse each year, and it is unclear to me after having driven to Toronto twice and having taken the train in half a dozen times, why anyone would ever drive. A Canadian once told me that Toronto is great, but the problem is getting out of the city. Congestion pricing is something that has been vaguely mulled— but only vaguely.

Beyond congestion, affordability is, as everywhere these days, hard to find, with the average home price having crept up and up and up in recent years.

It’s not exactly a friendly city– in comparison to Detroit. Drivers are impatient and perhaps a bit less pedestrian-friendly than Montreal. But it’s certainly friendly in comparison to Chicago or New  York. In alt-Chicago, servers will split checks without batting an eyelash, whereas in the Other Windy City, you typically get an exasperated sneer for asking for such an accommodation.

TORONTO, CANADA’S WELCOME MAT

The takeaway from the above critiques might be that Toronto is a big city like any other big city. But it’s notably pretty diverse. Some of our hosts in Toronto, which included Francotalianadian Lactalis-Parmalat, Accenture, and BDO (not to be confused with BMO), seemed to ascribe Toronto’s welcoming character to its cosmopolitanism and diversity.

They in turn linked that to Canada itself being a welcoming country. Justin Trudeau’s defense minister is a Sikh, as is the head of the New Democratic Party. If you listen to conservative critics, his brownface episode  has undone any progress he’s made! But it’s notable that Trudeau’s racist costume charade preceded his decades-hence efforts to bring thousands of refugees into Canada. Is the government that diverse, though, overall? Let’s look at that a bit closer. Premiers and mayors across Canada are almost entirely white men— with some white women- with the notable exception of Naheed Nenshi in Calgary.

“It’s very different from the States,” one agency executive told us, practically bragging. “Rather than one party being pro-immigration and one other party being anti-immigration, all three of the major parties in Canada want immigration and recognize the need for immigration. They just can’t agree on whether they want to admit six hundred thousand immigrants per year or one hundred thousand.”

The description of a matter-of-fact, done deal was a bit odd to me. But I’ll return to that in a minute. It was during this trip that I considered the idea of what I’m calling “Canadian ascendancy.” I’m using this term to describe Canada taking a proactive leadership role in the global economy as the United States shrinks into the shadows and prioritizes opacity, corrupt deals conducted in obscurity, xenophobia, and a push to continue to transfer wealth upward.

Canada is by no means new to the global stage, as a founding member of NATO and the G7. But its role is increasingly important in light of conversations about climate change, the Arctic, and, significantly, in its leadership’s inclinations to challenge the United States as the Anglo-Western world’s spokesperson for pluralistic democracy.

Nana, by the creators of Khao San Road, where you can get down with a sloppy, mouthwatering bowl of Thai curry and some truly stellar cocktails. Cocktails and hard liquor are, by and large, far cheaper than they are in the states, even in Toronto. While this is largely a product of the exchange rate, it is not entirely and is also a product of markup: it is possible to actually drink whiskey at a bar without mortgaging your house.

LEGACIES OF COLONIALISM AND THE SOCIAL CONTRACT

I attribute some of Toronto’s sense of order to a particular Commonwealth sensibility. In contrast with the hyper-individualistic quest for elusive, meritocratic rewards that governs the free-for-all down in the United States, Canada respects that old school order imposed by that divinely appointed Monarch. I’m being a bit tongue-in-cheek here. I always used to joke to friends visiting Toronto that they should periodically drop in a “God save the Queen” for good measure, and they would look back at me, incredulous, before realizing I was joking. One of my Canadian friends tells me that Canada needed a monarch because Her Majesty provided necessary continuity in the discourse that was not afforded by an ever-changing prime minister.

The strange colonial ties between Anglo traditions of sociopolitical order, colonialism, and the Canadian State are hard to understand as an American. I once heard a rare speech by the Governor General, the Queen’s mostly ceremonial liaison, where he made a reference to the things that separate us from the “savage.” In the era of brutal callout culture in the United States amid a deteriorating discourse brought on by a Commander in Chief who values belittling and denigration above, well, governing, this would not have stood. I remember thinking it was instructive, even if he didn’t mean to use that specific word.

On a warm evening, I dined with a friend on the patio of the Queen Mother Café downtown, an old school pub that serves up some of the best southeast Asian curry in the city. Her people are from Pakistan. I asked her if she liked the spot so much because it is this ultimate embodiment of this paradox of colonialism, this casual love of faraway food couched in a quotidian, consumer homage to mother Britain. A sort of, “Hey, you might have conquered our people, but our food is always gonna be better.”

We don’t exactly have this same juxtaposition in the US because, even if our tradition is more starkly rooted in violence (N.B.: Genocide of the Native Americans, slavery), the US’s strength has, until fairly recently, at least done a good job of marketing itself as being welcoming to newcomers. The Statue of Liberty was an icon that welcomed European immigrants as one of the boldest icons of democracy.

Every time I visit a new place, I think a lot about the social contract and how it’s different from the US. In Germany, for example, one simply does not jaywalk. Crossing against a red ampelmann can induce a kindly grandmother to cuss you out.

In Canada, in comparison to the States, especially, people can seem excessively polite and deferential. The idea of a political scandal is comparatively benign. Canadians are, by and large, less fiery and less angry. I attribute a lot of this to the Canadian State’s being a bit more benevolent than that of the US. Socialized medicine, for example, eliminates a major fiscal stressor from the household budget (imperfect though it is). Canada has always played second fiddle to its bully of a big brother down south, being historically somewhat less successful, somewhat less wealthy, perhaps somewhat less genocidal. (One comedian on CBC once made a pretty brutal comparison between Canada’s benign birth from Mother Britain versus the crack baby that was the United States.)

A taxi branded after Loblaw’s No Name grocery store brand on the street in Toronto’s Chinatown.

PLURALISM, BUT LIMITED?

But cuddly pluralism has its limits, as well as monsters lurking behind a façade. One need not even think of Justin Trudeau’s brownface scandal, but might think back to Canada’s far more troubled history of residential schools. I hadn’t entirely realized until recently that these were operated well into the latter half of the 20th century. The State essentially kidnapped native children and attempted to erase their native identity in the name of Anglo-Canadian assimilation. Canada has, however, energetically pushed the truth and reconciliation issue, and I am hopeful that it is possible to move beyond mere consultation toward substantive inclusivity and investment in native communities.

One of our speakers held, we thought, a broadly pluralistic view until he tangentially lashed out at Afro-Caribbean populations. He said that if they wanted a seat at the table, they had to demand it and, basically, step up. This pissed off members of our group, who pointed out that a guy giving a talk to a group that was half or more composed of “visible minorities” about multiculturalism should probably come up with something better to say. It was not only tone-deaf for the audience but it betrayed a pretty shitty understanding of power dynamics in a society historically governed by a white power elite. (Toronto Mayor John Tory is white. Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart is white. The Mayors of Brampton and Mississauga are white. All of these cities have a majority nonwhite population.)

Ironically, this guy also came at me for asking about threats to the tenuous stability of pluralism from the Canadian political climate. I used Jason Kenney and Doug Ford as examples of the rise of far-right populism.

“You picked on the wrong guy!” he moaned, arguing that Jason Kenney speaks a few languages and served as Steven Harper’s immigration minister, so he can’t possibly be racist. This was reminiscent of the “Some of my best friends are blacks!” defense. (I’ve written about Kenney’s affinity for union-busting, gay-hating, and drill-baby-drill-ing).

The exchange was, however, instructive.

We jest oft about Canadians being too apologetic, as immortalized in the joke rap song, Out For A Rip, in which the protagonist, F*ckin’ Buddy, observes, “when I’m down in the states, they’re like, ‘you’re too f*ckin’ nice!” But many Canadians harbor a singular sort of apologism toward their society that I also trace to some sort of Anglo-colonial affinity for the State. Americans have this, too, but we also have a fiery streak– tempered with the blood of the workers slaughtered in the labor movement, perhaps, or that of those killed at Gettysburg or Antietam. The legacy of slavery, plus the extraordinary contributions of black Americans that formulate the very cultural, political, and social underpinnings of a society that in no small part sought to erase them, has always provided for a vibrant culture of critique of the State, even if it hasn’t solved every problem, or even if it has suffered violent backlash from the State.

This is not to say that Canada is, as a country, wrong. Many of the points raised by our hosts included the important fact that there isn’t really any universal right or wrong with regard to cultural viewpoints– there is just inclusivity versus intolerance. We have limits. No one wants a Wahhabist government in the United States or Canada or Mexico.

LOOKING FORWARD

The future of the world hangs in the balance as the major powers are in some unique, unprecedented shitshow of cultural struggle. France’s Macron has been a letdown. It is unclear what is going to happen at the end of Angela Merkel’s reign in Germany, where the far-right AfD party has been gaining traction in that country’s equivalent of the postindustrial Midwest. Outside the G7, Putin doesn’t believe in democracy anyway, the Saudis are chopping up journalists, Erdogan is murdering Kurds, and the Chinese are putting Muslims in concentration camps.

In light of Trudeau’s reëlection, it’s now a question of whether Trump will retain his own office. If that happens, it will starkly illustrate this question of Canadian ascendancy– contrasted with the United States’ willingness to decimate decades of progress toward multilateralism in favor of nativism, racism, xenophobia, and the disintegration of civility, discourse, infrastructure, and more and more. I’m hoping my own home and native land can figure out its own problems. I’m also hoping that we can ensure that 2020 instead sees the election of a leader who can collaboratively work with a Canadian peer to formulate pluralistic, forward-thinking policy.

This article is the final in a series of five on Canadian culture and economy surrounding my study trip to Québec and Toronto in September 2019. The preceding articles are listed below.

Canada Trip IV – Toronto’s Vertical Suburbs

Canada Trip III – Leaving Montreal

Canada Trip II – Montréal and Language

Canada Trip I – Via Rail to Toronto

Posted in Canada, Culture, Language | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Justin Trudeau’s Carbon Tax Singlehandedly Killed Global Crude Oil Markets– And Alberta’s Future, Apparently

Yesterday morning, whilst on a stroll ’round the snowy neighborhood with the hounds, I listened to Laura Lynch on The Current. Lynch succeeded award-winning host and Windsorite Anna Maria Tremonti earlier this year on the daily show, which covers global current events, similar to NPR’s OnPoint. A panel of Albertans discussed Premier Jason Kenney’s current push for what is basically, uh, secession from Canada. The recently elected Premier has established a panel to explore the idea the province independently managing the collection of income tax, retirement and pension contributions, and the RCMP (Canada’s federal police, for the uninitiated).

Oil accounts for about a quarter of Alberta’s economic product.

I care about this well beyond my undying love for the Land of the Rising Timbit. Kenney’s hardline rhetoric, in a country renowned for its politeness and deference, is notable during a time of bizarre things happening on the global political stage. The man has vilified environmental protesters, aggressively stripped unions of bargaining rights, and delved into the same tactics of disinformation as the Trump Administration. He is convinced that the media is the enemy. And believes that foreign corrupt interests are working against Alberta by promulgating the falsehood that oil is, well, awful.

For those of you who are unaware, Alberta is a weird place. It’s like if Texas and Colorado had a love child. It’s conservative. It has a preposterously oil-dependent economy. It hosts an annual, massive rodeo event that would put to shame the Iowa State Fair. Alberta is basically the only place in the world that has eliminated the brown rat. (As an aside, the province’s oil economy is even immortalized in Canadian national treasure Stan Rogers’ 1981 toe-tapping fiddle-led song The Idiot, in which the singer advises the listeners to “bid farewell to the Eastern town / you never more will see,” noting that “there’s self-respect and a steady cheque / in this refinery.” Rogers’ ambivalence in the song is indicated in his disdain for the barren landscape and the stink of the gas flares and oil.)

The province’s oil-dependent economy struggled under the collapse in global crude following the 2008 bubble. (How could a mortgage bubble be tied to speculation in commodities? It’s almost like markets are interconnected!) A major consequence was a spectacular loss of the long-ruling conservative party in the 2015 election. It didn’t help that Alberta’s conservative movement had already split, a splinter faction forming the farther-right Wildrose party, similar to the US Tea Party movement. As postmodernity increasingly continues to dissolve long-held, common ideas about political identity, we saw the socialist party fight tooth and nail against environmentalists and in favor of oil.

But, try though she did, Rachel Notley was unable to fight the tectonic shift that may well turn out to be the last big hurrah of global oil. Notley lost to Jason Kenney in 2019, suffering an embarrassing defeat while also having to endure death threats from Albertans pissed about her failure to basically fix all of the province’s problems.

Let’s peek at a chart of oil prices to look at when these things happened (below). The blue line is the price of oil. The red part of the line indicates oil prices during Rachel Notley’s administration. Unsurprisingly, one administration’s inability to combat a global energy market– or diversify a provincial economy heavily dependent on that market having much higher prices- did not end well for Notley. Her premiership is, of course, more complicated than one single issue, but oil is the topic du jour for Alberta and has been for years, as the sector accounts for a solid quarter of the province’s economy.

The glory days of spendy oil saw explosive growth of drilling in the Marcellus Shale in the Northeastern US, the Bakken and Elm Coulee fields in North Dakota and Montana, and the Athabasca tar sands in Alberta. They also saw explosive growth in demand for public transit and policy measures that would reduce reliance on fossil fuels. Auto sales plunged to the point of sending the automakers into fiscal doom. The trough following the 2008 peak of oil prices at over $160 a barrel is actually around the price oil is trading at today, 11 years later; 2008-2014 saw far higher prices before the plunge.

But that’s the weird thing. The panel seemed to think that Kenney’s new panel was some sort of referendum on Justin Trudeau’s perceived anti-Alberta-ism. The Liberals’ carbon tax (acronymically, the GHGPPA, a mouthful) has been vilified by the oil industry and its adherents. Passed by a multipartisan parliament in June 2018 (date indicated in the chart above), the carbon tax hasn’t killed demand for oil. Nor has it killed Canadians’ pocketbooks. Indeed, around 90% of the carbon tax proceeds are returned into Canadian households through rebates and other credits aimed similarly at offsetting carbon impact.

But as Laura Ingraham noted in her bizarre TV segment trying to drink incandescent lightbulb-stuffed-steak through a plastic straw to trigger the libs– energy conservation is a socialist conspiracy!

Jason Kenney and conservative leader Andrew Scheer, who failed to unseat Justin Trudeau in last month’s national election. (Photo by André Forget).

It feels more as though Alberta is focusing on a futile pursuit– polishing the brass on the Titanic, one might say. As global demand growth slows and is expected to start declining in the coming years, it’s up to policymakers to look for alternatives. This means diversifying an economy heavily-dependent on oil.

To be perfectly clear, I’m strongly in favor of producing oil in North America if the alternative is importing it from countries that behead journalists. Bakken and Athabasca oil have barely hung on in recent years with the price plunge, though. It is unclear whether oil will increase to previous prices. Relatively tepid demand has combined with increasing fuel efficiency standards. In carbon-obsessed economies of North America, that’s huge. Spikes in price would justify production, but they would also see slower demand, and this would in turn, hamper longer-term growth.

Real talk, though. Even if Comrade Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez gets crowned Supreme and Eternal Queen of the Socialist States of Americaland tomorrow, oil isn’t going away in the next couple of years. No one would be so naïve. But the demand curve is going to change a lot. We see this in electric vehicles, which didn’t exist ten years ago and have taken the market by storm. We will see more of this as we move toward electric semis, or maybe even consider options for rail freight!

So, it seems pretty crucial to plan for that change. This involves diversifying from a carbon-based economy. It also involves creating resilient economies that can survive, eventually, without oil. This doesn’t mean killing jobs– it means not blowing millions of taxpayer dollars to subsidize a dying paradigm. It means helping a transition to alleviate the slow demise of an industry that is eventually going to look very different.

Justin Trudeau knows this, and that’s what (in no small part) the carbon tax is about.

Someone should tell Jason Kenney.

Posted in Business & Economics, Canada, Environment | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mood: “It’s The Austerity, Stupid!” or, “Are We Ever Gonna Straight Up Call Out The Failings Of Neoliberal Economic Policy?”

The lobby of the spectacular Shinola Hotel in downtown Detroit. The hotel is a tale of two Bedrocks: Bedrock Real Estate, owned by billionaire Dan Gilbert, is not affiliated with Shinola progenitor and fellow billionaire Tom Kartsotis’s Bedrock company. Photo by Nicole Franzen.

Loneliness. Failures of civic engagement. A lacking sense of place. These are things that are often not discussed together. They’re certainly not typically at the forefront of conversations about free markets, though.

So, I was pleasantly surprised to encounter the program for a breakfast hosted by the American Enterprise Institute at magnificent new Shinola Hotel on Woodward in downtown Detroit yesterday morning. I braved the aftermath of near-record snowfalls, near-record cold (-14C), and near-record bus delay from the Vernor route. There is this lovely second floor atrium reminiscent somewhat of Dan Gilbert’s holiday huts on Cadillac Place. There was a sumptuous omelette bar and these delicious, tiny muffins!

First– I’m not generally a big fan of AEI. They enjoy funding from the likes of the Koch Brothers– and are actively engaged in Koch apologism. They push a hard line on climate change denialism. I have more critiques. (You’re shocked to read this, I know.)

But they’re not always entirely awful. They’ve had some critical coverage of Trump’s tax cuts, arguing that they haven’t strengthened the economy, nor increased the wellbeing of the average worker. But the overall vibe felt heavily, ah, Republican, shall I say, the audience including unsuccessful Republican candidate Lena Epstein, representatives of the conservative Detroit News, and some guy from Canton who once trolled me on Twitter and called me a socialist for believing we should have better regional transit.

The audience was also not exactly a representative sample of the city I have come to know and love. Almost entirely white, in a district owned almost entirely by white suburbanites, in a city that is almost entirely black and overwhelmingly impoverished.

In other news, water is wet.

But I digress.

SOCIAL CAPITAL, CIVIC HEALTH, AND ALIENATION

AEI’s Survey on Community and Society has some interesting moments. Director of Domestic Policy Studies Ryan Streeter did a good job presenting on growing feelings of alienation among a wide range of Americans. Referring back to, among others, Robert Putnam’s seminal pop sociology book Bowling Alone (1995-2000), Streeter talked about the importance of neighborhood institutions as well as public infrastructure like parks or libraries that can bring people together. (Parks and libraries are, of course, publicly funded. So, why didn’t we talk about austerity? Can’t you correlate the decline in spending on public infrastructure with the rise of this alienation? I’ll return to this in a moment.)

One interesting point was made about those who identified as feeling a sense of loneliness versus those who felt “not lonely.” Streeter noted a point of linguistic interest as “lonely” does not have an antonym.  People felt more affinity, he said, for fellow humans in their immediate vicinity or community than through broader networks of political or religious affinity. You mean I can’t derive a holistic sense of wellbeing from NUMTOT? Rats.

None of this should be shocking. It does, however, provide hard data on things we’ve all been worrying about, though. Streeter’s tone echoed Jonathan Rauch’s article in the Fall 2019 edition of AEI’s National Affairs about the rise of tribalism and polarization. He begins with a story about a Trump supporter who refused to tow a stranded motorist with a Sanders sticker on her car and, the story goes, told her to call the government to tow her car instead. Tribalism, Rauch suggests, might be rooted in the failure of the venerable, old, liberal institutions that make our society what it is. But he also suggests that these institutions are flexible enough to be fixed, and that’s perhaps why they’re so valuable in the first place.

To be clear, Rauch is a smart guy. He studies this stuff and has written books on it. But he’s missing an important element.

Rauch and Streeter are both skirting the issue of what is actually failing in the system. We might have different approaches to answering that question. If I had to guess based on his presentation, Streeter might say that he’s more solution-oriented than critically-oriented. But missing elephants in rooms is just that.

From the stately rooms in the Shinola Hotel, you can look out onto the pit in the ground that is the Hudson’s Site. The site will host, when completed, a large, mixed-use tower, built with hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money. The former Hudson’s Department Store was architecturally intact when it was demolished, also at taxpayer expense, in 1998, and turned into– you guessed it- a parking garage. Photo by Nicole Franzen.

To be sure, it smacks of disingenuity when a vociferously anti-government institution like AEI– whose routine climate change denialism more closely resembles propaganda than credible policy position- advocates for the importance of civic institutions at a neighborhood level. While AEI claims to be independent, there’s a gross degree of overlap between some of its fellows, even the attendees at this breakfast, and the kinds of people pushing the very demise of these civic institutions. Nationally, the past few years have seen a Republican party that is increasingly interested in power and increasingly disinterested in the preservation of democracy, transparency, and civic institutions. AEI will push a hard line on the topic of small government while keeping close company with a lot of people whose very party works extremely hard to decrease access to democracy.

While I deal with many examples of this locally– notably a friend’s Facebook thread, where one of his colleagues recently said he was proud to fend off Mike Duggan’s “socialist power grab” of the RTA transit expansion proposal- I can write off these incidents as frustrations of living in the political backwater that is Michigan. But at a national level, the casual disregard for public institutions is nowhere more apparent than in the Trump Administration, which has done its best to understaff its own government (while failing to decrease the size of it at all), claiming to be “draining the swamp” while filling government with lobbyists and corporate insiders avowed to destroy the institutions they now lead.

And, so, the only thing that really trickles down is– no, not the wealth aggrandized by the wealthiest couple percentage of Americans- the discourse and lack of civility. The Michigan GOP (whose former finance chair was incidentally) sitting at my table) has done a lousy job of advancing civility or civic institutions, if its Twitter account is any indication, rife with attacks on the “far left witch hunt” of the “do-nothing Democrats,” among others.

AEI is clever to avoid mention of any of this. Nor was much said about the importance of creating good jobs. Or access to good jobs. (I return to the point on public transit– ironic because public transit is something “small government” types often rail against, pun intended, quite maliciously. The Kochs were very good at this.)

Even though a conspicuous graph in the report (page 7) shows a rock solid correlation between people who rated their community as “Excellent or Good” and people whose households make $75,000 or above (92% of this population) in contrast to people who were satisfied or more than satisfied and made less than $30,000 (only 64%).

If not disingenuous, it sure is a bit, uh, ironical.

And nowhere would it have been more ironic– poetic, even- than in the state’s epicenter of all corporate welfare and Reaganomic thinking, the heart of the Taxpayer’s Republic of Gilbertistan, in the Shinola Hotel– a brand owned by an out-of-town billionaire (about whom I’ve written before), nestled in a landscape built, demolished, and rebuilt with massive taxpayer subsidy.

You can draw an expansive Venn Diagram indicating a ton of overlap between “people who say they believe in free markets” and “Republicans who cling to failed models of Reaganomics, using it to justify corporate welfare and other disproven models of neoliberal economic policy.

This is the problem with austerity and with neoliberal economic policy that pushes all of the emphasis onto the notion that the government should do everything it can to eliminate all regulations and make the rich richer in the name of trickle-down economics— and pay for it by slashing funding for public programs that disproportionately benefit lower-income citizens. It’s insidious.

It’s insidious because once wealth is agglomerated and held in larger and larger amounts, it stops creating value, and instead, experts want to talk about these nebulous straw men. While disintermediation– taking out the middle man- is a key goal of disruptive innovation, in this case, the experts are re-intermediating, creating this vague problem of “social capital” that stands between the cause and the effect. (Returning to Streeter’s point about “lonely” lacking an antonym, ‘disintermediate’ could use its own antonym. I’m sure we could invent a word in German– Ermitteln, or something.)

Policymakers author tax breaks and subsidies for billionaires– and then that money is lost forever. When budget talks come up again, we don’t have enough money to build that park or that library that, Streeter would concede, is important for building social capital within a community. We don’t have enough money to pay those teachers– the teachers that make for a strong educational backbone within a community.

We didn’t really talk about any of that.

But maybe we will.

Follow Ryan Streeter and the author on Twitter. Special thanks to Kirsten James of NJFPR.

Posted in Business & Economics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Happy Birthday, Ambassador Bridge!

The Ambassador Bridge, or, Moroun’s Folly, as I call her, is 90 years young today. We commemorate this iconic landmark– and textbook example of the treachery of monopoly- on the tail end of two other great lakes tragedies including the lethal Big Blow of 1913 and the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald in 1975. A current project is underway to retrofit the slowly crumbling structure, just in time for completion of the Gordie Howe International Bridge (GHIB) in 2024. Windsor firm Matassa is underway on a massive retrofit project to reinforce joints and concrete across the 7,500 foot long suspension bridge.

The Canadian government has demanded the bridge be demolished once construction of the Gordie Howe bridge is complete. Moroun would tolerate such an eventuality if and only if they’d be allowed to build a second bridge, something they’ve been pushing for a long time. But regulatory scrutiny is intense, which is no surprise given the man’s affinity for marginally illegal hijinks. Strategic land acquisitions in the GHIB footprint are major speculation plays, and the Morouns have reaped millions through eminent domain sales from taxpayers. Monopoly, we learn time and again, never works out well for anyone but the owner.

As I’ve said before, the bridge is an important historical landmark; demolition would be a tragedy for both Detroit and Windsor. I’m still holding out for turning it into a park. But in the mean time, looks like we’re stuck with it for another few years. Long may her lights shine through the gloomiest of Michigan wint’ry nights!

You can read more from my June 2018 article about the temporary transit blackout across the border. (Also dig this awesome Forbes article on the subject.)

 

Posted in Industrial Heritage, Transit infrastructure, Urban Planning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wake Up And Smell The Dirty Air!

I’ve had a persistent respiratory something or other for a solid two and a half weeks now. I’m a healthy adult with no history of respiratory problems, and yet– this persistent, relatively unproductive cough. I can’t help but wonder if it’s a product of the constant reek of diesel exhaust in the neighborhood from the Ambassador Bridge. Or a product of the mysterious black particles that get deposited on my porch every morning. Or the tiny flecks sometimes observed in the headlamps of my bike when I come home at night.

Gotta love that business-friendly regulatory environment.

It’s what makes our sunsets worth it!

Posted in Urban Planning | Leave a comment