Mainely Planning

Why plan for an uncertain future? Our world is changing in ways that we can hardly comprehend. The planning we have been engaged in over the last 100 years, is geared to a world with abundant energy, a stable climate, and a dwindling natural resource endowment that is reliant on cheap energy for extraction. That world is quickly becoming a thing of the past.

Oil price spikes due to supply/demand and geopolitical concerns, water shortages (Google Lake Mead, Central Valley, CA or the Ogallala Aquifer for details), and soil depletion are just a few of the problems we face. As we move forward, the notion that we can continue with business as usual (BAU) is not going to sustain us.

Thinking creatively and making difficult decisions will test our abilities, push our cultural boundaries and hopefully shape a world where these uncomfortable realities can be dealt with in an equitable and meaningful manner. I write about things I see, think, and work on as I transition from being a planning student into the world of planning. I am neither a technological optimist, thinking we can invent our way out of all our problems, nor a doomer, believing in returning to a world much like pre-industrial times. I believe that our creativity combined with the lessons from the past will be instrumental tools for laying the foundation for the path forward. Some of my ideas may seem radical, others are just based on common sense and keen observations.


Links of Note


Mainely Rural
The Old Pine Tree
Strong Towns
Project For Public Spaces
Streets Blog
Cap'n Transit Rides Again
Human Transit
Pedestrian Observations
Urbanophile
The Broken Sidewalk
Maine Architecture
The Vigorous North
Depot Redux
Reason and Rail
Car Free Maine
Walk Around Portland




Transportation for America State Fact Sheets


A Reason to Plan



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Posts tagged "Municipal Budgets"

I have a prediction. Small regional airports are going to become a thing of the past. I said it, now why do I believe that is so?

In one of the regional service centers of Maine, there resides a small airport. As with a lot of small towns, these airports can often turn into a burden for the local government to keep up with, and often require massive transfer of funding from federal and state sources. To obfuscate things a bit I am going to refrain from links. Guess the picture location, fine, but don’t tell any of my future employers. 

This particular airport is going to require about $500k in local monies, $500k in state funds, and about $9million from the federal government to make necessary repairs.

As a want-to-be planner I ask questions such as:

  • Is it in our economic best interest to have an airport that requires massive subsidization?
  • How many people in town use the airport?
  • What are the economic impacts for the area, outside of receiving federal and state subsidy for the repair and upkeep on the airport, and is this in our best interest as a society?
  • Is this system something that can sustain environmentally over time?
  • How does the airport ~15 and ~25 miles away compare to our airport and is it worth having all three?
  • Should we be competing to be the airport of the region, or should the region come together and focus its resources on one airport?

Knowing full well that most municipalities will take on a transfer of wealth from a larger geopolitical entity (state/federal) and spend a small amount locally as a match, because that means local jobs and a will result in a brief economic opportunity for the region. Pavement must be laid, engineering, instruments purchased and installed, but what is it really bringing to the area after all the subsidization has been sifted through? Perhaps it makes sense for municipalities to do these things regardless of the costs.

How about if we framed this in terms of opportunity costs? What is the basket of lost opportunities that are no longer an option, because we spent our money in this way? Considering the cost of bringing railroad service to Brunswick, what if towns in Maine that are along viable rail lines, reestablish service? How many airport upgrades is that worth? How many more people’s mobility opportunities will change as a result? As I understand it, only about 24 planes call this particular airport home. That represents one passenger rail car of people with some room to spare.

I also thought about what else the land could do. How many people could have fresh local food if it were dedicated to growing food and raising livestock. It turns out that there are over 260 acres tied up for this airport that in 2007 had less that 500 flight operations (can be interpreted as 250 takeoffs, 250 landings). I don’t know much about agricultural productivity, but I bet you could feed quite a few people and create a more resilient local food economy.

I am not sure what the right answer is to this predicament. Turning down free money is never going to be an easy political sell, because it does create jobs and bolsters the local economy, however collectively we are propping up systems that have no real future in a world of scarce oil and fiscal austerity. Perhaps it is time to change the game plan to something new, perhaps something old even?

From one of my favorite radio shows, This American Life, come a great discussion about municipalities that have had to make difficult choices.

I think there are a couple major points to make and should be food for thought when listening:

  • The savings from many austerity measures, really don’t add up to much in the grand scheme.
  • Some cities do need to figure things out, as is the case of Trenton, NJ, however many places run a tight ship and spend the public’s money well.
  • I am pro-union, but labor costs are out of control. Unions also need to take a serious look at seniority/tenure and figure out ways to offload workers who give them a bad name.
  • As long as a city maintained good transparency and honest discussion with the citizens about how budgets are made and financed, tax increases are ok. Again, spend the money wisely, trim unneeded waste and engage the public.

Give it a listen. Really made me consider what kind of country I want to live in.

http://www.thisamericanlife.org/play_full.php?play=459