On April 27th, 2011, the city of Tuscaloosa, Al. was ravaged by a tornado which killed over 50 people. On May 22nd, Joplin, Mo. was blasted by an EF-5 tornado that killed over 160 people. Both cities were heavily damaged, but which city is recovering faster? According to David Beito and economist Daniel Smith, Joplin.
In Joplin, eight of 10 affected businesses have reopened, according to the city's Chamber of Commerce, while less than half in Tuscaloosa have even applied for building permits, according to city data we reviewed. Walgreens revived its Joplin store in what it calls a "record-setting" three months. In Tuscaloosa, a destroyed CVS still festers, undemolished. Large swaths of Tuscaloosa's main commercial thoroughfares remain vacant lots, and several destroyed businesses have decided to reopen elsewhere, in neighboring Northport.
The reason for Joplin's successes and Tuscaloosa's shortcomings? In Tuscaloosa, officials sought to remake the urban landscape top-down, imposing a redevelopment plan on businesses. Joplin took a bottom-up approach, allowing businesses to take the lead in recovery.
Tuscaloosa mayor Walt Maddox responds here.
This brings to mind the question of what's the best way to develop a society: top-down or bottom-up. A top-down society is an Astroturf society, essentially imagined and designed by rulers who then impose their will on people.
A bottom-up society, on the other hand, is a grassroots society that develops organically, and it emerges from the decentralized actions of people. If Beito and Smith are correct, chalk another one up for spontaneous order.