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Thread: Small town protectionism

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Budgie's avatar
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    Small town protectionism

    OK, I am the Community Development Director for a small town, which has tons of development potential in many avenues, yet we have remained the same size for 50 years.... we haven't grown and we haven't shrunk. This is a town where if you don't have 4 generations in the cemetery, you are an outsider. On occasion I hear that the money people and "real" decision makers do not want this town to grow. It's not what you're doing but who you know and what you know about whom. I have always believed this to be somewhat true but never gave it much revernce. THAT IS UNTIL NOW.

    I have an out of town developer willing to invest in a new residential subdivision, which would be the biggest this community has seen in probably 80 years. He has tried to work with 2 local real estate agents and after an initial discussion they don't follow up and don't do the legwork. He has also approached land owners on the edge of the city and none of them will sell. This developer is getting frustrated and I am looking outside of the community to get a realtor that will work for this guy.

    There also seem to be attorneys who drag their feet, are quick to criticize new ideas and don't offer ideas of their own on how to develop this town. 95% of our downtown buildings are owned by long term families of this city and county and they don't invest a dime in them.

    Bottomline, I'm frustrated because the lawyer, bankers, realtors, land owners and politicians of this town are closet obstructionists. They pay economic development lip service and don't take on any risk. IF THE LOCALS DON'T WANT TO PROFIT, SOMEONE ELSE WILL AND I WILL SEE TO IT. I'm younger than all of them and will see most of them die before I'm finished.

    Anyone else experience this?
    "And all this terrible change had come about because he had ceased to believe himself and had taken to believing others. " - Leo Tolstoy

  2. #2

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    I hope all the folks who keep crowing about the "market" will read this and ponder the example. It is so clear that the classical and neoclassical (and let's throw Marx in here, too, there is so little difference at the philosophical level) interepretations of economic behavior are inconsistent with actual human behavior. Neoclassical economists will try to wriggle out of this by saying that the local good old boys (I doubt there are many women in the bunch) are maximizing value - in their own way. But as soon as you can't measure value by a consistent standard, you have stepped beyond the market explanation and need a better theory.

    Budgie is absolutely right - most folks do not maximize profits. They minimize costs/risks.

    Advice re your situation there - figure out how to make the place attractive to Hispanic immigrants. You are more likely to find the small-scale entrepreneurs you need among them, than among the "native" population.

  3. #3
    Corn Burning Fool giff57's avatar
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    Same thing here. We are built out and need to expand, but everyone is setting on their land and won't sell. Very frustrating indeed.
    “As soon as public service ceases to be the chief business of the citizens, and they would rather serve with their money than with their persons, the State is not far from its fall”
    Jean-Jacques Rousseau

  4. #4
    Quote Originally posted by Lee Nellis
    But as soon as you can't measure value by a consistent standard, you have stepped beyond the market explanation and need a better theory.
    There is no and has never been a standard of value. Value is a subjective, qualitative factor that can only be expressed through market exchange.

    What is happening in this town is perfectly normal. The people who live there don't want their way of life wrecked by an influx of newcomers. That's their choice. This developer should build his own town.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Approve a Walmart, that will teach em!

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Budgie's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Lee Nellis
    Budgie is absolutely right - most folks do not maximize profits. They minimize costs/risks.

    Advice re your situation there - figure out how to make the place attractive to Hispanic immigrants. You are more likely to find the small-scale entrepreneurs you need among them, than among the "native" population.
    In pure economic theory profits are maximized when marginal costs = marginal revenue. This is very true, but how many companies or individuals follow this model. NONE.... they are more concerned about market share and being "competitive" relative to others in the market.

    Oddly enough, it has not been an influx of Hispanics or southeast Asians that has demostrated the entreprenurial spark.... it's been east coast and west coast entreprenuers -- sometimes with local family ties --- that have been investing in the community. These people are tied of $450,000 3-bedroom 1,400 sq. ft. ranch houses and $3,000 rent for small retail spaces. The can get a lot of building here for that much and if they have an internet/e-mail based clientele, they will live like kings here.
    "And all this terrible change had come about because he had ceased to believe himself and had taken to believing others. " - Leo Tolstoy

  7. #7
         
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    I suppose I am not as interested in your obvious concern for someone making a profit in this case. I'm more curious about why you believe there is such a pressing need for new development, when clearly the collective value system of the residents seem to favor preservation of existing landuses. In the case that you may be refering to farmland, how clearly do you need to be instructed that the residents value the greenspace.
    You stated that this may be the largest development in nearly 80 years and that the community has not grown, nor decreased in size. It appears as plausible that there is nothing wrong with the status of the community and that market forces are at an equalibrium per the value of the property to owners and the tax cost of them to retain the land. I fail to see the issue.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Lee Nellis
    I hope all the folks who keep crowing about the "market" will read this and ponder the example. It is so clear that the classical and neoclassical (and let's throw Marx in here, too, there is so little difference at the philosophical level) interepretations of economic behavior are inconsistent with actual human behavior. Neoclassical economists will try to wriggle out of this by saying that the local good old boys (I doubt there are many women in the bunch) are maximizing value - in their own way. But as soon as you can't measure value by a consistent standard, you have stepped beyond the market explanation and need a better theory.
    Budgie is absolutely right - most folks do not maximize profits. They minimize costs/risks.
    Advice re your situation there - figure out how to make the place attractive to Hispanic immigrants. You are more likely to find the small-scale entrepreneurs you need among them, than among the "native" population.
    Lee, old chap, you really need to stick to subjects you understand. economics is clearly not one of them.
    Life and death of great pattern languages

  9. #9
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mrbixby
    I suppose I am not as interested in your obvious concern for someone making a profit in this case. I'm more curious about why you believe there is such a pressing need for new development, when clearly the collective value system of the residents seem to favor preservation of existing landuses. In the case that you may be refering to farmland, how clearly do you need to be instructed that the residents value the greenspace.
    You stated that this may be the largest development in nearly 80 years and that the community has not grown, nor decreased in size. It appears as plausible that there is nothing wrong with the status of the community and that market forces are at an equalibrium per the value of the property to owners and the tax cost of them to retain the land. I fail to see the issue.
    I guess I agree wtih this persepctive too -

    As a planner, I see my role in my service to this town to simply help implement what the town wants to see happen - I guide/consult/acilitate/educate them on planning principles but then I step back and ultimately make what they want happen - not what I want -

    Sometimes that can mean implementing stupid ideas but the beauty of planning is nobody dies (they just get really mad)

    but in your case - think about letting go, and instead running with the concept of preserving what it is that they value - there's alot of work in just doing that and over time, you earn even more admiration and respect whereby you possibly can slowly implement what you think is best

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Budgie's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mrbixby
    I suppose I am not as interested in your obvious concern for someone making a profit in this case. I'm more curious about why you believe there is such a pressing need for new development, when clearly the collective value system of the residents seem to favor preservation of existing landuses. In the case that you may be refering to farmland, how clearly do you need to be instructed that the residents value the greenspace.
    You stated that this may be the largest development in nearly 80 years and that the community has not grown, nor decreased in size. It appears as plausible that there is nothing wrong with the status of the community and that market forces are at an equalibrium per the value of the property to owners and the tax cost of them to retain the land. I fail to see the issue.
    I'm not at all concerned about someone making a profit. Profit is a good thing and I'd like the locals to make the profit --- not an outside developer, but the locals don't seem willing to take advantage of what is going to happen due to market forces, whether they like it or not. Your equilibrium statement is partially correct, but it ignores that communities don't live in a bubble (some exist in greater isolation than others, but no community is completely isolated from outside forces). I am a strong and in some cases a successful advocate for preservation of farmland and existing neighborhoods. I'm talking about responsible growth. Keep in mind that a 50 lot subdivision would be the biggest development in this town since the 1920's. It's not the kind of development that will significantly change the community. Like I said earlier, they talk about economic development and promoting growth, and when it is inevitable, they sit on their hands and let it happen without being responsible for it. They would rather sit around, watch someone else make it happen, and bitch about it later.
    "And all this terrible change had come about because he had ceased to believe himself and had taken to believing others. " - Leo Tolstoy

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Queen B's avatar
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    Yes, I have to jump in on this one.

    The community leaders have chosen us to lead the development of the community, the community has been stagnent to the point that it really is critical to push them to improve. The community is like taking a walk back into 1950, they are not just a bit behind, they are almost dead.
    My first question was, Do they want it?
    My first test will be next week when I put that question to them and see if they jump in the boat with me. We just don't have the ability to wait and see. Our last full blown Comp plan was 1975 and they did a pamphlet review in 1988. What does that tell you about how outdated things are??

    It would be very interesting to see a Walmart come to town. I think surely their must be some city zoning regulation that prohibits that???
    Budgie would know for sure...

    As for green space, have you ever looked at the satellite images of this area. It is much more brown than green!
    It is all a matter of perspective!!!

  12. #12

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    Quote Originally posted by jaws
    There is no and has never been a standard of value. Value is a subjective, qualitative factor that can only be expressed through market exchange.

    What is happening in this town is perfectly normal. The people who live there don't want their way of life wrecked by an influx of newcomers. That's their choice. This developer should build his own town.
    I actually agree with jaws again. What's wrong with me?

    Why is there always the assumption that we "have to grow." This is one of the major American Myths that I question.

    If the Police Power of the State was being used to illegally interfere with natural growth or the workings of the market, that would be one thing. Local residents not eager to pave over farmland for the dubious benefits of more subdivisions and strip malls and "fry pits" is another. It could be argued that 90% of "growth" today is ecologically, aesthetically, and maybe even socially toxic. Why are we assuming that we should use the police powers of the state to force gorwth?

    Now, on the other hand, if the growth is already there, and it's a case of NIMBYism using local zoning to interfere with a property owner's ability to build housing to support growth pressures (California's population growth)....So, this is a situational issue.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    From my experience, I would feel very comfortable assuming that the community residents and obstructionists have very little concern for farmland preservation, greenspace, preserving their rural way of life, etc. These same people would not see any problem in one of their farmland-owning neighbors putting up an apartment building, subdividing for large-lot residential, or sticking a handful of metal buildings and a truck terminal on their land. For most of them, it is a matter of controlling the community's resources.

    Development by an outsider means they will be selling homes, competing with the local realtor. Development by an outsider means the opportunity is lost to a local (who would likely never get hte guts to do it).

    I can appreciate if a farmer does not want to sell his land, though.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  14. #14
    Cyburbian Budgie's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal
    I can appreciate if a farmer does not want to sell his land, though.
    The farmer who wouldn't sell the land happens to be the brother of a local realtor who has recently dabbled in a couple spec houses. Why would he sell the land to a strong competitor to his brother. In fact, I think the land is in a trust which is spoken for by all the siblings. Keep in mind that this is the same town where the Police Cheif is the son of the tow truck operator and bailbondsman. The line between realtor, developer, builder and banker are blurred in this town.
    "And all this terrible change had come about because he had ceased to believe himself and had taken to believing others. " - Leo Tolstoy

  15. #15

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    Quote Originally posted by Budgie
    The farmer who wouldn't sell the land happens to be the brother of a local realtor who has recently dabbled in a couple spec houses. Why would he sell the land to a strong competitor to his brother. In fact, I think the land is in a trust which is spoken for by all the siblings. Keep in mind that this is the same town where the Police Cheif is the son of the tow truck operator and bailbondsman. The line between realtor, developer, builder and banker are blurred in this town.
    This may be true, but is it correct to assume that the outsiders are "in the right"?

    And Cardinal, they (the insiders) may want to "retain control of local resources," but I'm not sure selling off all the control to outsiders, the late 20th century dream, is necessary morally superior. Why is being a branch plant/chain store town, which is true of 90% of America, so superior?

  16. #16
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by BKM
    Why is being a branch plant/chain store town, which is true of 90% of America, so superior?
    Because people want to have all the crap they see on television. Unless they have the latest chain restaurant/big box retailer they feel left behind because the town down the road has that place. A lot of people see this as progress however twisted it may seem

  17. #17
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by hilldweller
    Because people want to have all the crap they see on television. Unless they have the latest chain restaurant/big box retailer they feel left behind because the town down the road has that place. A lot of people see this as progress however twisted it may seem
    yet there is a trend towards disallowing chains - we have been lucky to keep them out naturally because we have a seasonal market and they don't want to exist that way - but as our shoulder season extends, it will be intriguing to see if starbucks makes a call - hopefully not - we don't want to be anytown USA, that's one of the reasons people come here, because it's not like where they are from

    but i'm moving OT into rural resort/tourism market which doesn't sound like what budgie is dealing with...

  18. #18
    Member CosmicMojo's avatar
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    quality of life

    Hmm, when the "market" here is voting for no growth, all of a sudden everyone thinks it's flawed. If no one wants to sell their land, the economic tone of the town has spoken. I'm surprised everyone thinks growth is always good. These people clearly don't want more traffic and crime. It's sad to hear you frame your arguement solely as potential for profit. Clearly they care more about quality of life.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian jread's avatar
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    My hometown is exactly like this. In fact, the entire area I grew up in is this way (Southeast Texas).

    In my hometown, there was a very wealthy family that owned almost all the available land in the downtown area. The last older member refused to let go of any of it until the day she died. Well, she finally did pass away and the younger generation of the family was happy to sell out. This was exciting news for those of us wanting to see some new development take place. A lot of new things happened but eventually failed. So many new businesses opened and then closed down.... it was quite depressing. The latest big thing that's happened there is a new Home Depot.... that was the talk of the town!! It has gotten to the point to where anyone with ambition eventually leaves out of frustration. There are almost no young people there over the age of 18... most get out as soon as they can. My parents even told me recently that, after living there their entire lives, they are wanting to retire somewhere else... far, far away. The declining jobs, declining population, declining school enrollment.... it's just driving people away to bigger and better places.
    "I don't suffer from insanity... I enjoy every single minute of it!"

  20. #20

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    Quote Originally posted by jread
    My hometown is exactly like this. In fact, the entire area I grew up in is this way (Southeast Texas).

    In my hometown, there was a very wealthy family that owned almost all the available land in the downtown area. The last older member refused to let go of any of it until the day she died. Well, she finally did pass away and the younger generation of the family was happy to sell out. This was exciting news for those of us wanting to see some new development take place. A lot of new things happened but eventually failed. So many new businesses opened and then closed down.... it was quite depressing. The latest big thing that's happened there is a new Home Depot.... that was the talk of the town!! It has gotten to the point to where anyone with ambition eventually leaves out of frustration. There are almost no young people there over the age of 18... most get out as soon as they can. My parents even told me recently that, after living there their entire lives, they are wanting to retire somewhere else... far, far away. The declining jobs, declining population, declining school enrollment.... it's just driving people away to bigger and better places.
    Does this describe the situatiomn budgie is facing, though? Again, why the mythology of eternal growth? Are you saying the City government should force more suburban growth (because that's the kind of growth that we are talking about here-subdivisions, big box stores, and fast food chains). Many thinkers and scientists think we are in many ways at the tipping point.

    BRIAN the Hypocrite who drives a gas guzzler

  21. #21
    Cyburbian jread's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by BKM
    Does this describe the situatiomn budgie is facing, though? Again, why the mythology of eternal growth? Are you saying the City government should force more suburban growth (because that's the kind of growth that we are talking about here-subdivisions, big box stores, and fast food chains). Many thinkers and scientists think we are in many ways at the tipping point.

    BRIAN the Hypocrite who drives a gas guzzler
    It is a very similar situation in that the town does not want new growth. The like it "just the way it is". Also, even though new development happened, it all failed in the longterm. This is the most frustrating and depressing part about it.

    As for forcing growth, it seems almost necessary for the economic health of some cities. Even big-box is economic growth... it provides jobs and tax revenues for the area if nothing else. The only other option would be to turn away and let the city decline into a ghost town. Is this the right thing to do? I personally wouldn't want this to happen to a place I care about.
    "I don't suffer from insanity... I enjoy every single minute of it!"

  22. #22
    Cyburbian Budgie's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by CosmicMojo
    Hmm, when the "market" here is voting for no growth, all of a sudden everyone thinks it's flawed. If no one wants to sell their land, the economic tone of the town has spoken. I'm surprised everyone thinks growth is always good. These people clearly don't want more traffic and crime. It's sad to hear you frame your arguement solely as potential for profit. Clearly they care more about quality of life.
    I don't disagree with you on this point. I just wish that my mission was defined to truly reflect what the community wants. If the community wants to be protectionist, I will gladly work in that direction, but don't hire me as the economic development director ... pay lip service to growth.... and then not provide the tools or political will to go in that direction. Either way, I don't see 1% or 2% annual population growth as as threat to a communities way of life.
    "And all this terrible change had come about because he had ceased to believe himself and had taken to believing others. " - Leo Tolstoy

  23. #23
    Member CosmicMojo's avatar
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    Sor, I didn't realize you were the ED dir. There can be a lot for you as ED dir. besides just pusihng for growth. In fact, I'm surprised you see residential subdivison development as your role? Growth in and of itself isn't a worthy goal, I think. It only benefits the old booster types (electric company and that sort) and brings a lot of traffic, etc.

    How about targeted industry analysis with a SWOT analysis to determine your community's specific strengths. How about improving the quality of what jobs are available? To me an economic development director doesn't simply facilitate growth just for growth's sakes, but facilitates an improvment in residents' quality of life, particularly through jobs. Better job training, VoTech in the schools so there are lots of skilled opportunities for the non-college bound. Attracting "clean" industries, or jumping on the "creativity" bandwagon.

    But growith in and of itself is not the Valhalla the old booster types would have us believe. Especially housing growth: it puts an additional burden on existing residents (more traffic, etc.) and generally only benefits the old landed gentry class who sold the land. The electric company and the big grocery store.

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