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State Capitol Building, Iowa

State Capitol Building, west entrance - the public entrance, Monday through Friday, is the little door behind the truck and around the corner from the dumpster. Yes, I do recognize the need for a limited-access "securable" entrance, but on the other hand, it's not a very gracious way to treat visitors...

Slow Down, Speedy

27 Sep 2011

Eyes in the sky are now watching you speed down the eastbound lanes of I-235 between 53rd and Polk. Starting Wednesday, September 28, police will begin issuing tickets for speeds in excess of 10 miles over the limit. Fines are scheduled to be $65 for violations 11-15 miles over the speed limit, $75 for 16-20 miles over, and $80 plus $2 for each mile over 21 mph above the speed limit.

Cameras cover all four lanes, so don't think that you can slide by on the right...

And you had better watch your back driving around the rest of the region as well - there are five additional fixed cameras and one mobile camera placed around Des Moines on a rotating basis. Clive has at least nine on Hickman alone.

View Des Moines Fixed Traffic Camera Locations in a larger map

Despite statements that the cameras are intended to "reduce side impact crashes", it is pretty clear that income is a driving factor (so to speak) in the decision to install these enforcement cameras. Why do I believe this? because they are unmarked. If the intent was truly to reduce crashes and infractions at particularly dangerous intersections, they would be clearly marked with signage at the intersection. Rather there are inconspicuous signs when entering the City - "Photo enforced" on a small white sign on the right shoulder, for example.

By and large, I follow traffic laws. I don't speed, and I am pretty conscious of coming to a complete stop at red lights, so I am not particularly worried about getting tagged. It rubs me the wrong way, however, that the City is disguising what appears to be an income grab at least partially as a public safety measure. It is also disturbing that they outsource enforcement to a private company at a massive profit.

Channel 8 reports that net fixed camera revenues for the first two weeks in September (excluding the I-235 camera) totaled $50,000. Let's say the average citation was $70. That's a whopping 714 citations at five intersections. The private company running the cameras collects $27 per citation, for a gross income of about $38,600 per month or half a million dollars per year (rounding).

The City is poised to collect $800,000 at this rate ($1.3 million in gross revenue less $500,000 paid out to the private camera company). Until I see bright red signs at each monitored intersection, I don't think I'll be convinced that it's about safety over money.

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Skool Bored Elekshon

21 Sep 2011

Image Source: Green Lane (GFDL) via Wikimedia CommonsImage Source: Green Lane (GFDL) via Wikimedia CommonsDid anybody catch the misspellings in the title? Perhaps it doesn't matter - apparently, very few people give a crap about our schools. Yet again, Des Moines residents exhibited a staggeringly low turnout for the school board elections last Tuesday.

Okay, maybe I am being a bit harsh. Low voter turnout is a complex issue and there is plenty of blame to go around: the Polk County Auditor, State election law, candidates themselves, lack of coverage by media sources, voter apathy.... I mean, I barely even knew there was an election and I enjoy following politics. Thankfully, former school board member Graham Gillette filed a spot-on commentary with the Cityview education desk.

Only 5 percent of Des Moines voters thought participating in yesterday's school board elections was worthy of their time.

So, it is fair to say the 111,831 voters who did not vote:

1. Had something more important to do/didn't care;

2. Didn't have any idea there was an election going on, which is possible since the five people running raised a whopping combined total of $4,763 or about 4 cents per registered voter to communicate with the electorate. One candidate didn't raise a dime. (Looks like the candidates weren't too concerned about the election themselves.);

3. Thought the candidates were so indistinguishable from one another that voting was a waste of time;

4. Meant to, but the line at Burger King was so long that if they would have stopped to vote they would have missed the first five minutes of that Brady Bunch rerun; or

5. Decided to leave it to somebody smarter to decide who should serve.

The real nugget of a great idea in his column was this: what if school board elections were held in conjunction with odd-year city council elections? In addition to saving money, this would have the effect of tapping into the predictably larger turnouts and encouraging better communication between elected officials.

Boom. Problem solved.

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I saw this on my Google+ feed (yeah, I actually use Google+ along with two of my friends)...

...and got all excited before realizing it's not for people who are building, designing, making, and hacking physical things like houses and furniture. Turns out the event is for computer programmers! Okay, so the term "design" is technically fair game.

From the Builder's Forum April 5 announcement (http://www.startupcitydsm.com/2011/04/the-builders-forum)

"We’re asking people out there in the trenches really building stuff to crack a few beers with us and share what you’re working on."

An Actual Building Under ConstructionAn Actual Building Under Construction

Perhaps I find this amusing and slightly incongruous because today I had an actual meeting with people in an actual trench who were really building actual things. Don't get me wrong - I honestly believe that programmers, web/game designers, system administrators work hard. They just work differently hard than people in the physical building trades. Building code is not the same as building a wall. Making an iPhone app is not the same as making a coffee table. Working as a "systems architect" is not the same as working as an architect.

Des Moines has a fabulous energy developing around technology innovation. We have somewhat less innovation surrounding the creation and maintenance of our physical environment. I worry about degrading the language of physical craft by equating it to accomplishments in the digital realm.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011, is a scheduled election to fill three seats on the Des Moines School Board. In addition, there is a measure to change the way school board members are elected. The proposal would create four positions elected by ward, and three at-large representative positions.

View the SAMPLE BALLOT here.

Please vote YES on Public Measure A.

I heartily endorse the idea of a ward/at-large system for our school board representation. Such a system is in place on our City Council and I am convinced that it provides the best possible representation - each portion of the City has a representative who can concentrate on issues specific to his or her area. The at-large representatives are able to take a broader systems view.

The Candidates

I can't recall missing an election since I started voting and I don't intend to start now. However, I'll admit to a bit of laziness this cycle - I'm sitting at the computer trying to do my "due diligence" research on the candidates the night before and not coming up with a whole lot.

So, for all you procrastinators out there, here's a quick link guide to all the information I could find on the candidates:

  • Dick Murphy (incumbent) Website - http://web.me.com/rmurphyia/site/welcome.html (But don't try to go there. Though reported in the Register, a website doesn't actually exist at this address. Murphy says he is "setting it up.")
  • Bill Howard Website - None
  • Pat Sweeney Website - None
  • Cindy Elsbernd Website - None
  • Felipe Gallardo (incumbent) Website - None

Are you sensing a pattern here? Not a single candidate created a website for their campaign (Note to Pat Sweeney and Cindy Elsbernd, a Facebook page is not a campaign website). In the near-vacuum of information available online about candidates, one is forced to perform the ubiquitous Google search.

Turns out, the only real candidate information I could find out there is a brief Register Q&A. Dick Murphy is running unopposed for a vacant seat, so that narrows down the field to four candidates vying for three seats. In this case, with such little information available, it becomes a search for any disqualifying characteristics or answers.

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The books are unpacked, computers humming, and solar panels generating at the recently re-opened Franklin Avenue branch library. Despite some minor quibbles, I think that the building is a fabulous success! Kudos to the Library board, the architect, the builder, and the City for promoting sustainability as a core component of the project.

Franklin Avenue Library Sign: Sign at the newly-renovated Franklin Avenue library branchFranklin Avenue Library Sign: Sign at the newly-renovated Franklin Avenue library branch

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Leaving a meeting at the State Historic Preservation Office this morning I was happy to see that preparations are underway for the internationally recognized Hy-Vee Triathlon. It is great to see that after a two-year stint in West Des Moines, organizers decided to return the event to downtown. I am hard pressed top think of a better way to showcase Des Moines and Iowa to an international audience than to run a major sporting event right by the beautiful State Capitol building.

Hy-Vee Triathlon PreparationHy-Vee Triathlon Preparation

Here's hoping for good weather...

Hy-Vee Tri Weather ForecastHy-Vee Tri Weather Forecast

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Maps make boring statistics come alive!

I created the following maps using ArcMap (a commercial GIS program) and freely available downloaded Census data. It's not the sort of thing that anyone can do - ArcMap is a relatively involved program and combing through the Summary File data requires moderately advanced Microsoft Access skills.

With a little bit of invested time in learning the system, however, the American Fact Finder website can help the lay person create custom maps from the same data using only a web browser!

The following maps are available for download in pdf form at the bottom of this article.

Note that the map above is total population not population density. The large census tracts have a high total population spread out over a much larger area.

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An incredible amount of work went into creating this report - it documents the historic contexts under which the neighborhood developed as well as the architectural significance of the buildings throughout the neighborhood.

Calling all history buffs: You can download a copy of the final report on the project website! (full disclosure, I developed the website/database and was a co-project manager on this awesome undertaking)

The research project utilized a comprehensive approach that sought to document all buildings within the survey area. Consequently an all-building permit database and a historical photo set that included 700-1,000 photos was amassed. The building permit data was used to separate out the many overlapping house-based historical contexts. This separation involved distinguishing pre-Drake University residences, early Drake-induced residences (many of which started out in a lesser scale, but were then enlarged over time), and modified residences (as apartments or Greek social system residences).

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On August 11, 2011, the Census Bureau released the Iowa SF1 (summary File 1) data to the public. Being the obnoxious data hound that I am, I can't resist playing around with this information to see what jumps out... In this first installment, I'm going to take a look at the statewide data aggregated to the Street Crowd (historic): This image is in the public domain, via Wikimedia CommonsStreet Crowd (historic): This image is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons"place" level - identified towns and cities. Rural residents who don't live in an incorporated town or city are not included in these numbers.

You can check out Des Moines' stats below the break.

Iowa's total population is 3,046,055 people

Of that, 2,421,895 (79.5%) have chosen to live in an incorporated town or city. There are 1,009 incorporated towns and cities identified by the Census bureau for reporting purposes. However, 140 of those towns have fewer than 100 residents.

The average population of an incorporated city in Iowa is 2,400 residents. The top quintile (highest 20% by population) averages 10,334 residents. By a factor of 1.6, more people choose to live in Des Moines than the next most populated city, Cedar Rapids.

The Top 10 Iowa Cities by total population are:

    City Population
    Des Moines 203433
    Cedar Rapids 126326
    Davenport 99685
    Sioux City 82684
    Waterloo 68406
    Iowa City 67862
    Council Bluffs 62230
    Ames 58965
    Dubuque 57637
    West Des Moines 56609

Despite having the fastest growing suburbs in the state, only one of the Des Moines area suburbs makes the top 10 in total population. In fact, only one of the top 10 most populated cities in Iowa is a suburb.

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