Lingering Questions

Having an unexpected chance at a last-minute final column for Metroland, is a blessing and a curse. No pressure, after an almost-12-year run. At first I scrambled to try to assemble a column on one of the topics I hadn’t gotten to, wanting to just continue as I had been, but over the holidays and it being a big topic, I couldn’t pull it together properly.

Instead, I will leave you with a distinctly non-exhaustive spattering of some questions I didn’t get to, or that I (and plenty others) have written about but remain important and unanswered, some rhetorical, some deeply not. Though Metroland was one important place we could have conversations like these, it needn’t be the only one. Continue reading

Funding the City

At a regional forum on inequality earlier this month, Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan made some remarks that jumpstarted some regional discussion about regional equity, commuter taxes, and the like. As reported by Jimmy Vielkind at Capital New York, Sheehan argued that “the funding mechanism for cities—property taxes—was set up at a time when cities were regional centers of wealth and industry. Times have changed, she said, and so should financial structures.”

This makes me very happy. In 2007 I wrote a column called “The Unapologetic City,” in which I argued that our municipal neighbors were getting a ton of benefits from the city without paying for them, but it seemed like a pipe dream then to be hearing others talking about what to do about it in earnest. Answers aren’t easy, but they do exist. Continue reading

Dry Detroit

Water is a human right: Even the much beleagured CEO of Nestle, who has been accused of trying to privatize the water resources of poor communities for the benefit of its bottled-water profits, officially agrees. He told the Guardian in 2013:

“This human right is the five litres of water we need for our daily hydration and the 25 litres we need for minimum hygiene. . . This amount of water is the primary responsibility of every government to make available to every citizen of this world.”

It’s not the most inspiring statement: everyone should have the bare minimum and we can profit off the rest?

And yet, in Detroit today, he’d sound like a radical. Continue reading

Public Education Is Under Attack

Yesterday, public school advocates rallied at the New York state capitol to call for full state funding of public education. Participants held “R.I.P.” tombstone signs of the programs, classes, staff and resources that their schools have had to cut over the past five years—arts, languages, small class sizes, academic support services, magnet programs. All the things that serve what politicians like to call “21st century skills.” Continue reading

The Three-Legged Stool of Economic Development

Urbanist gadfly Richard Florida recently attempted to tip the sacred cow of “eds and meds” (universities and hospitals) economic development by arguing that cities with a high percentage of employment in those sectors tended to do worse on other economic development measures. Florida is always good for stirring the pot, but as Steve Dubb of the Democracy Collaborative wrote when I invited him to respond on Rooflines (the blog of the magazine I edit as my day job), in this case, Florida’s statistical comparisons are a straw man: they have the causality backwards. Continue reading