Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

A New Urban Revitalization Model For New Times by Pete Saunders

[ Following on from Richey’s piece last week, Pete Saunders asks how we can create urban revitalization strategies that connect with minorities – Aaron. ]

Cover of the East Garfield Park Quality of Life Plan, prepared by LISC through the New Communities Program. Source: Garfield Park Community Council

How is it that so many of the recent theories or models on effective urban revitalization absolutely fail to connect with minorities, especially African-Americans?

New Urbanists, Smart Growthers, Creative Class supporters and even advocates of the nascent Rust Belt Chic movement are bumping their heads against a low ceiling, trying to figure out how to achieve escape velocity and gain greater acceptance among the general public. General support from the African-American community seems to elude them all.

Let’s look at a few examples. Recently, the New Urbanist-oriented website Better Cities lamented the lack of support it has attained from minority communities for bike lanes and other measures that support pedestrianism and walkability. In Cincinnati last week, mayor-elect John Cranley defeated former mayor Roxanne Qualls by running on a platform to halt construction of the city’s streetcar project – a project supported by Qualls and that enjoyed the support of many urbanists. However, Cranley, a Democrat backed by many Republicans, enjoyed the support of a significant part of the African-American community. In New York, the election of populist Bill de Blasio as Michael Bloomberg’s successor has caused some consternation among corporate-oriented New Yorkers who may wish to continue New York’s Creative Class-style of revitalization.

All in all, this is causing adherents of the various theories and models to reevaluate their inclusiveness. In reality they need to reevaluate their mission, goals and message. If you look at what each theory has to say, it’s pretty clear where they fall short.

New Urbanists, who broadly support the notion that better design can create better communities, have a message that was crafted with the sprawling post-WWII suburbs in mind, and intended for implementation there. New Urbanists get their guidance from the pre-WWII urban development patterns of many of our nation’s cities, but often have little to say about how those cities should move forward today.

Smart Growth supporters may share the design sentiment of New Urbanists, but their focus is often on revisiting the regulatory environment that creates the cities we have. Similar to New Urbanism, Smart Growthers also get inspiration from pre-WWII cities, but have a message designed to appeal to suburban revitalization.

Creative Class advocates come a little closer to addressing the needs of cities. They broadly support the idea that establishing an environment for innovation and creativity in cities can drive urban revitalization. Perhaps, but that message seems to neglect a huge segment of the population of cities that don’t fit the high-education, professional, tech-oriented label at the heart of the Creative Class.

Finally, the new Rust Belt Chic model is gaining notoriety and followers. Supporters of this model believe that authenticity is key to urban revitalization. Cities, particularly Rust Belt cities, are who they are; they will attract new residents who seek an alternative to homogenous suburbia or Sun Belt by becoming better, and often more ironic, versions of themselves.

You can disagree with my characterization of the various models. They’re overly broad, I admit. What’s also overly broad is the role that African-Americans, and in fact other minorities, play in their formation and implementation. How can we have models supporting urban revitalization without really including all members of the urban landscape?

Let’s be real. The reason New Urbanists, Smart Growthers, Creative Classers and Rust Belt Chic-ers are looking into their appeal to minorities to go to the next level is that the Great Recession has changed everything. Prior to the financial crisis none of these models needed minorities to move forward. Whatever you think about the Occupy movement, it exposed growing income inequality in this country, and forced people who care about cities to consider inequality’s impact. Being on the short side of the haves/have nots divide is something that blacks are quite familiar with.

Touting bike lanes, streetcars, tech-led revitalization and amenity-rich areas has meant little to many blacks because they don’t deal with the structural inequities of our cities. Otherwise, the strategies simply seem like so many relocation efforts, reminiscent of urban renewal efforts from a half-century ago. For too long, the New Urbanism, Smart Growth and Creative Class models (Rust Belt Chic gets a pass for now) have all but neglected cities because they believed their strategies would indirectly improve cities – and they steadfastly avoided facing urban challenges directly. Now that more of suburban and exurban America is as structurally alienated as urban minority America has been, they want to reevaluate their message.

Blacks and other minorities have been looking for an urbanist response to the challenges they face. Our communities are plagued by rising violent crime, even as violent crime continues its steep decline at the national, metro and even city scale. Our communities are not only lacking poor physical connections to metro job centers, but poor social connections as well. The divide between challenged inner-city communities and all other parts of a metro area is reinforced by an inadequate educational system.

All our current urbanist models have been neglecting these challenges.

Addressing these challenges requires a social as well as a physical or economic approach. The best model that I’ve come across that unites these three is the comprehensive community development model, or quality-of-life planning. The model can be viewed as an outgrowth of the community development model that got its start in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and has largely been supported by the philanthropic community. Early community development efforts were geared toward alleviating poverty – providing affordable housing, connecting people to job opportunities, and stabilizing community decline. But the model took a leap more than 10 years ago when the Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC) launched its New Communities Program in 2003, and expanded it to more than 20 cities nationwide. The model seeks to develop neighborhoods through five strategies:

  • Expanding investment in housing and other real estate
  • Increasing family income and wealth
  • Stimulating economic development
  • Improving access to quality education
  • Supporting healthy environments and lifestyles

The comprehensive community development model has succeeded where implemented, but has largely escaped attention from the general public. Why? It hasn’t exactly gained wide acceptance in political quarters, where politicos feel the spotlight on low-income residents and communities highlights deficiencies in their efforts. CCD is resource-intensive. The model operates in a social realm that few people who focus on physical or economic matters feel comfortable. But I’ve found that the CCD model provides answers to questions that New Urbanists, Smart Growthers and Creative Classers are just now starting to ask themselves.

Since the onset of the Great Recession Richard Florida has talked about this particular time in history being the Great Reset. I agree. Times have changed, and advocates of the earlier models may not fully understand the depths of the changes. However, I’d encourage people to dig a little deeper – there are people who’ve been addressing these challenges – and developing solutions – for some time.

This post originally appeared in Corner Side Yard on November 11, 2013.

Topics: Public Policy


33 Responses to “A New Urban Revitalization Model For New Times by Pete Saunders”

  1. Chris Barnett says:

    LISC also sponsors comprehensive “quality of life” planning efforts which are supposed to engage and energize a community.

    Note that the two traditional community development fields of endeavor (expanding investment in housing and other real estate, and stimulating [neighborhood] economic development) are the “bricks and sticks” that align with NUrbanism and Smart Growth. These are “resource intensive” in one way: they require creative staffing and creative funding strategies in addition to creative place-making. But there are resource streams available.

    It is the engagement and social work aspects that are really resource-intensive because they can only be done at the individual level: engaging people where they are, so that the whole neighborhood revitalization scheme results in something other than wholesale relocation. Increasing family income and wealth is tied to the other social aims: access to education; increases in educational attainment; healthy environments (which usually means safer environments); and healthy lifestyles.

    In short, intervention and accountability is what effects lasting change at the individual level. Those of us who do “bricks and sticks” have neither the skill set nor the temperament to be social workers…and vice versa.

    Quite frankly, building things is much easier than helping people change their lives. There is a playbook for making physical improvements to a neighborhood. There is no such playbook for helping individuals build a full and rewarding life, for that is a “do it yourself” project that requires expert individual guidance.

    I rather suspect that those of us who post here learned a relatively full set of life skills from a strong parent or parents, supplemented by an early “drill instructor” (whether military or civilian). But I wonder how many would have the skills to “trade places” and live at subsistence level where we had to worry about how and when to pay the rent, the heat, and the light bill; how much money we could spend this week on groceries; whether we could fix a car (or buy one) and keep it insured.

    Would we have the time and luxury to sit and think about urban issues, would we retain an nuanced world view, or would we simply expend all our energy on survival?

  2. the urban politician says:

    I don’t understand the point of this thread….at all.

    The question is how minorities can be a part of the revitalization of cities. In other words, what can we do to revitalize our cities in a fashion that INCLUDES them?

    We can’t. Revitalization requires investment. Investment requires wealth, and investment is risky. Risk takers don’t want to take a chance on low income people with a shady history and low credit.

    So the only solution is for the lower income minorities to leave, and let the whites and the higher income minorities (often Asians) move in instead.

    Without an outright transfer of wealth from one group of people to another, there is no other way to revitalize our cities.

    I am somewhat familiar with what organizations like LISC are doing, and sure here or there you can create subsidized housing for the poor on land that they otherwise cannot afford to live on. But lets be real–on the big, grand scale, they are a ripple fighting against an enormous tide.

  3. the urban politician says:

    Correct my above statement to say:

    “Without an ourtight transfer of wealth from one group of people to another, there is no other way to revitalize our cities IN A WAY THAT INCLUDES LARGE NUMBERS OF OTHERWISE LOW INCOME MINORITIES”.

    I would also add that large volumes of immigration is perhaps the only exception to this.

  4. Andrew says:

    Wish I had time to respond to this as fully as I’d like, but Chris’s comment above gets at my first thought on reading this post: considering the problem of “place” is a luxury, but creating economic opportunity is often another matter entirely. Said another way, improving place may be necessary, but it’s not sufficient, and any urbanist discussion would do well to recognize that.

    To be sure, bike lanes and better transit and walkable communities matter, but only insofar as a there exist economic opportunities that afford people the chance to enjoy (or care about) them in the first place. That’s a tougher nut to crack, especially in the new low-wage world of the service economy, and I’m not sure it’s something that can be solved at scale of cities alone.

  5. Harvey says:


    All the dominant urbanist schools of thought are based on the Creative Class™ making a lifestyle choice to move in while a) working downtown or from home or b) opening boutiques, restaurants, bars, etc. to cater to a). That’s all well and good for the ‘creative’ types and the city’s tax base, but what does it do for the locals? Rust Belt chic’s small-scale industry is a little better, but even that is mostly ‘reclamation’ from outside the neighborhood and produces mainly boutique products.

    What would really help out a city, especially in the nether reaches that aren’t easily accessible from downtown by public transit, would be to restore local clusters of manufacturing, small office, local business and retail employment. Chicago’s Six Corners district in Portage Park is inching back toward this model. It used to be the norm for all of the city.

    City government can help this along by streamlining regulations and licensing, attacking lending and insurance redlining in a serious way, providing better training and certification at city colleges, and investing in transit not so relentlessly oriented towards downtown.

  6. @Harvey – That’s all well and good in theory, but banking on a return of large numbers of manufacturing jobs that can revitalize large swaths of cities/regions is simply not realistic. Indeed, the problem with a lot of Rust Belt cities is that they waited far too long to adjust and not coming to grips with the fact that all of those blue collar jobs were gone forever.

    As of now, the only two sectors that I see where there is truly a large growth of jobs with solid (or even great in some cases) wages for those without college educations are (a) oil (see North Dakota’s boom, wages, and tiny unemployment rate) and (b) casinos (see what pink collar workers are paid and able to afford in Las Vegas compared to their counterparts elsewhere in the country). Of course, neither of those industries are exactly favored by urbanists (and probably downright abhorred in many cases).

    In the case of Chicago, only the casino portion is even possible. Now, I’m not saying that it’s a good idea at all to build lots of casinos here, but if the ultimate goal is to provide a large number of jobs that pay good wages to people with lower educational levels, what other realistic options are there? And even then, what if an increase in those options would end up driving away the affluent urbanists that are revitalizing other parts of cities? Would cities be throwing away the progress that they’ve made in affluent neighborhoods if they focus on industries geared toward blue collar/pink collar workers that urbanists are often opposed to? I don’t know the answer – I’m just throwing it out there for discussion.

  7. John Morris says:

    “Better transit and walkable communities matter, but only insofar as a there exist economic opportunities.”

    To a large extent these are the basic building blocks that allow economic opportunities in cities to form and be available to the broadest base of people.

    The idea that these are now considered an optional luxury item says a lot about the problem.

  8. John Morris says:

    The entire thread so far proves that the “Smart Growth” (who as the author describes it, want to deregulate cities) are on the right track.

    If nobody has a clue as to what to do- why not step back and let people live again and see what happens?

    “Revitalization requires investment. Investment requires wealth, and investment is risky. Risk takers don’t want to take a chance on low income people with a shady history and low credit.

    So the only solution is for the lower income minorities to leave, and let the whites and the higher income minorities (often Asians) move in instead.”

    Since, most of people came to this country with little capital and often a “shady history”, how did the country develop?

    Um, many of the “Asians” you describe often don’t come to the table with lots of capital either.

    The whole- “lets bring in immigrants crowd” often contradicts itself. In most cases, these groups are best known for evading business licensing laws, minimum wages & other regulations. Why not allow that same freedom for everyone?

  9. Chris Barnett says:

    TUP, the point of the thread is to indicate that there are people thinking about how to help individuals in poverty overcome their circumstances to become owners instead of renters, managers or owners instead of workers…and that this is a whole different type of “urban revitalization” than bulldozer redevelopment or gentrification.

    Instead of merely relocating poor people, this approach aims to help some people become upwardly mobile so that they can participate in the upside of their neighborhood’s revitalization.

    It may be about a way of disproving your assertion “Without an outright transfer of wealth from one group of people to another, there is no other way to revitalize our cities”; at the very least the post is a suggestion that “our cities” are made up of the people who live in them, not just the infrastructure and built environment.

  10. John Morris says:

    Didn’t the housing crisis show us that many “renters” who can pay their rent are better off than “owners” who can’t pay their mortgage?

    “this approach aims to help some people become upwardly mobile so that they can participate in the upside of their neighborhood’s revitalization.”

    But, this gets to the root of the problem. Why should so many cities demand that one be really upwardly mobile just to exist in them?

    Business Insider has a photo essay on homelessness in Silicon Valley.


    Don’t expect Richard Florida to care about this.

  11. Harvey says:

    @Frank – Food processing is a growth sector, especially speciality foods. A lot of the industry left in Chicago has to do with foods, and in particular with Chinese and Mexican foods along the Stevenson. With ADM coming here we have even more opportunities to capitalize on our location and expertise.

    Heavy machinery is another sector that can’t be, or so far hasn’t, been outsourced. Right now the right-to-work states are eating our lunch, something I hate to admit, but we’ve got the expertise to bring some of that back if we fight for it.

    We’re probably not going to go back to manufacturing TVs and plastic junk, but Chicago has a lot of residual knowledge and passion for manufacturing and blue-collar work, and if we can find a direction and some leadership for that we can start to revive it. The manufacturing institute Obama just announced is a good start.

    Besides, the neighborhood hubs don’t necessarily have to be dependent on manufacturing. We used to have retail districts, manufacturing districts, back offices, call centers, etc. Down in Bridgeport, they’re planting the seeds (sorry) of some interesting urban ag projects. The mayor wants to invest in an Uptown Music District, which is an uncharacteristically good idea if not necessarily helpful to the local halfway-house population. It can be anything as long as it creates opportunities in the neighborhood.

  12. @John Morris – “Didn’t the housing crisis show us that many “renters” who can pay their rent are better off than “owners” who can’t pay their mortgage?”

    I see what you’re trying to get at, but don’t think that’s the proper question. “Owners” that can’t pay their mortgage shouldn’t be owners in the first place (or find a house with a mortgage that they *can* pay) and that’s what really drove the . Over the long-term, though, owners that *can* pay their mortgage will be better off than renters, especially in those areas that have the chance to become gentrified. If we believe that displacement of people is a problem, then the major guard against such displacement is if those people actually own their homes. Otherwise, we can’t realistically expect landlords to suppress their own rental rates if their neighborhood is on the rise. Ultimately and for better or for worse, people as a whole act in their own rational economic self-interests. Policies that rely on people doing otherwise almost universally fail (regardless of good intentions).

    Your valid concern is that the cities (or at least the “desirable” portions of cities) that many urbanists champion are becoming unaffordable to anyone that isn’t upper class. The challenge is that cities really need private sector development in order to grow and move forward and you’re going to have a hard time attracting such private sector development by artificially restraining their ability to go after upscale buyers/customers (and that issue is going to be compounded in areas that already have high real estate prices, where the only possible way to make any money in developments is in the luxury sector).

    That’s not to say that this challenge can’t be met, but it also can’t be couched in charity. Just saying that “we need better housing for lower/middle income people in the city” won’t spur anyone to build it. If you want private urban development that serves people other than the high-end, you have to show ways that developers can legitimately maximize their ROI by taking that course of action. I think most of us can identify the problem and state what we *want* to do. Alluding to one of Aaron’s posts last week, it’s the *implementation* that’s extremely difficult.

  13. * Meant to say this in my 2nd paragraph in the post above: I see what you’re trying to get at, but don’t think that’s the proper question. “Owners” that can’t pay their mortgage shouldn’t be owners in the first place (or find a house with a mortgage that they *can* pay) and that’s what really drove the housing crisis.

  14. John Morris says:

    “Alluding to one of Aaron’s posts last week, it’s the *implementation* that’s extremely difficult.”

    Perhaps its time to stop letting government “implement” other people’s lives?

    1) So many possible issues- yes, severely damaged communities are very hard to fix- better to not break them in the first place.

    Another huge problem is that “good communities” use laws to exclude development that might allow them to be more inclusive. Chicago’s zoning maps display that.

    San Francisco/ Silicon Valley is an extreme example of a common problem.


    The job market seems to be booming.

    “Median household income, adjusted for inflation, is rising by about 2.8 percent a year in Silicon Valley, according to the most recent figures compiled by the report. But during 2013, apartment rents in Silicon Valley rose 4.4 percent to an average of $2,127 a month.”

    But the increase in opportunity the area offers for most people is offset by a larger leap in costs.

  15. Rod Stevens says:

    The point of Aaron’s point is to take the position of a Black and ask of the New Urbanists et al, “What have you done for me today?” For Blacks and others, that could become “provide me with a sterling education” or “Provide me with amazing job opportunities.” Can’t think where that’s happening in a big city. Yes, in the favored quarter suburbs, places like Minnetonka, but not in the poor places.

  16. Robert Munson says:

    It might be helpful for this good, but ranging, discussion to take Rod Stevens’s point to the next level.
    At its core, New Urbanism (and its offshoots discussed above) emerged as the response to the failures of Modernist planning that has created sprawl. Modernist planning never adequately addressed problems of racism and economic equality.
    So as a response to these different set of problems of inequality, we expect too much of New Urbanism and its offshoots.
    Racism and inequality are federal issues. Congress will not act on these issues because the powers-that-be have fundamentally corrupted Congress.
    If one is concerned about inequality, attack its core problem: a corrupt Congress.
    Urbanism already has too many battles to fight and most victories seem small.
    Urbanism can be an ally and part of the bottom-up social contract to mitigate America’s disgraceful inequality. And LISC could be one of the many models needed to solve these problems.
    But New Urbanist designs will not solve income inequality. It wasn’t designed for that job.

  17. wkg in bham says:

    First, a simplified classification of class: an upper-middle-working-underclass model. Another simplification: “minority” = black.

    Upper, middle and lower class black neighborhoods are just fine thank you, and not in need of any “revitalization”. The real problem for everybody is the underclass. The criminality of this class is ruining cities. Their unsocialialized children are ruining our schools. Their worthless lifestyles have made them virtually unemployable. It’s a class without any redeeming features.
    If I’m a working class black, I’m not all that interested in hearing about bike lanes or urban “agriculture”. I’ve got bigger fish to fry than that.

    Here’s the sad fact: America does not have the guts to confront the underclass problem. It requires making judgments and condemnations.

  18. Chris Barnett says:

    I am not so sure that neighborhoods neatly sort out by class and race, though this simplification does have merit in thinking about people rather than geography.

    The “underclass” can live in any place, though it is typically concentrated in deteriorating (or “changing”) areas of middle or working-class neighborhoods.

    And to be sure, the “underclass” is not made up entirely of “minorities”.

    Returning to my first point: I think it is dangerous to conflate “class” and “place”. They may be significantly correlated on the ground at some level, but areas of people living in poverty, subsistence, comfort, and abundance are often a lot closer together and less distinct than you might imagine.

    Of course, I am most familiar with my own city and could name off the top of my head neighborhoods that fit this description: perhaps “class lines” are distinct at the block or Census Block Group level, but the correlation between class and place begins to really break down at the Census Tract level.

    I suspect the same is true of most of the US large metros’ core cities not named New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, but it would take a significant amount of detailed research to prove or disprove.

  19. Chris Barnett says:

    I guess I should have read Atlantic Cities this week:


    In fact, the denser and larger the US metro, the more concentrated poverty is.

  20. Rod Stevens says:

    When you live in a changing center city neighborhood, you know these divisions down to the street and even the half block. We had a 100-year-old house in Portland that we rehabbed. The murder rate rose sharply six blocks north of us. Another entire neighborhood was virtually off limits. Sometimes these divisions are simply a function of where the gentrification has stopped. Sometimes they are a reaction to physical divisions like freeways, rail lines and rivers. School boundary lines obviously swing purchase decisions, with the make-up of the PTA all-telling.

  21. wkg in bham says:

    @chris: “And to be sure, the “underclass” is not made up entirely of “minorities”.” Right, there’s a hugh white rural underclass with all the same disfunctionality.

  22. John Morris says:

    @ Chris Barnett

    The stats u give on “concentrated poverty” are to vague to be of much value- at least for the NYC area. (Mixing NYC, with NJ and Connecticut data)

    In NYC itself, the greatest concentrations of “underclass” type poverty are generally in housing projects.

    But a chicken and egg problem emerges. NYC was proven to have segregated housing by race until at least the early 1990’s & many of NY’s worst housing projects were designed to be far away from jobs & opportunity. Special ones were set aside for “losers” considered unlikely to ever work- thereby consigning their kids to poverty.


    Anyone living in Far Rockaway without a car has an over 80% shot of living poverty.

  23. wkg in bham says:

    @chris “Returning to my first point: I think it is dangerous to conflate “class” and “place”. They may be significantly correlated on the ground at some level, but areas of people living in poverty, subsistence, comfort, and abundance are often a lot closer together and less distinct than you might imagine”

    I know. The whole idea of “class” itself is complicated. And there’s a lot more to class than just income. It’s very easy for a woking class family to have a middle class income. Similiarly, a bad run of luck could result in a middle class family to have no income at all.Ultimately class is as much about habits, values, etc. than anything else.

    I certainly don’t anyone to think I equate poor with underclass.

    Sometimes you’ll find underclass types in working class areas. But a certain point a tipping point is reached and the working class abandons the neighborhood.

  24. Chris Barnett says:

    There is an urban white underclass too. A white underclass (largely Appalachian in origin) has been noted in Indianapolis for 50 years; on other threads here, the same assertion has been made about Columbus and Cincinnati, OH.

  25. Chris Barnett says:

    Sometimes you’ll find underclass types in working class areas. But a certain point a tipping point is reached and the working class abandons the neighborhood.

    I’d say “almost certainly one will find underclass types in working class areas”.

    I live in a mixed working/middle class neighborhood of small single family homes (teachers next to retired factory workers next to immigrant entrepreneurs, lower than average college attainment, but household income close to 90% of the state median and above the county median). There are definitely some underclass people mixed in there.

  26. Nathanael says:

    “The model seeks to develop neighborhoods through five strategies:”

    None of these are strategies. They’re meaningless feel-good blither.

    I’m happy to hear about better proposals. But the New Urbanists and Smart Growth advocates get down to nuts and bolts. AND YOU DON’T.

    Aaron, why are you reprinting dumb, content-free articles?

  27. George Mattei says:

    Columbus and Cincinnati certainly have some Appalachian white underclass areas.

    Working in affordable housing, I can tell you that folks aspire to what they see as the “next rung up the ladder”. For folks living in substandard housing, that means nice housing in the ‘burbs in an area with good schools and which is safe. You can do edgy downtown lofts and charge $1,000+ for a 1-bedroom, and hipsters will flock. But rent- and income-restrict them and try to market them to lower income families, and you won’t do very well. They just don’t want that product.

    New Urbanism et. al. can advocate for inclusivity, which is good and can help, but it can’t market upscale “aspirational” goals to those that are aspiring to just be middle class.

  28. Rod Stevens says:


    You are right in people wanting to be “normal” to have what is projected to be the main stream. Why wouldn’t we expect that.

    I’m not sure, beyond the cars and schools, if people care that much about urban versus suburban. Mainly people want a place that will be safe to live, a reasonable commute to jobs, with decent stores, a sense of community, and reasonable cost. Unfortunately, neither our urban areas nor our suburbs have provided all of those things. Partly because we have given up expecting more of our public services. And so, rather than taking these on and trying to change them, a pretty hopeless task, people simply move.

    I think what’s missing from the New Urbanist/ Smart Growth/ etc. discussions is not only a discussion of the “software” of place, of how to improve education, policing, water rates, etc., but an expectation that they will be improved. We stay off these subjects because service levels have been defined as an issue of financing, not management efficiency. If and when a few places start really doing this well, that may inspire citizens elsewhere to seek more in their own cities.

  29. wkg in bham says:

    Re Rod: “….discussions is not only a discussion of the “software” of place, of how to improve education, policing, water rates, etc., but an expectation that they will be improved.”

    Mostly agree with statement. I think NYC has shown that public safety can be improved. But urban school systems seem to be impervious to improvement. Entrenched resistance to reform efforts has not been overcome anywhere that I’m aware of.

  30. Rod Stevens says:


    everyone in the inner city wants police service, especially the elderly, so city governments are especially responsive to complaints and television reports about grisly killings. In most big cities, only a small fraction of the total middle and upper class have their kids in schools, so there are far fewer complaints, and the schools are usually independent of the city government. Further, with almost automatic funding, schools have little incentive to change. Lose a funding levy and its the new hires that lose their jobs, not the tenured teachers.

  31. John Morris says:

    I totally agree that schools are a huge factor. The good news is that density, walkability & transit access in many urban areas should make school choice easier. Pretty sure the concept of “magnet schools” first gained ground in NYC.

    I think NYC has done a pretty decent job in terms of creating a lot of job opportunity. The big problem is that- income earned from many of these jobs doesn’t cover the increased cost of living, largely due to laws that have limited construction & raised its cost.

    A word about the “underground economy”, which Aaron never posts about. For every legal job in a dense city, at least one marginally legal income opportunity pops up. Street vending, dollar vans, gypsy cabs, delivery services, home manufacturing, nanny services, tutoring, illegal subletting etc…

    Airnb & Uber are taking this to the next level.

  32. John Morris says:

    Nathanael says:

    “None of these are strategies. They’re meaningless feel-good blither.”

    I totally agree with that. IMHO, this is why nobody else on this thread has even bothered to comment on the so called solutions offered in the post.

  33. EngineerScotty says:

    A big reason that I suspect many minorities are suspicious of UR projects and schemes–is that a generation or two ago, they were the TARGET of the last batch of such schemes. As pointed out upthread, in the mid-20th century, “urban renewal” was a euphemism for “negro removal”; and in many places, blacks still find themselves without a seat at the political table.

    And of course, there is the whole issue of the “underclass” (of whatever color; unfortunately too many racists are happy to treat “black” and “underclass” as synonyms): Some commenters in this thread view the underclass as a problem to get rid of, not a legitimate constituency that should be accomodated. Nobody wants to live near the underclass, and with good reason–people are generally happy to pay a premium to live where the underclass simply cannot afford to live. On the other hand, when the underclass are herded into one place, the pathologies of the underclass multiply and spread, and far too much political energy has been wasted over the years by municipalities trying to ensure that some other city has to bear this burden.

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About the Urbanophile


Aaron M. Renn is an opinion-leading urban analyst, consultant, speaker, and writer on a mission to help America’s cities thrive and find sustainable success in the 21st century.

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