Friday, April 23, 2010

Tally Up!

"The term itself--public balance sheet--places the conceptual focus of policymaking squarely on the issue of the extent to which public or community benefits actually result from local development expenditures."

David Imbroscio,Urban America Reconsidered: Alternatives for Governance and Policy

I've always liked the public balance sheet approach (PBS) -- although balance sheet in accounting parlance means tallying assets and liabilities. So much for metaphors. It's really benefit/cost applied with a broader understanding of externalities and social costs.

In this light, Imbroscio spent more time pondering negative externalities than positive externalities. Many big-ticket development projects inflate these benefits -- but they maybe worth a sober look to see if, over time, we are capturing all the spin offs -- tangible and intangible. This especially applies to infrastructure projects. I remember moaning about straightening out the "S" curve on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago -- certainly a waste of money? Right? Would be interesting to tally things up -- including parks, safety, stress reduction, related development, etc. Who knows.

In today's world, I'm wondering whether PBS should be applied to green investments and urban energy retrofiting. There's lots of hopeful talk of benefits for low-income communities, but who is really getting the jobs, etc. Maybe too soon to know.

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