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, June 21, 2018

Maybe Michael Bloomberg can be convinced to help fund transit referenda campaigns across the country?

An anti-transit flyer left by an Americans for Prosperity organizer. The group made nearly 42,000 phone calls and knocked on more than 6,000 doors in Nashville. illiam DeShazer for The New York Times.

The New York Times published a great piece about how the conservative uber wealthy Koch Brothers have made "transit promotion" a national issue, and they fund anti-transit campaigns at the local level, to fight off funding.

-- "How the Koch Brothers Are Killing Public Transit Projects Around the Country"

From the article:
“Do you agree that raising the sales tax to the highest rate in the nation must be stopped?” Samuel Nienow, one of the organizers, asked a startled man who answered the door at his ranch-style home in March. “Can we count on you to vote ‘no’ on the transit plan?”

In cities and counties across the country — including Little Rock, Ark.; Phoenix, Ariz.; southeast Michigan; central Utah; and here in Tennessee — the Koch brothers are fueling a fight against public transit, an offshoot of their longstanding national crusade for lower taxes and smaller government.

At the heart of their effort is a network of activists who use a sophisticated data service built by the Kochs, called i360, that helps them identify and rally voters who are inclined to their worldview. It is a particularly powerful version of the technologies used by major political parties.

In places like Nashville, Koch-financed activists are finding tremendous success.
I wrote about this in May, about what was happening in Nashville ("Nashville voting today on transit referendum") although there it's likely that the initiative would have failed anyway.

Interestingly, the conservative magazine National Review weighs in on the coverage, making the point that AFP put very little money into the campaign, and that the campaign tactics of the opponents were no different than the opponents.

-- "Koch Brothers vs. Nashville Transit: A Chilling Tale

Of course, the article deliberately misses the most important point, that a national group "bigfoots" in on a local issue and changes the argument, making it an issue not about local mobility but about taxes and "small government."

The Koch Brothers aren't new to making local issues "national," as their Americans for Prosperity organization has chapters in most states where they are fearless in fighting progressive initiatives and promote lowering taxes, even though taxes fund public goods..

-- Defending the American Dream Summit | Americans for Prosperity
-- "Americans For Prosperity may be America's third-biggest political party," Washington Post
-- "Koch brothers network lays siege to Florida as midterms loom," CNBC
-- "Americans for Prosperity offer 'Road to Freedom' to Colorado lawmakers," Colorado Politics
-- "Americans for Prosperity Dir. Disagrees with $60B Sandy Aid," NJTV/PBS

The Kochs were founders of the libertarian organization the Cato Institute and I term their kind of anti-government, anti-public good, anti-community pro-individual perspective "anarcholibertarianism."

Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor of New York City, founder of the Bloomberg financial information system which made him as wealthy as the Koch Brothers, and post his Mayoralty he's funded a variety of smart city initiatives through the Bloomberg Philanthropies, has announced he's putting up $80 million to help the Democratic Party in their quest to win majority control of the US House of Representatives ("Michael Bloomberg pledges $80 million for midterms to help Democrats retake control of House," Washington Post).

Transit campaign signs in Nashville.  Photo: Fox17.

Maybe Mr. Bloomberg could do the same for transit?  Step in and counter the effect of Americans for Prosperity generally, and with regard to transit/transportation improvements in particular.

With the proviso that proponents (1) take the time to build support, (2) which means not putting initiatives on the ballot on a super-accelerated timeline, which was one of the problems with the Nashville initiative.

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