Thursday, May 26, 2005

Big Moral Issues

At the root of any discussion of gentrification is one of fundamental questions of how societies should function: How should wealth be divided, and what system should allocate resources? Should it be left to the market? When should government interfere?

Many people see the goal as creating the maximum amount of total wealth. I'm less interested in this and more interested in the wealth of the poorest people. Of course I support economic growth, but I personally don’t really care if the rich are getting richer: I only care if the poor are getting richer, and if the gap is shrinking. I'm happy for the rich to get richer as well, but only if the other conditions are met. I'm really curious what arguments people have against this.

I want to see change in poor neighborhoods, but I want to be confident that it is “a rising tide that raises all of the boats with it” and not “a flood of change that destroys anything of value that was previously present in a neighborhood and disperses it’s previous residents.”

Alex brings up the concept of ghettoization as the opposite of gentrification, and asks if a process and its opposite can both be bad. Yes! I would say that most polar opposites are both bad, and that the best option tends to lie in the middle. Are those really our only options? Saying that they’re two sides of a coin implies that our only option is to flip it, when in fact many other things can happen in neighborhoods.

What I am trying to understand is what system is necessary for poor neighborhoods gain assets and increase in value without simply driving out their residents, and for resource and property rich neighborhoods to offer housing to lower-income residents without becoming ghettos.

This gets at the root of my belief that change occurs on the level of the neighborhood. I believe that it is extremely difficult to escape cycles of poverty without living in an area that has well-trodden paths toward affluence. Without good schools and positive out of school activities, without viable jobs and transportation, without access to social services, and without a view of other options, it is very difficult to improve your lot. And if the process by which these amenities are brought into a poor neighborhood displaces its residents, then these individual residents are never given that opportunity. On the other hand, if allowances are made for poor people to live in areas that have resources and investment, I believe that many of them will be able to break the cycle of poverty.

Response to Alex

My good friend Alex recently responded to my first post on gentrification in great depth. The full text of his response is available under the comments section. In an attempt to create bite-sized chunks that promote healthy discussion, I will follow this post with a series of short replies to what I see as our main disagreements and misunderstandings. Below is some general information that applies to all of the posts that follow and outlines some of the points that I want to make.

Although it is important not to lose sight of the far reaching implications of any issue, they can sometimes be secondary. Alex makes the interesting point that I focus on what happens to an impoverished neighborhood and it’s residents as it becomes gentrified, and fail to look at what happens to the new residents or the areas that they come from. He argues that the houses vacated “ought to create a supply glut, making things easier for displaced people to find better housing.” [presumably at a lower cost than it would have demanded before the supply glut]. I’ll address this in an individual post, but first I feel compelled to re-state my position: I am already aware that there are some positive effects of gentrification, but even if they create a net improvement for the world, they currently come at a high cost and we should still attempt to minimize that cost. My goal in this discussion is to understand how we can address these negative aspects of gentrification while retaining as many of the positive effects as possible.

Alex acknowledges that there may be some costs and detrimental effect to moving, but I am not certain that either of us made the extent of these costs clear, so I hope to address this in a future post as well.

Somehow we seems to have a different understanding of the effect of increasing property value and bringing wealthier people into cities, so I plan to address this, as well as several other issues. I also am interested in discussing the solutions section, but it seems important to reach some conclusions about the problems first.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Private Prison

I've recently been thinking about starting a private prison. For those of us who have been around activist culture a lot, the idea that private prisons are one of the great evils of the world is often taken for granted. And having read George Orwell and other social critics growing up, I shared this feeling. In early high school I remember stumbling across a quote that raised the excellent point, approximated here, that "although prisons has existed for a very long time, the idea that being put in a prison actually has a benefit to anyone is relatively recent. Throughout most of their history prisons were primarily a place to hold people awaiting trial, not an actual form of punishment." Of course, punishment in the days spoken of here was more likely to be a fine, biasing the system toward the rich, or corporal punishment, which I do not support either. Still, the idea of calling jails "correctional facilities" seems a bit wishful, as most of why I have read indicates little "correction" takes place within them.

A lot of people have protested this, advocating an end to private prisons or at the very least, higher standards for them. But such movements have not been very successful in changing the conditions of prisoners, and in my opinion they do not go far enough anyway. So recently it struck me, why I should I simply join everyone else in complaining without offering an alternative?

I need to do a lot more research before I figure out if it could work, but if the government is willing to contract out the care of prisoners and it's standards are relatively lax, maybe I could get one of these contracts and run a prison in a humane way. On the surface it seems as though it would be difficult to do so cheaper than private prisons can, but I'm not sure. I mean,
$20,000-$30,000 per prisoner per year isn't such an amazing bargain, particularly when you throw in the $50,000 to $200,000 per prisoner cost of building new prisons, (variation depends on climate and security level). This numbers come from groups on the left and may be exaggerated to prove a point, but even at the lowest cost per prisoner I could find, in a document advocating private prisons in Oregon, it still costs about $15,000 per prisoner per year. It seems like I could meet that standard, particularly if I could get grant money, volunteers, donated land or space, and/or use innovative changes in structure to create something much more viable than the current system.

Does anyone out there have any good ideas about what prisons should look like? I want to take a serious look at the needs of them, to avoid making my prison into some left-wing summer camp that everyone escapes from, but to also avoid making it the backward, oppressive, criminal breeding ground that it is today.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Bus Fares

Houston is not a city known for it's public transportation. Still, in my daily life I see buses all around me, taking up an enormous portion of the road and usually not carrying any more people than you could fit in a car.

Sometimes, as I compete with these buses for the outside lane or race them across town on my bicycle, I think of the struggle between bikes and buses to represent the struggle between anarchists and communists. On one end is the large, unwieldy, state-sponsored machine, offering a public good but inefficiently so, and forcing all users to bend their individual needs to meet collective needs. On the other end is a small, agile, self-sufficient rugged individual, free to roam where he or she chooses, but without protection or allowances for bad weather, injury, or other misfortunes. I'm personally much happier on a bike in Houston, but when I lived in Boston I often opted to take public transportation. I believe appropriate transport depends a lot on situation, and a good city offers some of every option.

In Houston, we seem to have more buses than actual use demands. In this post I'm trying to figure out why that may be and what could be done about it.

One of the most important reasons is simply that Houston is too spread out. Rather than allowing buses to transport you between dense commercial centers, Houston buses must take you from point to point, with only one thing accomplished at each point. This multiplies all of the inefficiencies of bus transport.

Another problem is the bus system is inadequate and under-publicized. Were there more buses going more places more often, I might be more inclined to ride them. Instead, there never seems to be a bus going where I want it to. And even if there is, I have no easy way to figure that out. The lack of information makes the system less useful.

One of the largest problems, however, is that they ask you for money every time that you get onto a bus. Despite other expenses associated with cars and bikes, they generally allow you to leave you home and run short errands without paying out of your pocket. Even if there was a bus that I knew would take me right where I wanted to go, I would be hesitant to use it if I had either of these other options available.

So why do buses cost money? In theory, it is expected to cover the cost of operating a bus system. This seems strange to me, however, as the many highways of Houston are not expected to pay for themselves with tolls. If they were, I imagine that many more people would avoid them and take the low road for business within town. Isn't a bus system simply a public good that a city provides, like roads, police and fire departments, etc.?

As I see it, the issue of what to charge for buses hinges on several things.

1) How much of the costs of operating the current bus system are covered by revenue from fares. I suspect, given low rates of ridership, that fares do not cover much. If I am wrong, however, it might make more sense to keep charging than I realize.

2) How much does the fare affect usage? If decreasing the fare would create a huge increase in use of buses, then it is worthwhile. If it wouldn't make a big difference, then it probably isn't. I would be interested to hear what economic models predict, but I also would be interested in trying it out for a few months and seeing what came of it.

3) How adequate is the system? Maybe even if it was free, buses in Houston still wouldn't take people where they wanted to go. If this is the case, than much more than lowering the fare is necessary. Although it makes me wonder if a fleet of city-operated taxis might provide better service to current bus users at a lower price.

4) How does paying for something affect perception of it? In general, I think it's better to charge $.25 than to give something away. It's still a deal, everyone can find $.25, and it forces people to value the service more than if they just expect it to be free. In general, I'm not really opposed to most bus fares that fall under a $1. More than that, however, and I think that you're providing too much of a barrier to trying out buses. And if people have a relatively risk-free opportunity to get used to using buses, then they are more likely to use them in the future.

5) How viable is the entire concept of public transportation in a city as large and spread out as Houston? Maybe it's best just to accept that buses work other places but not here, and to focus on making cars and bicycles available to city residents, and promoting patterns of growth that may eventually lead to an atmosphere more conducive to public transit and less dependent on the automobile.

The Quick Brown Fox (entirely off topic)

You've all probably seen the sentence used by typists to touch each letter of the alphabet: The quick brown fox jumps over a lazy dog. (33 letters) In thinking of pun-derived blog titles, it struck me that perhaps a shorter sentence could be made using the relatively new word, blog. I wasn't able to come up with anything to revolutionary, but I figured that I would submit my attempts and put a challenge out there for anyone to come up with something shorter and more clever. My rules were:

1) No punctuation other than commas
2) Nothing too metaphorical or abstract
3) No "scrabble" words
4) No computer anagram programs or any other electronic assistance.

New, quick blogs jumped over the lazy fox. (33)

We improved blogs hunt a quick, jazzy fox. (33)

Quick, interwoven blogs jumped a hazy fox. (34)

We quick blogs never jumped the hazy fox. (33)

Quick blogs jumped to interview a hazy fox. (35)

After typing these on my typewriter, I checked the internet to see what it had to offer. I quickly learned that "the quick brown fox" was not the industry standard that I imagined, but simply one of a whole world of "pangrams", and that there was a whole world of grammatically correct word combinations using every letter of the alphabet. (most of those below were taken from here).

(50) We promptly judged antique ivory buckles for the next prize.
(49) How razorback jumping frogs can level six piqued gymnasts.
(48) Sixty zippers were quickly picked from the woven jute bag.
(46) Crazy Fredrick bought many very exquisite opal jewels.
(36) Jump by vow of quick, lazy strength in Oxford.
(36) Sympathizing would fix Quaker objectives.
(34) Five big quacking zephyrs jolt my wax bed.
(33) The quick brown fox jumps over a lazy dog.
(32) Quick brown fox, jump over the lazy dogs.
(32) Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs.
(31) Jackdaws love my big sphinx of quartz.
(31) The five boxing wizards jump quickly.
(31) B, C, F, G, H, I, J, K, M, O, P, Q, U, V, W, X, Y, and Z are letters.
(30) How quickly daft jumping zebras vex.
(29) Sphinx of black quartz: judge my vow.
(29) Quick zephyrs blow, vexing daft Jim.

There is considerable debate over the best pangram of all, with most people offering some 28-letter variation on:

(28) Waltz, nymph, for quick jigs vex bud.
or
(28) Dub waltz, nymph, for quick jigs vex.
or
(28) Waltz, nymph, for bad quick jigs vex.

Too many people claim credit for each of these for me to assign it to anyone in particular.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Reform Criticism:

This is one of those sad recreations of an entirely complete posting lost to some computer glitch. The original post had links to more of my sources, but the show must go on:

My criticism of the welfare reform is based primarily on two ideas:

1) Welfare Reform attempts to alleviate poverty through disincentives designed to alter behavior rather than offering structural changes. This assumes that people are poor because of laziness and unwillingness to work (behavioral causes), and does nothing to address the physical and structural barriers that many poor people face to gainful employment.

2) It looks at poverty as an individual issue, when in fact most people on welfare are part of a poor neighborhood. Ignoring the geographic concentration of welfare recipients and the causes of poverty that are only visible on the level of the community makes any significant change in the conditions of welfare recipients as a group unlikely.

Welfare To Work:
Most people agree that the goal of welfare should be to help people get back on their feet and begin to support themselves again, and many proponents of welfare reform believe that it has done exactly that. According to Jennings, however, many of the studies supporting this are based upon an incomplete picture. Although the number of people on welfare has been reduced, most of the progress made has been among those people not living in the areas of high welfare concentration in which most recipients live. This suggests that reform has done little to help these neighborhoods.

Many others who began work under the new system left children at home, took jobs with dangerous or at best, unpleasant working conditions, and took no step towards leaving poverty- They simply lessened their dependence on the government. Still others left welfare and were unable to find work, and were simply pushed deeper into poverty.

Were some of these people lazy? Perhaps, but we were also pushing people into a labor market that has no room for them. This floods the market, does little to provide new jobs, and depresses wages for unskilled labor of all kinds. Wouldn't it be better to focus on initiatives to create jobs in poor neighborhoods, so that there actually was a place to go when you left welfare?

The problem with welfare reform is that it takes money out of neighborhoods that are already disenfranchised, when a real solution to poverty would put money into them. In a neighborhood where a high percentage of residents receive welfare, a significant source of cash flow is lost under the current reforms, significantly reducing the already bleak prospects for basic needs, employment, etc. The neighborhood where I work is an example of a place that simply doesn't offer adequate employment for it's residents, who also tend to lack transportation to anywhere that might have more options. This is hardly an exception: According to a Brookings Institute study, “Why Cities Matter to Welfare Reform.”

“Very few welfare recipients have access to cars, and are heavily dependent on public transportation; yet few of these new jobs are accessible by public transit. In Cleveland, for instance, 80 percent of welfare recipients live in the central city; yet 80 percent of entry-level jobs are located in the suburbs. Only one quarter to one third of those suburban jobs are accessible within an hour long, one-way public transit ride. In Boston, the Volpe Institute found that only 43 percent of entry level jobs are accessible at all by public transit. In many areas, urban transportation systems simply fail to connect low income central city residents to metropolitan labor markets, hindering the ability of central city recipients trying to move from welfare to work.”

Even those who do make it outside of the neighborhood face extreme discrimination. This is particularly true for Black and Latino welfare recipients. Despite statistical evidence to the contrary, many people believe that the majority of people on welfare are black. There is also strong evidence that welfare caseworkers use racial stereotypes in determining qualification for programs, as studies have shown that black recipients with identical qualifications tend to receive less benefits than their white counterparts.

Finally, even those that surmount all of the barriers above still tend to face the problems that put them on welfare in the first place: they lack adequate education or job skills, they have children to look after or medical expenses to cover, or they are unable to sign a lease and must constantly move to find affordable housing, disrupting their ability to hold down a job.

Given all of this, there must be a better option. I’ve done a lot of thinking about this over the past few days, and have recently found some articles that support a lot of the ideas that I have about chronic poverty. I’ll post more about this in the near future, but for now I’ll just provide a link for anyone interested in reading what J. Larry Brown and Larry W. Beeferman have to say about the importance of asset development to long term self-sufficiency and what comes after welfare reform.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Welfare

Background:

The group of government programs commonly referred to as Welfare began January 17,1935, with the passing of the Social Security Bill. This bill contained the provisions for the original AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children), which is now TANF (Temporary Aid for Needy Families). States were given grants to administer local and state based welfare programs with matching federal funds. The bill offered $18 per month for families with one child and $12 for each additional child.

I get the impression that most people have strong opinions about welfare, but in my experience these opinions are often based on stereotypes and dogma rather than personal experiences or comprehensive data.

I support the general idea of welfare:

Although some might claim that the following statistics come from left-wing nut jobs, they seem to be the only people posting information about distribution of wealth. According to the Economic Policy Institute in their book, The State of Working America, "In 2000, almost half of all income (47.4%) went to the top fifth income class of families, while the poorest fifth received less than a tenth as much (4.3%). The top 5% of families received 20.8% oftotal income that year, more than the bottom 40% combined (14.1%)."

It is my belief that government programs designed to soften this, even somewhat inefficiently, are morally necessary. I have seen poor neighborhoods and rich neighborhoods and I believe that it is unreasonable for children born into each of them to have as amazingly different experiences as they do.

In 1992, AFDC expenses formed only 1 percent of combined state and federal budgets. Food stamps also took up 1 percent. If you expand the definition of "welfare" to include student grants, school lunches, pensions for needy veterans and all “one-way transfers of benefits”, then welfare still only takes up 12 percent of the combined budgets.

Despite this, there is a lot of political pressure to cut the cost of welfare. Why? Most people do not directly benefit from it, and so even those who are compassionate and support the general concept are not dedicated to welfare that they are willing to support it even if they have doubts about it’s efficiency. I believe that it is reasonable for people to desire that their money is spent effectively, and as a result, I support the concept of welfare reform. I do not, however, advocate reform that involves spending less money. Reform needs to focus on re-allocating and increasing the money that has traditionally been spent until we are able to raise the standard of living and the opportunities available to the poorest people in our country to an acceptable level.

As for effectiveness:

As I understand it, welfare was not a particularly effective program for addressing the root causes of poverty, and the concept of a program designed to bring people from "welfare to work" is better model to plan from. Advocates of reform claimed that welfare recipients had no incentive to seek work, thus swelling the ranks to include those who could be supporting themselves alongside those who were trying and failing. And even proponents of welfare knew that some changes were necessary. But were the right changes made?

Welfare reform:

Welfare Reform was a program designed to greatly minimize the costs of welfare to the federal government. Proponents of this reform claimed that the old system was ineffective and that their proposed changes would be both cheaper and more effective. Time has shown that this program has saved a lot of money, but it's effectiveness at reaching other goals is less clear.

This program cut welfare roles roughly in half, by creating strict time limits, strict eligibility requirements punishing births out of wedlock, young mothers living outside of their parents’ homes, and other behaviors deemed inappropriate for recipients of public money. It also forced recipients to find some work or volunteer opportunity in order to receive benefits after an initial grace period, and offered the EITC (earned income tax credit) as an incentive to make low-paying jobs increasingly worthwhile.

I like some things about this policy. The need to move people from welfare to work is a real one, and as I understand it the EITC is an effective program. Unfortunately, I fear that overall the current program is too concerned with reducing costs to create systematic changes necessary to forge a path out of poverty.

The problems that I have with it are the result of some mild research that I have completed over the past few days, and were informed greatly by a book entitled "Welfare Reform" written by James Jennings. I plan to post a summary of these views in the next couple of days.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Blogging Holiday Ends

It was not until my post was there, on my blog, that I really understood that I had written something very long. It was at this point that I also realized it was a bit too broad of a post, and it was not a fitting start my life as a blogonaut. At the same time, my blogging friends all decided to dedicate the end of february to their lives rather than their postings, and I had little motivation to spend hours on the internet.

After some rest, however, I have rallied myself to blog again, this time with the intention of making shorter statements on more specific topics that are more conducive to commentary. I guess that means that now I begin in earnest, so tell your friends, tell your enemies, and bring your opinions.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Playing Economist

This posting is risky, as it is based largely on one economics class that I attended rarely and received a poor final grade in. Luckily, I know some real economists who will read this critically, and hopefully the rest of us can learn together.

The economic impact of gentrification on a city seems complicated. By definition, it involves a rise in property values which creates more tax base for a city. By bringing the well to do into the city, it also brings money to the cities economy through increased sales for local businesses. All of this is good for a city. Similarly, the money made by increased rent or from sale of property also seems as though it would work its way back into the city through investment and taxation. As a result, it is not surprising that some people like this process, and that markets encourage it.
For renters, however, it obviously has a negative impact. Faced with increased costs, they must either find more money, cut costs somewhere else, or leave the area. Assuming that this is a moderate income neighborhood, it seems unlikely that higher paying jobs are readily available, so the first option cannot be relied upon. Cutting costs elsewhere may be possible in some situations, but cannot be relied upon for everyone and seems unlikely as local stores respond to their changing demographic and increase prices. It is also contrary to my concept of progress for people to be asked to give up some things in order to keep others. Progress means keep what you have and get more also, or phrased differently, that given the choice, people would gladly trade the past for the present.

The third option is the most difficult. Certainly, many people can and do leave when faced with this situation. Already I feel this is a bad thing, as I believe that there are many positive reasons for people to stay in one place. I will address this more in a later post on race, community, and social capital. An even more fundamental question, however, is where these people go. As places that lend themselves to travel by foot, by bike or by public transit tend to be those that become too expensive for the people who need these services the most, moving often brings decreased access to resources (groceries, education, public transportation, health care, etc.). In some situations even these options are not available, and rising property values make people homeless. This is not, in my opinion, progress, and yet it is clearly what happens when we follow the incentive of markets. So what can we do?

Solutions:

One proposed solution to this problem is rent control, which pretty clearly allows people to stay in their neighborhoods. Unfortunately, economists also find a lot of problems with rent control. As I understand it, market capitalism naturally provides incentive for landlords to fix up their rental properties and maintain their neighborhood, because improvements to the property allow them to charge more rent. Under rent control, however, rent is no longer linked to market value and no amount of improvements to the property can bring in any more rent. This leaves property owners with no incentive to invest money in improvements to their property at all. As a result, buildings become rundown, and tenants who care leave, and "slums" form.

This makes a lot of sense to me, but I also have questions about it. Don't the tenants have incentive to fix their own homes? I realize that it is not entirely in their interest to improve property owned by some jerk who won't answer your calls, but if you're getting a sweet, rent-controlled deal in a neighborhood that's on the rise, it seems like it might be worthwhile. I guess there is no reason to keep this hypothetical, however. What do studies show? And if they are mixed, what factors allow rent control to work? Have there ever been experiments with laws designed to encourage landlord to sell rental properties to their tenants in rent controlled situations? That seems like it might be the best solution.

Sometimes I wonder if gentrification is not so much of a problem as it is a process through which inequity in home ownership comes to light. As I said above, gentrification is not all that bad for people who own property: rising property values and changing community may still make you want to leave, but it allows you to do so at a profit. As I understand it, however, most gentrified neighborhood contain primarily rental property. If everyone owns their own house than there tends to already be a fairly high level of affluence.

It's a tricky issue, because the easy and predictable profit available in urban real estate attracts a lot of the capital that is needed to improve property. At the same time, however, this market (like many) is one that allows people with wealth to use their wealth to generate more wealth at the expense of those without wealth. I think that's regressive and would much prefer the gains available through increased property value to be channeled towards those without wealth. How is this possible? I'm not entirely sure, but it seems that anything that encourages home ownership and home improvement among low and moderate income families would be a good step. It almost makes me wonder if universal home ownership is a key for a truly just and equitable society, but that's probably getting into a larger debate than I'm ready for.

The other big issue raised here is that I suspect there is no way to truly solve this problem so long as cities are strongly segregated by income. I realize that race may be an even larger factor in the segregation of cities (and that it is particularly relevant to gentrification), but unfortunately I do not know how to talk about this issue in anything resembling the language of economics, and so I will address it in a later post. The idea of mixed-income neighborhoods, from what I understand, is something that markets are unlikely to create but that works very well when allowed to.

It is given this opportunity when governments subsidize a mix construction or renovation of property that mixes subsidized housing with market-value housing.Since I'm on my home ownership kick, it seems like the best way to do this is simply to offer all of it for sale but provide college financial aid style assistance to low-income families interested in purchasing it. Even just transferring the money currently used to subsidize low income housing towards mixed income housing, however, would go a long way. This allows new development, increase in property values and all of the associated benefits to the city, while still offering a place for the people who traditionally lived in the neighborhood to remain. And since we're on the topic of good urban planning, I believe that it is important to create these spaces as mixed use residential/commercial as well.

I suspect that economists would not like this market interference. They would claim that using tax money to make people do something so different from what the market wants them to do is horribly inefficient, and creates losses for all of society. And they might be right, but I have two counter-arguments.

I'm hesitant to raise the first one as I fear that it will create a lot of disagreement and distract from the meat of this discussion. Hopefully, however, people will recognize that gentrification is an issue worth addressing whether they agree with me on this next point or not.
Put simply, my goal differs from economists because I value a system that treats it's most needy members well over a system that creates the highest overall standard of living and efficient distribution of resources. In other words, I would rather see $20 billion worth of improvement in standard of living distributed among the poorest third of people in our society than I would see $45 billion worth of improvement spread evenly among everyone in our society. I suspect that other people will feel differently, and that this will be a stumbling point in reaching any sort of consensus as a group.

In saying this I'm addressing a pretty basic moral question. It isn't one that I know a lot about, but I believe that a similar one drove Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill to create utilitarianism, and to disagreed as to whether all pleasures were equal, with one stating that pleasure from "push-pin (a mindless game) is as good as pleasure from poetry (a high art)" and the other strongly disagreeing.

I know that I care more about the needier, but I do not have a good way to say how much more I care about them and what that means about how resources should be distributed. I will say, however, that I believe that the difference between the standard of living of the richest americans and the poorest is immorally large, and that I would be happy to see it shrink. Until it does, I support even somewhat inefficient attempts to change it.

My second problem with economists' warnings against government subsidy come from the distortions of value offered by markets, the discounting of future benefits, and the ignoring of externalities. Although it might not be most profitable for an individual developer to build in a certain way, this fails to consider the costs and benefits to society at large. I will addreses these more in later posts, but to put it briefly: I currently believe that markets create developments that create slums, segregate people on the lower rungs of the social ladder and create barriers to their advancement, create failing urban schools, use space inefficiently, force people to rely too heavily on automobile transportation, and cause many other problems. I also believe that the investment neccessarily to create better cities would be extremely worthwhile in the long run. I hope that this can and has been studied by economists, but I worry that it's too far reaching.

Well, I've certainly said a mouthful. Respond to as little or as much of it as you like, and we'll see how this thing works. Attack the things that I say with all of your heart, and hope that something good will come of it. And even if you have no response to anything that I've said here, check back to see all the other exciting things that I'll say about gentrification later.

Gentrification

This is gentrification, as I understand it now. Over the next few weeks I'll be trying to learn more about it, and appreciate any help that you can offer. I imagine much of what I write here will be torn apart in the face of actual information, and I hope come out of this with a far better understanding of it and everything related.

My initial definition: Gentrification is a process by which the residents of a neighborhood or community are displaced by wealthier people. Often this takes the form of young white people moving into impoverished urban areas traditionally inhabited by people of color and beginning a self-perpetuating cycle of rent increases, physical improvements, increased investment, and so forth.

To be honest, I should start by saying that I am concerned about the impact of gentrification on American cities. I'm interested in hearing good points of it as well as bad, but I ask that people who support it keep in mind that even if the net effect is positive, it is still important for our society to address the negative effects. Similarly, in thinking about solutions, I will do my best to find ways not to lose the current benefits of gentrification.

In the posts that follow this one, I will begin to outline my current thoughts on and understanding of this process, as a launch pad for further discussion.

So here it is: My blog

It's been a long time coming, from a night spent in Portland, Maine last summer when I first realized that I might someday write one it's actual inception today. Perhaps it will thrive and stay vibrant for a long time to come and chip away at my free time, or perhaps it will fade as a passing fad, abandoned like many of the other projects that I lose interest in. I guess that will all be determined by how successful you (plural, meaning anyone who reads this) and I are at provoking interesting thoughts and coming to reasonable conclusions about issues that matter to us.

To this end, I welcome any and every one to contribute, and really hope to foster a wide range of views. My only concern is that people try to keep discussion civil and impersonal and work to disagree about ideas rather than personalities or styles. I also hope that this will become a place visited both by my friends and by strangers, and that things said on here will not come in the way of friendships. My goal is to create an environment where I can really hear both sides of things, and respond to the validity of these ideas without the bias of judging the people who hold them. It is also that, by criticising ideas from all directions, we will be able to generate exciting new ideas and solutions. I also hope that, once an argument has run it's course, the record that it leaves behind will help other people to better understand the issues discussed.

I imagine that many arguments will come down to facts that no one knows off the top of their heads. In the interest of finding real answers, I hope to seek out some of these facts. Unfortunately, facts are not as available and concrete as I would like them to be, and research has never been my forte. I would like help in this area if anyone is willing. Through this blog I hope to build the skill of determining what information is actually worth believing, and I do notexpect this to be easy.

That being said, here it comes. Please be critical, be fair, and behonest, and I will be very interested in what you have to say.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Reasonable Debate

I often criticize people for being unwilling to listen to other people's points of view. I also criticise myself for being too willing to listen, and often unwilling to take a firm stance. This blog is designed to address both of these problems.

My goal is to focus on specific issues for a sustained period of time. During that time, I will attempt to do research into relevant areas and post some of what I find. My hope is that I will also be able to promote reasonable debate from both sides of the political spectrum on the issues that I raise for discussion.

After an amount of time that I have not yet determined, I hope to be at the point where I feel comfortable taking a stance. At this point I will move on to the next topic, although I still hope to revisit earlier posts.

Although I have the first several issues planned already, I also am open to suggestions.