One of my best friend’s recently passed away. She was my wife’s best friend going back to her high school days. Wonderful person who will be sorely missed. Taken too soon at an early age of 65 by a rare disease. The elephant in this sorrowful room is the onward march of time. Our generation is passing. Hopefully, ever so slowly and gracefully.
This got me to thinking about my own career and life. So I’m dedicating this blog to Sue. It’s the type of conversation we shared at one of the many picnics we had at her house.
Let’s start with career reflections:
In my former life as a community organizer, I always thought that with sufficient organizing, most if not all issues, could be addressed. I still have confidence in organizing but the last couple of years and my post-election fears raise some doubts. If a pandemic can not unite us and the carnage of mass shootings can not bring about a consensus that “enough is enough”, I’m wondering WHAT WILL? My sense is that the enemy of organizing and progress is apathy and distraction. Too many persons have given up on having opinions, given up on trusting trusted news sources and given up thinking long term. It’s easier to tune into banal distractions rather than tackling issues head on. It’s become easier to tweet shout.
- In my former life as a city planner/economic developer, I worked hard on what I now call “the trimmings”. These are endeavors that included marketing campaigns, streetscape improvements, banners, plantings, antique streetlights, and brick paving’s. All good stuff. But I’ve come to realize that much time, energy and money was spent “nibbling at the edge of real changes”. Looking back, it’s the economic engine that should drive the train of change. Ports created cities because of deep water and sheltered harbors. Towns/cities spring up where the train station and the interstate cloverleaf was situated. Cities declined and disappeared where the train did not stop or the interchange was not built. Gold rush boom towns became ghost towns when the mine closed. Same shrinkage occurred when the oil, coal and any other consumable asset was depleted. Those who did not diversify usually declined and died off economically and physically. Diversification is the key to success on a personal, local, state, national and international level. This is why I have come around to the belief that in the world of economic development, it’s all about the combo of infrastructure and demand. Without demand, your infrastructure can become “a bridge to nowhere”. For example, creating a network of magnetic levitation high speed rail lines with strategically located stations generates far more bang for your buck than incremental, well-intentioned baby step attempts at revitalization. Same scenario could also be applied to a high speed ferry/hover craft system. Same scenario could be applied to a high speed, fully integrated tech system where all work/school and entertainment was done remotely. Good for environment (less commuting, less wasteful building). Good for pandemic mitigation (both the one we’re currently in and the inevitable next one). Good for personal safety in what is becoming a very hostile, polarized world of increasing poverty. This focusing on critical mass occurred to me as I observed a deteriorated industrial building on the waterfront. Intriguing building with strong bones in a location with great potential. However, nearby were two topless joints in a severely deteriorated, crime infested area with no clear path or plan for revitalization. I and fellow investors would not want to be the ‘lone ranger” sinking hard earned dollars into a potentially hopeless endeavor with no overarching demand for re-use.
- In my former life as an affordable housing advocate and property manager working in non-profits, low-income housing tax credit developments and housing authorities, I offer the following suggestions: Stop the cat and mouse paperwork/regulatory madness of qualifying for subsidized housing and re-certifying to retain this housing
- Consider focusing on a UBI (Uniform Basic Income, $1,000/month) and let people shop in the private market for housing. The affordable housing development takes too much time, money and resources providing too little housing. If the reason for unaffordability is the high cost of the land, then have the government buy the land creating a long term land lease so the cost of renting or owning (if a condo) are kept affordable for a designated period of time. Recommend a one-and-done format of income verifications. Certify them as low-moderate income initially and be done with it. Again, I use my own experience in support of this KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) approach to policy planning and implementation. Reflecting on my own experience, I had the good fortune many years ago of getting a full scholarship to NYU and got a graduate degree in Urban Planning. It was a one-time opportunity. Did I make the most of this opportunity? Yes, in terms of having a career in that field. No, in terms of getting rich, but that’s not the point. What’s important is the fact that I was given an opportunity that changed my life for the better. This was not a recurring event. I did not have to reapply for scholarships and re-certify as done for programs such as Section 8 in housing, public assistance/welfare, food stamps, etc. It was simple. One and done. Maybe we should simplify the process of providing opportunities so it’s less bureaucratic, less demoralizing for participants and less of a financial sink hole for taxpayers. Get one bite of the financial apple to launch you and it’s up to you if you chose to squander it.
That’s some of my realignment of perspectives based on work/life experiences. I guess it really is true that some old dogs can learn new tricks.