Thoughts on the downtown charrette

Thoughts on the downtown charrette

I have attended two sessions of the downtown charrette, one was on the parks, and today I attended the jewelry district section.  We talked of roads and locations, until Mike from the EDC asked about economic development.  I pointed out the problems with the health care industrial complex and the military industrial complex, and then a small chorus, lead by Tom Deller, emphasized the need for economic growth and how much we had to accommodate it.

The need for economic growth and how we have to accommodate it.  I believe this model has been the lead model in RI for about 50 years or so, and what it gets us is going into the recession #2 in unemployment, and now that the recession has hit we have passed Michigan and are now #1 in unemployment.  In other words the model has been a complete failure in RI, and yet it is assumed that there is no alternative to this development model and that we must continue to accommodate it.

I pointed out two examples of industries that we are courting that lead to disaster. The military industrial complex and the medical industrial complex.  The military just creates new and better ways to kill people and using health care as an engine of economic growth just makes it more and more difficult to provide health care for all, but on further thought what I ought to have done is what I do here, and will do at some future point in the charrette this week.  I need to point out that either for 50 years the practitioners in RI have been  incompetent, that they have never been able to align the forces, never tweaked the policies right despite their best efforts whereas folks in other places are just so much smarter and more capable (it is not as if our politicians are not bought by the same corporate dollars and pay obeisance to the same creed of tax breaks for the wealthy and give always to corporations) or the model is just plain wrong and is not ever going to work.

It is not as if the legislature, governor, EDC, chambers of commerce, and the entire assortment of civic boosterism industry is completely populated by fools and charlatans.  There are plenty of those ( remember the port developers for the Megaport?), but I know many of the practitioners and they are pretty smart and competent.  That leads me to the conclusion that the model is wrong.

Rather than seeking high tech, hot fads, rich folks and creative geniuses, maybe what we need to do is get the basic right.  We need to heal our ecosystems and focus on food, shelter and energy.  And if we get them right, the rest falls into place.  Growth on a finite planet is the Red Queen game, the faster you run, the behinder you get.  Each round of creative destruction leaves you with a  diminished earth, making it harder to climb growth mountain again, so the bubbles come more frequently. High tech, housing, credit card debt as we go faster and faster to keep up appearances.  And the forests get smaller, the mines harder to work, the oil less available, the atmosphere more poisoned, the fish in the sea more diminished, the global warming worse.

We are at it again, being asked to use LEED, sustainability as buzz words, but also as add ons, that we get the other stuff that rich folks want first, then use Green as a selling point.  The results will be exactly what they have been for the last 50 years, so why not try it the other way.  Actually do Green right, do Green as the core of the practice, get the basics of food, shelter and energy right then watch the other stuff take care of its self.   We can not get much worse results than we have gotten over the last 50 years, and given the state of the earth, we are much more likely to get better results than any other program we might try.

Greg Gerritt  10/28/08

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