The Planetizen News Brief - 12/10/09

A fast train from France to Spain, U.S. city folk get rural, and officials hope to pull people to cities by funding urban parks -- all on this week's Planetizen News Brief, produced for Smart City Radio.

Full Transcript (Audio available as .mp3 at Planetizen):

As the United States takes baby steps towards a piecemeal high speed rail system, two European countries have announced a partnership that aims to build a 650-mile high speed train line, and they say they can do it by 2012. The governments of Spain and France are planning to build a high speed rail line that will connect the two countries’ capital cities of Madrid and Paris, according to a recent article from the Times of London. The rail line could cut the travel time between the two cities down to about 6 hours. The system will also be able to connect with the high speed rail operating between Paris and London, slashing the travel time between the British capital and Madrid down to about 8 hours. The new line will be jointly run by the state rail operators of France and Spain, and could be completed in time to transport Spanish fans to the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

But in the U.S., big projects like that are few and far between right now, as the economic recession continues to pound government agencies. Citizens are also feeling the pinch, and the loss of jobs, property and assets are causing some to radically rethink their lifestyles. A recent piece in the Wall Street Journal looked at the increasing trend of urbanites and suburbanites ditching their city digs and heading out to greener acres. Some simply want to get out of the urban sprawl their homes had handcuffed them to, while others are seeking a greater investment opportunity in rural land. Some are simply purchasing the land at low prices as a fallback property in case things get even worse. Though there is a variety of inspirations driving these “ruralpolitans” out to the countryside, the common thread among them all is an uncertainty about the economy and a hope for a viable future – even if it is out in the sticks.

But for the most part, urban areas are not draining out. In fact, many are gaining population, and officials at both the city and federal levels are hoping to keep that trend up. One method being suggested in Congress is to expand funding for urban park project. According to a recent article from the Gotham Gazette, a congressmember from New Jersey has proposed a bill that would boost urban parks funding for the first time in 8 years. A variety of other programs and partnerships are also emphasizing the drawing power of urban parkspace and outdoor amenities. These officials are hoping that such civic improvements will improve the quality of life and populations of America’s urban areas.