Assessments

Are We Repeating Our Public-Housing Mistakes?

Over more than three decades in Texas politics, Sylvester Turner has absorbed a lot of blows and been called a lot of names. He has survived them all. In 2015, on his third try, he was elected mayor of Houston. But there’s one insult Turner never thought he would encounter. He never expected anyone to call him a promoter of racism.

For 27 years, as an African-American member of the Texas House, Turner was an outspoken liberal voice. In his last term there, the progressive activist group Equality Texas gave him an A+ rating for his work on LGBT issues. But that was before he chose to intervene in the Battle of Fountain View. READ MORE

The Limits of Café Urbanism

Picture yourself on a bustling commercial street in a hip neighborhood of a newly revived city. You cruise the sidewalk, checking out the businesses that line the glitziest block or two. Here’s what you’re likely to see: a high-end restaurant with pricey small plates and an ambitious chef; a gourmet pizzeria with locally sourced toppings; an artisanal yogurt shop; a microbrewery; and a coffeehouse. And maybe another coffeehouse. 

A thought pops into your head: This isn’t a business district, at least not in the old-fashioned sense. This is a food corridor. Scarcely any commerce other than restaurants exists here. What we’re talking about is café urbanism. READ MORE

Shopping Inside Is Out

If you’ve ever been a stranger in downtown Minneapolis or St. Paul, there’s a good chance you’ve done the same thing I’ve done: wandered into the maze of glass-enclosed second-floor skywalks that crisscross the city center, then found it impossible to work your way out again. It’s a unique form of urban panic. You worry about getting locked in for the night -- then manage to escape only through the Minnesota kindness of a local who leads you to the street by a virtually unmarked exit.

In a situation like that, you may also have had the thought that I’ve had: Why would any city, especially one in the midst of an urban revival, want to trap its residents in nine miles of faded and monotonous corridors rather than encouraging them to create a vibrant street life down below? There’s one simple answer, of course: It gets cold in Minnesota in the wintertime. That’s why the skyways were built in the first place. READ MORE

What Does State Legislatures' Past Say About Their Future?

Legislatures and time travel don’t normally find their way into the same sentence, but as the 2017 legislative season begins, let’s try a little thought experiment. Let’s imagine ourselves transported back into a state House or Senate cloakroom of 60 years ago -- the beginning of January 1957.

What we see depends in large part on what state we have chosen to travel back to, but some aspects of the scene apply just about anywhere. Virtually everyone who passes by us is a white male; they hold more than 95 percent of the legislative seats in the country. Their conversations focus overwhelmingly on rural and small-town affairs: the latest gossip involving the insurance business and county seat law practice; how the weather will affect this year’s crops; how soon they can finish the session so they can return home for spring planting. READ MORE

Boulevard Dreams

The issue carrying the most emotional freight in Rhode Island these days isn’t the scarcity of good jobs or the state’s fragile finances, important as those things are. The issue that resonates emotionally is the 6/10 connector.

The 6/10 is a two-mile stretch of multi-lane highway that connects a pair of interstates running through Providence and its suburbs. It carries 97,000 cars every day. Nobody likes it, and there’s no reason why anybody would. It’s a series of 11 decrepit bridges held up with ugly wooden and metal braces and buttresses. Nine of the bridges are more than 50 years old; seven of them have been labelled structurally deficient. The state, which owns the 6/10, has been talking about how to replace it for the past three decades. READ MORE