People v Place

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on

In the High Court of Common Sense, the people will always win. Consider Youngstown or Buffalo. Both have seen a complete collapse in their populations. Youngstown is half the city it once was in terms of population. As Ed Glaeser points out in the Autumn 2007 City Journal, Buffalo hit a ceiling of 580,000 in the 1920s and has gone to 300,000.

Noting the “billions upon billions” spent by the feds since the 50s on Buffalo and other failed “middle cities”, Ed lists out the usual suspects–Urban Renewal funds, HUD money, and lots of dough for the metropolitan rail system, even as ridership went down, down, down, as people left, left, left.

Ed’s money quotes:

All this spending aimed at resurrecting Buffalo as a place–very different from government aid that seeks to help disadvantaged people, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit–was destined to fail.

Yup. And:

As for state and local politicians, reducing New York’s unnecessary taxes and regulation would be a good idea, since if Buffalo is ever to rebound, even somewhat, private innovators, not government projects, will be the primary reason. Better schools and safe streets would also be key to improving Buffalo’s chances of survival.

Yup. See the same argument and a plan for getting it done in Massachusetts in Pioneer’s Rehabbing Urban Redevelopment. And finally:

The best scenario would be for Buffalo to become a much smaller but more vibrant community–shrinking to greatness, in effect.

It’s odd how urban revitalization thinking for so many years was schizophrenic in, on the one hand, taking a sort of “neutron bomb” perspective: You had to keep the buildings in place at all costs. If you built it, they would come, and you kept believing it even if the buildings and streets were windswept empty. And then, on the other hand, there was the chest-thumping view that any city worth its salt had to keep growing. Small, when it comes to smaller cities, may be very good indeed.

Size does not matter. And buildings, and cities, matter only if people want to live in them.