Saturday, March 24, 2012

KCCacheDash Central

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

2011: My Year In Cities, Belatedly

Here are the places I spent at least one overnight during 2011:

  • Austin, TX
  • Washington, DC
  • Fayetteville, AR
  • Atlanta, GA
  • Columbia, MO
  • Omaha, NE
  • St. Louis, MO
  • Chicago, IL
  • Philadelphia, PA*
  • Lexington, KY*
  • Fort Scott, KS*
  • Ponca, NE*
  • Wheeling, WV* (post Columbus, OH)
  • Clearfield, PA* (post State College, PA*)
  • Cleveland, OH*
  • Pittsburgh, PA*
  • New Orleans, LA*
  • Minneapolis, MN
*Indicates a first-time visit.

My love for travel and exploring cities big and small cannot be overstated.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

"Disastrous" Streetcar

While excitement for the two-mile streetcar circulator through Downtown KC is almost universal, Cordish, owner of the Power and Light District, is decidedly less excited. Proponents argue that the streetcar will be the critical first win to build a transit culture in Kansas City, and it will perform a critical role in moving people throughout Downtown, leveraging the city's most critical investments.

Cordish thinks it would be.... DISASTROUS.

I think it is time for someone to take their concerns seriously.

When one thinks of disgusting urban disaster, what always comes to mind? Portland. And since our project is so similar to Portland's famous streetcar, I thought it might be useful to highlight what a disaster it has been, lest we are destined to make the same mistakes and leave our city looking more like Portland.

Pedestrian Nightmare
Cordish (and the Sprint Center) are very concerned that the streetcar would make the downtown environment uncomfortable for pedestrians. In the picture above, you can see how disastrously inhospitable the streetcar makes the city streets. While the streetcar will come along ever few minutes, consistently, on a fixed path, and utilize the latest safety technologies, it will surely be more threatening to pedestrians than a constant stream of cars and trucks. Even worse, the streetcar could mean even fewer pedestrian-friendly cars on the road. Instead of people driving home from bars and events, people could start using a streetcar. At least when drivers are drunk and careening toward pedestrians, one can tell by their erratic driving and swerving. On rails, the streetcar won't swerve, providing no warning, and will surely plow everyone down. The level of destruction can't even be imagined.

Vibrant Streets and Economic Development
This stark scene is NW 23rd St in Portland, along the northern end of the streetcar route. Don't be fooled by these adorable boutiques. They are stealing money from residents and tourists by providing products and services they want and then taking their money in exchange. This is fundamentally un-American and economic development in downtown would be... catastrophic. Giving people more reasons to come downtown and more reasons to support Cordish properties would be very damaging to the company. 

Besides, as long as there is nowhere worth going in areas of downtown, we won't have to worry about getting there, streetcar or otherwise. What a relief.

Infill Development

Along the streetcar line, parking lots have been replaced by tax-producing buildings. That means the local government has to cash even more property tax checks when they already had a ton, and local budgets are more able to fund maintenance and improvements. Disaster. And those parkings lots are no longer vital because the streetcar provides a transportation alternative, meaning perfectly respectable parking lot owners from other cities no longer get to reap big money charging parking fees, or giving you the adventure of paying to get your car out of the tow lot. Catastrophe.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Is there a right way to help Joplin?

In the days since the devastation in Joplin, I've seen a wide variety of calls to help the recovery efforts. Employers and organizations are promoting food or supply drives. Individuals are promoting their favorite charities in social media and sponsoring individual fundraising efforts.

Faced with all of these options, it is hard not to step back and consider how you can ensure your efforts to help are most effective. It is a harsh reality the charities, and charitable efforts, live in the same world of capitalism as everything else in our world, and they are bound by the same economic considerations. They compete for our limited supply of time, money and resources, so it pays to approach them with some economic ideas.

So, what do we consider when we want to help? For each $50 we decide to give to a specific charity, we also decide implicitly not to give that same $50 to another charity. If we spend that same $50 on supplies, we don't give it to a charity. Thus, we have a responsibility as "consumers" of charity to direct our limited resources in the most efficient ways possible.

Consider the situation in Joplin. The needs are massive and ever-changing, and it all has to be coordinated on the ground, in a community that is in chaos. Truckloads of donations will be pouring in, creating a supply chain challenge that would set spinning the heads of even the most sophisticated logistics professionals. Each of those trucks will contain a mysterious assortment of supplies that will need to be sorted through and deployed. Some will be based on what was urgently needed at the time of donation (though they may not be days later when they arrive), while others may be even less directed than that.

All of the donors who contributed those items spent their own time, fuel (and by association, money) and effort to acquire these items, and then the expense and coordination to ship is coordinated for each of these drives.

Alternatively, a charity like the Red Cross, with their expertise in disaster relief and the power of millions of donations, can coordinate those efforts in direct response to real-time needs. They can acquire truckloads of needed supplies more quickly than we can respond, all while making each dollar go further with the economies of scale of their purchasing power and consolidation. Instead of 30 U-Hauls full of random supplies, they'll get semi-loads of the specific supplies that are needed, where they can be anticipated and deployed quickly.

All of this is facilitated, interestingly enough, with no need to make a trip to go shopping, drive to a drop-off site, sort items, arrange shipping, etc. Making a serious impact in disaster-stricken areas is as simple as sending a text message, and all of those resources spent here at home can be sent right to the point of need instead.

Text REDCROSS to 90999 to Give $10

Ironically, that ease of donation might actually discourage the most efficient way to help out in an emergency. That's because providing disaster relief isn't the only utility provided by charity. It also serves to make people feel good, to feel invested, like they are making a difference -- and it should. Firing off a donation in seconds feels impersonal, disconnected and even lazy. Contrast that with the experience of actually buying bottled water to donate or helping load a truck full of supplies, where you have the assurance of a tangible impact. People want to feel like they've done something, and a text just isn't that difficult. It's the same reason there are food drives that require networks of trucks to coordinate pickups of buckets of food all over cities, all when food banks could ship that food right to their warehouses at a much lower cost per unit.

If that experiential giving can drive that much more donation, such that it overwhelmingly outweighs anything we lost in not being as efficient as we could be, then it is all worth it. In this case, though, unless you can actually be on the ground where there is a direct need for help, the seemingly lazy option may be the most effective one.

Personally, I think every effort can appeal to a different person in a different way, and that they all have the potential to help. In no way would I want to discourage anyone's well-meaning attempts to help. In a free market of ideas, each idea stands on its own.

In the face of a flurry of supply donations, charities are beginning to warn that they aren't even sure they'll get used in Joplin at all, per the Facebook page dedicated to the recovery effort. For me, donating to the Red Cross seems like the best way for me to help, and I'll stay invested in the progress. Maximizing our impact can be the warmest fuzzy.

Friday, January 07, 2011

2010: My Year In Cities

Stealing an idea from Eric's Dangerblog, here are cities where I spent at least one overnight this year.

  • Denver, CO
  • Baltimore, MD
  • Washington, DC
  • New York, NY (x2)
  • San Mateo, CA
  • Seattle, WA
  • Chicago, IL (x2)
  • Orlando, FL
  • Las Vegas, NV
  • San Francisco, CA
  • Omaha, NE
  • Tulsa, OK
  • Fort Worth, TX

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Why "Glee" Pisses Me Off

Anyone that knows me knows that I'm not much for television. I recently got cable for the World Cup, but I still spend most weeks without ever turning it on. Every so often, though, a show comes around that is such a cultural phenomenon and that commands so much chatter from my friends and associates that I'm forced to take notice. This year's un-ignorable show? Glee.

Glee is the new apple pie. To not love it is sacrilege. As my Twitter and Facebook streams finally stopped buzzing about Lost, they lit up even brighter for Glee, as if there was some sort of subliminal messaging in the show that creates an overwhelming urge to post "OMG I <3 GLEE SO MUCH" everywhere one can. People love this show.

There are plenty of reasons to love it, too. The concept is a refreshing spin on the classic high school drama and manages to ensure that all of your stereotypes are represented, giving everyone a character they can identify with. The cast is diverse and interesting, from the hilariously villainous Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) to the hunky director, and favorite of the ladies, Will Schuster (Matthew Morrison).

Morrison's last gig was playing Link Larkin in Hairspray, on Broadway. In fact, show creator Ryan Murphy spent three months cruising Broadway looking for talent for the show. The sheer amount of talent that Morrison and the rest of the cast brings to the table is exactly what makes my gripe about the show so tragic.

If ever a show should appeal to me, it would be one that plays heavily on creating and celebrating music and using it to amplify the emotional impact of the plot. Glee could do that, but I just don't believe it. You can tell a great deal of money and effort is spent on making everything sound "radio ready" (and iTunes ready -- there have been over 7 million digital sales), but this destroys the show. While supposedly featuring a glee club just finding their feet and sometimes rehearsing new material for the first time, every time a character opens their mouth to let out a note, it unleashes a flurry of gratuitous overproduction, embellishment and unbelievable polish. You see none of the group's development of their material, nor any of the awkward process that culminates in that grand emotional performance. The accompaniment is excessive from the get-go, too, yet we're to believe it just comes out that way when they practice.

As a result of this overproduction, the audience is robbed of the ability to invest in the journey to the final result.

So why do they do this? Maybe every episode needs a shiny downloadable new song to sell. More likely, though, is that the producers have so little confidence in their audience that they think we will only stand for it if it sounds like our Top 40 station. As a group of outcasts with tremendous ability finding their place, wouldn't the vulnerability of developing a song, making mistakes and journeying through them be more compelling than listening to what could just as well be some pop group with heavy doses of AutoTune?

That's the worst part: this is a waste of a talented cast that could have (and has) performed this material live. Musicians of this talent would be more compelling if every moment of their performance wasn't sanitized in the studio and lip-synced over. Wouldn't we be privileged to hear them?

Each episode reportedly costs over $3 million to produce, yet I'd find it so much more appealing if they just set up a camera and let these artists do their thing. The cast has the chops, but the curse of overproduction leaves the whole thing coming off like a Britney Spears album. With the show increasingly relying on celebrity appearances and gimmicks, it seems it is quickly losing its way, but it failed to reach its potential from the beginning.

Still, the show continues to gain popularity. Maybe the producers were right about us as a viewing public. Maybe we should be offended by how unsophisticated they think we are. In any case, I'm sitting this one out.

Oh, and I promise to never blog about TV again!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Modern Archeology: The Kansas City, Clay County and St. Joseph Interurban

In the heart of the railroad age, even regional improved roads were rare. Travelers making the journey between Kansas City and St. Joseph relied upon the Kansas City, Clay County and St. Joseph Interurban Railroad. At its peak, this route offered hourly rides on electric rail cars between the cities and points between. Technically a light rail train, the Interurban was the longest in the KC area and was considered one of the finest in the country.

As a lover of transportation, cities and days gone by, I love finding relics the remind us of how we've changed -- and what we have lost. It also reminds us of the importance of protecting these historical structures so they can continue to tell their stories about how residents of our region once lived.

There are few of the iconic arched "Luten design" bridges left in the Kansas City area. These were among the first concrete bridges built, showcasing how innovative and modern the Internurban was when it was built in 1911.

Here is what I could find:

This bridge sits where the railroad crossed Line Creek in Riverside, Missouri. Once hidden in the dense forest around the creek, the path to this bridge is now being cleared for use as a recreational trail, a fantastic adaptive reuse for this impressive structure.

This single arch sits on private property near the center of tiny Avondale, Missouri. The bridge is covered with vegetation but remains in remarkably good shape despite years of neglect.

This double arch sits conspicuously next to Interurban Road, the auto route resulting in the closure of the Interurban and the paving of its right of way. Interurban remains a popular route for cyclists because of its calm, meandering route. This bridge carried auto traffic over its single-lane width until it was replaced last year by a modern bridge. In a beautiful location, I'm hopeful this bridge can be preserved as the centerpiece of a public space. It is located just north of KCI.

Beyond Interurban Road, there are still areas where you can identify the railroad's path. It followed Waukomis Drive's current route through the Northland and where Waukomis meets 68th Street, you can still see the path on the undeveloped land to the north. This right-of-way has been included in recent light rail proposals as a path connecting KCI to the city.

For more information on the KC-Clay County-St. Joe Interurban, check out this excellent site dedicated to it. 

I hope to continue to discover these modern relics and share them in the future. If you have ideas on things you'd like to see me explore, please let me know!

Monday, April 05, 2010


As some of you might know, I recently made social media and various Internetish things my full time job. As I delved deeper into social media tools, case studies, conferences and the like, I wanted to have a place to document and share my findings. I also wanted to keep this blog around for my hopefully more frequent random commentary on whatever-the-heck-it-is that I post about.

The solution?! Check it out if you are interested!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Concerts Delivered to You!

In light of my experience at tonight's David Gray show at Uptown Theater, I realize that there is a huge untapped market that I'm about to fill. We know you love the experience, but isn't it a hassle to come out to the theater? Let me bring it to you.

For the same price as a front row seat, I'll make your experience real!

-I will play music loudly so you have to yell at each other over it. I'll bring two friends to sit on each side of you and look annoyed. In the middle of the evening, I'll play the one song you actually know from the artist so you can scream, pay attention for a few minutes, sing the chorus and then go back to yelling! I'll be sure to play music I really enjoy so you can keep me distracted, and I'll pay lots of quiet songs for you to yell inappropriately during. Don't miss your chance to clap along to quiet, thoughtful songs!

-I will stand on the other side of your back yard with a guitar. That way, you can replicate all of those dark blurry photos that you can't make out and you'll never look at again. You can claim the aberration in the photo is anyone you want! You can even turn on your point and shoot flash to try to illuminate me from hundreds of feet away. Just keep shooting, it might work someday! Hold that camera high over your head!

-I will bring a universal phone charger so you never have to stop texting your friends. Be sure to yell over the music to tell each other about your texts!

-I will sell you warm, watered-down Bud Light for as much as you want to pay, then crowd you so you can spill it on me.

-Best of all, I'll give you a high five after two hours and agree with you when you say it was the "best concert ever!"

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Open Letter to Ed Ford RE: Tomahawke Ridge

As Kansas City plans to annex still more land into our sprawling metro, proponents of a progressive policy toward KC development need to let the City Council know we are paying attention. Contact your Councilperson and let them know how you feel.

Click here more information on the ordinance to annex this area north of the airport. Of special note is the staff report that waves red flags right and left.


I’m writing to express my vehement disappointment in your sponsorship of the annexation of still more far-flung land into our flailing, over-extended city. Our metro has long held dubious rankings on sprawl and the ill-effects associated with it, with KCMO leading the line. Surely you know that providing services to this area will cost far more than the revenue the area will generate, all while jeopardizing the quality of those services to people in existing, established neighborhoods that have made a long-standing commitment to Kansas City.

We’re the 21st largest city in America by land area but the 35th largest by population. Is it any wonder we have a budget problem, and yet we are working our way further up the land area list? With so much land awaiting development in a way that could leverage existing investments, why do you insist on overextending us still further?

You owe it to those of us in the second district that already exists to be a good steward of our limited resources. Leap-frogging sprawl is not a revenue solution, it is a cost problem. You’ve often displayed an ambition to move this city forward by making decisions based on new ideas, not tired, disproven ones. Surely you realize the folly of supporting a development that our own city staff summarily rejected.

My neighborhood alone, in your district, houses hundreds of Kansas Citians in a few blocks. We are using existing infrastructure at a vastly lower cost per resident. Why should we subsidize a new development so far from our existing investments as a city?

Please have the courage to stand up for your existing constituents, not hypothetical ones and the developers that will profit from them.


Matthew Staub

Monday, January 04, 2010

2009: My Year in Cities

Cities where I spent at least one overnight:

Boulder, CO
Denver, CO
Madison, WI
Milwaukee, WI
Archbold, OH
St. Louis, MO
Ozark National Scenic Riverway (Current River), MO
Ann Arbor, MI
Detroit, MI
Hannibal, MO
Minneapolis, MN
Omaha, NE
Norfolk, NE
Hoskins, NE

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

What Am I About?

I recently got word of a video production contest hosted by local credit union Mazuma and decided I'd create an entry. It was a good excuse to start playing with video editing, as I've always wanted to do.

Yesterday, finalists for the contest were announced and I was excited to be among them. The winners are determined by a vote of the registered users of the site and from the looks of things, the voting will be fiercely competitive.

In light of that, I would appreciate all of the support I can get. The site is a bit cumbersome but all you have to do to cast a vote is to register as a user, confirm and then go back to the homepage and vote in the poll in the bottom right of the page. My video is called "Community Around Every Corner" and can be viewed here.

The site is

I have less than two weeks to get as many votes as possible. Thanks!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Ethics of Campaign Finance

Hillary Clinton's campaign proudly announced today that her successes in Ohio, Texas and Rhode Island have led to a windfall of cash, to the tune of $4 million in the two days since the polls closed. Not to be outdone, the Obama campaign announced that it had raised $55 million during February alone, breaking the record for a single month's take previously held by John Kerry.

...and they need it. These campaigns are burning through cash at a blistering pace in an attempt to knock each other out of the race, snatching up ads, paying pollsters and strategists and spamming whole states with direct mail. Mitt Romney burned through almost $100 million before giving up the ship. Obama and Clinton haven't even begun to fight in a general election and the end to the spending isn't in sight.

All told, the 2004 elections for congress and the presidency were estimated to have cost $3.9 billion.

I realize that there is an important role of campaign messages in communicating to the electorate. I'm also very familiar with the tired but valid argument that money is simply too vital and thus has too much influence in politics.

The question I haven't heard asked, however, is whether or not there are ethical implications to the amount of cash that is essentially being thrown away in the effort to garner votes. If a candidate or donor rationalizes the expenditure as a support for the implementation of better policies, how can they not realize the opportunity cost? How many uninsured Americans could we cover with the money we spend on campaigns? How much could be done to fight poverty with the piles of cash that are pouring into political campaigns? In an age where charities are struggling with fundraising, campaigns are breaking records.

With no end in sight to the growth of the costs of campaigns, at what point is this spending viewed as not only questionable but immoral and irresponsible?

Of course these costs pale in comparison to the cost of the war in Iraq. We've got priority issues everywhere you look in this country.

Monday, February 04, 2008

On Being That Guy

As I was going about some chores, I flipped on the Super Bowl mostly out of obligation. As the game intensified and began to appeal to my underdog boosterism, I took a time out to pay attention.

Like a great deal of people who claim to "watch it for the commercials," I took great interest in the ads, mostly from an academic perspective. These promotions are always trying to push the envelope, using the big stage of the Super Bowl to attempt to make a splash. Sometimes the result is a big, impressive production. Sometimes, the concept is so bizarre that the agency hopes we'll remember it.

Sometimes, like the ads I've lamented about in the past regarding the commodification of "macho, " they are just plain insulting. The Helzburg Ad I saw upped the ante.

It starts with a dimly lit scene and romantic music. A guy sits at a desk, meticulously preparing a greeting card for his love. Eventually, he presents her the card and tells her that he couldn't find a card to communicate how he really felt, so he made one for her, by hand.

Then, like the needle being pulled from the record, the romantic music stops and gives way to music more akin to a carnival than a romantic scene. A sarcastic voice says "because you're not that guy" and then goes on to say how easy it is to show someone you care: buy a diamond.

I verbally berated the television.

Instead of communicating thoroughly and thoughtfully how you feel, one should simply spend some money on a diamond and lob that her direction instead? The ad is actively derisive to the man many women claim to want, offering a simplified consumer solution to the complicated task of expressing your emotions. Have we really sunk to the point that our outward symbols are more important than our real feelings and the words we use to express them?

Is it any wonder that relationships fail so readily when the most critical part of them, open communication and emotional healthfulness, is ridiculed during the Super Bowl? Are relationships just a symbol for different patterns of massive consumption?

Don't be a pansy, dude, just get a diamond and get back to watching the game! High five!

If this is how relationships are measured in our era, are they really worth anything more than the contribution they have to the economy?