Photo: Mhilsenrad / Flickr
There's a particular theme I've been noticing more and more lately: strategies that are either praised as universally good or condemned as universally bad, but that are in fact neither. Some are quite good in the short term but unsustainable; others are generally bad but tolerated as necessary evils.
Borrowing money at interest is the ultimate unsustainable good. It's nice to have the cash flow, but in addition to the expense of debt service you sacrifice some long-term autonomy.
Park-and-ride lots are a good example of a necessary evil. Long term, they are not the answer, but in the short term they may be necessary to build a constituency for transit.
What these unsustainable goods and necessary evils have in common is their term limits. In the long term we want to see them go away.
There are two dangers here. The first is that we may not realize that something good is unsustainable, or that a necessary thing is actually evil. Then we might keep borrowing after the need is gone, or keep building park-and-rides that aren't necessary. The person who started the borrowing or the park-and-ride may know that it's not sustainable, but fail to pass that information on to those who are in charge later.
The second danger is that many short-term solutions have a way of sticking around. Someone can divert the borrowed money into something that doesn't actually help increase income. Or the park-and-ride can develop its own entrenched constituency that resists any attempt to remove it.
Here's what we can do about this: first, be mindful and recognize when strategies are unsustainable. Second, make sure that everyone else knows it. Third, when implementing an unsustainable strategy, develop a complementary sunset strategy. Take out a loan with a fixed term, and dedicate part of the income to repaying the loan. Rent the land for the park-and-ride from someone who will have an incentive to redevelop it with transit-oriented businesses or residences.
In future posts, I'll talk more about unsustainable goods, necessary evils, and ways to sunset them.