The title of this post may be a bit controversial, but can also be sadly true. Far too often, it seems a blind eye is turned toward the sins of the past just to generate new economic investment. A perfect example is portrayed in the past week’s (April 17th edition) of City Pulse by an article entitled “A Tax Break Won’t Change This.” While tax breaks are being offered to GM for additional investment in Greater Lansing, a ginormous vacant parking lot blights the near south side of the city, not to mention additional deteriorated sites along Saginaw Highway on the west side of town. This case is not alone, as the Rust Belt is littered with leftovers of its industrial history – hence the nickname Rust Belt. Is disregarding the fouled legacy of past sins what economic development is supposed to be all about? I certainly hope not.
Sadly, concerns about the past sins tend to get drowned out by the hype, hoopla, and hyperbole over new (or saved) jobs and investment. While those are important, they are NOT the only things that foster economic development and improve a community. Pleasant and safe neighborhoods, good schools, well-maintained infrastructure, quality public services, environmental stewardship, beautiful parks, inspired art, creative and new ideas, and many other community attributes also spur economic development. Vacant and blighted parking lots, abandoned industrial sites, polluted environment, underfunded schools and public services, and discarded communities are not the seeds necessary for sewing a healthy and vibrant economy. They are the seeds of our ultimate demise as a place where people want to live or work.
The economic development community needs to do some serious soul-searching and start to stand up for enhancing “community” in more ways than the perceived and spouted panacea of jobs which is so narrowly focused and aspired to. Otherwise, they/we are nothing more than a bunch of glorified used-car salespeople, and we know how well they rate in the court of public opinion.
– Rick Brown