My dad wears work boots every day. He has worn work boots every day of his life, to my knowledge, with exception of “dress boots” for dressier events. He worked on a factory floor for 8-12 hours a day. We’d find ourselves in the shoe section at Wal-Mart frequently as they wore out.
Like Homer Simpson walking into a store and asking for “your second cheapest bottle of wine”, my mother and grandmother never understood why he bought some of the cheapest boots available. We could have afforded some nicer boots, but there we’d be three months later taking an insufferably long time to find a new pair.
I’m reminded of this after reading Michael Hicks’ latest piece on cities touting “low cost of living”.
The big difference in cost of living between places is in housing prices. The biggest cause of home price differences is not regulation or taxes, but on the quality of the neighborhood in which the home is located. While different tax rates or housing restrictions might change the value of a home by 10 or 15 percent, the quality of the neighborhood can change home prices by several hundred percent.
I have written before that the value of two identical homes will vary by as much as 25 percent given the quality of the local schools. This is one part of a neighborhood’s conditions that influence home prices. The reason for this is that consumers bundle together the attributes of a neighborhood, including schools. Livable communities, good schools, safe neighborhoods, and other attributes tend to cluster together.
As I was out knocking on doors this weekend I spoke to a woman who said her biggest concerns were bicycling safety for her kids and the abandoned property next door. We talked for a while and she recognized government doesn’t have many options for dealing with abandoned properties, but she rolled her eyes at Joe Hogsett’s “home rehab” work nevertheless.
I started to ask, “Do you think Indianapolis is — “ and then she cut me off.
“Cheap,” she said.
“I’ve always wished we, as a city, could decide to do something and do it really, really well,” I said.
“Me too,” she replied.
I believe there’s a limit to what cities can or should be doing in any number of situations. But if we’re going to do something, we should always do it really well. We don’t tolerate shoddy jobs from restaurants or hair salons or tax preparers or really anything else. At least not when we know what the standards should be.
It’s like our City is telling residents, “Here’s a police force. They’re really busy all the time and there aren’t enough to do community-based policing.” “Here’s a bike trail. It doesn’t connect to anything and none of the stoplights will recognize you.” “Here’s a sidewalk. People will probably just park on it and it stops and starts again across this bridge. Good luck.” “Here’s a patch to your pothole. We filled it in when it was full of water, so let’s hope it stays together.”
A lot of things in this city are done remarkably well, like the Cultural Trail, our libraries, and airport. We should look toward the same high standards for other projects or decide not do to them at all. Otherwise, like my dad’s boots, we don’t get to be surprised when it falls apart in short order and we end up spending more.