City Journal Autumn 2014

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Autumn 2014
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Mario Polèse
Why (Some) Downtowns Are Back « Back to Story

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One only need look at Baltimore City to examine high city taxes, miserable Democrat administrations over the last fifty years, failing infrastructure, and Maryland's excellent ability to maintain its roads that allow people to live and work far outside of the metro area, not needing to visit the downtown at all unless one has a death wish.

Even the few remaining downtown attractions have been wracked by crime in the persistence of assaults, robbery, and murder for those who have dared to visit the city.

In short, Baltimore City is closer to Detroit than it is to any of the revived center city locales mentioned in this piece.
Professor Polese:

I find your article interesting but greatly lacking in inventorying the factors that inspired American urban populations to leave cities and settle in the suburbs en masse.

How can one write about the decline of American cities without mentioning riots, the crime wave of the 1970s, the large government subsidies to urban dwellers' mass move to the suburbs, the catastrophic decline in quality and safety of urban schools, and the enormous, tax-advantaged and government subsidized economic benefits that accrued to buyers of suburban homes in the past half-century?

If you are interested send me your address and I will send you some (thankfully short) reading matter that you may (and should) find of interest.

Gideon Kanner
Professor of Law Emeritus
Loyola Law School
Los Angeles CA 90015
Cronyism, corruption, and restrictive regulatory processes I believe play a larger role than mentioned in this article. Surely, we can attribute crime to white flight of a city like Detroit. After the 60's riots, the inner city began its demise.
The Detroit city counsel, mayorship, etc.,.. Has been wrought with corruptive scandals. Those are just the ones we found out about. Take then the excise taxes in Detroit that are not prevalent in the suburbs.
Overall, our economy is transferring from laborious manufacturing to a less physical labor market allowing for a more leisurely feel to work.
Men and women would wrap the day up around five to settle in after a tiring day of physical activities. Now, they work intermittently, with a casual affair throughout the day.
The economy of our parents and grandparents was mostly regional and national. We worked on the US standard time zone. Today, more and more workers are international and must be available for work days across the globe. This leads to a society in want of access to businesses providing services around the clock.
Two words: Ronald Reagan.
Two worker households need a central location both to minimize commutes and to minimize moves as they switch from job to job. Single biggest factor: control of crime. Second factor: good schools. Private schools offer an alternative but there is none for crime control. Blue collar neighborhoods where the cops' families live typically have the lowest crime rates. That is why those get revitalized.
I'd advise against assuming bad things about Downtown Detroit. Property values are higher in the Downtown/Midtown area than anywhere in the State. The crime rate is below the State average in that areas as well. Young people are on waiting lists for apartments. Commericial properties are at 80% occupancy.

http://detroitsevenpointtwo.com/resources/report_section4.pdf
Visit Philadelphia
The otherwise insightful article left out a major reason for the rebirth of downtowns: the growth in government and government-dependent and government-regulated industries. Downtowns are locations of not only government offices but also of publicly-financed sports stadia, municipal bond brokers, regulatory lawyers and consultants, lobbyists, and commercial banks, which are franchises of the government.
Ken, you're conjuring the crime bugaboo is 20 years out of date. Crime rates, including violent crime rates, have been steadily falling for two decades, with occasional hysteria-causing outbreaks. Almost any big American city is far safer than it was. This crime decline has been a boon to cities both directly and indirectly by making people more willing to use public transit.
As if a haruspex tried to divine from liver shriveled more or less what the state of affairs might be; sheer conjecture vaguely crystallized from a brew of disjointed data and haphazard anecdotes will provide but a feeble grip on reality.

Oh, and a round of applause for Tina Trent!
Yes Rod, I agree. Having lived and worked in downtown Atlanta for 20 years, anti-white racism exercised vigorously and happily by corrupt government officials (think even John Lewis shamefully attacking his longtime constituents as Klansmen to help elect a corrupt candidate), not to mention tragic, generation-consuming blight in the schools and crime in the streets certainly has resulted in the desire -- by people of all races -- to live and work somewhere other than downtown.

It seems to me that researchers at City Journal are adopting the usual modus operandi of playing down crime and government corruption as the primary causes for vacating to the suburbs. In the early 1990's, some sections of New York City had murder rates that rival Ciudad Juarez today. Atlanta remained a violent money pit no matter how many billions Clinton pumped in to lard the pockets of the Maynard Jacksons, Shirley Franklins, Bill Campbells, Andy Youngs, Abernathys, and other connected black political royalty.

You should never talk about the reinvention of downtowns without mentioning the vast amounts of federal taxpayer dollars poured in to sweeten the pot -- much wasted and stolen -- and all the other strings government can pull to "reinvent" the same plot of land five times a decade, on our dime.

None of this happened primarily because tech companies' employees want to bike to work and sip a latte at 3 a.m. or a beer at noon. It happened because of tax credits, repetitive infrastructure upgrades (tax residents for sewers, steal money, rinse and repeat), taxpayer-subsidized urban planning, and a thousand other amenities offered by cities with direct lines of credit from Washington, aka everyone else's money.

The rest is just "smart regionalism" nonsense. When the sustainable beltway trails, food trucks, trolley cars running three miles, and other bread and circus nonsense ceases to be as important as your child being able to walk down the street safely, a lot of these urban pioneers will head for hills, as generations before them have inevitably done.

The folks left behind live a tragedy no hipster bike path or 24-hour cafe can assuage.
Another reason that Cleveland & St Louis suburbs are still king: racism pure & simple. I know. Was raised in St Louis. Family now lives in Cleveland. Also both have extravagant freeway systems so heavy traffic & long commutes don't create pressure to centralize business operations.
All very promising. I don't know what it's like in Montreal, but here in America we have a burgeoning problem in the inner cities with random street crime, from the "knockout game" to home invasions to cold-blooded murder. I'm afraid urban property values won't be taking off just yet, and urban pioneers had best look to their own devices as they put down new roots.
You mention in passing the role TRUCKS in changing manufacturing and shipping processes. In the 60s and 70s, I used to speculate about having the subways serve the garment district (overnight) in order to lose some of the congestion on the surface. Now, that has taken care of itself by flight/death of the NYC industry.

While we all know what the car has done, I wonder the degree to which trucking has affected downtowns? They have certainly killed off the canals; rails are making something of a comeback, but not downtown and they'll never be same even as they were in the "passenger be damned" period.

As we move toward stricter air quality and urban congestion regulation, maybe some more light ought to be shone on them and what effects they have now and may have in the future..