Thursday, May 20, 2010

Good governance

The Daily Beast has rated Tennessee the most corrupt state in the union, but Nashville has a current example of good governance, reported here. Mayor Karl Dean and his staff are planning an expansion of a heretofore small buyout program for homes in flood-prone areas. While exact details regarding the scope and operation of  program aren't known, the speed of Nashville's response to the obvious - climate change has increased the severity of floods and reduced the interval between major events - stands in sharp contrast to New Orleans dysfunctional government.

New Orleans has done nothing as areas below sea level have been reclaimed by former residents. This non-response to understandable but misguided human emotions only guarantees future disaster. The highest natural elevation in New Orleans is a mere 12 feet above sea level. New Orleans will not survive the full brunt of climate change and its lower elevations will surely suffer well before the rest of the city is lost.

The article mentions that Nashville's buyout program is voluntary. A perfectly fine approach for homeowners but TheRaven urges a tougher stance on landlords, who may not respond to voluntary incentives with equal alacrity. TheRaven notes that government has two forms of eminent domain at its disposal. The public form creates headlines and lawsuits while stealthy use of rigorous codes enforcement gets results.

With Birmingham mired in scandal and debt, New Orleans sinking and Atlanta drowning in traffic, Nashville is showing another way it can distinguish itself from the Other South. Nashville's biggest long-term problem is crime. If, in addition to forward-thinking on climate change, Nashville solves its crime issues, it will emerge as the south's destination city.

UPDATE: The Nashville Scene reported on the effect urban planning decisions had on the flood in this July 8th article. Apart from local urban planning history, which suggests that Nashville-area builders lived in a "property-rights era" until 1991, the piece makes a telling point about modern safeguards and moral hazard. Only one of Nashville's historic homes sustained meaningful flood damage. Before the era of flood insurance, FEMA and dam systems, folks made better site location decisions. Their potential cost of failure with regards to property investment and floods was absolute.

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