Day #28: Someplace Familiar?

The man storms past my desk. His face is red with anger. His entire body is coiled with frustration.

I shout, “You can’t go in there.”

But he does anyway. I shoot up from my seat just in time to see him force open the mayor’s locked door.

This isn’t looking good.

I chase him in, in one last vain attempt to control access to the mayor. But the man has already launched his tirade.

“What’s this about?” he shouts, “That part of the river has been a port since the beginning of this city!”

The mayor ignores him.

“Hello? Anybody there?” the man demands. “I’ve had my business there for eight years. I employ thousands of people. And then, overnight, you just decide to rezone the entire district!”

The mayor nods quietly.

“WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?” demands the man, “That port has been the economic heart of this city for decades. It still is? What are you thinking just ripping it out?”

The man doesn’t know it, but while the mayor made the decision, I actually implemented the whole thing. So, I interject, “Sir, our studies indicated city tax revenues would be higher if we had a high-end retail and housing district instead of the port.”

‘Oh they did?” said the man, turning towards me. I immediately regret opening my mouth. “Well, I’ll tell you two things. Number one, your ‘studies’ are written by idiots paid to produce whatever results you already selected. You take away these jobs and you’ll discover that lots of other areas of the city suddenly aren’t producing the revenues you crave. And NUMBER TWO,” he almost shouts, “Who cares? Is this whole place run just to maximize revenues for the government? I thought you guys were here as enablers – just making sure things worked well enough for the people to do what they want.”

“We’re trying to build a better city,” I say, defending myself.

“What is a better city?” the man demands.

“More walking, more residential spaces, less sprawl – and less heavy industry,” I say, reciting from rote.

“And fewer jobs?” the man asks.

“No,” I say, “Better jobs. Knowledge jobs.”

“Hah!” say the man, “Not everybody can do a knowledge job. A whole lot of people I employ have more physical skills – and they are damned good at what they do. Are we going to make our cities so much ‘better’ that those people have to go to China to get jobs?”

“They won’t be-”

“I know, I know,” says the man, “It was rhetorical. They’ll just be unemployed with their talents wasting away because we’ve destroyed our own ability to compete. No port, no port jobs, no transit jobs, reduced warehousing, fewer factories and yes, even a drop in knowledge jobs. This is what your capricious rezoning with create.”

“But those people will enjoy better trails and parks.” I say, trying to put on a cheerful spin.

“Yes,” says the man, fuming, “They’ll have plenty of time for hiking and picnics.”

“What the hell am I doing talking to you anyway?” he asks himself.

I stand, mute.

“Is the mayor going to defend himself?” he asks, both of us.

I just stand there. The mayor barely moves.

“I’ll take this office,” says the man, “I can put together the votes. Does that make Mr. Mayor talk?”

It doesn’t.

“What the hell is wrong with you people?” he asks, “Is this place being run by 8 year-olds?”

I wince.

“Well?” he asks.

“Sir,” I explain, “I’d love to offer some sort of exhaustive explanation.”

“Can you offer something ?!?” he demands.

“I can, I say, but it will seem very odd.” I insist.

“In front of me I’ve got a mayor who sits like a robot and an assistant who seems to get all the work done. I can handle odd.”

“Very odd,” I insist.

“What is it?” demands the man, “What is this odd truth that’s bankrupting me and destroying our economic future.”

“Have you ever heard of SimCity?” I ask.

“Sure,” says the man, “The computer game where you build a city.”

“Yeah,” I say, “Well, this is a SimCity. The mayor isn’t really elected and he does really just rezone things at will. The real problem is, well, we’re being run by a 12 year-old.”

The man stops for just a second. And then he pronounces, barely missing a beat, “Well, that’ll explain it.”