We Need a Better Gauge for Economic Development



Reprinted, with permission, from the Wednesday Journal 
Opinion Letters to the Editor 6/15/16.

By Jim Babcock

I attended the June 1 town hall meeting on development in the village, and I agree with your observation [Madison Street plan draws supporters, detractors, News,June 8] that the bulk of the discussion was about the effect of the Madison Street plan on traffic patterns.

Looking at the big picture, it appears that this proposed development is similar to the pattern established by the other "mixed use" projects at Lake and Forest, Lake and Harlem, Harlem and South Blvd., and the Tasty Dog site — retail space on the ground floor, some parking, topped with multiple floors of high-end or luxury residential space.

This proliferation seems to be a perfect example of the continuous-growth paradigm that usually provides benefits to the more well-off among us, and is discussed in Annie Leonard's short films, "The Story of Stuff" and "The Story of Change" (shown in previous years at the local One Earth Film Festival), which explain that mainstream economics gauges progress by an ever-increasing GDP. An alternative paradigm is suggested that would replace "more" with "better" as fuel for the economic engine.

Investment in an alternative "development" was made, for example, by Elmhurst School District 205, which consists of eight elementary schools, three middle schools, and one high school. More than 10 years ago, the district entered into a performance contract to save energy costs. The vendor company installed a variety of energy-saving equipment and taught the staff a regimen of energy-saving behaviors (like turning off lights and computers when leaving rooms). The company was paid a portion of the first year's savings. Thereafter, the district reported that the district-wide cost reduction from this program was $1 million per year — exactly the projected tax revenue from the Madison Street development! And this development has the added benefit of reducing the community's carbon footprint.

Certainly Oak Parkers value safe streets. At the same time, equity, diversity and affordable housing are important goals, as is the building of an Earth-friendly community that can be enjoyed and nurtured by many future generations. To that end, we should be investigating investments that are "better" than more shops and condos.