Archive for the ‘Making Trenton Fun’ Category
Trenton has more than its fair share of volunteers, arts organizations and civic groups. Many of these active people and groups put on festivals and events either as part of their mission (The Trenton Film Festival, St. Patrick’s Day Parade), to raise money (Trenton Half-Marathon) or both (Art All Night).
Every event put on in Trenton needs city cooperation even if they have to pay for it (groups have to pay for police and park rangers). But generally, no private group needs or really wants the city to do its planning, promotion or operations. They rely on the goodness of their sponsors and volunteers.
But we have to ask ourselves, with such a vibrant roster of volunteer groups in Trenton, why do we need to publicly fund and operate government events?
Tony Mack has announced his “unwavering support” for government festivals such as Heritage Days.
Is it the proper role of government to organize festivals? Especially when the government is nearly bankrupt?
Trenton could support festivals in the city by making it easier for non-profits to work with the city. For instance, the process for engaging the police and public works could be streamlined; city assets available for use by groups could be listed on the web site and rented out (including tents and stages). The administration could eliminate the requirement that groups hire park rangers. The city could be generally more responsive and helpful.
But, organizing and running an event such as Heritage Days or the Thanksgiving Day Parade is simply inappropriate. These events have become thinly veiled mechanisms for a Mayor to self-promote to an unsophisticated public. We certainly don’t want our precious tax dollars going towards that. Politicians love spending your money to make themselves look good and Trenton is rife with examples (the former Trenton Jazz Festival, the hotel, Waterfront Park). I’m asking that Trentonians see this for what it is and help City Council put a stop to it.
Heritage Days cost taxpayers at least $70,000. There were less than 1,000 attendees at the event meaning we spent more than $70 a person. That’s an obscene waste.
The Mayor has committed himself to government festivals. However city council is at least rethinking it. They are having some difficulty however, in getting a proper accounting of what we’ve spent. Requests for a full accounting of the Thanksgiving Day parade and last year’s Heritage Days have gone unanswered leading some of your council people to question every line item in the budget trying to find out where the expenses have been hidden. Some of our more responsible city council members are even considering eliminating the recreation because it’s become a rogue department. It’s come to this.
Trenton is facing a $7M deficit in 2013 and it recently laid off 30% of its police force, in other words, we’re burning. Meanwhile our Mayor insists on playing his fiddle. It’s his top priority.
A simplistic and misleading account of Trenton’s budget dilemma.
That said, listening to it at least paints the picture of the problem. We don’t have a collective understanding of the problem or the solutions. There’s a leadership vacuum around the subject of revitalizing Trenton.
This inspires me to help in the organization efforts for Trenton’s new political group, “The Majority for a Better Trenton”.
For the past year I’ve been working pretty hard as a volunteer to support the administration by providing what I hope are responsible processes for engaging the public in designing a fiscal way forward for the city. As part of the Fix Trenton’s Budget Committee, I’ve helped elicit public priorities about the budget, I’ve helped propose a budget process that would lead to more deliberative choices and I’ve helped to put forward new ideas on revenue especially the Land Value Tax. In addition, I’ve respectfully suggested that we take a more pragmatic approach to our support for subsidized housing. These efforts have met with mixed success.
The Fix Trenton’s Budget Committee’s efforts have been mainly targeted at helping the city to be more responsive. However, over the years, I’ve also dedicated this blog to many of the fundamental economic principles that could lead Trenton to revitalization. Many of these ideas are difficult for citizens to get excited about. Most people’s eyes simply glaze over when they read about money.
Certainly my ideas have fallen on deaf ears in both the previous and current administrations and for the most part on both the previous and current city council. Math and fiscal discipline aren’t fun. I get that.
However, allow me to point out another economic truism that should get everybody’s attention.
Civil unrest is bad for business.
The racial intolerance and threatening language that the Recall Mack campaign workers experienced this week from the Mayor’s supporters including his brother, is a sign of a civil unrest in Trenton. It belies an undercurrent of hate that’s been stoked by the Mayor’s supporters that could easily lead to violence.
Rarely do vibrant economies flourish in this kind of atmosphere. Can you imagine a white family wanting to move to Trenton when city workers and the Mayor’s political supporters shout racial epitaphs at their white neighbors? Would black families of good nature come here? Hispanics or Asian? If I had seen this 11 years ago when I was deciding to invest in Trenton I know I would have reconsidered.
With this kind of attitude in City Hall, how will ideas meant to attract investment (some of it from white developers) ever win public support. Anything a white person suggests will be met with suspicion by a populace emboldened by their leadership to think “black first”. We just can’t have that.
It’s difficult for me to feel good about suggesting economic ideas to help the city when I think that my neighbors and perhaps even our city leaders will discount them because I’m white.
Trenton is a difficult situation and it’s going to take the best ideas in this country to fix it. We don’t have the luxury of wallowing in a pit of racial hatred.
In fact, I’ll go further and suggest that one of the key ingredients to reinventing Trenton is for this city to be seen as a bastion of racial harmony. New residents and investors like racial harmony and avoid the kind of hate speech that’s happening in Trenton today.
Ten years ago the Palmer administration decided Trenton needed a full service hotel. With the help of a group of boosters, including local businessman Shelly Zeiger , the administration shopped the idea around to investors. No one bought. That didn’t stop this group. They convinced the city and the state to fund a $46,000,000 hotel with a Marriott brand.
The city effectively owns the hotel and manages it through a non-profit entity called the Lafayette Yard Community Development Corporation (LYDC). The Mayor appoints the board and during the Palmer administration it was largely controlled by the city business administrator. Read the rest of this entry »
One of the most maddening debates you can have in Trenton is about city investment in new business vs. residential living.
Almost, to a person, the political elite in Trenton will tell you that investment in business is the top priority. I’ve had this debate countless times and you can see it in the political rhetoric of our candidates. However, when pushed by the logic of residential development, they’ll eventually say, “well it’s really a chicken and egg” problem. Read the rest of this entry »
Councilman Coston referenced in his blog, an email discussion he and I had about the impact of income distribution on Trenton. Mr. Coston’s blog can be found at, SouthTrenton.com.
I’ve taken the opportunity to restate the debate here. It’s a useful discussion for policymakers and I thank Jim Coston for being the kind of Councilman that is open to challenging his own assumptions. Read the rest of this entry »
With one act of enlightened self interest, Trentonians can spawn a new industry
It’s an industry without the risk of the car business. It attracts sought after middle class workers. And, it’s inherently good for the community.
What’s this wonder industry? And more importantly what do we need to do to attract it?
Education can be Trenton’s next great economic engine, all we have to do is break the monopoly government has on it. Read the rest of this entry »
Of the five major ways to foster urban revitalization;
- Facilitating high end real estate development,
- Supporting the arts and culture,
- Cleaning up the joint,
- Squashing the gangs, and
- Creating a reason for Trenton to be here,
Only “Cleaning up the joint” can be done inexpensively.
Visitors to Trenton often comment that the city looks “run down” and dirty. Residents agree. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s useful to honestly measure the things that make a city attractive to its current and future residents. Clean streets, low crime rate, diverse retail options, value for the housing dollar and jobs are obvious elements of attractiveness. A thoughtful city planner or economist would measure these things, understand their impact on revitalization and then target spending to get the biggest bang for the buck. Read the rest of this entry »
Sometimes suggesting new ideas is unpopular. I’m sure this will be one of those times.
Things change. Ben Franklin’s Free Library looked nothing like the ancient Greek library. Nor should today’s version look anything like the Carnegie funded book temples of the last century.
Libraries have a noble tradition dating to a time when books held a much more sacred place in society than they do today. During the golden age of libraries, in the 1700s, books were relatively expensive. Today, most people can afford to buy as many books as they want and do. Also, the Internet has replaced much of a library’s utility as a research institution. Read the rest of this entry »