Gentrification Requires the Right Social Conditions

I’ve written that Whitewater faces a choice between decisive action now (to lessen government’s role) or years of stagnation and relative decline before eventual gentrification (at which point longtime residents will have almost no say in redevelopment). See, How Big Averts Bad. As I doubt Whitewater’s local political class has the will for near-term changes, the best option during this long period will come from community-based, non-governmental initiatives and businesses. See, An Oasis Strategy.

Yet even an eventual, rejuvenating gentrification requires more than inexpensive, dilapidated properties to rehabilitate. Emily Badger makes this clear in How to Predict Gentrification: Look for Falling Crime: some minimal social conditions have to exist before risk takers are willing to commit to a community.

She writes (admittedly about cities, not towns) that

“But a huge piece of it,” she [Ingrid Gould Ellen, a professor of urban policy and planning at New York University] said, “I think is crime.”

New research that she has conducted alongside Keren Mertens Horn, an economist at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, and Davin Reed, a doctoral student at N.Y.U., finds that when violent crime falls sharply, wealthier and educated people are more likely to move into lower-income and predominantly minority urban neighborhoods.

Their working paper suggests that just as rising crime can drive people out of cities, falling crime has a comparable effect, spurring gentrification. And it highlights how, even if many Americans — including, by his own words, President-elect Donald Trump — inaccurately believe urban violence is soaring, the opposite long-term trend has brought wide-ranging change to cities.

Needless to say, small-town Whitewater’s problem is not urban crime (we’re not an urban area). There is, however, a level of division in the city along lines of cultural identity that is discernible to anyone observing the town with clear eyes, and that cannot be papered over with false contentions of town-gown harmony. The last thirty years have seen an increase in the size of our local campus, but city is still widely divided, and attempts at cultural harmony have gone nowhere as far as one might hope.

Lack of town-gown harmony is Whitewater’s analog to urban crime: it’s a cultural reason some people will (sadly) avoid the city.

Fixing this division will not come from public spending, nor public enforcement efforts, nor public relations. It will come, if it does, from private cultural, charitable, and business efforts.

Donald Trump and the Carrier Myth

During the 2016 election, the Carrier factory’s decision to move jobs from Indiana to Mexico was a story that stuck. Donald Trump won a political victory when he convinced the CEO of Carrier’s parent company, United Technologies, to keep 800 jobs in Indiana. Trump’s efforts run counter to a broader global trend, however. Most factory jobs haven’t been outsourced, they’ve just disappeared thanks to automation. In this documentary, The Atlantic travelled to Indiana to talk to Carrier employees and see how they’re handling the shift.

What a Card! Jean Card’s Comedic Claim That Trump Will Rein in Crony Capitalism

Jean Card is a weekly blogger at U.S. News & World Report (yes, it’s still in publication), former speechwriter for the secretaries of Labor (2001-03) and Treasury (2004-06) in the Bush Administration, and owner of Jean Card Ink, where she is “a writer and communications consultant with a proven track record of translating public policy jargon and government-speak into compelling, persuasive English” with the reassuring company tagline that this is important “Because Words Matter.”

She’s also quite the comedienne, as one can easily discern from her latest post, Will Donald Trump Rein in Crony Capitalism and Let Small Business Flourish? (The subtitle’s even more amusing: “President-elect Donald Trump has crony capitalists sweating and small businesses cheering.”)

In fact, Trump’s economics involves a contradictory (and at bottom) ineffectual mix of badgering and then bribing of large corporations to do what he selfishly wants. John Tamny has it right in Carrier Corp.: Donald Trump Potentially Destroys Millions Of Jobs To ‘Save’ 800:

what’s so shameful about some of the support on the right for Trump’s alleged ‘coup’, Trump’s actions vis-à-vis Carrier sent a strong signal that the U.S. will no longer be as hospitable a locale to the very investors who create all jobs. As Trump so obnoxiously and chillingly put it, “Companies are not going to leave the U.S. anymore without consequences. Leaving the country is going to be very, very difficult.” Where is the outrage? Trump didn’t signal help on the way as much as he signaled retaliation against the companies that don’t do as he wishes….

Funnier still is Card’s contention that Trump will help business by rejecting crony capitalism.  Far from rejecting favors for his friends, he’s gone one better: he can use political power to discuss business for himself and his own family rather than mere associates and cronies.  Argentina’s president denies that Trump sought favors for a hotel project in that country, but the Guardian reports that “[Argentine] local media reports have alleged that Trump asked [President] Macri for help over a stalled construction permit for a 35-storey project called Trump Office in downtown Buenos Aires. A source told the Guardian that the information came from Macri’s staff.”

Drew Harwell describes Trump’s generally conflicted situation in a story entitled, On the day Trump said he’d clarify his business dealings, his conflicts of interest look thornier than ever:

If Trump gives his children corporate management responsibilities but still partially owns the businesses, he will have a financial stake that could influence his presidential decision-making, former White House ethics advisers said.

Business experts also wonder how Trump could promise “no new deals” for a business that has depended on routine dealmaking — both in large measure, such as signing new real estate partnerships or sealing branding agreements, as well as everyday deals, including hiring employees and refinancing debts.

Some government officials weighed in. Office of Government Ethics Director Walter Shaub, whose agency advises public officials on how to avoid conflicts, wrote in a letter Tuesday to Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.) that “a President should conduct himself ‘as if’ he were bound by” financial conflict-of-interest laws. “Transferring operational control of a company to one’s children would not constitute the establishment of a qualified blind trust, nor would it eliminate conflicts of interest,” Shaub wrote.

Card wants to position Trump as someone who badgers big companies (“Translation: the cronies are sweating”), but with his approval Indiana targeted seven million for Carrier, Boeing gave a million to Trump’s inaugural committee after being attacked on Twitter, and Trump’s telegraphed-a-day-in-advance attack on Lockheed was no surprise to hedge fund managers.

Sweating?  No, they’re cashing in and ponying up for more opportunities.

Oddest of all is Card’s contention that small businesses are hopeful about Trump. She cites a National Federation of Independent Business’ optimism index, without telling readers that (1) the survey is self-selected (it’s only from among NFIB members), (2) the NFIB membership is only a fraction (about 1.1%) of all small businesses in the U.S., (3) the NFIB was the principal plaintiff in a losing case at the U.S. Supreme Court case against the Obama Administration, and – wait for it – (4) Card doesn’t disclose in her post or her US N&WR bio that she was Vice President of Media & Communications for the NFIB from 2010-2014.

Former speech writer, former communications flack, and consultant?

Oh, no, dear readers – it’s a comedy act that Jean Card has going.

Who Runs the Economy?

Consider this Twitter exchange between liberty-oriented Republican Justin Amash and a Trump supporter, over the suitability of Trump’s cabinet appointments:

The Trump supporter thinks that the credentials of a cabinet nominee justify the appointment; Rep. Amash rightly sees that credentials do not define the scope of legitimate state action.

Trump’s Carrier Deal (Update): Fewer Longterm Jobs

Sometimes, a state-cajoled, anti-market confidence game unravels quickly, revealing the fraud that it is. Trump’s Carrier deal is one of those occasions.

Three days ago, the news was that Trump’s Carrier deal was worth hundreds fewer jobs than he’d proudly boasted. (See, Trump’s Carrier Deal: Fewer Saved Jobs With Each Passing Day: ““We found out today that more jobs are leaving than what we originally thought,” Bray said. “It seemed like since Thursday, it was 1,100 then it was maybe 900 and then now we’re at 700. So I’m hoping it doesn’t go any lower than that.”)

Now, only half a week later, one learns that of this smaller number of saved jobs, some will be lost through automation:

But that has a big down side for some of the workers in Indianapolis.

Most of that money will be invested in automation said Greg Hayes, CEO of United Technologies, Carrier’s corporate parent. And that automation will replace some of the jobs that were just saved.

“We’re going to…automate to drive the cost down so that we can continue to be competitive,” he said on an interview on CNBC earlier this week. “Is it as cheap as moving to Mexico with lower cost labor? No. But we will make that plant competitive just because we’ll make the capital investments there. But what that ultimately means is there will be fewer jobs.”

Via Carrier to ultimately cut some of jobs Trump saved.

For broad economic policy, there’s the prosperity that comes from free markets in capital, labor, and goods, and then there’s…everything else (including targeted breaks underlying exaggerated, misrepresented results).

Trump’s Carrier Deal: Fewer Saved Jobs With Each Passing Day

Desperate but hopeful people wanted to keep their jobs with Carrier in Indiana.  As it turns out, the promises of over a thousand jobs retained (albeit at a cost to other taxpayers) were exaggerated, whether by carelessness or manipulation:

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) – The Carrier deal, brokered by President-elect Donald Trump, may not have saved as many factory jobs as was presented at the plant last week in Indianapolis.

Carrier workers received a flyer from the United Steelworkers, Local Union 1999. It details which jobs are staying here in Indy and which are going to Mexico. The numbers are a bit different from last week’s big announcement.

Last Thursday, amid much fanfare, President-elect Trump spent time on the factory floor and talked with union workers at the westside Indianapolis Carrier plant.

“We’re keeping a little over 1,100 jobs it turns out,” he told them.

He also made a big announcement about a big deal reached with United Technologies, Carrier’s parent company, to save 1,100 American jobs that were going to be moved to Mexico….

But [T.J.] Bray and other union workers just learned some new numbers about the actual number of production jobs saved by the Trump-Pence deal….

“We found out today that more jobs are leaving than what we originally thought,” Bray said. “It seemed like since Thursday, it was 1,100 then it was maybe 900 and then now we’re at 700. So I’m hoping it doesn’t go any lower than that.”

Union workers got a letter at the plant saying Trump’s deal with Carrier will save only 730 factory jobs in Indianapolis, plus 70 salaried positions – 553 jobs in the plant’s fan coil lines are still moving to Monterrey, Mexico.

All 700 workers at Carrier’s Huntington plant will also lose their jobs.

Via USW: 730 union jobs saved in Carrier deal – not 1,100 @ WTHR.

Ineffectual, Wasteful Infrastructure Ambitions

Randal O’Toole takes a look at a key part of the incoming administration’s economic policy, and sees the Trouble with Trump’s Infrastructure Ambitions.  There are, simply expressed, four problems:

  1. Not all spending of this kind is equally valuable: “Many advocates of infrastructure spending assume that all infrastructure contributes equally to economic vitality, but this is far from true. Digging a hole and filling it up may create a few jobs but no long-term economic growth. Transportation projects, for example, produce growth only if they generate new passenger and freight movement that would not have taken place without them.”
  2. New transportation infrastructure is less useful than properly-repaired, existing infrastructure: “Today, few areas need new transportation infrastructure. The nation has 2.7 million miles of paved roads, 140,000 miles of railroads, and more than 5,000 airports with paved runways…We have crumbling infrastructure because politicians would rather fund new projects than maintain existing ones. We build projects that fail to contribute to the economy because those same politicians follow fads rather than make sure taxpayers’ money is well spent.”
  3. Project spending often produces little additional revenue: “Traditionally, when a state or local government builds new infrastructure, it sells bonds, uses the revenues to pay for the infrastructure, then repays the bonds with local tax revenues. Since local tax revenues will be about the same whether the infrastructure is productive or a white elephant, officials have little reason to discriminate between good and bad projects.”
  4. The Trump plan cleverly circumvents existing, democratically-enacted debt limits to allow big spending: “Trump’s method of tax credits gets around these debt limits. Private contractors borrow money and build the infrastructure, and state or local governments would contract to pay the contractors, sometimes millions of dollars per month. Since the contractors, not the government agencies, borrowed the money, it doesn’t count against the democratically set debt limits, but local taxpayers are obligated to repay the debt anyway.”

Schemes like these don’t #DraintheSwamp; they breed stronger, and more numerous, crocodiles.

(In a small rural town like Whitewater, a full generation’s worth of big projects has not improved the community’s economic well being.  The percentage of all residents in poverty in 1999 was 27.4%, and of families was 10.6%. The percentage of all residents in poverty in 2014 was 36.7% and of families was 15.2%.)

The Local Economic Context of It All

localOver a generation, Whitewater’s big-ticket public spending (where big ticket means a million or more per project in a city of about fifteen-thousand) has come with two, often-contradictory justifications: (1) that residents needed to spend so much because Whitewater was the very center of things, or (2) that residents needed to spend so much to assure that Whitewater would keep up (something hardly necessary for a city that was already the very center of things).   Over the last thirty years’ time, the city’s residents have spent hundreds of millions on public projects.

(This tiny town might have saved up enough over the last thirty years to buy a gently-used B-2 bomber.  New ones go for $700 million each, but a used one would be less, and no one – no one – ignores a city with a genuine B-2.  Nearby towns like Palmyra or Fort Atkinson wouldn’t be laughing if Whitewater had its own strategic bomber.)

We also have a public university in town, supported with hundreds of millions in state funds spent to keep the campus going.  The claim that the state doesn’t reimburse the city for the full cost of services in a university town skirts the clear truth that the university brings more to the city than she costs.

One hears now from town officials what any reasonable person would have surmised years ago: that the City of Whitewater and Walworth County are low-growth communities (“we do not have a lot of growth like a lot of communities, like the those adjacent to Madison or Milwaukee”).    That’s disappointingly right – Whitewater is a low-growth community, as is Walworth County.

And yet, and yet, much of this spending was meant to spur growth, either to catapult Whitewater to new heights or assure her supposed position in the stratosphere.  Despite all that’s been spent, here Whitewater is – belatedly but admittedly – economically stagnant.

If proximity to Milwaukee or Madison were the key to success, and if (as is true) Whitewater’s still at the same place on the map as a generation ago, then why did anyone bother touting the city for all these years?

It’s because neither vast public spending for a small town nor proximity to Milwaukee & Madison were assurances of economic success.  It’s because public spending on whatever comes along accomplishes little, nothing, or worse than nothing (worse than nothing – that is, both stagnation and debt).   It’s because closeness to Milwaukee or Madison is not necessary for success.  (There was a time when policymakers insisted we would succeed precisely because we were relatively close to those bigger cities; now, when this town is obviously struggling, the same distance to the same destinations has become an excuse.)

We’ve reached – and we reached them long ago, really – the limits of public spending as a so-called catalyst for private growth.  It’s not impossible that such schemes might initially work elsewhere, but it’s next to impossible that more public money in a small town already saturated with public money will achieve solid, sustainable growth for residents.

American prosperity rests on private enterprise and initiative.   A useful project over the next few months will be to outline ways to liberalize Whitewater’s economy.

Small Towns in America Can Thrive

I posted recently about James Fallows’s Eleven Signs That a City Will Succeed.

(See, from FW, James Fallows on ‘Eleven Signs a City Will Succeed’ (Part 1) and an assessment of those signs for Whitewater, James Fallows on ‘Eleven Signs a City Will Succeed’ (Part 2).)

In the video below, James & Deborah Fallows talk about how (comparatively) smaller cities in different parts of the country are thriving. It’s a brief video, but from it one might be led to a deeper, if different, assessment of how a community can succeed.

Of this point one may be certain: it never was, and it never will, be true that boosterism brings lasting success to a community. 

I’m not convinced, absent more information, exactly why these towns are succeeding, but I’ve no doubt that America’s future is bright nationally, and can be bright locally, too.

The job market in the United States is constantly shifting—especially in small towns that were once totally reliant on large factories for jobs. While politicians focus on failing industries, things looks different from the local perspective. Atlantic national correspondent James Fallows and contributing writer Deborah Fallows travelled to Pennsylvania, California, and Kansas to understand what transformations were happening in various industries. “These perceived weaknesses are actually our strength,” says one young resident of Erie, Pennsylvania.

Via The Atlantic.

Culture, Economy, Fiscal

The approximate number of working age adults, from 25-64, in the City of Whitewater proper is 4,134.

This working age population is nestled among a total, estimated population of 14,801.

See, American Community Survey, 2010-2014, 5 year estimates http://factfinder.census.gov/bkmk/table/1.0/en/ACS/14_5YR/DP05/1600000US5586925.

One can draw three broad but reasonable conclusions from these numbers.

Culturally, local publications present a skewed view of the city, in which one would think Whitewater is older, and more middle class, than her whole population truly is.

Residents eager to advance this impression will typically include nearby (but non-city) residents in local accounts, to fortify the impression of the city as one with a predominant, working-age middle class.

Economically, however, it’s clear that the cultural presumption of a unified community on either side of the city’s borders is false.

If there were genuine commonality between the city proper and neighboring towns, we would have a larger and more robust local economy. Instead, many of our neighbors shop and seek entertainment outside the city, and have done so for years.

So much time has been spent pushing the idea of One City, One View, One Future, so to speak, that when transactions go wrong cocooned local residents are surprised: How did this happen? Are we not huge and robust? Who knew?

We’re beautiful and precious, but we’re neither huge nor robust.

A word of support and distinction, here, meant genuinely: I’ve often been critical of much of the Community Development Authority’s work, but one can see (and hear if one listens) that some of those gentlemen have understood the challenges Whitewater faces. Their solutions are not mine, to be sure, but I’ve no doubt that some of them (including Messrs. Knight and Kachel) can and do assess accurately the difficulties Whitewater faces. Neither their intellect nor perseverance is in doubt.

It’s an ancient truism to say that men and women make history, but not in conditions of their own choosing. Community development in Whitewater – broadly understood – has been dealt a difficult hand.

By contrast, the presentation of policy (as apart from community announcements) that one reads in the Daily Union or Banner evinces scarcely even a sketchy grasp of actual, challenging conditions. It’s all deceptively comforting, but that sort of comfort is ephemeral. 

To paraphrase a line from The Usual Suspects, the greatest trick Whitewater’s Old Guard ever pulled was convincing people that local problems don’t exist.  

Time takes her toll, far more effectively than any written reply. She’s not rhetorical, but she is instead quietly, coldly unforgiving.

This leads to Whitewater’s municipal fiscal condition. The working-age base on which the city rests isn’t especially large, and the risk of significant, infrastructure capital spending is that it will produce too little in return. The risk of revenue schemes is that they will either cost too much, produce too little even if we had the initial resources, or degrade local conditions for the state of local government’s appetite for revenue. 

Shared revenue is a weak substitute for local production.

There’s a way in which excessive local spending will do to Whitewater what it has done to other, far larger places: hollow out the city and drive more people to nearby towns.

I’m sure nearby towns are nice places to live, but I would not find any of them half so desirable as living in the city. I’d not trade residency in the city for elsewhere. 

I hope we attract many more residents. Effective attraction requires more than a publisher’s optimism.

Fiscal policies that overburden residents, or revenue schemes like waste-importation that degrade conditions so that prospective residents choose other places to live will always be the wrong policies.

Four thousand one hundred and thirty-four is not a big number, but that’s what makes it a big indicator. 

The Middle Time, Part 2 

Over two years ago, I described Whitewater as being in a ‘middle time,’ between former conditions and future ones:

While Whitewater is in a time of transition, from one way of life to a more diverse and prosperous one, she is only at the ‘end of the beginning’ of that transition.  

It’s a middle time now, and if one were to think of this as chess, one would say we’re in the middle game.  As with chess, the boundaries of that middle time are often nebulous, and are hard to define.  

This is still my assessment, very much so. The chances of the immediate past (the last decade or so) enduring relatively unchanged (as they might in a stable community) strike me as astonishingly small. I’m more confident of this assessment with each passing season.

A fair estimate was, and is, that this middle time will last for years.

But now one can offer a guess about two courses that this middle time may take, on the way to a more prosperous future: we may see limited growth until significant internal change, or we may see stagnation (and thus relative decline) until external change through something like gentrification.

On the end of either path we’ll be better off economically, but for longtime residents the futures will prove different: in the former current residents will be (or at least could be) significant players; in the latter they’ll have limited influence (as ‘something like gentrification’ is very much an outside force).

The latter also involves a decline in asset values before a rebound, so it necessarily involves a less desirable path to a future prosperity.

Doing what we have been doing, under this assessment, assures only a harder time until a better time.  

One other point seems clear to me: government intervention to produce positive economic results seems more difficult than ever. A better local economy requires gathering demand, and we’ve seen demand shift outward from the city, not inward.

Culturally, some non-college residents in the city see themselves as kindred spirits with non-college residents in nearby, smaller towns, but that kinship shows no evidence of guaranteeing a common economy.  

If anything, efforts to boost municipal revenue are only likely to exacerbate a city-towns divide, either by taxing city residents too much, or by pushing revenue-generation schemes that will degrade the quality of life in the city. 

This last point is worth considering at greater length another time, but it’s evident that some elected and appointed officials view the city, so to speak, as a closed ecosystem.  

If there’s one thing a college town is not, it’s that it’s not a closed ecosystem. That hasn’t, however, stopped one politician too many from thinking this way. 

Grocery Preliminaries (Part 3)

I’ve written a bit about the search for a grocery in Whitewater, but admittedly it has not been a principal topic for me.

That’s not because I don’t think a grocery or co-op would be nice to have; it’s because I know it’s hard to sustain one. Retail grocers (independent ones most notably) operate under demanding, difficult market conditions. 

It doesn’t matter how much some residents now want a grocery – it’s not easy to attract one. Sentry’s owners, after all, tried for years to find a buyer. What matters is whether sufficient numbers of residents can be expected to patronize regularly a grocery. Not enough did so previously.

I’m surely no booster of local government, and I’d surely rather not see public money for a grocery, but it’s wildly mistaken for some to contend that this should have happened by now, as though with a snap of one’s fingers.  The expectation & implication that this should have been wrapped up already is, to put it mildly, misguided

It’s significantly harder to attract or run a grocery than it is to fill one’s cart while walking down the aisles.

Grocery Preliminaries (Part 2)

I wrote yesterday about a grocery in town, in a post entitled, Grocery Preliminaries.  The post’s subject line used the word ‘preliminaries’ because it seems likely that Whitewater will get a new grocery, whatever one thinks of a public subsidy to entice one.  

In this way, that post presumed a deal, and so was meant to be preliminary to one.

(Needless to say, whatever the challenges of subsidizing a grocery, it’s noting like importing trash into the city as a get-revenue-quick scheme.  Waste importation is a truly bad idea, destructive to the environment, health, and development of the city.)

One of the conditions for a new grocery at the old Sentry location is that the university’s interest in the property  (as a term of art and a general desire for expansion) be satisfied.  

It’s worth noting that unpublished discussion of UW-Whitewater’s interest in the property has percolated through parts of the community for months; it’s not new information for everyone.  

This only reinforces, however, the point from an earlier post, Informed Residents, about the need for open government.

This morning, many residents are sure to be surprised  (‘the university has a connection to this property?’) and a few will be frustrated  (‘why didn’t we know?’ & ‘is the university standing in the way of a deal?’).

These are merely elements of a transaction, and they could have been disclosed sooner.  This community needs neither confusion about a project nor frustration with the university over it. 

I know that open government seems soft and starry to some, but it’s neither. Open government is both a principled (as a right) and a prudent (as a practical) approach.  It’s not in opposition to realism, but rather a higher expression of realism, embodying as it does the recognition that information typically wills out, at a higher price for the delay.

I’m sure we will get a grocery, and almost certainly with a public subsidy. That’s not what I’d advocate, but the proposal has obvious support. 

We could (and can) have one, however, more smoothly than this. 

Rapid Over Gradual 

There’s a policy study out from Cato entitled, 25 Years of Reforms in Ex-Communist Countries: Fast and Extensive Reforms Led to Higher Growth and More Political Freedom (via pdf Oleh Havrylyshyn, Xiaofan Meng, and Marian L. Tupy, Cato Policy Analysis 795, 7.12.16).

I finished it last night (the paper’s well-written, relatively brief, and persuasive). There’s no local implication, here, needless to say; the results are interesting in themselves. Here’s a bit from the executive summary, with the policy paper immediately following:

The transition from socialism to the market economy produced a divide between those who advocated rapid, or “big-bang” reforms, and those who advocated a gradual approach. More than 25 years have passed since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, providing ample empirical data to test those approaches. Evidence shows that early and rapid reformers by far outperformed gradual reformers, both on economic measures such as GDP per capita and on social indicators such as the United Nations Human Development Index.

A key argument for gradualism was that too-rapid reforms would cause great social pain. In reality, rapid reformers experienced shorter recessions and recovered much earlier than gradual reformers. Indeed a much broader measure of well-being, the Human Development Index, points to the same conclusion: the social costs of transition in rapidly reforming countries were lower….

Download (PDF, 852KB)

Offer, Cooperation, Gentrification 

Let’s assume that one believes, as Whitewater’s political class has professed for the last generation, that attracting newcomer families to the city is a worthy goal. (I share this goal; for those who don’t, the conversation’s over, so to speak. They need say no more, and may watch out their windows as the city stagnates, then slowly declines.)

Yet, if one believes that attracting newcomers, including families, is a positive end, how are we to do so? There are at least three possibilities: (1) with take-it-or-leave-it-offers, (2) with cooperative engagement, or (3) when offering will no longer matter, and newcomers will take what they want.

Undoubtedly, anyone involved professionally in attracting newcomers sees that a cooperative spirit is the best option; I’m writing in a time when a few who are influential – but outside that development circle – still don’t grasp as much.

It should be obvious that a take-it-or-leave-it-attitude, a view that the city is already flawless and unquestionably desirable – will attract few newcomers, and none who are realistic.  All towns need improvement of one kind or another.  Those who insist that there’s a certain way to talk around here will only be met with desirable prospects’ silence and rejection.

If people are to come here, and buy houses here, they’ll bring more than their money: they’ll come here with their views and cultural preferences. If they can’t bring the latter they’ll not spend the former.

I’ve had conversations with conservative newcomers, for example, from thriving conservative communities, who are surprised that longer-term residents are uninterested in ideas that have been successful elsewhere. ‘That’s the way we do things around here’ is a declaration that discourages the talented from visiting, staying, or participating in civic life. 

When residents respond that way, they undermine the efforts of development advocates. 

The second possibility is to receive newcomers cooperatively: what would they like, what do they think, and how can we meet their likes and incorporate their ideas?  This is the best response, in which we listen and evolve.

There’s a third possibility, however: if newcomers won’t take only what’s offered (they won’t), and if there aren’t effective efforts to meet new residents halfway, then they’ll take what they want on their own terms when our real estate market collapses for lack of prior demand. 

Gentrification may yet come to Whitewater, but it will not come on terms pleasant to the recalcitrant. 

That time is a while yet ahead, and still might be avoided. These years since the Great Recession have seen that possibility draw closer. (Do longterm residents not see the signs of distress? If they can’t see as much, there’s no chance they can manage an eye chart.) If we’re not accepting of newcomers now – politically and culturally – we will reach a time when our acceptance will matter almost not at all.

The Other Problem with Bad Data 

Surveys, polls, and studies by their nature typically rely on the measurement of something.  (They’re not poetry; they’re not song.)  The accuracy of that measurement should matter, both to those collecting it and those receiving it.

It should matter in-and-of itself, and for its consequences. 

Many communities, including Whitewater, have had a data problem: a problem with the accurate measurement of the matter under consideration.  This problem expresses itself in more than one way: unintentional but inaccurate measurement and presentation, or intentional, selective, inaccurate measurement and presentation.  Many communities face these problems, to one level or another.

There’s another consequence of data problems, however, that develops over time: consistent, over-optimistic measurement and presentation raises expectations unrealistically, unjustifiably.

The consequence of this is that when something goes obviously and undeniably wrong, it leads not to equanimity, but to surprise, confusion, and frustration for an urgent (sometimes impossibly urgent) resolution. 

Years of describing and seeing the community in shades of pink only makes dark colors, when finally noticed, look darker than they truly are.

The Growth That Uplifts

In a recent interview, Ana Revenga, senior director of the World Bank’s Poverty and Equity Group, talks about ending extreme poverty.  See, Ending Extreme Poverty: World Bank Economist Ana Revenga @ The Christian Century.

(The World Bank defines extreme poverty as living on less than $1.90 per person per day, and the article describes how they’ve arrived at that figure.)

Revenga is focused on Third World poverty, but her insights into poverty prevention are relevant even in less dire situations. 

Consider her answers to two questions from the interview:

What is the single most important contributor to the decline in world poverty?

The biggest driver of the success is economic growth—but not any kind of economic growth. What’s needed is economic growth that improves the income-generating opportunities of the poor. This kind of growth involves either raising the value of the agricultural products that the poor are producing or generating better jobs. Anywhere between two-thirds and 80 percent of the decline in poverty rates is due to this kind of economic growth….

Are there forms of economic growth that are not good for the poor?

Absolutely. You could have a country where all the growth comes from commodity extraction or from a pipeline. Those funds might generate income, but that money does not go back into the economy to improve the lives of farmers and is rarely invested in building further infrastructure….

Needless to say, Dr. Revenga is more than capable of setting the boundaries of her own views, yet it seems fair to infer that if not all growth should be valuable, then not all spending is valuable.

Whitewater’s conditions are milder than those Ana Revenga faces in her work, yet not so mild that some who experience them would describe them as mild at all.

This leaves us with a question: is it, can it be, a solution merely to buy capital, goods, or the means of their distribution at public expense?

Inequality in the ‘Whitewater-Elkhorn’ Area

Over at the Economic Policy Institute, there’s a newly-published study of income inequality in America, and it ranks Walworth County as one of the most income-unequal places in the nation.  The study refers to the ‘Whitewater-Elkhorn’ metropolitan area, but with a population of 102,000, it’s clear that the reference is to Walworth County, using the 2010 Census population count.

(The methodology is that of Piketty and Saez, used years earlier to study income inequality across America.  Their method is not without critics, to be sure.  I find many of those critics compelling.)

Apart from this or other studies, however, it is still evident to anyone visiting Whitewater or Walworth County that pockets of significant poverty are all around.  This poverty surely  produces wide gaps with economically-successful residents.

Accentuating the positive in Whitewater has come at the price of ignoring actual conditions.

A few policymakers in Whitewater are versions of Japanese businessmen in the late ’80s, men who were so proud to proclaim that they had rebounded from the misery of war and thus had then arrived at the pinnacle of world achievement. (They were to find that arrival disappointing, as they’d overlooked actual economic conditions, and arrived only to years of stagnation.)

We would do far better to describe ourselves as we truly are, and invite others to join us not in an imaginary, perfect place, but in this real, beautiful, but work-yet-to-be-done place.

The City Never Sleeps

In the broadest, figurative sense, Whitewater never sleeps.  Like any other place, she’s constantly changing, either to her benefit or detriment, but changing nonetheless.  (It’s only the parochial myth that she’s already achieved a level of perfection that obscures the obvious truth of constant flux.)

Glance away, for one day or forty, and when one looks back there’s something new.  That is, all in all, a good thing: stagnation would be a worse condition. Change offers hope for better.

So much lies ahead: a school district’s search for an administrator, its funding of construction and operational expenses, a university’s budget and her cultural relations on and off campus, and a municipal government where the budgetary is too easily  (and unwisely) conflated with the community’s economy, as though they were the same things.

All these topics, of course, are few and slight compared with the full measure of conditions within the city; what passes for principal concerns is only a fraction of what truly matters.

Nonetheless, even these few topics offer much to consider.  They are an invitation to do one’s best, impartially, approaching them with the perspective of distance, detachment, and diligence they deserve.

There’s much ahead, waiting to be done. 

Parts and Wholes

If one were to look for Whitewater’s population, the U.S. Census Bureau’s report from 2010 would say it was 14,390, and that same bureau’s 2014 American Community Survey would say it was 15,040.

Let’s call the total population 15,000, at least for a moment.  Expressed this way, Whitewater seems like one place of a certain size.

I think that’s an inaccurate view of Whitewater – as one thing of a certain size – although there is a huge investment in what’s left of Whitewater’s political class to describe the city that way.

The truth, however, is that it’s more accurate to say that Whitewater is less one thing, one creature, and more like two or more creatures living in each other’s midst.  For other posts along these lines, see, The Meaning of Whitewater’s Not-Always-Mentioned Demographics and A Small But Diverse City, Seldom Described That Way.

Springer spaniels weigh about forty pounds, and Great Danes weigh about one-hundred thirty pounds.  Add them up, and that’s a one-hundred seventy-five pound dog.

But, of course, they’re not a one-hundred seventy-five pound dog at all.  They’re two dogs, of different sizes.  They have decidedly different needs.

Nor can one combine how much each weighs, divide by two, and thereby determine what kind of animal they are.  Doing that, one would conclude that the composite dog is a medium-sized animal, somewhere in the middle:

Springer spaniels and Great Danes added together do not make a bigger dog, nor do they make a medium-sized dog.  They’re two separate creatures.

We’ve been describing Whitewater, far too much, as one creature, but the city is composed of several demographics that want different things, and thus combine for a common goal only sometimes.

Tomorrow: Data Around Whitewater’s Size.