More on the Right Social Conditions in a Small Town

I posted yesterday that Gentrification Requires the Right Social Conditions, contending in part that a small city like Whitewater remains divided (and by consequence limits its own attractiveness to newcomers) because it remains divided by town and gown (and divided within the town, itself, too).

Whitewater’s problem is not that different factions do not have a sense of their own interests, it’s that these factions do not see others’ interests adequately, and so both make accommodations less likely and (worse) even misperceive full measure of the very community in which they live.

It’s much easier to be a representative of a particular group (e.g., students, middle-aged non-student residents, elderly residents). (Obvious point, still worth making: I don’t claim to represent anyone else; I’m an emissary of one, so to speak.)

A few people saying they’ve solved problems of division doesn’t mean those divisions have been solved; it means a few people think (let’s assume sincerely so) that they have been, and hope to convince many others that their assurances are an adequate substitute for community harmony.

I’m increasingly convinced that the best efforts at community harmony and progress will not come from local government, or large local institutions, but from private charitable, small business, and cultural projects. Each of these has a chance of inspiring cross-cultural understanding as good or better than any factionalized political representation.

Cross-cultural understanding is a necessary condition of community progress.

An Oasis Strategy

There’s a wide difference between believing that we’ve difficult national or local times ahead and losing confidence. I’m as confident today as ever that Whitewater has a bright long-term future. There’s simply hard work ahead between now and then, and more hard work now than we might have hoped (national trends being what they are).

What to do? A few simple suggestions, all around the view that Whitewater can pursue an oasis strategy in which she departs from the routine and emphasizes creatively, with liveliness, the genuinely unique, apolitical accomplishments in the wider area.

Unlike a mirage, an oasis is a real place of real respite. An oasis is noticeable and desirable among its wider surroundings; it’s noticeable and desirable for what it genuinely offers. The mirage presents illusory beauty at a distance but offers nothing up close; an oasis is beautiful at a distance but even more desirable upon arrival.

1. Look away from local government. Common Council isn’t the Roman Senate (and then, the Roman Senate wasn’t what one often hears it was; there were very few truly noble Romans, to be clear about it). Forget the notion that local government sits at the peak of the city.  There is no peak; there are thousands of equally valuable spots.

2. Recognize the masking effect of commonplace background noise. Outside Whitewater are Fort Atkinson, Palmyra, Milton, Jefferson, etc. Saying the same things that other towns say in their schools, and at their local council meetings, only gets lost amid the background noise of daily life. Trying to leverage often momentary gains in particular metrics won’t catch anyone’s notice; leveraging selective parts of reports either goes similarly unnoticed, or – far worse – only alienates people already disillusioned with cherrypicking.

Behind tiresome, mundane presentations of school report cards, for example, are stories of genuine, specific accomplishment – what a student wrote, built, said, or discovered. That’s impressive, and compelling. Tell those stores with lively, graceful prose and add video to one’s accounts – short videos will add life to these stories.

3. Emphasize the uniquely creative and charming. We’ve nice restaurants, a charming City Market, an annual race to Discover Whitewater, a Community Foundation, and countless charitable work in the city. More good work is done there than in any conventional political meeting.

The City Market, for example, is charming, but that charm has no particular politics: a style, and a fine selection, are without partisanship.  There’s a playful style to the market, but the sensibility that produced that style transcends politics.  It’s not enjoyable for one group or demographic – it’s accessible equally to all.  When one thinks about something like Discover Whitewater, one wouldn’t think about the politics of the runners – they’re here to have a good time, and the city is here to welcome them.

4.  Whitewater’s not one community, nor need it ever be.  This city’s not of one culture or one identity; we’re not a homogeneous place. We’re a diverse and multicultural community. Revanchism on behalf of some won’t make the city great for any. On the contrary, that path will prolong present difficulties, and delay significantly (although not prevent) this city’s more prosperous future.

In even the most difficult times, of economic and political trouble, Americans have still produced great works, committed to charitable undertakings, and carried on admirably (all the while addressing national issues separately).  This city can do the same, as well as others before us did in their challenging times.

How Big Averts Bad

If it should be true that small-town Whitewater faces a choice between difficult times now or an extended decline before an out-of-town-led gentrification, that her decline will otherwise be slow but no less signficant as a result, that stakeholder (special interest) politics grips the city, and that this stakeholder politics is really an identity politics that offers no uplift, then what is to be done?

(On identity politics – it’s comfortable for a few, but only in the way that it’s comfortable for a pig to sit in the mud: the animal’s momentary ease won’t forestall a trip to the butcher shop.)

There’s the possibility of restructuring committees and city functions to assure a streamlined – and unified – direction, but the effort presents some legitimate policy questions, and more relevantly would require additional work from some who just don’t want to expend that effort. (Although I share policy doubts about the idea, if I can guess the motivation correctly – and it’s just a guess – I would say that the idea seems born of a desire to motivate the city in a positive direction. One can be opposed to an idea yet sympathetic to a perceived, underlying goal.)

Unfortunately, an alternative to streamlining is even more difficult – far more difficult – to do: the city could undertake a comprehensive review of its entire political culture, setting aside much of the last generation’s approach, in citywide meetings and supporting referendums. (Think of something like a broad-based convention and the resolutions that might come from it.)

Because this approach would require setting aside most of what has been tried ineffectually, and stubborn pride abhors a new course, the likely acceptance of this approach is about the same as convincing wolves to eat broccoli. (They might be persuaded to try some, but they’d be more likely to eat a person’s hand or arm during the effort.)

The scene: Whitewater’s local government advanced a resolution on Citizens United, but the community lacks the unity to advance a series of broad resolutions or votes on reducing local government’s size and thirst for revenue, ending government-goosed business deals, paring back even further zoning restrictions that are still too burdensome, a genuine community relations to replace adversarial enforcement, ending the transparently deceptive practice of publishing cherry-picked data and dodgy studies (a problem for the city, school district, and local campus), rather than honestly presenting the city to all the state not as a paradise but as a work-in-progress that could use every last talented newcomer we could find.

This would be a big project, but the city’s in a spot where, to avoid an extended period of relative decline, Whitewater needs big to avert bad.  The long-term future of this city will yet prove bright, but why delay for many years that better day, for the sake of a few officials’ selfish pride?

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. 

Brief Remarks on Downtown Whitewater, Inc.

I promised a post on Downtown Whitewater, Inc.’s search for a new, full-time leader.  They’ve a committee that drafted a job description.  Of that committee, there are truly impressive members : smart, talented people.

How their search will turn out I do not know – one hopes for a good outcome.

I do know, however, that Whitewater’s success doesn’t depend principally on secondary organizations, but on successful, direct, daily transactions between Whitewater’s businesses and her consumers.

We have seen the rise of new restaurants & merchants in town (in all parts of it), and the continuing success of others, that have compelling offerings.  These businesses offer much through the hard work of their owners.  Their success is the consequence of their labors.

I’ll now return an expression someone many years ago delivered to me:

One should not confuse the map for the terrain.  

I’ll not confuse business organizations for free markets of private businesses and consumers.

My best wishes to all for many prosperous years ahead.

Friday Poll: Preferred Shopping Times, 2015


The Friday FW poll asks about how you’ll shop over the weekend.  It’s third year that I’ve run this poll (versions of it ran in 2012 and 2013).  Let’s see how this year’s answers compare with those earlier versions.  (Multiple selections are possible for those who’ll shop in different ways.)

Shop Small on Saturday, November 28, 2015

If you’re out and about on Saturday, I hope you’ll shop at some of the many independent, small merchants of Whitewater. You’ll find a wide selection of items for purchase as gifts, and good restaurants at which to eat while shopping during the day.

Best wishes to all for a happy and prosperous season —

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See, for more information, Small Business Saturday® on Facebook.

Restaurants Transform a City

Whitewater is a small city, not a California metropolis, but even a prosperous place like San Francisco benefits from a growing restaurant culture:

SAN FRANCISCO — For decades, as this city polished its reputation as an essential food destination, a stretch of Market Street just a short stroll from the groundbreaking Zuni Café remained stubbornly unchanged, an odd wasteland of check-cashing stores and weed dealers punctuated by the whiff of urine.

A city survey last year declared that Market Street between Seventh and 11th Streets was San Francisco’s dirtiest commercial strip. While nearby Union Square and the South of Market district blossomed, these half-dozen broad blocks remained something people rushed through on their way to more charming neighborhoods.

But in a city consumed by a tech boom that has left no inch of its roughly 47 square miles unnoticed by developers, the neighborhood now called Mid-Market is undergoing a transformation that would render it nearly unrecognizable to anyone who hasn’t braved its sidewalks for a few years….

See, A San Francisco Street Transformed by Food @ New York Times.

Some of the most uplifting changes to Whitewater’s retail scene have been the addition of new restaurants (and a nano-brewery) in the downtown.

Today @ the Whitewater City Market, 3 – 7 PM

 

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If you’ve not had the chance, today would a fine day to visit the Whitewater City Market, at the Cravath lakefront.   They’ve an impressive lineup, and you’re sure to find something you’ll enjoy.

MUSIC

Andrus & the Mariners  5:30-7 p.m.

VENDORS

BeefN’Beaks  grass-fed beef, farm-fresh chickens and eggs

Bluff Creek Nursery  plants, produce, painted trellises

Chippy’s Kettle Corn  popped-on-site kettle corn, fresh-squeezed lemonade

D&B Yarn  hand-spun yarns

D&D Enterprises  wooden birdhouses, feeders, dream catchers, jewelry

Doug Jenks Honey  honey, maple syrup, beeswax, sorghum

Drews Designs Jewelry  jewelry

Grischow’s Produce  produce

Ground to Table  jams, jellies, chutneys, bruschetta, salsas, kimchi, bread

Jazzed-Up Marshmallows  gourmet marshmallows, apples in the fall

Life Giving Nook Goat Milk Soap  bar and liquid goat milk soap; plants and veggies

Malone’s Produce  sweet corn

Morningside Farm & Orchard  chicken, goat meat, eggs, goat milk products, jam, produce

Morsels by Marly  fruit pops, granola, baked goods

Murphy’s Farm Produce produce

Nani’s Nook  handsewn baby bibs, burp cloths, crayola caddies, aprons, eye pillows

New-Age Peasants Field of Dreams  organic produce, all-natural body scrubs, rustic furniture

Number One Dime  crocheted items, jewelry, sculptures

Ron’s Tin Roof Garden  produce, handmade signs, birdhouses

Schoenfeld Family Farm  sweet corn, beans, potatoes, onions, carrots

Shia Shakes & Co. Jewelry  jewelry and jewelry holders

Soap of the Earth  goat milk soaps infused with organically grown herbs

Spark Spices  spice blends

SpinMeKnots  hand-spun hair clips and yarns, knitted headbands, spirit locks

Steffen’s Cherry Orchard  local tart cherries (frozen), jams, honey

Sunny Brook Farm  produce, eggs

Taco Fresco  salsas, picos, pickled Mexican and southern-style veggies

Takou’s Produce  fresh-cut bouquets, sunflowers, seasonal veggies

The Vegetable Stand  produce

Uncle Steve’s Creations  homemade jellies, jams, sauces and relishes

Tony’s Honey  honey, soap, and beeswax items

Vang’s produce  produce

Yang’s produce  produce

FOOD CARTS

Casual Joe’s  pulled pork sandwiches, barbecue sauces, salad kits

Flying Cow Pizza  wood-fired mobile pizza oven

Primetime  burgers, wraps, cheese curds, fries, snow cones, sodas, and more

SweetSpot  coffee, baked goods, bread, lemonade

Vulnerability of a Restaurant Culture

Whitewater’s publicly-driven marketing may not have amounted to much, these last ten years, but there are few better advertisements for Whitewater than thriving restaurants and taverns. Good restaurants, doing well, are a sign of a successful community.

Some of Whitewater’s newest restaurants also reflect a sensibility that’s significantly more contemporary than older ones that lingered and shuffled along in town for the last generation. Newcomers to the city, especially successful and discerning ones, will notice today good choices that did not exist a decade ago.

One could talk forever about how Whitewater is a great place to ‘live, work, and play,” but no one picks a town because of a tired slogan used too often by too many. No one sensible will choose Whitewater because of what we say, and especially what government, public-relations men, or local notables say about the town.

A sensible man or woman will chose Whitewater based on his or her own direct impressions of how the town appears and what it offers by sight, sound, and taste. Few would buy a house without a walkthrough; equally few will buy a car without a test drive.

All the websites, flyers, commercials, testimonials, etc., are slight when compared with a good meal, in a congenial setting, recommended to one’s friends.

Whitewater talks so much – rightly – about attracting the talented. Good restaurants attract good prospects, people who would help build a hip and prosperous community.

A restaurant culture, however, is a vulnerable and fragile one. It’s hard to run these establishments, and hard to be assured of patrons who, after all, are free to choose one offering – or one city – over another. It’s not so far to other towns that patrons will not go elsewhere, or prospects avoid our city entirely. We are, after all, a people of automobiles, easily able to drive to one place or another (or drive nowhere by dining at home).

One cannot avoid noticing how reduced is our summer traffic, how much smaller the prospects for patronage when campus is out-of-session. No doubt, there are some – including those who rely on a steady public income over private earnings – who would prefer Whitewater were less-trafficked all year long. A steady income from public employment (or a narrow professional clientele), leaves those so happily situated insensitive to the vagaries of the market.

Now, I am not a restaurateur, and I do not experience their daily uncertainties of patronage and opportunity. Nonetheless, like most people, I am able to see that these establishments are often like birds in the winter: they have a narrow margin for movement, lest they deplete their limited, available intake.

Regulatory or enforcement actions that drive those on campus to stay on campus, or to avoid choosing this campus, will leave Whitewater’s establishments with a market far smaller than fifteen-thousand people.

It will reduce Whitewater to a size effectually smaller than nearby towns.

Even a fraction of the total campus population is likely the difference between success or failure for many of Whitewater’s restaurants, including ones that serve (happily, successfully) many long-term patrons who have no connection to the campus.

The lost value to the city from a shift away from patronage at these establishments is far greater than the value of one or two public officials’ contributions. It would be worse than unfortunate if the actions of a public few ruined a thriving restaurant culture for this city. No public official of Whitewater has done more to advance this city’s image and value – not one, ever – than these private establishments do for the city through their own efforts.

We’ve made private gains; they’ll only be preserved and advanced by public restraint.

Arguments on Cost & Flexibility Under a Complete Streets Ordinance

There are two questions that I promised yesterday that I would take up today about the Complete Streets ordinance recently passed at Council on 1.20.15.

The first is whether the draft ordinance was flexible enough, and the second about the costs of new roads or reconstruction that would include sidewalks or bike paths.

I read the draft that Council saw before the Tuesday vote, and I’m unpersuaded that the draft was lacking in flexibility for future planners. The 1.20.15 draft (before amendments) is embedded below.

One could argue over should or shall, but 11.51.040 E as drafted offers ample grounds to reject a bike path or sidewalk project if Council or a future one wished to do so.

More generally, I’ve contended time and again that thousands upon thousands of Whitewater residents are sharp and capable. One doesn’t need to have been a legislative aide to read or draft an ordinance for the city. There are myriad paths to an equal comprehension, to say the least.

Libertarians don’t contend it’s true that most people are smart and capable because we say so; we say that most people are smart and capable because it’s true.

On the cost side, I’m sensitive to how much this city spends, and goodness knows sidewalks are expensive.

I’d be more persuaded that the Greater Whitewater Committee (GWC), a business-advocacy 501(c)(6) organization, had lower costs in mind if they’d argued more often to keep costs lower.

I don’t recall, for example, that they argued against the approximately $2.3 million dollar East Gateway Project. (In fact, one of their members, now on Council, unsuccessfully asked for another $500,000 or so for placement of underground wiring.)

I argued against that funding, and confidently so. How is our city $2.3 million richer for that roadwork?

The GWC is free to advocate as it wishes – I’m for more, not less, speech. Let’s be clear, though. Like trade unions, business-advocacy groups, etc., represent one special-interest point of view among many others. By their very federal tax designation, they’ve a necessarily limited point of view.

Public Choice Theory properly recognizes these groups as just one more special interest among many.

Individuals at the Community Development Authority who have been for hundreds of thousands in public handouts to white-collar startups, and are now looking for yet another round of the same on the public tab, don’t seem like cost-savers.

Millions on an Innovation Center, or failed tax-incremental spending, or the endless effort to write sugary press-releases boosting these wasteful things, belie a professed commitment to smaller government.

That doesn’t mean one shouldn’t, let alone can’t, advocate for businesses (even white collar ones that help few in town). Trade unions, the business lobby, etc., all play a role in a society that recognizes rights of association.

They’re not, however, something like the Roman Curia, assisting in the work of the universal Church, so to speak.

These local groups are all just special interests, sometimes arguing for better, sometimes for worse.

The best way to show one’s genuine and convincing commitment to less spending and smaller government would be for some of these gentlemen to reject the white-collar welfare and crony capitalism of the WEDC, for example.

I’ll be waiting.

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The Common Council Session for 1.20.15: Complete Streets

I posted briefly yesterday on Tuesday’s Common Council meeting, and in that post mentioned that I would look a bit more at some of the remarks for, or against, the Complete Streets ordinance that passed Tuesday night.  (I supported the ordinance.)

Council discussed this issue previously, on December 16th.  See, Common Council 12/16/2014.

I’ve included only some of the speakers from the January 20th discussion, for particular points.  Readers interested in the full discussion – always worth watching – can find it online at Common Council Meeting 01/20/2015

For now, I’ll consider the comments of these speakers: Ken Kienbaum, David Yochum, Larry Kachel, and Chris Grady.

Ken Kienbaum, 3rd District Candidate


WhitewaterCouncil012015A from John Adams on Vimeo.

Mr. Kienbaum makes, I’d say, two principal arguments, one of which I’ll consider here, and the other of which I’ll consider tomorrow. 

For today, I’ll address his remarks about cyclists riding on the sidewalks.  Mr. Kienbaum made similar remarks at a council meeting over thirty days before, on 12.16.14.  (See, Common Council 12/16/2014 @ 38:30)

His contention is that cyclists can ride on our sidewalks, without the need for added bike lanes. 

It surprised me when he first made this argument in December, as someone seeking office or following city policy should know that it’s a violation of our ordinances to ride one’s bike on many of our sidewalks.  (See, 11.40.070 – Obedience to vehicle or traffic regulations and riding regulations.)

When I wrote in support of the Complete Streets ordinance, I omitted mention of the existing limitations against riding on sidewalks, as I assumed that as Mr. Kienbaum was likely to speak again this January, he would take the opportunity to correct his prior misunderstanding.

He made no correction, but instead repeated his prior error.  That’s hardly a good sign.  It suggests to me that either no one in Mr. Kienbaum’s circle was aware of the ban on bikes on sidewalks, or no one bothered to tell him about it. 

On Mr. Kienbaum’s second point, about costs, I’ll have more tomorrow. 

David Yochum, Resident


WhitewaterCouncil012015B from John Adams on Vimeo.

Watch this presentation, and I think you’ll see what I see: a strong, conversational speaker, who speaks extemporaneously about his own observations on cycling in town.  It’s persuasive, I think, about what it’s like to bike in town (I do so, too).  It’s persuasive, also, for the quality of delivery. 

Larry Kachel, Great Whitewater Committee, a 501(c)(6) business advocacy organization


WhitewaterCouncil012015C from John Adams on Vimeo.

Mr. Kachel leads with an unexpected opening:

I’m Larry Kachel, I feel the need to speak due to some disparaging remarks I believe have been made by a certain city official which I will deal with tomorrow morning.

I’m not sure what to make of this.  It’s among the most counter-productive openings that an advocate could offer – it scuttles just about everything thereafter. 

Mr. Kachel is a leading member of the Greater Whitewater Committee, a 501(c)(6) business advocacy organization.  He’s speaking on a public issue, and he’s a public figure by virtue of his organizational role.  (The organization’s been around for a few years.)

There are two kinds of speech, from the point of view of public advocacy: speech actionable at law (defamatory speech) and everything else.  Disparaging speech, acerbic speech, polemical speech, etc., all fall in the latter, everything-else category.

It’s a mistake to react to disparaging speech when – as here – that reaction so obviously ruins the tone for successful persuasion.  

I’m quite sure there have been, and may be yet more, many disparaging remarks directed my way from city hall, etc. 

That is for me – and should be properly for anyone – just water off a duck’s back.  To borrow a question from Hillary Clinton: what difference does it make?

The residents of this city – including city officials – have a free-speech right that will sometimes include sharp remarks.  Neither the residents of this city nor her officials are employees of the Greater Whitewater Committee. 

Members of the GWC are free to complain, surely.  When delivering those complaints, they’re no less – but no more – important than any other citizen. 

In any event, it does no good for the Greater Whitewater Committee to advance a literacy program earlier in the evening, only to mute a positive tone with an opening like this.  One doesn’t follow champagne with a chaser of brine. 

One should be careful, too, about declaring a need to speak after supposedly disparaging remarks.  If critical remarks compelled an advocate to appear, city officials might hit upon the opposite idea of sending valentines to keep him away in the future. 

Some of the arguments on flexibility – like Mr. Kienbaum’s on cost – are ones that I’ll consider tomorrow.  (I’m particularly sympathetic to cost arguments.)

Chris Grady, 3rd District Candidate


WhitewaterCouncil012015D1 from John Adams on Vimeo.

Mr. Grady begins with a solid opening, and a gentle rebuke to his Third District opponent, Ken Kienbaum:

I want to start out with a question: Is it legal to ride a bike on the sidewalk?

(Answer from council: no, it is not.)

That’s perfect, just perfect: simple, direct, clear. 

There are times when a single question does the trick.  This was one of those times. 

Cameron Clapper, City Manager

Here, I’m referring to Mr. Clapper’s demeanor throughout the night, rather than a particular point (as with those above). 

Now I have agreed and also disagreed with policies during City Manager Clapper’s tenure. (We may yet have ahead a strong disagreement over a commercial digester for the importation of waste into this city from other places.)    

And yet, and yet, I’ll not underestimate his strengths, nor the evident, widespread hope in this city that his administration succeeds.  (I hope for that success, too, disagreements notwithstanding.)

He kept his cool, all evening, and came out looking stronger for it.

Well-played.

Tomorrow: Arguments on Cost & Flexibility Under a Complete Streets Ordinance.

The Common Council Session for 1.20.15

I’ve two quick remarks about last night’s Council session. 

On an appointment to the Third District seat until April, I’d say Brienne Diebolt-Brown was a solid choice.  Three residents were willing to be appointed, two of whom (Ken Kienbaum, Christopher Grady) are running in the spring general election. 

Ms. Diebolt-Brown doesn’t plan to run in the contested election.  In any event, she’s more than qualified to represent the district.   Best wishes to her during her term.

On the Complete Streets initiative, having passed last night, I’d say that the result was both positive and interesting.  (I supported the initiative.  See, from FW, In Support of the Complete Streets Initiative for Whitewater.)

Interesting is important, too: several residents spoke for, or against, the proposal, and their arguments are worth considering in detail.  After Whitewater Community Television posts the video online, I will offer readers a look at some segments from the discussion, along with analysis.

It’s useful to show some of those speaking as they spoke, in their own words and in their own manner.  

One last thing, so that I may be very clear — it’s not a man or woman, but a man or woman offering an argument over a proposal, that should govern policy, and make the difference. 

Old Whitewater is infected with DYKWIA.   Needless to say, I don’t care about status or entitlement, but rather about the quality of argument a man or woman makes.

(That’s not putting it so plainly as I might when expressing myself directly, but one sees my meaning.)

It’s what one advocates that interests me.

There were, to be sure, interesting arguments in this discussion, worth considering.

More on that soon.

In Support of the Complete Streets Initiative for Whitewater

This Tuesday, January 20th at 6:30 PM, Common Council will consider a Complete Streets ordinance (item O-3) for Whitewater. A Complete Streets program simply requires planners to consider bike and pedestrian travel, for example, when either building or reconstructing streets within our city.

(I listened closely to discussion of the idea at our 12.16.14 Common Council session; I look forward to the discussion on 1.20.15.)

It’s an excellent idea, and one that I fully support.

If we are to have planning – and this libertarian knows that one cannot build or reconstruct a road without planning – then it is the least to expect that planners should be forward-thinking, and look ahead to designs that consider “healthy, active living, reduce traffic congestion and fossil fuel use, and improve the safety and quality of life of residents of the City of Whitewater by providing safe, convenient and comfortable routes for walking, bicycling,” for example.

That’s what this idea requires – simply to look at more, to think beyond today (let alone yesterday, or decades ago) – and craft those possibilities into one’s future plans.

We cannot have growth and prosperity merely because we call for them, just as we cannot have good health merely because we say we are fit. Our future in these matters rests in our own hands – if we are to be a better place, then we will have to promote better ideas over worse ones.

We will have to do more than repeat tired platitudes that all is well, or that nothing needs to change.

Honest to goodness, this is a city of fifteen-thousand, not one or a few. There’s every right to advocate from one’s own experiences, but there’s something odd about believing that because a few people can’t imagine change, because they’re satisfied, that such a singular complacency should be a compelling policy argument.

This city is no insect in amber, to be placed as a paperweight on someone’s desk.

A Complete Streets perspective does not serve a few, but manypeople of all ages, all backgrounds, all ideologies, all ethnic backgrounds – could and would benefit from more attention to biking and walking safely within the city. Unlike so many schemes that benefit only a few insiders’ friends, this mere expectation of planning with biking and walking in mind would benefit people from all parts of life.

Looking around, beyond the city, to successful and prosperous communities elsewhere, one sees that this is what they’re doing, to their own enrichment and betterment.

A proposal of this kind would place our city farther along the path to the hip, prosperous city she can be, and is destined to be.

It’s a discussion worth following closely, with best wishes to the proponents of a good idea for Whitewater.

Whitewater’s Independent Merchants: Supporting Small Bricks Over Bytes

A quick summary of my views on business would be to say that

(1) private markets are typically superior to government regulation, subsidies, or game-rigging,

(2) government should be impartial to different kinds of businesses,

(3) government ‘business’ or ‘development’ efforts are often self-promoting efforts of officials, bureaucrats, and hangers-on who are parasitic of public money and power,

(4) and if we are to have public spending, it should go to those who are less well-off, not those who are plump, flush, and bloated even now.   

This brings me to our local merchants, a topic to which I and others often return.  I’ve had doubts about some of their direction, and been supportive of other efforts. 

And yet, I see that our small merchants are far more deserving than the projects on which we’ve spent – and mostly wasted – millions. 

There was a scheduled downtown cleanup today, from Downtown Whitewater, Inc. 

Consider this passage from Jane Jacobs’s Death and Life of Great American Cities:

….storekeepers and other small businessmen are typically strong proponents of peace and order themselves; they hate broken windows and holdups; they hate having customers made nervous about safety.  They are great street watchers and sidewalk guardians if present in sufficient numbers….

Although our small city isn’t like the ones about which Jacobs was writing, this passage yet fits us, too.  Merchants’ care for their own spaces improves public life for all. 

We’ve a perception problem in town, among a few town notables, who believe that an investment in something that sounds tech-oriented is necessarily better than an investment in a store merchant’s or restaurateur’s efforts. 

These few would pick bytes, so to speak, over bricks.  (And of bricks, they’d go for big ones – however unneeded, expensive, or even environmentally risky – over small ones.) 

There are – right now – tens of thousands of programs, applications, and methods privately produced and available for purchase.

Still, somehow, we’re supposed to believe that America needs the next great app, for tens of thousands to publicly-employed, white-collar academics. 

Business is the place for business products.  Free markets are the place where they should be offered and purchased. 

There’s a role for research money at university – indeed, America leads the world in fundamental theoretical and experimental science. 

That lead, however, does not come from public subsidies to tech ventures that sound better than they’re ever likely to be. 

This brings me back to those who are already in business, private merchants with shops and restaurants in this town. 

In the city budget ahead, Whitewater would do well to prioritize support for those who are in private, small brick & mortar businesses, over flashy sounding but dubious tech efforts. 

I’d take a shop or a restaurant over big projects, those big projects being mostly wasteful (and, for some yet in planning, harmful even to health and wellness).   

Better small bricks over (supposedly) big bytes. 

The Middle Time

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.  

We may say that the beginning or opening is now over, as social media have pushed Whitewater from her former oligopoly of published information.  A fawning professional press that coddled the mediocre and dishonest no longer counts for much; there are dozens of media by which information in small towns may circulate.

The creation of a status-quo news website in Whitewater has been a mixed success. It offers much in the way of local, apolitical announcements, but any pretensions to political influence are undercut by substandard composition and an often poor level of analysis.  (All the silent editors in the world are still not enough.)  

In this middle time, one can expect two things.  

First, those few who have worked so hard, for so long, to assure that Whitewater will operate under business as usual likely believe that they can navigate a partly-changed terrain.  They’ve never wanted open government, transparent deals, market transactions, or even-handed enforcement and administration.  

They will never want these things, and they will not relent from pushing their own selfish & reactionary positions.   

Second, they’re mistaken to think that Whitewater has changed somewhat, but will change no more. The greatest changes are yet ahead, dwarfing those we’ve yet seen.  

A New Whitewater will be – and should be – a mix of ideologies, cultures, and generations.  

It should not be – and by force of change will not be – a place of cronyism, self-dealing, bias, or third-tier reasoning in politics or economics.  

People can get along well under any number of political differences (left, center, right, libertarian). The divide, however, between open and dark government, between fair deals and cronyism, between sound analysis and embarrassing error, is unbridgeable.  One is fundamentally fair and admirable, the other fundamentally unfair and unworthy.  There’s no room for a deal on these more fundamental matters.  

Whitewater is in that middle time now, one that will last for years.  It’s sure to be a period of twists and turns, an exciting and challenging time.  

There’s every reason, though, to look ahead energy and optimism.

The Planning Commission Meeting for 11.11.13

Whitewater’s Planning Commission met last night, and among the topics was consideration of re-zoning and a conditional use permit for Casual Joe’s, a new restaurant, tavern, and distillery to operate at 319 W. James Street (at the site of a long-unused commercial building, the former Fort Auto Body).   

On 4-3 votes, a majority of the Commission approved both the re-zoning and the conditional use permit.

I’ve supported this project, hoped that an accommodation could be reached, and think this was the right outcome. See, along this line, Whitewater’s Planning Commission Meeting for 10.14.13. (Needless to say, I have neither a financial nor a personal connection to the proposal; I simply believe it’s a good idea for Whitewater.)

One well-understands that the idea is controversial to some; in two consecutive Planning Commission meetings, concerns were both heard at length and (I’d say) thoroughly and methodically addressed.  

One of Whitewater’s planning commissioners offered an observation about a prior project that was controversial at the outset, but has turned out very well (my transcription, however imperfect):

….Some of the conversation we’ve had reminds me of the drive-thru liquor store conversation over on the Westsider.  Some of you may not even know that we have a drive-thru liquor store, but if you’ve been here, calamity was ensured.  And, I don’t want to make light of this, because in that case there are residents nearby, but the slippery slope argument was used.

What happened in this case is that it was approved, and it was approved because the person, the applicant, did his homework, involved partners, amended the plan, and it was a known…it was somebody who was established in the neighborhood – long-established in the community, and he had a stake….

Well said.  I remember that discussion clearly; there are advantages to a long memory.

It’s also true that the project proposed for 319 W. James Street is exactly the sort of project that Whitewater’s Comprehensive Plan – whatever one thinks of it generally – does contemplate for a location like this one.  To read from those planning documents and believe otherwise, really, is a misunderstanding of what those documents both say and strive to foster.

To paraphrase from a recent presidential campaign slogan, this is the change for which we’ve been waiting.  

For us, in Whitewater, this is the emerging business and entrepreneurial culture, of restaurants, merchants, and independent professionals, for which we have been hoping.  

Big has failed us, stodgy has failed us, top-down has failed us. 

Not everyone sees this as opportunity, I know.  Much of this is comfort with the past, even if for the whole city the past has been embarrassingly less than a reasonable person would hope, excuses and exaggerations notwithstanding.    

What comes to us now, fortunately, will not be yesterday’s environment – it will be a new and better one, more prosperous, more vibrant, of greater opportunities for all the community.  

Best wishes to Chef Sailsbery and his staff for another successful venture.

Why Plan?

All people make plans for the future, even if that should be no farther ahead than for later the same day.

Why specifically, though, should government plan?  Every city has plans for development, plans for budgeting, and many (as we do in Whitewater) have a public commission with lawful authority to approve or reject certain private construction or mercantile proposals.  

Whitewater’s Planning Commission, I think, has a choice before it: will you establish fair rules by which private parties can engage in entrepreneurial activity, or will you pick and choose who succeeds and fails, at the outset?  

It’s the oft-repeated distinction between planning for others to compete and planning to control competition.  Watching Whitewater’s Planning Commission, it’s clear that some commissioners would like merely to establish fair rules, and others feel a right to engineer specific results, including preventing entrepreneurs from building and creating in response to consumer demand.

Commissioners who feel they have a right to stop projects based on their personal preferences, or even the authority to stop projects because as appointees they may decide the destiny of others rather than allowing consumers to decide for themselves, overstep legitimate, responsible authority.

Hayek, among so many others since, saw the difference between government planning to facilitate any number of private, voluntary possibilities and planning of a few to compel particular outcomes.  Here, from his Road to Serfdom, are succinct expressions of his views:

“PLANNING” owes its popularity largely to the fact that everybody desires, of course, that we should handle our common problems with as much foresight as possible. The dispute between the modern planners and the liberals is not on whether we ought to employ systematic thinking in planning our affairs. It is a dispute about what is the best way of so doing. The question is whether we should create conditions under which the knowledge and initiative of individuals are given the best scope so that they can plan most successfully; or whether we should direct and organize all economic activities according to a “blue-print,” that is, “consciously direct the resources of society to conform to the planners’ particular views of who should have what.

One might describe this as a case for limited planning, and for expansive private activity.  Hayek draws this distinction:  

It is important not to confuse opposition against the latter kind of planning [of state-mandated outcomes] with a dogmatic laissez faire attitude.

The liberal argument does not advocate leaving things just as they are; it favors making the best possible use of the forces of competition as a means of coordinating human efforts. It is based on the conviction that, where effective competition can be created, it is a better way of guiding individual efforts than any other. It emphasizes that in order to make competition work beneficially a carefully thought-out legal framework is required, and that neither the past nor the existing legal rules are free from grave defects.

Liberalism is opposed, however, to supplanting competition by inferior methods of guiding economic activity. And it regards competition as superior not only because in most circumstances it is the most efficient method known but because it is the only method which does not require the coercive or arbitrary intervention of authority.

The case for a liberal, private order rests on arguments of efficiency and morality.  

Conditions are better, in both ways, when one is free.  

Whitewater will be more prosperous when planning returns to its proper, limited, responsible role. We’ll not have broad-based growth – we’ll not be both hipper and more prosperous – until then.  

Many can achieve here, but only under conditions of political and regulatory restraint.  

Downtown Whitewater and an Emerging Business Culture

At Tuesday’s Common Council meeting, there was a brief presentation from two board members of Downtown Whitewater (DTWW), with others from that group also in attendance.  In the life of a small town, success of merchants matters greatly.  (I’m opposed to pitting local independent merchants against local chain stores, but I very much support local businesses generally.)  

Years ago, when we first saw a Main Street program in Whitewater, there was considerable attention to the effort.  The Great Recession later swept across all America, and despite it all, many of our local merchants survived where one might have feared they would succumb (difficult though that time was, and still is).

Now, with a national recovery slowly underway, and years since its founding, DTWW and her merchants look to the new year.  

I’ll consider a few points from that presentation.

New Merchants.  DTWW has new merchants moving in, and if there’s a single gain that a group could have, it’s the ability to attract and retain businesses.  

Nothing kills the way emptiness kills.  There’s a place for marketing, and a place for the look and feel that façade grants bring, but new merchants are the ultimate marketing, occupied storefronts the best façade.  

DTWW’s ability to draw new merchants is an unalloyed gain. 

Memorandum of Understanding.  DTWW is under a clearer arrangement with the city, by the way, that makes accountability more easily reviewed.  

Fundraising. Most of the money received for DTWW now comes from private sources or in-kind donations.  That’s a key accomplishment: one may be rightly suspicious of many government-private partnerships, but by design and inclination this program moves toward greater self-reliance.   

An Emerging, Entrepreneurial Business Culture.  There’s a point in presentation where Dave Saalsaa, DTWW board president, mentions that DTWW is looking to encourage UW-Whitewater grads to stay and be part of an expanding business culture (such as along Whitewater Street).  
He’s right to mention this possibility: there is a real possibility now of an emerging business culture for Whitewater, of independent restaurants and independent merchants.  It has not come – and it will not come – from big grants, state or federal schemes, or big institutions’ heavy hands.  

But we are starting to see it here, after many years of approaches that mostly made things worse, or at least no better.  

After headlines, after exclamation points, after Big Ideas, there’s something better: the actual accomplishments of smaller, independent business people with good ideas.

Once a culture like this takes root, even in a few places, it can spread quickly and inspire others.  

The efforts of an emerging group of small business people, striving mostly on their own, with a new, hip and more fashionable presentation to this town, may be an important development of the next few years.  

Communications.  How the group communicates among its leaders, members, and the community is something I’m sure they’ll sort out.  If it goes well for them, they’ll advance their goals; if not, they’ll have difficulty meeting them.  Communicating should, after all, be a simple routine, like respiration.  

It’s only when one notices it that it’s a problem.  

Whatever hard work it takes to get there, though, is something the group can and almost surely can accomplish.

Pig in the Park and the Jack Hanna Animal Show.  Downtown Whitewater is planning two events, among others, for next year: Pig in the Park near Cravath Lake, and a return of Jack Hanna’s animal show (this time in collaboration with the university).

Events like this, if handled well, endear people to the city.  They’re not a substitute for prosperity, but can advance an optimism that prosperity requires.

My youngest attended the Jack Hanna show when it was here, and very much enjoyed it.  

DTWW is a small group, and these events are sure to be demanding to them.  Whitewater can manage big, annual events very well (our Fourth of July celebration comes to mind), but it takes more effort and planning when the group is small.

One simple suggestion: each and every volunteer should carry a sheet with the behind-the-scenes work for the day, the public schedule of events, the mobile numbers of every other volunteer, and all volunteers’ designated responsibilities.

That way, whenever anyone asks about a given event or with a question, everyone volunteering will have access to information or a directory listing others of whom they can ask.  

Full storefronts and a full calendar are both beneficial.      

Façades.  In the end, it seems to be that nothing matters more than occupancy, but I see that the ‘look and feel’ of a shop matters.  

(About this topic, I’m thinking of Virginia Postrel’s excellent book, The Substance of Style: How the Rise of Aesthetic Value Is Remaking Commerce, Culture, and Consciousness.  Postrel’s a libertarian and former editor at Reason who rightly sees that a free society and economy offer the best opportunities for creative, inspiring design. )

Style does matter, and so façades do matter.  TID 4’s dried up; we’ll have to go on in any event.  Fundraising from private sources to provide money for new façades certainly has its place.  

2014.  Lasting gains won’t come from big organizations or so-called big players: it’s been tried and it’s failed.  

Whitewater will have to look toward gains from small entrepreneurs, often unheralded, yet truly meaningful to the town’s confidence and long-term prospects.

We have a good chance for a better year ahead.