Monday, July 11, 2005

Applauding Critics

In today’s Times, Charles Bagli begins to focus some attention on the mayor’s development strategy outside of Manhattan. In particular, Bagli points out that now, with all of the hoopla over the West Side and the Olympics finally behind us, many urban planners and local development officials are:

hoping that the Bloomberg administration will bring to other projects the same kind of energy and focus that it displayed on the West Side.
This observation seems to us to be the classic double edged sword. Certainly, energy and focus were present in large doses on the West Side - some would say to the point of obsession - but at the same time the failure of the project in spite of all these considerable resources speaks to a certain problem with the mayor’s economic development strategy.

Put simply, the administration’s vaunted focus is often to the exclusion of local communities and all too often ignores existing small industrial and retail businesses. In fact, Bagli cites Jonathan Bowles whose analysis of the mayor’s strategy, while generally positive, highlighted just this point. Certainly, the merchants in the Bronx Terminal Market or the business in Willets point are aware of how this strategy operates.

We wish that Bagli would have emphasized this point more because its significance is far reaching and points to the mayor’s tendency to look for major top-down economic development projects whose local impacts get lost in the glitz and glamour of the big picture.

Bagli did, however, make another related point that does being to get at this larger criticism. Later in the article he cites Bowles who states that the mayor’s waterfront development “appeared determined to eliminate the blue-collar maritime jobs on nearby piers.”

Trickle Down Economics

Expanding on this observation, Bagli highlights the criticism of Michael Sorkin, director of urban design at CUNY. The money quote:

"To me, the administration's economic development program is distorted in favor of a trickle-down theory of benefits from development."
This is the point that makes the most sense to us. Top-down development, often driven by cronyism, is not being subjected to a fair cost/benefit analysis. In other cases, no one is even bothering to examine the actual benefits as related to the level of a project’s public subsidization.