9 steps to rescue LEX from the trench warfare of “economic development”

I’ve been thinking about economic development in Lexington and Kentucky cities. I always come back to the positive effects (!) that both peak oil and climate change could have on our local economies.

My key points are: that soon, distance will cost a great deal of money, and that a global price on carbon will penalize polluters and reward efficiency.  Both of these will return jobs to the U.S.

Both spell the end of economic globalization as we’ve known it and a return to the importance of local communities as economic drivers.

There’s been much hand wringing here over the last couple of weeks about generic economic development strategies. And there’s been some commentary on other local blogging sites about the supposed wisdom of local people versus outsiders on the subject of economic development.

While I don’t doubt the sincerity, I do doubt the validity of the thrust of much local economic development discussions.

I think the economic development discussion in Lexington still focuses, wrongly, on our place in the global economy. All that does is place us at the mercy of global corporations and the economic forces that do not have our best interests in mind. Most of our local econ dev “experts” see Lexingtonians only as fodder for the global corporate workforce, rather than humans. Kinda like the British and German generals of World War 1.

Many of the “leaders” of the economic development process in Lex are nothing more than agents for the economic-colonial powers that have taken root here; banks, corporations, law firms, coal operators, consumer companies, etc. They only think of what they can do to please the corporations, with the hope of gaining some return that benefits our citizens, I guess.

I think they do this, most of them, with the best intentions of helping local people.

But it doesn’t help.

Such a strategy does nothing to ensure that our community is truly sustainable over the long-term. And these discussions never mention the elephants in the room: peak energy and an imperative to reduce carbon use dramatically and quickly.

The answer to both challenges is the same thing: a locally scaled economy. Our commerce must be at the scale of neighborhoods rather than that of the globe. Our food system must be designed to provide for us first. Our educational system needs to respond to what type of learning is really needed in the coming years. Our transportation system must be re-imagined to place transit and human power at the forefront of planning. This is the rational response to the new realities. Please feel free to share your thoughts.

  1. Put local first in every decision made in our communities by supporting locally produced food, energy, products and services, businesses, investments, arts and local media
  2. Build a place based economy. Work to only create jobs that cant be outsourced and that use local materials and talents to create an economy that will last
  3. Reskill our workforce . We need technology training suitable for 21st century manufacturing certainly, but in our lower energy future, other skills will be vital as well. All things food related will be vital – food, growing, storing, preparing. We need to support energy engineers and entrepreneurs – from biofuel makers to battery testers to efficiency experts. We must value round timber builders and potters and chimney sweeps. Education will to change; the notion of everyone going off to college to get a liberal arts degree will disappear.
  4. Foster local markets. Create places and networks for local people to sell the things they’ve added value to
  5. Increase local self-reliance and resilience. Safeguard local food and water supply, protect floodways, create local energy, increase energy efficiency, husband local resources of soil, timber, minerals.
  6. Improve our places. Plant trees and flowers, create parks, put art on display, fix neglected infrastructure, clean up – give people proof that we are planning to stay
  7. Encourage alternative transportation – make it easy and safe for people to get around our cities on foot and bike. Encourage local shared transportation.
  8. Let land use happen. Houses are more than that these days. They are factories, home offices, mail rooms, warehouses, communications centers. Small businesses should not be segregated by zoning from where people live to encourage walking and biking; we shouldn’t have to use a gallon of gas to get a gallon of milk.
  9. Strengthen our communities. Host more fun communal events. This doesn’t have to be expensive – people love gathering together! And cherish one another – EVERYONE in your community has a stake in making it the best it can be – everyone.


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3 responses to “9 steps to rescue LEX from the trench warfare of “economic development”

  1. Rod lindauer

    I’ve thought a lot about this, and read many great ideas from others. I think that the future will look like the past. How far back we have to go will be determined by what steps we take now. Because almost everyone alive now has enjoyed the benefits of cheap oil and modern manufacturing, people tend to think that now is better than then, and tomorrow will be better than today. But cracks are starting to show in that facade. Reading the Lexington 1930 comprehensive plan, I was struck by how awesome the public transportation infrastructure was! http://www.lexingtonky.gov/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=14334 I think that our best hopes for the future lie in the past. Lexington as a hub of regional commerce, concentrating food, materials, and cottage industry goods from surrounding communities and moving them to larger markets. I own about a hundred acres in rural Estill co. I hope that someday I’ll be able to make my living off that land. A truck farm now seems like a losing proposal. I have all the necessary equipment and skill, but the limited market in Lexington and the high cost of driving a truck back and forth seems like, at best, a slow way to go broke. Go back to 1930 and the equation changes. There would be businesses that would wholesale my produce, I could build a greenhouse and be first on the market with local tomatoes, I would come to Lex by rail, shop and enjoy the culture, and be back home in time to feed the chickens. In the winter months, I could make something like brooms or other piece work. Maybe build a small sawmill to turn my hardwoods into lumber and then furniture. Or , once the hemp prohibition is dead, hemp for cloth, hemp oil to power the tractor, and seed cake for livestock. Most of the surrounding small town have active rail lines. The choke point is Lexington.

  2. Aaron German

    I just finished a quick scroll through that 1931 comprehensive plan Rod linked to. The public transportation infrastructure was awesome. Funny thing is that what sounds awesome to us was considered close to inadequate by the writers of the plan, at least when it came to bus and trolley service.

    Sadly, it was goals like (some of) those outlined in this plan that got us to where we are today. A great portion of the plan was dedicated to making Lexington’s streets better suited for automobile travel. I happened to stop and read one part that recommended roads of no less than six lanes for out major highways. Luckily, we have yet to accomplish that goal. Could you image all of Lexington’s major roads looking like Highway 27 out by Fayette Mall?!?! But the plan was trying to set Lexington up for the hot new lifestyle– suburban living–and it certainly had good recommendations for that.

    Of course, hindsight is 20/20. I do not mean to imply that the writers of the plan were dead set on the destruction of the good life as we wish we knew it. But it does sadden me when I see calls for developments that we have grown to regret. It also saddens me when I see good ideas in the plan that were not acted on, like burying power lines.

    In any case, it is interesting to read what people thought were the best ideas for Lexington 40 years into the future 70 years ago. It’s a good opportunity for a humbling experience with respect to our knowledge of what the future will be like and what the tastes of future generations will be.

  3. Rod lindauer

    I too saw the irony in “improving” the infrastructure in that report. The groundwork was laid for a lot of distruction. But they were living in different times, and oil was everywhere. We knew what was coming after the oil shocks of the 70’s yet we jumped into SUV’s with abandon. Even now, when oil is reaching record highs and the economy is in the crapper, we dump billions of dollars into roads and ignore rail improvements. States hate the idea of rail travel so much some are acutally giving federal money back. Mark my words, the same a holes who are saying that they’ll be driving their gas hogs forever, there is plenty of oil if we just can drill it!, will be the same indignant a holes screaming that we need trains when oil goes over $200.

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