Let’s Take Advantage of The Bad Times

With city budgets shrinking rapidly, municipal governments are desperate to collect property tax revenue wherever they can find it. So they are moving to fast-track new, large development projects that […]

With city budgets shrinking rapidly, municipal governments are desperate to collect property tax revenue wherever they can find it. So they are moving to fast-track new, large development projects that can bring an infusion of new revenue, construction jobs and as other community benefits. It may be economic stimulus, but neighborhood activists are worried about the negative impact of rushing to develop.

Some legislators have listened to their constituents, and are doing what they can to slow down this runaway train. In Boston, a state representative filed a bill recently to prevent a 47-story tower from casting shadows over one of the city’s most recognizable public spaces — Copley Square. Meanwhile, a city councilor told a local newspaper he’d like to see more careful review of small development projects, such as a one-floor addition to a two-family house, even if the projects are allowed by the local zoning to proceed without that review. If the project doesn’t meet the standards residents have set for their neighborhoods, the city could refuse to issue a building permit.

I haven’t had a chance to read the fine print in the proposed economic stimulus package weaving its way through Congress. But clearly what municipal leaders want is more short-term economic development and less long-term planning. There has been quite a bit of outcry among those who see Obama using the stimulus package to do things that won’t really stimulate the economy at all in the very short term. Things like building a green jobs economy, very noble goals but not exactly “shovel-ready.”

It is just this sort of economic slowdown that presents an opportunity for neighborhood activists to put their heads together and create long-term plans for the development they want. When everybody had credit, development seemed unstoppable, it was a deluge. Now municipal leaders are drowning in red ink and they wish Washington would turn the spigot back on. But just as the new administration has lofty goals of changing the economy for the long term, cities and towns should take this down time to do the same at the local level. Throwing money at more of the same kind of development that was thrown up during the housing bubble, without concern for the irreversible negative impacts, seems pretty foolish.

Related Articles

  • An ancient mural of a female deity, in tones of green and rust/brick, with some blue. Her face is green, her eyes wide open and staring, and her hands held out to the sides. She wears an elaborate headdress made of feathers with a birdlike visage on it.

    A (Much) Older Example of Social Housing Than Vienna

    April 19, 2024

    History often feels like a depressing account of the worst things people can do to each other. But a recent book contains reminders that nothing is inevitable, and sometimes people have done better than we’re doing now—even in terms of housing and social equity.

  • Roadside sign in red and blue print on white background reads "Welcome to the/Red Lake Nation/NW Angle MN/Home of the Red Lake Band/of Chippewa Indians. The sign is hung on two wooden stanchions set into the grassy roadside. Behind it in the distance is a thick stand of tall straight trees, possibly poplars. Behind the trees in the sky is a puffy cloud, in a sky of blue.

    Tribal-Sponsored Development Offers Housing and More in Minneapolis

    April 12, 2024

    A hub for health care, social services, and community, the Mino-Bimaadiziwin apartments meet the unique needs of urban Native Americans while enriching the surrounding community.

  • The exterior of a building, with lettering that reads "Resistencia" with a mural of a fist extending upward.

    Trying to Transform Squats into Public Housing in São Paulo

    April 5, 2024

    In São Paulo, vacant housing units outnumber the unhoused, 12 times over. Across the city, residents have responded by seizing abandoned buildings to turn them into affordable housing. Will the government step up to convert these buildings into public housing?