Without the right policy response, the pandemic and civil unrest could undo decades of urban progress.
Picture two young people living in the same divided American city, both of whom decided to take to the streets to protest police violence in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. One is working-class, recently unemployed and living with extended family in a neighborhood plagued by violent crime. The other is upper-middle-class, securely employed and living with a spouse in a much safer neighborhood where serious crime is almost unheard of.
Both are committed to fighting racism and support defunding the police. But consider what happens if defunding the police doesn’t turn out as its champions hope and the dangerous neighborhood grows more dangerous, the safe neighborhood less safe. Will the better-off of the two young people choose to endure a deteriorating quality of life in solidarity with the poorest of her neighbors? Or will she move out of the city and leave her fellow protester to pick up the pieces? If I had to guess, I suspect she’d bolt. Self-interest has a way of trumping other considerations, including ideological ones.
The twin crises of Covid-19 and the recent civil unrest represent a turning point for urban life in America. They could herald an age of disorder and disinvestment for the American metropolis, or a civic revival that lifts the fortunes of city-dwellers of every color, class and creed.
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