Sunday, April 28, 2013

Help stop the insanity: City Hall, May 13

The sprawl lobby's favorite disinformation theme is pushing the myth of jobs, to suggest that pouring money into suburban sprawl is about creating jobs.

In the end, all else being equal, numbers of jobs are a poor guide to policy choices, because jobs are not goods or services that people wish to purchase; rather, we create employment (collectively) through our purchases of goods and services.  Indeed most of us strive to reduce the number of jobs we create through our consumption (by seeking goods and services at the lowest cost).  Long-term sustainable economic development requires thinking clearly here, and avoiding chasing every stinking smokestack that is sold as jobs.  As Sanyo layoffs here in Salem should remind us, and Keizer Station besides, and all the absurd airport subsidies in Salem, sustainable jobs are not created by throwing money at businesses.

Like all economic measurements, it's important to think clearly about what is being measured and what is not.  The Bridgeasaurus no doubt performs well on a host of thoughtless, conventional measurements -- after all, measuring money flows is all most measurements attempt to do.  That leads us to the place where releases of cancer-causing chemicals is a doubly good thing because there's money spent on cleanup and even more spent on chemo and other expensive interventions. 

The jobs "created" by the Bridgasaurus type projects are always featured prominently in the boosters' campaigns.  What they don't measure, and therefore pretend don't exist, are all the jobs killed by sprawl spending:  the local businesses killed by reduced spending in local stores, the jobs killed by disinvestment in neighborhoods in the blast zone of noise and pollution, the jobs killed by overstretched city and county budgets that cut schools and libraries and police and fire to pay for concrete and asphalt that is so costly to maintain that the places with the most infrastructure to serve auto sprawl are the poorest rather than the richest.

The bottom line is that the most economically robust places are places that are built on precisely the opposite of ideology of the sprawl lobby.  Like a healthy soil that slows the flow of water, a healthy city does not speed traffic around itself or, worse, through itself; rather, it limits speeds, offers lots of slow, small scale diversions, and invites people to get out of their steel cages entirely and to rejoin the human community.

Car infrastructure is to a city as cholesterol is to the human body:  you must have some for healthy functioning, but not in excess, and the optimal level for health is far less than what Americans have.  America is being bankrupted by our embrace of high cost, poor results medical-industrial model that tries to use stents (widening) and bypasses to address the problems of excess, instead of healthy diet and exercise.  Our approach to the problems created by our excessive reliance on cars is exactly the same:  expensive and unhealthy.