Power to the people!

5 Jan

Economics is the study of human behavior. In terms of federal spending, there are significant impacts on citizen behavior. For instance, road versus transit spending encourages driving, creates higher individual transportation costs, impacts development, housing costs and living choices, and ignores sustainability and carbon reduction goals. David Brooks implores us to consider the following:

How does government influence how people live? Does a given policy arouse energy, foster skills, spur social mobility and help people transform their lives?

This timely question has precedent. In Makeshift Metropolis, Witold Rybczynski warns of the imminent potential to repeat the planning disasters of the 1950s and 60s, which  resulted from federally funded or supported large-scale projects following a long-term recession. These projects ignored market constraints, which are ultimately the desires of the public. He concludes that:

Effective planning should recognize that while the market is not always right, an aggregation of individual decisions is generally closer to the mark than the plans of willful urban visionaries… Small is not always beautiful, but piecemeal urbanism has a long and proven track record.

Therefore, policy and spending should consider and facilitate individual actions and small projects. If as Tim Jackson states, “investment is the relationship between the shared present and the common future,” it is imperative to ask what we want that future to be. How can government empower the individual to build that future?

The individuality, scale and beauty of piecemeal development

The individuality, scale and beauty of piecemeal development.

img via Bastien Vaucher

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