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New York Post


Leave New York Alone!

October 14, 2012

By Nicole Gelinas

Urban renewal an oxymoron

One issue went unmentioned during the debates so far: cities. Neither President Obama, Gov. Mitt Romney nor their running mates thought the nation’s urban population was worth a phrase. This omission is not an outrage, but a blessing. Decades of urban planning from Washington didn’t help cities in general — and a wealthy metropolis like New York would do better if Washington ignored it even more.

For much of the last half-century, cities got plenty of attention from Washington. In the ’60s, LBJ made urban renewal a key plank of his War on Poverty, handing out federal grants to cities from New Haven to New Orleans under his "Model Cities" program. Johnson said the initiative gave "cities, finally, after a long, bitter, difficult struggle, a voice."

They should have used it to say "no." Instead, local officials used federal funds to build highways and other massive projects right through historic but struggling neighborhoods, destroying them.

According to Yale University’s archives, New Haven’s ’60s-era mayor, Dick Lee, came to regret his efforts, saying that "If New Haven is a ’model city,’ God help America’s cities." New Orleans street muralists painted oaks on one highway underpass to replace the live oaks that urban renewal destroyed.

Washington efforts to get more people on welfare and on Johnson’s new health-care program, Medicaid, "benefited" urban areas most, as cities had more poor people. Nobody worried that maybe it wasn’t such a great idea to get a whole generation of folk dependent on government.

The ’70s were no better. President Ford and, later, President Carter pushed the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act program, paying for cities to hire hundreds of thousands of workers to try to push unemployment down. Cities were supposed to train young people for good jobs to end "structural unemployment." Instead, urban machines often used the federal funds for patronage hiring.

Even in the ’80s, urban politicians were still powerful enough to snag earmarks for big-city projects from a supposedly conservative Washington. President Reagan approved funding for Boston’s Big Dig. The promise of getting something for free lulled Massachusetts politicians into complacency about the project’s design — and state taxpayers ended up paying big when the project bubbled way over the federal pot of funds.

Today, thankfully, Washington is less interested in huge new ideas. But existing programs come with silly strings attached. Cities like Buffalo have thousands of abandoned houses — but the feds still give them money to build "affordable" housing.

Original Source:



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