Cottonwood Witnesses

The cottonwoods are tall and scraggly, leaning over each other as shaking hands in friendship. This is their world, a place where they can stand undisturbed by little more than a few hikers and the buzz of motorboats. Their size alone gives them an authority that allows them to speak silently, telling stories about their world that reach back over the centuries. This is Pike Island, an small speck in the Mississippi that has been allowed to go back to the way it was two centuries ago when Europeans first arrived.

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Transit in the Twin Cities

Since I started serving on the Technical Advisory Committee for the Riverview Corridor transit project, I’ve had a front row seat from which to view the planning process here in St Paul. This isn’t the first time I’ve served on a group like this, but it is the most intensive and serious effort so far.

As a built urban environment, this is not an easy place to plan transit. Traversing the West Seventh neighborhood is only one problem – it has to cross the Mississippi eventually, which will be expensive.

I would like to tell you what I think is the ideal place for transit from Downtown St Paul to the airport and beyond, but it would be inappropriate. The process that we are moving through seems so deeply flawed that jumping to a “solution” is simply not what is needed. Whatever comes out of this is likely to be inadequate and jumbled.

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Riverview Corridor

How is a successful transit project designed and implemented? In the past I’ve complained bitterly about a St Paul project that went badly and praised one that seemed to be going well. The difference? Primarily, it’s about engaging the public and making sure that everything is accounted for.

Today I am a representative of the Fort Road Federation on the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) for the Riverview Corridor. In the interest of practicing what I preach, here is a full disclosure of what we will do and how I am approaching it. I value your comments, regardless of whether you live in St Paul or somewhere else – everyone has something to add to big, expensive projects like this.

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MN Minimum: Half a Cent per Buck

Raising the minimum wage has become a progressive rallying cry.  While President Obama’s call to raise it to $10.10 per hour throughout the US is a longshot, given the Republican House, many states have either raised their wage or are considering it.  Minnesota is contemplating raising our minimum wage to $9.50 per hour by 2016, possibly indexed to inflation afterwards, and it is likely to pass.

What is the net effect on the economy?  An analysis of the net effects was prepared in December and with a little more math it boils down to something no worse than 0.5% of the total economy of the state.  It’s a way of looking at the proposal that makes the case against raising the wage much more difficult, although the effects are not felt uniformly throughout Minnesota.

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The Immigration Solution

Barataria has noted before that there are three great forces weighing on the economy today: business cycles, globalization, and demographics (the retirement of the Baby Boom, already starting). Business cycles don’t last forever, and this particularly destructive one should end about the same time the heart of the Baby Boom starts to retire in 2018. The latter is a genuinely double-edged sword, providing opportunities for young people to fill the jobs that open as the burden of retirees on public assistance grows. There is still the potential for a great period of economic expansion in the 2020s if we can manage the downside effectively.

As with everything in economics, a growing economy makes everything easier. But how can we grow the economy through this period if there is a shortage of workers? The missing part of this Managed Depression is, as always, the important policy changes that will set us up for the next economy once this phase of the business cycle is over. One part of this pending in Congress, held up by partisanship, is immigration reform.

In other words, the challenges of globalism present one solution to the challenges of demographics.

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A St Paul Moment

I believe that I am due a few vacation daze in the summer, especially when I’ve had a long, bad day.  Here is a piece on my city from 2010, in part to commemorate National Night Out.

I came home from a meeting with a client and there they were.  A whole team of guys with buzzing and growling equipment filling Irvine Park with motion and clouds of dirt.  It wasn’t an unusual scene, since the Parks Department does their share to mow regularly – but these guys were different.  It was some private company out trimming and mowing and generally making our li’l park look better than it has in a long time.

What makes this a Saint Paul Moment wasn’t clear until I asked one of them what happened.  Did the city contract out the maintenance?  No.  “The owner of our company’s son is getting married here this weekend, and he wanted it to look nice.”  So he just set his crew loose on our public park and made it look great. That is a Saint Paul Moment.  You just do it. Continue reading

The Good Fight Wins

Two years ago, nearly to the day, a curtain of gloom hung over progressives in Minnesota.  A constitutional amendment was passed and sent on to the voters to enshrine in the state constitution that marriage was “between one man and one woman”.  It was largely a cynical play to demonize homosexuals and get people out to the polls to vote Republican.  The left was shocked and demoralized.

Today, Governor Dayton signed the bill which creates Marriage Equity in Minnesota, or legalizes gay marriage if you insist.  It’s a remarkable achievement for this state, the 12th in the US to do so, but the two year path from despair to elation is a fantastic story too intricate to tell here.  But one thing can certainly be said of this story:

It was one of the biggest political goofs in history – and if we learn from it this could be a turning point.

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