Articles I'm digesting – Feb 13 2009

New Planets & an Unknown Object Discovered Beyond the Solar System

Future telescopes such as NASA’s Kepler, set for launch in 2009, would be able to discover dozens or hundreds of Earth-like worlds. The Space Interferometry Mission (SIM), to be launched early in the next decade, consists of multiple telescopes placed along a 30 foot structure. With an unprecedented resolution approaching the physical limits of optics, the SIM is so sensitive that it almost defies belief: orbiting the earth, it can detect the motion of a lantern being waved by an astronaut on Mars.

The last sentence says it all. My mind = blown.

Fareed Zakaria – Worthwhile Canadian Initiative (via Sameer Vasta)

Canada has done more than survive this financial crisis. The country is positively thriving in it. Canadian banks are well capitalized and poised to take advantage of opportunities that American and European banks cannot seize. The Toronto Dominion Bank, for example, was the 15th-largest bank in North America one year ago. Now it is the fifth-largest. It hasn’t grown in size; the others have all shrunk.

So what accounts for the genius of the Canadians? Common sense. Over the past 15 years, as the United States and Europe loosened regulations on their financial industries, the Canadians refused to follow suit, seeing the old rules as useful shock absorbers. Canadian banks are typically leveraged at 18 to 1—compared with U.S. banks at 26 to 1 and European banks at a frightening 61 to 1. Partly this reflects Canada’s more risk-averse business culture, but it is also a product of old-fashioned rules on banking.

I’ve always thought Zakaria was one of the smartest commentators in the US. I’ve unbelievably excited he has his own show on CNN. Finally a show where real ideas are discussed not by pundits but by actual wonks. His show single-handedly elevates the entire CNN brand. Now he’s saying nice things about us. Hopefully we won’t let it go to our heads.

How the Crash Will Reshape America: The Last Crisis of the Factory Towns by Richard Florida.

When work disappears, city populations don’t always decline as fast as you might expect. Detroit, astonishingly, is still the 11th-largest city in the U.S. “If you no longer can sell your property, how can you move elsewhere?” said Robin Boyle, an urban-planning professor at Wayne State University, in a December Associated Press article. But then he answered his own question: “Some people just switch out the lights and leave—property values have gone so low, walking away is no longer such a difficult option.”

Perhaps Detroit has reached a tipping point, and will become a ghost town. I’d certainly expect it to shrink faster in the next few years than it has in the past few. But more than likely, many people will stay—those with no means and few obvious prospects elsewhere, those with close family ties nearby, some number of young professionals and creative types looking to take advantage of the city’s low housing prices. Still, as its population density dips further, the city’s struggle to provide services and prevent blight across an ever-emptier landscape will only intensify.

Many of the old industrial clusters are dying and we’ll have to manage this decline while helping figure out what the next wave will look like. This is part of the reason why think the federal government’s failure to invest in green technology/innovation will stand as one of the biggest lost opportunities of the century. At the peak of a financial crises and at the moment when our cities – particularly our mid-sized cities – need to think about what their economies will look like for the next 100 years (think renewable energy, green roofs/architecture, mobile computing, next-generation social services) we’ve plowed $30B into 20th century buildings and roads. Hopefully the good news of Zakaria will outweigh the bad news from Florida. I hope so, since it appears this crisis won’t be sufficiently significant to spur us to rethink our future.

One thought on “Articles I'm digesting – Feb 13 2009

  1. Christopher Blizzard

    This is my saddest thought on the recent US federal bailout: it's $800BN without a single purpose. Money spread around to spur economic growth without growing anywhere in particular. What's the future to be?To use a (bad) comparison I feel like they are trying to fill potholes in the current road instead of taking the road to somewhere else it needs to be.

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