Thursday, January 08, 2015

Without warranty of community benefits, meaner streets can follow urban growth

"From the looks of things, Stringer Bell's worse than a drug dealer .... He's a developer."
-- The Wire (HBO)
No, not all developers can be compared to drug dealers. However, the point I take from the exchange between police detectives in the wildly popular HBO series, The Wire, is that a cartel of real estate growth and development exists that can displace people and destroy communities faster and more efficiently in pursuit of self-seeking ends than any black market ever could, precisely because the former is legal and planned with the blessing of powerful politicians. Legitimacy allows developers to distance from the more jarring and damaging effects of growth they cause local communities.

Whether or not individual developers act responsibly is no counterbalance to an economic system that steamrolls over democratic process and rarely delivers benefits to the degree promised, even when the scale used is trickle-down.

Attempts to balance the power of land development syndicates with the interests and common goods of local communities are uphill battles.

Even in places outside Nashville where meaningful attempts are being made to check the snowballing power of the real estate industry, bolstered by government giveaways, the sledding is tough:

Backers of a controversial proposal to impose new rules on developers looking for a Detroit public subsidy are counting on support from the small business community to combat the notion that the rules would be harmful to the city's growth.

The small business community's help could be critical as Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones prepares to reignite the debate early next year over the proposed community benefits ordinance, which Mayor Mike Duggan, the Detroit Regional Chamber and the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation oppose.

The small-business effect on the debate was evident earlier this month when the Michigan Black Chamber of Commerce, which represents thousands of neighborhood businesses in Detroit, joined the fight to block an attempt during state lawmakers' lame duck session to preemptively ban Detroit or other cities from passing a community benefits ordinance ....

The proposed community benefits ordinance would require certain developers seeking a tax break from the city or other public subsidy to enter into an agreement with community members that could address local hiring, environmental impacts and other community concerns.

Accountability is "controversial."

Of course, Detroit's "growth" lobby groups oppose any attempt to demand public accountability for developers receiving tax dollars, because accepting responsibility for their actions and being held to standards equals "higher costs and red tape." How can taxpayers claw back any of their revenues when developers fail to deliver if some sticks are not written into law with all of these carrots?

Nashville neighborhoods could use protective legislation like a community benefits ordinance. However, with a Mayor and current Metro Council exclusively obsessed with economic development over public infrastructure, such an ordinance would never enter the equation.

And then there are the local developers and construction companies who keep lobbying, financing and pressuring the already compliant politicos:

Metro Councilwoman Erica Gilmore wants to impose new rules barring construction louder than a certain decibel, between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. [in Midtown].

For the time being, Gilmore has tabled her bill in reaction to complaints from builders and developers. They're taken aback by the bill, arguing that the proposed restrictions would cost them money, make their projects take longer to finish — and be more disruptive because they'd have to do more during the daytime traffic.

Gilmore said she's fielding a growing number of complaints from residents of buildings in Midtown and SoBro, and on Church Street, who say construction is disrupting their sleep.

But CM Gilmore is also getting complaints from the big hotel chains who have to comp their guests for late night noise from the construction sites where their competitors plan to locate. If this were anything but a thunder battle between competing stone giants (don't forget the nearby penthouse condo owners), I doubt it would get as much attention. Your average urban residential community is usually outflanked and defused by now.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not sure Detroit is either a great example, or anything Nashville could learn from (on the positive side). I certainly wouldn't trust anyone in Detroit today who has had any sort of power or decision-making power in the last 20 years.,MI

    All that said...Gilmore's initiative should be supported. People who actually live and work here should get preference in day-to-day living over people who want to do work here or who might, someday live here.