Placemaker News Miscellany, 11.26.2007

With the News
now up and running, it’s tempting for me to make note of a sample of
stories of interest to the placemaking audience: 

• Chicago’s Green Alleys initiative is featured in an article published in today’s
New York Times
, which notes that the city’s paved alleys represent an area
equivalent to “five midsize airports.” The initiative’s project manager, Janet Attarian, asks in the article,
“if you’ve got to resurface an alley anyway, can you make it do more for
you?” In addition to reducing the volume
of stormwater runoff (and consequent public and private cost), attention
focused on alleys could lead to a broader, fruitful discussion about using this
land more productively in a financial and economic sense.

• Relocating a State Fairground is bound to be contentious,
as is the case in Lincoln, Nebraska, where university officials have
proposed construction of a research campus financed via public-private
partnership. Read a short column by University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Harvey Perlman here.

• Market jitters today are pushing
the price of Treasury bills and notes up
, as investors migrate toward
securities with minimal risk. The result
of increased prices for these bonds is to reduce yields or interest rates. For placemakers using private or public
capital, this will be a critical dynamic to monitor, with the hope that we
avoid combined low-growth, inflationary condition known as “stagflation”
experienced in the ‘70s.

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Water Resources Development Act of 2007 – Law via Override

Domestic infrastructure, in all its glory! 

Today, the U.S. Senate joined the House in overriding a Presidential veto of the Water Resources Development Act.  The override represents the President’s first and is covered well in this article in the New York Times and this one in the Washington Post. 


Following the 79-14 vote to pass the $23 billion water bill over Presidential veto, the Senate passed a $151 billion health, education and labor spending bill.  And as the Post article notes, House and Senate conferees reached agreement on a transportation and housing investment bill.  The adjacent map represents the override vote in the House yesterday; U.S. States are sized in proportion to population and hence representation in Congress.  

Coverage in the next few days will focus on the overall cost of the bill and the override politics, but for those of you interested in some of the contents of the legislation, below is a sampling of significant provisions.  Gluttons, reach the full text of the bill here. 

(Sec. 2004) Directs the Secretary to prepare a compilation of U.S. laws related to water resources development enacted after November 8, 1966, and before January 1, 2008.

(Sec. 2009) Directs the Secretary to expedite any authorized planning, design, and construction of a flood damage reduction project for an area that, within the preceding five years, has been subject to flooding that resulted in the loss of life and caused damage of sufficient magnitude to warrant a declaration of a major disaster by the President.

(Sec. 2013) Authorizes the Secretary, at the request of a governmental agency or nonfederal interest, to provide technical assistance in managing water resources, including the provision and integration of hydrologic, economic, and environmental data and analyses.

(Sec. 2017) Directs the Secretary to provide public access to water resource and related water quality data in the custody of the Corps of Engineers. [Ed:  Currently exploring whether this could represent a GIS bonanza].

(Sec. 2032) Directs the President to report to Congress describing U.S. vulnerability to damage from flooding, including: (1) an assessment of the extent to which programs relating to flooding address flood risk reduction priorities; (2) the extent to which those programs may be encouraging development and economic activity in flood-prone areas; and (3) recommendations for improving those programs.

(Sec. 3177) Authorizes the Secretary to undertake research on water quality issues affecting the Mississippi River and the development of remediation strategies.

(Sec. 4050) – The Secretary shall conduct a study and prepare a report to evaluate the integrity of the bulkhead system located on and in the vicinity of Duluth-Superior Harbor, Duluth, Minnesota, and Superior, Wisconsin, including determination of the causes of corrosion to the bulkhead system and an estimate of the cost of addressing the problem and making necessary repairs.

(Sec. 5158) Authorizes additional assistance for projects including the following samples:

CENTRAL IRON RANGE SANITARY SEWER DISTRICT, MINNESOTA – $12,000,000 for wastewater infrastructure for the Central Iron Range Sanitary Sewer District, Minnesota.

CENTRAL LAKE REGION SANITARY DISTRICT, MINNESOTA – $2,000,000 for sanitary sewer and wastewater infrastructure for the Central Lake Region Sanitary District, Minnesota.

GOODVIEW, MINNESOTA – $3,000,000 for water quality infrastructure, Goodview, Minnesota.

GRAND RAPIDS, MINNESOTA – $5,000,000 for wastewater infrastructure, Grand Rapids, Minnesota.

WILLMAR, MINNESOTA – $15,000,000 for wastewater infrastructure, Willmar, Minnesota.

WINSTON-SALEM, NORTH CAROLINA – $3,000,000 for stormwater upgrades, City of Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

LOS ANGELES COUNTY, CALIFORNIA- $20,000,000 for the planning, design, and construction of water related infrastructure for Santa Monica Bay and the coastal zone of Los Angeles County, California.

(Title VII) – Provisions related to the Louisiana Coastal Area.

Placemaking requires dependable, quality infrastructure for wastewater, drinking water, and river navigation, among others.  In their most recent report card for U.S. infrastructure (released 2005), the American Society of Civil Engineers graded each these categories of U.S. infrastructure with a D-.  Making places differently will need to be an increasingly prominent part of the infrastructure solution, and so is investment.  Today’s override is a good step. 

New Manual is Not Just Shuffling Cards on Stormwater Management

Stormwater management has been an ongoing thread of discussion here, as has been the campaign to make public finance concepts and decisions more graphic and communicable.  An excellent publication emerged last Friday that promises to serve as a contribution on both fronts.

Manual_cover Using funding from the McKnight Foundation, the St. Paul Riverfront Corporation and SRF Consulting Group worked with a review group of private- and public-sector peers to compile a compact guide to innovative stormwater management measures.  The “Water Quality Manual,” while developed locally, offers a lengthy menu of ways to reduce public and private costs on four scales:  Site, block, neighborhood, and city.  An excerpt of topics:

Site Scale

Permeable pavers

Phosphorous reduction

Dry wells


Block Scale

Underground retention/filtration

Infiltration trenches

Flow-through planters


Neighborhood Scale

Shoreline stabilization

Low impact development

Oil and grit separators

Alum treatment

City Scale

Street sweeping and vacuuming

Watershed groups

Water monitoring

In addition to solid, if summary, content on each topic, the information is presented on cards bound together with a screw.  The deck can be unscrewed and separated for browsing at development meetings, city council work sessions, charettes – and reshuffled to reflect measures that best fit a particular project.

Akin to some of the decision tools produced by Donjek, this manual will be a useful tool for decision making in both private and public sectors.  Contact the St. Paul Riverfront Corporation for a copy.