Another idiot idea: Make those northern suburbs grow like Detroit
So, the great journalistic mind opines on what ails Britain’s cities and comes up with the wondrous idea that what we actually need is a little less capitalism red in tooth and claw and a little more planning and direction by the Great and the Good. It isn’t, of course, an unusual reaction from a member of any group. What the country needs is that more power should be given to my group and everyone should do what members of my group tell them to do.
While not unusual, it does rather depend on what it is that everyone is being told to do:
I witnessed government growth policy at work last week on the road north out of Manchester towards Rochdale. The scene is one of utter devastation. Not just individual shops but entire parades have gone out of business and are boarded up. Mile upon mile of factories, garages, supermarkets and warehouses lie empty and for sale. Recession has delivered the coup de grace to a quarter century of manufacturing decline. Manchester is by no means the worst hit of English cities, but its northern suburbs are Detroit UK.
It’s true, Detroit is bad. Wouldn’t want to be like Detroit at all. So what’s the solution?
It would be better by far to import the US concept of “smart growth”. This does not channel counter-recessionary spending through grand projects. It directs it to the renewal of existing communities and infrastructure, to where there are already roads, transport, schools and hospitals. It restores, infills and stimulates activity where the social and physical framework is in place. It is productive and “sustainable”.
Smart growth revives the private sector through blood transfusion to the high street, rather than through the colossal public contracts favoured by Osborne and the industry secretary, Vince Cable. It makes cities denser, rather than depopulating them. It lets the market rather than the state allocate the extra cash. All this may lack ministerial glamour and earn little for consultants, but if politicians are serious about growth, smart sure beats dumb.
Ooooh! Lovely! Planning, committees, “direction” by the Great and the Good!
So, err, leave aside what smart growth says it is going to do and consider what smart growth actually does:
But big dreams need big money, and L.A. has experienced negative economic growth under Villaraigosa. Adjusting for inflation and comparing BEA numbers from the beginning of Antonio’s administration [pdf] with the most recent numbers [pdf], it looks like Los Angeles has experienced almost a 10 percent decline in real GDP by metropolitan area.
Oh, right. So, back to the drawing board then, eh, Sir Simon?