THE BART STRIKES SHOW WHY MORE OF AMERICA’S TRANSIT SHOULD BE CONTRACTED OUT
Bay Area Rapid Transit, the rail system that serves metro San Francisco, is running again, but only after a belligerent outburst by its workers that disrupted the Bay Area for months. This past July the agency’s unions, Amalgamated Transit Union and the SEIU, organized a five-day strike that affected 400,000 daily riders, from remote Contra Costa County commuters to Oakland residents forced to cram together on cross-bay ferries. California governor Jerry Brown helped restore services by declaring a 60-day cooling-off period between BART and the unions in August, but that produced another strike, four days long, in mid-October, costing hundreds of millions of dollars in productivity and forcing Bay Area cities to compile makeshift transport plans.
Right before this second strike, a story from the other side of the globe highlighted one way cities like San Francisco can avoid such problems. Read More »
THE FEDS TARGET A SCHOOL-CHOICE PROGRAM THAT IS HELPING MINORITY KIDS AND REDUCING SEGREGATION
Across the country, the school-choice movement’s future may depend on the outcome of a Justice Department lawsuit charging that the Louisiana Scholarship Program—which provides vouchers for poor children to leave failing public schools—increases racial segregation. The suit, which could inspire future litigation against state education reforms, has drawn sharp criticism from Governor Bobby Jindal, the program’s founder, and even prompted a letter to the Justice Department from House Speaker John Boehner.
Louisiana’s school-reform movement sprang up in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. Read More »
FOR AFFORDABLE HOUSING AND REAL GROWTH, CITIES SHOULD NIX RENT CONTROL AND HARMFUL REGULATION
At a recent Atlantic Media panel on global urban issues, Amanda Burden, New York City’s planning director, discussed how challenging it has been to make housing affordable in that city.
“What we haven’t figured out,” she said, “is the question of gentrification.”
Her term referred to the displacement of New York’s poor residents by the professional class that is moving into Harlem, certain neighborhoods of Brooklyn, and elsewhere. This has increased rents, uprooting many households and sending people in search of cheaper neighborhoods, sometimes outside the city altogether. The term “gentrification” points to the class problem that increasingly consumes not only New York, but also much of urban America. Whether it’s the exodus of Mexican Americans from San Francisco or of African Americans from Washington, D.C., or the dilution of many cities’ Chinatowns, the pattern is always similar: Traditional ethnic or working-class areas become attractive to white progressives, who move in and overhaul the culture. This has earned “gentrification” notoriety as a symbol of capitalism’s destructiveness.
But what the term really represents is government’s failure to let capitalism function properly, based on changing consumer demand. Read More »
A five-minute tirade recently unleashed by a Newark resident against Mayor Cory Booker may not have surprised anyone had it remained a local TV news clip. “We are hurting here, this crime is killing us, blood runs on our streets,” the woman moaned to a reporter, responding to a late-summer murder spree. “The sham that has been portrayed about this city, that we’re getting better . . . that is a lie!”
But her accurate charge that murder in Newark “has gotten worse under Booker’s tenure” may have come as a shock to the national audience watching on YouTube. After all, the narrative told about the mayor by the media, even after two terms, has been a ceaselessly positive one of urban revival. Journalists have remained smitten with a man who seems so well-meaning and whose personal story—as a mixed-race, Yale-educated Rhodes Scholar who replaced corrupt longtime mayor Sharpe James—is so attractive. The result is that important questions have been ignored during Booker’s race for the U.S. Senate seat left open by the death in June of his fellow Democrat, Frank Lautenberg. Foremost is whether Booker has even been a good mayor. Read More »
NOT EVERYONE LOVES CITIES, THOUGH VISHAAN CHAKRABARTI THINKS THEY SHOULD
Some people read manifestoes proposing silver-bullet answers to complex issues and feel inspired. Others roll their eyes at the oversimplifications, and they might react that way to Vishaan Chakrabarti’s new book. In A Country of Cities: A Manifesto for an Urban America, the architect and Columbia University professor argues that denser cities will be the “ark that delivers us to the safe harbor of prosperous shores,” a cure for problems ranging from “foreclosures, to terrorism, to unfunded schools, to devastating oil spills, to ever more powerful storms.” This “green, healthy, prosperous urbanity,” he promises, would create a “new countryside dotted with large cities and small towns” with “little but agriculture and nature in between.”
In order to sustain subway lines and other advanced infrastructure, Chakrabarti’s cities would have a minimum density of 30 units per acre—roughly that of row-house neighborhoods. Conceivably, though, they could go well beyond that measure, as do hyper-dense cities like Tokyo and Singapore. The greater the density, the better for America’s environment, economy, and quality of life, Chakrabarti believes. His environmental case shouldn’t prompt much argument, since dense cities command far less per-capita energy usage. The economic and quality-of-life appeals, though, are less persuasive. Read More »
IGNORING HISTORY, THE CITY MOVES TO SUBSIDIZE YET ANOTHER SPORTS ARENA
To those who viewed Detroit’s decline as an inevitable result of longtime Democratic rule, the city’s bankruptcy filing last month came as welcome news. Finally, they figured, here was a chance to force prudent reforms on the terminally mismanaged Motor City. But at least one recent decision makes clear that Detroit won’t be rethinking its failed strategies for economic growth.
Just a week after the city declared bankruptcy, a state board approved a $450 million bond issue for a new Red Wings hockey arena near downtown. To help finance it, Detroit would pay $284.5 million in subsidies and an additional $12.8 million annually on bond interest. In return, Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch, who also owns the Detroit Tigers, MotorCity Casino Hotel, and Little Caeser’s pizza, would chip in $365.5 million for the arena and several mixed-use projects. The new complex would represent an upgrade from the dated Joe Louis Arena, where the Red Wings play now, and—boosters say—would potentially revitalize the Midtown area, which is already gentrifying somewhat. The Detroit Development Authority would fund and operate the arena with downtown property taxes. In other words, revenue traditionally used for schools and basic services would instead subsidize a billionaire. Read More »
[Author's note: I wrote this article in March but decided to momentarily shelve it. It criticized legislation then being discussed by Baltimore city council that would cap at 15% the amount Ticketmaster could charge for service fees above a ticket’s retail price. Ultimately the legislation was amended to remove that cap, effectively maintaining the status quo. The reason, said a legislative aide for Councilor Carl Stokes (who favored the cap), was because of intense lobbying by Ticketmaster. Here is the article as originally written. For updated information on the issue, here's a Baltimore Sun article.]
If you buy numerous Baltimore Orioles tickets in March for the series this September against the Yankees, and the O’s have a successful season, chances are you’re in for a windfall. Because while these tickets now cost around $20, you’ll be able to sell them that week for several times more, to fans counting down to the playoffs. But don’t do this outside the stadium, or anywhere else in Baltimore, for that matter, because then you’ll be breaking the law–or at least one that’s enforced assuming you’re not Ticketmaster. Read More »
Recently Detroit, under orders from a state-appointed emergency manager, became the largest U.S. city to go bankrupt. This stirred predictable media speculation about why the city, which at 1.8 million was once America’s 5th-largest, declined in the first place. Much of the coverage simply listed Detroit’s longtime problems rather than explaining their causes. For example a Huffington Post article asserted that it was because of “racial strife,” the loss of “good-paying [sic] assembly line jobs,” and a population who fled “to pursue new dreams in the suburbs.” Paul Krugman, who has increasingly become America’s dean of misguided thinking, downplayed the city’s pension obligations, instead blaming “job sprawl” and “market forces.” The implication is that Detroit’s problems just arose organically from structural economic changes, and within decades somehow produced a city of abandoned homes and unlit streets.
But a closer look suggests that Detroit’s problems, which include 16% unemployment, 36% poverty, and 60% population decline, were self-inflicted by a half-century of government excess. Read More »
WASHINGTON’S NEW LAW WILL HURT LOW-INCOME PEOPLE MUCH MORE THAN IT HURTS THE BIG RETAILER
The Washington, D.C. city council has just passed legislation making the nation’s capital officially hostile to Walmart. The Large Retailer Accountability Act was proposed by city council chairman Phil Mendelson, who was determined to let big-box retailers know that “you’ve got to pay a fair wage to your employees.” The law targets any city store with a net worth of over $1 billion, with a nonunionized workforce, and occupying a space of more than 75,000 square feet—but since no other big-box retailers operate in D.C. today, it’s a safe bet that Mendelson had Walmart in mind. Such stores must now pay wages of $12.50 an hour—$4.25 above D.C.’s minimum wage, itself a dollar higher than the federal rate.
Walmart is currently constructing three stores in Washington and planning three more. Read More »
ACROSS THE COUNTRY, HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSIONS CAUSE MORE HARM THAN THEY PREVENT
Is racial discrimination enough of a problem in Charlottesville, Virginia (population 43,000) to justify the creation of a human rights commission? Time will tell, but Charlottesville is clearly part of a trend. Once just a mainstay of big cities, HRCs have proliferated throughout America’s small and midsize municipalities, even as overt displays of discrimination have waned. Their geographic reach has spread as their mandates expand: nowadays, HRCs not only address race and gender discrimination, but also, increasingly, bias involving sexual orientation. Everyone from employers to landlords to public institutions is subject to commission oversight.
These commissions began appearing in the 1940s to quell tensions caused by segregation. After the passage of the landmark civil rights laws in 1964 and 1965, cities began to create new HRCs, with enforcement powers. These HRCs could mediate discrimination complaints at the local level, instead of allowing such disputes to proceed to state courts. Decades later, this logic has justified the formation of commissions in places like Morris, Minnesota; Waterloo, Iowa; Northampton, Massachusetts—and, a few weeks ago, in my hometown of Charlottesville. Read More »