The Silverdome and Where the Property Is

If you want more room around the dining table at Christmas, you missed your chance. The Silverdome in Pontiac, former home of the Lions,  just sold for $580K, which is on average less than most condos in my zip code. More than most studio apartments here, in fairness, though not in Manhattan, as David King points out.

It even has a dome!

What lessons are to be learned here? I’m actually somewhat flummoxed. I think the selling price here could be any number of things, depending on the outfit who bought it. I don’t know what they do, but here are a few guesses:

a) This is the cost of the land, less the cost of dismantling and the disposing of the Silverdome. Keep in mind the city was stuck with a million dollar maintenance bill for it, so anything they could do to sell it was fine by them.

b) This the worth of the asset in terms of tax losses to a company.

c) some combo thereof.

As Los Angeles gears up to build another Stadium to attract another football team, you have to wonder. I love The Forum down in Inglewood and it makes me kind of mad that the Sparks and the Kings both left it to sit there. The Sparks? Honestly. Have we just gotten so used to throwing money at footloose sports teams that we don’t even think any more?

Truck Idling and Particulates

When I gave my job talk at USC, I discussed some of my research on how to get truckers to to shut off their engines. My colleagues have since told me they thought this was a dog of topic–it wasn’t a “big enough question”– but I made it entertaining so they hired me anyway based on the strength of my other work.

Well, it’s not a dog of a topic. Getting truckers and rail companies to shut off would alleviate PM2.5 hotspots in many locations, including parts of rust belt Pennsylvania. My friend Sacha sent this to me, as she found it at the American Academy of Sciences:

It was very much like Sacha to send me this little reminder that my work, though often treated like it’s uninteresting because it doesn’t have sexy, newspaper-ready sound bites, attempts to demonstrate how important seemingly small changes can be in the real-life environments that poor people occupy. Since my job talk, I’ve been somewhat embarrassed by the research on truck idling that we did–I’ve made excuses, etc–but forget that. I was right and the naysayers were wrong, and this work deserves more respect than it got.

Schweitzer, L., Brodrick, C-J, , and S. Spivey. 2008. “Truck Driver Environmental Attitudes and Behaviors: An Exploratory Analysis.”  Transportation Research Part D. 13 (3): 141-150.

Kelo (0), the State (0) Pfizer (0) and the Recession (1)

The New York Times today ran this story about Pfizer leaving New London, which used its powers of eminent domain to seize and destroy housing for an “urban village” development. Now that Pfizer is leaving without delivering the development, people are understandably bitter.

I have to say it out loud: I really hate eminent domain. I know we need it for land assembly, but…states that do not respect property rights past a certain, reasonable point are bad regimes.

Transit privatization

The TransportPolitic asks an extremely good question:

If transit isn’t better operated by the private sector, why is it still being privatized?

This essay is a fairly standard description of neoliberalism’s effects on transit policy. I think, however, that the political economy has actually morphed and we have to be thinking a bit differently now. We need a clever political theorist to coin a new term, something better than post-neoliberalism, which is what I think we are experiencing, with Obama and the worldwide recession and the bailouts, etc. Certainly lots of transit companies have gone racing forward for ARRA money, sans private partners.

This is primarily quibbling, however, and the larger point holds: politicians like privatization primarily out of ideology and the desire to demonstrate they have done something–a bit like charging around looking to eliminate political science funding—not because we ever really save real money. What has never been clear to me about privatization is whether it’s not all that cost effective because services like transit, with their comparatively high barriers to entry for anything past jitneys, just do not favor private, for-profit operations versus how much efficiency we just plain lose because we over-regulate and poorly negotiate private contracts. There’s a great deal of politics that run both ways between the right and the left; not all PPPs have been great, and not all have been ineffective. But almost all in transit have.

One of my favorite books on the subject is Elliott Schlar’s You Don’t Always Get What You Pay For. Hiro Iseki at the University of New Orleans has done some interesting work in the topic, as has Tony Gomez Ibanez at Harvard.

Climate change practices and religion

The Telegraph has this story about an executive who took his company to court because they did not accommodate his desire to live a low-carbon lifestyle. The writers say the story is interesting because it suggests a precedent for how employers will be expected to accommodate environmental “beliefs”–such as providing low-carbon transport. That seems to be a pretty big stretch; it is easier to envision a company not requiring air travel than actually providing more for transport than most already do. But it is notable how this exec was able to argue he was a victim based on his environmental principles.

I need a t-shirt that says “Don’t ask me about HSR or tenure”

I had three unwelcome conversations about tenure yesterday: honestly. All well-meaning, all perfectly wonderful people that I enjoy talking to normally. This is a carryover from the weekend, where I had two more unwelcome conversations about tenure.

Then there is the fact that the answer to everything in my professional life seems to be “no” right now. Interesting opportunity? No, you can’t do that because you don’t have tenure. I suppose this is no different from the million “no’s” you hear during the first five years of not having tenure, but they are rubbing me harder now. I notice that the leaders in my school–people that I really really look up to–routinely say things like “nobody here can do this” or “nobody here can do that” and I think “really? I think I can do that.” Was it a mistake to hire me and the rest of the junior faculty if we aren’t going to fill these roles? And why would you give me tenure if I can’t do at least some of these things? Isn’t that like signing a permanent contract with a hitter who can’t hit or a pitcher who can’t pitch or a janitor who can’t use a mop? It makes no sense to me from an abstract perspective: are the people who are here who “can’t fill these roles” filling other roles that merit lifetime employment? Or were we scattered free agents the department thought were worth hiring but weren’t, hired to do something that now no longer makes sense? Or do universities just keep some people around to make intellectual contributions and that’s enough for them and that’s that? Am I nuts for asking why institutions would agree to this?

Then there is the lack of transparency in the process. Nobody is telling me anything and nobody will tell me anything until the Dean and the Provost have made their decisions, which doesn’t happen for months yet. Months. Until then there  isn’t really anything to tell. I can do nothing about this. Nobody else can do anything about this without breaking the rules and making themselves and the institution vulnerable–neither of which I want either. So I can’t ask, they can’t tell, and that’s that, whether I like it or not.

I remember there was about a month at the end of my dissertation where I didn’t leave my house. I got up in the morning, I turned on the TV to the all-day Perry Mason and Columbo stuff on the local channel, wrote, didn’t answer emails, turned down every invitation, didn’t answer my phone, and never left the house except to go to Trader’s Joes. I think maybe that happened because I couldn’t stand to hear “are you done yet” from one more person, and I needed that privacy to work and deal with my own monkey brain. I don’t have that luxury now.* When I am working, it’s all great. But then somebody comes along and reminds me that there is this Big Thing Going On. Argh.

So there is nothing to report, except that I am grouchy and Reviewer #3 is smart and has me stumped, and maybe I’ll just spend the day painting my nails and watching soaps and playing with my cat.

*In SEVERAL ways I don’t have this luxury: the nearest TJs is six miles away.