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Thread: The influence of corruption on planning and development

  1. #1
    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    The influence of corruption on planning and development

    Many of us hear stories of communities that have hit rock bottom in regards to planning and economic development just about the same time that corruption hit itís pinnacle for that municipality. On the opposite side of the spectrum, communities that have phenomenally popular civic leaders can see unprecedented quality of life. But why?

    Take Detroit for example. While I think that there are many good things going on in Detroit including all sorts of new development too many areas are suffering from extremely low poverty rates, squatters, and a lack of acceptable housing stock. The cities police and fire departments are severely under funded, so good cops and firemen donít want to work there, and other services are at rock bottom. All because of the corruption from the higher ups.

    Many major cities have gone though this period at one point in time, including Chicago, NYC, Philadelphia, Pittsburg, and Boston.

    What are your thoughts on the connections between corruption and planning? Additionally, what solutions are there to such a system? Should states step in to take over a community that is in a downward spiral to destruction? Can these cities make a comeback on their own or do they need outside help?
    Not my monkey, not my circus. - Old Polish Proverb

  2. #2
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    If there are any Syracuse or Onondaga County planners in here, I'd love to hear from them -

    I grew up just outside the city boundary line in a suburb of Syracuse - my Mom grew up in Tipperary Hill and her family was part of the city scene - so I have a immature view of the city because I left when I was 21 years old

    It just seems to me that not necessarily corruption was the influence, that's a violent word, but the allowance of an abandonment of the city for the suburbs was in part done by the mall developers' influence over the county (one of the reasons I now have a bias against the county system) - it's tragic, really, that tax relief was given to a developer who planned high levels of commercial activity outside the downtown - it just goes against basic good planning policy/practice

    so if it was corruption, I have no data to support that, but it's pretty odd and a little fishy to me - considering the Alexander regime ended up with the FBI and some jail time for many, it would not surprise me if corruption was an influence on planning policy

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    Providence is the execption to the rule where its renaisasnce occurred mainly during the tenure of its ultra-curupt mayor who is currently serving time in federal prison. (Some say his strong-arm tactics were actually good for the city.) Anecdotal wisdom is that now that he's been gone for a few years and the current adminstration seems more "legit," major developers and investors, who used to be scared off by the city's reputation, have shown more interest in redevelopment.

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    Streamlined planning

    Quote Originally posted by michaelskis
    Many of us hear stories of communities that have hit rock bottom in regards to planning and economic development... But why?

    Take Detroit for example. ...

    What are your thoughts on the connections between corruption and planning? Additionally, what solutions are there to such a system? Should states step in to take over a community that is in a downward spiral to destruction? Can these cities make a comeback on their own or do they need outside help?

    Without an orderly and systemmatic plan of development, Disorderly Conduct results; since this is a Crime, political corruption must follow. No city in this Country really has ever implemented such a plan from its beginning - planners can only engage in damage control thereafter. Growth as a rule has been haphazard and helterskelter according to the developers own sweet will; but it is not the fault of developers or politicians – they are only ignorant. It is our responsibilty to tell them and to show them the way; and of all Planning Professionals, I believe the role of the Architect to Coordinate the buliding process on a city and regional scale has been the most blameworthy. I can say so because I have devoted my architectural career to solving that problem; and I believe I have done it, once and for all (as YHWH provides). I would be glad to supply you people in the Detroit area with your coordinates and will do so as soon as I return to Mobile – at the moment I am visiting in Independence, Missouri which is the Point of Beginning (POB).

    bud...
    Last edited by bud; 10 Apr 2006 at 11:35 AM.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian njm's avatar
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    I think that corruption that builds is what harms. While I hope it never happens, but I anticipate that there will be another 'crash' in Minneapolis because of increased corruption in the Community Development/Housing Authority (in bed with the the developers syndrome.) Affordable housing has become increasingly segregated/consolidated into areas similar to what was described in Detroit (obviously not to the same scale as Mpls is less than pop. 400,000.)

    I think we associate the problems with one corrupt person who is finally exposed, though that person is not as responsible as we'd like to beleive.

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    Member CosmicMojo's avatar
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    I don't think there's a direct connection between corruption and overall community economic stability.


    Most of community economic stability is dependant on overall regional, national and global economic conditions that influence supply, demand, commerce, inflation, etc. Corruption in the government usually influences which contractor gets the contract, but not the original demand for that work.

    Economic demand for goods and services will operate based on larger economic forces, not who's in control, who gets favors, etc.

    Corruption can influence where development occurs, who gets the contract, but the final demand for that development is based on preexisting forces of demand. On corrept individual can't influence that.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    I will start out by saying some of the best work that cities have done in history have been under the most corrupt Mayors and politicos. Las Vegas was run better when the Mob ran it, and Boss Tweed in NYC from the Tammany Hall. NYC never saw so much progress in 100 years.

    But if you look at New Jersey in 2006 you see a state with ever increasing property and state and sales taxes. A new population who can 'afford' these prices and an aging one that cannot. How has the state come to this breaking point? 565 individual municipalities each with their own mayor and councils and more than 600+ school districts in the state, each with their own principals and superintenants (some districts are only sending districts and still have these free loaders). Each town has a head or DPW and police etc etc etc. But since much of the municipal tax revenue comes from property taxes and home rule exists there is a rateable game played by each town to get as much rateable property as possible. That is where the corruption has been bread with the politicos and the developers. But furthermore, to fill all these jobs friends and relatives (so much for civil service controlls) have been tapped to fill lucrative seats, no show jobs, and pension padding is rampant with part time jobs and full time benifits. Something needs to happen in this state and unfortunetly the current gov. (Corzine) didn't take any measures to shore up a failing budget and address these out of control spending problems from the local all the way up to the state level. New Jersey will be bankrupt in under 4 years if nothing is done.

    The solution is running the govt' like a business (Corzine was in Goldman Sachs before taking over the top seat here). Consolidating municipal services. And rooting out the corruption that has become somewhat expected and accepted.
    Last edited by Tide; 10 Apr 2006 at 1:34 PM.
    @GigCityPlanner

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    Member CosmicMojo's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Tide
    I will start out by saying some of the best work that cities have done in history have been under the most corrupt Mayors and politicos. Las Vegas was run better when the Mob ran it, and wiki Boss Tweed in NYC from the Tammany Hall. NYC never saw so much progress in 100 years.
    They used to say people put up with Musollini for so long because he made the trains run on time.

  9. #9
    Before you can answer a question like this, you first have to clearly define what corruption is. There are three possible definitions:

    1 - A political leader conducting his office in a way that hurts the capital value of the city in order to profit himself.
    2 - A political leader conducting his office in a way that benefits the capital value of the city while still taking profit for himself.
    3 - A political leader conducting his office in a way that hurts the capital value of the city while not profiting himself or failing at the attempt.

    Number 2 is rare and harmless. For example a mayor with hundreds of millions in assets in the city is going to see a lot of his own interests and that of the city in general align. I'd give as an example Michael Bloomberg. This is comparatively harmless corruption. Although it is possible for conflicts of interest to arise, fewer such conflicts will appear than for a mayor who does not own assets tied to the city's success.

    Number 1 is what is generally known as corruption. For example a recently-elected mayor uses his office to reward campaign contributors with contracts and subordinate offices, and also provides himself with benefits. Kwame Kilpatrick I think fits this definition. This is a dangerous form of corruption, although its high level of public visibility makes it difficult to accomplish in most constituencies.

    Number 3 is the most common though unacknowledged by many people. It occurs when a mayor uses his office to conduct business that is unrelated to the activities of a city or simply incompetently conducted regular business. For example, when the city gets involved in "affordable" or "public" housing programs using capital needed to run the city's core activities. This creates a large constituency of voters loyal to the mayor despite his actions destroying the city's value and competitiveness. This is the most dangerous form of corruption as it is nearly impossible to stop until general chaos has ensued. Example: New York before Giuliani.

    The only defense against corruption is private ownership where the owner has full control of all assets and their capital value, thus will always act in a way that increases this value. This does not prevent error but since this owner suffers from this error directly and immediately, its correction will be swift. There is no way to prevent corruption by oversight from a high level of political power as this body is equally likely to be corrupt.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally posted by Tide
    The solution is running the govt' like a business... Consolidating municipal services. And rooting out the corruption that has become somewhat expected and accepted.

    Quote Originally posted by jaws
    The only defense against corruption is private ownership where the owner has full control of all assets and their capital value, thus will always act in a way that increases this value. This does not prevent error but since this owner suffers from this error directly and immediately, its correction will be swift. There is no way to prevent corruption by oversight from a high level of political power as this body is equally likely to be corrupt.

    Why not rather preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States in our resonings? Are we to abandon that in order to improve on the situation? I think that is why we are in the situation we are now in. Jefferson said County Commissioners were the most corrupt of all politicians; there were no big cities in America then but I think he would add big city politicians to that, now - Corruption is now taken for granted. It is a tradition that makes the law of no effect. It will take a kind of bloodless revolution in planning and by planners to make the necessary changes.

    On ecomomic theory I have written this - http://www.geocities.com/douglas36601/pax.html Ė for what it may be worth - it is with a view toward keeping our Constitution rather than abandoning it.

    bud...

  11. #11
    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Seabishop
    Providence is the execption to the rule where its renaisasnce occurred mainly during the tenure of its ultra-corrupt mayor who is currently serving time in federal prison.
    Don't forget about the aspiring planner who had to dump a paper bag stuffed with $5000 in the hands of the mayor's henchman in order to be hired by the city's planning department.

    See: http://www.turnto10.com/News/1422991/detail.html

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    As usual Jaws indulges in sweeping statements like "There is no way to prevent corruption by oversight from a high level of political power as this body is equally likely to be corrupt."

    However, it is certainly logical that the greater the resources controlled by someone other than the producer / owner of those resources and the more remote the ultimate ownership the greater the scope for corruption and the. Some economists refer to the latter as "agency effect" and it is found, of course, in any organization, governmental or not, where the 'owner' does not have intimate control over every single economic decision.

    This argues for money decisions to be made as close as possible to the (tax)-payers, though to the extent that government expenditure is/should amount to redistribution, that "alignement of incentives" cannot be achieved perfectly.

    Making the decision-making process as transparent and un-arbitrary as possible can also reduce the scope for corruption. The extreme case is a criminal copurt. while there is certainly some corruption, given the impact of their decisions and the people involved I would hazard the guess that corruption is relatively rare.
    Life and death of great pattern languages

  13. #13
    Quote Originally posted by bud
    Why not rather preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States in our resonings? Are we to abandon that in order to improve on the situation? I think that is why we are in the situation we are now in. Jefferson said County Commissioners were the most corrupt of all politicians; there were no big cities in America then but I think he would add big city politicians to that, now - Corruption is now taken for granted. It is a tradition that makes the law of no effect. It will take a kind of bloodless revolution in planning and by planners to make the necessary changes.
    The constitution is just a piece of paper. It's only good as long as the men who have sworn to do what it says they have to do are doing what it says they have to do. Once they stop doing that there is really nothing the piece of paper or you can do about it.

    You're missing the problem if you think that corruption is caused by ignoring the constitution. People ignore the constitution because of corruption. Corruption is caused by granting privileges to people who haven't deserved them. A revolution by planners is not going to change that.
    Quote Originally posted by Luca
    This argues for money decisions to be made as close as possible to the (tax)-payers, though to the extent that government expenditure is/should amount to redistribution, that "alignement of incentives" cannot be achieved perfectly.
    This assume that taxpayers know perfectly well how the tax money should be spent. If we are dealing with a topic that they don't understand then this measure will increase corruption, not decrease it. For example if everyone is suffering from traffic congestion all the taxpayers will demand more roads be built, instead of demanding that the mass transit and urban form be restructured.
    Making the decision-making process as transparent and un-arbitrary as possible can also reduce the scope for corruption. The extreme case is a criminal copurt. while there is certainly some corruption, given the impact of their decisions and the people involved I would hazard the guess that corruption is relatively rare.
    Courts suffer from corruption as well. It can take years for cases to be resolved because of shortages in the courts system.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian cch's avatar
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    From my experience it seems local politicians are in it for one reason.. their own gains. Developers in the area are always listed as campaign contributers, so of course the county board wants to make them happy, so they get more money contributed to themselves. There was a case in my neck of the woods where a county board member's father happened to be the listing agent for a big piece of farmland on which a developer wanted to make an outlandish rural subdivision of over 200 homes. This county board member touted to other about how the development would be a good thing. Luckily, area residents caused so much opposition the developer withdrew his rezoning petition. Then there is another case right now where a county board member's retired farmer father wants to get rid of his farmland, so now his land happens to be first on the list of areas the county wants to develop into an industrial park.. even though it is far removed from any corporate limits, and there are no plans to even bring sewer or water there.

  15. #15

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    From the Midwest capital of political corruption, Chicago (with all due respect to Detroit)...

    Chicago has been able to make incredible gains as a city in the last two decades because we have a mayor who is visionary and cares deeply about improving the quality of life of residents. The mayor has on the whole kept taxes under control, reduced the size of the City work force, worked mightily to improve our bad schools, presided over a huge decrease in crime, and initiated a building boom in the Loop and in the neighborhoods that has only recently begun to show signs of slowing. The mayor has also led a public works and environmental campaign that has beautified our streets with planting medians and streetscaping from one end of the city to the other, and put Chicago in the forefront of green building technology. Many people will tell you there is only one true planner in Chicago, and he sits on the Fifth Floor of City Hall. And if results are the indicator, maybe that's true -- compare a picture of Chicago in 1986 with one in 2006, and the difference is remarkable. I don't know if there is a Rust Belt city that has made a more complete transformation in America.

    However...

    The mayor is being investigated by the Feds for circumventing hiring practices so he could (allegedly) put "his" guys in place and reward those who have been loyal and supportive. The Hired Truck scandal involved paying trucking contractors for work that was never done, and the contractors had links to mayoral supporters. The mayor was also cited for presiding over lax MBE/WBE monitoring, allowing contractors with no MBE/WBE quals to get contracts while saying they did. And again, these were contractors with direct or indirect mayoral supporter links. Most important, though, is that no one has yet to link personal gain to the mayor to any of the scandals he's faced.

    To many Chicagoans, this isn't corruption, but the cost of doing business in the City. As for me, I think the corruption has produced some bad development, but more good than bad. And while I wish the Administration was more transparent and above-board, I'm not sure Chicago would've made the transformation over the last 20 years without the mayor.

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    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jmello
    Don't forget about the aspiring planner who had to dump a paper bag stuffed with $5000 in the hands of the mayor's henchman in order to be hired by the city's planning department.

    See: http://www.turnto10.com/News/1422991/detail.html
    The funny thing is the Senior Planner position only paid 34k.

    Quote Originally posted by Tide
    The solution is running the govt' like a business (Corzine was in Goldman Sachs before taking over the top seat here). Consolidating municipal services. And rooting out the corruption that has become somewhat expected and accepted.
    Does that mean we should privatize/outsource city services? This has been something I have had mixed experiences with. Good: city hires a trash hauler rather than gets into the business themselves, saving the city big dollars from health insurance/worker's comp. Bad: privately operated water/sewer utility where the developer runs it on the cheap because they plan on skipping town once all the property is sold off, leaving the city to take over.
    Last edited by NHPlanner; 13 Apr 2006 at 2:13 PM.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by hilldweller
    Does that mean we should privatize/outsource city services? This has been something I have had mixed experiences with. Good: city hires a trash hauler rather than gets into the business themselves, saving the city big dollars from health insurance/worker's comp. Bad: privately operated water/sewer utility where the developer runs it on the cheap because they plan on skipping town once all the property is sold off, leaving the city to take over.
    Hill,

    Not necessarily by outsourcing, though that can be one part of the solution. But certain budget practices that government agencies have adopted over the years hurt the municipal budgets. As an example, my boss is getting new computers even though we just got them 3 years ago because the money is there and if he doesn't take the money the higher ups might cut that completely. Every year he tries to spend all his capital budget so he gets the same amount the next year. In private business many purchases and reimbursements would be questioned which I do not think are in government.
    @GigCityPlanner

  18. #18
    Quote Originally posted by hilldweller
    Does that mean we should privatize/outsource city services? This has been something I have had mixed experiences with. Good: city hires a trash hauler rather than gets into the business themselves, saving the city big dollars from health insurance/worker's comp. Bad: privately operated water/sewer utility where the developer runs it on the cheap because they plan on skipping town once all the property is sold off, leaving the city to take over.
    Don't confuse privatizing and outsourcing. Privatizing means that the decision-making process is in the hands of a private owner. Outsourcing means the decision makers are hiring someone to do the job. Outsourcing will not protect you from corruption as the decision-maker is still a politician. As a rule outsourcing is always more efficient, but it is only cheaper if the contracts are negotiated correctly. Do you trust politicians to negotiate these contracts?

    What you list as a bad example is not privatization. Since there is no market to sell the water/sewer utility to once the development is completed, there is no reason for the developer to invest anything in it.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jaws
    What you list as a bad example is not privatization. Since there is no market to sell the water/sewer utility to once the development is completed, there is no reason for the developer to invest anything in it.
    Of course it is privatization. And because there is no market to sell utilities to once the development is completed that certainly doesn't stop the developer from making a short-run decision, does it? Such is the problem of private cities.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally posted by jaws
    The constitution is just a piece of paper. It's only good as long as the men who have sworn to do what it says they have to do are doing what it says they have to do. Once they stop doing that there is really nothing the piece of paper or you can do about it.

    Reply: It is a piece of paper that if we believe in we will defend whether with our blood in war or with whatever it takes in peace - we have to tell them the truth and show them the way; that would be revolutionary in City and Regional Planning. I have done that and made it possible for others in the planning profession to do so in a diplomatic and convincing way.

    Quote Originally posted by jaws
    You're missing the problem if you think that corruption is caused by ignoring the constitution. People ignore the constitution because of corruption. Corruption is caused by granting privileges to people who haven't deserved them. A revolution by planners is not going to change that.
    Reply: I think they ignore the Constitution more likely because of ignorance. How many people realize that the Framers intended that the Central Federal Government be delegated all power to regulate commerce and to raise and collect taxes? That is the supreme law of the land, now; but it is being ignored. Hamiliton made the argument for that in the Federalist # 17. The only legitimate source of revenue for State and Local Governnment is from Ecomomic Rent which is not a tax although it is called a Land Tax (see Fed. Pap. # 36) The reason it is not a tax is because it is not taxing - rather it is an incentive to production rather than a disincentive; it keeps the government's hands off private property, viz., wages of labor and interest of capital.

    bud...
    Last edited by bud; 13 Apr 2006 at 12:06 PM.

  21. #21
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    Why are you guys even trying to argue with jaws? He's completely doctrinaire. He won't accept evidence or cahnge his mind. The perfect definition of a fanatic: someone who won't change his midn and won't change the subject.

    Governments are often corrupt, though clearly not always. The private-sector equivalent of corruption is dishonesty. That is also very common, though not necessarily always present. either way, people get screwed.
    Life and death of great pattern languages

  22. #22
    Quote Originally posted by hilldweller
    Of course it is privatization. And because there is no market to sell utilities to once the development is completed that certainly doesn't stop the developer from making a short-run decision, does it? Such is the problem of private cities.
    No it is not privatization since as you said the government just takes it over. The developer is working for the government. Since the developer is not getting any money from the government for providing it with infrastructure, the utility is only the cheapest placeholder that can be built. It is the most extreme form of short-run planning, and it is caused by the absence of a market and the failure of the client (the government) to specify what it wants to be provided with.
    Quote Originally posted by Luca
    Why are you guys even trying to argue with jaws? He's completely doctrinaire. He won't accept evidence or cahnge his mind. The perfect definition of a fanatic: someone who won't change his midn and won't change the subject.
    I will change my mind when I encounter evidence that is convincing. (I was once a social-democrat just like you.) Your problem is that you fail to realize that evidence can only be interpreted by logic. If you say that such and such event implies such and such, I can say the opposite. The only way to determine which interpretation is true is through logic. This is what economics is, a system of logic used to interpret evidence, and you clearly have some problems with that.
    Governments are often corrupt, though clearly not always. The private-sector equivalent of corruption is dishonesty. That is also very common, though not necessarily always present. either way, people get screwed.
    The private sector equivalent of corruption is fraud, which is a form of theft that we already have laws against.

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