Thursday, February 21, 2013

Jim Kunstler and the Initiative to Improve Prospects for a Bright Future ... by gimleteye

We like to take note of Jim Kunstler's blog, "Clusterfuck Nation". Writing from a redoubt in rural New York State, Jim has plenty of friends in South Florida.

One of our enduring subjects -- the use by the Great Destroyers of the Urban Development Boundary in Miami-Dade County to proliferate suburban sprawl -- is right along the fault lines in American culture that Kunstler maps.

Environmentalists -- whose side we are on -- spent decades in serial skirmishes with pro-growth forces at the Urban Development Boundary. The UDB, for those reading about it for the first time, separates land requiring taxpayer-funded services from land, without. The land outside the UDB has other restrictions, meant to prioritize growth and the absorption of infrastructure costs, inside. Obviously there arises a profound difference between the value of land inside the UDB, very valuable, compared to the land outside. With that kind of arbitrage of values in play, in a region so defined by sprawl, it becomes obvious how the entire purpose of local government deformed from protecting the health, welfare and safety of citizens to speeding growth -- any growth -- through re-zoning of land for development.

We have written extensively on the subject (available in our archives). To the point of our affinity for Jim Kunstler, all the issues we probe illustrate Kunstler's main themes: how the deck is stacked against the public, the charade of "balance", the dumb silence for what passes as leadership in Miami while billions in unfunded infrastructure costs pile up, the shifting of baselines connecting people and families to quality of life, all the way from 'latch-key' children in isolated suburbs to the tattered flags waving above US Century Bank branches in the hinterlands of Krome Avenue. We have seen it all, and we have described it all even when the Miami Herald or other mainstream news sources won't.

Kunstler writes prolifically in his weekly blog. He is a regular contributor and observer of forums like the Congress for the New Urbanism, whose values have more traction in regions outside of South Florida. (The worm is too infested here. And we send those worms out into the world, to infest the Shining City on the Hill.) Here, politics have long been organized around the economic values of chewing up wetlands, farmland, and the Everglades; taking cheap land, re-zoning through influence peddling, and making sure that no state or local laws are strong enough to stand in the way of sprawl.

Meanwhile, the actors pat each other on the backs, give themselves medals and accolades to paper over their records. Here is one from an FIU website, "Terry Murphy is the Senior Policy Advisor to the Chair of the Miami-Dade County Government Operations and Environment Committee, having begun his career there in 1988. He has presented conference papers relating to the structure and form of local government and is currently exploring the strategic impact of GIS technology on the field of economic development." Murphy was formerly the inside operator at the county commission who, as chief of staff to discredited former county commissioner Natacha Seijas (leader of the unreformable majority), obstructed the use of GIS imagery developed by state and federal agencies showing exactly how sea level rise will impact low level wetland, killing the recommendation by the Climate Change Advisory Task Force (on which I once served) that GIS imagery be used in the county master plan. Who would be against science applied to strategic land use planning, in an age of sea level rise? The Growth Machine, would. Socialize risk, privatize profit. But make sure, in the business matters of socializing risk, that insiders have their fingers around the throat of science.

We have also observed, in more minute and microscopic detail than Kunstler -- this is our forte -- how the development lobby organizes at the Urban Development Boundary: with small, local players (like the Latin Builders Association) fronting for the majors (like Lennar) at county planning boards where they wield influence through campaign cash, sometimes delivered in brown paper bags. At the very top of the pyramid, Ponzi scheme: bankers who float the whole wrecked mess with AAA rated mortgages based on fictions.

Anyhow, the latest at the Miami-Dade Urban Development Boundary concerns property recently owned and now flipped by Lowe's, the home improvement giant, that tooks its flier at changing the underlying zoning to the cheers of nearby residents bussed into county hall to testify how lives would be ruined if they couldn't shop for plywood five minutes from their subdivisions. Lowe's efforts consumed scarce resources of environmental objectors: and that was exactly the point: bleed 'em out.

Something changed in the interim: Gov. Rick Scott -- the worst governor in Florida's modern history -- chopped down the state agency whose mandates had been to limit, and even to deny, exactly the sorts of depredations against the Everglades that have long been cheered by the Growth Machine aka Great Destroyers.

With the door to the henhouse wide open, the foxes are inside. So many examples to choose from. How about this one: Lowe's recently sold off its property outside the UDB to another Fortune 500 leviathan, Target. Now it is Target's turn to torment. We will continue to watch and to report. In the meantime, do read Jim Kunstler's latest blog post. It begins pithily:
"Back in the day when big box retail started to explode upon the American landscape like a raging economic scrofula, I attended many a town planning board meeting where the pro and con factions faced off over the permitting hurdle. The meetings were often raucous and wrathful and almost all the time the pro forces won -- for the excellent reason that they were funded and organized by the chain stores themselves (in an early demonstration of the new axioms that money-is-speech and corporations are people, too!)."

For the full post, click 'read more'.

Scale Implosion

By James Howard Kunstler
on February 18, 2013 9:06 AM

Back in the day when big box retail started to explode upon the American landscape like a raging economic scrofula, I attended many a town planning board meeting where the pro and con factions faced off over the permitting hurdle. The meetings were often raucous and wrathful and almost all the time the pro forces won -- for the excellent reason that they were funded and organized by the chain stores themselves (in an early demonstration of the new axioms that money-is-speech and corporations are people, too!).
The chain stores won not only because they flung money around -- sometimes directly into the wallets of public officials -- but because a sizeable chunk of every local population longed for the dazzling new mode of commerce. "We Want Bargain Shopping" was their rallying cry. The unintended consequence of their victories through the 1970s and beyond was the total destruction of local economic networks, that is, Main Streets and downtowns, in effect destroying many of their own livelihoods. Wasn't that a bargain, though?
Despite the obvious damage now visible in the entropic desolation of every American home town, WalMart managed to install itself in the pantheon of American Dream icons, along with apple pie, motherhood, and Coca Cola. In most of the country there is no other place to buy goods (and no other place to get a paycheck, scant and demeaning as it may be). America made itself hostage to bargain shopping and then committed suicide. Here we find another axiom of human affairs at work: people get what they deserve, not what they expect. Life is tragic.
The older generations responsible for all that may be done for, but the momentum has now turned in the opposite direction. Though the public hasn't groked it yet, WalMart and its kindred malignant organisms have entered their own yeast-overgrowth death spiral. In a now permanently contracting economy the big box model fails spectacularly. Every element of economic reality is now poised to squash them. Diesel fuel prices are heading well north of $4 again. If they push toward $5 this year you can say goodbye to the "warehouse on wheels" distribution method. (The truckers, who are mostly independent contractors, can say hello to the re-po men come to take possession of their mortgaged rigs.) Global currency wars (competitive devaluations) are about to destroy trade relationships. Say goodbye to the 12,000 mile supply chain from Guangzhou to Hackensack. Say goodbye to the growth financing model in which it becomes necessary to open dozens of new stores every year to keep the credit revolving.
Then there is the matter of the American customers themselves. The WalMart shoppers are exactly the demographic that is getting squashed in the contraction of this phony-baloney corporate buccaneer parasite revolving credit crony capital economy. Unlike the Federal Reserve, WalMart shoppers can't print their own money, and they can't bundle their MasterCard and Visa debts into CDOs to be fobbed off on Scandinavian pension funds for quick profits. They have only one real choice: buy less stuff, especially the stuff of leisure, comfort, and convenience.
The potential for all sorts of economic hardship is obvious in this burgeoning dynamic. But the coming implosion of big box retail implies tremendous opportunities for young people to make a livelihood in the imperative rebuilding of local economies. At this stage it is probably discouraging for them, because all their life programming has conditioned them to be hostages of giant corporations and so to feel helpless. In a town like the old factory village I live in (population 2500) few of the few remaining young adults might venture to open a retail operation in one of the dozen-odd vacant storefronts on Main Street. The presence of K-Mart, Tractor Supply, and Radio Shack a quarter mile west in the strip mall would seem to mock their dim inklings that something is in the wind. But K-Mart will close over 200 boxes this year, and Radio Shack is committed to shutter around 500 stores. They could be gone in this town well before Santa Claus starts checking his lists. If they go down, opportunities will blossom. There will be no new chain store brands to replace the dying ones. That phase of our history is over.
What we're on the brink of is scale implosion. Everything gigantic in American life is about to get smaller or die. Everything that we do to support economic activities at gigantic scale is going to hamper our journey into the new reality. The campaign to sustain the unsustainable, which is the official policy of US leadership, will only produce deeper whirls of entropy. I hope young people recognize this and can marshal their enthusiasm to get to work. It's already happening in the local farming scene; now it needs to happen in a commercial economy that will support local agriculture.
The additional tragedy of the big box saga is that it scuttled social roles and social relations in every American community. On top of the insult of destroying the geographic places we call home, the chain stores also destroyed people's place in the order of daily life, including the duties, responsibilities, obligations, and ceremonies that prompt citizens to care for each other. We can get that all back, but it won't be a bargain.


Grayland said...

Day Two: Another great post I agree with 100% and can add to.


Anonymous said...

Wasn't Murphy the inspiration by the attempt to place Larry Hawkins, another legally challenged, former county commissioner, on the board of the Jackson Public Health Trust, as appointee of the unions?

Anonymous said...

FIU, again. What's wrong with that university?

Anonymous said...

Miami Herald reported on February 21st that a City of Miami Board (Urban Design Review Board) voted 6 to 0 to deny Walmart's application to invade Midtown Miami. Well done, UDRB Board members for standing up to the ethically challenged Walmart and the lightweight planners on City staff. Now see if Walmart will change its illegal plan or just bribe public officials to get what it wants?