Treasuring Places of Character

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One of my greatest joys over the last two plus years has been watching my son grow up. On the cusp of moving from toddler to little boy, I increasingly see the all-important role Paula and I have in shaping his character (enter, “timeout”). But environment has an impact too, and one of the best places for him to exercise his character is on the playground. Here, there are opportunities to take on new challenges such as scaling the ladder and trying out the big slide, to utilize his creativity in the sandbox, to learn how to interact with both the bigger and smaller kids alike. But as we explore playgrounds around Austin, we notice they’re not all equal. Continue reading

Local Land Ownership and the American Dream

imageThree years ago Paula and I became first time homeowners and landlords when we purchased our central Austin duplex. Despite all the paperwork (I never knew I could sign my name so many times), it was all pretty thrilling. But looking back at it now, I can see more clearly than ever that this process, more than anything else we have done so far, helped us better secure our financial footing by giving us the ability to make payments as if we were renting, but build equity in the process. And of course, it gave us a sense of ownership and control over our own little piece of the American Dream. Continue reading

Building a Local Economy: Where to Start?

P1000350Quite a lot has happened in the Golbabai house since I lased posted. After months of studying, I passed my American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) certification exam so I can now write this blog as a certified planner! A few days later, Paula and I welcomed the newest addition to our family, our beautiful baby daughter. Both Mom and baby are doing well and we’re all adjusting to this new reality of life as a family of four!

Over the past few weeks I’ve been really struck by my two children. Looking at our newborn daughter, I’m amazed at just how completely dependent we are on others when we come into the world. Continue reading

The Commerce Clause & the Ban on Economic Protectionism

imageA few weeks ago I posted an article about the efforts of small towns to protect their unique character and resist becoming another generic “Anywhere, USA.”  This is no small feat, in large part because the courts have said that it’s a violation of the Constitution’s Commerce Clause for local municipalities to protect their local businesses against non-local competition.  This ruling by the court has been a pebble in my shoe ever since I came across it because the wording of the Commerce Clause itself – that Congress has the power “To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes” – does not mention economic protectionism.  Given the far-reaching effects on local economies, I had to wonder how this interpretation came to be. Continue reading

More Than Job Creation

This week I want to simply share one of my favorite This American Life podcasts – “How to Create a Job” – because I think it identifies a critical vulnerability in the field of economic development as it is practiced today.

Stealing jobs from another place is not economic development.

Lowering taxes or stimulating spending is not economic development.

Economic development is an art: the cultivation both of our human talents and the land in a responsible way. The economy is about making these gifts useful, sharing them, and becoming better people in the process. Continue reading

Economics vs. Finance

imageOver the past few weeks, I have tried to make a very simple point: places have a strategic and economic interest in fostering locally-owned businesses. In addition to creating that unique charm and identity that attracts people and investment, locally owned businesses circulate more money within the local economy and help prevent money from leaking out in the first place. With these economic benefits (not to mention the social benefits associated with business ownership in close relationship with employees and customers), one would think that local governments in particular would be enthusiastic localists, engaging in policies that protect their own business communities from global forces hoping to filter local dollars to a corporate headquarters and on to stockholders worldwide. However, with few exceptions, local government has actively pursued exactly the opposite strategy: Continue reading

Accounting for Great Places

imageReading Wendell Berry’s The Gift of Good Land, I was struck by the simplest thought: that “local” is more than a philosophy; it’s a physical attachment to a particular piece of earth. In fact, that very attachment is what makes us “local” and distinguishes us from national organizations that don’t have the same allegiance. Those businesses untethered to place are generally more interested in financial gain than the long-term health of the community. If the location no longer serves their interests these parties can simply pick up and leave, to the further detriment of the city. Continue reading