Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Oh, what friends developers have in Metro

Developers already have an advantage over neighborhood leaders. Part of income depends on spending time with Metro government attending meetings and seeking approval. Generally, community leaders are not paid to be advocates for their neighborhoods. They have other jobs. They cannot always attend meetings where developers meet with other people who are also paid to deal with the development process, namely, bureaucrats.

But the bureaucrats, encouraged by the Mayor and Metro Council members Jerry Maynard and Eric Crafton (all of whom were flush with development campaign contributions in the 2007 election cycle) are moving to make it even easier for developers to come in and build as efficiently as possible. Well, democracy is often inefficient. Including people who have a stake in what developers drop into neighborhoods can eat up time if time is reduced only to money, but inclusion is at least as worthy a goal as efficiency.

So, when I read that developer-friendly elected officials are pressuring the system to be more efficient for developers, and when I see a Mayor's Office that downplays the role of neighborhood associations in civic affairs, what reason do I have to welcome that news? I'm not a developer, and I've watched my share of developers develop irresponsibly. If the system fails to make the process better for neighborhood feedback while it is becoming more efficient, how does that help me?

CM Maynard puts the changes in terms of "incentivizing infill and workforce housing in blighted urban areas." However, he says nothing about the quality of the infill or the diligence needed to build something that does not trade long-term sustainability for a short-term bump in real estate values and developer profit margins. I doubt that the campaign contributions he got from advocates of the quality and diligence rival his take from path-of-least-resistance developers.

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