Friday, January 30, 2015

The naivete of simply solving anything where power is concerned

From a local news story on where the mayoral candidates stand on gentrification and developer-driven growth:

"When the conversation can exist between a neighborhood and developers, good things happen at the end of the day," [Jeremy] Kane says, adding that the gentrification problem could be solved simply through better communication.

Well, yeah. But the trick is getting developers to the table in order to willingly negotiate and compromise on rezoning deals. Another trick is getting them to go beyond anything but what they are strictly required to do, which is a problem that plagues the question of affordable housing.

In my experience, I can think of a small number of developers who were proactive enough to launch the communication with the community. Many developers did not bother until they faced some outspoken community concerns or resistance to their plan (see, "We were moving smoothly until some guy blogged on us"). Once the threat of derailment due to transparency and organized opposition becomes real, they discover communication. I can think of only one who initiated conversation even though he was not seeking rezoning and thus did not have to. That is not a promising track record for those of us who want to make sure that the growth that occurs in neighborhoods compliments the character of the community in question.

So, the challenge is to broker power fairly, which is step beyond mere communication. However, I do not blame developers strictly for not seeing this. I also blame politicians in general and council members in particular (especially when the latter do not frame community engagement as the central part of the planning and zoning process).

"I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse."
Better communication depends on the willingness of developers and politicians to meet with neighborhood organizations and hash out mutual understanding. It's a predetermined or prearranged developer willingness to meet halfway, to lose a few things in order to win most of what they want. But since very few developers actually do that they're going to need more than a simple invitation.

They're going to need an offer they can't refuse.

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