Monthly Archives: March 1998

Timing is Everything

By Dom Nozzi

I read a book in the 1990s called Re-Doing America. I was a bit depressed about the fact that the book described planning strategies that are still needed today – yet the book was written 30 years ago.

Given how little we’ve done to achieve such measures for so long, it would be easy for people to read that stuff and just give up, I guess.

However, I believe it is important to keep in mind that, as some of us know, the underlying conditions (political, environmental, technological, economic, etc.) are much more critical and influential than ideas. Lack of good ideas is not our problem (usually). We have plenty of good ideas to save ourselves.

But we need to be patient with our ideas and wait for the conditions to be ripe. A couple of examples: Galileo invented the good idea of helicopters, but the idea was not implemented until the underlying conditions were ripe. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony came up with great ideas about equal rights for women at the turn of the century, but the conditions did not become until the 1960s.

We have plenty of good ideas about sprawl and compact cities and transportation and land use, but many will not be implemented until the conditions for them are ripe. It is our role, in both the public and private sector, to modify underlying conditions so that we accelerate the ripening process. That is largely why I’ve always championed things like user fees, congestion fees, and model traditional developments.

By deciding, democratically, to do these incremental things, we can change underlying conditions that allow people to more easily see the need for positive change. Another way of putting it is that an important role for us in the public sector is to, as economists would put it, internalize externalities. After all, the better we do that, the better capitalism works the way Adam Smith thought it would work.

According to Smith, we need all the relevant information before we are able to make rational decisions in the marketplace.

Also, I’ve always lived by the rule that I am a pessimist of the intellect, but an optimist of the will. It seems hopeless, but giving up is not an option. Persistence pays off. Overall, I’m hopeful because I think we are on the verge of turning things around in our society to the point where positive changes are self-driven. A consensus is emerging…

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