Watch out! The current economic development proposals for Connecticut's largest cities may to turn out to be very expensive ways to worsen some of our most serious problems. There's the basic, upscale-mall with four big-name stores on New Haven's waterfront, the family entertainment and off-price shopping center just down the road on Bridgeport's harbor, and the football stadium complex in Hartford, along the beautiful Connecticut River near the intersection of two interstate highways. These projects will each consume hundreds of millions of our tax dollars. Together, they will be devastating to Connecticut, even if the economic numbers go up because of millionaire football players, increased corporate profits and government subsidies.
These projects are based on at least two very dangerous assumptions about our society's future: First - subsidizing wealthy business interests helps the urban poor, and second - that increased resource consumption and waste production won't cause even more serious problems.
The contrast is startling between suburban folks driving their oversized sport utility vehicles down ever-widening highways to shop at fancy department stores, or sitting in a tax-deductible, taxpayer-guaranteed, and taxpayer-built luxury corporate skybox to watch a Patriot's game, versus the reality of the cities' clamoring needs for meaningful, productive work, healthful food, clothing, and affordable shelter. In our country's richest state, both poverty and the divisions between the "haves and the have-nots" increase daily.
The New Haven Register reports that 63% of that city's youth live at or near the poverty level, up from 49% just five years ago. This 25% increase in poverty occurred during the unprecedented stock market boom. So much for the "trickle-down" theory.
New Haven at 63% is not as bad as Bridgeport, where more than seven out of ten children live at or near poverty, or Hartford, where more than eight out of every ten children live in this unfortunate condition. You don't have to spend much time in an urban classroom to realize that poverty increases a wide range of social, health, and learning difficulties which interfere with the educational process. I know from first-hand experience that many schools are suffering from overcrowded classes and a lack of teachers, substitutes or appropriate supplies. Minimum-wage jobs selling overpriced stadium souvenirs to sports fans, or expensive trinkets and mall food to teenagers are not what the poor of our cities need in their futures.
These projects aren't located next to major interstate highway junctions so that people will walk there. By encouraging more non-essential travel, these projects encourage air pollution, increasingly-expensive road building and more potentially-devastating climate change.
Each of these projects implies greatly increased energy and other resource consumption. They'll only be successful if lots of people drive to buy more goods or to watch a game. Increasingly, the merchandise that's for sale nearly everywhere is made by poorly-paid workers half-way around the world.
Our voracious use of resources, particularly oil and coal, may have already exceeded the Earth's ability to absorb our waste products, especially carbon dioxide from fossil-fuel burning. You don't have to hear too many weather reports, or talk to very many farmers to understand that the climate is changing, and that these changes could be disastrous, and definitely will be very expensive for human society. And, despite nearly continuous construction and repair, the roads seem to be increasingly clogged with vehicles.
In pursuing these three projects in our Connecticut cities we are using lots of capital and creativity to go very far in the wrong direction.
In the 1960s, we heard that if you weren't part of the solution, you were part of the problem. Today, to be part of the solution to the divisions in our society and to our growing climate and environmental problems, we need to learn how to consume less, to be happy where we are, and to produce more of what we really need, close to home.
Those are worthy goals for the New Year.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
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