Monday, October 15, 2007

Heedless self interest

Paul Krugman had an interesting column today—hardly news there—titled Gore Derangement Syndrome. It is, as the title suggests, about the right wing's reaction to Al Gore's winning of the Nobel Peace Prize. And it is true; there are few other things that have gotten the Cheetos-stained fingers of the wingers moving so fast. But that's not what Spot wants to talk about today.

Here's a paragraph in the column that caught Spot's eye:

“We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals,” said F.D.R. “We know now that it is bad economics.” These words apply perfectly to climate change. It’s in the interest of most people (and especially their descendants) that somebody do something to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, but each individual would like that somebody to be somebody else. Leave it up to the free market, and in a few generations Florida will be underwater.

FDR's words also apply perfectly to the unchecked destruction of neighborhoods by rapacious spec builders. Spot has written before (in Rape and Pillage and Rape and Pillage II) about one Edina neighborhood's effort to rein in the construction of a giant abscess on a city-sized lot on Edina's east side.

The local Edina newspaper picked up the story last week:

Like many of the older Twin Cities suburbs, Edina has been mulling the idea of limiting large homes on small lots for years, decades by some estimations.

For some residents, the process isn't moving fast enough. Others approach the issue more cautiously, but almost everyone has an opinion.

In the article, Cary Teague, the chief dawdler in the city's planning department, is quoted as follows:

Teague said those who believe the council isn't working fast enough on the issue might not understand the intricacies that are involved.

He said Edina has chosen to pursue the issue from an ordinance perspective, avoiding often contentious case-by-case exemptions or variances.

However, an ordinance must pass legal muster. Too strict and builders might claim the city is unfairly robbing them of their right to have use of their property. Too lenient and the underlying problems causing massing may not be addressed.

Just like Goldilocks, Teague wants the city to wait until it's "just right!" (Spot also says that Teague's clammy dread of litigation is overblown, especially in the case of single lot redevelopment.)

Why the city would come down on the side of spec builders from say, Blaine, in favor of long-time residents, seems a mystery to many. But Spot says this is where the magic of the market comes in. At least that's what the Edina council seems to think. Here again is the video clip of the council's discussion of zoning versus the free market.

But as Spot has observed before, it is naïve to think that a public good—like a well-planned community that permits neighbors to live in relative harmony—will be produced by an entirely "free market."

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