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Steven Malanga
The Next Wave of Urban Reform « Back to Story

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Refreshing in that this article probes well below the surface of the problem, although falling short in obvious conclusions. Of the hundreds of analytical pieces describing Detroit’s descent into an urban wasteland, 90% of the articles will list “white flight” as a major contributing factor. But, at the same time, the real world implications of “white flight” are never explored – the reader is left to draw conclusions from the innocuous code phrase “white flight”.

What does it imply and how exactly did “white flight” promote Detroit’s present problems? Are black Americans incapable of managing a modern urban center without white Americans to supervise them? Are white Americans necessary to create the wealth and generate the subsequent tax base Detroit desperately needs to survive? Does “white flight” suggest some other implication left unspoken? And if we can’t even define the problem beyond the use of convenient code phrases like “white flight”, then is it possible to actually discuss the problem in an honest and forthright manner without giving offense?

And why is it important to save Detroit? Beyond a bouquet of undefined emotional factors related to rescuing Detroit, this article explores all the reasons why Detroit can’t be saved, although the question of why it should be saved is left unaddressed. Assuming Detroit can use bankruptcy proceedings to stave off disaster for a few more years, what is the prognosis for the Motor City?

Unemployment and illiteracy will remain absurdly high. Tax collections will continue to decline. Businesses won’t relocate to Detroit, municipal bonds will remain in junk status and vendors won’t sell to Detroit without payment in advance. So how does surviving bankruptcy revitalize Detroit? Or is this simply another issue which can’t be addressed in an honest and forthright manner?
Now, six years later (7/24/13), we know that both Mayors failed, and utterly and completely.

In Newark, Booker has given up, as it became more and more evident that the Sharp James faction would defeat Booker if he ran for for a second term. In the meantime none of his efforts to improve the city have worked. Booker's dismal record in Newark has made no difference to the local Democratic media in New Jersey, which never stopped promoting Booker even as Booker's efforts to improve Newark produced no results. As a consequence, New Jersey will soon be saddled with the failed mayor as one of its Senators.

As for Bing, well, six years later Detroit is in bankruptcy. None of its problems have been addressed.

The answer here is that without fundamentally changing the people who live in these cities, and their attitudes toward work, the role of government, education, family, nothing will change.

And most important - toss out the Democrats, whose policies destroyed these cities.

None of this will happen.

Maybe the best way to address the problems is to relocate every resident,demolish and start over. Might be less expensive than the alternatives.
This piece is a knockout!
Man, thanks for this!
This was a great article until it got to the part about Detroit's "failing school system." After spending several thousand words telling us how the middle class were driven out of the city, the author doesn't seem to get (along with most writers) that a school system merely reflects the surrounding population. As a conservative inner-city teacher, I see everyday skilled, knowledgeable, and dedicated teachers attempt to motivate and educate the largely uneducable masses of urban kids (of all colors).

Unless you have worked in a “ghetto” school, you have no idea the resistance that many of these kids put up against learning. No one is withholding an education from urban students; most (not all) actively refuse to engage in the process.

Come visit me in my school to get an eyeful of the real world of urban education, or just read “Bad Students, Not Bad Schools” by Robert Weissberg. It will forever change your perspective on “failing urban schools.”
I don't like to say it but no mayor could have saved my Detroit after July 1967.

The article and most favorable comments are certainly not written by people who lived in downtown Detroit before, during and after July 1967 as I did.
I live in Denver, Colorado which is run by 'nonprofit' businesses (all city, state and federally funded), which are destroying the central city under the guise of helping the drug addicted and alcoholic homeless. The understaffed and oft violent Denver PD is half out of the movie Serpico and acts as a mouthpiece for the 'nonprofits.' The PD chief would be comical if he weren't such a Shakespearean fool.

The former mayor John Hickenlooper has just been elected governor - thank god. But the future of the city is in jeapordy. The residents most of whom seem to have drunk the Kool Aid remain clueless. Denver reminds me of New York under John Lindsey. Unfortunately the provinces are 30-40 years behind the rest of America.
JR reported, "One guy [in NJ] told me he had a house on 1/2 acre, worth $750,000. His yearly real estate Taxes were $25,000 a year! I could not believe it!"

A homeowner in Princeton, New Jersey, received his 2011 property tax bill a couple of months ago. His 2010 taxes were $21,000 on what in that town is considered an "entry-level" house (under $800,000). His 2011 taxes are $40,000.

Well, the town's public swimming pool is 35 years old at this point and has to be replaced. The cost? A mere $4.5 million.

Now that the aforementioned homeowner recognizes the town's desperate need for a new public swimming pool, he'll undoubtedly rush right down to city hall and happily pay his property tax bill in full. I bet he leaves a big tip, too.
If city residents continue to vote in the same politicians with the same behind the scenes policies designed to stay in power, i.e.

Agree to all the Public Employee Uniondemands as long as the funnel the Union Dues money back into re-election coffers of the Democratic party, the cities will stay the way they are.

If the cities and states that payout huge public employee pensions and pay doose to do this, I have no problem with it.

What I do find abhorent is things like California being 40 Billion in Debt becasue they are paying a FULL PAY PENSION for Prison Guards to retire at age 52, then having the Democrats send them Billions in my tax dollars to pay for it.

Black America continues to vote 90% Democrat.

Because of this, the Republicans spend no time trying to reach out to them, and the Democrats view them as having nowhere else to go.

Until the percentage of Black American votes approach a split similar to the rest of the country, they will continue to be at the mercy of Race Hustlers like Sharpton and Jackson.
Democrats=crime & corruption. Unions=democrats.
You do the math. Until these "cities" change what they are doing, which they have shown absolutely no willingness to do, they will continue to get what they have always gotten. This isn't difficult folks. What needs to be done is to cut the federal enabling funds, not increase them. These people won't change unless they are forced to. They need to break from socialsit philosophy and join the U.S.or move to Cuba, where I think they may feel more comfortable, philosophically.
Part of the problem is education. The school system has failed the innet city black Americans. The recent film by the Gore Global warming guy showed how much of a strangle hold te Teachers Union has on large cities.

The 2nd problem is an attitude that exists in many young blacks in thier teens and early 20s.

Today, if you are black, live in the inner city and are trying to do good in school, you are harrased by the group hanging out on the corner as you return home from school.

Baltiore City teachers have told me numerous times that kids would tell them they wanted to drop out of school. THe teacher would talk to them to find out why.

They would say "I dont like being called an Erkle.(High water pants Steve Erkle from TV). All the people on the corner make fun of me everyday, and ask me if I think I am better than everbody else."

When I heard this, I came to the conclusion that the situation will never get any better until this viewpoint of the world changes.

I currently live in Central Virginia as of 2001.
Strarting in 2005 droves of New Jersey residents began migrating to the Charlottesville/Harrisburg area. WHen I asked them why, they all had the same reason. TAXES.

One guy told me he had a house on 1/2 acre, worth $750,000. His yearly realestate Taxes were $25,000 a year! I could not believe it!

Another guy was a retired cop from NY City. e gets $112,000 a year retirement. He bought a house on Smith MOutain Lake. He pays $3000 a year realesate taxes and says he is living like a king.

Todays city politicians are responsible for this. They continue to raise taxes and drive wealth & jobs away from the cities.

Maryland's GOv O'Malley instituted a Millionare tax . It was going to generate $3 Billion in revenue.

What happend? They lost $400 million becasue it caused an Exodus of Mllionaires, along with the taxes that they were paying. What else left?

The same thing is happening to California.

In a recent TV interview, Texas Gov Rick Perry said that in the first half of this year, 317 Companies left California and moved to Texas. What was the #1 reason they left?


Almost all of the MAjor Liberal States are deep in debt. WHY? Public Employee Unions, with teachers unions at the top.

In NY it is impossible to fire a bad teacher. They send them to a "Rubber Room" to get them out of the system. They still get paid, just to show up everyday. The Unions make it impossible to fire them.

If we continue down the path we are on, they cities will continue to decline.
It would be instructive to compare and contrast what is going on in Newark and Detroit with what's not being done in Camden, NJ, a true basket case of a city. Camden was in horrible shape when I went to law school there in the late 1970s, and it's just as badly off today.
Thank you for a well written and informative article.

How are these cities to revive given their current population? The people there can hardly read, write and do "sums". An urban revival would depend on skilled people that would simply drive these folks out to another area to be someone else's problem or to remain as service workers.

Moreover, as the world becomes more connected by the internet, jobs become virtual and thus mobile. Why congregate in a city at all if it is not necessary? Urban living and working is increasingly a preference and not a necessity.

I recently read an article on Detroit abandoning areas of the city and attempting to turn them into farmland. Sounds like a good idea to me.
Apparently the kiss of death for an American city is federal aid.

My former business partner (b. 1940) grew up in Newark and remembers it as quite livable. He says the public schools were orderly and intellectually challenging. He, like many people, says the 1967 riots changed everything, especially when the public perception was that the rioters were "permitted" to cause mayhem.

I have read that Mayor Hugh Addonizio, a mob puppet, rescinded city contracts made with blacks and gave them to mob fronts. The economic distress suffered by the blacks put out of work was the spark that set off the riots.

Good post, JR. And yes, forced racial busing, opposed by most blacks and most whites alike but supported by do-gooders like Ted Kennedy and airhead justices like Thurgood Marshall and William Brennan, is now generally condemned as among the most destructive examples in history of government coercion.

There are some other very perceptive posts below as well.
The oneconstant: Cities in trouble first become one-party governments. In older times, Republicans predominated, now it is almost all Democrats. What matters is the lack of competitive elections.
One major point is missing from this story and what caused it.


1970's Forced school busing is the reason cities became poverty centers. When the democrats forced school busing on Americas cities, reports exploded across the country of gangs of 6 to 8 bussed in black kids were attacking beating up white kids in school bathrooms, stealing thier lunch money, etc.
on the bus ride home, at the bus stop waitning for a transfer, and at any chance they would find one or two white kids alone.

The bussed in black kids acted like they had won the right to run over the white kids all ready in the schools.
How do I know? I saw this first hand, and was on the recieving end in a 1972 East Baltimore Jr. High School.

By the middle of the school year, whites kids, and thier parents, began moving out of the city into Baltimore County. By the middle of the following year, 1973, my family joined the WHITE FLIGHT.

By 1978, the WHITE FLIGHT had become so bad, Baltimore City ran regular commercials, using the term WHITE FLIGHT, trying to stem the exodus.

This happened all across America.

What left with the WHITE FLIGHT? The Tax Base. Neighbor hoods became to decline as former homes with mortages became rental properties.

The second wave of this was the exedous of the upper and middle class Blacks. Before 1972, all classes of blacks lived together.

With personal success and a war on housing discrimination, this group of black America moved out into the county also, leaving behind declining property values and vastly over populated class sizes.

Who was one of the chief pushers of the school busing in Baltimore?

Nancy D'Alesandro, daughter of Tommy D'Alesandro, Baltimore's Mayor in the 1960's. You may not recognise the name.
By 1978, Nancy D. has moved up trough ranks of the Baltimore City Council and was running for President of the City Council. She won.


By turning Herion Addicts into a voting block. She promised a "Free Herion Needle Exchange Program" is she got elected. She won and delivered on her promise.

This caused the final wave of WHITE FLIGHT.

This "exchange program", has lead to the 2010 award to Baltimore as having the highest percentage of herion addicts per capita (10% of the 700,000 population) in America and the highest rate of STDs also.

This type of "Dems will do anything to get elected" is why America's cities are in decline.

Nancy D. soon after left Baltimore, moved to another state, got remarried, ran for and got elected to congress.

What was her name after she got married?

Nancy Pelosi.

When you see tremendous urban blight, you can bet that the Democrats have been in charge.
When a city dies, individual stories are told of how and why it happened. But for my family, it was personal, and our story is one of many. We are from Newark, NJ, from Greek, German and Hungarian immigrants - my great uncles on my mother's side worked in the shoe factories that were in the city. Those on my father's (Greek) side owned and worked in restaurants throughout Newark or in adjacent East Orange - which itself was considered a jewel of a city, where the Newark's wealthy elite lived and shopped. My grandfather was called the "candy-man" because he bought and sold drug stores in and around the city. I remember when I was a young boy going to his office on Broad Street in the early '60's. My images of Newark in those early days are of swimming with my father at the "Y", going to the Newark Museum and the fabulous Newark library, and walking around the beautiful downtown area. In fact, my father so loved Newark that he refused to adopt one of the New York sports teams as a favorite, because that would somehow diminish nearby Newark. So I grew up as a St. Louis cardinal baseball fan.

The riots changed EVERYTHING - in a matter of a few short years Newark simply died, as white residents, except for the stalwarts in the Italian North Newark section, simply fled. The entire Jewish population of the Weequahic section, where my wife's family lived, relocated practically en masse. I remember driving through the bombed out areas in the late 60's and early 70's with my father and listening to his cries of dismay at how Newark - his beautiful, wonderful Newark, had been utterly ruined. Other memories or stories: my brother-in-law was for a brief time a music teacher in one of Newark's high schools in the late '70's. He told me how a brand new, fully equipped music room was within two years completely gutted, instruments destroyed, with the foam insulation padding torn from walls and ceilings. He told me how there were large black spots on the ceilings above each of the student lockers. Why? The school had installed see-through mesh doors so that students could not hide drugs or weapons in the lockers. In response students threw lit books of matches in the lockers setting fire to books and clothing. He told me that teachers could barely maintain control over students and that very little learning took place. In the 70's my father used to employ workers from Newark in his kitchen. I was always shocked to learn that the young men, either in or barely out of their teens, with whom I worked were fathers, with several children by different mothers. I remember how the major law firms which used to have their offices in downtown Newark, relocated to suburbs, how the insurance companies, which had offices in East Orange and Newark also left. I recall being told how high taxes in Essex County, where Newark is located were because of the enormous expense of maintaining Newark. In fact, before being forced to move, my father paid $23,000 a year in property taxes on a $600,000 home in South Orange, a city outside of Newark. I remember working a summer job in the Hall of Records in Newark in 1973 and every other Friday walking with others in a police escort to the bank, to cash my paycheck. You could see the bombed out sections of the city's central ward, which were still not cleaned up, six years after the riots.

Are any of these anecdotes representative of Newark as a city? Perhaps - one thing I do know, and I am absolutely certain - whatever happened to Newark was not helped by the enormous sums of money spent and still spent on various programs intended to bring the city back to life. It is as if this money were simply thrown away - in other words, if anything has been learned from the debacle that is Newark it is that whatever is wrong with Newark is not something that is capable of being solved with money. I have my own views as to the cure to the problem, mostly having to do with destruction of the family structure of those in the city, but I'll leave figuring out the solutions to those "experts' who have done such a stellar job over the last 43 years. There has be a special place in hell for the people responsible for maintaining the misery that was and is Newark, and who have lived and fed off of that misery for all these years.
"Even though the programs...did little to boost cities’ fortunes..."
Or maybe the programs accelerated the cities 'misfortunes'? Every one of those cities is run by Democrats backed by greedy public employee unions. An anomaly like Giuliani is always followed by a hard-core lib like Bloomberg who is eager to undo any progress. Left-wing utopian policies have destroyed the cities and will continue to keep them rat-infested ruins as long as the inhabitants think voting for Democrats ensures a supply of free goodies for everyone. Unfortunately they are only one of many cars on the gravy-train which is pulling into Bankrupcy Station. The economy is broken, the money has run out. Uh-oh!
Over 50 million low skilled and difficult to train Americans need jobs. Only by bringing back the low cost assembly line can they find work. But labor unions and minimum wage laws are preventing those at the bottom of the food chain from receiving a paycheck, better small than nothing at all.
Blowing money to have government fix cities is a waste of time and money.

You all know that after all the tax money is extorted out of folks who have no say in the matter it will be a total failure.

But that never stops do-gooders - they only care about what make them feel good.
This is, by far, the best written piece on the historical reasons that led to such decline in Detroit (and Newark). As a lifelong resident of suburban Detroit, I have witnessed many of its struggles first-hand. So many have written off Detroit as non-salvageable. It is corruption that has kept our once vibrant urban center on its knees. Detroit's reach of economic influence extends far beyond city limits; negative impact has spread to suburbs, the State of Michigan, and most recently the nation. Before the United States fell into an economic depression, Michigan was well into its own. The domino effect spread throughout the Midwest, eventually reaching almost every state and city.
Let us figure out a way to bring back our urban centers without national intervention, but do not write these cities off, because the disease does spread across municipal lines.
Don't know about Newark, but it was hell in the early '70's being the home of the National Welfare Rights Organization.

Detroit? Detroit has gone critical. You can reduce the physical area that requires city services, you can improve police department and fire department, you can improve the quality of schools and teachers ... you cannot improve the quality of parenting, which is the foundation of all other improvements in a city, state or nation. When 82% of your population has a 70% "single-parent" birthrate and the city overall has around a 70% "no job, only welfare" employment situation, your city is dead. Coleman Younger's pride and joy has achieved what he wanted: "Devil Whitey" is gone from Detroit. And so are the big box stores, national franchise retail outlets, chain grocery and drug stores ... you get the picture? Thirty plus years of handing out the messages that Detroit's government and schools and police department have been sending out and you expect the city to be able to recover? Not a chance. Notice that Detroit's still in the hole, doing nothing about the pension bomb they have, doing nothing about the - God knows almost! - hundreds of thousands of children who cannot read or write or do addition (do you suppose they're just going to move to Atlanta or someplace??). I used to love that old town, but she's been turned into the municipal equivalent of a 60-year old junkie who's spent her life on the streets. What does that mean? Means that all that is left is the funeral, no hope remains.
How ironic that as Newark and Detroit come to realize the catastrophic effect of corruption, class warfare, and the Great Society programs, our President and Congress have decided to force the same poisons on a unwilling nation through Federal mandate. Whenever somone asks me how I know that Obama's and the Democrat's policies will lead to economic decline, abuse of government power, racial and class warfare, social decline and massive government corruption, there is a one-word answer: Detroit. I don't know if young Barack studied Coleman Young's philosophy of governing, but he could have.
Thank you for your article.
Thank you for your insightful article. Both my parents were born and lived in Newark from the 1920s through 1950. I did some graduate coursework there in the 1980s and have worked inspecting and rehabilitating transportation facilities within the city at various times over the years, from the 1970s through the present. The untapped commercial potential of the city has always astounded me. Someday it may again become a vibrant center of business. It does seem that a sustained rehabilitation of the local, county and state government over several administrations is needed. Another challenge is that ingrained negative (and too often deserved) stereotypes of Newark, held by many of the general populace of NJ, will take a long time to erase. I hope I see that day come when Newark lives up to its potential.
Deborah Thornton, Public Interest Institute, Iowa November 08, 2010 at 10:49 AM
Mr Malanga,
Wonderful article - I lived in Detroit in the mid-80's. As a young professional I greatly enjoyed it. But, yes, the problems are many! Hopefully both majors will stick to their guns and really turn them around.

FYI - if the CJ could add an option for larger text size, I would greatly appreciate it! The eyes are the first to go.
What a superb article ! Writing quality is excellent.
I wish both of these mayors well and applaud their true leadership. I can only hope they are for real given the history of these two particular cities and the almost total lack of true leadership in all western societies.