Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Reinvent THIS!

I attended the latest event in the Reinventing Stamford series last night at UConn, and here are a few of my notes.

The two keynote speakers were renowned urban planners Bob Yaro and Michael Gallis. They talked about Stamford's role in the greater NYC metro region and in the Northeast "megaregion," which stretches from Boston to Northern Virginia. Bob said that the NYC metro region has a $1.2 trillion economy - as big as Canada's.

One major issue was, as expected, transportation. They are both proponents of high-speed rail, with Bob pointing out that we are twenty years behind Europe and forty years behind Japan in that area. He also said that Morocco has appropriated $14 billion to build high-speed rail lines, which is the same amount that we're spending. Morocco is ahead of us!

The big issue is harnessing the political willpower to face reality. We've been living in an artificial economic bubble caused by Communism controlling a vast swath of the world from Eastern Europe to Southeast Asia. Now that China is on the rise, we're returning to a true global economy, and we'd better keep up (or catch up, in some cases).

Bob said that our institutions and politics are becoming ossified and moving away from our oldest tradition: having common sense drive public policy. For the last fifty years, it's been political dogma driving it, and we need to get back to common sense.

Michael raised a good point: Stamford can continue to be dependent on NYC or develop a diverse economy of its own, with universities and "lateral connections," which complement the main north-south ones (95, the railroad).

After the main presentation, each table was visited by a planner or someone from the City for smaller discussions of the topics presented. Each table then shared its main points with the room, and the common themes were walkability and creating a pedestrian- and bike-friendly city; transportation; and affordable housing.

The person at my table told us that some cities, including New York, have programs where developers receive free land, tax breaks and other incentives to sell or rent to people within certain income parameters - meaning not too low and not too high. This is EXACTLY what Stamford needs to do. Think about it: the city and its residents are pushing for greater downtown density; there are a bunch of empty lots downtown; there's a need for housing that the middle class and people in the service sectors can afford. Sounds like the perfect environment to initiate that type of program. Enough with the luxury price points and the disingenuous "investments" in affordable housing. Let's make Stamford a city for everybody, not just trust fund babies and UBSers.

The problem, of course, would be getting developers on board, because they're naturally more inclined to maximize their investment. The incentives would therefore need to be attractive enough for them to participate.

Any thoughts on these topics? I'd also like to hear thoughts on how we as citizens can get our local leaders to at least begin to move these ideas along.


Unknown said...

Te idea of giving developers a break is much better than what we currently do - give breaks to corporations who end up leaving when the time is up.
On that part I think that the breaks should be reversed, if you stick around long enough you get a break (that is for the corporations). The other sounds like a very good idea. I would like to have options as far as livable space for middle income people. Right now that does not exist.

JT said...

Damn! I need to get to the next one of these.