Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year!

As we wind down the year it’s easy to get a bit reflective, even more so now that Smart Growth Seattle has existed for 5 years. In some ways that is a long run. In others, it’s only just a sliver of time. In the battle over what to do about housing and growth, it’s been quite an eventful stretch of time. One of my favorite movies (not just for Christmas) is It’s a Wonderful Life. The movie is really substantially about housing as well as the unknown impact each life has on other lives. Jimmy Stewart created a classic character with George Bailey, a guy who in spite of his big dreams stays at home and keeps the building and loan going. Here’s a couple of my favorite scenes.

First, we see George Bailey standing up to old Potter. Now most see developers, landlords, and builders as Mr. Potter. There’s not much I can do about that today, but our hope is that, someday, people who make housing are truly the George Bailey’s of the world while Mr. Potter is the cynicism of rules for rule’s sake and the notion that if we build more housing it will just get more expensive. Think of Mr. Potter as the ultimate Not In My Back Yard neighbor.

Measly, one horse institution. Sometime’s that’s what Smart Growth Seattle can feel like. But it’s important to have voices to call out when government is making bad housing policy in the name of helping poor people, especially when that policy will do the opposite. It would have been easier for George to let the Building and Loan disappear, but he didn’t. And he always had mixed feelings about it until he realized the larger good he had done.

And one scene I’ve posted about before is the bank run scene.

The bank run scene is perhaps one of the best explanations of how banking and finance works. The money is here, it’s invested in the community. And what the scene shows is how the economy is a web; when one person benefits so do others, and when someone suffers so does another person. We’re connected. I’ve often used the scene to describe why there are not “profits” in development, just take home pay for people that take the risk to build. Meanwhile, investors return value to others who use their returns to pay for things like retirement or college expenses. In other words, things everyone has to pay for.

It’s a Wonderful Life is a movie that happens to be set at Christmas time and is all about how we touch many lives just by trying to do the right thing, even when we can’t see that benefit up close. The movie is really about the economy — not money — but the way what we do for work and livelihood, how we invest, how we spend, and the rules and regulations we make, have impacts on other people. Building more housing is a good thing all by itself, and people who do it deserve some praise for making their living doing it. But it’s also important to remember we’re all in this together, too.


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