The Downtown Paradox

The buildings all sell for millions of dollars, but you can rent them for hundreds. Everybody’s holding out for the big payday.

The problem is El Paso has developed a landlord class. In a fulfillment of Marx’s dire projections, the ruling class sits on productive assets (land, in this instance, instead of capital), and waits for entrepreneurs to deliver the rents.

In Austin, back in the old days, before it became a Mecca for navel-gazing trust-funders, Sixth Street used to by populated by thrift stores and down-market furniture outlets. Cheap rents and a funky vibe attracted impresarios.

But Austin also had a built-in market, a forty thousand strong student body. Now, UT is more than fifty thousand strong, and there’s half a dozen other colleges, and Sixth Street is some kind of pretentious hipster hell. The irony is that our city fathers want to skip the interesting developmental stage and go right for pretension.

Well, it doesn’t work like that. You have to draw the cools before you can get the wannabes. That’s kind of what Richard Florida was getting at.

The suits directing El Paso development think that if you deliver the jobs, the workforce will follow. It don’t work like that. The cools aren’t in it for the money. At least, not just the money. The suits have a hard time understanding that, because they’re suits. They stuck around for the paycheck. They’re self-concepts are defined by their annual incomes.

They’re not a lot of fun at parties.


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