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Insuring Good Cities, One Mile At A Time


I once was consigned to a table full of business school students at a land-use conference at UCLA. Trying to be a good sport, I offered the only idea that I'd ever had about business: car insurance charged according to miles driven. I posited that since risk and mileage were more or less correlated, it only made sense that people who drove more and incurred more risk should pay more.

My tablemates stared back at me as if I had just issued a rousing recitation of Das Kapital.
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Simple Cycling Solutions

Now that the weather in Los Angeles has gone from pleasant to perfect with the subtle advent of spring, I've been spending more time risking my life atop my bicycle as I wend my way to meetings and errands. As a faithful urbanist I have little trouble convincing myself of cycling's merits, which, as former California State Health Officer Dr. Richard Jackson likes to say, can "improve your life span, lower your blood pressure, make you better looking, improve your sex life, and save you money." Sounds good to me.

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Singing the City Sterile: Urbanism and New Wave

I've always hated songs about cities, particularly mawkish anthems like "New York, New York," "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," and the ghastly "I Love L.A." Lyricists seem to dream them up when there's nothing else to sing about. Indeed, cities are the setting for life, not the object of it. Singing about them is like performing a play about a theater.

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Art, Agriculture, and Civic Identity Converge in the Great Plains

MINNEAPOLIS--If not for the Walker Art Center I would have scant reason to spend extra time in Minneapolis. Minneapolis is not lacking for charm or culture, but it certainly falls in that middle range of American cities, somewhere between New York and nondescript, which is to say that it is not a destination in and of itself, yet it offers reasons to extend a stay for those who find themselves so far north for other reasons.

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Light Rail Pits Planning Against Parenthood

Yes, yes. We all want to save the children. They are our most precious resource and hold the key to our future. Let them lead the way, and please, lord, don't let them get run over by a train.

Fortunately, most American kids face no such danger because they are held safe in far-flung suburbs where conformity and the cocoon of the strip mall tend to their well-being. They are growing up strong and worldly behind gates and in perfect communities far from the strife of the city, where art, culture, diversity, adventure, and freedom might stimulate them just a little too much.

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Acronym Atrocities Afoot in Washington

To paraphrase the New York Times' summation of the Anaheim Angels' rhetorical exodus to Los Angeles a few years ago: some ideas are so stupid that you just have to stand back and watch. To that I would add, some things are so stupid that they deserve derision no matter how long ago they occured. Though it crawled out from the Senate floor in the summer of 2005, SAFETEA-LU -- the $240 billion federal transportation bill -- has, for the past two years, gotten off way too easy.

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Terrorism, Gay Marriage, and...Land Use(!)

This week Salon.com published a remarkable interview with a contender for the White House. The candidate didn't offer the solution to stabilizing Iraq, strengthening the economy, or bringing down the price of a six-pack (at least not directly), but for the first time in the history of American campaigning that I'm aware of, he referred to the issue of "land use."

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Europe's Glory, America's Opportunity

WROCLAW, Poland--I have been swanning about Eastern Europe for the better part of two months, wandering the streets of cities large and small, famous and obscure. As should be apparent to anyone short of Toby Keith or James Inhofe, even the most undistinguished European city could teach any American city a thing or two about charm, walkability, and gracious living.

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Building History Anew In Old Town Warsaw

WARSAW, Poland --I'm on my fourth city in a two-month excursion, and so far I've found all the quaintness, density, pedestrian life, and vernacular architecture that I was looking for as an antitode to my beloved, loathed Los Angeles. The cores of Riga and Vilnius come right out of proverbial fairy tales, and even Helsinki, though historically torn between Sweden and Russia, has plenty of the best trappings of Boston and San Francisco (as well as some of the worst of Atlanta or Dallas; more on that later).

Then there's Warsaw.

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Reading, Writing, And Planning: Urbanism In High School

The high school curriculum overlooks a great many subjects, so we could go on at length pointing out its ironies and shortcomings. But the topic at hand happens to be urban planning, so let's stick with that.

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