Odd but necessary bedfellows: Economic Engines & Neighborhood Empowerment

Definitions are in order:

What’s an ecomomic engine?

  • Large projects that generate significant tax revenues, jobs, highly visibly physical improvments. These are signature projects that “put a community on the map”, generate community pride/purpose/identity. Back in the day it was the auto industry for Detroit, the steel industry for Pittsburgh, the insurance industry for Hartford CT. Nowadays, it’s computer industry for Silicon Valley and San Francisco, Seattle, etc. Back in the day, it was a deep water port for shipping (i.e. NYNY), train station (i.e., Chicago and many mid-western and western cities), Interstate highway system (i.e., where the exit/entrance ramps appeared, so did the development).
  • It’s the projects that generate positive ROI (return on investment). It’s the projects that make economic sense and serve a purpose and fill a need. It’s NOT the boondoggles (i.e, the olympic stadiums that now lie idle, the bridges to nowhere, the projects grounded on the wishfull thinking that “if we build it, they will come” and they never came).

What’s Neighborhood Empowerment?

  • It’s when the neighborhood residents do not get displaced (or at least if there is transitions and relocations, there are adequate compensations).
  • It’s when the neighborhood residents are partners in development, have a voice, provide input and there is measurable improvement in their quality of live (i.e., lower crime, improved physical appearance, etc.)

So who are the “odd bedfellows” and how might there be a copasetic relationship?

  • Consider Tax Increment Financing for every economic engine project so that the tax revenues generated by this successful project are plowed back into the immediately surrounding neighborhood (affordable housing, education, community based policing, restorative justice/violence mitigation, etc.). Consider the above scenario building out in concentric rings of improvement so that there is a direct connection between the economic engine and areas immediately impacted by the development. In sum, replace the tank like jaugernaut method of economic engines with a synergistic chugging forward by the economic engine. If not going down the Tax Increment Financing route, consider establishment of a Special Taxing District where taxes raised within the “district” are plowed back into the area to address the needs of that area. To paraphrase the slogan of Berger King, this financing formula would be akin to “having it your way” so everybody remains happy.
  • Consider a direct correlation between what each bedfellow needs. They both need safety/security, domonstrable visual improvement, sense of pride and purpose. There needs to be a “life-raft” mentality where each needs the other rather than the traditionally combattive relationship that sets up a have’s vs. have-nots relationship.
  • Consider the consequence/compassion (tough love) matrix that permeates this proposal and my blogs. The consequence is the economic engine delivering economic success. The neighbrhood delivers stability and security. The compassion is the economic engine plowing back revenues into the surrounding neighborhood. The compassion is the neighborhood finally feeling like a valued partner rather than a competitor. As I type this I become starry eyed as I “feel the love”.

So that’s my suggestion after 30+ years working in the community development, economic development, community organizing, and afforable housing fields seeing what works and what does not.

As always, let me know your ideas and look for more proposals in my blogs that fall withing the heading of “Manifesto of Big Ideas”. (my kids hate if when I use the term “manifesto” but I assure them that I express it with no ill-intent)

Published by dunnwriteswell

Boomer who is late bloomer to writing. Healthy addictions include Book TV and exercise. Track all things historic, political, cultural, economic and social. Mixture of tough-love. Minimalist who is fiscally conservative and socially progressive. Realist not afraid to see the glass as half empty. However, still willing to consider outside-the-box, long term solutions to seemingly intractable problems. Old enough to appreciate the greater arc of history while remaining young at heart.

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