Moving on up: What high-road development means, and means to us
Posted on 09/08/11
Economic development can be community development. It can be environmental and human development. Over long decades of low-road development, we seem to have forgotten these things. But now we have to recognize there is a choice. There is a high road.
We’ve seen the sights on the low road, where firms wield the power and reap the benefits of public resources, giving little in return. The low road is dotted with crumbling schools, abandoned buildings, poorly planned transportation systems, unemployment and job insecurity, and a profound lack of corporate accountability. Workers who live there are considered interchangeable, and worker skill development is driven by price competition to the lowest common denominator. Low roads tend to stretch all the way from the central city to remote suburbs, where industry flocks toward abatements and away from declining cities all the while building new buildings and highways.
So where’s the high road? It is where business sees high-skilled labor as an asset, and ties its own economic health to the health of the community. It is where the public and private meet to find and improve existing resources so that enterprises can sustain themselves more efficiently, rather than following the tear-down build-up tear-down cycles of the low-road. It is where collaborations between industry and workers, planners and researchers seek first to revitalize communities abandoned by business, reduce sprawl, and invest in public goods like education, transportation systems and infrastructure. Where quality production and a skilled workforce make profits, instead of low costs and downsizing, that’s where the high road lies.
On the high road, a city attracts business not through unconditional tax abatements, but through a skilled workforce and sophisticated infrastructure. When subsidies are given, they are given with the assumption that the entire community will benefit from the firm’s presence in the region. In recent times, we have seen this principle -- often called "closing off the low road" -- in policies like Cleveland's new living wage ordinance. Minimum pay and environmental standards eliminate the inevitable downward spiral in labor relations, accountability and environmental impact created by low-road competition.
Unusual partners often unite behind high road development. Cities and inner-ring suburbs, workers and environmentalists, central city people of color and working class whites, organized labor and urban-based business owners: these groups don’t always agree, but they should all support this new approach. Why?
1. It’s metropolitan