Cul-de-sac entropy. Just as places like greater Toronto boom onward many other places in North America seem to have just built themselves straight into that entropy. Wishes made real and intentions revealed empty at the very same time in Southwest Florida.
Suburban poverty: hiding in plain sight
See also: (441) Zombie subdivisions
Hoover Dam remains possibly North America’s most recognized mega project. The great dam, with its Art Deco elements and humbling scenic grandeur, still generates electric power and impresses all who visit. The Hoover’s hydro surges off to light and cool desert cities like Las Vegas, exemplifying a world shaped by these vastly influential undertakings. Global mega projects since the 1930s have sought to combine capital with grand visions, enabled by engineering skills, and reshape the world. The result is a matrix of efforts to extract natural resources, produce integrated transportation systems, create power generation and distribution networks, build major sports, educational, scientific and entertainment infrastructure, and establish military bases as well as to provide for the huge equipment programs furnishing all these things.
Nearly always attached to public purposes of some kind, a mega project is an inescapable physical manifestation of power and economic relationships. But how well do we understand their extended reality? Do we truly comprehend the full range of effects of the direction of vast resources into individual super projects such as high-speed rail or massive sports arenas? What of the role of global financial systems and the presence of public interest when it comes to projects typically deployed in a top-down fashion? In a world of weird economics and energy uncertainty will we even be able to keep ratcheting up our efforts on behalf of big undertakings?
Consider the loss of life associated with the building of a football stadium for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar as an example of the tradeoffs involved in mega projects. How many North American cities have sports stadia that can seat 60,000 people at a time and what is the general state of their public transit? Toronto has a domed stadium with a retractable roof built in the late 1980s. Nearly all parties to the current election battle in Toronto agree the city’s public transit is an embarrassment. No need to singularly disparage sports, examples of the mixed nature of going mega abound. The bill for an F-35 Lightning II combat aircraft and a special bunker to keep it in might equal any number of micro-credit loans to small businesses in the countries thinking of buying that problematic weapon.
Mixed economic signals and environmental change abound yet we remain under the profound influence of overlapping mega projects. No less than a transformational boom is on from Alberta’s tar sands to China’s rail corridors. Multi-billion dollar mega projects are now yielding to tera projects funded into the trillions of dollars. For insight into this projectism, that in scale may soon relegate the Hoover Dam to the status of a folksy piece of Americana, suburban-poverty.com suggests the following article:
What you should know about megaprojects and why: an overview 14-page .pdf file
Social Science Research Netwrok
Bent Flyvbjerg, Saïd Business School, Oxford University
image: NARA image of electric transmission towers connected to the Hoover Dam, via Wikimedia Commons
Let’s not trash education as a driver of good things. Instead, can we make sure we have sustainable educational aspirations in tune with local and regional realities, the better to produce valuable, productive skills in fully empowered citizens.
You’ve probably heard the term “eds & meds” by now. The casual reference to what can amount to hundreds of millions of dollars worth of investment in community colleges, universities, hospitals, medical training and research facilities. From the late 1980s this sector boomed in many communities in North America, very often in suburban aeas or in places simultaneously host to industrial decline. The appearance of glassy new and upgraded facilities belonging to pharma companies, hospital non-profits, biotechnology firms and the like is usually considered an encouraging sign for the construction jobs and employment prospects associated with what can often be huge undertakings. In a deindustrializing economy where the majority of employers are low wage service providers or retailers it is small wonder that a lot of faith has been put in this sector. Buffalo, NY and Hamilton, ON are two examples of places where “eds & meds” are looked to by communities in transition. Aaron Renn at newgeography.com sounds a cautionary note that the sector may be peaking. Renn cites costs, especially the increasingly dismal economics of higher edcation as a personal investment in the United States as well as the decline in Gross Domestic Product and the declining growth rate of health care spending. He feels the sector is simply maxed out and simply cannot continue to play the role it has been playing in urban and regional development strategies for the last couple of decades.
image: NYPL Digital Gallery via Wikimedia Commons