Friday, September 14, 2007

Interesting political use of the Web

The The Goodspeed Ninth Street Vacant Property Survey shows an interesting use of the Web for community politics.

One of the oddest features of the US is large amounts of valuable property standing vacant in big cities. Speculators buy property cheap in run down areas and wait for someone else to rehabilitate the neighborhood causing the value of their property to soar. The problem is that speculators of this type tend not to have the resources to renovate the buildings themselves and in the meantime the empty buildings owned by speculators drag the neighborhood down.

Mapping out the empty buildings and publishing the results helps begin the process of renewal. One way to renovate the neighborhood would be for the council to buy up the empty properties using its eminent domain powers. Which is of course why property speculators of this type tend to be people wired into the local politics.

Throwing public light onto problems of this type makes it much more expensive to maintain the corrupt little circles of mutual interests that allow the situation to continue. In theory vacant properties are subject to a penalty tax, but this can be waived if the Mayor choses. Raising the issue makes waivers much more politically costly.

Of course the irony of the situation is that the speculators themselves are the ones who have the biggest interest in seeing the situation resolved. Their problem is synchronization. Prices will rise if there is an expectation that the neighborhood will be regenerated.

All in all a demonstration that there is much more to economics than free market theory.

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