Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Editorial: They Don't Get It

First off let me say I was in favor of Walmart. I decided to shut up about it, because that's just one guy's opinion, but what I am about to say is colored through that lens. Because of the mild annoyance I felt at covering it for three months and then at the decision itself I was hoping it would just die. They took care of it. It's over. Let's move on.

But no! Here comes the return of Walmart, the son of Walmart, Walmart's revenge. During the Walmart discussions everybody complained that city needs more development, so now we're trying to fix that problem, but we aren't. City Planner Terry Croad stated one of the largest reasons why the city doesn't get large scale national development, the process. It's costly, time consuming, and most of all it entails far too much risk. I know that between flying their people out, lawyers, engineers, real estate deposits and all that jazz, developers are looking at tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in investment and untold man-hours just to take a swing. But that's the game, unless you're in Southfield, the city that doesn't build, in which case you know you aren't going to make your money back. So why try?

This city has an unemployment rate of 10.5 percent, and an office vacancy rate of 30%, . We desperately need business! We desperately need development, but nobody wants to look at the devil and take up the sword! We'd rather not make a fuss. Oh no we don't want a new store, or a new restaurant. We want Southfield to remain provincial. Well I'm sorry we're an inner ring suburb. We are not provincial. This is supposedly a suburb, hell a border suburb of what is or at least was America's industrial capitol. We build. We forge. We craft. It's what we do and who we are, damn it! Iron and steel. Brick and glass. You need it, we make it!

But not now! We can't build now.

I once said that if I ever stopped believing in democracy I'd have an emotional breakdown. Hello mein fuhrer. Part of the discussion included comments about how the planning commission isn't accountable to the public. Well you know what. The public in this city, hell this state is nuts. The part of me who wants to retain his love of democracy is screaming no it's just a loud minority that keeps us from getting free bridges, free infrastructure and park improvements. But I just don't know anymore. It's surreal.

The true thing that utterly disgusts me, is the tendency in the debate to completely ignore numbers and studies. The planning department had statistics on how the development would affect other businesses in Southfield, traffic, and what they would pay in taxes and I would always hear the same thing. "I don't trust the numbers." You know what the entire purpose of our number system is? Quantitative and empirical analysis! The ability to take two or more things and compare them objectively. I trust the numbers more than your gut. Studies, engineers, men and women who paid thousands of dollars to go school to learn to measure quantities and create statistical models. Them, I trust. Your gut? Not so much.

Furthermore several expressed a lack of faith in the free market. I do believe that certain industries need to be regulated and to be fair garment manufacturing safety, international trade and retail wages are included, but under most circumstances I feel the government does not have a right to tell a business it can't exist, that it doesn't deserve a turn at bat. In this regard the collective will of the people which would normally be expressed through the state is expressed through the dollar. Competition is good for the consumer. As a consumer you can choose to support small business, or more labor friendly businesses rather than Walmart.

Something similar could be said for the real estate market. Land owners should be allowed to sell their property to prospective buyers. While city council has approval over land use, the free market should be allowed to prosper. Because of the decision the Archdiocese has been left in the lurch, unable to sell their land for the price they negotiated.  The City Council has veto power but they do not have the power to locate business that is done through the market, and pretending otherwise is a fool's errand. We have to look at things realistically the market has been unkind to this city, we have to work with it not against it.

Altogether it is not so much that I wanted a Walmart, but that the debate revealed attitudes that I feel to be a detriment to the desperate progress the city needs, and as long as the debate remains the same, development in the city is doomed to failure. Indeed this happened before with Golden Corral. We can't lure new business unless we actually want new business, and I desperately, intensely, want new business.

Okay, glad I got that out of my system. Back to stoicism.

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