Whenever Tax Day approaches, I end up thinking about where that money goes, and what it buys, and whether I really wanted any of it. Increasingly, it seems to me that the larger the governing jurisdiction, the less democratic it is, and the more despairing I am of having any influence over it. More than any other realm of policy, the way we build our cities — and thus our buildings and our transportation systems — influences our energy use and other impacts on the world around us. Land use is nominally controlled by local government (city planning boards, zoning commissions, etc). However, in many important ways the actions that local governments can take are limited by the state and federal policymakers. In particular, they’re limited by what they can get funded. The large jurisdictions take your tax dollars, and then set up hoops for small jurisdictions to jump through in order to get it back. This leads to an unfortunate homogeneity of policy, and discourages experimentation, or even imitation of things known to work in other places. At best you end up playing accounting games, doing things like building bike paths with federal flood mitigation money.
How exactly does this mitigate flooding again?