Saturday, November 30, 2013

Why so many parents hate Common Core

Why so many parents hate Common Core 


By Diane Ravitch
updated 7:52 AM EST, Mon November 25, 2013

A teacher assists her students in Chicago. Illinois is one of 45 states that adopted Common Core educational standards.
A teacher assists her students in Chicago. Illinois is one of 45 states that adopted Common Core educational standards.

  • Diane Ravitch: Education department should not push Common Core standards
  • Ravitch: Just 31% of N.Y. students passed because standards unrealistic
  • Ravitch: Teachers are not prepared to teach them; parents don't like them
  • Field-testing should have been done, she says, not fast implementation

Editor's note: Diane Ravitch is research professor of education at New York University and a historian of education. She is the author of more than a dozen books about education, including the recent bestseller "Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and The Danger to America's Public Schools."

(CNN) -- The U.S. Department of Education is legally prohibited from having any control over curriculum or instruction in the nation's public schools, but nonetheless Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is a zealous advocate of the new Common Core standards for students' proficiency in English and math.

First, he said their critics were members of extremist groups, and he recently assailed the parents who criticize them as "white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn't as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn't quite as good as they thought they were."
His remarks were prompted by the nearly unanimous outrage expressed by parents -- moms and dads -- at public forums in suburban districts in New York, following the release of the abysmal results of the new Common Core tests.
Diane Ravitch
Diane Ravitch
The parents weren't angry because they found out their child wasn't brilliant, but because most were told by the state that their children were failures. Only 31% of the state's students in grades third through eighth passed or exceeded the new tests. Among students who are English-language learners, only 3% passed the English standards; among students with disabilities, only 5% passed them; among black and Hispanic students, fewer than 20% passed. The numbers for math were better, but not by much.

The high failure rate did not happen because the students are dumb, but because the state chose to set an unrealistic passing mark. The state commissioner knew before any student had taken the test that only 30% or so would pass; that is where the state commissioner set the passing mark.

Duncan likes to boast that the Common Core standards were adopted by 45 states, but neglects to mention that the states were required to adopt "college-and-career-ready standards" to be eligible for $4.35 billion in the education secretary's signature program called Race to the Top.

Some states adopted them without seeing a finished draft. The standards, unfortunately, were never field-tested. No one knew in advance whether they would improve achievement or depress it, whether they would widen or narrow the achievement gap among children of different races. It is hard to imagine a major corporation releasing a new product nationwide without first testing it among consumers to see if it is successful. But that is what happened with the Common Core standards.
Experts in early childhood education say the standards for young children are developmentally inappropriate. Teachers say that they have not had the training or resources to teach the new standards. Field-testing would have ironed out many of the bugs, but promoters of the standards insisted on fast implementation.

No one yet has estimated the costs of shifting from state standards to national standards. Duncan awarded $350 million to develop new tests for the new standards, but all of the testing will be done online.

Los Angeles intends to spend $1 billion on iPads for the Common Core Techology Project, designed to help prepare for the standards. If that is the cost to only one district, how many billions will schools across the nation pay for software and hardware and bandwidth for Common Core testing? This will be a bonanza for the technology industry, but will put a strain on public school budgets in a time of austerity.

The Common Core standards emphasize critical thinking and reasoning. It is time for public officials to demonstrate critical thinking and to stop the rush to implementation and do some serious field-testing.
It is time to fix the standards that don't work in real classrooms with real students. It is time to stop testing students on material they have not been taught. American students take more tests than students in any other nation. Our dependence on standardized testing has become excessive.

Standards alone can't right everything that needs fixing in American education, and some experts, like Tom Loveless at Brookings Institution, say they will make little or no difference in student achievement.

Public officials should listen to the moms and dads. This is a democracy, and it is not the role of public officials to impose their grand ideas without the consent of the governed.

Is common core creating better students?

Friday, November 29, 2013

Friday Music with Mr.B The Gentleman Rhymer

Smart Meters are Surveillance Tools

When we had our SmartMeter installed a few years ago, I didn't pay any attention. It seemed like an intelligent tool for power companies to manage their electric grid and reduce costs for data collection. 

Originally, I thought the critics complaining about radio waves were paranoid and drumming up fear. I never considered that smart meters are a surveillance tool. 

Smartmeters allow collection  of your individual power consumption profile, your personal habits and is essentially a unwarranted "wiretap" of your private life. 

 Check out this video above. The speaker makes some important points about privacy from governments and private parties.

Video Camera at the corner of Las Gallinas and Lucas Valley Road.

Cops with Drones: Alameda Co., CA Weighs Technology vs. Privacy

Coming to a neighborhood near you?
For related story see: NSA Scandal and Privacy Rights

If you like your plan you can keep it: The Rap

It is not just Plan Bay Area that is failing to keep up with the promises... 

Orwell's New Newspeak: Decoding Sustainability Rhetoric

Orwell's New Newspeak: Decoding Sustainability Rhetoric

In 1984 George Orwell describes a totalitarian state that asserted control by redefining language. Advocates for urbanizing Bay Area towns have leveraged these techniques. We need to educate ourselves to cleanly understand the arguments.

The Sustainability Spin Decoder

The Sustainability Spin Decoder
George Orwell wrote 1984 about a totalitarian state that asserted control by appropriating and controlling language - a language called "newspeak". This aspect of 1984 was based on an essay written by Orwell in 1946 entitled "politics and the English language". In the essay Orwell states...

"political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness". 

euphemism is an expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something unpleasant or embarrassing. While we don't necessarily face a totalitarian state (although some readers may disagree with me), we face powerful political groups - developers, planners, transit advocates, social equity groups and HUD-  that have united in a way that is almost as ominous.

Language is one of the tools being used by the fast growth lobby to control the conversation, promoting high density housing and transit oriented development.

The Sustainability Spin Decoder

Too often we are faced with articles written to convince us that we must do something in the name of sustainability - accept high density housing, use transit instead of driving... In these articles the true intent and meaning is concealed by tools such as euphemisms, disinformation and demonization. To help readers readers understand the true meaning I have devised this tool:

The Sustainability Spin Decoder
(input from a graphic designer would be most welcome)

How to Use The Sustainability Spin Decoder: 
Simply copy and paste an article, or a few paragraphs from an article and the decoder will convert it to words that allow you to pass better judgement.

Exactly How is Our Language Being Subverted?

Here is a list of just some of the many terms being used to convince us to accept certain policies such as "transit oriented development" and "high density housing".

Affordable Housing (Euphemism) = Subsidized HousingLets face it, affordable housing is nothing more than subsidized housing; only instead of focusing on the cost the term focuses exclusively on the benefit. Who wouldn't want more affordable housing if it's free?

Sites like the monstrous Win Cup in Corte Madera were approved partly to meet housing quotas for affordable housing - but turn out in reality to be about making profits (Win Cup is almost entirely market rate).

European (Euphoric) = Idyllic or Nostalgic Promised Land

All too often we are sold a story that we need to be more like somewhere else where the grass is greener - like Europe (but focusing exclusively on the good aspects) or America of yesteryear where everyone would enjoy traveling on trains or trolley cars in the golden age of travel.

What is omitted is that Europe has spent vast amounts of public money to build and operate a transit network. Even now fares are very high and often out of reach to those with low incomes enabling true mobility.  Operation places substantial burdens on the state. To achieve any parallel in the US would require significant tax increases making the cost of living less affordable for all.

Smart Growth (Euphemism) = Urbanization

Remember a euphemism is an expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something unpleasant or embarrassing.

Transit Oriented Development (Glittering Generality) = Systematic Urbanization
Transit oriented development is heralded as the progressive future, but little evidence is produced to substantiate this approach. For instance the fact that transit usage has been in decline in our region despite massive increases in investment is conveniently dismissed. The fact that cars are the preferred form of transportation for many journeys, and that they are cleaner (lower emissions per passenger mile) than transit on all but the most popular transit lines is dismissed. Rather the car and it's tailpipe emissions are demonized.

Workforce Housing (Half truth) = Housing Presuming Commute Patterns

This sells the half truth that new housing will contain a high proportion of residents that will live nearer to their work, reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
In reality:
- little or no control can be imposed over where the residents work (E.g. there is no criteria eliminating applicants who would extend their commutes)
- there is rarely any study to analyze if this is achieved (when the LA Times conducted such a study in 2007 they thoroughly demolished the myth of workforce housing)
The reality is that such housing may cause people to extend their commutes, or simply have no such impact, yet it may impose substantial costs, congestion and parking issues.

Open Up the Waterfront (Big Lie, Misinformation) = Close Off with High Rises

The biggest lie that was well spotted by residents was the attempt to build high density housing across the San Francisco waterfront at Embarcadero.  Luckily San Francisco voters saw right through this masquerade.

Sustainable (Glittering Generality) = Superior Based on Rules We Made Up

While there are many that use this term correctly, there are a sizable number that use it as a method of convincing others that their approach is superior, and it is not to be questioned.

Community Outreach (Obfuscation) = Obtaining the Appearance of Community Support
ABAG and MTC like to state that Plan Bay Area had over 250 community meetings to collect community input - but what is omitted and obfuscated is that most of those meetings were attended by a sizable number of vocal opponents. Many supporters of PBA were organizations that received money (patronage) and contracts, and shaped the plan before community input truly began.

Vibrant (Oversimplification) = Success that will follow if you adhere to our doctrine

Vibrant describes a positive state but typically there is no concrete argument or analysis or definition of this end state. As such it is a gross oversimplification. For instance it is often stated that transit oriented development helps town centers become "more vibrant". What they may intend is "there will be more business as there will be more people walking around".

However it would be easy to argue that improving access to cars through improved roads and parking may be much more likely to achieve such an effect.  Just look at the success of malls. This Washington Post article explains the quandary well ultimately surmising that a big box store like Target with car parking in a town center is what drives shoppers.

Our Ability to Judge is Being Removed

Ultimately this double-speak is removing the ability for many of us to make an accurate judgment.  The judgement is being made for us and built into convincing words.

This is an intellectual travesty. We need to have conversations about the reality.

Orwell's Remedy of Six Rules

Thankfully George Orwell left us with a 6 point approach to solving the issue:
1. Never use a metaphorsimile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
The majority of the times that these types of phrases are being used, they are being used without the knowledge of what is truly being said. By using these techniques the phrases are rendered meaningless. I would say that the following terms fall into this category: smart, sustainable...2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
Orwell describes"Pretentious diction" and "Meaningless Words". He cites “romantic, plastic, values, human, [and] dead” stating  “they not only do not point to any discoverable object, but are hardly even expected to do so by the reader”. Here I would point to: vibrant, workforce housing, social equity...

3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
E.g. Smart growth = growth. Smart train = train.

4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.

5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
Of all the rules this is where we are being bombarded the most with jargon like:
- transit oriented development
- walkable communities (I can walk 10 minutes and get to shops and cinema right now, but apparently it's not walkable enough)
- Priority Development Areas - areas marked for intensive urbanization
- workforce stabilization
Orwell's condemns such "grand phrases".

6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
Orwell's last rule means that the writer should break the previous rules when necessary for a proper sentence. The writer should not use the English language to manipulate or deceive the reader.


There are many good people working to fight climate change. I for one see the need. We need to be having the right conversations following Orwell's rules, not using propaganda techniques.

We can have fact-based undistorted conversations, we can fight climate change and recognize that there are cost effective, market based transportation solutions that don't necessarily need us to make radical shifts to high density or transit. As mentioned in my prior article - car and highway technology is rapidly changing, and the car offers a degree of convenience that is hard for transit to beat. And we do need to be providing transportation ensuring that those with low incomes are provided opportunity. Achieving these objectives should occur based on truth in conversation.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

An Architect With Plans for a New Gulf Coast

An Architect With Plans for a New Gulf Coast

Published: May 24, 2006

MIAMI — He's the man architecture critics love to hate: Andrés Duany, charismatic prophet of the New Urbanism, with his nostalgic prescriptions for dense, walkable neighborhoods energized by stores, mass transit and traditional housing.

Photos by Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company
Andrés Duany

Readers’ Opinions

Forum: Artists and Exhibitions

Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company
A "Louisiana Cottage" Mr. Duany's firm designed.
Opponents cast this architect as an imperious enemy of progressive design and a threat to the Gulf Coast, where he has been involved in plans to redesign communities that were devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

Reed Kroloff, dean of the architecture school at Tulane University in New Orleans, for example, has referred to Mr. Duany and other New Urbanists as "Svengalis" who "have now seduced Louisiana's hapless governor and been given the keys to the state."

Mr. Duany, 56, said that a year or two ago he would have paid those critics little heed. Typically he lacks the time or the inclination to counter his detractors, he said during an interview in the office he shares here with his wife and partner, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, 55.

But these days, with the future of New Orleans; Biloxi, Miss.; and other cities hanging in the balance, Mr. Duany (pronounced DWAH-nee) said he was speaking out more aggressively.

"The response is not about convincing him — I'll never convince him," he said of Mr. Kroloff. "It's more like defending your side, or heartening your allies."

Recently, the New Urbanist planners involved in rebuilding Biloxi, Elizabeth Moule and Stefanos Polyzoides, resigned from the project after clashing with federal officials and with Mayor A. J. Holloway of Biloxi over control of the reconstruction.
To Mr. Duany these issues are crucial because the Gulf Coast offers the rare opportunity to start over from scratch, potentially with quick results. "For a city to become a city that's planned, it has to destroy itself; the city literally has to molt," he said. "Usually this takes 20 years, but after a hurricane, it takes five years. The people can see the future in their own lifetime."
"If architecture mattered to the world, " Mr. Duany added, "this would be the most important thing in the world."

Last fall, at the invitation of Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi, Mr. Duany and the group he founded, the Congress for a New Urbanism, led a conference of 200 architects and planners in Biloxi in drafting architectural proposals for the coastal communities. He recently held a similar brainstorming session in the Gentilly section of New Orleans.

Critics of New Urbanism argue that Mr. Duany and his allies seek to create a picture-postcard image of the past and will squander the opportunity to start anew. They note that Mr. Duany's most famous project, the town of Seaside, Fla., was used as the location for "The Truman Show," the 1998 Jim Carrey film that in part parodied idealized small-town America.

"For a city to become a city 
that's planned, it has to destroy itself; 
the city literally has to molt," 

Mr. Duany did not originally set out on a traditionalist path. A son and grandson of developers, he was born in New York City, then grew up in a suburb — of Santiago de Cuba, the island's second largest city, after Havana — and moved with his family to Barcelona, Spain, when he was 13.

His father was a conventionally modern developer in Cuba, he said, building single-family houses on large lots at a great distance from one another and far from commercial activity. It seemed at first that Mr. Duany would follow a similar path. After studying architecture at Yale in the 1970's, he and his wife helped to found Arquitectonica, a Miami firm that became known for its modern and hip sensibility.

Mr. Duany insists that New Urbanists are not averse to contemporary architecture. "They think that I don't know modernism or I can't design it," Mr. Duany said of his critics. "It's not true."

It was while living in Coral Gables, Fla., that he and Ms. Plater-Zyberk realized that the suburbs needed to be thoroughly rethought. "We would walk out and be bored to death," he said. "It was just this terrible lack."

"We needed to have meaningful destinations within walking distance," he continued. "You can't just walk past beautiful lawns, you want to walk past action."

Disenchanted with the high-rise business, he and Ms. Plater-Zyberk left Arquitectonica in 1980. By then they had decided that the best way to affect a landscape was not through designing discrete buildings, he said, but by writing new building codes governing zoning, parking, retailing, transportation and urban design.

In departing, they took along the firm's Seaside project, a traditionalist community in the Florida Panhandle, completed in 1981, that proved immensely popular. Lecturing across the country about Seaside, Mr. Duany soon met dozens of likeminded planners.

Groups began gathering to learn from one another, and "then, it grew," he said. Ultimately those encounters led to the creation of the Congress for a New Urbanism in 1993, with a charter espousing principles like "the reconfiguration of sprawling suburbs into communities of real neighborhoods" and diverse, mixed-use districts.

The congress used to maintain a list of New Urbanist communities but stopped counting two years ago when the number reached about 600. "There's not enough of us," Mr. Duany said. "We're dying of overwork." Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company, founded in 1980, has alone completed designs for more than 250 new and existing communities, including neighborhoods in Providence, R.I.; Baton Rouge, La.; and West Palm Beach.

And Ms. Plater-Zyberk, who is also dean of the University of Miami School of Architecture, now leads Miami 21, a project to overhaul city zoning intended to discourage exposed parking garages, assure wider sidewalks and create homes where people can live above their businesses.

By speaking the language of developers so effectively, Mr. Kroloff asserts, New Urbanism has come to monopolize urban planning. The congress, he said, is "the only truly organized voice in planning in the United States and has become the most important force in architecture, with the exception of Frank Gehry, in the last 30 years."

"The development community loves New Urbanism," Mr. Kroloff added. "It speaks to the sentimentality that seems to underlie Americans' home-buying habits. And creating higher density per acre allows developers to make more money. There is no organized contradictory voice in planning."

Mr. Duany counters that critics like Mr. Kroloff are often acting on misinformation. "We're not just about picket fences and porches, and it's frustrating to have that repeated," he said. "Yes, we want you to walk, but we're not eliminating cars. We're not forcing transit; we're simply fitting communities so that, if they ever want transit, it will work."

"Yes, we love Main Streets, but we don't expect that the shop owners are going to be mom-and-pop stores," he continued.

As for contemporary architects, Mr. Duany said they were welcome in New Urbanist communities, but only for public buildings like a town hall or library. "The star architect is confined to the civic building," he said. "The civic buildings are free of any constraint."
Clearly, New Urbanism is out of sync with the phenomenon of the star architect, Mr. Duany added pointedly. "We're a group," he said, "and these days, anybody who's an architect who isn't an 'individual' is very suspicious: 'What do you mean, you all have a system of beliefs? You believe in something other than artistic expression?' "

Ms. Plater-Zyberk echoed his sentiments. In New Orleans, she said, "The avant-garde, the individual great building, is not the answer for what were the postwar ranch house suburbs."

Peter A. Calthorpe, a planner based in Berkeley, Calif., who is working on a regional plan in Louisiana, said that the debate over New Urbanism was a depressing distraction from the urgent issue of rebuilding towns ravaged by Katrina. "It is tragic to reduce issues facing New Orleans to issues of architectural style," he said.

Mr. Kroloff himself stepped down from a rebuilding role in Mayor Ray Nagin's Bring Back New Orleans Commission this year, saying he felt that he had become too much a focus of attention.

New Orleans policymakers were initially wary of the New Urbanists until they saw the local planning work that Mr. Duany did this year for the nearby St. Bernard Parish and invited him to do the same for Gentilly. "He showed the possibilities for how the area could come back," said Cynthia Hedge Morell, a city councilwoman.

Mr. Duany, who with his handsome looks and polished, articulate style, can easily hold a crowd, said, "What happens is, we connect to the people." It is clear that he does not suffer fools gladly: during the interview he snapped repeatedly over the phone at a colleague with whom he was preparing an op-ed article.

Mr. Kroloff said that Mr. Duany's popularity with the public was unsurprising. "A disaffected generation of traditionalists suddenly found themselves with a champion and flocked to him with a passion," he said.

Mr. Duany said that those who deride the New Urbanists are threatened by their influence.
"Nobody gave a damn about us until we got powerful," he said. "The world watches."

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Corporations and Government or "Public-Private Partnerships"

Plan Bay Area: Telling People What to Do

Marin Headlands was saved when a group of citizens fought back against pro-growth politicians.

See Article:Plan Bay Area: Telling People What to Do

The San Francisco area’s recently adopted Plan Bay Area may  set a new standard for urban planning excess. Plan Bay Area, which covers  nearly all of the San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Rosa, Vallejo and Napa metropolitan  areas, was recently adopted by the Metropolitan

Transportation Commission (MTC)  and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG). This article summarizes the  difficulties with Plan Bay Area, which are described more fully in my policy  report prepared for the Pacific  Research Institute (Evaluation  of Plan Bay Area).

Plan Bay Area would produce only modest greenhouse gas  emissions reductions, while imposing substantial economic costs and intruding  in an unprecedented manner into the lives of residents. The Plan would require  more than three quarters of new residences and one third of net additional employment to be located in confined “priority development areas.” These  measures have been referred to as “pack  and stack” by critics. The net effect would be to virtually ban development  on the urban fringe, where the organic expansion of cities has occurred since  the beginning of time.

Irrational Planning

Violating perhaps the most fundamental requirement of a rational plan, Plan Bay Area begins with a situation that no longer exists. Further, it is based on exaggeration, systematic disregard of official federal government projections and overly optimistic planning assumptions.

Exaggerated Population Projection: The Plan assumes that the  Bay Area will grow 55 percent more rapidly between 2010 and 2040 than official California state Department of Finance population projections indicate. These state-produced  estimates have tended themselves to be on the high side (Figure 1). The  planners scurried about to resolve these differences, but there is no  indication that the state will be revising its projections. Plan Bay Area’s population projection would require growth in the Bay Area to increase by more  than one-half from the 2000-2010 annual rate. The exaggeration of population  growth has its uses: it leads to a higher greenhouse gas emissions projection  for 2040, providing a rationale for stronger policy interventions.

Ignoring Current Greenhouse Gas Emissions Projections: The Plan  also ignores the new, more favorable DOE fuel economy projections (Figure 2).  These projections were issued in December, well before the publication of the  draft plan in April and the adoption of the final plan in July. Indeed, if the  new DOE projections had been published the day before, Plan Bay Area should  have been placed on hold and revised. In short, Plan Bay Area was out of date  when adopted.

Overly Optimistic Planning Assumptions: The Plan assumes that  travel by light vehicle (automobiles, sport utility vehicles and pickups) would  be reduced by substantial increases in transit ridership. Plan Bay Area  presumes that expanding transit service 27 percent over the next 30 years will  lead to a near doubling of transit ridership. This is stupefying, since over  the last 30 years, transit ridership remained virtually the same, while service  was expanded nearly   twice as much as would be planned from 2010 to 2040.

The plan also assumes that residents forced into the  priority development areas will use transit and walking much more, materially  reducing their use of light vehicles. This research behind this assumption is skewed  toward transit oriented developments located on rail lines with good access to  downtown. But nearly nine out of 10 employees in the Bay Area work outside the downtowns of San Francisco  and Oakland downtowns, and that number is increasing (according to Plan Bay  Area).
Given recent history, it seems wishful thinking to believe that  small transit service expansions and downtown oriented transit development can  do much to attract drivers from cars. The modest gains greenhouse gas emissions  reductions projected in Plan Bay Area are likely exaggerations.
Plan Bay Area’s “pack and stack” densification is likely to  produce even less than the modest substitution of transit and walking for  driving (see The  Transit-Density Disconnect). Traffic congestion, in this already highly  congested area, is likely to be worsened, which could nullify part or all of  the greenhouse gas emission reductions expected from reduced vehicle use.

Correcting Plan Bay  Area Forecasts

Plan Bay Area would only modestly reduce light vehicle  travel and greenhouse gas emissions. This is illustrated in Figure 3, which  shows that the “pack and stack” strategies that would force most new residents  and jobs into priority development areas, Plan Bay Area would reduce greenhouse  gas emissions by 2 percent (“Plan Bay Area” line compared to the “Trend” or  “doing nothing” line).

By contrast, correcting the Plan Bay Area 2040 population estimates  to reflect the state population projections would reduce greenhouse gas  emissions more than eight times as much (17 percent), without the “pack and stack” strategies. A further correction of  the Plan Bay Area 2040 estimates to reflect the latest DOE fuel economy  projections, would reduce greenhouse gas emissions 22 percent, 11 times as much  as the “pack and stack” strategies.

Heavy Costs for Households  and Businesses

The Plan’s “pack and stack” strategies seem likely to exacerbate the Bay Area’s already high cost of living. Currently, the San  Francisco and San Jose metropolitan areas have the worst housing affordability  among the nation’s 52 metropolitan areas with more than 1 million residents. San Jose’s median house price relative to its median household income was 7.9  last year, according to the Demographia International Housing  Affordability Survey. San Francisco’s median multiple was 7.8. This  severely unaffordable housing results from recent decades of urban containment  or smart growth policies, which have severely restricted the land on which  development can occur. This drives up prices (other things being equal), consistent with economic  principle. This has been made worse by house and apartment impact fees imposed  on developers that are far above the national average.

By comparison, in major metropolitan areas that have not  implemented strong urban containment policies, the median multiple has  typically been 3.0 or less since World War II, including the Bay Area before  its adoption (Figure 4). The “pack and stack” strategies would largely limit  new development to small parts of the Bay Area, an even more draconian  prohibition than the long standing restrictions on urban fringe development. This  further rationing of land could be expected to drive land prices even higher,  making it even more difficult for households and businesses to live within  their means.

The problem is already acute. The new US Census Bureau  housing cost adjusted data shows California to have the highest poverty rate  among the states and the District of Columbia (metropolitan area data is not  available). An early 2000s Public Policy  Institute of California report showed Bay Area poverty to be nearly double the official rate, adjusted for the cost of living. Ultra pricey San Francisco  had among the ten highest poverty rates – over twenty percent – of any urban  county in the country.

Unaffordable housing has also fueled an exodus to the San  Joaquin Valley (Central Valley). Now more than 15 percent of the workers in the  Stockton metropolitan area commute to the Bay Area, which led the Federal Office  of Management and Budget adding Stockton to the San Jose-San Francisco  combined metropolitan area (combined statistical area). In addition, the  greater traffic congestion is likely to lengthen work trip travel times. This  is likely to further increase emission while also burdening job creation and economic  growth (see Traffic  Congestion, Time and Money).

Ignoring the Economy  and Poverty

Plan Bay Area effectively ignores these costs (despite  rhetoric to the contrary), by failing to subject its strategies to a cost per  ton metric. According to the United Nation’s Intergovernment Panel on Climate  Change (IPCC), sufficient greenhouse gas emissions reductions can be achieved at  a cost between a range of $20 to $50 per ton. The previous regional plan  (through 2035) included such estimates. Only highway strategies achieved the  IPCC range. Transit and land use strategies cost from four to more than 100  times the top of the IPCC range. Even those estimates did not include the prohibitively  higher housing costs that result from urban containment policies. The cost  metric is crucial, because spending more than necessary to reduce greenhouse  gas emissions limits job creation and economic growth, which leads to reduced  household affluence and greater poverty. This is the very opposite of the economic objectives of  public policy. Virtually all political jurisdictions around the world seek  greater prosperity for their residents and less poverty. A legitimate regional  plan requires subjecting its strategies to economic metrics.


There is opposition to Plan Bay Area. A citizen movement  worked for rejection and has now filed  suit claiming that the Plan violates the California Environmental Quality  Act. The suit also alleges that MTC and ABAG used a questionable interpretation  of state law and regulation to justify the irrational Plan outcomes.

Recorded Votes

Opponents were also successful in obtaining a rare recorded  vote at ABAG. The governing board (General Assembly) is composed of selected elected officials from cities  and counties who are not elected to their ABAG positions. ABAG adopts virtually  all of its actions by consensus, rather by recorded votes, as occurs in many of  the nation’s regional planning boards.

Consensus decision making seem especially odd in California, where  inability to obtain sufficient votes in the legislature for the state budget  required a constitutional amendment. Neither do city councils and county  commissions operate on a consensus basis on controversial issues.
There is no shortage of controversial issues, at ABAG or  other regional planning agencies. A good first reform would be for recorded  votes to be the rule, rather than the exception. Consensus decision  making may be appropriate for clubs, but it is not for representative bodies in  a democracy (Note).

Impeding the Quality  of Life

Plan Bay Area was outdated when approved and reflects a world  that no longer exists. Drafters have insisted on extravagantly expensive and  intrusive policies that produce only minimal greenhouse gas reductions, and at  great cost, using, among other things, unreasonably bloated population forecasts  to bolster their approach. Unless changed, the Plan will likely be more  successful in driving up housing prices, limiting options for families, and  further congesting traffic than meeting its stated goal of reducing   greenhouse gas emissions.

Monday, November 25, 2013

"I will not instigate intellectual revolution"

Decorated Mud Houses of Tiébélé, Burkina Faso

Decorated Mud Houses of Tiébélé, Burkina Faso

In the south of Burkina Faso, a landlocked country in west Africa, near the border with Ghana lies a small, circular village of about 1.2 hectares, called Tiébélé. This is home of the Kassena people, one of the oldest ethnic groups that had settled in the territory of Burkina Faso in the 15th century. Tiébélé is known for their amazing traditional Gourounsi architecture and elaborately decorated walls of their homes.
Burkina Faso is a poor country, even by West African standards, and possibly the poorest in the world. But they are culturally rich, and decorating the walls of their buildings is an important part of their cultural legacy in this area of the country. Wall decorating is always a community project done by the women and it’s a very ancient practice that dates from the sixteenth century AD.
The Kassena people build their houses entirely of local materials: earth, wood and straw. Soil mixed with straw and cow dung is moistened to a state of perfect plasticity, to shape almost vertical surfaces. Today this technique is replaced by the use of mud brick molding walls with foundations resting on large stone. Tiébélé’s houses are built with defense in mind, whether that be against the climate or potential enemies. Walls are over a foot thick and the homes are designed without windows except for a small opening or two to let just enough light in to see. Front doors are only about two feet tall, which keeps the sun out and makes enemies difficult to strike. Roofs are protected with wood ladders that are easily retracted and the local beer (dolo) is brewed at home.
After construction, the woman makes murals on the walls using colored mud and white chalk. The motifs and symbols are either taken from everyday life, or from religion and belief. The finished wall is then carefully burnished with stones, each color burnished separately so that the colors don’t blur together. Finally, the entire surface is coated with a natural varnish made by boiling pods of néré, the African locust bean tree.
The designs also serves to protect the walls themselves. The decorating is usually done just before the rainy season and protects the outside walls from the rain. Adding cow dung, compacting layers of mud, burnishing the final layer, and varnishing with néré all make the designs withstand wet weather, enabling the structures to last longer.

Sunday, November 24, 2013



    A GIANT OAK stood near a brook in which grew some slender Reeds. When the wind blew, the great Oak stood proudly upright with its hundred arms uplifted to the sky. But the Reeds bowed low in the wind and sang a sad and mournful song.

"You have reason to complain," said the Oak. "The slightest breeze that ruffles the surface of the water makes you bow your heads, while I, the mighty Oak, stand upright and firm before the howling tempest."

"Do not worry about us," replied the Reeds. "The winds do not harm us. We bow before them and so we do not break. You, in all your pride and strength, have so far resisted their blows. But the end is coming."

As the Reeds spoke a great hurricane rushed out of the north. The Oak stood proudly and fought against the storm, while the yielding Reeds bowed low. The wind redoubled in fury, and all at once the great tree fell, torn up by the roots, and lay among the pitying Reeds.

Better to yield when it is folly to resist, than to resist stubbornly and be destroyed.


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