New Year’s at Venice Beach

Tonight, we’ll be celebrating the nuptials of a dear friend in Venice. What better way to start the New Year?

I love the winter beach in southern California; I especially like overcast days, when nobody is on the beach but me. Today, however, it’s going to be bright, sunny and cool: just the right sort of clear night for a New Year.
Happy New Year, everybody!

SPPD Review Call for Submissions

SPPD Review

The student-run journal of the USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development

In Spring 2011, SPPD will release its next publication of its first-ever student-adjudicated academic journal, The USC SPPD Review. On behalf of the editorial committee, we invite you to submit your work for our upcoming online issue!


Submissions must have been originally written for an SPPD class in the past year (January 2010 onward), contain Chicago-style citations, and contain a maximum 250-word abstract. Above all, submissions must be modern, relevant, and polished. No page limit is enforced.

Students may submit up to one individually written paper, and/or up to one group assignment (with the permission of all group members). Selected pieces may be subject to further editing by the Journal’s senior editors and/or faculty advisers.


· E-mail paper to by Monday, 1/17/2011

· Include: your name, phone number, preferred e-mail address, SPPD course name, number, and professor.

Submissions are due no later than Monday, January 17th, 2011.

Papers will be reviewed through a blind review process by the student-run committee. One piece per degree program will be selected for this season’s journal. All students, faculty, and the general public will be able to access the journal online through the SPPD website.

If you have any questions, please contact or visit our to submit online.

Thank you for your support!

Aurea Adao & Brettany Shannon

Co-Editors-in-Chief, USC SPPD Review

Eleanor Chen

Managing Editor, USC SPPD Review

Goodbye to Dennis Dutton

The Los Angeles Times has a lovely obituary up for Dennis Dutton, the creator of the Arts and Letters Dail, The Dutton name is a familiar one throughout southern California; his brothers owned and ran Dutton’s Books, gone (and greated missed) in 2008.

A quote from Professor Dutton:

“A few years ago, Bill Gates was boasting that we’ll soon have sensors which will turn on the music that we like or show on the walls the paintings we like when we walk into a room. How boring! The hell with our preexisting likes; let’s expand ourselves intellectually.”

The Gilt Fading on the Golden State: Richard Walker in the New Left Review

The New Left Review is one of those magazines I spend way too much money for simply because the writing is always so spectacular. There are three articles well worth the price of a copy in this issue: one is a piece on Tehran, a paradox of postmodern city by Asef Bayat, another concerns the dominance of informality and the erosion of wages by Micheal Denning (free access) and Richard Walker’s The Golden State Adrift (also free access).

Walker’s piece does a brilliant job explaining why I am so worried about Califronia’s fiscal mess, covering the housing mess in particular. I would give my right arm to be able to write a sentence as perceptive and clear as this one, on the way that rich whites are hammering coffin nail after coffin nail into the state’s future:

The fading white plurality continues to exert a disproportionate influence on the state. Markedly older, richer and more propertied, the white electorate has correspondingly conservative views: for many, immigrants are the problem, the Spanish language a threat, and law and order a rallying cry. Even the centrist white voter tends to view taxes as a burden, schools of little interest, and the collective future as someone else’s problem.

Go read.

Very cool things I am getting to do

1) I am going to be on a panel with Ian Parry in February. Total fangirl moment!!! I wonder if he’d sign my copy of the Washington, DC congestion charging study for me?

2) The book reviews editor of the Journal of the American Planning Association has asked me to contribute one of a group of reviews of the 10th anniversary edition of Suburban Nation. I’m honored, even if I am not entirely sure how to review such a flawed but important book.

Bridalplasty: taking hatred towards women to a new, entirely unnecessary level

Holy freaking sweet cracker sandwiches, people. While I was busy pointing out what a snorefest Sarah Palin’s show is, E! (apparently run by Satan) has a new game show: Bridalplasty, where:

Brides-to-be compete in challenges to earn plastic-surgery procedures in a quest to win their ultimate dream wedding

Here’s a description of an episode:

Bridalplasty: Sporting of a Sparrow
With just eight girls left, the brides are tested on their bedroom knowledge and find themselves in difficult positions battling for this week’s surgery.

Next week’s episodes: the bride that might disappoint her man is publicly stoned! While the one who wins gets life-threatening unnecessary surgery.

Maybe this is God’s way of showing me there are worse ideas than HSR in Corcoran. GAH!! Give me Sarah Palin shooting things for no reason other than bloodsport any day if these are our entertainment choices.

Culture Wars Nonsense around the HSR and a Technocratic Answer

The Economist, usually one of my go-to places for sanity, has a piece up on HSR that strikes me as nonsense. Ryan Avent wants to turn the debate around HSR into a ‘culture wars’ thing–what media outlet doesn’t want to turn everything into grist for the culture war?–from everything to HSR to obesity.

Even in assigning blame to the culture war between the technocrats and the haters—those uneducated Americans who hate the elite, and thus, the elite’s fancy dancy HSR system—Avent misses the mark by a long shot. It’s a classic case of “don’t deal with the real policy issues: blame the Republicans and Democrats!”

Why, exactly, should some segments of the US—who are unemployed and low-income and, thus, seldom if ever undertake inter-regional travel—support using tax money to build a new system for people, like me and Avent? Why? Is that opposition really ignorance? What, exactly, is HSR promising people who live in Lubbock, Texas? Or Cairo, Illinois?

Moreover, Avent is just wrong: it’s not just the permanently discontented and iggnerant Tea Party types that think HSR is a bad idea right now. I have a real-deal PhD, and so do a bunch of other people who are concerned, and we’re not on board with the California HSR, for the following, highly technical reason:

California is broke. Broke broke broke. Brokity-broke-broke-broke.

The real situation is worse than that: California is $28 billion in the hole. This Year. Next Year? Next year will be worse. That’s billion with a b. And growing.

So while English writers whinge about Americans’ whinging, they are missing a big part of the financial picture: infrastructure is financed much differently in the US than in Europe. While the US Federal government has some money to put up, states have to put up the rest. That’s a vastly different arrangement than what happened with building HSR in Europe, where the EU has a infrastructure bank.

So if Obama and the Dems want their HSR so damn badly, they should get off their fannies and start making some real-deal progress rather than handing out the 1 and 2 billion amounts that, unfortunately, translate to chump change in the actual funding needed. I favor an infrastructure bank, but having the guts to pursue a small increase in the gas tax would be fine, too. Or going after an general appropriation. Whatever.

Let’s remember: it took $4B to replace the Bay Bridge–alone. One bridge. It took $5 billion to replace the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. One. Bridge.

Secondly, Avent’s whipping out the 100 million population growth number made me laugh. That means we need inter-regional HSR instead of building urban subways or heavy rail? That’s what that number means? It doesn’t make sense. Yes, there will be greater demand for inter-regional travel, but there will be much greater demand for within region travel–there always is. That means if we are gong to spend billions on transit, the resources should be going to urban transit systems first.

But, then, I’m just ignorant.

We note should that even HSR’s supporters, like Senator Alan Lowenthal, have started to question the feasibility of what California is doing. HT to Joseph Cordes on this story.

In this CNBC story, the cost estimate is reported at $43 billion. Now, the last I checked, it was $34B. Was there another announcement that the costs are going to be more than what we promised voters, or is the $43B just a typo?

Oh, hell, what’s $10B among friends? (It’s the GDP of Moldovia).

Finally, I can’t stand it when rail advocates like Avent whine that “rail is held to a standard that no other infrastructure is.” Oh booty hooty hoooooo. Remember the “Bridge to Nowhere?” Remember the “Road to nowhere?” If you want billions in public money for your project, then you need to show people that it’s worth what they are paying for it. Wah wah wah. Schools have to, convention centers have to, health care has had to, every other type of government spending program, with the possible exception of defense and homeland security, has to justify the billions they get. Nobody hands you a blank check, no matter how cool those Chinese trains are.

PS: Where’s all this money you can make from dissing HSR? I’m not getting any. Unlike people who advocate for HSR, who aren’t making any money a’tall. Poor things.