"You'd be dissenting from the urban planning doctrines"

I’ve never met Dave Thorin. His Spar-Thai bike-taxi business was regulated out of existence about a year ago…

But I can imagine sitting down at Harrison Roadhouse and having a beer.

“On me,” I said. “After all the city hasn’t put me under yet.”

“Thanks. You know, I was really surprised by the whole thing. I thought I had a neat, environmentally sensitive, service. I checked into my drivers, after all, they represented my business, my life. I thought East Lansing—the City of the Arts—represented freedom, openness, newness.”

“Sort of,” I said. “Imagine if you’d gone before the council and said that the background checks on your drivers posed a problem because a couple of your drivers were gay and they were concerned that that would cause difficulties. And you were concerned about them, you didn’t want to put pressures on them. Why, if you’d of said that, Triplett would have suggested that your business probably qualifies for some sort of city grant, rent assistance, special loans, a tax abatement, not to mention state and federal benefits.”

“Wow. I never thought of that angle. I’d still be in business. But it wouldn’t have been true.”

“Truth,” I said quaffing my cold one, “This is East Lansing; we’re post-modern. The key is political correctness—always say and do what’s right! Who can know the truth anyway? Why just the other night Tim Dempsey told a bunch of us at a meeting on the city’s future, that your business wasn’t safe. He said the drivers had to be licensed. He said the city had a responsibility if, say, a young girl had too much to drink and it was two in the morning, that using your service could be dangerous.”

“No more dangerous than her stumbling in front of a car on Grand River,” he said. “You mean to tell me that an unlicensed rickshaw driver is more dangerous than a girl walking home wasted across campus, or by the blind allies downtown?”

“I know. Life is full of risks and yours sure seemed reasonable to me. But the bureaucrats have to justify their existence. Just look at all the empty buildings on Grand River. Looks to me like there aren’t a lot of risk takers around here.”

“I can see why. Look how they treated my simple business.”

“Cities like East Lansing have been trying to save their downtowns for a quarter of a century.”

“Looks to me like most haven’t done too well,” he said.

“It’s scary to think of all the tax dollars that have been shifted from maintaining our neighborhood sidewalks and streets and basic services and instead, have funded big downtown developments that seem to enrich the developers and contractors and keep the city planners employed. How many city residents do you think look at the Marriot downtown and say “Wow. That’s really added to my home’s value! University Place has made East Lansing so vibrant; I can’t imagine the city without it. I’ve gotten such a return on my dollars! Bravo city hall. Well done! You know Dave, you should probably should propose a multi-million dollar hotel with a special rickshaw garage for the old City Center II property. That’s the kind of investment that our city’s interested in. Big money. Top down. Controlled by city hall. Just think of the campaign contributions!”

“Do you think that East Lansing residents are better off without my pedicabs?”

“Of course not. There’s always risks in life. A turtle never moves till it sticks its neck out. I think we need to take some modest risks.”

“Bet you have some suggestions.”

“Of course,” followed by another quaff. “If we’re serious about this idea of a ‘walkable community’ why not have more businesses to walk to? How about special zoning for micro firms? While I wouldn’t want a Walmart in my neighborhood, I wouldn’t mind a small pub or butcher shop or a deli—or even a bike taxi service!”

“You mean that we should consider relaxing some rules and regulations!? You mean East Lansing should take some chances and make life easier for small business? That means giving up some control, that means things like personal responsibility and freedom. Wow. You’d be dissenting from the urban planning doctrines.

“I think we need to…think. What about using the old Bailey site for a combination retail and community center? How would a Trader Joe’s look right there? Would adding some land to the tax rolls really be such a bad thing?”

“I can’t really see what we have to lose. Maybe the glass is half full after all.”

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