Sunday, November 3, 2013

Cambridge Council Elections

People tend to spend a lot of time thinking about national politics and that only makes sense.  We, or people in my social circles, do spend most of our time consuming national news and the New York Times or similar papers aren't going to concern themselves about little old Cambridge.  Even the Boston Globe has barely mentioned the election.  Which makes sense, in a way, since any given local election will only effect a relatively small number of people.

But there are some ways in which the cumulative effect of city council elections from around the country have large impacts on the world.  The most significant of these is probably decisions taken by the local government regarding building density. 

People frequently talk about the local effects of decisions by the town or city government regarding new development.  It might increase tax revenue or increase the supply of housing on one hand, but it might overload transportation infrastructure or change the character of neighborhoods on the other. 

What gets left out of these discussions is concern for the interests of potential future residents, and for the environmental consequences of more development.

Compared to the rest of the country Cambridge has a fairly low unemployment rate and jobs that pay relatively well.  And there's good reason to think that at least some of the extra pay is because workers in cities are genuinely more productive than those in other places through network effects.  Corporations don't believe in "to each according to their need" and while scarcity of labor can drive up wages for necessary positions you wouldn't find an entire city of high wages without corresponding high production.

And while denser cities have a higher environmental cost per square mile than suburbia, the ecological cost per capita is far lower.  People living densely have a shorter distance to travel to work or to shop, and larger buildings are more efficient to heat in the winter.  Someone living in a city will generate about half as many greenhouse gases as someone living in suburbia.  And since nobody is planning any mass euthanasia or involuntary birth control it's per capita environmental costs that we all have to worry about.

So I hope I can persuade those of you who live in Cambridge to vote for more density this coming Tuesday.  After all, if you're going to be selfish with your voting you might as well just spend your time sleeping in instead, your individual vote doesn't matter that much unless you multiply it by all the people it effects.

A Better Cambridge has a nice guide to development friendly Council candidates. 

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