Space and Speech

It’s nice to see Bruce Katz and Jennifer Vey writing about the city. They provide three criteria for people who think in spatial terms:

First, the state should develop a strategy to better target its market-shaping resources (infrastructure, economic development) toward existing commerce centers – the established cities and towns still struggling to find their way in an economy that has for years rendered them obsolete.

A more strategic focus of existing resources would go a long way in helping to foster private investment and development in these communities, while at the same time helping to curb sprawl and preserve rural areas.

Imagine, for example, the economic, fiscal and psychological impacts of revitalizing Connecticut’s downtown cores such that they became home to 2 percent of their respective metropolitan areas’ residents. This equates to about 23,000 residents in downtown Hartford, almost 16,500 in downtown New Haven, and nearly 18,000 in downtown Bridgeport – numbers that would bring life, vitality and a virtuous cycle of growth to these important metropolitan hubs.

Second, Connecticut needs to provide a new funding stream dedicated specifically to redevelopment activities in ailing commercial cores.

To this end, the state should establish a Regional Reinvestment Fund – modeled after a similar fund proposed for counties in northeast Ohio – that would be used to make investments in land assembly and infrastructure improvements in urban areas. This low-risk fund would be capitalized by a state-backed revenue bond, to be repaid with a real estate transfer tax on new land acquired with money from the fund. It would then operate in perpetuity, with municipalities taking half of the property tax revenue generated by the resulting new development, and putting the other half back into the fund so it can continue to be used for new projects.

Finally, the state should implement the recommendations of the Task Force on Brownfields Strategies, which calls for a new package of programs dedicated to the cleanup and development of contaminated sites, most of which are in the state’s cities. Modeled in large part after similar programs in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, this effort would provide more flexible financing tools – including loans, grants and tax incentives – to put blighted properties back into productive use and help stimulate new investment in their surrounding urban neighborhoods.

Money and strategy would do a lot. But we also need to invest in the training required to change the way we think about the human reqional landscape. Partly, this has to do with instruction and practice in a certain kinds of discourse. Sure, it sounds like a small thing, but incoming students don’t know how to talk to one another (right, who really knows how?), and I want them to stay in the state to live, and I want them to work on realistic local improvements. What they want and need has a lot to do with how they get along with one another in a situation of conflict.

In speaking of budget matters, Kevin Reenie writes

That no part of this year’s $1 billion budget surplus is going back to the people who created it tells the story of state government. There’s always an unending list of “unmet needs” that legislators, lobbyists and the governor can trot out to try to shame reluctant citizens into quiet aquiescence [sic].

Certainly government could give the billion back somehow. Or we could encourage discourse on different terms.