Evan Howell

Sprawl’s costs aren’t just in land , but economic development

“The Cost of Sprawl: More than $1 Trillion Per Year, Report Says” – Wall Street Journal

Growth is good.sprawl

Local growth is an efficient tax base generator.
If you widen a highway, it will ease congestion.

In a vacuum.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that widening a highway doesn’t ease congestion. It makes it worse.  As a state widens a highway, local development increases to take advantage of the higher volume of projected business. More housing developments sprout up around retails areas associated with the new and improved artery – increasing the volume of traffic. (Sierra Club white paper)

But there are two trends at work, here. Today, jobs downtown tend to be skilled, white-collar, and well-paid. Jobs out in the suburbs tend to be more retail, construction, and lower paid. And with the rise in more jobs in city centers, living there will become more expensive and limited to only those who can afford it. This is no more true than in places like New York.

Yet, planners are trying to resolve the issue in many cities. “People increasingly desire to live, work, shop and play in the same place, and to commute shorter distances — particularly the young and educated, who are the most coveted employees. So in many cities, both policy makers and employers have been trying to make living and working there more attractive.” (NY Times)

But the imbalance between population and infrastructure remains. Few other cultures on earth desire convenience as much as Americans do. And so drives the need for planners to provide urban dwellers them the cake and their ability to eat it too. Enter the neo-suburb and sprawl.

So, you now live in a single, interlinked strip mall urbanscape. Forget about the absence of parks or green areas, the scattered tax base from the collection of small businesses that can’t support long-term growth. It begins to decay. Your morning walk now takes you along a split six-lane thoroughfare crammed with Big Box retail shoppers and the on-the-go crew who are picking up their egg & sausage muffins at the drive-thru.

This is not just about the environmental effects. It’s about the question of where our cities will be in the future – and where the land falls into that algorithm. Just look outside our nation’s capitol. (Washington Post)

Meanwhile, local and state governments, like that in Tyson’s Corner, VA., continue to do what they feel necessary to adapt to changes in population behaviors.

(courtesy: Charleston, SC)

(Denver, CO) “State may widen I-70 to ease congestion
(Tyler, TX) “New expansion project set for West Loop 323″
(Asbury Park, NJ)  “Parkway widening to restore shoulders, lengthen overpasses”

In a paper published in the National Bureau of Economic Research, economists Gilles Duranton and Matthew Turner of the University of Toronto nail the problem. “People drive more when the stock of roads in their city increases; commercial driving and trucking increase with a city’s stock of roads; people migrate to cities which are relatively well provided with roads.” (NBER

There are additional examinations of the issue citing the three most congested cities in the U.S. are that way, precisely because of ‘road-based” development solutions. And it’s not limted to the U.S.: “Meanwhile, China has increased its expressway network from 16,300 km in the year 2000 to around 70,000 km in 2010. Yet the average commute time in Beijing increased by 25 minutes between 2012 and 2013 to 1 hour and 55 minutes.” (City Metric/UK)

Additional research surveys from both sides of the coin continue to flourish on the numbers and impact of population growth and lagging infrastructure. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) says $3.6 trillion of investment is needed by 2020 to meet the needs of growth. The National Construction Association calls for a more free market approach to the problem. Researchers there have also put together their own in-depth report. But, much like the climate change debate, how well advocacy organizations, the business sector, and policy makers agree on a long-term vision may unfortunately rest on the growing direct and existential evidence of doom.

In an earlier blog, I talked about the nation’s desperate need for a cohesive plan to strengthen the nation’s infrastructure by essentially promoting teamwork between local governments and federal officials. It’s a basic observation to be sure. But to not have a long-term vision of what we’re all about as a society is to jeopardize who we will become as a nation. In Australia, the Aborigines believe they do not own the land but are part of it. Therefore, they have the duty to respect and maintain the land. Maybe we’ll figure that out before it’s too late.

My 9/11 story: CNN/DC

My story.

I had the day off from CNN that day. Since I was free, I dropped Whitney off on Capitol Hill that morning for a job she had to do for UPI. Beautiful morning. I needed a lube job and decided to head out to Jiffy Lube at Landmark Mall out off 395.9.11. pentagon.CNN

As I was driving by the Pentagon, there was heavy backup northbound. Odd since it was already about 9:20am. Then I saw the black SUVs shooting up the shoulder – their dashboard rollers alit. Even for a veteran D.C. person, that was odd. I remember that Sympathy for the Devil was playing on the radio.

Got to the lube place, walked in. People were staring at the TV at some apparent crash at the WTC. They took my car and I went back to the TV. Reality hit. I went out to the parking lot with a few others to try and use the cell phone. Didn’t work, of course. Suddenly, there was a boom and the ground shook under my feet. The guy next to me quietly said, “what the fuck was that.” Then I saw the smoke in the distance and knew it was the Pentagon.

I got in my car and turned on NPR. Started driving. Bob Edwards was reporting that officials might shut down the city. I had to get back, but 395 wouldn’t have worked. So, it was Route 1 to Alexandria and back up onto the beltway. I made it. With flow of traffic, I was doing about 95 mph to try and get up and around to the Connecticut Ave entrance before D.C. became closed.

A long time after I left the lube place, I got back to my apartment. Whitney was there. She recounted her own odyssey coming off Capitol Hill with thousands of others who had feared another plane was coming.

CNN called. I was back at work at the bureau by midday, working the Pentagon and sorting through the worst raw video and stories from D.C. and NYC I’d ever seen and will ever see in my career.

That’s an abbreviated version of my 9/11 story. I certainly won’t forget. Neither should you.

2015 Reel and Disruptive

Some latest work. Disruptive marketing has no real rules. Contact me for a chat.

The hospital petri dish: It’s never been just about Ebola

Ebola has gripped the headlines and increased Americans’ stress levels to the point where little else is being discussed. To be clear, at least 4,500 people in West Africa have died from the disease. And, the texas presbyterianCenters for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) is being blamed at virtually every stage of this event by those who claim it should have had procedures in place to prevent spread of infection. Add to this that most healthcare professionals say the chance of Ebola spreading around this country is little to none, and you can understand the public confusion.

On Friday, President Obama appointed Ron Klain as the Ebola Czar, but, as always, there’s a growing number of elected officials in search of whom to blame. In a recent cable news interview, two U.S. House Representatives offered their takes on the governmental response to Ebola:

“Either the CDC directives haven’t been clear enough or the hospital wasn’t interpreting them correctly,” said Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO). “Ebola is not like flu. But we need to have clearer guidelines for people who have come into close contact with people infected.”

US-CDC-LogoTennessee Republican Representative Marsha Blackburn appeared at odds with her party’s platform, suggesting the government take more control.

“There is great confusion coming from the CDC and lack of coordination in waste disposal,” she said. “The CDC needs to be more aggressive in this regard and tell hospitals what to do.”

But, this looks impossible. A recent TIME article noted the lack of mandate from the CDC in forcing hospitals to adopt procedures. It may take a constitutional amendment. Apparently, the CDC can only take control from local authorities in two circumstances: those authorities extend an invitation or there’s a total breakdown of law and order as outlined under the Insurrection Act.

So, to blame the CDC is perhaps like blaming the toilet when your 4-year old son misses his target. The Ebola situation is less about this disease and more about systemic issues endemic within the hospital network.

During the tragic death of Eric Duncan at the Texas Health Presbyterian Dallas Hospital, CDC officials acknowledged there was little-to-nothing in place to deal with the patient.

“[The administrator] said the hospital originally had no full-body biohazard suits equipped with respirators but now has about a dozen. Protocols evolved at the hospital while Duncan was being treated,” CDC epidemiologist Pierre Rollin told the Washington Post.

Even the nurses who fight the spread of Ebola at their hospital’s ground zero are caught up in this blame game. At one point, the CDC blamed (and has since apologized to) one nurse at Texas Health Presbyterian texas nursesDallas Hospital. The Texas Nurses’ Association fought back, blaming the hospital for not providing adequate protective gear or training.

About 1 in 25 patients get an infection while being treated at a U.S. hospital, amounting to roughly 700,000 hospital-acquired infections annually, according to the CDC. Although most don’t rise to the level of Ebola, that’s a figure that should not only raise eyebrows, but should also be unacceptable.

But American healthcare isn’t without examples for infection disease control protocols. The School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine at Tulane University in New Orleans partnered with the World Health Organization’s Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN). So, too, is the North Carolina Hospital Association which is working to distribute additional guidelines to its member hospitals.

Meanwhile, Ebola Czar has his work cut out for him. He has a fine pedigree in management and business organization, but he’s not a physician. He has no training in infectious diseases. His appointment may very well be emblematic of the systemic failures of the U.S. healthcare system – or at least the beginning of another failure.

Ultimately, this situation may not just be about Ebola. Research reveals little, if any, information on standardized protocols for in-hospital protection against infectious diseases. While there are plenty of hospitals that do have system-wide directives, there may be an equal or greater number that don’t.