Wednesday, August 20, 2008

MTC Critics Elevate the Level of Debate

If you haven't had the opportunity to read some of the impressive debate over at PiTW on the May Town Center proposal, here are some highlights.

First, David Carlton asks that we not restrict the meaning of "economic development" to the pro-MTC side's narrow definition of luring corporations:
Might I suggest that a truly broad discussion of economic development should break out of this box by which "economic development" means "How can we get some big corporation to move here from somewhere else"? It reminds me all too much of traditional southern economic development strategy, which basically runs to "We don't really know how to create an industry ourselves, but we can locate some industry that's already created and promise them that they can do the same thing at a lower cost here--usually because it's a sufficiently mature industry that it doesn't need a lot of specialized support, which we can't offer them in any case." Usually, lower costs mean "cheap workers that won't cause any trouble because they're grateful for anything they can get," and "cheap government that will starve public services that don't directly benefit the business." I frankly think this sort of economic-development musical chairs [We grab from Memphis, Charlotte grabs from us, etc., etc.] is going to run up against serious limits. How about trying something like Silicon Valley's been doing for years--assemble a terrific human capital pool that'll go out and invent *new* industries? That's the role that cities have historically played in economic growth, and it typically requires, not self-contained corporate campuses that only need a freeway to the burbs and an airport, but a concentration of creative people--like we have in Music Row. Otherwise, Nashville is only a high-class version of Martin or Lawrenceburg--enticing other communities' businesses to move here, only to see them move elsewhere in response to even lower costs or even bigger bribes [How deep is Bud Adams's commitment to us? Yeah, right].
Another commenter underscores Richard Lawson's lack of evenhandedness in criticizing the Planning Commission for addressing the very economic criteria used to make the developers' case to them:
[I]f a project is going to be touted before the MPC as the silver bullet for economic development and tax revenue, then how is it inappropriate for planning commissioners to bring up the economic foundations of this project?

Furthermore, the commissioners themselves weren't the first ones to tiptoe into this territory. If you'd read the subarea plan, then you'd see that it's actually Bernhardt and the planning staff who set the precedent for being armchair economists. How city planners get to make suppositions about economic development -- that's the real question.

The sign of a small mind is someone who only sees the world in black and white (cue GW Bush). Like most issues, there's a world of gray in between the two sides on this one. Not all developers are evil; not all neighborhood types are NIMBY commies. If you did a little investigating, you'd see that many of the people who are concerned about this development -- from Dave Cooley to Mark Deutschmann -- have worked for (or are) developers themselves.

Isn't it possible that people are concerned with this because, well, it's just a sucky idea?

HT: Ben Poremski

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