Saturday, December 7, 2013

Political Power, Economic Development, and Green Policies: Gainesville, FL

Recently, I left Washington, DC, and returned to my hometown to teach at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, located in Gainesville, Florida. Gainesville is a mid-sized city. Over the last 30 years, it has grown tremendously. But the city manages to maintain an abundance of green spaces. It is a very environmentally conscious city. This is one thing that makes it appealing.

The City Commission has enacted policies that some residents believe marginalize the interests of the city's poor citizens -- segregated primarily in eastern Gainesville -- while favoring middle- and upper-class residents. Although a full analysis of these policies lie beyond the scope of this article, one such policy has provoked controversy. The city has decided to reduce a major east-west artery from four lanes to two lanes as it moves through a particular neighborhood. The city has previously approved similar policies with respect to other major thoroughfares.

Proponents argue that these decisions can help create new green space and that they will not impact current traffic patterns. Opponents argue that these decisions will in fact aggravate traffic patterns today and in the future as the city continues to grow. Some opponents also believe that the city's traffic policies tend to favor the interests of wealthier citizens who demand the expensive programs, to the detriment of poorer citizens. How do these policies harm poor people? Arguably, they harm poor communities in two immediate ways. First, they allocate scarce financial resources to projects of questionable need that benefit upper-class citizens, while continuing to neglect blighted areas in the city. Also, because economic development is necessary to create jobs that can employ poor residents, any policy that reduces the capacity of the city's major roadways is antithetical to the interests of poor people.

A long debate over these issues has taken place on the Dissenting Justice Facebook page, the Gainesville Sun, and on the Facebook page of a liberal city council member who supported the new project. Instead of rehashing the debate here, I invite you to read the debate on Facebook and in the Gainesville Sun.

Link to Dissenting Justice on Facebook (Please LIKE the page!)

Link to Gainesville Sun coverage (Use discretion reading the comments section!)

Link to commentary on city council member (Susan Bottcher) Facebook page (Although I disagree with the policy, I admire Bottcher for responding publicly. Kudos!)

Finally -- link to my analysis of some of the political issues that the city must address, particularly liberals

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