Legislating cool

When we stop to consider who might be the coolest among us, it’s unlikely that many would point to politicians. All the more reason to be suspicious of those who have decided they can legislate cool: A revamped vendor shed at Detroit’s Eastern Market, a gay and lesbian community center in Ferndale, and a downtown fountain and ice rink in Warren are among 20 projects in 17 cities deemed cool enough to get up to $100,000 each under a new state grant program, Gov. Jennifer Granholm announced Wednesday. These so-called “cool cities” pilot projects also will be first in line, eventually, to draw from another $100 million in grants, loans and other state resources, said the governor, who made the announcement surrounded by crates of fruit and vegetables and flats of petunias at Detroit’s Eastern Market. “These projects have priority status,” Granholm said. “They’re destined to attract a work force for the 21st century. “There’s no reason the city of Detroit can’t be like Chicago.” The idea behind Granholm’s cool cities initiative is to draw and retain the young, creative professionals who according to census figures have been migrating to other states in droves. They embody the kind of cutting-edge business and artistic talent the state covets. But critics question whether a handful of grants for art galleries, outdoor markets and loft housing really can turn around cities such as Detroit and Flint, which are beset by profound social and economic problems. “The small grant is a negligible inducement,” said Michael LaFaive, director of fiscal policy at the Midland-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy Research, a free-market think tank. “And the hip artists and creative young people they hope to draw are not going to make investments on the mere promise of extra goodies.” It’s sad to watch politicians fall in love with gimmicks, and neglect the bread-and-butter issues. Take a place like Detroit. Politicians can subsidize poetry readings all they want, but if the schools are bad and the streets are dangerous, it’ll be tough to attract people back to the central city. In Los Angeles, young familiesââ?¬â??many of which are probably coolââ?¬â??search for houses outside the reach of the LA Unified School District. None of this is surprising. It’s the habit of government to fail at its original mandate and then take on new duties. For more on legislating cool see here and here. Also, be on the lookout for the latest Privatization Watch, which tackles this very issue.