In the Letters & Comments section on the inside front page of the Aug. 27th issue of Isthmus magazine there was a tongue-in-cheek submission by Chuck Litweiler. He wrote;
“I know that Madison will never elect a mayor whose views are close to mine. Still I wake each day profoundly grateful that Dave Cieslewicz is not mayor (“Time to Start Over on Judge Doyle Square” 8/21/2014). He still envisions a “great” city ever growing with carless, childless, hip, affluent downtown dwellers. Thank goodness he did not get us to cram a railroad station and public market downtown. Thank goodness we did not finance the Edgewater renewal and a trolley system to replace buses downtown. The list could go on and on.
Dave, give in to your urge and run for mayor again so that we can choose once and for all whether we want your vision for our city. As to Judge Doyle square, let’s not quibble over the planning process and subsidy amount. Do not subsidize a hotel there, period.”
As someone who is admittedly new to examining our city’s political scene with a critical eye it’s a bit difficult for me to pick apart the above statement, but I guess I’ll give it a shot.
First of all, I like the idea of a trolley or any type of public rail transportation with a low carbon footprint. I have even suggested to constituents that the city begin tearing up lesser-used roads to replace them with Greenways complete with substantial agricultural space and dairy barns. This is how cities should be built, and while I’m not saying that this would be my first priority it would be a long-term goal. A trolley or light rail system would be something I would push for in the more immediate future. I’ve often wondered what we could accomplish if we said “to heck with the State government, why shouldn’t Madison and the surrounding cities pool their resources, borrow if necessary, and just build the dang train?” We should ALREADY have high speed rail, but what if we stopped griping about it and actually did something?
As far as I know the public market is already happening (woo-hoo!), so I’ll leave that one be.
When I read “hip and affluent” the Cap Times cover story written by ald. Lucas Dailey (no relation) six weeks ago came immediately to my mind. The headline was “Vision for a Complete City” (since we’re discussing Visions anyway I figure let’s have at it) and the article laid out a plan for a city which would “compete with convention deals not with the Dells but with San Francisco and New York,” a city which would be “relevant to the 21st century.”
This says a lot about where he (and presumably others) believe our city’s strengths are: as a destination for business travelers and tourists, for one. It is easy to see how one might reach this conclusion…given the state of our economy, driven as it has been in the last years by a group whose sole purpose is to privatize everything. Some people believe that “Corporatocracy” is inevitable. I however do not.
He goes on to write “I believe the city should create a staff position to market Madison and recruit tech companies to move here…” all I can say is that we should not be prostituting ourselves into the 21st century. It is not the way to build more sustainable or just communities.
He goes on to write that “Economically, the world is being divided. This is largely due to technology replacing middle and low-skilled jobs, as well as adding scalability to high-skilled jobs. Technology isn’t just reducing blue-collar jobs, it’s also reducing white-collar jobs. This will continue indefinitely and expand into new industries and positions. The companies that will be most durable and prosperous will be those that lead this wave of change: technology companies.”
Dailey’s (again, no relation) vision fits neatly within the neoliberal perpetual-growth paradigm, again, and while his other rhetoric, centering around “helping us reach the highest levels of social justice, democracy and public policy” (see my comment above) sounds quite nice, it ignores the elephant in the room; the fact that social justice and democracy stand at odds with the very notion of perpetual economic expansion and greater reliance on private business to solve the world’s problems. Why? Because perpetual growth assumes perpetual and ever-greater exploitation of our natural resources for one. Because the profit motive has no moral imperative. The rare Earth metals used to make every six months’ new wave of iPhones are extracted in tandem with coal through mountain-top removal and open-pit mining, and private businesses (at this moment) use private banks and private banks have no incentive to invest in the kind of low-return projects which are the heart of a thriving local economy. They go after bigger gains. We may not be in a position to immediately halt such practices but we need to relentlessly call for their timely cessation. A public bank is one avenue through which this can be achieved…more on that later.
Not only that, but as is pointed out in the film Take Back Your Power technology itself is amoral. The abuse which can be perpetuated, the possibilities for invasion of privacy — and we have already arrived at a moment in history in which all of our movements both online and offline (for anyone who owns a device hooked up to the telecom network and made in the last eight years) — grow exponentially as technology continues to be developed. In the film there is a clip of the CEO of Google appearing on a talk show and speaking of how Google intentionally “goes right up to the “creepy line“‘ in terms of violating people’s privacy, but does not cross it, commenting that the “creepy line” gets pushed farther with every advancement in monitoring and data collection. He commented glibly that at this moment the line is drawn somewhere short of brain-implants, but that should that technology be developed then the line will again have moved and that ultimate invasion, too, will be acceptable. I have absolutely Zero desire to live in such a techno-fascist state. Phone apps are not benign. Our email accounts are not benign. The expansion of wi-fi is not bening. We need to wise up.
From a human rights perspective: the fact that all of this [tech] that Westerners are so in love with is produced under extremely unjust working conditions should be equally concerning. Suicide nets in iphone factories and low wages forced upon desperate people should not be ignored. Companies dedicated to pandering to consumer tech only serve to continue this inhumane and unsustainable business model. We have enough tech devices already for every person on the planet and if American companies would bring their production lines back to America then we would have the skilled workers necessary to turn used components into [new] devices. We should be importing companies which would start doing that.
My vision for a complete city includes substantially increasing the production of tangible goods, skilled crafts-jobs, and centers for cultural/artistic production. We do not have to passively accept the national trends of displacement of labor capitol through greater mechanization/computerization.
Most people may not be thinking about it now but in the next ten years industrial hemp will be legalized and the floodgates will be open. Local production of raw and processed goods will suddenly be back on the table after decades or decline, with the potential applications of this most hardy and abundant material being all but limitless. Concrete, paper, textiles, nutritious foodstuffs, and extremely efficient batteries; all of these things (and about 50 more) can be made from hemp, and if we can beat the major agribusiness conglomerates to the punch we could control the production and manufacturing on the local level. Workers cooperatives could be producing real goods with a “Made in Madison, WI” stamp by the end of my first term (and you can bet your boots that I will be driving for it)!
More immediately, I believe that urban agriculture of the vegetable variety will build stronger, more sustainable communities while answering the need for non-electronic commodities. Portland’s common council recently began instituting its plan to transform unused land into food forests in order to create better nutritional outcomes for its residents. Madison should do the same — and more. Five million sq. ft. of vertical agricultural space could feed the entire city of Madison, and while I accept that it is unlikely that we will achieve that volume in the next five years, I believe that a series of greenhouses which grew even a portion of the food consumed in Madison [in Madison] could significantly bolster our city’s economy. While this may not be as glamorous as another hotel/convention center and may not offer the same quick payoff, the value of such a project in the long-term would be huge, and across the country people are reaching this same conclusion — that the only apparent way to counter the influence of major agribusiness will be to shift to a local food production based model, and there is no reason that Madison shouldn’t lead the way. The jobs created would be a boon to the city, and the vegetables could be put to use where they are most needed; in school lunch and elder-care programs. These initiatives would not attract more “affluent” people, but rather provide working class people with the opportunities that they need.
That’s all I’ll say for right now…(oh yeah, and no subsidy for Judge Doyle Square!)
So Chuck, how do I measure up?