Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Revisiting stories: executive vs. legislative and the four vacant houses in Anacostia

Curbed DC reports ("Four vacant, government-owned Anacostia homes transfer to historic preservation group: The L’Enfant Trust has completed the transfer of four properties in the Southeast neighborhood") that DC has transferred four dilapidated but historic properties to the L'Enfant Trust for subsequent rehabilitation.

This was discussed in the past, because it was subject of a "battle" between the Legislative Branch and the Executive Branch.  The Executive Branch which controlled the houses wasn't doing much, and aggrieved citizens got the Legislative Branch to pass a law giving control of the properties to a local nonprofit that has been rehabilitating houses.

I wrote about it in this 2017 entry, "Three examples of L'etat c'est moi/Not invented here/Executive authority (in DC local government)."

What's more interesting than what I wrote is the comment thread. 

First, an anonymous commenter made the very good point that generally getting the Council involved in such matters can lead to serious corruption and had in the past (although that's true of the Executive Branch as well).

My point was that the Executive Branch needed to act.  That there was no reason to let the houses moulder and that if they couldn't act, then the Legislative Branch was right to step in and move things along.

That being said the process is an example of the failures in how the city does capital budgeting planning and management.

Second, was the other discussion in the thread about technocracy, execution, democracy, vision, etc. in local government. It's no less relevant one year later.

For example, David Brooks, columnist for the New York Times, has a piece about successful school reform, "Good Leaders Make Good Schools."

He blows it by mentioning DC as a positive example, in the face of local reporting on systematic failures in terms of test cheating, passing and graduating students who don't attend school, claiming 100% of graduating classes will be going to college when about 17% actually did, failure to respond to non-DC residents enrolling in DC public schools, etc.

The reality is that making successful change for hard to help populations is very hard.

Rather than acknowledge that from the outset and put the right resources in place to aim to accomplish it, instead the focus was on test scores and even graduation rates, which are easier to game.

It's another failure to execute that seemingly has little consequence.

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At 11:11 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Reminds me of the story of Tony Williams having to do training for call-center work.

Of course the problem now is very different than 10 years ago.

But this is the issue of our times -- we have very broken governments and very broken electoral systems. How do we fix them?

(hence my vote for Macron as the Leader of Our Time. You can argue we've had 10 years of Merkel being the Leader of Our Time and this is where it got us).

As long as the center-left is the "party of government" unless they fix things they will continue to lose.

On a local level, Bowser is getting better but why are we paying for her to learn on the job?

At 11:24 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

LOL. (cough cough -- I have a cold).

At 11:59 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

this is tough. my take on govt. is that it tries to do everything to ward off having to acknowledge economics, reality, the need for sustainable mobility, etc.

I haven't written about wmata funding yet. But I have been struck by the irony that it has moved forward in VA -legislature controlled by Republicans - and MD - Gov. is a Republican - in the face of previous opposition only because they have rec'd cues from Amazon and the HQ2 race that a focus on sustainable mobility is key.

But I agree. Why can't we just get s*** done? It doesn't seem as if it has to be that hard.

What am I missing?

At 12:29 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

Good luck on that cold. If it is the one I had it took me out for a week.

Well again I'm being big picture here -- but I think the low hanging fruit has been taken.

And that is what a lot of the government secret sauce is -- take the low hanging fruit.

So, 1970s, floating rates+inflation=neoliberiasm. Solves that problem.

Today, basically capitalism had stopped delivering steady raises. Probably b/c of China but who knows exactly. What is the governmental response?

I'm pretty sure re-distribution isn't the answer.

Maybe a giant investment in "new economy" would work. That is what is going on in china (electric cars, HSR, subways, solar, pollution controls). requires levels of debt that we can't match.

So what is the easiest thing government can deliver for its citizens? Cheap housing would be great except that it doesn't really work.

Hence the search for tech solutions. No question something like Uber, or GPS buses, can make life better.

At 12:52 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

the capture of corporations by financialization and the conversion of the top managers into rentier is probably the biggest reason for economic decline.

E.g., the high compensation for CEOs and top managers ought to be considered "capital" not wage.

Or ToysRUs. Not the end of the world that it will go belly up, but it's caused by financilization, an LBO saddled it with billions of debt and ongoing large management fees to the debtholders. Making the company extremely vulnerable if there is the least bit of instability in the economy, exogenous changes like a small reduction in sales because of the internet, etc.

There are hundreds of comparable examples.

A giant investment in the new economy is the closest thing that will get us on the right trajectory, probably.

But it is anathema to anti-govt. politicians.

I guess, but differently from how Wren-Lewis wrote about "neoliberal overreach" in the UK context, we are at that point.

- minimize govt.
- minimize public investment
- reduce taxes on the rich and corporations
- continue to starve govt. of resources
- as you said, focus on the development and strengthening of the private realm

Very dystopic. There is a weird Robert Heinlein book about the future, _I will fear no evil_, that is the ideal I guess for those people, who then, like Thiel, set up an alternative living arrangement in NZ.

But China has three advantages compared to the US. One is scale. Nothing will prevent the US from being outspanned by China because their population is 3.5x ours.

Second is Gerschenkronian. They aren't stuck with maintaining the value of past investment in the same way that we are.

Making hard choices about what to invest in is difficult when it means making a lot of capital worthless.

Third, because their population is so immense, they can't take half measures. E.g., with subways, HSR, etc., they have to do it. There's no way that they can move that many people somewhat efficiently any other way.

Here on #3, we satisfice. Sure we should do transit, but we do everything in our power to support automobility, and in most places we don't provide the right density to make transit particularly efficient. So of course it's half a****.

We should do more planning. But that makes developers unhappy.

We should deal with climate change, but that will make oceanfront property worthless, and hurt investors and workers in the fossil fuel industry, etc.

the one reason I am glad I don't have children is their future doesn't look good.

It doesn't have to be, but we seem to be only willing to do the right thing when absolutely forced to do so.

At 2:21 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

RE: financeialization/rentiers

Very much part of the mix, but I'm suggesting something broader -- that these trends are being driven by essential monetary concerns.

I.e. neoliberalism was the natural reaction to when governments had to stop relying on bretton woods and deal with currency effects.

Likewise the current problem (our imbalance with Asia) which we might be halfway through (GFC if you think about is when we take the other half of that imbalance and spend on housing) since we haven't resolve the core issue. China wants to in the way of making the yuan a global currency.

A long way from some houses in Anacostia which Mendleson didn't want handed over the CHDC because he knows their history....

At 3:48 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Heavy s***. WRT the crux of it, from the Economist:

Liberal elites tend to explain this divergence in terms of the laws of globalisation.
Populists have a darker interpretation: that those elites are using a mix of lobbying power,
personal connections and technocratic expertise to rig the system to their own advantage—
most notoriously by bailing out the banks with taxpayers’ money.

Both are true. To deal with it you needed at least four responses:

1. creation of a way better social welfare system -- health care (beyond insurance) and access to continuing education, retraining etc.

2. can't keep cutting taxes and the wealthy who benefit disproportionately should have to be reparations/mitigation to pay for this.

3. protections on pensions, etc., portability (cf. Wilbur Ross made a lot of money pushing off pension liabilities to the PBGC).

4. hard core regulatory system to protect individuals from getting f*ed individually or societally when businesses overreach.

But with neoliberal overreach you didn't get 2, 3, and 4. #1 wasn't on anyone's agenda at all, but it's obvious in hindsight that it was absolutely necessary.

Instead what happened is all the risks of change were forced to be borne by those with the least amount of resources. Continued pressure to reduce taxes. Deregulation. Back and forth on labor and consumer protections.

Dealing with those four things is more important than "more civic education" and "listening to the people."

Those with the most resources, by forcing down taxes, ensure that the less well off are even more at risk.

At 3:51 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

another element that totally blew up the safety net is aging/living longer/the need to deal with aging care. We're dealing with that now...

Suzanne and I were talking about something, don't remember what, and I pointed out that along with "neoliberalism" came the demand to eliminate slack resources. E.g., WMATA doesn't have hundreds of unused buses and drivers able to step in if the trains stop running.

But when you eliminate slack resources, you have a lot less ability to deal with exogenous changes and/or trauma or catastrophe.

At 4:01 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

wrt the Sao Paulo mayor, why the f* is it so hard for people here to do things?

e.g. the transformational projects concept.

Oklahoma City manages. Some cities have managed to build streetcars that are successful. Arts centers. Parks on decks over freeways. Etc.

Actually, DC has built a lot of stuff over the past 15 years in schools, rec centers, playgrounds, senior centers, neighborhood libraries...

I think we could have done a lot better, but...

At 8:41 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...


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