Could Closing the ‘Corporate Inversion’ Loophole Rebuild America’s Infrastructure?

With Burger King and Tim Hortons moving forward with a merger that would shift the American fast-food chain’s headquarters to Canada, a new wave of conversation has come up about a practice used by many corporations to avoid paying U.S. taxes. The tactic is called ‘corporate inversions’ and it is estimated that the practice costs America a lot of money. But what if some kind of program could be set up that would allow companies to bring that money back home while also allowing them to see a more direct return? More from Next City:

One could imagine Apple and Facebook would be very interested in helping speed up the creation of a high-speed rail system that connects San Francisco to Los Angeles. That Coca-Cola and Starbucks would see the value in improving the country’s water infrastructure. Or that Ford and GM would see the benefit in better roads and bridges.

Currently the stockpile of cash held abroad to avoid American taxes is estimated to be $1.95 trillion. What if instead those profits were brought back to the U.S. with a percentage invested in infrastructure? At just two percent, this deal could pay for all of the country’s currently deferred maintenance.

How to Reimagine Our Streets Around the Concept of Shared Space

CNU22 featured speakers from all over the world, from Bogotá to Toronto to Brighton. One plenary speaker from Bristol moved the audience with an idea called Shared Space that was beautifully simple and innovative, yet entirely new to most of the crowd.

Ben Hamilton-Baillie is a British urban designer, “recovering” architect and self-taught in the area of transportation planning. His presentation focused on explaining Shared Space as an urban design technique that can alleviate the frequently problematic interface between pedestrians, cyclists, automobiles and the public realm.

As the name would suggest, Shared Space advances the idea that streets themselves can be a seamless part of public space that is shared by all users. The method came from the Netherlands, where Hamilton-Baillie studied under transportation engineer Hans Monderman and Joost Váhl, who developed the Dutch woonerfs where pedestrians and cyclists have priority on roadways.

The concept also integrates a thoughtful assessment of human psychology as it relates to driving. “It’s essential to understand the changing view of the nature of risk,” Hamilton-Baillie explained. “Hazards keep us aware of our environment and allow us to adapt our behavior.”

This seems counter-intuitive, but it was effectively explained through an example of two cities in the Tel Aviv region of Israel.

Bnei-Brak, located east of Tel Aviv, is composed of largely low-income, ultra-conservative Jews. Ramat-Gan, also located east of Tel Aviv, is home to a more moderate, middle-income Jewish population. Hamilton-Baillie explained that the people of Bnei-Brak are known throughout the region as being unruly pedestrians. Adults and children cross streets with disregard for traffic. Locals know that they must be vigilant when driving there.

Conversely, the residents of Ramat-Gan respect pedestrian rules, crosswalks, and jaywalk less frequently. Drivers are more at ease in Ramat-Gan.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, there is a higher instance of pedestrian fatality in Ramat-Gan. Drivers in Bnei-Brak tend to cautiously drive at lower speeds, aware that there is a greater risk of a pedestrian appearing in the road. One can see in this example that increased risk makes for more attentive drivers.

Shared Space utilizes risk in the form of mixing cyclists, pedestrians and motorists on streets, and relies on the idea that removing lines and signaling allows for social protocols to take over more strongly than signs. This, Hamilton-Baillie said, is called “friction”, or natural cues that guide a driver’s speed. There is already an increasing awareness in North America that things like narrow streets, street trees and buildings built to the right-of-way naturally induce drivers to reduce speed without a speed-limit.

One might think that this friction would create delays, but evidence from project implementation has found the opposite, as did Hans Monderman’s projects in the Netherlands. And post-project evaluations, like in Poynton, UK, have confirmed the efficacy of Shared Space designs.

Poynton is a city southeast of Manchester. It is a throughway for traffic between the two larger cities of Macclesfield and Stockport. In this instance, vehicles were found to be passing on the main thoroughfare at a rate of 26,000 per day, many of which were trucks. The initial approach to relieve congestion was the construction of additional lanes of traffic.

Shared Space, however, was applied as part of a regeneration scheme in Poynton. The first task for Hamilton-Baillie’s consultancy was to “remove every trace of traffic engineering.”

Three lanes of cars were reduced to one, signaling was removed, additional on-street parking was introduced, and sidewalks were widened. There was increased edge friction through vertical elements within the driver’s line of vision.

Even after the removal of two lanes and signals, traffic flow stayed the same and pedestrian traffic increased five-fold. Before the project, 16 of 32 shops in town were boarded up; but within one to two years after project completion, all shop spaces in the business district were occupied.

Streets were able to concurrently be part of Poynton public space and serve through traffic – the change in aesthetics was remarkable.

It is certain that freight and car movement is critical to the healthy functioning of any economy. This fact is not contested. But since civilizations started building cities, they have been venues for people to roam – sometimes at odds with our economic necessity to move people and goods through them quickly.

Fast big things and slow small things do not mix well.

Shared Space demonstrates that these seemingly incompatible users actually function better when mixed within the city fabric – cars move more fluidly when drivers are forced to react to their surroundings instead of their actions being dictated to them. People are safer, too.

The outcome is that streets become a different kind of public space, where mobility means interacting with one’s surroundings.

When asked if he thought famously impatient North American drivers could adapt to the concept, he paused for a moment and said, “Everywhere Shared Space has been applied, I was told that the drivers in the locale couldn’t adapt. In every case they did.”

OPINION: U.S. Trade Policy and Its Impact on Urban Economies

The United States has consistently run a trade deficit since the 1980s. In 2013, the trade deficit averaged a staggering $40 billion per month. While much of this deficit has to do with oil imports (which will be offset in coming years), the nature of the U.S. trade deficit is astounding.

The nations with whom the United States runs trade deficits, and in which products it runs them, defeats common sense and makes one severely question what, if any, trade strategy the United States is pursuing.

Take the United States’ trade relations with Mexico. Although the United States has a highly developed economy at the forefront of industrialized nations, America ran an almost $64 billion trade deficit with Mexico in 2012, and has consistently run a trade deficit with Mexico since 1995.

Looking closer is even more eye-opening. The three most-imported products from Mexico include electrical equipment, vehicles, and machinery. While our most-exported products to Mexico include machinery, electrical equipment, and mineral fuels – with vehicles in fourth – the U.S. still runs a deficit in every one of those products. The value of vehicles exported to the U.S. from Mexico ($54 billion) is more than double what the United States sends in vehicles to Mexico ($20 billion).

Of America’s 15 largest trading partners, the United States runs a trade deficit with all but two. Even if you remove states from which America’s trade deficit is skewed by oil imports (Canada, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela), the vast majority of trading partners enjoy a trade surplus in their relationship with the United States.

Overall, America runs trade deficits in peculiar industries such as machinery, electrical equipment, mineral fuels, vehicles (excluding rail), pharmaceutical products, and steel. In fact, some of the few heavy industries in which the United States runs surpluses are in aircraft and plastics.

Heavily industrialized and mature economies like that of the United States should be successful in the export of heavy manufactured items like those stated above. While competition with other industrialized nations like Germany is understandable, large trade deficits in manufactured products with economies much less-developed than America’s is perplexing, at best.

For cities with a history and a base in heavy manufacturing, like Chicago, Cincinnati and St. Louis, policies like these only continue to chip away at the economic health of large sectors of these urban areas.

While it is imperative for industrial cities like these to diversify, unnecessary degradation of well-paying, already-established industries is detrimental to the creation of metropolitan economies steeped not only in new-age tech industries but also in a healthy industrial sector.

Detroit Gets Free Bridge

While the jury is still out regarding the tolling of the Brent Spence Bridge here in the Cincinnati region, another bridge project in Detroit is moving forward with no cost to the local tax base. The federal government recently gave the state of Michigan approval to build the New International Trade Crossing Bridge, a $3.5 billion project that will be entirely funded by Canada. However; the project is not without complications as the new bridge will displace minority property owners and compete with another privately funded bridge up stream. More from NextCity:

Michigan technically isn’t paying for the land or anything having to do with the construction of the bridge. According to the June 2012 Crossing Agreement signed by Snyder and Canadian Transport Minister Denis Lebel, Canada has agreed to cover Michigan’s portion of the bill, amounting to roughly $550 million, a number that the U.S. Department of Transportation will match.

Essentially, Michigan gets a free bridge.

Episode #18: Immigrant-Friendly City

On the 18th episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, we’re joined by Alfonso Cornejo, President of the Cincinnati Hispanic Chamber, and Kristin Hoffman, and Immigration/Administration Lawyer with Hammond Law Group. We discuss city council’s recent motion to declare Cincinnati an “immigrant-friendly” city.

Mr. Cornejo explains how the Midwest is “stuck in the past” when it comes to immigration matters, and how city council’s motion helps improve the the city’s image. Ms. Hoffman describes some of the challenges immigrants face while trying to become citizens of the United States, and how new “path to citizenship” reforms could improve our nation’s economy. We also discuss the need to attract highly-skilled immigrants and retain international students after they graduate from the region’s top universities.