Monday, December 16, 2013

Politicians, streetcars and money in Cincinnati.

A streetcar system is coming back to Cincinnati, except maybe it isn't, even though construction has started. There was an election, the political hand was rejigged, and now it's all muddy. Very, very muddy.

I won't pretend to try grasping the political undercurrents.  However, there are lessons to be learned from all of this. For a description of the project, Cincy Streetcar Blog is a good place to start. To update the situation: It's do or die week for Cincinnati's streetcar.

Digging deeper:

EDITORIAL: Localizing Operating Costs for Streetcar Sets Dangerous Precedent, by Randy A. Simes (Urban Cincy)

 On Thursday morning Mayor John Cranley (D) called a press conference for a “major” announcement. He was joined by leadership of labor unions representing city workers, along with Councilman Kevin Flynn (C).

So what was the big news? Well, Mayor Cranley had announced that he would be willing to continue the Cincinnati Streetcar project that has already received direct voter approval twice, support of City Council, appropriated funds for its entire project cost, and began construction, if streetcar supporters could come up with a private funding commitment that would cover all operating costs for the first phase of the system over the next 30 years.

Oh yeah, and he asked that those boosters kindly secure that $60-80 million commitment in one week’s time.

Peeling back the layers, it seems there's a back story, with the streetcar project just one aspect of the debate with respect to economic development, revitalization and gentrification.

Streetcar debacle hurts our reputation, by Chris Ostoich, founder and CEO of BlackbookHR.

I must say that this is the first time I have ever considered walking away from Cincinnati. One of the things being largely ignored here, or at least largely unspoken, is the fact that this debacle is affecting our reputation in the talent ecosystem.

If we want to be considered one of the next great American cities, we need every advantage to recruit and retain the brightest people. Bright people want to build things. Bright people want to be part of a renaissance. Bright people know that they are part of building something – whether that is their career, their company or their community. Scholarly research shows that happiness at work and in life depends greatly on feeling a sense of agency. This feeling of agency and the Streetcar was strongly evidenced by the reaction received yesterday at City Hall.

Calling this project quits will, I promise you all, have lasting effect on our ability to have a real conversation with companies and/or employees about choosing Cincinnati.

But what if the new political order was built, in part, with the cooperation of those feeling left out of the equation?

GUEST EDITORIAL: Get Over It, Then Get Ready, by Don Mooney (Urban Cincy)

 ... (Mayor) Cranley is hardly the first candidate to win an election by whipping up resentment in the “neighborhoods” about spending on development “downtown”. He won’t be the last. Many politicians have built entire political careers in this town on being against stuff ...

 ... Advocates of the streetcar – and I’ve been one of them – have allowed their pet project to be painted by COAST and Chris Smitherman as a wasteful contraption designed for Chablis sipping metrosexuals, who think they are too good for the bus or the family mini-van. Can’t these precious young professionals read their iPads on the number 24, or get stuck behind a truck on the viaduct like the rest of us? Don’t take it personally. It’s just politics.

We have not sold the incredible progress downtown and in OTR, despite the great recession, as a model for other neighborhoods with their own aspirations for cool restaurants, modern transportation and rising property values. So in Price Hill and Mt. Washington, your rising neighborhood is seen as a threat to theirs, not as a sign of good things to come to our city.

Those of you with skills and no kids to tie you down can’t be blamed for bailing out now. With Cranley in the Mayor’s office and a hostile Council majority, the streetcar is on life support, and the air soon may start coming out of the downtown/OTR balloon. No doubt there are bright folks at 3CDC, dunnhumby and all those hip new branding firms with OTR addresses already tuning up their resumes.

Much to think about, isn't there?

No comments: