Contemporary cities exist thanks to a complex system of taxes, subsidies and profit generation. The impact of money cannot be ignored when studying our urban condition. In some cases, the relationship is self-reinforcing: taxes pay for subsidies which generate profit, on which taxes are paid. In others, taxes are extracted from urban activities and used for less transparent ends.
This ‘paid urbanism’ has created a Kafka-esque web of bureaucracy. Look beneath the visible facade of a city and you will quickly find a tangled web of relationships between politicians, bureaucrats, developers and residents. This web entangles everything and everybody; its existence—and more importantly, its influence—is rarely visible to the public. Left unexposed, paid urbanism can lead to public policy for private profits; a “duopoly” that forgets the needs of taxpaying residents and links the profits of developers with the power of politicians.
As a result, paid urbanism is largely responsible for much of the ’big’ urbanism that exists today—the oversized and over packaged projects of a scale and nature at odds with their surroundings and the wishes of residents. These developments often need large government subsidies paid for with residents taxes. Unfortunately they are often built to maximize the profits of developers, not the benefits of residents.
A necessary evil
Without paid urbanism, cities as we know them would not exist, roads and schools would not be built, parks would not be maintained, events would not be held. There is nothing inherently wrong with the taxes-subsidy-profit (repeat) cycle just its abuse. Thus, the solution lies not in completely banning private development with public money, but rather breaking the politician-developer duopoly and allowing residents back into the decision making process.