Monday, January 21, 2008

On MLK Day, the question of jobs, housing, and infrastructure

Two years ago I quoted Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Beyond Vietnam" speech:
"I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic, destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such."


Well, where do we go from here (to quote the title of a King speech)? On Saturday, in a column headlined Good Jobs Are Where the Money Is, New York Times columnist Bob Herbert, taking off from the observation that the gap between rich and poor is ever-growing, observed:
Forget all the CNBC chatter about Fed policy and bargain stocks. For ordinary Americans, jobs are the be-all and end-all. And an America awash in new jobs will require a political environment that respects and rewards work and aggressively pursues creative policies designed to radically expand employment.

I’d start with a broad program to rebuild the American infrastructure. This would have the dual benefit of putting large numbers of people to work and answering a crying need. The infrastructure is in sorry shape. New Orleans comes to mind, and the tragic bridge collapse in Minneapolis.

The country that gave us the Marshall Plan to rebuild postwar Europe ought to be able, 60 years later, to reconstitute its own sagging infrastructure.


The AY angle

Herbert's point, extrapolated to Brooklyn, is that targeted government investment can turn the tide. The need for jobs and housing is far, far greater than the holy grail of the Atlantic Yards project.

Does Forest City Ratner, which is touting the minority hiring and contracts that are part of the privately-negotiated Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement, really care about minority empowerment and affordable housing, or is it just a cost of doing business, one more than offset by the privately-negotiated zoning bonus?

After all, if the developer wanted to affect policy on affordable housing, it would've used the mailing list it collected at a 2006 affordable housing information session to advocate for other policies beyond AY.

Infrastructure issues

Maybe columnist Herbert knew something was coming. On Saturday, Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Pennsylvania Governor Edward G. Rendell, and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced the creation of Building America’s Future, a non-partisan coalition for federal infrastructure investment, with initial funding from the Rockefeller Foundation.

Rendell said, "America’s infrastructure crisis is far broader than bridges and roads. The infrastructure crisis includes the basic necessities communities and businesses need to survive: schools, waterlines, wastewater treatment systems, dams, flood mitigation, hospitals, energy, aviation, rail lines, and ports. This is an issue that crosses party lines and we need significant federal investments now."

Again from the AY angle, renewed investment in infrastructure could lead to more jobs (and thus greater capacity to pay for housing), increased affordable development tied to transit, and also a generally better quality of life all around.

2 comments:

  1. Stretching an MLK speech on Vietnam to cover the alleged sins of Bruce Ratner is one more indicator of the increasing desperation and intellectual vacuity of the critics' position.

    It is shockingly naive, but not surprising, to suggest that Ratner's interests in minority rights and reducing costs are mutually and morally exclusive. Some of the best arrangements in the fight to empower the minorityh poor were born of self interest as well as a moral imperative.

    It's called enlightened self-interest. I would have thought you learned that at Yale or the Public Library.

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  2. Sure, it's enlightened self-interest for corporations to participate. But the credit FCR claims and the costs to the company should be weighed against the benefits.

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