Downtown Eugene

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.


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