Carolina North report a tidy piece of PR

Chapel Hill Herald, Saturday May 28, 2005

The leaders of the go-go-growth crowd are true believers. Since they hold fast and firm to a common principle, the ethic of "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" holds sway. In truth, it is often the same back.

Thus, when UNC released its Economic Impact Analysis for Carolina North last Wednesday, it was not surprising that the contact provided for "economic impacts on the local community" was Aaron Nelson of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce.

UNC's report was all good news and Nelson's e-mail to chamber members matched it with effusive praise. He characterized Carolina North as "relieving pressure on the housing market." Let's see: 1,400 to 1,800 new homes to accommodate 7,500 new employees. That's about a 6,000 unit deficit, an odd notion of relief.

Nelson touted "the creation of high-wage jobs for Orange County residents." While those 7,500 new jobs are predicted to average $58,000/year, there is no indication that even one of them will go to a current Orange County resident. Market Street Services, authors of the analysis, use the recent figure of 52.2 percent of UNC employees living in Orange County as the basis for their projection, but there is no evidence provided to support that assumption.

The chamber gushes over the "generation of tax revenue to fund municipal, county and school operations and community initiatives and projects." But there has been no analysis of the costs of Carolina North to the local community and therefore there can be no understanding of whether the net effect is positive or negative. Market Street Services throws around some big numbers, but in isolation they don't mean very much.

Fortunately, our elected officials have a sharper eye for such matters. Cam Hill was on target when he said, "if they came out with anything less than this, it would be shocking. This is what people do to get support for what they're up to. It would be very simple to come up with a forecast for 15 years in the future and say that the future's going to be rosy, if that's what you wanted it to say."

Bill Strom, who along with Hill is one of the two council members who have had success in the business world, added "these numbers are easy to manipulate and highly speculative, and often associated with sophisticated public relations campaigns."

One might infer that UNC's vice chancellor of research and economic development agrees. Tony Waldrop is quoted on the testimonials page of the consultant's Web site as saying "Market Street Services provided exceptional service to the University of North Carolina. ... Their work was of the highest quality, which reflected their listening closely to what we needed."

Part of what was needed was a set of favorable assumptions. Among those was the prediction that future projects at Carolina North would leverage 90 percent of their funding from federal and private sources. Along with other uncertainties, this overlooks the huge federal deficits being amassed by the Bush administration and the consequent budget cuts.

The rosy job scenario might not materialize either. Last winter, a study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that American teens placed 27th out of 30 member nations in mathematical problem-solving (Korea, Japan, Canada and France topped the list).

No one can really say if by the year 2020, the key date in the UNC report, businesses will want to locate research facilities in the United States, to say nothing of North Carolina.

Indeed, our region already has an abundance of technically proficient, well-educated workers whose jobs have gone overseas.

If you are inclined to give credence to the report's optimistic assumptions, you might reflect on the words of Market Street Services CEO Mac Holladay.

He told a Virginia legislative commission, "I happen to agree with John Kenneth Galbraith, who says that economists who make forecasts can be divided into two groups, those that do not know and those that know they do not know."

Thursday morning, after hearing the presentation on the economic impact, the trustees endorsed the Carolina North plan as "a catalyst for the economic transformation of our state." Now there's an interesting forecast given that just one sector of the state economy, tourism, generates $1.1 billion in tax revenue (as compared to the $48 million claimed for Carolina North) and nearly 200,000 jobs (versus 7,500 for Carolina North).

The Carolina North Economic Impact Analysis is a tidy bit of PR that will well serve the project's boosters.

For UNC's trustees and administration, Carolina North seems to have become a kind of raison d'etre. The tendency of those who want something too much to overstate their data is a familiar one in contemporary America. But it is not a healthy tendency for either our nation or our state.

Issues: 

Total votes: 91

Comments

O.K., now that we have heard the "no-no-no growth" perspective, maybe we can get on with some decision making on the part of the Town Council, rather than the circular arguements we've been in for a few years now. And oh yes, those business icons of Cam Hill and Bill Strom did you say? They've already started the circular loop with the comments quoted by Dan C.

Bobby: how is the ability to distinguish hype from fact indicative of "the no no no growth perspective"? Are you suggesting that anyone who ever favors growth must dispense with critical thinking? I would certainly not agree.

Dan, I'm convinced if the chancellor and some of his staffers went out to University Lake and walked across it, you would do a column criticizing them for not being able to swim!

I don't think at this point favoring growth or opposing growth is the real issue for us in Chapel Hill; the real issue should be, given that UNC will build things on their property, how do we as a community ensure that it is done right and has as little negative impact as possible on the community. These policy positions are always subject to debate and no one has the monopoly on what is truth. And those who think supporting the longevity of HWA will stop CN, well, I seriously doubt that it will work out that way.

Could you also share your reasons for concluding that the Town Council members that you named achieved success in the business world?

Dan, I totally agree that this report is all about PR. Its "analysis" is way less than credible, and certainly not meaningful from a community planning perspective. I hadn't even bothered to mention it here on OP. Why give it more respectability by responding to it?

Still, I dislike the term "go-go-growth crowd." It's polarizing and unproductive. Focusing on people's own words and actions gives us plenty of evidence on which to base our arguments.

Anyway, back to reality. Is there anyone (besides Bobby, presumably) who finds UNC's report compelling or believable?

Ruby, that's why I don't use the term very often. But it's not polarizing to describe a pole as a pole. It is merely accurate.

I am certainly open to other ways of describing the Chamber's knee-jerk enthusiasm over this report.

It is important to critique a report like this given the tendency of some (the Chamber, the BOT, others?) to swallow it whole hog and repeat it as gospel.

But aren't reports such as this always biased to reflect the desires of the organization doing the contracting? While this report, as all others like it, is flawed, there is now something concrete that can be discussed, refuted in some areas, hopefully agreed upon in others. I actually don't find much in the report to refute. I do, however, see huge gaps in their analysis. For example, they looked at three major impacts (construction, operations, taxes). Under operations they didn't look at the impact on TOWN operations. Other major impacts I think need to be addressed are: employment (as Dan or someone mentioned, probably won't be hiring locals), housing, quality of life, and environmental impact.

This report also defines some of the assumptions the university will continue to use in their planning, such research funding generated; property, sales & income tax generation; jobs created, etc. Questions we should be asking are about assumptions we disagree with (based on data), missing analysis (such as environmental impact), etc.

Dan and Ruby: My comments were not aimed at promoting the UNC report or criticising it. But I will say that the reaction to my comments seems to point out a mentality on this blog that seems to be dominated by a few folks who love to bash UNC, as a hobby, or nearly a profession. Very one-sided and intolerant to discussion or debate.

I among many, believe that UNC is an exceptionally good "neighbor." And, generally, many would support the enhancements UNC has been proposing and actually doing for years.

No Dan, I'm not saying that "anyone who ever favors growth must dispense with critical thinking?" Certainly not I. My emphasis now, however, is in response to your use of a phrase promoting CRITICAL thinking. In your case, your hyperbole on such information is very one sided...CRITICAL in all instances. Then, you turn around and try to promote Cam and Bill as "leaders" on issues such as this; don't see that at all. Too many agendas and very transparent.

Dan, I also like your comment or 'analysis' in calling a "pole a pole" in attacking the UNC report as not credible. Is that like calling a "pig a pig?"

Or better yet, is it like saying that because you say it is so, it is so?.

Ruby, there's so many holes in this report one wonders how it could ever be characterized as objective. Take the claim:

By the end of Phase 2:
⇒ Nearly 9,000 jobs will be created as a result of construction expenditures.
⇒ This equates to $353 million in salary and other personal income.
⇒ And $979 million in business revenue will be generated.

First, why not review the current construction job creation impact of the main campus developments? MSS could've easily reviewed the lasting construction employment impact of this realworld example and extrapolated from those figures but that would've been problematic as it it's pretty appar nt that these imported jobs have no lasting impact. Second, why not breakout the type of constuction jobs these 9000 constitute? How many day laboreres? How many out-of-state technicians (welders, steelworkers, etc.)? How many will pay NC taxes (it seems like a lot of mobile construction workers are from Texas - no income taxes there!)? Three, how is that $979 million distributed? How much for local businesses? How much (paralleling the current construction boom on main campus) is being siphoned off to out-of-state concerns or to well-heeled in-state firms like Barnhill, etc.?

If this report wasn't being used as a sledgehammer to expedite the whole UNC/North project (revving up over the Summer, hmmmm......) it would be laughable.

Finally, let's look at a few projects rosy economic impact projections:

Centennial Campus

...McKinney had a clear vision of how Centennial Campus would better utilize the talents of the university and shape the future of education in the United States. He envisioned the “live, work, play” ideal that embraced Centennial as an environment for living, education and enjoyment. McKinney believed that Centennial Campus was “a new academic community which promises to be an important economic development initiative which will impact the entire state and beyond.”

(sound familiar) and the Global Transpark.

Hey, if they keep the HWA we'll have the best of both disasters!

Will and Dan are missing the point.

Of course the numbers in MSS study are, to put it bluntly, epistemologically useless -- except, as Terri notes, as a broad indication of the assumptions UNC is making about finance. Business-impact studies are almost always poorly operationalized and documented, and this one appears to be no exception.

But it is useful for one thing: politics. Last week's trustees meeting was all about building the case for closing the airport. The general thrust of the argument that emerged, and that no doubt will be pressed with House Speaker Jim Black (the airport's main supporter at this point), is that there's great economic promise in Carolina North that cannot be realized while the airport remains in place.

The big numbers here are $60 million (the cost of extra infrastructure needed to serve a development at Horace Williams co-located with the landing strip), $30 million (the cost of replacing the airport with a similar facility elsewhere in Orange County), and $3 million (the capital and operations bill for moving AHEC to RDU and compensating doctors for the extra travel time).

Think of the MSS study as UNC's answer when someone in Raleigh starts talking about AHEC's economic impact ($95 million a year, according the article in the aviation press noted by Charles P. in another thread).

I don't remember where I read this, but UNC and the Town of Chapel Hill have agreed to undertake a fiscal impact study. I hope the town does not agree to having MSS undertake that study.

So, two sillies, the MSS "study" (to be charitable) and the press report noted by Charles, add up to one what? Is the plan to bury each other in so much BS that the side creating the most altruistic seeming reason to survive wins? If your analysis is correct Ray, what UNC has done projects weakness not strength, so why even try this gambit?

It really tanks UNC's credibility (especially given the Centennial Campus example) to fight AOPA with a report that is obviously flawed. Why not build a case based in reality (I believe Chapel Hill is still a reality-based community) and then let an objective evaluation begin?

Actually, Ray, I think it's a pretty direct implication of my column: the question of whether the legislature will apply more scrutiny to these numbers than the BOT did. It certainly ought to be their responsibility to not take such reports at face value. Thanks for suggesting that the point should be explicit.

p.s. Ray, we're still waiting for your explanation of "townies' conempt" for UNC students. Please let us know the evidence for the contempt you have witnessed? How is it manifested and by whom? Do all townies have that contempt? Kevin Foy as well as Edith Wiggins as well as Mark Kleinschmidt? Fred Black as well as Aaron Nelson as well as Joyce Brown

You make an excellent point, Ray - it IS about the politics, pure and simple. It baffles me sometimes why certain people on this site insist on trying to shoot the messenger if the message isn't in exact alignment with what they want to hear.

Will, you're focusing on the wrong report. The important one is the airport study (available at http://research.unc.edu/cn/concept/Talbert_Bright.htm), the last section of which pretty well demolishes the AHEC/drive-time case against using RDU.

Unlike the MSS study, this one isn't vapor. The consultants got down to the level of the individual doctor and nurse, documenting how much time these folks are spending on travel now. They also did what feels like a fairly good sensitivity analysis showing the effect time-of-day has on travel times to RDU. The key claim, at day's end, is that it's possible to calculate the likely productivity loss from the extra driving and mitigate it in ways not yet defined (my guess is by paying AHEC personnel a travel "bonus").

Will's read on the politics of the situation is also off-base. The administration's main antagonist here isn't the AOPA, it's the med school. The AOPA is a fine organization that works hard for its constituents, but it's by no means omnipotent (just ask the Chicago-area pilots who lost Meigs Field, the city's waterfront airport, a couple of years ago when Mayor Daley closed it over the AOPA's objections). Its lobbying is most effective with the help of a local ally, and it's had that here in the med school.

The trouble for the airport's advocates now is that Moeser and the campus administration are narrowing the med school's options. Dean Roper has said the decision on the airport's future should be debated openly and publicly. Well, Moeser has now been open and public. What happens to Roper's credibility if his people go back-channel to Black? What happens after UNC's lobbyists show Black the airport study and someone starts asking hard questions about why the med school's doctors aren't willing to spend an extra 30 minutes on the road every week or month to help sick kids in Wilmington?

Don't underestimate the importance of the trustees in all this, either. After the airport consultant finished her presentation last week, there was some Q&A between trustees and Tom Bacon, the head of AHEC, that pretty clearly indicated that the trustees are in the chancellor's corner on this one and won't be happy if the med school crosses them. You can bet Roper will factor that into his calculations about how hard or soft to push.

As for the MSS study, I see it basically as filling in a potential debating point. And while no one here (I think) believes these kind of impact studies, they're better-received in Raleigh.

At the end of the day, Will's "weakness not strength" argument underestimates the amount of campus politics that's going on here. Those of us in the journalistic community have long understood that the chancellor can't rule from the top down by waving a magic wand to make things happen. There are multiple constituencies at UNC and not everything the folks in South Building do is geared toward satifying Town Hall.

Terri, can you please provide some evidence or a reference to support your statement that "NC and the Town of Chapel Hill have agreed to undertake a fiscal impact study."

The Horace Williams Citizens Committee has recommended this kind of thing, but we have not seen it happen.

I think Ray''s correct about the airport situation - now that the report is out in the open, Roper's options for back-channelling have definitely been hampered and closure looks more and more imminent. Does anyone know if he's made a public statement regarding the BOT's decision?

Thanks Ray, I understood some of the background already but hadn't reviewed the other much more detailed report.

Funny thing, I'll kind of miss the sound of AHEC's planes cranking up in the morning. It's kind of a daily reminder of how great a service UNC (or whatever wing of it is involved) is capable of delivering.

Maybe you guys in the journalistic community could expound more often and in greater detail on how you see the politics of UNC playing out. The HeraldSun has the online capacity to develop the story to almost an unlimited extent, do you think they could go ahead and let you do that? Heck, maybe they'll even let you 'blog on it.

Ruby--here it is:
"Foy and UNC Chancellor James Moeser said recently that the town and university would work together to study the so-called "fiscal equity" issue, not just for Carolina North, but for the entire university."
http://heraldsun.com/orange/10-611009.html

To add on to what Terri said about fiscal equity, the idea, according to Moeser, is to have some "independent" party not tied to either the town or UNC do most of the work. Things are no more specific than that, which is about par for the course on both sides. I'm waiting to see the formal scope of work, which doesn't yet exist, for the town's much-discussed transit master plan

Ray, When I challenged the DTH to do an investigative piece on CN the other day, it was out of frustration with the two local papers. But here today, you've demonstrated that you have access to and know a great deal more than what gets published. Rather than speculate on the causes for the somewhat superficial reporting we typically have access to, I'd really like to hear from you and Mark Schultz.

It seems to me that if the local media was more critical of local officials/organizations, they would be more closely serving the third estate's watchdog function. Without that active function, there isn't much accountability in local politics. While some here on OP who are relentless researchers of the written word, I've come to understand that the relationships the media establishes are as important as the documents they have access to.

I don't mean this to be confrontive--I truly want to understand why our local media doesn't provide us with more investigative reporting. I know there are word limits on stories (an artifact of the purely print format IMHO). What other factors enter into this equation?

"What happens after UNC's lobbyists show Black the airport study and someone starts asking hard questions about why the med school's doctors aren't willing to spend an extra 30 minutes on the road every week or month to help sick kids in Wilmington?"

Wrong question: the REAL question is that if UNC can pay consultants to find other local sites for HWA-- why can't they pay consultants to find a less objectionable site for Carolina North? Someplace where you don't have to rape beautiful woodland to build an ugly, unimportant satellite campus. Yea, I know-- CN will provide jobs, tax revenue, divert hurricanes, and raise the dead. Right. I know, UNC owns that land. But the place we should end up at the end of the day is here: UNC either 1) finds a better site-- maybe a decommisioned farm on Chatham county or somewhere or 2) they close HWA but restrict development to areas currently covered by the airport grounds, preserving thee nice parts. I moved here from Chicago, where every inch of buildable land (it seems) is strip mall. The scenic beauty surrounding and incorporating that tract is an important part of Chapel Hill/Carrboro's character, IMHO.

The people + Orange and Durham county put together a coalition to save that tract on Erwin Road. Is anyone SERIOUSLY working this issue?

Correct me if I'm wrong-- there's a lot of vacancy in RT park isn't there? The old EPA building, etc. Why not move this white elephant project there?

Ray, do you think that the influence of extremely wealthy UNC Alumni is not a factor? There certainly continues to be a distinctly higher traffic volume coming to and from Horace Williams before and after big basketball and football games. I notice it.

To take matters in reverse order:

Mark, the alumni factor may influence the General Assembly but it's obviously having no effect at all on the administration or the trustees. The latter I suspect carry more weight with legislators than does any single alumnus, but I'll concede that this might be a wild card.

Terri, you ask a hard question. I thought Eric Ferreri's piece on the trustees meeting (available at http://www.heraldsun.com/tools/printfriendly.cfm?URN=0482799801) touched on all the essentials. My posts above, to my way of thinking, just filled in a few details. You'd have to say more about what you think has been missing from our coverage for me to understand fully what you're driving at.

When people ask the media to be more critical of local officials and organizations, I would say be careful what you wish for. Folks like Dan or Will would like a more searching critique applied to the university, which is fair enough. But this is not a one-way street and there's much to criticize the town for as well.

For example, the town's Horace Williams committee, much touted on this site, reversed about a decade's worth of planning and lobbying when it urged UNC to orient Carolina North toward MLK Blvd instead of the rail line that runs north from the power plant. The committee no doubt had its reasons, but its action, coming as it did on top of several unrelated moves by the town, raises the question of whether the town is or can be a reliable partner with UNC when it comes to the planning of major infrastructure. If you're at UNC and are trying to frame plans for Carolina North, and you see this, do you roll the dice and count on the town's coming around to support a workable transit solution, or do you lay out 17,000 parking spaces and hope for the best?

Now, I predict that there will be people on this blog who will react adversely to the observation immediately above. But it illustrates the kind of thing I think Terri is wanting more of.

Ray, given that you often write here in the context of your job at the Herald and given that you give the paper's url with your comments, is it correct to conclude that your presence here is as an official representative of the Herald and that your comments reflect the positions of the paper?

Thanks for clarifying.

No, Dan, you can't assume my comment reflect the position of the paper, no more than it can be said that yours do.

You're absolutely right Ray. That is exactly the kind of information I would like to see in the Herald. There is the negative 'critical' meaning to criticize (it's bad) and then there's a more philosophical connotation meaning to ask deep, probing questions without bias (critical theory). I'm not interested in criticizing (negative connotation) the university or local officials without first knowing as much as I can absorb about the situation under discussion.

You're also right that Eric Ferreri's article gives many of the details discussed here. But what the article misses is the political commentary you provided yesterday about the power struggle between Moesser (main campus) and Roeper (medical school).
Also, I have to be honest, the practice is making every sentence a separate paragraph makes the article appear to be more lightweight than it really is. The practice does make it more readable on screen, but it also "looks" like an elementary school primer. My bias.....

And I also want the same kind of deep, probing analysis of local government and citizenry. I am totally unaware of the orientation issue you raised in your response and how that relates to the rail vs auto portion of the debate around CN.

Ray, If you're looking for argument from me on this point, you won't find it. I agree that the HWCC didn't embrace transit infrastructure as much as it should. In fact, we had some of our very rare split votes on this.

While I do think it's good design for CN to face MLK Blvd, it's essential for it to be primarily oriented toward permanent transit centers. I've argued for that for at least 8 years.

In general I find that Chapel Hillians support the idea of transit more than they do the reality of it.

Ray, I think your response is absurd on the face of it but I will refrain from arguing that point here since it is way off topic.

However, I will remind you that we're still waiting for your explanation of “townies' conempt” for UNC students. Please let us know the evidence for the contempt you have witnessed. How is it manifested and by whom? Do all townies have that contempt? Kevin Foy as well as Edith Wiggins as well as Mark Kleinschmidt? Fred Black as well as Aaron Nelson as well as Joyce Brown?

I've been wondering what the phrase "go-go-growth" means, especially in light of Scott Maitland's article in todays CH news. I just read about two philosophies on land-use ethics, "one that subjugates public interest to the speculative interests of private property owners and one that presumes the primacy of public interest to control growth provided the private property owner is compensated fairly for any loss of current -- not speculative -- land value.''

From that context, I assume "go-go-growth" is used to describe advocates representing the former. Other descriptive terms used to describe similar philosophies include Libertarian and 'live and let live.' But we know that very few individuals can be absolutely categorized. Those with libertarian attitudes toward schools are ardent environmentalists. Those who want to prevent sprawl, advocate for neighborhood conservation. Avid business advocates actively support public art programs.

Long way of saying that labelling is a form of prejudice that has descriptive value for writers but is, as Ruby says, "polarizing and unproductive."

Terri Buckner touches on a good point-- few individuals can be absolutely characterized. Unfortunately, UNC is taking an absolutist, take-no-prisoners approach to CN. I think they CAN have their cake and eat it to. If they take the HWA footprint and build UP instead of out-- and make the rest park-- everybody would be well served except the airport users. At least, the community as a whole would get a better deal out of this monstrous plan.

I think growth is often done in the dumbest, cheapest possible way, with little thought to community consequences. Carrboro/CH is planning a school north of Lake Hogan farm at Eubanks. Well, this route gets commuter traffic (namely me) and I'd hate to see it snarled with school buses. More importantly, they want to raze 190 acres of forest. 190 acres? What are they building-- Southpoint 2? Can't they build a school on, say, 40-60 acres? Where's the thought process?

Terri, I can't tell if you are reacting to my column or not. As I've explained before, I got the expression from one-time Herald columnist Ed Glassman. I don't recall that he ever used it in a polarizing manner.

In my own columns over the past two years, I have used the term twice: once in discussing the power of the Home Builders Association, and above.

If you and several other people always said "no growth", someone could accurately call you a "no growth crowd." They would not be polarizing since you had already moved to a polar position yourself. They would merely be describing what you had done. Nor would the term be prejudicial since it would be neither uninformed, preconceived, nor irrational.

The term polarize means "to impart polarity to." You cannot impart polarity to something that already has it.

If you don't like labeling, you ought to hang up your keyboard and head to the beach. The use of language is an act of labeling.

Ray, I noticed in the General Aviation News Magazine article quoted in another string that,

"The Chapel Hill Town Council, which has zoning authority over the airport and any development there, has expressed serious reservations about the airport's closure."

Do you know if that's actually true? And if so, why they don't want it to close? It seems to me they've been mysteriously mute through all of this.I'd like to know where they stand, since they're the ones representing the citizens of Chapel Hill on this issue.

Obviously, there are many here among us (I almost hear Bob Dylan ...), whose primary motivation when they get up in the morning is to make lots of money. Many of these people are involved in real estate and development because (I can almost hear Al Capone ...) that's where the big money is.

Hard for some to admit, but a lot of these developers do not wake up in the morning and wonder how their investments will further the appreciation of arts or advance human knowledge and understanding so that the human experiment can be nudged closer to success. Actually (the faint-hearted should take a seat), the reality is just the reverse - how can arts, educational pursuits, etc. be used to make lots of dough.

These are the go-go growthers. None (well, few) of them along the line know what any of it is worth.

I agree with Scott Maitland that we should leave lots 2 and 5 alone for now. Further, I believe we need a rethink the whole premise behind their development. I'd rather see #5 filled in to make a park or for us to take some creative approach to creating a "natural" gathering spot ala Weaver St. than deploy more downtown commercial footage and housing (that, as Maitland points out, will probably be consumed mostly by students). In the last couple months, as it appeared we were on the verge of committing to this development, I've heard more and more citizens question the necessity or focus of these projects. Why not or where's the grocery store? Why not a park? Where's the commitment to public space or access? 10 stories?

I know a lot of "deep thought" has gone into coming up with a design strategy but the answer we've arrived at (42?) doesn't make sense over the long haul.

Something else that doesn't make sense is the call to partially implement Streetscape in front of University Square:

Chapel Hill, as one of the elements in its Streetscape plan, had earmarked $240,000 in bond revenue to make some much-needed improvements along that 700-foot length of sidewalk.

Yes, those funds are ear-marked for concrete and benches (and the removal of trees that so recently have come into their own), but we need to start thinking beyond the "pave-n-play" mentality that's historically driven municipal economic growth. At the risk of some more Clapptrap, yes, I remember when downtown's Franklin St. sidewalks were dirt. The sidewalks we have are adequate and will last for a while yet, so why don't we, instead, use the $240K to deploy broadband and Wifi throughout Northside, Downtown, Pine Knolls and broad reaches east/west/north/south. Wouldn't spending that type of money on a service for thousands of residents, many underserved by the current communication monopolies, be a better and smarter use than concentrating on 700' of sidewalk that benefits largely on commercial customer? Wouldn't this extremely cost efficient investment be a better boost to economic development than "paving paradise" [Breadman's]?

Dan--I don't know where the term came from, who used it first, or how often you have used it. But your claim that it is descriptive rather than polarizing just doesn't stand up, as evidenced by the first 4 (reactive) posts on this thread. The definitional variation of polarize that applies here is "to break up into opposing factions or groupings." The point I was trying to make earlier is that it isn't accurate to assume that people are either in one camp or the other. Even you yourself don't fall neatly into a single category of pro-growth or anti-growth.

"The use of language is an act of labeling." --kinda cynical Dan!

This is the earliest (though not necessarily the first) use of the phrase "go-go-growth" that I can find in our archives. It's an Ed Glassman column published on June 22, 1993. Folks can judge the rhetorical intent for themselves:

PUT MORATORIUM ON GROWTH
By Ed Glassman

Our Town Council withdrew the prepared meals tax thanks to the opposition of our town's restaurateurs. Our chamber of commerce is taking the credit and some people are saying it is shooting itself in the foot, because activism from this sleeping giant alerts voters to beware.

Voters haven't elected a member of our chamber or our business community to our Town Council since the mid 1960s, because voters don't want the go-go-growth and development represented by these groups. There's a one liner that some go-go-growth developers use against their opposition (in addition to calling them a small, selfish group): "Everyone wants to close the door behind them after they arrive in the southern part of heaven.''

Well, if everyone wants to do it, let's close the door. Let's institute a 5-10 year moratorium on growth and development to give us time to think about what we want, and to send a clear message to a small, selfish group who wants to make money while lowering the quality of life of our town's residents.

And people are also asking questions about the desirability of supporting the go-go-visitors' bureaus. These agencies want to turn our town and county into a special place for visitors, not for residents. Many (most?) people don't want to turn our town into a go-go tourist mecca, and lose sight of the needs of residents.

The go-go-growth and development people don't get it. Our current Town Council is what the voters want, because it reflects the core values of the voters. It's hard to get development projects approved in our town and in our county because voters want it that way. Voters hope the Town Council doesn't forget that.

My hunch is that any candidate running for our council this fall who espouses the go-go-growth policies of our chamber of commerce and our business community will not be elected, because go-go-growth and development doesn't reflect the core values of voters.

In our town, it's the voters, stupid. Be sure to vote in November. It will be a hot time, if it doesn't get too silly with small groups of selfish, greedy people calling others small groups of selfish, greedy people. It should be lots of fun.

As for the chamber of commerce, it won't be the first time it shot itself in the foot.

Ok, I will now try to use language without applying labels. Doh! Couldn't do it.

Terri, judging by your comment, you seem to agree that there is a "go go growth crowd" but you do not like that crowd being called what it is. Ok. I'm game. Please suggest some alternatives.

Based on Mark M's comment, one alternative might be "those who support the goal of making obscene profits from real estate investments and who oppose government actions that might limit those profits or that might inconvenience the profit-making activities of the developer". But perhaps you don't like the word obscene so we can say "really really big profits... "

But, of course you understand that I have a word limit for my column so I cannot say "those who support the goal of making really really big profits from real estate investments and who oppose government actions that might limit those profits or that might inconvenience the profit-making activities of the developer" when 'go-go-growth crowd' will convey the same idea. I hope you will forgive me if that phrase or any other relatively concise "labels" should find their way into my work.

Thanks, Ray! Ed's column makes me look like Roger Perry's bridge partner. Ok, not quite.

Glassman, of course, could not foresee what two unexpected resignations would do to the town council later that year.

Dan,

You used the phrase "obscene profits" which I've heard used here before. At what point do profits become "obscene"? Or more specifically, at what margin are profits considered "obscene"? If I spend a dollar to make a dollar and a half, my profit margin in 50%--is that obscene?

I know there are people in this town who support growth, Dan. I disagree with them, but I would like to live in a community where we at least ATTEMPT to be respectful of differing views. Isn't tolerance one of the hallmarks of progressive politics?

Bill, please note that I corrected the phrase to "really really big profits."

On the question of obscenity you might consult with Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart who said "I know it when I see it."

Having never seen an obscene profit first hand, I might not be of much help to you. But there are some people in the area who I suspect have seen one. Ask them.

How about "Newlanders" in honor of our Southern neighbors newest development group - a group that has something in common with the "go-go-growth" folk at UNC.

Like UNC/North, Briar Chapel's long term costs will be shifted onto the shoulders of the taxpayers while those out-of-town developers reap their immediate profits and duck paying the real freight of development.

(I'm asking this question again because I fear it may have been lost in the shuffle and I think it's important.)

Ray (or anyone else who might know the answer): I noticed in the General Aviation News Magazine article quoted in another string that,

“The Chapel Hill Town Council, which has zoning authority over the airport and any development there, has expressed serious reservations about the airport's closure.”

Do you know if that's actually true? And if so, why they don't want it to close? It seems to me they've been mysteriously mute through all of this. I'd like to know where they stand, since they're the ones representing the citizens of Chapel Hill on this issue.

As Fred Black, Charlie P.and others have pointed out above, isn't there still a real danger of getting stuck with an airport AND Carolina North if the folks of CH don't make it perfectly clear that we won't tolerate both?

Terri, Why is go-go growth (assuming that's what you are referring to) disrespectful? Why isn't it a badge of honor among true believers. Have you ever heard of the Cameron Crazies?

Or, imagine a bizarro world in which I had written: "The go-go growth crowd today celebrated the completion of another 500 units of low cost housing in Chapel Hill. Members of CAN (Citizens Advocating Nicely) protested the event with a demand that the town seek balance by requiring a minimum of 15% of new developments be built as 4000 square foot homes. But go-go growth leader Roger Perry announced that he had moved into a 1000 square foot apartment on Rosemary Street and expressed his wish that 'everyone could live in such nice digs. Lord knows, this is a drinking town.'"

Steve, I think Rob Shapard explained the current status of the town's position on the airport very well in a piece the Herald published April of last year. You'll find the text at http://www.heraldsun.com/tools/printfriendly.cfm?URN=0451241693. Long story (literally) short, they're not in favor of keeping it, but while its status remains uncertain they see no real reason for the staff to talk to UNC about Carolina North. In other words, the General Aviation News article is wrong.

As for the council's lobbying or not on the airport, clearly insofar as the airport's existence is holding up Carolina North, that gives the current council a reason not to speak up. Much of the urgency behind closing the airport disappeared when the flying club was evicted. That took away a considerable fraction of the traffic and much of the annoyance factor.

Also, I don't think there's much incentive from UNC's standpoint to enlist the town as an ally in the airport fight. Basically, Moeser tried that in 2002 and found out very quickly that a med school dean trumps a mayor in the eyes of the General Assembly.

(That same spring he also found out a student body president or two can trump a mayor. The town was supportive, though not officially, of a UNC administration plan to charge for night parking. Foy actually spoke up in public on that one. But the idea got shot down by the trustees after students, staff and faculty complained, a decision that embarassed South Building and led pretty directly to the whole Cobb Deck brouhaha. Twice burned, twice shy, I should say. See http://www.heraldsun.com/tools/printfriendly.cfm?URN=0384510557 for background.)

I really want to understand this CN transit rail problem that Ray alludes to in his first comment of the day. Is he suggesting that the right people live in the right neighborhoods to kill transit rail in CN? Or am I reading too much into a comment made at 2 am?
Also, looking at the bigger picture, I really want to know why we never planned to develop along the rail corridor north to University Station. Again, did the right people live in the right places to kill development up that way? Years ago the commissioners killed development and sewers up there. I was too entrenched in babies to follow the story. What happened?
And Dan, I wish you could point me to something that will help me understand your point of view on growth. You seem so utterly against all growth. It really sounds like you think all growth is bad because A) it is never planned well, B) the entire county will look like a strip mall, and C) growth does nothing but further social inequity. Exactly how would you like to accommodate our growing population? Surely, you must have a book to recommend…

I think Mark M got at the issue of obscenity above: ". . .these developers do not wake up in the morning and wonder how their investments will further the appreciation of arts or advance human knowledge and understanding . . ."

Indeed one real estate investor cleared it all up for me when he said "What I am doing is a benefit to society; the fact that I am making money doing it proves that this is true." I think that logic is obscene and the profits that might stem from it are also. Profitability and morality are not equivalent. A particular real estate investment could be beneficial to society or not and it might be profitable or not. But there is no cause and effect relationship between the two.

"“What I am doing is a benefit to society; the fact that I am making money doing it proves that this is true.”

The logic IS obscene-- I am sure Skilling at Enron, Michael Milken, and Bill Gates-- convicted lawbrakers all-- have all made similiar statements.

Bill Gates is a convicted "lawbraker"?

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