We need to make sure development isn't just code for finding new ways to gentrify neighborhoods and displace existing residents
A NEW FRAMEWORK FOR URBAN DEVELOPMENT
What would this City of Hope look like, and how would it work? Consider what we could accomplish with a municipal bank. The City and County of San Francisco currently has almost $2.6 billion in highly liquid reserves, about $500 million of which could be used to fund a Municipal Bank of San Francisco. Once established (and federally insured), the Municipal Bank could take additional deposits and use this to issue more loans. The bank could promote economically viable worker-run cooperatives that produce goods and services addressing community needs — be it day care, urban gardening, or ecologically sustainable light industry that creates meaningful employment for local residents. The bank could provide competitive small-interest loans to help stimulate small-business development — the key economic engine of the city. Currently, access to credit is one of the primary impediments to small business growth in San Francisco.
The city could also start a Municipal Development Corporation to produce goods and services that meet essential needs, boost local employment, and generate surpluses that would be available for local reinvestment. San Francisco could launch itself on the path to local energy self-reliance with funds from the Municipal Bank, together with revenue bonds—raising large pools of capital to finance large-scale alternative energy investments such as solar panels to generate energy for sale to local businesses and households.
The proceeds could help subsidize community-based development such as urban farming projects that could grow food for our public schools. The Municipal Development Corporation could explore other initiatives like large-scale medical marijuana cultivation and development of a commercial fiberoptic network. Other ideas can be developed; we need to engage our collective imagination to envision what can exist if there's enough people power and political will.
By expanding access to credit, municipalizing a chunk of the city's assets, establishing an economically viable municipal development enterprise, and democratizing city planning and development, San Francisco can enable long-disenfranchised communities to create sustainable and diversified development — instead of fighting over "jobs versus the environment" and other false choices and getting nowhere for decades.
It's time for proactive, community-led economic development that addresses urgent needs, from local hiring and training, to creating a diverse base of neighborhood-serving businesses, to ecologically sustainable and healthful development and planning that is driven by communities and residents.
San Francisco's job creation policies can be transformed to prioritize community needs over corporate profits by linking major development contracts to strict local hiring and training, community benefits agreements that invest in social goods like childcare and in-home health services, and ensuring dramatic increases in the city's stock of affordable housing.
We need to build new forms of public participation in local government in ways that address people's everyday needs. For instance, the congress will propose a new partnership between residents and Muni to make Muni work better, involving current riders and drivers in a new, more powerful role in how Muni lines function.
We need to find better ways to sustain a diverse population of working-class, people of color, artists, writers, musicians, and others. We need to make sure development isn't just code for finding new ways to gentrify neighborhoods and displace existing residents.