Cities are Different

“One number above all other metrics suggests a housing affordability and infrastructure emergency is pending. In New York City, one emergency is around 40,000 people living permanently in shelters, with a growing percentage of emotionally distressed and mentally ill people in the population. The number alone is less telling than realizing how and why it lasts for decades.

Homelessness has become a production function of cities.

In NYC, an additional 35,000 people, by official estimates, are homeless as transient or invisible. There are no rules or initiatives to stop these numbers from exponential growth.”

Rex L. Curry

Pushed Out”  illustrates displacement and its impacts.  Produced by: UC Berkeley Urban Displacement Project, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, and The Great Communities Collaborative, an initiative of The San Francisco Foundation

The history of cities is about how problems are defined and solved. The political skill of the dense city is different than other places. The city is regularly expected to create change that people will believe in, even though combinations of corruption and inspiration determine each change. The effectiveness of either or both is fixed in the experience of communities and demonstrated in neighborhoods. Inexplicably, is this what makes the celebration of cities so unique and important in advancing human thought?  Here is one example.

From the 1960s to the early 90s New York City experienced rapid cultural and physical changes unlike any other. Initially, it confronted wholesale infrastructure deterioration coupled with a profound housing crisis, population loss, racism, double-digit inflation, a significant recession, and a nation embroiled in a foreign war. The city responded with improvements in race relations, education, and training. There was just enough of a federal response to prevent catastrophic collapse. Why? People with disadvantages and other people with extraordinary power found themselves face-to-face with the problem of being face-to-face.

The appointment of a financial control board control over the NYC credit crisis lasted a decade. Ending of the mid-1980s. You know the old story borrow $5,000 from a bank and don’t pay it back you are in trouble, but make that $500,000 with a run into trouble, you have a new partner. The concept of leverage is thematic in urban development. It includes knowing the power in the phrase, “people united can never be defeated.”

The agreement struck was to build equity through housing rehabilitation, rent stabilization, education, and good employment.  Community control of schools and ideas on creating neighborhood government matured along with the creation of community-based development corporations in partnership with charitable foundations and city agencies. They had one purpose. Confront the city’s issues directly before them and create a better city.  It worked, but new problems without easy solutions dug into the city’s flesh as irreversible displacement, and permanent homelessness became continuous, like a tide.

Displacement and Homelessness

The examination of the causes of displacement summarized in the UC Berkely presentation has some solutions and remedies offered at its conclusion. Zoning is not one of them.  In fairness to Mike Bloomberg, his comment on the issue was, “Hey, this was the only game in town, so you’re either in or out.”  To this extent, he is correct, the Federal response to urbanization continues to allow the market to have its way until it doesn’t, and the great recession of 2008 was not far off. 

What is poorly understood is how low- and moderate-income people find housing in the suburbs for work and affordability by combining unrelated individuals and families in shared housing arrangements as under the radar as possible. The irony is shocking zoning is used in the dense urban environment to include low- and-moderate-income families in town and used to keep them out in the suburbs.

Evidence of failure to implement the remedies for ongoing home displacement is in the number of individuals and households (largely women with children) estimated in distress.  A detailed look at this is described in a brief article entitled A New America It describes the beginnings of a federal role in housing production, infrastructure, and economic mobility due to the rise of displacement, formal and informal homelessness in America.  Here is a brief excerpt: 

“When violent change hits a community, the question turns to the first responder’s capacity, then speed, followed by when (or if) the full weight of federal support occurs. If the change is massive but slow, as if following the logic of a cancer cell, a long-term sense of resilience is essential. Leverage for needed change will be found in these fast and slow forms of damage. The “small fires” response to sudden catastrophes in the national context continues to produce quality emergency management skills. Service providers and communication systems reach deeply from federal to local levels. The service of a national post-trauma framework is building strength because it is vital, but first-response systems are quickly overwhelmed without front-end steps in mitigation that can pull its people out of trouble at a steady and reliable pace along with outright prevention.”


Isle de-Jean Charles

What if the Isle de-Jean Charles was Canarsie, Brooklyn?

“Without weapons, claws or fangs, humans are not built to kill, but when one group of humans is forced to say to another group facing a life-threatening condition, “we cannot help you now,” I do not know which group is worse off.”

Rex L. Curry Video

If NYC’s ramparts are drawn across its landscape, it forces two questions: 1)Who’s In? and 2) Who’s out? The GND says we need to get practical about the local impact of global climate change problems as a matter of science and humanity. In this spirit, I will apply America’s first climate refugees from Isle de-Jean Charles, LA to a New York City example (video here). The relocation action taken in Louisiana occurred when they were down to the last two-percent of their land along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

Can New York or any other city afford to set that kind of relocation standard? Let’s do the math here,  it cost $100 million in relocation funds for 20 households of the Isle de-Jean Charles. Now apply that to the 35,000 families in Canarsie, a neighborhood in Brooklyn threatened by lots of seawater beginning in 2050 if not before. A relocation bill like that given to Isle de-Jean Charles would come to $175 billion. A resettlement plan at 20 households/year would take a millennium. At 500 households a year, the cost would be $2.5 billion/year, and it would take 70 years.

The plan now (and it is a bad one for people) is to allow land poverty to occur and over the course of seventy years of increasing worthlessness, let it go “in rem” and purchase the property at the lowest possible price from the owners.  A variety of development choices could be made then, it could be cleaned of toxins with the help of the ocean as it takes the land at an unrelenting, but unknown rate. The products to be capitalized in this manner could benefit future generations of the families displaced, given the right kind of seller’s contract.  For example, if Canarsie became an artificial barrier reef of old foundations that are already flooding easily, and the acidity could be neutralized, the north side of Jamaica Bay would become a vast seafood farm that would contribute substantially to the sustainability of NYC and it would not have environmental racism pinned on its legacy.

Current policies will destroy lives. The affected U.S. population about 94.7 million or 29.1% of the total live in coastline regions and about 60.2 million live in areas most vulnerable to hurricanes. According to the U.S. Census (here) this is a 15.3% increase since 2000.

A good investment policy would protect the future by creating a value that could accrue to the estate of every displaced household. It would not prevent the “land poverty” plan currently in play, it would also result in lives horribly disrupted, but it would create a benefit to future generations of the families displaced. For a place like Canarsie, or the Rockaways (the natural rampart), the test should be whether a quid pro quo is in place, or just another caveat emptor slap in the face, aimed at people of color that will soon be without the power of an alternative or a public admission of a plan for recourse. Could the pitiful amount of $2.5 billion be put into action today? Unlikely, as the policy of catastrophic resolution is only mechanism for drawing a line in the sand. This is the line drawn around a burned to the ground neighborhood in CA today, and another is the likelihood of NYC neighborhoods soaking in seas of Jamaica Bay and the Hudson River.

Today the planners, engineers, architects, and climate scientists assess the impact of the sea rise, storm surges and micro-bursts pounding down the Hudson River Valley on the city’s property. The Flooded City article points out the big picture these professionals paint for owners and policymakers.

The San Francisco – Bay Area Challenge is an excellent illustration of what needs to be done. The simple answer known solutions will not occur – but take heart there are people out there who know what to do and are not afraid to illustrate the steps. (here)

For example, a rise in sea level far less than a meter places 71,500 buildings and $100 billion of property in NYC’s high-risk flood zones. Sea rise is not a complex assessment. Remote earth sensing devices can measure elevation to less than a meter other, devices calculate small fluctuations in gravitational forces, and for any area in question in real time. The data is in, the “when” sea rise is too high remains unknowable. Analytical programs on weather and storm forces may never get beyond a two-week window. MIT’s Ed Lorenz 1968 paper describing that two nearly identical atmospheric models can diverge widely after just two-weeks of an initial disturbance as minute as a butterfly flapping its wings. This model has yet to be altered beyond two weeks by mathematicians, meteorologists or both for a half century.

The below-ground world of tunnels and conduit (vehicles, gas, power, clean, gray and black water) of New York City is not climate proof.  Given the positives of the walls and ramparts, the capacity to fragment infrastructure systems to function independently is implied, but the policy is dishonest unless the question “who is in and out” is answered.

Global processes are geologically instantaneous events in the context of the last half-billion years. They occur daily but remain well outside of human experience. We are unlikely to “duck and cover” or step back from the waves of an unobservable rise of the ocean at the base of a massive river basin. Creating incentives to do so is the challenge of our time.

Nevertheless, insisting the acquisition and removal of toxins from NYC’s waterfront and flood-prone zones may be the best plan of action for no other reason that it will take a century to accomplish. The planning work as it stands today favors protecting property in the short term. It emanates from the boardrooms and public conferences in the old way.  It is about producing jobs through relatively high yield, short-term investments under the heading of resiliency. The discussion of the chemical, biological, and most importantly, financial toxins encircled by these old ways requires a sharper focus by its critics.

The sea rise may be known first in Kiribati, Vanuatu, and the Marshall Islands who have already given the world a poignant reminder: If the world fails to halt global warming they disappear in the tide. Who will take us in?

It is the Water Stupid

The following chapter from “Finding Density” looks at the simplicity of water as a regional development strategy. Combining the duality of land/water systems as interdependent brings ideas for density, or “compacity” into focus. It also turns to a growing dependency on transit-oriented designs with this interest in taking a look at the Northwest by not repeating the mistakes of the Northeast.

Rex L. Curry

Successful municipal economies yield control of its laws governing annexation and eminent domain to state governments. The loss of decisiveness and accountability caused by ever-lengthening adjudication proceedings is destructive in that it forces an ever looking “outward” for revenue. The boundaries have been the same for over a century for New York City and it proves the look inward is the way to thrive on limits and prosper.

New York manages the complexity of its social diversity; it conducts daily battles rooted in zoning; it sustains a quality bond rating. It has written and re-written the rules of what is and is not a “taking”. In brief, it is a powerhouse of jurists and litigators.  Despite the intense political debate, it gets to the truth. On this point, the City’s zoning laws became fully accessible to the New Yorker public in early 2019.  Having the NYC Zoning Resolution  (ZR) online for anyone with an interest in its authority, practices and procedures put all proposed changes upfront. In the spirit of transparency, the full text went live as a beta version here because the City Planning Commission (CPC) sought feedback with a link.

That huge 1,570-page physical binders will no longer be printed in preference to a digital platform still provides access to all 14 Articles and 10 Appendices, plus 126 Zoning Maps and Special District boundaries. The use of ZR’s police power to contribute solutions to problems is well known. It has aided in the production of affordable housing, perhaps the city’s most serious dilemma but it addresses even more complex problems such as the impact of climate change on a compact urban environment such as New York City.  The creativity demanded by land area limits and looking inward for solutions to problems also isolates and defines in sharp detail a set of dependencies that remain outside of political boundaries.  One of the most important is water.

The origin of New York City’s success is retaining clean water coming in as well as going out, but the initial plan to accomplish this goal has grown to control much more land outside of its boundaries that it has within. Like other cities, two interlocking parts energize the City’s power. One sustains a sophisticated, occasionally stealthy war of antidevelopment heartily welcomed by the wealthier suburbs, while its counterpart offers the prospect, if not the full reality, of development in the dense urban center that is without limits. Recently added sweeteners of growing value are enormous economies of scale in environmental protection.

Highly useful boundaries emerge that define everything from “a 20 x 100-foot lot” to “the wilderness”.  The downside of this approach are blunders of local governance, especially as it applies to the regulation of land use for water. In these two basic envelopes, one is defiantly anti-development to yield clean water in the reservoirs freely given by a forest root system, and another offers no limits for the human settlements in it use as it returns to the global ocean’s vast water cycle. There is an economical triple bottom line menu here if it (wilderness and metro-region) is reinvented as a duality of land and water, as it gives users an “in or out” boundary for the application of an essential life cycle criterion.

Once both are defined with a relatively hard edge, the performance within each becomes accountable to a standard. The combination of private ownership associated with the rules of limits defines “in or out” options that tend to strengthen an “as is above, as is below” structure for debate. The rules that govern the use of a 20 ft. X 100 ft lot in a compact city remains compatible with rules guiding the use of land throughout the state. Protecting one protects or defends them all. The genius of this is how it supports the two permanent and essential elements of tension vital to democracy, decisiveness, and accountability.  That is, until recently. 

New York City and Environmental Conservation

The reason urban development policies incentivize is in preference to the enforcement of penalties or the provision of subsidies. Minimizing standards for low-density water treatment, site-by-site opens hundreds of individual pathways to corruption across a vast landscape of jurisdictions. Nevertheless, American values strongly support multiple centers of social and economic power to assure a layered political leadership structure. An example is the authority of the states to charter cities. A broader example is support for the lawful rise of social change movements seeking the means to alter, then “fix” boundaries of all kinds. This kind of “don’t tread on me” diversity is seen as a source of leadership. The reality of this structure is the fallacy built into the continuous growth assumption.

The image (above) is the water system in the NY metro region. Long term predictions expect a modest increase in rainfall.  The image (below) is from Wells Dry, Fertile Plains Turn to Dust (NYT 5.19.2013) illustrates a five ft. to 150 ft. drop in water from the High Plains Aquifer running from Nebraska to the Texas Panhandle. A multi-state regional water system that defines loc. These localities are politically incapable of yielding values of independence in trade for a common good. Core issue rooted the nation’s land use policies is how it is entangled in its social problems.  The American frontier view of nation-building is part of this, yet, another view highlights the rise of the national highway system in a nuclear era and represents forces aimed at developing the landscape without the introduction of countermeasures or public interventions associated with conservation. Policy: there is plenty of land and water, so use it.  What if these systems are dying?

When a will of the people strategy is employed, is the complaint about poor leadership? It is far more accurate to describe it as a lack of vision beyond state borders. The frontier has moved, it is no longer out west. The frontier is everywhere and it involves everything affecting everyone all at once. A basic human need such as clean, use water, that connects metropolitan regional policies to urban centers would be capable of collecting and re-charging water systems leading system protection.

To get a sense of the importance of this issue a based search using the words High Plains Aquifer Map will quickly illustrate local concerns from the Nebraska Water Science Center of the USGS to Everything Lubbock TX worried about nitrates linked to uranium contamination in the aquifer water that may come from fertilizers, animal, or industrial waste.

Wanted: A Density Trigger and a Clock

Do not blame America’s 20th c. Middle-Class for its useful affluence or its fascination with innovation. The belief in the promise of carefree life remains as easily exploited today as it was in 1950. Half a century ago urban design thinking capitalized land with a street and a car; now it needs to be an alternative. The street remains vital sans car but not sans mobility.  Therein lays a new problem.

Bellevue’s compacity just east of Seattle, WA is a good example. The completion of two 450-foot 43 story towers among five approved will hold 543 units on a 10.5-acre site with a 900-car parking structure. Why room for so many cars? Site approvals include a build out to 900 units and three proposed office towers with hotel and retail shops pending market conditions.[1] In brief, the site will have plenty of reserve multi-level parking. Car storage is still a key in the “get in the black early” strategy, but down the road, Bellevue planners probably purchased serious auto congestion.  Therein lays the solution.

The introduction of a subway or light rail system is an automatic density trigger if it connects the right stuff. Why does this system require a planning clock with a half-century movement hand? Perhaps it is the attendant exaction process needed to produce distributive benefits to the city such as a mass transit system. Housing affordability is another example, to avoid the “Aspen Effect” but it will of necessity include a variety of building design treatments aimed at mobility in the small scale using alternatives. 

The idea of a density trigger assures that the mass transportation process begins first. New mass transit partners are growing rapidly; they are eager to help evaluate costs, alternatives and so on. Setting a density trigger through zoning establishes a priority that “points” before it shoots. The history of mass transit has been “ready, fire aim”.

If zoning tips off the land-owners to the idea of growth in a larger, more compact city it could plan triggers to take it away by suggesting a time interval for planning that frames accountability for direct as well as unintended consequences. Developers and city administrators are intelligent enough to work out tax increment financing deals or other creative time value approaches much like a hedge fund.[2]

Transit Oriented Design Case Study

For a century, the zoning rules and tools of local government have promoted low-ground coverage for residential uses while expanding coverage with other impermeable surfaces for vehicular access to everything else. This includes the driveways and decks often uncounted in coverage data to the lots required by the retail model. Traditionally suburban county and municipal rules and tools abhor density, detest mixed land uses, and resist all regulatory control processes that call for performance measures.[3] Changes to these views are being altered by projects such as Bellevue in Seattle, WA.

Even though the quality and amount of space between multiple uses hold no priority, in much of the road warrior world of low density, some good news remains. A relatively small overall coverage percentage remains for most regions and the nation.

The bad news is low-density land uses continue to spread exponentially, and there is no stopping or questioning this type of growth due to hundreds of local governments per region. Not one of them wants the change that comes with density.

As planners and developers look at trains again because suburban real estate continues to have a long-term boom look to it. The centers of these little booms seem to be every station along the remaining rights of way laid out for trains nearly a century ago.  There is only one thing missing – a reason to go up and down the line.  A creative drive to establish destinations one station at a time. In the meantime, all anyone needs to do is to look at the rate of land purchases near every train station in the region of every major metropolitan region and center.

The most recent and bold example is Warren Buffet’s purchase of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad. This investment in 21st century energy-conscious transportation is compelling because his other “old technology” bets have been winners. It also stimulated many others to look at the land along the line only to discover that Buffet had been doing so for a decade.[4] 

Trains can move more than goods and people to more places with less energy, and as the image below suggests, rail could propel a very broad range of investment interest toward some of largest undeveloped sections of the United States. (Wiki)

Aside from researching land/rail purchases, another barometer is recent work of the Government Law Center on the number of local law review articles using green and sustainability issues to address land use law and practice.[5] Without a doubt, the relatively rural traditions of local land use planning need incentives to accept new ways of thinking but make no mistake about the motive for change. Even with “green and sustainability” tags, the task of maximizing investments by reducing risk holds priority.

Urban planning functions because banks, lawyers and developers drive it. The resource requirements to offer new ways to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) or more sustainable environment do not occur without bowing to a compelling capital return. Public rules, on the other hand, can require or limit significant portions development opportunities to “B” corporation structures adhering to specific aspects of triple bottom line practices assigned to their mission.

The Clearwater Junction & Kittitas Question

Protect the Northwest from what happened to the Northeast.

The north-south axis of BNSF and its northwest axis links to Cascadia, also known as the Northwest hub. Amidst the Clearwater, Lolo, Flathead, Bitterroot, Nez Perce, and Helena National Forest there are many conservation areas. The forests of Montana, Idaho, and Washington present the full breadth of a true wilderness. It also represents a mixture of wildlife entrepreneurship at loggerheads with conservation.

The value may seem incalculable. It is not. Write “Northwest National Forest” into a search engine (See Google Map below) and a vast range emerges. It illustrates an opportunity to get it right or turn them into “parks.” It is hard to imagine areas of this size surrounded by developer bids to “live alongside” or “work them” but one only needs to look at the “Northeast” insert to recognize that all that is left are isolated, invisible parks at the same map scale.

These Areas are Equivalent in Size

Anyone that has been in part of the thick forest for more than a few days understands why the desire to be in it defines one of the great joys of life, perhaps its meaning. It is not surprising that resistance is significant when attempts to develop housing through subdivision occur. A recent effort at protection against housing development used only one tool -the threat of predatory attacks. The central argument made by the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department of the State of Montana in resisting a 200-acre housing development in Clearwater Junction, MT is rightly based on this threat. The proposal for a 119 single family home sites was reduced to 59 in a compromise that included a variety of plan amendments such as a fence/wall surrounding the property. Again this plating alternative was again.

The developer continued litigation efforts to proceed until the Montana State Supreme Court affirmed the community’s denial for development on appeal. See Richards v. Co. of Missoula, 354 Mont. 334, 223 P.3d 878 (Richards I) and Richards v. County of Missoula, 366 Mont. 416 (Mont. 10/23/12).

As developers continue to produce strident objections to the environmental concerns cited by public authorities, the courts will often point out other ways to seek a remedy based on mitigating potentially deleterious impacts to wells, septic systems, and water resources on nearby properties and agricultural lands. A project’s failure to comply with irrigation laws, eliminate impacts on creeks, do not address violations of specific kinds of growth. Development plans and the transfer of rights through protection policies are all successfully litigated subjects defining the opportunity for compacity, urban clusters capable of meeting the need to be part of the wilderness but not living the wild, for that is its destruction. 

While forms of new urban development seem to be reasonable grounds which denies developers (Richards in this case). The court noted the making of “no effort to refute those objections” with alternatives for a reason – the illusion of wilderness living. It is ironic this case was lost on the danger to human life via the threat of predation when access to all the wonders of life in the wild would remain available to experience except one — the idea plunking down houses in it.

Case Study

Kittitas County in Washington is to the east of the Seattle, Tacoma urban area, and known to most national urban development observers and planners as Cascadia. At the turn of the century, Kittitas County had a few small towns east of the Snoqualmie National Forest along US 90. It is here where the battle over density and urbanization is very sharp, but it is losing the battle for conservation. 

One group, the Kittitas County Conservation Coalition’s central mission is the “preservation of a rural future.” A benchmark that sparked the formation of this countywide nonprofit was the closure of historical “trailheads” by private landowners. These trails link the past to the present and define an exquisite wilderness.  They should not be lost. The hope of this organization seems directly dependent on a fragile, but comprehensive statewide conservation initiative. It is the well-known, highly examined, and heavily documented Growth Management Act (GMA).

The state requires local governments to invest in comprehensive plans and comply with state and federal standards aimed at the protection of wetlands, streams, farms, and forests. This investment has heightened the debate on questions of growth and density and intensified the role of citizens groups such as the Kittitas Coalition. These issues pit the emotions and traditions of ‘frontier independence’ against the capacity of the state and local planning agencies to manage urban development as it occurs one plat, one PUD, one commercial farming, forest or retail project at a time. Before it was removed for viewing online, maps on the Kittitas Coalition’s website illustrated changes in land use regulation by zoning designation from 2000 to 2009. Perhaps the concern represented by the move to a virtual private network (VPM) was not to not aid developers with their formidable insight or to help them recognize areas where developer interest was occurring and could continue in consuming wilderness environments.

Increased public involvement in planning is exhausting, but the dialogue on how local governments need to plan and develop housing and services for all income groups has rarely met with success. The overall density of Kittitas is low at 17 people per square mile, but almost half of the housing in the county is rental, and nearly 60% of its 38,000 residents live in urban areas. Public planning helps the community to anticipate and respond creatively with facilities or services. Nevertheless, the overwhelming pressure of exponential population growth throughout the state is unrelenting; it exhausts the GMA and reveals a continuous battle largely based on the lack of alternatives to the single-family house (SFH).

From a national planner’s perspective, Seattle and Tacoma look something like Manhattan, to the east of Seattle and Tacoma there is a massive national forest. It looks like it could be something like one of New York’s large open spaces such as Central, Prospect, Pelham or Gateway National Park. While everything is very different to the northeast from the typography to the trees, places like Kittitas are beginning to look like New Jersey – a super-suburban state and most the densely populated state in the union.

What would happen if I drew a line around the little urban part of Kittitas? Inside this line, growth would be exponential to an upper, unknown density only limited by one rule, that it is not poisonous to anything and everything outside that line. Everything outside that line would become wild, with only the homesteads it has now. The development would be limited and comply with the same no damage rules. Would those who found themselves owning and controlling portions of these two worlds recognize the enormous value of each? A hint at this possibility emerged in May 2010, when Jason F. McLennan, CEO of the Cascadia Green Building Council (CGBC) announced a change in mission that envisioned the need to look well beyond buildings and to take a sectional view. Cascadia’s mission is, “to lead a transformation towards a built environment that is socially just, culturally rich and ecologically restorative.”

McLennan also recalls how the northeast experienced a similar response to “rapid growth” at the turn of the last century for colleagues and policymakers of Cascadia these mistakes can be avoided. Concerns about haphazard growth and lack of coordination influenced the creation of the Regional Planning Association (RPA). This outfit recognized the importance of linking the interests of three states — New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Established in 1922, it published the first regional plan in 1929, just before the advent of the Great Depression. RPA has a very deep archive, it has survived as a nonprofit agency, and given its longevity, it will emerge from its first century as a brilliant critic of the status quo and a staunch supporter for regional planning. It has the satisfaction of being right, self-correcting, and the dissatisfaction of being largely powerless.

Perhaps most telling of this duality is the title of RPA’s most recent local plan, Region at Risk.[6] It is likely history will repeat, as the central problem remains. Nongovernment organizations (NGO) like RPA or Cascadia’s CGBC are insufficient. They are greatly needed instruments for public education, but cannot draw the line in the sand that Cascadia is desperately attempting to bring in a kind of “time-delayed” wake enclosed in RPA’s almost desperate warning about the risks. Today RPA’s mission is a demand for social justice, a regional “greensward” and a seamless regional transit network. All remain its toughest unheeded challenges.

Those who could grasp the long proactive view have defined the current practice of regional planning as disjointed and incremental.  The “long tail” vision of America is one that offers a multi-modal, national transportation system, a diverse and creative multicultural society, and a progressive yet, globally competitive outlook.  Instead, we have an oil-addicted road system, increasingly polarized residential enclaves with laisse-fair politics, and the collapse of self-regulation as a viable American value. Perhaps, the lesson here is still far too bright, too optimistic for policymakers to take heed.

In response, I would have them know on my and your behalf that The Republic is without a lawful means to invoke the practical work that would allow one state to cut across jurisdictional boundaries of another in their mutual interest and that the discovering these interests is the only way The Republic will stand.

A crucial aspect of our urban metropolitan future is to spend some time looking past our borders for some encouragement. Clearly, NYC is happy about its positives, but a good plan for density starts and keeps momentum by defining serious new problems. You know, those hiding inside the smaller, older problems.

New York’s extraordinary history of support for affordable housing got some help in March of 2015 from the New Jersey Supreme Court. In the same way, New York City looks to the north for its environmental protection (e.g. clean water), it should look west at the two-edged nature of that calculation toward 2050.

Efforts to get New Jersey’s local governments to provide a fair share of affordable housing establish diversity and assure affordability remains a difficult road to travel but the routes were taken to date are instructive for the metro-region and the nation as a whole. In part, the density of New Jersey as a suburban state (yet, the densest in the country) brought to light sharp social and economic divisions stimulated by the so-called “white flight” and “spread-city” period out of New York City and Philadelphia in the 1960s and 70s with recovery in the 80s and 90s. The search for remedies to the social, economic issues presented over the next half-century is represented by unyielding efforts to link housing to social justice in New Jersey and with it, improved access to quality education and employment for the entire metropolitan region.

In 1983 the NJ Council on Affordable Housing was established with the power to require a local jurisdiction to comply with court order known as the “builder’s remedy.” This power was not renewed by the legislature in 1999. It was not until 2015, and considerable analysis of local government “certification” processes that the New Jersey Supreme Court established a state constitutional right to housing. The state can require local governments exercising its land use regulatory powers to “make realistically possible the opportunity for an appropriate variety and choice of housing for all categories of people who may desire to live there, of course, including those of low- and moderate-income.”

Those familiar with the Mt. Laurel One (1975) and Mount Laurel Two (1983) decisions will recognize the continuity of this most recent case leading to the re-adoption of the powers of NJ Council on Affordable Housing (March 10, 2015)[7].

One other gem in the inter-regional establishment of affordable housing is the region’s wealth of economic mobility. That mobility is threatened by the “on again off again” need for a mass transit tunnel that transportation agency planners, state and local leaders see as essential for two reasons.  First, the existing tunnel, while a miracle of construction is an official antique at 100 years of use.  It could kill many people, with the possibility of a catastrophic failure and if this risk occurs it will also disrupt the economy of both states for decades.  It may be possible to monitor the progress of this effort by following the Gateway

[1] The developer is based in Salt Lake City: Wasatch Development Associates

[2] Tax Increment Financing (TIF) is a financial tool.  Used will it helps local governments to sell debt in the form of bonds to pay for infrastructure (highways, subways, energy) and aim it at areas that need these improvements.  As land uses change, the neighborhood mix might contain former warehouses, industrial uses where the reinvestment risks are too high in comparison to the same investment options on “green fields”.   In this way, older, formerly compact neighborhoods can rid themselves of past errors in the quality of use and retrofit them with innovative housing solutions, with new combinations of private and public transit serving retail/cultural destinations.  When ideas like TIF tie to a “density factor” they give cities a way to make right past errors for good reasons.

[3] As mentioned in “Finding Density” the urban center leadership found in Miami 21 (October 2009), brought the “transect” idea forward.  It may change everything in land use management.

[4] On November 3, 2009, Warren Buffett‘s Berkshire Hathaway announced that it would acquire 77.4% of BNSF for $100 per stock in cash and stock, in a deal valued at $44 billion. The company is investing an estimated $34 billion in BNSF and acquiring $10 billion in debt

[5] See Sustainability and Land Use Planning: Greening State and Local Land Use Plans and Regulations to Address Climate Change Challenges and Preserve Resources for Future Generations.  The study reviews six initiatives, 1) land use planning process in the nation, 2) state and local climate action plans, 3) emission rules and EIS reviews 4) zoning and regulation, 5) building codes and 6) water management and landscaping initiatives Download article SSRC website:

[6] Cornell University holds a collection of Regional Plan Association’s materials from 1919-1997.  Those materials are available for research by contacting the university library.

[7] The opinion can be accessed at the deep end here:

Students Who Do Nothing

Business School

At a business school in New York City with my Freshman candidate son, I suddenly felt very strongly on the offer of forming “a club” that he should call it, “Students Who Do Nothing.”

When I said it out loud, he grins. For me, it was a Grameen Bank moment because I recalled a statement made by its founder (Muhammad Yunus) that to do what the bank did, it was necessary to unlearn everything.

My overwhelming, yet the wishful feeling was that it would be a highly oversubscribed and that it would not implode in its own popularity. You see we need a new generation of business leaders willing to unlearn everything and to do so as rapidly as possible. The greatest business problem we face is not misusing the resources of planet earth, it is about the good people who believe they can do nothing. As a faculty member of a private university I never met, nor did I expect to meet a bad young person or one who would be harmful to others. Universities don’t teach “badness.” They entertain discussions of existential threats and offer course work on ethical conduct. I decided on a mission, “reverse the I can do nothing” pattern.

I’ll admit to the influence of several other factors for wanting my son to start this club. Just prior to the “admitted student’s event,” I came across John Elkington’s pitch for restating and rethinking the goals embedded in the triple bottom line. (3BL). As an accounting framework, it measures social and environmental impacts as economic costs. A June 2018 HBR article (here) sums his experience up in one sentence, “Clearly, the Triple Bottom Line has failed to bury the single bottom line paradigm.” 

In the quarter-century since the idea of 3BL was established a pitiful number of corporations have adopted the holistic vision of the “B Certified” corporations throughout the world (UK example). Not quite the maximum well-being solution promised by minimizing consumption, but a step closer to solving the many difficult problems a solution such as that creates in implementation. The “B” corporations are different, unlike the typical “C” or “S” or other corporate forms found in the subchapters of the IRS code and those of other developed countries. The “B” describes a business that has adopted a mission to promote the public good in certain ways but remains vague and still demands a lot of uphill law to organize nationally. 

In 2018, single bottom line entities focused on increasing profits using the tax act passed (12/2017). I believe Elkington’s radar was also observing strength in the gradients of support for ideas that became bundled into Resolutions such as the Green New Deal (GND) (here). That it touched on another time in American history when people became desperate, hungry, and isolated positioned the GND Resolution less as a prescriptive remedy than a clear warning of science. Warnings do not come from the balance sheets and income statements. They do seem to be busy emptying the store shelves of an era in human development that is rapidly coming to an end. The quality of that end is why the creation of “Students Who Do Nothing” clubs in every business school in the world is needed. To move this idea forward I offer the following facts for inclusion in the independent charters of these university-based organizations.

The reason for the SWDN is it meets a need. It offers a very strong filter through which only a few ideas, events, investments, and inventions can pass through successfully. Doing nothing is a very high bar against which all the “somethings” we must do stand if we are to provide for ourselves and the many communities of which we are members.

The challenge the SWDN puts forth is stressful as the failures it will reveal along the way will be many. Great thinkers since the Club of Rome have already conceded the failure of sustainability. Harm will be inflicted on future generations. They all speak of resilience to policymakers throughout the world and urge them to prepare as rapidly as possible. In the simplest possible terms, the global ocean will take whatever and wherever it wants, the drylands will burn with fury, and the “city”, while still a vague notion in the mind the earth’s vast array of human settlers is the best way forward. The following elements of the charter are offered for start-ups.

Throughout the world SWDN organizations do nothing that will:

1. cause mass migration from regions most affected by climate change
2. contribute to the $500 billion in lost economic output or risk $1 trillion or more in damage to coastal infrastructure and real estate in the U.S. by 2100.
3. destroy the earth’s coral reefs
4. increase GHGs from human sources to achieve net-zero by 2050.

The members of the SWDN do nothing that hides or conceals:

1. declines in the provision of basic needs in the form of clean air and water, or the cause of inaccessibility to affordable and healthy food, wellness care, housing, transportation, and education.
2. stagnation of wages, reduction in social and economic mobility leading to harmful reductions in earning and bargaining power

3. continuous and ongoing increases in income inequality seen only in the decade prior to the Great Depression and defined in 2018 by the top one percent who accrued 91 percent of gains in the recovery from the 2008 Great Recession.

4. the racial wealth divide that amounts to a difference of 20 times more wealth of the average and largely white family than the average black family, and further exacerbated by the earnings gender gap resulting in women earning approximately 80% as mean at the median income.

The global responsibility of the SWDN is to do nothing that sustains systematic injustices that:

  1. disproportionately harm indigenous people, people of color, war, and climate refugees, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities
  2. isolate rural and suburban communities, the working low-income poor, people with disabilities, and the simply impoverished wherever they reside or work.
  3. hurt the elderly, the young, and the unhoused found in all other communities.

4. establish threat multipliers to the economic, environmental and social stability of communities

The SWDN will do nothing that inhibits system change opportunities that:

1. establishes continuous efforts to produce social and economic diversity in the U.S. in fulfilling the goals of the Constitution of the United States.

2. creates new, good quality, high wage employment opportunities for all

3. maximize investment in net-zero innovations

4. establishes ongoing foundations for resilience in the path to sustainability.

“Man’s desire for the approval of his fellows is so strong, his dread of their censure so violent, that he himself has brought his enemy (conscience) within his gates; and it keeps watch over him, vigilant always in the interests of its master to crush any half-formed desire to break away from the herd.”
– W. Somerset Maugham, 1874-1965

IBO on HNY/2.0

How well is the program for Housing New York doing? Is it serving those most in need or fueling gentrification? A little bit of both is the verdict by our friends at the Independent Budget Office (IBO). They put their fiscal eye on 78,000 units financed under the plan from June 2014 through June 2017.   They compared income restrictions with the “typical” income of neighborhood residents. The findings are available as a portable document file (PDF) for distribution and as an HTML file for searches.

  1. Most of the housing is in lower-income neighborhoods. The typical neighborhood household qualifies in these places are very low or low-income housing using AMI income definitions.
  2. Very few units are in the city’s middle- and high-income neighborhoods.
  3. Just over half of the housing is where the typical household earns too much to qualify for the affordable housing located there and not eligible.
  4. A quarter of the units financed are in neighborhoods where the typical household does not earn enough to qualify for the housing.
  5. The remaining quarter percent are in neighborhoods where the typical household would meet the income-eligibility limits.
  6. Units reserved for the lowest incomes are predominantly located in neighborhoods of similar or slightly higher relative incomes.
  7. Moderate-income units are mostly located in relatively poorer neighborhoods, while most middle-income units are in the city’s highest-income neighborhoods.

The city manages the five income brackets of affordability. In this study, the 2016 median income of $60.500 is used.  Household eligibility begins for individuals at 1) “extremely low” at 30% or less than $19,050, 2) very low at 50% or $31,750 and not more than 3) low at 80% or $50,750.  Thereafter, the qualifying income goes up based on the number of people in the household. 

Moderate, and middle incomes are formulated based on the Department of City Planning’s Neighborhood Tabulation Areas to define neighborhoods around a Housing New York project and U.S. Census American Community Survey data to calculate the neighborhood’s typical household income.

IBO uses the Department of City Planning’s Neighborhood Tabulation Areas to define neighborhoods around a Housing New York project and U.S. Census American Community Survey data to calculate the neighborhood’s typical household income. For information on how locations across New York City impact construction costs of affordable housing, see IBO’s February 2016 report “The Impact of Prevailing Wage Requirements on Affordable Housing Construction Costs in New York City.”

Short List the GND

The big problem is a nonrenewable energy system. It has a lot of little problems inside, such as GHGs or wait-time for a technological fix. The nastiest of these is the “catastrophic resolution” problem that takes the “whereas” logic of a “resolution” full circle bizarrely. One strategy that doesn’t wait for the sky to fall or homes to flood and burn is mobilization.  It is represented in the energy within the Sunrise Movement and a range of other mass-membership organizations. That is one side of the coin.  Here is the other.

The political influence of the fossil fuel industry remains strong thanks to Citizens United v. FEC. The prevention of outright bribery is the only crack in the armor of this ruling.  Quid pro quo political corruption is not free speech. Turning this connection into fact leads to possible remedies; however, the money is already talking from a well-organized lobby with a century of experience. You have already heard the line.  The GND is attacking the only major job-creating, growth industry – energy. It’s called wagging the dog.

The Shortlist

The Green New Deal should be welcomed like chlorophyll receives the sun, where the pigment arranged in pools of all things green, where the sun’s energy bounces from one molecule to the next to reach a delicate three-billion-year-old trap that makes the materials of life on earth from light. The trap snaps closed as electrons from water molecules break into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen is in a stream of electrons that flow up through the trap to turn carbon dioxide into organic matter. The oxygen is discarded.

The GND Resolution is a “big tent/long list” thing. It sets the benchmarks for everything people want or need. A small tent, the shortlist is, therefore, essential to mark accomplishments. The twenty-year-old voter in 2020 will be a mere eighty years old in 2080, and they don’t like what climate politics is doing to them each day. Don’t worry about your grandchildren. The priority of a voter in 2020 should be about the lives of their children in 2020. The shortlist is as follows:

  1. Irreversible Climate Change Demands Environmental Protections
    • Strategic Resilience  
  2. Implementation of a Violence Reduction Plan
    • Guns, Sexual Harassment, Assault & Terror
  3. Social Justice and Enforcement of Fairness  
    • Immigration, Civil and Criminal Justice Reform
  4. Health Care Services and Reform
    • Comprehensive Provision and Prevention

Getting number one well started is the best way to assure the continued success of the remaining three and practical advancement of H.R. 1 


Step back a minute for some reflection on the political environment set by H.R. 1. It establishes the climate for change leading up to the 2020 election and implementation in 2121. It is rightly called a “power grab,” so we know how it will go. But one perusal of HR 1 proves we go high, but a left hook is there too.

Congress has established two top priorities:

  1. H.R. 1 is bold and comprehensive. It supports voter rights and access reforms, campaign finance reforms, and corruption fixes. It sums up ten years of “good government” efforts to correct serious problems.
  2. A Select Committee to support the Green New Deal Resolution is not much to ask.

Step back a minute for some reflection on the political environment for change leading to the 2020 election.

The leadership of independent agencies such as the Federal Election Commission (FEC) has the responsibility to regulate political representatives’ campaign financing. They have two interesting unsolved problems.

First, there are no laws prohibiting candidates from funding their office campaigns entirely from the fossil fuel industry, big pharma, private health companies, and the purveyors of huge arsenals for weapons or bytes.

Second, having won a Congressional seat, there are no ethical standards or procedural rules that prevent a member of Congress from owning stock in any of these global companies or writing legislation and setting standards that would increase their holdings’ value. These facts are well known.

If the youthful fingers of college undergrads can dig into the fissures of corruption in the modern landscape of democracy, the McCain-Feingold prescription for decreasing donor influence may have a future.  Yes, it is admittedly weak, although the effort to put some sunshine on a few obvious gaps in legislators’ financial practices is where it can get interesting. The investigative task is to examine the votes that were not for the GND resolution in as much detail as possible. These representatives will provide the first “tell” in this poker game for the planet.   

Way Way Outside

One other way anti-corruption policy could work would only cost the American people about $5.35 billion per year or less than one percent of annual military spending and not counting the off-budget stuff. In other words, a drop in the $4 trillion annual budget of the United States. What if you would pay every member of Congress $10 million a year for their services. Now that is paying attention.

The accountability strings could be many. Holding that number by law without an increase for five or ten years would satisfy critics.  A clear incentive for representatives would be to hold spending influence on inflation to a minimum, and yes, that is a tax on the dollar, not the income.

The influence of money remains incontrovertible. Freeing up members’ fundraising needs is not the only thing that needs better shields from political radiation. The idea of paying each Congress member $10 million a year in trade for legislative honesty might work if it was also in trade for transparency. Could that salary set up a firewall between public agencies’ legislative mandate and the special interest lobby absorbing trillions of dollars in annual spending? Could it draw a line in the sand between mandatory and discretionary spending responsibly? One never knows unless one gives it a try. Hey, the total cost is less than three days of Pentagon spending.

Did you know Congress members’ salary is less than $200K, but the average in Congress is just over $1M? There are many wagging dog possibilities, and a couple of thousand students of economics and members of the Sunrise Movement, Ballotpedia, and others will find out why.  There are ways to repair the dysfunctions of the government by focusing on bad actors.  The bottom line, remedies to the possibility of “this for that” corruption or systems that assure 100% transparency remain very difficult to implement.

Know that the GND Resolution is not law. It is a promise. Accountability to its vision will be proof of the hard work needed to get laws passed. Win or lose in passing legislation is the measure of the problem, and it is a twelve or twenty-year game. The GND Resolution also measures the quality of pressure in the persuasiveness of science. The hypothesis is that if more legislators were scientists instead of mostly lawyers, the arguments for change might improve. Membership organizations serving scientists such as are taking direct action on this point. They are motivated well by Albert Einstein, who said science does not need to be silent on political matters.

Coalitions of Innovators and Mobilizers

Given current political conditions, the work of following the money is difficult but not impossible. Can you say Paradise Papers or Panama Papers? The coffers of lobbyists and today’s political leadership are secretly entwined. The unending campaign, the ring of phones and piles of postcards and bodies in federal offices’ hallways, can be enough in a democracy, but will it be in time?

Getting to know how well Seattle’s Democracy Voucher Program is working will add to your confidence. It is a remarkable public campaign financing idea. It helps residents participate in local government by 1) supporting campaigns and 2) running for office themselves. The idea is to make elections competitive and interesting to voters.  The Brennan Center for Justice paid attention to it because political campaigns represent the heart of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The Center is named for Justice William J. Brennan Jr.  One of the things he is well known for saying is the First Amendment requires “a lot of breathing room.” You can trash the Enquirer for being trash, but it has the same rights as the New York Times in the light of the Constitution. An educated public can see the difference. Do we have that now?

This fear of “the mob” does not reduce the Brennan Center’s interest in reducing negative influences on political campaigns bought by forces that want to run elections with as few voters as possible and have the winning votes go according to a script or plan. As this is the behavior of the “moneyed elites,” balance becomes the issue, not new viewpoints.

Invest in Civic Life of All Kinds

The civic life of the United States has a long list of not-for-profit organizations. There are the traditions of outfits like the Masons, the emergent single-issue groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), and another long view, mass-membership corporations are the American Association Retired People (AARP). All these institutions are threatened easily. Subtle examples abound. In the case of MADD, how many people do you see taking “shots” of a whiskey or in the case of the NRA shooting “guns” in the media every week?  Right, enough to notice. Public trust in civic membership in the fight against impaired driving or gun violence will succeed when conditions of excess threaten human lives.

The arc of world history predicts the demise of civic life for the loss of public interventions. It begins when the low- and moderate-income voice becomes a whisper in the ear of government officials. In that silence, every troubled neighborhood on the American diversity spectrum becomes metaphorically irrelevant. It seems that no one will talk about these problems in ways that make sense to the ordinary voter beyond the accumulation of wealth that hints at an oligarchy but isn’t, at least not one with a motive.

Then in 2016, a rude, belligerent man said, “follow me, not these assholes.” He captured the working-class voter and added the roar of the advantaged voices that policymakers could already hear clearly and would do whatever they asked. Arguments about the relevancy and merits of foreign election tampering or the electoral college in the 21st century aside, none of these factors change without attending to a set of prerequisites.

The Prerequisites

Organized and mobilized groups tied to one clearly defined issue can re-acquire government responsiveness. There are several examples. If you are over 50 years of age, you could be one of 38 million other people who send in a modest membership fee to the AARP. The belief is they will represent you in your aging years and give you helpful information and planning advice. Evidence of this mass-membership power was clear during the American Health Care debate. The attack on AARP cost them hundreds of thousands of members. That is proof of super-relevance. The route to reasonable health care remains viable, and “repair” instead of “repeal” is on elected officials’ lips.

The arc of history in re-claiming government attentiveness has better examples. One does not have to convince American’s that reversing a record of oppression is possible. Women have the vote. The civil rights and social justice movement remains a strong pulse in the arteries of the American future. The GND is similarly put out as a long haul. It is not.

The Wonderful World of Votes and Ducks

Empowerment is a wonderful word if it describes a community-generated emotion. If you need convincing, think of the Marines or Navy Seals, where mission success training is at its height. Obstruction, on the other hand, is a lesser emotion, often considered the only tool of the powerless, but in 2014 the authoritative leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell (R KY), used obstruction to prevent a hearing for the nomination of a Supreme Court Justice Judge Merrick Garland.

Another mass-membership group Common Cause (30 States, over a million members), will argue against gerrymandering in the Supreme Court in 2019.  They also hope to succeed with other national partners in altering the Electoral College for its failure to recognize the popular vote.  In recognition of “the vote” is to remain an important conflict reducer, fairness in majority rule voting is paramount and requires a fair hearing, if not a fix. Another group, Fair Vote, aims its resources to emphasize public education on vote power and reform the system.

We know civic organizations struggle for resources to accomplish basic reform tasks. All seek a revival in voting enthusiasm and an energized coalition of civic associations on specific issues that help build informed participation. Membership in local organizations has declined less in participant numbers than in the growing number of groups, desperately attempting to get the public’s attention.

Top on the list, we find threatened groups such as Planned Parenthood’s women’s health service.  There are “straphanger” groups fighting for fair transportation systems, housing groups protecting against displacement, and fighting for affordable rents.  Across the political action spectrum, organizations have become aggressive yet sophisticated in demanding the protection of legislators. All you need for proof is the “they will take your guns away” strategy of the NRA.

The lesson to learn is how a national to local network system is most effective. It is fixed to a specific interest and where there are a lot of community-based organizations.  Urban centers are particularly effective for identifying common interests in coalition building that break down old barriers such as race and find ways to develop a common agenda on a broad range of problems.  Much of this activity is not well supported by national foundations, which remain far too shy of activity related to political change when their real power as adjudicators of fact is distinguished. 

Robert Sampson’s 2012 book, “Great American City,” detailed the enduring effects of civic organizations in Chicago. It digs into the extraordinary potential of cities once the equality of neighborhoods can be accepted with policies that eliminate poverty concentration by neighborhood. While not an issue now, the social organizing and community building skills on this question will be greatly needed for one reason. It is fully possible that hundreds of thousands of displaced people could occur in the United States as a global warming/climate change possibility.

Define the Problem

The problem is defined in one word – energy. Why? The world is still being built using a nonrenewable energy system. Therefore, despite all the other problems this presents, the goal is to develop renewable energy systems. To achieve this goal, objectives are defined by demonstrations of the scale embedded in the wind, geothermal, and solar alternatives. The strategic and tactical approaches to achieve this goal and its objectives will combine public and private investment through local trials in all residential and business settings defined by two forces, movement and heat. Priorities will be set based on thousands of initial projects with a promise that serves local environmental conditions. Each solution is thereby linked to a new American energy paradigm. Routine examination of the resource implications of each will occur through the pragmatic rule of law and evaluations.

Building a new energy future is first on the shortlist because it is the core problem. Working to solve this problem first will aid in organizing and mobilizing the next three on the list. The following is an example of not paying attention. Of the thousand examples, this one by the Guardian is the most accurate expression of our enormous power to destroy in our own image. (Guardian Explains) Google’s earth engine video illustrates here.

The bet that the failure to reduce GHGs in a decade “won’t be that bad” is a gamble of the addict. It pushes aside all other opportunities to reduce violence in all of its forms, kills the idea of sustaining a healthy social justice movement, and weakens our ability to keep people healthy from birth to death.

National Security Archive

30+ Years of Freedom of Information Action

Founded in 1985 by journalists and scholars The National Security Archive (NSA) works to put a check on rising government secrecy. The NSA combines a unique range of useful functions:

  • a center for investigative journalism
  • a research institute on international affairs
  • a library and archive of declassified U.S. documents
  • an advocate for open government
  • an indexer and publisher of former secrets

White House Visitor Logs

NSA offers a place to spend some time in the working of government. For example, small things can reveal larger questions such as ending the disclosure of visitors to the White House log by POTUS45. (here)

Post 9/11 Policy

Because the information is drawn largely from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests the archive makes it possible to look to the past for some insight into the future. Changes in public policy, after 9/11 is covered in a detailed essay that outlines a long list of initiatives implemented to alter negative views of the United States in the Middle East in this example.


The National Security Archive Audit found that only 38 out of 99 federal agencies have updated their FOIA regulations in compliance with the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016.   The Federal Election Commission was one of them. It passed with bipartisan, bicameral support. The law requires agencies to update their FOIA regulations within 180 days of passage. It was June 30, when President Obama signed the act which made December 27, 2016, the deadline.

The NSA alone provide insights, however, all the details are on

Source: National Security Archive | 30+ Years of Freedom of Information Action

Political Tech

“Thinking does not solve problems it merely expresses the possibility. One thought expresses a vast human capacity. It brings to mind a contemporary criticism of the medical system that defines a healthy person as one who has not been fully worked up.  It tells us that cities are like that – never fully worked up, a possibility. Outside the realm of a single thought or one laugh there is the very hard work of finding and defining a real, live lie. The presumption of one is just the first step, but it will take complete faith in technolgy to go further.”

Rex L. Curry

In one sense, a lie and the truth are born of a union, but now they walk the earth telling stories of their exploits and how the world works as competitors. Truths and lies have equal value because they represent the supposed fairness of reason in various adjudication systems that ask jurists to choose between two, three, or a hundred versions of the truth or a lie. They differ as honest interpretations. The audience picks the one liked as a matter of categorical interest over factual accuracy. The result is a chaotic condion of inductive and deductive processes that go from the specific to the general, and from the general to the specified. You see it organised in three steps.

First, the legal concepts build up as cases are compared.

Second,  these cases wrestle for a while with the inherent ambiguity of language. The most dramatic arguments are about causation such as the cause of global warming. The facts are well known. The concept of a cause becomes exclusive, while the process of reasoning continues to place specific events inside and outside of the concept.

Third, a condition or stage emerges as reasoning through these examples moves ahead until matters of kind move into matters of a mathematical degree leading to the breakdown of the concept.  New discrete components form. 


Where there is little proof of preemption there is a lot of it about failure. Change occurs in a kind of 3D matrix that defines who, where, and when, leaving why and how ignite into use. When “how” comes in to use there is only one stop sign solution. Why?

The assignment of natural resource consumption rates to concrete named companies by material can become an aggregate. The “unsafe at any speed” narrative on consuption is symbolic of our 20th century. As rates begin to exceed the earth’s replacement capacity post 20XX, the examples of “kind” continue to have measurable quantities. Most of it is about making stuff directly attributable to the loss of life and its quality as predictable. Now, matters of kind become elements of degree. Here is an example.

Work the concept of climate change cases with laws against the presumption of entitled consumption. Take these steps to attach your personal and professional mind to this change.

  1. Step back, look at the roots of technology, and decide to become comfortable with getting to know the arc of this change.
    1. A summary is (here) from Kevin Kelly, it’s OK for the seed. There is better.
  2. Look at how the making of things expresses human genius. The idea that we have to make or acquire stuff to find “ultimate expression” misses the point. It is about the choice of stuff to make.
    1. A vague look at this responsibility (here) is troubling, accurate.
  3. Private Workshop Project. Transect the ground between any two things, perhaps a collection of bobble-head dolls and then a set of dishes at home. Realize measures for a cult of personalities and the acquisition of gigabytes about them both. Now do it this with thousands of “things” and make choices using tools such as:
    1. the Good Guide or Kando’s Real Message
  4. Accept the opportunity of the 1 thru 3 (above) processes and expect change, but do not expect to know what they will mean.
  5. Public Workshop Project. Imagine a world before language as a whisper of thought and a fragment of an individual’s movement and imagination.
    1. Write down what you really need and want to know with other people and then let it happen and if necessary make it happen.
  6. Now imagine knowing everything of your world within the system itself as if a tree had knowledge of all trees. Do you see less stuff and more life?
    1. If not go back to step one.
  7. Make your own step seven to acquire the knowledge implied and you will become comfortable with dense idea of activism and life.

Technium – not basic

All of the above is how I imagined Kevin Kelly or someone just as unreasonably optimistic might make an argument for a new kind of quality of life with added restraints but access to a machine with a perfect memory. His book What Technology Wants, defines the relevant technical and environmental conditions for enthusiastic investment at the dawn fo the 21st c. The tendency is to view these investments in a broad social mobility dimension such as thinking of your phone as a thing closer to God than a frog to which Kelly’s NY Times critic said he would believe when a phone reproduces itself on a diet of flies. Biology combined with technology misses the purpose of complexity to maintain awareness of simplicity.

Here is a practical example, the local education budget in NYC for may not capture its investment in supporting five amazing geniuses and a million other kids to discover their talents because manly of them might end up in Los Angeles. The technology available now suggests NYC investment in education can still benefit. The crisis of COVID-19 brought this to bear in a painful way as one or more of those bright young people may have been among the 300,000 children that did not have a computer or the raw broadband cash access to communicate with their peers or teachers via the Internet. The shutdown in North Korea on the other hand was traumatic, but not one beat was missed in the education of their children because of universal high-speed service providers.

The well-known midrange of capability as captured in Maslow’s hierarchy ignores two elements – interpersonal social integration and consonance. Regardless of the physical design, from cave to savanah, agora to market, high-rise classrooms or country-side campuses, the public responsibility to educate is to assure individuals the widest possible set of choices. (John Locke) Limits on choice produce a lack of balance in human capital investment policies. This is apparent by measuring the number of individuals able to choose among a variety of socioeconomic dimensions vs. the number who have a limited number and further parse that by country of origin, race, gender, and sexual orientation.


“Historians of money will tell you about the 16th Amendment ratified by Congress in 1909 and certified in 1913 provides for a federal tax on income and how quickly that led to the Federal Reserve System. It still is what it was but taxing people and corporations changed, and not in a good way.”

Rex Curry

Over the last century, most Americans have the bad taste of income tax complexity in their throats and a sense of general unfairness in their minds. Every American knows about the high concentrations of wealth in our society and how it includes a hedge on how civil it can remain and still retain the ability to control if not avoid federal tax strategies. The aggregate total of American wealth runs short of the funds demanded by our federal, state, and local budgets. The easy explanation is that American multinational corporations and foreign countries’ laser-like strategies capture our markets and evade taxes. It is more accurate to talk about size because it matters when the triple bottom line folds into the gross domestic product to confront the green new deal.

The American economy (GDP $19.3T) is larger than the second-largest, China ($12T), and the third, Japan (or Germany, or the UK, and so on) combined. This can be confirmed annually with online sources such as the World Bank and the CIA World Facts book (graphic below). The economies of free-market power are based on the availability of value embedded in the U. S. dollar ownership.  In 2010 the Americans held $10 billion of America’s debt, but $6 billion was owned by other nations, mutual funds, and commercial banks. The world’s economy depends on a stable dollar. That should be worth far more than we realize. In 2020 over/under is $22 trillion. A lot of zeros my friends $22,000,000,000,000

Use this link (here) for more detail.

Finder of GDP all nations.

Here’s a Crazy Idea

The complexity of these and many other machinations of the power to tax are likely to continue indefinitely and regressively. Instead of income, what would happen if there was a tax on the dollar by putting a time limit on its use and, therefore, its value. The depreciation of the dollar is well understood as an econometric exercise. For tax reduction purposes, large organizations can accelerate the depreciation of a long list of assets that continue to grow in value.  What can be done? Prove that we are not crazy. They are the ones that need a shrink.

The crazy people are those who want to change the world, but they are ones who do it in denial. Since the Sixteenth Amendment, changes in the world require a forceful effort in dealing with the income and tax problem. One of those changes that will be most likely to contribute to reform could come from the new policies of the Green New Deal (GND – WIKI).

Following the passage of the federal power to tax and a lot of bumps along the way, the practice of keeping inflation controlled became a clear way to manage money in the economy. It stripped money of trade value for gold or silver and replaced it with trust. It prevents old money from being worth less than new money by a percentage low enough to be overcome by other investments. What if that changed? How, you ask? The loss of trust.

What if investments in all things not listed as certified GND investments become depreciating money? It will take some time to figure that out, and in this country, we are talking one to three decades. We may not have that much time. The tax on money transition would bring foreign reserves and dollar transactions capable of funding an entirely new U.S. economy. Instead of an income tax, holding money alone in a non-GND stock or FIRE places will pay through planned periods of depreciation.  Corporations and households that invest in GND directly or indirectly will not pay income tax on anything over. Let’s give it a ballpark of a three-billion.

The GND and the Triple Bottom Line

All tax systems tend to stop working well and without attention to reforms. This will weaken, if not destroy, large market economies. John Elkington announced his TBL in a June 2018 HBR article (here). One sentence sums it up, “Clearly, the Triple Bottom Line has failed to bury the single bottom line paradigm.” If this continues, it is trust that looses, and you’ll start looking for other forms of currency and in that world is full of scraps.

Legislators, government agencies, and the owners of great wealth routinely examine the growth of public deficits. All of them share one demand. Use of every known form of wealth protection available and, if necessary, invent new ways.  The only “new way” left to meet that demand is the dollar. The most important asset in the world is American currency. Unless new ways are established to use its power better, it will, in my opinion, be an asset lost to authoritarian purposes.

John Elkington continues to advance the idea of the TBL or 3BL as Chairman and Chief Pollinator at Volans. The Breakthrough Challenge: 10 Ways to Connect Today’s Profits With Tomorrow’s Bottom Line is his most recent collaboration. The TBL is an accounting framework that measures social and environmental impacts as economic costs. His consulting company Volans survives, but he admits to the failure of TBL to take hold.  After 25 years and despite slow progress in its adaptation, he sees new leverage points that can advance its original effort at a system change.  

The U.N. Sustainable Development Goals forecast outlines a conservative estimate of $12 trillion will enter the market for the singular purpose of protecting the planet’s health. Improving awareness of global challenges in climate, freshwater, and food from the oceans, forests, and soils will not stop threats to billions of people’s lives and well-being.

Saving the Planet from Ecological Disaster Is a $12 Trillion Opportunity

We see the issue well because we have the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) out of Amsterdam, Netherlands. A subtle but growing use of the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes (DJSI), and many others. Despite clear trade-offs in things like lives saved, nations remaining stable it isn’t working. Innovation in renewable energy and reductions in war-like postures and armament spending is not working. The acceptance of catastrophic resolution by business and political leadership becomes “The Grace of God” policies as an excuse for inaction. Benchmark progress does not exist. If I want to conquer the world with a billion tons of PEZ with free plastic dispensers, I can thank my CFO’s brilliant manipulations and her profit targets.

Getting to System Change in the GND

Altering capitalism away from income and toward the dollar could revitalize generously corrupted accounting systems. The GND and whatever other countries want to call it will invest in breakthroughs, cause disruptions, followed by recognizing, punishing, and sidelining unstainable sectors. 

Putting a time value on the dollar could put GND, and TBL innovation on the fast track, as Elkington and many others are pleading. The lack of a pace and scale for change awaits the radical intent of public policy demand for an improved public good.  The biosphere overshoot is unacceptable.

Also, see “Short List the GND.