Driving Down the Road, Gazing in the Rearview Mirror

I get it. The billionaires are putting a lot of money into spiffing up downtown. And we better jump on their investments before they get bored and lose interest.

But still.

Leisure activities aren’t a shortcut to making El Paso any less poor. They only benefit those who are moderately well off. Splash parks aren’t going to lift anyone out of poverty. TopGolf and Whole Foods are the equivalent of Marie Antoinette’s cake.

Our benevolent leaders believe that outside investors are the path to economic success. That wealth can trickle down. That we need to grow at the outside margins, by attracting outside capital investment, instead of the inside margins, by developing El Pasoans’ skills and talents.

Well, I’ve got news for them. The cavalry’s not coming. Capital investment will bypass El Paso and instead settle in Viet Nam, or China, or even Juarez.

(That’s why their plan is for regional development. To make El Paso a bedroom community for Juarez, and Las Cruces, and Santa Teresa.)

Don’t get me wrong. I know that today’s economy needs all those jobs that will soon be lost to automation. But our benevolent leaders are determined to drag us into the late twentieth century, and are willing to commit all our scarce resources to do it.

We’re operating on a plan that was developed in 2005. And a lot has happened since 2005. Like, the global economy went into a coma, and, when it awoke, the world was different. Mostly, the poor got poorer and the rich, richer. We’re operating on a plan that assumed that the poor could still make the leap. That’s harder now, and increasingly harder in the future, and there’s no way to accomplish it in our benevolent leaders’ plan.

Ten years is practically a lifetime in today’s economy. Some internet entrepreneurs have made and lost multiple fortunes in ten years, and it’s been 13 years since Plan El Paso was first conceived.

I don’t see how a vibrant downtown prepares El Pasoans for the new economy. The economy we’re living in now. And the truth is that focusing all our finances and attention on pretty vanity projects distracts us from the efforts that might actually benefit El Paso.

I’m all for protecting our architectural patrimony. Those old buildings downtown are part of El Paso’s unique appeal. They are what distinguishes El Paso from the glass skyscrapers of all of America’s other downtowns. But what does a $180 million arena do for us?

What if we took that $180 million and set up Adobe Creative Cloud in all our libraries, or in dedicated learning centers, around the city? What if we taught Photoshop, and Illustrator, and Premiere Pro, to anyone that wanted to learn them? What if we pumped age-appropriate coding and robotics classes into every school in city limits?

(What if we set up nodes of high-speed wifi internet in strategic locations throughout the city? Nah, that’s just crazy talk.)

What if we taught art, and music, to the artistically inclined, and twenty-first century tech to the people that were good with their hands?

What if we made it easier for El Pasoans to pursue cinema, and movie-making, and theater arts skills?

El Paso already enjoys a comparative advantage in most of those areas. We’re punching above our weight in music and the plastic arts, and we’ve got a decent theater scene, and a smattering of filmmakers.

We could be more.

Half-hearted, or poorly managed, efforts into these endeavors could easily fail. And then the opposition could say, “Well, we tried, and that didn’t work.” But there’s no reason an earnest, sincere, well-funded pursuit of our inherent excellence couldn’t produce results, with synergies.

El Paso’s economic development efforts are all focused on making El Pasoans consumers. That’s wrong. We can’t spend our way to prosperity. We need to make real investments.

(Now that I’ve got your attention, let me tell you that I’m running for City Council. I’ll have a place on the ballot in November, and I could sure use your support. Unfortunately, political campaigns cost money. If you can make a donation to my campaign, please mail a check, made out to Rich Wright Campaign, to 611 E River, El Paso, Texas 79902. Thank you.)

Just to be on the safe side, I’m going to tell you that this is political advertising, even though it sounds a lot like common sense.

4 comments

  1. The city already provides free internet “nodes” throughout the City. They’re located at most public buildings throughout the City. They can’t really do “high-speed” because you can probably guess what people would use free “high-speed” internet for. Don’t believe me? Talk to any City librarian who has been working there a while. They have some pretty depressing anecdotes about what people do with free services.

    Beyond that, I have to wholeheartedly disagree with you. Why do MORE of my taxes need to go towards teaching you and your kids how to do stuff that you can learn how to do for free fairly easily. As far as schools in particular go, why do I need to give them more money when they are already spending millions on shiny new football fields and other non-academic amenities? Not only that but they already get the lion’s share of my tax dollars so why do they need more? As someone who doesn’t have kids I am really ok with the City not giving any money to schools/teaching initiatives like you suggested. Let the education entities consider their priorities and implement these things as appropriate.

    It’s been a fair number of years since I was in public school and some time since I took classes at either UTEP or EPCC and I can tell you that one big irritation to me was how many people in this city would just fuck off in class. I was given some grief for being a nerd but guess what? I learned a lot and began to learn how to do a lot (not all of it based on what someone made me learn) and I now I have a job that pays well *gasp* in El Paso of all places!

    I look around on social media and a lot of the people I grew up around who didn’t pay attention in school (from public to college) ended up popping out half a dozen brats and ending up in crappy jobs because they hadn’t put in any effort into figuring out what they liked to do and what they were good at. Why is Woody Hunt successful? Probably because he worked hard and didn’t sit around waiting for someone to tell him to get into building robots or autocad or any of a dozen modern skills.

    I think it’s cool that you are running for council and I look forward to hearing you debate the current city rep, but city council reps should stay out of education and focus on the things they are actually responsible for. You have no hope of improving El Paso’s attitude towards education until the community as a whole can appreciate learning and self improvement. Some places do that or they attract people who do that, El paso isn’t one of those places and no amount of railing against quality of life projects is going to change that. El Paso really exemplifies that old adage about horses and water, there is no shortage of good educational opportunities easily within the reach of anyone who cares to look for them. Sadly very few people can be bothered to get off their asses to find them and take advantage of them and personally I don’t have a ton of sympathy for a lot of these folks because all my life I’ve seen quite a few throw away great opportunities to learn and improve themselves.

    Not everyone is like that though and if the City Council thinks that pretty lights and old pretty buildings will help El Paso “fake it” long enough to “make it” and attract better and more quality business opportunities then I’m ok with them trying that. At least this way I get some benefit out of my taxes instead of pumping it all into schools/education where so many folks act like they’re in prison against their will rather than actively taking advantage of the gift of our modern education system (which BTW does provide a decent bit of the things you suggested providing).

  2. “Things they [city council] are responsible for”? Like ballparks?

    You don’t have kids, so you think it’s unfair that you have to pay for education, yet you’re okay with making everyone pay for baseball, even if they don’t go to the games?

    Let me point out that educated citizens are better for the community than baseball fans.

    You have a curious, selective, idea of the purview of City Council. Fostering a culture that appreciates personal growth instead of consumerism might be antithetical to your personal philosophy, but rabid consumerism won’t lift El Paso out of poverty.

    Your philosophy got El Paso where it is today, with a population growth that has flatlined and the highest property tax rates in the country.

  3. Good comments by Chuco Geek.

    You didn’t ask, but I’m going to give you my opinion anyway.

    In you campaign, focus on fiscal responsibility in City government. That is something everyone wants but we never get.

    Focus on the what cities are supposed to provide: decent streets, garbage pick-up, water, safety

    Tell us if you are committed to funding escalating fireman’s pensions.

    Tell us what you are willing to cut from the City budget to avoid raising taxes.

    Stay away from social issues. These are not the responsibility of cities. We don’t want representatives who push individual agendas. We want representatives who care about taxpayers and providing basic city services. I know that’s not the fun stuff, it’s the important stuff.

    1. Obviously, we’re strapped. At least the taxpayers are. The City seems to have money to burn.

      But maybe I can use the City Council seat as a bully pulpit to convince the local philanthropists to invest in more meaningful educational experiences for our citizens.

      As for the firemen’s pension fund, their union recently advocated for an increase in members’ contributions to keep the funds solvent, so I think we’re okay for now. From KVIA:

      City Council Tuesday unanimously approved an amendment increasing the annual active member contribution rate to the El Paso Firemen and Policemen’s pension fund.

      Tyler Grossman, the executive director of the El Paso Firemen and Policemen’s pension fund, was at the City Council meeting.

      “It was an increase, and more importantly, an increase in contributions to be the first fire and police pension fund to match the City at 18 percent. So the fire and police members will be raising their contributions to pay for this benefit and coming up with an additional amount to match the city in contributions to the fund,” Grossman said.

      Thanks for your input.

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