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 Dems’ urban ideas won’t do anything for NYC

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PostSubject: Dems’ urban ideas won’t do anything for NYC   Dems’ urban ideas won’t do anything for NYC Icon_minitimeMon Apr 18, 2016 1:02 pm

The race for New York between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders has brought some attention to what we still call “urban” issues — with both candidates saying they want to help America’s cities.

Dems’ urban ideas won’t do anything for NYC MtFJkg

Healthier cities would be a good idea for the country. But a massive federal program to reinvest in cities likely won’t help New York much — because we’re so economically different from most US cities.

At last week’s Brooklyn debate, Sanders said that “our inner cities [are] collapsing.”

And as she stumped in New York leading up to the Thursday showdown, Clinton promised more attention to cities, too. Talking about Flint, Mich., as an emblem of America’s failures, she promised
to end lead-poisoning exposure for kids within five years. And she promised more investment in housing projects.

If it were 1976 rather than 2016, more federal attention to cities would be a dream for New York politicians. Back then, we were the failing city — losing one out of every eight residents and falling nearly into bankruptcy.

Today, though, we’re so successful that we’re almost irrelevant to the rest of the country.

On Friday, Mayor de Blasio announced that we’ve (yet again) got an all-time record number of private-sector jobs: 4.3 million. And that’s with more people looking for work than ever — we’re back to record population, too.

A successful city needs investment to stay successful. So we should welcome, say, a federal program to massively reinvest in our subways or help us remake our streets to fit the ever-denser traffic more efficiently on buses, bikes and (maybe) streetcars.

But we aren’t likely to get what we need: money to help us develop a well-thought-out policy to keep being successful. That’s because many of America’s cities are in such bad shape that they need emergency triage.

Think about Flint, which has lost half its population in 50 years.

Yet, as Michigan Rep. Dan Kildee said last Friday at a Lincoln Institute conference on municipal finance, “you cannot disassemble a community” like a bankrupt company.

He expects it’ll cost $1.5 billion for Flint to recover from its lead-pipes disaster — money it can’t pay.

But it’s not just Flint. Baltimore, Buffalo, Detroit, St. Louis — some are dealing with their problems better than others, but none has the local tax base to do much more than manage loss.

Even Chicago, whose downtown looks prosperous, is essentially bankrupt.

And even Boston, a pretty healthy city, has failed for decades to make the investments it should have been making in its increasingly unreliable subway.

One of distressed cities’ biggest problems is promises they made decades ago. Healthy cities have this problem, too, but they can at least provide basic services while grappling with (or ignoring) it.

“They accumulated trillions of dollars of obligations of unfunded health-care obligations, pension obligations” said Dick Ravitch, the former New York lieutenant governor, last Friday. “It’s a national problem.”

The danger in any ambitious federal program for cities is that it just throws some money their way — not to make them into truly competitive cities with great transit and safe streets, but to
assuage crises like Flint’s lead-poisoning disaster, or to help Chicago police itself as it pretends for a while longer that it can avoid cutting its workers’ pensions and health benefits.

Meanwhile, cities like New York fall behind, too — because we’ll be waiting for money that never comes to finish projects such as the Second Avenue Subway.

Even Gotham’s housing problems are different. We could, for example, sell off vacant land near public housing so richer tenants could subsidize the poorer ones.

Our problem in doing this is that our poor people don’t want land near housing projects sold off — partly because they want the city to use all land to build more public housing — but also because they don’t want rich people living next door.​

By contrast, most other cities just don’t know what to do with vacant properties.

When New York pols hear the word “urbanism,” they think national pols are talking about them.

But when de Blasio talked about the tale of two cities, he could have just as easily been talking about New York and almost everywhere else.
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