In the last installment we used the redevelopment of the Thomson site to outline a typical case in which the city as Urban Growth Machine channels public funds into specific private real estate sites. We showed how it does this in order to synthetically increase the exchange value, i.e. the amount for which the land can be sold, of the site.
The proof is in the pudding: the 16 cleaned and prepped First Capital acres that received $1 million in public investment are now being marketed at $200,000+ an acre on the private real-estate market. Remember that five years ago the entire site went for just $65,000 an acre. Unfortunately that five-year windfall will go not back into the community chest, which had a center-stage role in creating it, but into the bank accounts of the land's private owners and ultimately into the campaign coffers of tomorrow's Growth Machine mechanics.
In April 1998, Bloomington was hit by its biggest single economic shock to-date, the announced closing of the RCA/Thomson television plant located just south of downtown. The plant, which consisted of several buildings of various ages and conditions, was sited on approximately 200 acres of prime urban real estate. Thomson, the multinational corporation that bought RCA from General Electric, began fielding offers for the real estate. However, even before it was sold, there were published concerns about the viability of several of the on-site structures -- especially regarding asbestos remediation.
This is part one of a three-part series.
One of the things we hope to accomplish with Civitas is to introduce the general public to some of the terms of art used by academics, technocrats, and politicians when those groups speak to issues involving our built environment. This week we'll concentrate on what's meant by the "urban growth machine."
If you're like most people, you've never heard the term and, if you have, you've likely heard it used in what appears to be a pejorative way. That can be confusing; what's bad about urban growth or even growth at all? Aren't we told from day one that we either "grow or die?"
Is Shirley Temple now writing under the pseudonym of "Morton Marcus?" Because that's the only explanation we can find for the ridiculously pollyannish "Let's have the bestest darn road, ever!" pro I-69 column of 1/18/03 in the Bloomington Herald Times.
And it can only be a bad case of Shirley Temple Economics that would cause a grown man to argue, while writing from Indiana's capital and a city that has more interstate highway connections than any other city in the entire nation, that a solution to Indiana's chronic economic distress is not to invest more in education, is not to invest more in natural amenities in order to attract the affluent class, is not to provide more business startup funding, is not to clean up its rotting industrial detritus and rebuild its urban centers, is not to take care of its infirm and indigent but to ... wait for it ... to build yet another highway!
It never ceases to amaze me that sometime between elementary school and college people forget what "there's no such thing as a free lunch" means. It means that everything, no matter how good it appears on the surface, comes with an associated cost. And whether it's because of blind optimism, willful ignorance, or just plain stupidity, this is one concept that's totally foreign to our community's political and business leaders.