If it takes a village, where’s the village?

I read a story on voiceofsandiego.com written by Scott Lewis about the future of San Diego, which Lewis has come to call The Dissolving City. Read the story yourself. But I’ll tell you that Lewis sees San Diego as a city that has become either unable or unwilling to pay the price to maintain services and infrastructure. He says philanthropic groups and small taxing authorities – business improvement districts and the like – are stepping in, more and more, to pick up the slack and give people what they need.

This may not be a bad thing. Some people think it’s inevitable and it may even represent progress as outdated city bureaucracies come crashing down. For me, the fundamental question is this: What is our community and who has the job of maintaining it.   

Hillary Clinton once wrote a book called It Takes a Village, which takes its title from the proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” This is the kind of expression that’s embraced by liberals who believe in big government and great societies. Conservatives are more likely to say it takes a family to raise a child and the rest of the village should mind its own damn business.

But let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that it does take a village. What’s the village? How big is the village, and how many children is it trying to raise? And as it’s raising children, how does it also provide things like roads, sewers and libraries for all the other villagers.

The thing that scares me about the devolution of service provision to non-profits, home owners associations and hyper-local taxing districts is the loss of civic identity and increasing inequality. When infrastructure and services are provided this way they become scattered and hard to find. That means a lot of people fall through the cracks.

Yes, La Jolla’s library isn’t suffering bad budget cuts because donors are making up the difference. (Something Lewis points out). But can libraries in the poor neighborhoods of southeast San Diego manage the same thing? Whether they can or not, they don’t. American society has become Balkanized as people have segregated themselves into neighborhoods based on economic class and political persuasion. I wonder what’s left to tie us together as “the city” dissolves. I wonder what happens to poor neighborhoods when they are left on their own to install streetlights and fill potholes.

It’s ironic that Prop 13 actually took control of property taxes away from local jurisdictions and turned it over to the state. It doesn’t seem like the kind of thing most political conservatives would favor. Clearly, I think local control is a good thing. But the more local you are the more people get left out.

If it takes a village to raise a child, I’d prefer that village not be the entire state of California whose bureaucracy is massive and headquartered hundreds of miles away. But if we lose our cities, there’s not much left we can even call a society.

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One Comment on “If it takes a village, where’s the village?”

  1. Jim Fudge Says:

    Right on. Tom. Proposition 13 has destroyed not only the public schools in San Diego but has thrown poorer sections of the state into even more squalor. Before coming to this beautiful city I can remember when California’s educational system of public education was tops in the country. Now we’re toward the bottom. If you want a good society you have to be willing to pay taxes. The conservatives and the wealthy aren’t willing to see it this way.


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