Public works should be centered around building environmental assets

Recently the relationship between public work projects and our environment has often been questioned. I believe, however, that both should not be considered to be in conflict.
A famous economist, Mr. Kobun Uzawa, raised the issue of "how the social capital should be used as commons" and is searching how public work projects can contribute to the formulation of environmental assets. What he wants to say is that social capital, just like the commons of the old days, should be common space accessible by any persons for multi-purposes.
Incidentally, I should point out that "Common" in the United Kingdom has had multi-purposes: it could be used as a meadow (or Wiesen in German), a place for people to stroll, and as a habitat for wild animals at the same time .
As such, it can play many functions and be accessible to everyone.
When we expand this concept, and if add some multiple functions of facilitating environmental aspects to it, the social capital of today (even if it is in a form of traditional roads, harbors and so on) can coexist with the environment without giving rise to any problems between the two.

Various economic repercussions

By compounding various functions of conventional social capital in this way, we can expect favorable economic repercussion effect on a number of new areas, and resulting in demand-stimulating effect in many economic areas.
The wider the favorable economic repercussion, the more cost-effective the project will become, and the more the project could decrease social costs.
Public works respecting landscape, public works respecting the ecosystem, public works intending to formulate corridors, and public works for the recovery of the environment will boost the effective demand for various "soft sciences", and, together with measures of deregulation for that purpose, will stimulate creation of new industries as a result.
Governmental agencies sponsoring such projects can also get rid of the yoke of rigid public responses to the project, and find a new target of a "qualitative improvement in public works" which could sufficiently compensate decreases in a project budget (a pie).
Recently a concept of "mitigating factors" has been frequently discussed relating to coastal areas.
This concept intends to deal with the situations, where public works conflict with the environment, in the following three methods; (1) Avoidance, (2) Minimization and (3) Compensation.
The preferred method for dealing with this is already suggested in the order of the above presentation.
If avoidance (the most preferable method) is difficult, we should adopt the second method. The third method is the last method, and we should not use compensation as a sufficient excuse for developing an area against from the beginning.
The first method, Avoidance, means that, for instance, when a road seems to pass through a habitat of some rare wild plants/animals, we should try to change its planned route.
The second method, Minimize, is to scale down the size of the project in order to minimize the impact on the environment.
The third method means that when the necessary project of public works cannot help but destroy an ecological system, we should prepare some artificial environment which can replace the original system.
These days, there have been movements, for example, to build artificial tidal flats as a precondition for development.
This should be the last resort after all other means have tried and failed. With the introduction of the said concept of "mitigating factors" being applied to public works, our general idea about the public work project may undergo a significant change.

Shift to a new paradigm

After the war, Japan tried very hard to build up social capital in order to catch up with the level of Western countries in this aspect.
We may say that we reached the level of those countries in terms of quantity, but we are still behind them in many aspects if we consider the quality of such capital.
In that sense there remain many things to be done for improvement of social capital, a task which is prompting us to increase public investment much more to materialize the "Japanese society with a high quality social environment." The formation of environmental assets is a rather new experience for us to invest in social capital.
It is essential to develop both material and human resources for that purpose.
We have to stop wasting our time in futile arguments over the "development or environment" issue centering around public projects, and should strive for constructing a new paradigm of public works actively aiming for the recovery, creation and maintenance of our valuable environment and ecological system.



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