Durable Growth

Popsicle Index

131020001 Popsicle Photo from GoogleIn his plenary address at CNU 21, Andres Duany argued that urbanism had become the new paradigm.  That urbanism was now the yardstick against which individuals and firms measured themselves.  Duany contended that people and firms who worked in land use, particularly urban land use, defined themselves by whether or not they wrote Smart codes, whether or not they did transit-oriented development, etc.

Duany’s self-esteem was on full display during the speech, so his paradigm assertion was only one more point on which he could be accused of braggadocio.  At the time, I hoped that that his contention would be true a decade from now.  But I wasn’t yet ready to accept it that day.

Since then, I’ve received a few tickles suggesting that I might have been pessimistic.  Little references that urbanism may be closer to the mainstream than I had thought.

The most recent came in a YouTube video suggested by a commenter.  The video was a short presentation by Catherine Austin Fitts, a former high official in the Treasury Department.  She now heads up the Solari Report which consults in the field of international finance.

If you didn’t watch it, Fitts argues for measures that will increase the Popsicle Index, her invented measure of the character of a neighborhood.  The index is the percentage of parents who would let their children walk to a store for a popsicle.

It’s a reasonable and surprising meaningful test for urbanism.  It incorporates information about proximity of stores, safe walking routes, and number of eyes on the street watching out for the safety of younger walkers.  It’s an insightful test, albeit light-hearted, for which Fitts should be commended.

It’s possible she didn’t invent it. From Wikipedia, the earliest reference to her use of the Popsicle index is 2006, but an urban planner from Vancouver, BC, offered the Popsicle Index in a speech to a smart growth conference in New Orleans in 2003.  I’ve frequently come across the Popsicle Index in urbanist writings, usually with references back to its Vancouver origins.

I’m not castigating Fitts for stealing the idea and claiming it as her own.  It’s possible that she came up with the idea earlier and shared with the Vancouver planner.  Or perhaps they stumbled onto the same idea independently.

No, the key point is that a specialist in international finance is talking in terms, whether her own or others, that are strongly urbanist. Calling for a higher Popsicle Index, however light-hearted, is the same thing as calling for more urbanism.  And having people who work in international finance talking in urbanist terms and advocating for more urbanism is a good thing.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so quick to dismiss Duany.  Urbanism may be closer to the mainstream than I had assumed.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. – Dave Alden (davealden53@comcast.net)

Written by Dave Alden

Dave Alden

Dave Alden is a Registered Civil Engineer. A University of California graduate, he has worked on energy and land-use projects in California, Oregon, and Washington. He was also the president of a minor league baseball team for two seasons. He lives on the west side of Petaluma with his wife and two dogs. The blog that he writes can be found at http://northbaydesignkit.blogspot.com.

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