Monday, June 07, 2010

Op-Ed Part 2: A Trickle-Up Economy

In the first part of my Op-Ed, I complained that there are too many in this town who believe that only trickle-down solutions will solve Rochester’s ills. If our leaders and people in the media believe anything different, they sure don’t make it known by their words and actions. Rather than just throw rhetoric or protest slogans at this ideology, I thought I would provide some fairly specific ideas on things our government should be doing to help Rochester help itself. (As usual, please feel free to comment, but be constructive or your post will just be deleted.)

As I mentioned in my previous post, there are too many people who do not have boots to have bootstraps to pull up. So what we need to do is provide the boots. This means jobs in the neighborhoods in which people live. In the poorest sections of Rochester, you are not going to get many businesses willing to (re) locate, so new businesses need to be developed. Our city and county governments need to provide opportunities for cooperatively run businesses to begin in poor areas. Notice, I did not say government-run. In fact, I’m saying just the opposite; the people who work in these businesses – all the people who work in them – will run them. I know this is contrary to what we are used to. There is supposed to be a hierarchy, right? Owner, administrator, workers. This is not set in stone and does not HAVE to be this way. Just a few examples are below, but there are countless others all over the world.
Government providing opportunities for worker-owned businesses is still a vague concept so let me give an example that is more specific. The growing, harvesting, selling, and cooking of food should be one of the main sources of job creation in our area. Everyone needs food and few in these geographical areas understand where it comes from or have access to food that is healthy and affordable.

The current city administration has made it a mission to tear down a lot of abandoned houses. That’s fine, but most of the lots are just left empty. These should be made into neighborhood, urban farms in which the people in these areas can work. Not possible? Don’t tell Earthworks in Detroit that. And I wouldn’t mention it to the Mill Creek folks in Philadelphia either. (and there’s more, but you get the point)

If these urban farms are created, it will have the following direct effects:

*people will be employed.
*local environments will be improved.
*people who do not have access to quality food will now have access.
*kids will finally have examples of potential careers that are obtainable.

Indirect effects will include:
*crime will go down in these neighborhoods.
*less need of police in these areas.
*sense of community will be enhanced.
*people will be healthier, thus less of a burden on our Medicare system.
*less burden on our social services network.
*more community, more hope equals less drug & alcohol use.
*kids will be better prepared to learn due to better nutrition.
*the production of food in this area will spur more business growth in the areas of selling such food as well as locally-owned restaurants.

Sounds like another tax and spend, liberal fantasy, doesn’t it? Not really. First of all, there really isn’t THAT much the government will need to provide that would cost a lot of money. The most expensive thing is the land, which the city, towns and county already have that in which property tax is not being collected on anyway. Once the businesses are up and running, taxes would be collected to some degree, though I would advocate at the very least tax breaks that corporate-based businesses get should be extended to these worker-owned businesses. Training in sustainable agriculture, access to materials and training in cooperative business practices is mainly what costs there would be. These would need to be paid for in part, but calling on the community to help with these will bring costs down. (I can go more on this at another time)

This will pay for itself in the end. What money is spent now will be made up in the lowering of costs for police and social services. It would also reduce the need for waste-of-money technology such as surveillance cameras that spy on our citizens.

[Updated] Our city government is a big fan of spending thousands of dollars and taking up a lot of time for studies on ideas. I believe that another study was just approved on the use of green space. Meanwhile, there are a number of non-profits and civic groups who could have just as easily been tapped to, not study feasibility, but to figure out a way to make this happen, period. And take a look at the Sector Presidents' Project Green Presentation. We may have something going in two or three years.

This really is not rocket science. It just takes open minds and a different type of leadership. I think the Greens have the vision and upcoming candidates to make this happen.

Part 3 of this Op-Ed will focus on another example of what trickle-up idea could be implemented.

-Dave Atias

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