We’ve heard a lot about the one percent who control most of America’s wealth. There is a lot of anger toward them from much of the ninety-nine percent who have to deal with foreclosures, lack of medical care, and choosing between food and rent. But there’s another one percent that deserves our anger, as well. This one percent blocks forward-looking projects in every arena of development: transit, alternative energy, mixed-use real estate projects, affordable housing. You name it; they’ve fought against it. They want their neighborhood to stay exactly the way it is, even it means worsening traffic congestion, empty store fronts, sky-high housing costs, even warming of the earth.
This one percent is a minute cadre of people who believe that only their views should count. They tyrannize their neighbors and their elected officials with overt threats of retribution should they even contemplate supporting a light rail route or a dense transit-oriented project. Their opposition is often erroneously couched in environmental terms, even when their position is the most damaging to air quality, maintains dependence on fossil fuels and increases greenhouse gasses. Good projects, often with significant community support, go down the drain in the morass of propaganda, politics and lawsuits.
For a thoughtful view of how we got here, check out Will Doing’s article for Slate. He shows how and why the planning process has changed over the past fifty years. He also cites research by Oxford University professors on how people will choose the status quo even when they know the change will be better.
Yes, every project has some real issues that must be addressed, and yes, there is a role for citizen input into the planning process. But it’s time to put an end to the tyranny of the one percent.