Archive for April 1st, 2013

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Regional Development (Again)

April 1, 2013

A few days ago I briefly wrote about regional development in Ukraine, concluding that “Accepting there is no perfect method – why do we expect a perfect outcome?” – A fair point I think.

What I didn’t do, is state what I thought would be a reasonable model to pursue – naughty me!

After all, I get rather tired of reading commentary and monologue that is quick and oft justified in the crucification of the current models and their outcomes – but that crucially omit any thought about how to improve the model, or if the model is about as good as it can be, how to manage the expectations for perfect results from an imperfect model.

Naturally the first thing to recognise is that regional development is exactly that – regional.

Whilst some issues will be constant throughout many regions and thus should form part of a national development plan controlled and implemented nationally – regional development issues are the prerogative of local government and they are best placed to identify and implement local development.

In short, the individualities of Odessa are not all easily transposed to work effectively in Carpathia – despite some prima facie compatibilities.  Not only in the local needs for infrastructure and economic drivers, but also in the availability and regionally bespoke arena of human capital.

The training and development needs of industrialised Donetsk  are not so easily transposed to Yalta for example.  That said, putting in place parameters on regional development simply because “that isn’t how it works here” is not necessarily a good thing either.  Internal innovation at a regional level is one method of development – particularly by SMEs.

Putting up barriers to local innovation is a self-defeating policy for any local government.  Why should local government work harder to generate regional development if SMEs have the desire and ability to work hard instead?  Let them.

Is it not a smarter policy for local government to encourage rather than unnecessarily corral the innovation of its populous?

This naturally would lead to greater interaction between local business and local government and a dialogue that should, theoretically, lead to local government creating a structure whereby the local populous generate greater production either by active assistance or by simply staying out of the way.  In doing so, those SMEs that thrive obviously become sustainable.  Those that fail will reinvent themselves if there is a medium for knowledge exchange within the local business community – preferably one where local government sits and listens.

Where local government can help is in the arena of sustainable and ecologically wise city planning.

Odessa is replete with brownfield sites which stand abandoned and could be turned into business parks or engineering parks.  Brand new, shiny, business incubators are not necessarily going to either meet the needs of the SMEs or provide any dynamic gains for the local economy or employment.

In converting the plentiful brownfield sites, is there not an opportunity to be environmentally conscious at the same time when it comes to energy efficiency?  Does that not create an opportunity for local “green” business and tick all those globally friendly boxes, encouraging grants to continue with such development of other brownfield sites?

If a site is beyond renovation or situated in an area where it holds not commercial or society benefits – flatten it!

If made from brick, crush it and use the crushed material as aggregate to compact under new roads or road repairs rather than the cheapest rubbish the nefariously won tender holders now use.  What is wrong with recycling the materials in derelict buildings?

Collect and sell as scrap the thousands of miles of steel rusting away in disused brownfield buildings if they need to be demolished.  There is an international market for scrap metal – use it!

Has anybody in the Odessa local government even tried to evaluate the benefits of having so many business incubators via a vis development of a brownfield site into a business park or engineering park?  Are they even capable of coming up with a reasonable evaluation model?  I doubt it.

Local authorities should also consider the cultural side of local life.  Can an abandoned factory warehouse be used for a dance centre, a go-cart course, a youth club etc rather than stand empty generating precisely nothing – not even local good-will toward the local government, let alone community spirit?

It is all very well putting up cheap and cheerful play equipment, or resurfacing a footpath in a run up before local or national elections in an effort to try and buy voters, but such acts are seen for what they are.  They are certainly not what can be classed as regional development.

As many people state, they wish elections would happen every year for that is the only time the politicians actually actively make good the state of necessary repair in the local voting regional seats.

Naturally there is the issue of funding – and here perhaps more than anywhere, local government has a vital role to play.  Not only in spreading out the meager budget granted by Kyiv to meet immediate problems – and stealing half of it doesn’t help – but also in attracting funding from the EU, World Bank, EBRD, EIB etc., not only by way of grants but also by way of loans.

Turning the financing of local development into a business whereby money has to be repaid rather than just accepted as charity by local government, would necessarily sharpen minds when it comes to return on investment within the local community – whether that return be directly economic or by way social good will through increasing the quality of life.  In short something of a mixture of that often hard to identify “added value”, “good will”,  or community/local government driven “inclusive growth”.

When considering the “feel good” factor within local society, it is all very well to have the roads in Odessa city centre is good condition, all the facades looking pristine – not that the current local authorities can even manage that, despite it being all that 99% of tourists ever see and experience – what about the redevelopment of urban areas in dire need of attention – such as Moldovanka in Odessa?

Where is the plan, where is the on-going implementation of that plan, and where is the budgetary forecasts for such much needed development?  If it exists on paper, it certainly has not been turned into reality in any shape or form.  In the decade I have been living in Odessa, Molodvanka has done nothing other than fall apart even further.

When part of the city becomes equated with ever increasing squaller, is it any wonder it becomes a haven for Russian and Moldavian criminals in hiding – for drug dealers – for an illicit sex trade – a place to hire a thug or two?  In Moldovanka, the development issue is certainly the quality of housing and the lack of policing.  We are talking about fundamentals for a part of a city that aspires to be a rising star of European tourism.

The issues of Moldovanka are hardly likely to give a large economic return when tackled – at least immediately – but if Odessa is a region, Moldovanka is a region within a region and is in desperate need of development before it literally falls down both physically and to the lowest levels of society.  Perhaps that is the local authorities plan – who knows, they do not seem to have another that are actually implementing to prevent it.

Anyway, though the areas I have mentioned above are broad in their scope and less than detailed, they do at least outline some issues for consideration when it comes to development for Odessa as city – and to my mind all major cities are a region unto themselves, albeit within the larger prescribed regions as recognised by central government.

Thus, in an effort not to be like so many commentators who put forward no alternatives, I have at least spent an entire 20 minutes thinking about the development model – rather than just pooh-pooh it without any constructive thinking whatsoever.  After all, I would hate for you dear readers to simply write me off as just another persistent complainer unable or too lazy to offer up some thoughts for improvement!

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