July 18, 2010

Gradual Money and Cataclysmic Money

While most of the rest of Jane Jacobs' The Death and Life of Great American Cities is indeed about cities, there's another factor she discusses in urban contexts that also fits in suburban contexts. Money - both the lack and the surplus of it - causes problems:

Money has its limitations. It cannot buy inherent success... where the conditions for inherent success are lacking and where the use of the money fails to supply them. Furthermore, money can only do ultimate harm where it destroys the conditions needed for inherent success. On the other hand, by helping to supply the requirements needed, money can help build inherent success... Indeed, it is indispensable.

For these reasons, money is a powerful force both for ... decline and for ... regeneration. But it must be understood that it is not the mere availability of money, but how it isavailable, and for what, that is important. (292).

She describes three kinds of funding - conventional bank loans, government money, and "shadow money", which I think is similar to today's hard money. The details of all of these things have changed since 1961, fortunately - redlining is over, banks have to invest in the communities of their depositors, and the era of gigantic urban renewal projects seems to have ended. Nonetheless, while broader mortgage lending and home equity loans have made more incremental change easier, much construction still takes place at the scale she described as "cataclysmic":

Cataclysmic money pours into an area in concentrated form, producing drastic changes. As an obverse of this behavior, cataclysmic money sends relatively few trickles into localities not treated to cataclysm.

...these three kinds of money behave not like irrigation systems, bringing life-giving streams to feed steady, continual growth. Instead, they behave like manifestations of malevolent climates beyond the control of man - affording either searing droughts or torrential, eroding floods. (293)

Since Jacobs' day, gradual money has become easier to get, even the subject of odd frenzy and collapse as financiers realized there were profits to be made manipulating that market. The challenge of cataclysms hasn't gone away, though. Cataclysmic development on greenfield areas produces less obvious disruption if only because there's less to disrupt, but most houses in the United States are still built in developments, not one by one. Tompkins County has had relatively less of that, perhaps because we haven't grown very rapidly, but lately more and more people seem to be waking up and looking out their house and car windows to cataclysms in the making.

Posted by simon at July 18, 2010 1:37 PM in
Note on photos