Bloomington is a town full of itself. It imagines it’s Portland, Ore., on which its civic posture is modeled. That is, Bloomington governs itself — especially in matters of zoning — as if there were an unlimited supply of persons wanting to live and invest there.
That posture, though admirably boosterish, runs counter to the actual driver of location and investment, for example, the absolute nature of private property. For if an investor believes his property can be diminished by political whim or maneuver, even a little bit, his investment will be withheld accordingly.
Before we get into that, you need to know that Bloomington, unlike Portland, is not nestled at the confluence of beautiful rivers. Nor was it platted between mountain and ocean with cool summer breezes and soft winter rains ideal for growing hops and roses.
To be honest, the climate in Monroe County can be hostile, the soil is relatively poor and Bloomington isn’t known for its hops. It imports most of its beer (lots when school is in session), and roses don’t particularly flourish there. Of the private investment it attracts, most is merely following millions in state dollars, all of them assigned by legislative edict to the government bureaucracy that is Indiana University.
Indeed, Monroe County’s distinguishing feature is political. Bloomington is proud to be the most liberal city in the state. It votes for the Democratic candidate, any Democratic candidate, by whopping margins.
Stripped of pretension, then, Bloomington is a non-tillable wide spot in the limestone-and-chert hills, the former home of Robert Montgomery Knight and the city of Santa Clara, Cuba.
Returning to what drives investment, the city’s ultra-progressive bent is not normally a problem. Government money, after all, is still money. Cheryl Underwood, however, has made it her problem. Ms. Underwood, a music teacher turned real-estate entrepreneur, took on city hall and won.
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