Downtown Eugene

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

First, do no harm

Many modern professional services have, buried, deep within their doctrine, the notion that they are doing good. That they fix things. That they are like doctors.

But, for the most part, they do not take the hippocratic oath:

"I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment, and never do harm to anyone."

Let's look at architects, financiers, developers and urban planners.

Certainly the first three groups are available for hire or partnerships. Some try harder to do good than others, of course.

But Urban Planners, and related City staffers, are dedicated to public service, and paid by the public. Certainly they must have a hippocratic oath?

No. If that was true, the vast human destruction of Urban Renewal could not have taken place.

In fact Public Servants are often required to take rather the opposite of the hippocratic oath. They are sworn to duty. To obey. To serve ... those in power. Not people. They can do any harm that their civic leaders, whether elected or otherwise powerful, instruct them to.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Priorities inside the bubble

A government, even at the local level, is an empire, holding onto territory.

Government officials don't believe that, of course. If they did, the citizens would know it, and there would be a revolution. So, as a matter of natural selection, governments survive when they're perceived, and perceive themselves, as professionals, providing service. This makes the citizenry relax.

Unfortunately, in reality, this perception disconnects government from its citizens. It puts officials in a professional, corporate bubble.

Most importantly, the priorities within the bubble become unrelated to the priorities in people's lives.

The current project for a new City Hall, in downtown Eugene, is a very good example. The project is high on the list if inside-the-bubble priorities, because the offices aren't as nice as the government would like. But the project is at the bottom of the list of people's priorities.

Eugene suffers from high unemployement. It has a large population of poor and marginalized citizens, many highly educated, with no access to healthcare or housing. There's a shortage of public money for education, childcare, local economic development, at-risk-youth etc.

And yet the City has spent $2 million so far planning a new City Hall, even when they're pretty certain that the citizens will not allocate the money to actually build it (between $30 - $100 million). They perceive this problem as lack of understanding on the citizens' part. "We need a new City Hall" officials cry, even though the current one works fine. For $2 million, they could have completely freshened up the existing building. Instead, they bought a plan to tear down this CIty Hall, buy other existing buildings and buinesses, tear them down, dislocate the employees etc.

While it's extremely wasteful to meet the priorities within the bubble, it tends to be quite efficient to spend money on priorities outside of it. Every dollar spent on education, healthcare, local small business and non-profits, directly helps someone, and creates a greater sense of community.

The process is backwards. It would be easy to fix, if officials would simply accept the priorities of the majority as valid. Instead, they seem to think of citizens as somehow under-educated.