Friday, March 23, 2012

The Curse of Musburger and the Green Value of Vibrant Downtowns

Since it is college basketball tournament time it is also time to re-visit the Curse of Musburger. Hunter S. Thompson identified the curse years ago in the column linked above. Here is how he described it:
That is when Musburger changed the language of sports forever when he kept repeating this ignorant notion that any basketball player firing off a long 3-point shot is shooting from "downtown." (Celtics announcer Johnny Most might have coined the "downtown" trademark in the 1960s, but it was Musburger who beat it to death.)

 I still hear in my dreams his wild gibberish every time Michael Cooper or Dennis Johnson drilled one of those long flat-line 3-pointers. "From way downtown!" Brent would scream. "Another one from Downtown!"
It drove me mad then -- & it still does every time some fool blurts it out. It was quickly picked up and adopted by a whole generation of half-bright TV commentators every night of the bloody season. It has become part of the Lexicon now, & it will not be easy to correct. In gyms & Coliseums all over America (even in Greece or Korea), wherever basketball as we know it is played, there will be some howling Jackass braying, "From way downtown! Another 3-pointer! Is this a great country, or what?"

It is the Curse of Musburger.

"Going downtown" has more than one meaning -- from going to work at 66 Wall St. in New York to rape in Alcatraz -- but it always means a busy place, for good or ill. The Random House Historical dictionary of American Slang, says it's "where the action is" -- a noisy, crowded place with many intersections & tall buildings & freaky-looking strangers.
Never mind that for most of the years that Musburger prattled on about "downtown" many downtowns were empty, less than active places. But downtowns are back! Or at least some are, and more should be for economic and environmental reasons. In a new report by Matthew J. Holian and Matthew E. Kahn (published by the Mineta Transportation Institute) the authors put some empirical meat on Hunter Thompson's observations, and add that in addition to being where the action is, going downtown helps cities be green:
Policy makers across the country are keenly interested in reducing emissions from driving and increasing public transit use. A large literature has documented that urban sprawl is associated with more driving and less public transit use, suggesting land-use policy might be effective in achieving these objectives. This report corroborates previous studies by using the most recent data to quantify the relationship between urban form and urban transportation patterns; however, the existing literature provides policy makers little guidance on how to reverse sprawl and achieve lower emissions. One potentially important variable, which has largely been ignored in the literature, is the vibrancy of the urban core. A vibrant urban core may plausibly affect both land-use and transportation patterns. Thus a key question remains: Can policy makers promote green cities through fostering a vibrant center core?

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