TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: October 16

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Accountability in education is essential and non-negotiable, and testing works. Just not in reading.

By Robert Pondiscio in Flypaper from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute

2. Carbon capture technology is costly, but could be an interim solution for climate change. And a carbon tax could pay for it.

By David Biello in Yale Environment 360

3. Immersive public art is improving lives and safety in one Detroit neighborhood — and serving as a model for other communities.

By Anna Clark in High Ground News

4. Presidential pool reporters are circulating their own news reports to bypass pressure from the White House Press Office.

By Paul Farhi in the Washington Post

5. Unregulated campaign cash and elected judges together undermine the independence of our judiciary.

By Norm Ornstein in The Atlantic

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY Budgeting

Guess Which U.S. City Is the Most Expensive

141014_REA_EXPENSIVELIVING
Nikreates—Alamy

Hint: It's not NYC.

On average, American households spend the largest share of their annual expenditures on housing. The average family spends $16,887 on housing per year, equating to 33% of the average household’s annual expenditures. But how much do those expenses vary from city to city, and which places are the most expensive?

Well, the Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released a report (link opens PDF) detailing Americans’ average annual expenditures on housing and related items. And contrary to popular belief, New York City is not the most expensive city to live in. Two U.S. cities have overtaken it.

A breakdown of housing costs

The BLS took a deep dive into all the costs of housing, rather than simply comparing the cost of rent or average mortgage payments. Their analysis also took into account utilities (electric, water, and natural gas), household furnishings and equipment (textiles, furniture, floor coverings, appliances, and the like), housekeeping supplies, and other household expenses. What they found was that average annual expenditures on housing were far higher in both Washington, D.C., and San Francisco than in New York.

most-expensive-city-no-longer-nyc_large
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The data is current as of 2012, and housing costs in the District of Columbia and San Francisco have risen since then. In D.C., the rise in housing costs is being led by the redevelopment and gentrification of the downtown area, which in turn is being triggered by the high relative number of government and government-related jobs, particularly in the defense contracting sector. Baby boomers are also moving from the suburbs into the city.

In San Francisco, housing costs have always been high, but they’re spiking because of a confluence of factors. The continued boom in technology companies in Silicon Valley — most notably Apple, Google, and Facebook — means that a growing cadre of high-paid employees want to live in the area. Add in a longtime lack of housing development in the city, and you have a rise in housing prices that has become a contentious issue in the San Francisco Bay area as longtime renters are priced out of the city. TechCrunch’s Kim-Mai Cutler provides a great, in-depth piece on San Francisco’s housing problem.

The difference in annual housing costs between the two most expensive cities and the national average is a staggering $10,000. Excluding New York City, the difference between the two most expensive cities and other major U.S. metropolitan areas is over $5,000 annually. If you’re thinking of moving, it’s smart to compare costs carefully before moving to one of the most expensive cities in the U.S.

National differences in housing cost

While the above data is just from major U.S. cities, we have other data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis showing the real value of housing dollars in each state compared with the national average.

real-value-of-housing_large

You can see that generally, coastal states are more expensive than non-coastal states, as many people enjoy living near the ocean. You can also see that the Northeast on average is more expensive than the rest of the country except for California. These high costs, coupled with better weather and low to no income taxes, are why many retirees move south to Florida, Texas, etc.

If considering moving to a more expensive city, you should be sure the benefits will be worth the extra expense. For instance, while I pay a high cost of living to live in New York City, the quality of life that I get in the city makes it well worth it, in my opinion. While New York state is ranked poorly in terms of the happiest states in the U.S., New York City is ranked in the top quartile by happiness among U.S. cities, according to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.

The most important thing is to live in a place where you are happy. While the main determinants of happiness are the same for everyone, the specifics vary. Be sure that an increased cost of living comes with an increased quality of life.

TIME cities

Detroit Pedestrian Bridge Collapses Across Major Highway

The Cathedral Road pedestrian bridge lies collapsed on the south M-39 highway after a truck hit it on Sept. 26, 2014, in Detroit.
The Cathedral Road pedestrian bridge lies collapsed on the south M-39 highway after a truck hit it on Sept. 26, 2014, in Detroit. Robert Allen—AP

Lions quarterback Matt Stafford was on the scene, mingling with others

Updated at 10:30 a.m.

A pedestrian bridge spanning a major freeway in Detroit collapsed Friday morning after it was struck by the bucket of a truck, killing the driver and causing a substantial traffic buildup.

The collapsed bridge on Joy Road spanning the Southfield freeway blocked traffic in both directions. No further injuries have been reported stemming from the incident.

Detroit Lions Quarterback Matthew Stafford was among the last drivers to pass under the bridge before it crashed to the ground. He was seen mingling with other onlookers amid the wreckage.

A spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Transportation, Diane Cross, told CBS Local news “it’s an older bridge” but The Detroit Free Press reports the bridge passed inspection just last May.

[CBS Local]

TIME Automobiles

GM Lawyer Increases Death Toll From Recalled Cars

General Motors CEO Mary Barra Testifies Before Senate Committee About GM's Recalls
Attorney Kenneth Feinberg testifies during a hearing before the Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee July 17, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The subcommittee held hearing on "Examining Accountability and Corporate Culture in Wake of the GM Recalls." Alex Wong—Getty Images

The figure has now been raised to 19 and is expected to go even higher

A lawyer for General Motors has raised the number of eligible compensation claims for deaths related to defective ignition switches in millions of recalled cars.

The death toll from the recalled cars is 19, not 13, as GM had originally indicated. That’s according to an assessment released Monday by GM lawyer Kenneth R. Feinberg, who manages a compensation program for accident victims and surviving families.

The Detroit-based automaker in February recalled more than 2 million of its cars after it acknowledged that switches in the vehicles were prone to shifting, cutting the engine’s power and deactivating airbags and other safety systems. The company had previously said it believed that the faulty switches had led to 13 deaths.

GM has given Feinberg “complete and sole discretion over all compensation awards,” and has waived its right to disagree with his numbers, the company has said. GM said on Monday that it accepts the new, higher assessment of the death toll, Bloomberg reports.

“Ken Feinberg and his team will independently determine the final number of eligible individuals,” a spokesman for GM told Bloomberg. “What is most important is that we are doing the right thing for those who lost loved ones and for those who suffered physical injury.”

GM has so far received 125 death claims, and it is not known how many of those claims might be found eligible in the coming weeks or months. The auto giant is expected to receive even more claims before its Dec. 31 deadline.

GM has also received 58 claims for serious injuries, including brain damage, pervasive burns, double amputation, paraplegia and quadriplegia. Four of those claims have been deemed eligible. Another 262 claims have been received for lesser injuries that required hospitalization or outpatient treatment, eight of which have been accepted.

GM has said its compensation program has no cap and that it will pay any sum that Feinberg “deems appropriate in each and every individual case.” In July, it said it had allocated between $400 million and $600 million for the fund, though it has not yet said how much each individual claim so far approved is worth.

TIME cities

Detroit May Finally Get Rid of Its Soda Can Emergency Alert System

Several tech companies have reached out to the city's underfunded fire department offering to replace its Faygo can alerts

The soda can acting as the Detroit Fire Department’s emergency alert system may finally get tossed.

Several tech companies have reached out to the city’s underfunded fire department following a Detroit Free Press story and video showing firefighters receiving emergency alerts by placing a Faygo can filled with coins and screws atop their fax machine. When a fax is received, the can falls and rattles, alerting nearby firefighters of an emergency.

“I just could not believe it,” George Faucher, president and CEO of computer software company CorreLog, told the Free Press. “I thought it was a joke at first.”

It did become a joke after being featured on Comedy Central’s Colbert Report this week. “It’s pretty silly,” Detroit firefighter Paul Fillmore says in the clip. “And if you’re not in the room to hear it, you could be in trouble.”

According to the Free Press, seven software companies have offered to donate modern-day emergency alert systems to the department. Faucher told the newspaper that the $10,000 system, which his company would donate, would be “a thousand times better than a Coke can falling over.”

TIME U.S.

A Plan to Fix All of America’s Detroits

Water Shutoffs Resume In Detroit
A worker from Homrich turns off water supply to a home August 27, 2014 in Detroit, Michigan. The Detroit Water and Sewer Department have disconnected water to thousands of Detroit residents who are delinquent with their bills. Joshua Lott—Getty Images

Municipal distress and bankruptcy isn’t a local problem – it’s a national one

A bankruptcy hearing opened Tuesday in the Motor City, and the fate of that great city and others suffering like it will soon come into clearer focus.

What is not fully appreciated, however, is that the conditions triggering Detroit’s decline – a cash flow crisis generated by state funding slashed by state legislators, and from the city’s dwindling population, predatory lending to municipalities and homeowners, and suburbanization without equitable regional planning – are present in scores of other municipalities.

Municipal distress and bankruptcy isn’t a local problem – it’s a national one. It is not brought on by inadequate municipal governance or local mismanagement.

A majority of our country’s cities experience some form of financial distress. More than two dozen American cities find themselves in bankruptcy and receivership. Furthermore, state appointment of emergency managers, who lead a city’s restructuring plan, displace democratically elected local officials. In Michigan, a majority of the state’s residents of color—mostly African Americans—have been disenfranchised by living in cities shaped by emergency managers. Assessing the technical merit of emergency manager decisions is not relevant. In a democracy, the question centers on who decides.

Our ongoing project, Beyond Bankruptcy: Regional Economic Equity, has brought together experts and community organizers to examine Detroit’s status and assess the struggles of similar cities. At this time, the inquiry has led to a three-pronged prescription to ease Detroit’s ills now and on how to raise aspirations for its future. A fairer and more sustainable plan for Detroit is not limited to these three proposals below, but they underscore the need for greater creativity and raising the bar for policy outcomes.

First, the city currently manages the water and sewer system and is exploring two options for restructuring: turning operational control over to the newly formed regional authority and/or privatization. However, city management of this asset is key to Detroit’s long-term fiscal health, and the value of its service, if restructured, could financially support other city services. It merits far more attention than it has received to date.

Second, a novel implementation of a city’s power of eminent domain can be an antidote to financially distressed communities. The foreclosure crisis and the great recession have destabilized many cities and significantly contributed to municipal insolvency. They have lowered property values, reduced municipal revenue from property taxes and imposed an additional financial burden for municipalities dealing with vacant properties. In the Detroit metro area, for example, 28% of the homes are underwater; in the city of Detroit, the figure is 47%.

In our proposed application of “reverse” eminent domain, the city becomes the party acquiring the mortgage notes in a trade typically occurring exclusively among financial institutions. The city acquires the mortgage note at fair market value using reverse eminent domain. In turn, the city refinances the new loan with lower monthly payments. All the while, the homeowner remains in the home, benefiting from this novel form of refinancing.

Richmond, Calif., has unveiled a plan to exercise eminent domain in a way that would reduce homeowners’ monthly mortgages, which are underwater by about $700 million in 2013. The Detroit Free Press recently reported on the housing system in Detroit—72,000 homes in Detroit have faced foreclosure since the great recession, and 50,000 more are at risk in Detroit and Wayne County. These figures and the burden placed on communities and residents of color, underscore the need to build equity and fairness through any future housing plan. Currently, the Detroit Blight Removal Task Force and the Detroit Future City plan lacks sufficient attention to city planning and lacks any attention to a regional focus that may leverage and attend to metro area resources. Instead the plan’s focus on blight removal and city-level planning can entrench Detroit’s isolation. Reverse eminent domain can ameliorate this housing crisis and stabilize communities.

Finally, the legality of certain financial products carrying unreasonable risk and marketed to multiple municipalities should be brought before the courts. The use of interest rate swaps and other municipal finance products extends far beyond Detroit and significantly contributes to municipal distress. To date, there have been limited challenges to the enforcement of contract terms associated with these instruments. Should these financial products be found illegal, cities may recover hundreds of millions of dollars already paid to banks, in addition to being relieved of any obligations to pay onerous termination fees. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes has suggested this is a probable outcome from a legal challenge in Detroit. Going forward, the financial mechanisms and decisions surrounding risk management at the municipal scale must be dramatically reformed. Structural change is required for structural problems.

Cities can take actions to create equity and healthy outcomes during the most distressing financial conditions. These corrective measures can mitigate the drivers of municipal insolvency and bankruptcy. These steps can forge innovative private and public partnerships and create an equitable economic, cultural and social environment for all residents.

Someday soon, we want Detroit to be synonymous with urban recovery, resilience and a pathway to a better urban future.

Ponsella Hardaway is Executive Director of Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Empowering Strength, based in Detroit. Peter Hammer is Executive Director of the Keith Center for Civil Rights at Wayne State University, where he is also Professor of Law. John Powell is Executive Director of the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society and Professor of Ethnic Studies, African-American Studies and Law at the University of California, Berkeley.

TIME nation

Detroit: America’s Emerging Market

How the city can teach us to reinvest the rest of the U.S. economy

In August, a year after I wrote a TIME cover story on Detroit’s bankruptcy, I visited Motown again. This time I found myself reporting on a remarkable economic resurgence that could become a model for other beleaguered American communities. Even as Detroit continues to struggle with blight and decline–more than 70,500 properties were foreclosed on in the past four years, and basic public services like streetlights and running water are still spotty in some areas–its downtown is booming, full of bustling restaurants, luxury lofts, edgy boutiques and newly renovated office buildings.

The city struck me as a template for much of the postcrisis U.S. economy–thriftier, more entrepreneurial and nimble. Many emerging-market cities, from Istanbul to Lagos to Mumbai, share similar characteristics, good and bad. The water might be off on Detroit’s perimeter, but migrants are flooding into its center, drawn by lower-cost housing and a creative-hive effect that’s spawned a host of new businesses.

Much of the resurgence has been led by Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert, who a few years back decided to relocate his company’s headquarters downtown, moving from the suburbs to take advantage of the city’s postcrisis “skyscraper sales,” as well as the growing desire of young workers to live in urban hubs. “If I wanted to attract kids from Harvard or Georgetown, there was no way it was going to happen in a suburb of Detroit, where you’re going to walk on asphalt 200 yards to your car in the middle of February and have no interaction with anyone in the world except who’s in your building,” says Gilbert, 52.

Since 2010, Gilbert has created 6,500 new jobs downtown, bought up tens of thousands of square feet of cheap real estate and brought in 100 new business and retail tenants, including hot firms like Twitter, as well as a bevy of professional-services firms. Lowe Campbell Ewald, one of General Motors’ advertising agencies, recently moved back downtown after years in the suburbs, citing better client-recruitment possibilities there. Companies of all types are catering to a growing number of young entrepreneurs who are making the most of cheap real estate (Quicken subsidizes rents and mortgages) and local talent (southern Michigan still has one of the nation’s highest concentrations of industrial-product designers) to create new businesses. For instance, there’s Chalkfly, a dotcom that sells office and school supplies online, and Shinola, the cult-hit watch company that advertises $600 timepieces as “made in Detroit.” Their success is already raising rents–per-square-foot rates have doubled in the past four years–and bringing in tony retail brands like Whole Foods.

The question now is how to spread the prosperity. The answer starts with better public transportation. Motown has always been a disaster in this respect. It used to be that nobody wanted to go downtown; now nobody wants to leave. The M-1 Rail, a new public-private streetcar due to be completed in 2016, aims to link neighborhoods. GM, Penske, Quicken and other firms are contributing the majority of its $140 million cost, and the rail will be donated back to the city within a few years. Studies show that a similar project in Portland, Ore., has generated six times its cost in economic development. In the past few months, officials from New Orleans and Miami have visited Detroit to study the project.

Reinventing Detroit’s manufacturing sector is the next step. That means connecting the dots between the public and private sectors, businesses and universities, and large and small firms. Detroit’s old industrial model was top-down: the Big Three dictated terms to thousands of suppliers, who did what they were told. The new model will be more collaborative. Many of the innovations in high-tech materials, telematics and sensors are happening on campuses or at startups, with the aid of groups like the Michigan Economic Development Corp. The University of Michigan has become a test bed for driverless cars. A new federally funded $148 million high-tech manufacturing institute just opened in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood.

One could imagine the automakers playing a key role in this resurgence by investing more broadly in local innovation, via their own venture-capital arms. Ford, which acquired a local digital-radio technology startup last fall, is beginning to do just that. It would provide a much needed injection of cash into the city’s innovation economy and offer the automakers a new line of business.

Ultimately, it will take all that and more to ensure that Detroit’s downtown rebirth grows into a boom that is more broadly shared.

TIME Travel

10 Things To Do Wherever You Are

Businesswoman with suitcase in airport
Getty Images

Traveling this holiday weekend? Whether you’re headed to New York or San Francisco, Singapore or Tokyo, we’ve put together a list of your destination’s must-see attractions and activities. So if you want to hit the tourist hotspots, or if you prefer to see how the locals live, these ideas will make your Labor Day planning a bit less laborious:

TIME weather

Heavy Flooding in Detroit Leaves 1 Dead, Tens of Thousands Without Power

Historic flooding in Motor City contributed to at least 1 death and knocked out power grids, with more rain expected

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