Just came back from the “streetcar workshop” in the basement of City Hall. A bunch of trolley experts from around the country talked to a small crowd of downtown policy wonks, wonkettes and wonkerinas about building a trolley system in downtown.
And guess what? It looks like the best idea since Mad Max Goldblatt’s scheme for a downtown monorail.
Seriously. They have some pretty interesting numbers to show how streetcar systems have spurred development in other cities around the country. Because streetcars can bend around corners and slip through small openings, they fit well into the “built environment.” You don’t have to tear everything down in order to make way for them.
That makes them hand-in-glove for the whole urban renaissance the nation is seeing in almost every major city. One theme they hit over and over again today was this line: “The Creative Class and the Baby Boomers have choices … and are exercising them. Some cities will win them over, and some will fall behind.”
So I’m sitting in the back of the room wearing a dress and a pith helmet with my dog and a trash bag full of aluminum cans (otherwise I don’t feel welcome at City Hall), and I’m thinking about priorities and opportunity costs.
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We’re about to sink half a billion dollars in a convention hotel. The entire general obligation debt of the city right now is $1.7 billion, just to give you an idea what a huge commitment that will be. And all the signals from the marketplace are that huge conventions are a dying industry.
What if we sold the damn convention center? It’s a loser, anyway. What if we sold the land and put the money into a trolley system downtown? Parks downtown. Rent subsidies downtown.
Why are we so daft and determined to make this enormous commitment to an industry that seems like a plot line from The Mary Tyler Moore Show anyway? And what will that commitment cost us in terms of what we could have done and maybe should have done instead?
This is what we get for having only one Angela Hunt on the council. --Jim Schutze