A Candid Admission from the Whitewater CDA

Sometimes, however rarely, even in places with the most stubborn boosterism, an official admits – wittingly or unwittingly – the failure of longstanding policy.

Dave Carlson, executive director of the Whitewater Community Development Authority, is such an official. In a press release from March 27th, lauding a provision of the Trump tax bill, Carlson quotes the chairman of the Whitewater Community Development Authority:

“This new EOZ program allows for private investments to be made, with significant tax benefits, in lower income communities like ours that need a boost to their economy,” said Larry Kachel, Chair of the Whitewater Community Development Authority (CDA).

(Emphasis added.)

After a generation of marketing schemes, one now reads what a sensible person would easily grasp from the beginning: that Whitewater is, sadly, a lower-income community, and that it’s private investment – not public spending – that she needs.

For decades, since the founding of the Whitewater CDA, this city’s development gurus, municipal managers, local boosters, and fawning reporters have pushed, touted, marketed, praised, schemed, and spent vast public sums for big-ticket public items, each proclaimed as The Next Big Thing. And yet, and yet, for it all, here we are: a lower-income community.

That a few have done well for themselves – and made sure everyone else knows as much – is undoubted; community development is not a matter for a few.

Hundreds of millions in public expenditures, over the last generation, for bridges, buildings, an Innovation Center, WEDC this, WEDC that, roundabouts, sketchy tech ventures, huge infrastructure projects, etc. – and for it all, still a lower-income community.

Growth, prosperity, and inclusion – those are the proper measures of true community development.

This question confronts every man who has pushed a failed if-you-buy-it with-taxpayer-funds-they-will-come strategy:

What is the benefit of community development apart from meaningful and widespread gains in individual and household income?

Those many buildings, projects, and proposals have not uplifted individuals, and have not overcome Whitewater’s high levels of child poverty.

Whitewater is not, to be sure, the first community to commit to big-ticket public items at the expense of policies to promote individual prosperity.

Indeed, Shelley once wrote about a place that, long ago, made the same mistake:

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”