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If It Takes A Village, What’s The Village?

— This week on the Editor’s Roundtable we posed the question: What can be done about government funding crises, short of eliminating services that people want and need? One of the guests was Scott Lewis, from Voice of San Diego, who has written about ways to fund services that circumvent the familiar avenues of taxation and support of government programs.

You can listen to the show or read a little of what Scott’s written. But I’ll sum it up by telling you Lewis sees San Diego as a city that has become either unable or unwilling to pay for programs and infrastructure. He says philanthropic groups and small taxing authorities – business improvement districts and the like – are stepping in, more and more, to pick up the slack and give people what they need.

This may not be a bad thing. Some people think it’s inevitable and it may even represent progress as outdated city bureaucracies come crashing down. But there's a fundamental question here. What is our community and who has the job of maintaining it?

Hillary Clinton once wrote a book called It Takes a Village, which takes its title from the proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” This is the kind of expression that’s embraced by liberals who believe in big government and great societies. Conservatives are more likely to say it takes a family to raise a child and the rest of the village should mind its own damn business.

But let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that it does take a village. What’s the village? How big is the village, and how many children is it trying to raise? And as it’s raising children, how does it also provide things like roads, sewers and libraries for all the other villagers?

The thing that scares me about the devolution of service provision to non-profits, home owners associations and hyper-local taxing districts is the loss of civic identity and increasing inequality. When infrastructure and services are provided this way they become scattered and hard to find. That means a lot of people fall through the cracks.

Yes, La Jolla’s library isn’t suffering a budget crisis because donors are making up the difference. But can libraries in the poor neighborhoods of southeast San Diego manage the same thing? Whether they can or not, they don’t. American society has become Balkanized as people have segregated themselves into neighborhoods based on economic class and political persuasion. I wonder what’s left to tie us together as “the city” dissolves. I wonder what happens to poor neighborhoods when they are left on their own to install streetlights and fill potholes.

I think local control is a good thing. But the more local you are the more people get left out.

If it takes a village to raise a child, I’d prefer that village not be the entire state of California whose bureaucracy is massive and headquartered hundreds of miles away. But if we lose our cities, there’s not much left we can even call a society.

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