Category: Civil Society

Proud To Be American (Once Again)

November 5th, 2008 — 7:47am


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New Urbanism In Practice After Katrina

December 8th, 2005 — 2:46pm

Katrina’s ill winds are bring­ing some good, in the form of increased aware­ness of and will­ing­ness to con­sider New Urban archi­tec­ture and urban plan­ning options for the rebuild­ing Gulf Coast towns.
I first encoun­tered New Urban­ism while read­ing William Kunstler’s The Geog­ra­phy of Nowhere. Kun­stler has writ­ten sev­eral addi­tional books explor­ing the cre­ation and evo­lu­tion of the mod­ern Amer­i­can sub­ur­ban­scape since The Geog­ra­phy of Nowhere, all of them mak­ing ref­er­ence to New Urban­ism. It’s recently popped up in two arti­cles the NY Times. The first, Out of the Muddy Rub­ble, a Vision for Gulf Coast Towns, by Brad­ford McKee, recounts the efforts of archi­tects and plan­ners from a vari­ety of per­spec­tives, includ­ing mem­bers of the Con­gress for the New Urban­ism, to put forth a viable plan for the healthy rede­vel­op­ment of dam­aged Gulf Coast towns.
If you’ve not heard yet, New Urban­ism advo­cates the cre­ation of walk­a­ble, human scale com­mu­ni­ties empha­siz­ing mixed use envion­ments with pat­terns and struc­ture that allow peo­ple to meet daily needs with­out reliance on auto­mo­biles. In short, New Urban­ism is an archi­tec­ture and plan­ning frame­work that actively opposes sprawl.
Sprawl ben­e­fits the short term at the expense of the long term. Crit­ics of New Urban­ism often choose to inter­peret it as a school that restricts the rights of indi­vid­ual prop­erty own­ers, rather than as a series of pos­i­tive guide­lines for how to design com­mu­ni­ties that are healthy in the long run. But of course that’s always been the short-term view of the long-term greater good…
The dra­mat­icly dif­fer­ing points of view in favor of and opposed to New Urban­ist approaches come through very clearly in this exchange:
The Miami archi­tect Andres Duany, a prin­ci­pal fig­ure in the New Urban­ism move­ment, urged the casino own­ers to inte­grate the casi­nos more seam­lessly among new clus­ters of retail stores and restau­rants rather than as iso­lated estab­lish­ments.
Describ­ing his vision, Mr. Duany said, “You step out onto a beau­ti­ful avenue, where you can get a chance to look at the water and the mar­velous sun­sets and the shops, and walk up and down to restau­rants and eas­ily find taxis to other places.“
But Mr. Duany’s design sharply clashed with the casino own­ers’ main pri­or­ity.
“A casino owner wants peo­ple to stay on the prop­erty,” said Bernie Burk­holder, pres­i­dent and chief exec­u­tive of the Trea­sure Bay Casino, in Biloxi.
“As running-dog cap­i­tal­ist casino own­ers, we need to under­stand that the com­mu­nity fits together,” he added, “but we need an eco­nomic unit that will hold the cus­tomer.“
The sec­ond: Gulf Plan­ning Roils Res­i­dents also by Brad­ford McKee, pub­lished a few days after the first on Decem­ber 8, 2005, cap­tures some of the reac­tions to the plans from Gulf Coast res­i­dents. Nat­u­rally, the reac­tions are mixed.
But it’s impor­tant to remem­ber that sprawl is a very tem­po­rary and sur­real sta­tus quo, one that cre­ated the utterly improb­a­bly eco­log­i­cal niche of the per­sonal rid­ing mower. If that’s not a hot-house flower, then what is?
Some links to resources about New Urban­ism:
Con­scious Choice
New Urban Time­lines
New Urban News
Con­gress For the New Urbanism

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Factsheet on the Estate Tax

September 6th, 2005 — 1:16pm

From the “House Com­mit­tee on Demo­c­ra­tic Reform Fact Sheet: Esti­mated Tax Sav­ings of Bush Cab­i­net if the Repeal of the Estate Tax Is Made Per­ma­nent”:
The estate tax, the most pro­gres­sive Amer­i­can tax, is paid only by the very wealthy. The top 5% of tax­pay­ers pay almost 99% of estate taxes, and the top tenth of 1% of tax­pay­ers pay more than 33%.3 The vast major­ity of Amer­i­cans are already exempt from the estate tax. As a result, they will receive no ben­e­fit at all from mak­ing the repeal per­ma­nent.
Those with much to gain from the repeal include the Pres­i­dent and his Cab­i­net. Based on esti­mates of the net worth of Pres­i­dent Bush, Vice Pres­i­dent Cheney, and each of the Cab­i­net mem­bers, the Pres­i­dent, Vice Pres­i­dent, and the Cab­i­net are esti­mated to receive a total tax ben­e­fit of between $91 mil­lion and $344 mil­lion if the estate tax repeal is made per­ma­nent. The Pres­i­dent him­self is esti­mated to save between $787,000 and $6.2 mil­lion, while Vice Pres­i­dent Cheney is esti­mated to save between $12.6 mil­lion and $60.7 mil­lion.
The com­plete Fact­sheet is avail­able from Congress.

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