By David Tulis
Your interest in local economy and free markets has made you wonder about Hamilton County’s creation of a committee to draft a 40-year plan for the city and the clutch of 16 counties surrounding Chattanooga.
What is the purpose of Thrive 2055? How is it worth F$3 million? And 40 years? — That’s eight times longer than the five-year schemes drafted in the 1920s by the Politburo; what kind of fruit will it bear? Is planning just another layer of government inhibiting the rights of the people?
County Commissioner Jim Fields granted us an interview to tell us more about the committee and its duty before the commission. Mr. Fields, a family man, is an attorney dealing with civil cases and is a member of Signal Mountain Presbyterian church. The Walden resident represents District 2.
The idea behind the committee, he said, is that it is better to plan for growth than for government to be caught short and have to rush to catch up. The arrival of VW was the occasion for much infrastructure upgrading by the county due to “tremendous demand” from new traffic and incoming residents.
“It’s better to plan for growth than to react to growth,” Mr. Fields said. “It’s better to plan for the growth, and be ready for it, than all of a sudden wake up one day and say, ‘Oh, wait a minute, we’ve got 500 more kids in the schools and we don’t have a capacity for them.’”
The group is charged with creating processes to guide municipal officials and those in the 16 counties on everything from sewers, roadbuilding, road repair, water supplies, zoning and other matters, Mr. Fields said. The counties sought as partners are economically connected to Hamilton County, the commissioner said, and their residents are morally, culturally and politically conservative.
One matter of concern has been the committee’s scope of authority, he said.
“From my understanding of the proposal *** is that it only has the ability to make proposals. It doesn’t have the ability to change zoning; it doesn’t have the ability to affect land use in any way. That still has to go through the regular process, and has to be approved by the elected officials, either the city of Chattanooga or Hamilton County for the unincorporated areas.”
I asked about similarities between the local plan and regulation in so-called planned economies, the most extreme being that of the former Soviet Union.
“No, there’s no theory that the market is controlled by Hamilton County, the city of Chattanooga, or anybody, except for the market forces. *** What will occur is that we will be given information about where the anticipated growth is going to be, and what we need to do to plan for the anticipated growth, and how much it is going to cost us to plan for the anticipated growth. So, as far as the regional planning committee having any control over market forces, as far as I know I don’t see that.”
So regional planning, then, is not planning, I proposed. It is simply observing what the marketplace is doing and reporting to elected officials? “No, it is an attempt by government to respond to anticipated needs over the next 40 years and which I think is a very prudent way of handling the responsibilities of government.”
“Should people who are interested in local economy and free markets,” I asked, “Should they look at the work of a committee like this with alarm? You are suggesting no. It is not an affront to the idea of free markets. It’s not affront to the idea of independent free action of the citizen. It is just an advisory committee, the authority to legislate or to direct zoning changes and roadway rights of way — that’s in the hands of the elected officials. And because that’s the case, people who are interested in the subject matter of [Nooganomics] should not be alarmed. They should not look at this [planning committee] as a potential threat to their rights of property.”
“Not as I understand it,” Mr. Fields replied. “But my caveat, or my caution, to anyone is, ‘It never hurts to examine.’ I mean, if the citizen is reading through some planning document and sees something, that citizen ought to get on the phone to their county commissioner [or] their city council person and say, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ It never hurts to have a second pair of eyes.”