How Well Can a City Predict Its Future 20 Years Out?

Twenty years ago, Seattle was America’s epicenter of urban planning. Its mayor, Norm Rice, had sponsored and guided into law a long-range blueprint that laid out in copious detail what the city was projected to look like in the faraway year of 2014.

According to Seattle’s Comprehensive Plan, as the document was officially known, the city would emerge from a period of slow growth and increase its population significantly in the ensuing two decades. It would use its planning tools to direct the new growth into 39 “urban villages” scattered across the city. These communities would gradually evolve into urbanist showplaces: compact enclaves organized around walkable streets, neighborhood commerce, reliable public transportation and abundant green space. Elements of the plan seemed to come straight out of the writings of Jane Jacobs, the author of the influential 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities. READ MORE

When Does Politicians' Unethical Behavior Become a Crime?

Many years ago, I spent a morning in the Pima County courthouse in Tucson, Ariz., talking politics with Conrad Joyner, one of the county supervisors. Joyner was running for Congress. I asked him if he expected to have any trouble raising money for his campaign. Joyner looked at me as if I had been born yesterday. “Are you kidding?” he said. “With all the zoning cases I’ve got coming up on the county board?”

I walked out of that courthouse trying to make sense of what I had just heard. Joyner seemed to be telling me he planned to extort campaign money from real estate developers who wanted his vote. Or maybe he just wanted the developers to think his vote was for sale so that he could pocket the money for his campaign and then vote his conscience. Either way, there was something sleazy about it. But if there were no conversations about a deal and no quid pro quo, the law couldn’t touch it. That didn’t seem quite right. READ MORE

Is Education Reform Worth the Demise of Neighborhood Schools?

A couple of years ago, an Arkansas legislator named Reginald Murdock began paying attention to the school buses that plied the highways around his state. Some of them seemed to be on the road for a disturbingly long time, subjecting their student riders to extended periods each day when they couldn’t do much except sit.

Murdock introduced a bill that called for a study of just how much time Arkansas kids were spending on buses. The results came back last summer, and they startled a lot of people. The median-length trip to public school -- one-way -- was 47 minutes. The average pupil was on board for more than an hour and a half in the course of a normal day. At the outer edge of the survey, there were children who recorded daily bus travel times of 5 hours and 34 minutes round-trip. The problem existed not only in remote rural counties but also in the urbanized area around Little Rock, where kids were riding long distances to magnet schools. Solving it would require money for extra buses and additional drivers that the state educational system had shown no willingness to provide. READ MORE

Are Democrats Out of Touch with Suburbia?

It’s been hard to open up a newspaper or visit a website these past couple of months without coming upon somebody’s pet theory about why Democrats took such a beating in November. It was the health law; it was foreign policy; it was the job market; it was Obama’s race; it was his aloofness; it was the failure of Democrats to stick up for themselves; it was the money Republicans poured into negative ads on television; it was turnout.

Most of these theories contain at least a grain of truth, but after a while one gets tired of reading them. It’s time to put aside the postmortems and move on. There’s one theory about the 2014 election, however, that has a direct connection to the future of government at all levels in this country. It’s the argument that Democrats lost badly because they have become a party of urban elitists led by a president grossly insensitive to the values and problems of the middle-class suburbanites who cast the deciding votes in state as well as national elections. READ MORE

What Does Divided Government Mean for the Future of Politics?

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, there was some lively debate among journalists and political scientists about what voters were trying to say when they split their tickets and gave themselves divided state government.

It was an important issue back then because most of the country was actually doing this -- electing a governor from one party and a legislature from the opposing side, or voting for a Democratic majority in one legislative chamber and a Republican majority in the other. Both the 1988 and 1996 elections produced 31 states with divided government of one sort or the other. READ MORE