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2 | The Note: A Campaign for Cities? Yes, Please.
Vol. 35, No. 6 January / February 2012
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THE FEATURE THE URBAN AGENDA
In 2012, America’s cities campaign to be heard By Ariella Cohen, Melanie Lefkowitz, Jarrett Murphy, Sandra Svoboda and Ali Winston
City Limits is published bi-monthly by the Community Service Society of New York (CSS). For more than 160 years, CSS has been on the cutting edge of public policy innovations to support low-income New Yorkers in their quest to be full participants in the civic life of the nation’s largest city. City Limits 105 East 22nd Street Third Floor New York, NY 10010 212-614-5397 CityLimits.org features daily news, investigative features and resources in the city’s five boroughs. Letters to the Editor: We welcome letters, articles, press releases, ideas and submissions. Please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Subscriptions and Customer Service: U.S. subscriptions to City Limits are $15 for one year for the print edition or digital edition. Digital and print single issues are $4.95. To subscribe or renew visit www.citylimits.org/subscribe or contact toll free 1-877-231-7065 or write to City Limits, P.O. Box 3000, Denville, NJ 07834-9253. Contributions: City Limits depends on your support to provide investigative journalism and cover the five boroughs. Contribute at www.citylimits.org/support or contact 212-614-5398 for development opportunities. For Bulk Magazine Orders: Visit www. citylimits.org/subscribe or contact City Limits’ subscription customer service at 1-877-231-7065 or write to P.O. Box 3000, Denville, NJ 07834-9253.
8 | The Asphalt Heartland
Great nations feature great cities. But American campaigns don’t. / By Jarrett Murphy
19 | NEW ORLEANS / The Stranded
Housing and environmental policies clash in a threatened neighborhood. / By Ariella Cohen The auto bailout helped Motor City. Could immigration save it? / By Sandra Svoboda
28 | DETROIT / A Designated Driver
36 | NEW YORk / Fare Share
The future of New York transit depends on the feds’ stepping up. / By Melanie Lefkowitz
42 | OAkLAND / Out of Ammo
When the war on crime runs short on cash, a city’s risks grow. / By Ali Winston
40 | LookBack Where’d ‘Mighty Jim’ Go?
ON THe COver: For generations presidential candidates have had a largely mythical, agrarian United States in mind when they’ve paid homage—in ads and speeches—to the “heartland.” But America’s cities, with their potential and their problems, might be where the heart really is. Photo by Marc Fader.
A Campaign for Cities? Yes, Please.
With the 2012 election season underway, many issues will compete for the attention of national candidates for office. The prevailing myth of a rural, utopian national heartland—and the persistent stigma about city life—drive urban issues off the political radar screen and out of the conversation. Yet, cities are the drivers of America’s economy and culture, and today most Americans live in or near urban centers. It is essential to America’s tens of millions of urban residents that the unique needs of major cities and growing metropolitan regions are part of the debate that shapes the upcoming presidential and congressional races. Reflecting our unique grounding in urban policy and our history of covering the federal government’s role in America’s cities, this issue launches our 2012 reporting series on the national urban agenda. In the months leading up to the November presidential election, City Limits will report on the ways federal policies impact the urban engines of America’s economic growth and social development. In this issue, we focus on New York City, Detroit, Oakland, and New Orleans to outline how a number of federal initiatives and policies trickle down to cities and look at how President Obama’s urban policy, and his potential opponents’ position on urban issues, fit into a larger historical narrative of federal urban policy and politics. As local governments, required by law, balance their budgets by streamlining services and expenses, national candidates must speak to the role the federal government plays in ensuring greater opportunities. Candidates don’t have to be champions of cities to understand their critical importance to our nation’s success. As we digitize our 35 years of archives and plan our future coverage, we invite you to follow our work and support our efforts to engage urban communities in shaping the directions we take as a nation. In the past two years we’ve published in-depth investigations on the causes and consequences of black male joblessness, flaws in the city’s community planning system, challenges facing the famed Harlem Children’s Zone antipoverty program, lessons from 20 years of firefighter fatalities, the personal realities of growing income disparities, the demise of small businesses in city neighborhoods, and the growing role of private consultants in shaping public policy. Our work has preceded similar projects by other media and public policy research groups, and earned the 2011 Deadline Club Award for New York City’s best reporting on communities of color and the 2011 national Society of Professional Journalists’ award for Best Investigative Reporting by a local magazine. The looming election gives us an even greater opportunity to speak for more than New York City. Follow our 2012 urban agenda coverage at www.citylimits.org/2012 Sincerely, Mark Anthony Thomas P.S. We are extremely grateful to the Park Foundation for supporting this issue and out 2012 urban policy coverage.
CORRECTIONS: Our November/December issue misstated the number of developments overseen by the New York City Housing Authority; there are 334, not 344. Due to an editing error on page 18, we omitted the first name of Maggie Moroff from Advocates for Children.
The Urban Agenda
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Director Mark Anthony Thomas editor in Chief Jarrett Murphy Contributing editors Patrick Arden, Neil deMause, Jeanmarie Evelly, Marc Fader, Jake Mooney, Malik Singleton, Helen Zelon Advertising Director Allison Tellis-Hinds Community engagement Manager Nekoro Gomes Creative Director Anthony Smyrski Proofreader Danial Adkison Interns Sarah Cabrera, Milleska Contreras, Taleen Desperdanian, Jesse Imbergamo, Stacy Lipson
Shoppers at the Bowling Green Green Market. While New York can feel a long way from the debate over farm subsidies, hunger advocates in the city say the issues raised by the pending Farm Bill hit close to home. Photo by Taleen Desperdanian.
Home from School, forever
The number of New York City kids being taught by parents and tutors is increasing. What’s behind the boost, and what do low-income parents face when they decide home is where the school is?
A Boom Grew in Brooklyn
No borough saw more heat during New York’s hot real estate market. From Atlantic Yards to the waterfront, where do all the projects of tomorrow stand in today’s economy?
WHAT’S NEW ANd WHAT’S NExT AT CITylImITS.oRg
recipe for Change
Mark Edmiston, chair Adam Blumenthal Andy Breslau Michael Connor David R. Jones Andy Reicher Michele Webb
The Policy Primary
As campaign 2012 unfolds, we’ll trace key urban issues and what—if anything—candidates say about them.
Local anti-hunger advocates are weighing in on the farm bill that’s working its way through Congress. And to some legislators’ surprise, they’re hoping to shape not just nutrition assistance but also the way farm subsidies are distributed.
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The Secret emperor
How one Bronx landlord became a behind-the-scenes titan.
COMING IN MARCH
Three-Quarters of a Loaf
Residents of several city neighborhoods are upset about the proliferation of three-quarter houses—small-scale residences for people with substance abuse problems. In many cases, homeowners facing foreclosure become social service providers to make ends meet. But do their neighbors—and clients—pay a price for poor regulation?
Do it all at www.citylimits.org
The Urban Agenda
City Limits / Vol. 35 / No. 6
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THE URBAN AGENDA
In 2012, America’s cities campaign to be heard.
6 The Urban Agenda City Limits / Vol. 35 / No. 6
This issue was generously supported by the Park Foundation.
Photos by Gage Skidmore, the White House, WhisperToMe, Steven Pavlov
A presidential campaign is under way and the themes are familiar: terrorism and taxes, the size of government, the role of faith. Even with 24-hour news channels competing to cover the horse race, some issues get overlooked. America’s cities are one of them. Once upon a time, presidential candidates talked about cities. For one brief period in the 1960s, the federal government attempted to forge comprehensive policy for helping our urban places. Those days are gone. But America’s great cities remain—some limping, some booming, many ready to benefit from the kind of leadership only a national government can provide, and which many other countries give to their urban engine From Harry Truman to Barack Obama, from immigration and industrial policy in Detroit to housing and environmental programs in New Orleans, from the rise of crime in Oakland to the strains on transit in New York, the articles that follow look at how cities have fared in recent presidential races, and the federal policy issues that face America’s cities today.
The Asphalt Heartland
Great nations feature great cities. But American campaigns don’t.
hortly after lunchtime on the day of the 2004 New Hampshire primary, Joe Lieberman’s bus pulled up to an elementary school on the east side of Manchester. Waiting there for him were three men who clearly had been sleeping on the street before they, briefly, became part of the Connecticut senator’s campaign. On a cue from a campaign staffer, as Lieberman descended from his coach with the assembled media watching, the three men began waving signs and energetically shouting, “Go Joe! Go Joe! … Joe-mentum! Joe-mentum!” Lieberman greeted a few voters, told reporters a somewhat sad anecdote about his lucky tie and got back on the bus to more cheers from his three biggest fans. When the votes were tallied that evening, Joe-mentum placed fifth. This month New Hampshire will again occupy center stage in an American presidential race, and Manchester will be the backdrop of some of the wall-to-wall coverage. But except for those who get a few bucks and a free lunch in return for playing campaign scenery, the city’s significant homeless population will be invisible in that narrative. So will the other issues facing the largest city in the Granite State, like a poverty rate 37 percent higher than the state average, a wave of layoffs this summer at a local hospital and a brewing debate over its designation as a “sanctuary city” for immigrants—none of it the stuff of gauzy campaign commercials. “New Hampshire—even though it’s more of a historically industrial state—it has a sort of pastoral image. Where they’re campaigning or doing publicity in New Hampshire, it’s in a barn or in a little town hall ... whereas Manchester or Portsmouth or smaller cities are more representative of the state,” says Michael Bellefeuille, a Manchester native who runs a blog for an organization called Livable MHT (the acronym is a reference to the city’s airport). “The image that they’re portraying, it doesn’t necessarily address the city. But this is no surprise. U.S. presidential campaigns are built around appeals to the American heartland, a mythical place of farm families and simple wood-framed houses amid acres of wheat and corn. “They taught me values straight from the Kansas heartland, where they grew up: accountability and self-reliance,” a certain Illinois senator said in a 2008 campaign commercial, “love of country, working hard without making excuses, treating your neighbor as you’d like to be treated.” Sarah Palin got heat for referring to the “real America” but Barack Obama got a free pass for suggesting that loyalty and work ethic are somehow unique to the rural U.S. Some of his predecessors were far more explicit. “The mobs of great cities add just so much to support of pure government as sores do to the strength of the human body,” Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1781’s Notes on the State of Virginia, and in
BY JArrETT MurPHY
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a 1787 letter to James Madison, he added, “I think our governments will remain virtuous for many centuries as long as they are chiefly agricultural; and this will be as long as there shall be vacant lands in any part of America. When they get plied upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, they will become corrupt as in Europe.” These weren’t just idle words, notes planner Leonardo Vazquez in a 2006 Planetizen commentary: “Jefferson was able to hardwire an anti-urban bias into the culture of the United States” in denying any powers to cities and towns in the U.S. Constitution and organizing land purchases in a way that discouraged dense population. And these disparities only deepened over time. “I do think that overall, over the years, there is a consistent sort of anti-urban animus in Washington,” says Roger Biles, a history professor at Illinois State University. “And historically a lot of that simply owed to the fact that a lot of the people who were elected to Congress and went there came from gerrymandered states where they were disproportionately representing the interests of rural people. Even as the nation became more and more urban, that wasn’t reflected in the composition of Congress.” Today, some 87 million Americans—more than the population of Germany, France or the U.K.—live in cities with populations of 100,000 or more. Nearly a third of the U.S. population dwells in urban areas; only a fifth lives in a rural setting. America’s cities have built-in advantages for addressing some of the country’s deepest problems, offering energy-efficient living, mechanisms for integrating immigrants, economies of scale for health programs and more. At the same time, metropolitan America faces tremendous problems: a $35 billion to $64 billion tab over the next 20 years just to preserve the current mass transit system, massive municipal pension obligations and in some cases stunning population losses, persistent foreclosure crises and dangerously high unemployment. The potential in America’s cities, and the risks they face, matter beyond their borders. “Nations do well when their cities do well,” says Hank Savitch, an urban-policy expert at the University of Louisville. “Cities are capital-intensive, labor-intensive territories that promote and catapult nations economically.” But don’t expect America’s cities—their problems or their potential—to be on the radar this
LBJ, seen here with Martin Luther King, Jr., used his skills as a legislative strategist to get landmark urban legislation passed. But the horse-trading undermined ideas like Model Cities, and the vietnam War distracted Johnson and Congress from the urban agenda. Photo courtesy National Archives.
campaign season. The 2012 race, like almost every prior one, will be about something else. In 1988, The New York Times’ Sam roberts wrote about the neglect of urban issues during the Michael Dukakis–George H.W. Bush presidential race, offering that their treatment was best described by an editorial cartoon he’d seen. “Sir, do you have an urban agenda?” the cartoon had a reporter asking a candidate. “Four panels of the cartoon follow, in which the candidate remains mute,” Roberts wrote. “Finally, the reporter asks, ‘Can you be more specific?’ ” Two decades later, the Times editorial board detected a similar failing in the early stages of the ’08 race. “The cities have been the hardest hit as federal policies have failed or gone missing in education, housing, health care, jobs, transportation and environment, to name a few,” the Times opined, “yet urban issues have gotten scant attention in this campaign.” This near silence reflects two political realities. The first is that Democrats, not Republicans, win cities: Obama bested Republican nominee John McCain by 2-to-1 margins in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia and New York (all loyal “blue” states) but also in St. L ouis, WE’VE goT ISSUES New Orleans and Jacks on, Policy-centric coverage of Miss.—cities campaign 2012 he dominated www.citylimits.org in states he lost. Neither party has much incentive to go after urban voters; Democrats can usually count on them, and Republicans can basically count them out. The second reality is that since World War II, America’s population has—thanks to federal policies like highway construction and mortgage interest tax deductions—shifted to the suburbs. That’s where the swing voters (be they Reagan Democrats or soccer moms) are, so that’s where candidates aim their arguments. This has only reinforced a cultural distaste for cities. “We’ve got an agrarian culture, and the notion of moving up in America is moving to some rural locale rather than to an urban core,” says Savitch. This isn’t to say that cities never get addressed. Urban issues arose at all three Ford-Carter debates in 1976, at a time when New York City’s fiscal crisis was in the headlines and urban unrest was not a distant memory. Four years later, cities were mentioned a remarkable 38 times in the two debates among President Carter, Ronald Reagan and third-party candidate John Anderson. In the wake of the Los Angeles riots, the 1992 presidential campaign touched a few times on urban problems. (“I think we’ve been fighting from Day One to do something about the inner cities,” President Bush said at one point.) In ’96, the vice presidential candidates jousted over urban policy, with
Bob Dole’s running mate, Jack Kemp, saying of Bill Clinton and Al Gore, “They have abandoned the inner cities. There’s a socialist economy. There’s no private housing. There’s mostly public housing. You’re told where to go to school. You’re told what to buy with food stamps. It is a welfare system that is more like a third-world socialist country than what we would expect from the world’s greatest democratic freeenterprise system.” Campaign rhetoric, of course, bears little connection to the reality of governing. Whether or not they discussed urban policy as they barnstormed for votes, once elected, every president in modern times has had an impact on cities—by acts of omission and commission. And as far-out as Kemp’s critique sounds, it reflects misgivings about federal urban policy that have dogged cities since Harry Truman. The boilerplate version of modern American urban history is that cities were destroyed by a menu of activist federal policies implemented during the 1960s: public housing that drowned neighborhoods in low-income pathologies, urban-renewal efforts that uprooted city communities to make way for ill-conceived new developments and Great Society initiatives that wasted a fortune on programs doomed to fail. There are elements of truth in that telling, but as Biles demonstrates in his new, sweeping history of federal urban policy, The Fate of Cities, it leaves most of the story out. Fact is, America’s cities did not enter the postwar period in pristine shape. Many still bore the scars of the Great Depression, during which Franklin Roosevelt showed little interest in direct aid to cities. FDR’s successor, Truman, secured a major federal commitment to urban redevelopment and fought with some success for low-income urban housing, but met stiff resistance in Congress. Some Republicans were concerned about increased government spending; many had resisted the creation of public housing in the 1930s out of an ideological dislike for government intervention in the housing market. But other Republicans, joined by Southern Democrats, were driven mainly by fears that Truman’s proposals might speed racial integration. After Truman’s failures, Dwight Eisenhower largely ignored the needs of cities as his administration pursued the construction of highways that helped empty the urban cores of people and businesses. John Kennedy, Biles notes, came to office with a distinctly urban pedigree and raised great hopes for cities but largely failed to deliver, falling short of the votes needed to create a cabinet-level agency focusing on cities because race-obsessed members of Congress worried the president would nominate a black man to head it. Urban America had its moment in the spotlight under Lyndon Johnson, who would actually devote major addresses to Congress to the topic of cities, created the Department of Housing and Urban Development and pushed through an ambitious package of legislation for cities. Most of those programs are remembered as disastrous failures, but the
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critiques can get fuzzy on the details. One dis is that the programs were too top-down, but Johnson’s “community action plan,” which sought to empower urban residents to chart their own renewal programs, is simultaneously faulted for being naively bottom-up. Johnson is pilloried for pushing programs that promised more than they delivered, but that’s partly because the budgets Congress approved never met the programs’ needs. The Model Cities initiative might have registered more success if Johnson had stuck to the original plan of concentrating aid to six major cities; instead, horse trading to get more congressional support, the program expanded to help 66 cities, diluting the available funds. Richard Nixon came to office against a backdrop of urban unrest for which liberal ideology proved a convenient scapegoat. He began dismantling Great Society programs and stopped building public housing, but he did launch the promising CETA job-training program. Gerald Ford threatened no such innovation and spent his brief time in office resisting urban spending, whether for national programs or to help individual cities facing bankruptcy. Jimmy Carter came to offer riding a wave of reform sentiment and promised to help cities. He created urban development action grants that used federal funding to leverage private redevelopment investment in cities but, foiled by his disinterest in activist approaches and his toxic relationship with Congress, never achieved a comprehensive urban policy. A Carter-appointed presidential panel on urban policy notably concluded, “There are no ‘national urban problems,’ just an endless variety of local ones.” Reagan hobbled HUD and starved mass transit. George H.W. Bush projected a “kinder, gentler approach” and appointed the “bleeding-heart conservative” Kemp as housing chief. Innovative programs like one that would let public-housing residents buy their homes won approval, but budget hawks in the administration quickly cut off funding. Even after the Rodney King riots exposed the dire needs of cities, little was done, as the White House shied away from expensive solutions and the Democratic Congress resisted giving the politically weak president a legislative victory on the eve of the ’92 election. Clinton brought new hope to cities, but the optimism was misplaced. An early move to create tax-free areas called empowerment zones in distressed inner cities was a modest execution of a Republican idea. After the 1994 elections gave conservative Republicans control of Congress, Clinton moved to the defensive and to the political center: his urban agenda evolved to concentrate on reducing crime, retreating from public housing and introducing time limits and work requirements to welfare. Any political capital he earned though re-election in 1996 was absorbed by the intern and impeachment drama of ’98 and ’99. Biles gives Clinton and his housing chief, Henry Cisńeros, credit for saving HUD from Republicans intent on killing the agency off, but broader urban achievements alluded the administration.
While Obama has cited Daniel Burnham’s charge to “Make no little plans,” the scale of his urban programs so far doesn’t allow for anything other than small-bore optimism.
In the summer of 2002, George W. Bush addressed HUD employees. “Let me first talk about how to make sure America is secure from a group of killers, people who hate—you know what they hate?” the president asked. “They hate the idea that somebody can go buy a home.” Indeed, Bush’s focus on the war on terrorism shifted domestic issues to his administration’s back burner, and urban policy virtually off the stove. Bush cut public-housing operating support and capital funding. He signed a transportation bill that earmarked $45 billion for mass transit, but it spent four times that on highway construction. “What will I do for public transport?” Bush famously said at a campaign rally. “I will improve the economy so you can find good enough work to be able to afford a car.” From 1969 through 2008, seven presidents occupied the Oval Office; their rhetoric varied and their ideologies differed, but all seemed to concur in the diagnosis that aggressive action in cities was politically or practically unfeasible. “Government has been discredited, so we don’t try anymore,” says Biles. “There’s lots and lots to be said about the failures of urban renewal. There’s no question that Johnson’s Model Cities program was a failure from the get-go. But then the question becomes, Does it mean that government has no useful role to play?” Four years ago, Obama hinted that he had a different take. In June 2008, the putative Democratic nominee spoke to a group of mayors in Miami and pledged a new dedication to metropolitan policy. After pointing to his own experiences as a community organizer in Chicago, the then senator said, “We need to stop seeing our cities as the problem and start seeing them as the solution,” and pledged to appoint “the first White House director of urban policy to help make it a reality.” The president delivered on his promise a month into his term, naming Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión to lead the new office. “He’s going to be responsible for coordinating all federal urban programs,” Obama said. “Now, rebuilding our economies and renewing our cities is going to require a true partnership between mayors and the
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White House, and that partnership has to begin right now.” Some urban champions were less than thrilled with the approach to cities in the administration’s first months. Carrión lacked national stature, and while he undertook an extensive tour of urban areas and oversaw an unprecedented government-wide review of the impact of place-based federal policies, his office had little visibility amid fights over the stimulus bill, the mission in Afghanistan and health care. Advocates grew anxious. “What Happened to the Office of Urban Policy?” asked an article at TheRoot.com. “After 100 days, Obama’s shiny-new dream for our cities is looking more like a bureaucratic nightmare.” In fact, Obama has launched a menu of initiatives aimed at helping cities. His Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative encompasses the Choice Neighborhoods program—which gives grants to cities to come up with plans for transforming public housing developments into mixed-income, mixed-use communities—and Promise Neighborhoods, which funds local initiatives that take a comprehensive approach to fighting concentrated poverty. The Sustainable Communities Initiative pools money from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Transportation and HUD to achieve maximum effect in particular places that offer a chance at energy-efficient, economically sound development. In a city where an unremediated brownfield prevents housing from being built next to a train line, the theory goes, the threeagency partnership could fund the environmental cleanup, help launch the housing and establish links to the rail system for the new residents. The Obama programs clearly reflect lessons the Great Society taught. Existing programs are being concentrated for maximum effect, duplication is avoided, and top-down prescriptions are eschewed in favor of programs that communities design for themselves. But while Obama has cited famed urban planner Daniel Burnham’s charge to “make no little plans” in selling his urban ideas, the scale of the programs so far doesn’t allow for anything other than small-bore optimism. Congress has never met the president’s funding requests for any of his urban programs. The past two years, the White House has asked for $250 million for Choice Neighborhoods, but Congress has come through with less than half that amount. Last year’s ask of $210 million for Promise Neighborhoods was met with $30 million in funding. The budget for this year’s Sustainable Communities Initiative stands (at press time) at zero. If the Great Society programs suffered from overambitious promises, they also wilted from insufficient budgets, and that latter threat exists for the Obama initiatives as well. Altogether, the Choice, Promise and sustainability programs have distributed grants to 187 communities, but only to a tune of $230 million to date—about half what the Air Force will spend on ammunition this year. While the plan is to learn lessons from those cities and apply them to future programs, it’s not clear that the will or the money will be
there to take them to scale. Nor is it clear who’ll be overseeing Obama’s urban policy even for the rest of his current term. HUD secretary Shaun Donovan remains in place. But Obama’s domestic-policy chief, Melody Barnes, was scheduled to leave the administration at the end of 2011. Carrión left his post 18 months ago and was never formally replaced. The president’s special adviser on urban affairs, Derek Douglas, took over direction of the Office of Urban Affairs, but he was also planning to leave at year’s end. At the republican debates this year, cities have rarely been mentioned, but one could catch whiffs of broader urban policy. Michele Bachmann blamed the housing crisis on the Community Reinvestment Act, while the departed Herman Cain briefly resurrected the old idea of tax-free “empowerment zones.” Rick Perry blamed poverty on a president “who’s a job killer,” Rick Santorum on “the breakdown of the American family.” Mitt Romney called for reducing anti-poverty spending, while Ron Paul said he wants to eliminate HUD; according to a Des Moines Register poll, a majority of likely Iowa caucusgoers agree with him. Newt Gingrich has said more than most. At a September debate, Gingrich claimed that “Bad government has destroyed the city of Detroit.” He didn’t say exactly how, but his idea of “good” government includes repealing financial regulations, declawing the FDA and EPA and lowering taxes. He’s blamed unions for trapping poor kids in failing classrooms, then suggested that child labor laws should be relaxed so students can get jobs as librarians or janitors in their schools. Last month former speaker said, “Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works … They have no habit of ‘I do this and you give me cash,’ unless it’s illegal.” Divisive rhetoric aside, should Obama lose, urban policy will retreat even further down the list of federal priorities. But even if the president wins, a Republican-controlled Congress is unlikely to permit the White House to expand its urban programs. Concerns about the deficit are only part of the picture. Some conservatives are openly hostile to the idea of comprehensive planning and sustainability policy. Reacting to some remarks the president made about his efforts to get metro areas to do more thoughtful planning, the Heritage Institute warned: This “heralds a process that could likely lead to an unprecedented federal effort to force Americans into an antiquated lifestyle that was common to the early years of the previous century. More specifically, these initiatives reflect an escalation in what is shaping up as President Obama’s apparent intent to re-energize and lead the Left’s longstanding war against America’s suburbs.” In the absence of broad federal urban policy, many cities have taken their own steps to secure their futures. New York has adopted progressive environmental policies under
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THE WORLD OF
Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s PlaNYC. Boston has innovated ways to deal with vacancy and abandonment. Portland, Ore., has undertaken an inclusive long-term-planning project. But for every example of independent ingenuity, there is an instance of municipal desperation, like Chicago’s selling ad space on its bridges. From high-speed interstate rail to gun control, there are issues for which cities simply cannot make meaningful policy on their own, because the problems lie beyond their borders and their budgets. Other countries realize that cities help generate broader economic growth and deserve investment. In France, says Savitch, the national government covers 70 percent of municipal expenses. “We suffer exactly the opposite,” he notes. Cities will obviously benefit from broad improvements in America’s economy and fiscal situation. In a November letter to the supercommittee charged with reducing federal spending, the U.S. Conference of Mayors called for general policies like closing corporate loopholes, repatriating profits and redirecting savings from the end of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to infrastructure. But cities also have special needs: The National League of Cities has a 230-page blueprint for national urban policy that covers everything from Internet access to freight traffic to counterterrorism.
Many of those issues intersect. Christopher Emerson, who runs a homeless-services center in Manchester, says the shortcomings in the city’s transit hinder efforts to help the homeless put their lives in order. No bleeding heart, Emerson says many of the homeless are as much to blame for their problems as society is. But they do have a legitimate gripe, he allows, when they say they can’t get to an appointment because of the transit system’s scarce service. “We’re watching our numbers rise here, not dramatically but steadily. It’s going to get worse,” he says, adding that his colleagues at shelters “feel the tide coming.” Officially, Manchester claims only 400 homeless people, but that’s a significant number for a city of 110,000. Many of the homeless are not from Manchester but have come because the city is known to have a shelter system. Occasionally someone will complain that homeless facilities like Emerson’s are attracting a problem population to Manchester’s streets. But Emerson sees nothing strange about people coming to a city for what they need: “They do the same thing for medical care. They come to the big city for the malls. Why would we single out homeless services as being weird or inappropriate? It’s consistent with how urban, suburban and exurban societies function.”
The incredible shrinking Cities
The driving concerns of American presidential politics ebb and flow, reflected in the language spoken at presidential debates. Below, we map the frequency with which certain terms have been mentioned at debates over the last 35 years. Note how “inflation” went from a dominating topic to a minor one. See “terrorism” rise, then fall, then rise again. And watch “cities” and “urban” fade into the background of these quadrennial conversations. Will the 2012 debates be any different?
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Infographic by Benjamin Farahmand Source:
Bernice Horne bought a home in a federally-funded development in the Desire neighborhood of New Orleans that was later declared a Superfund site. She moved back in after Katrina, but most of her neighbors did not. Photo by Marc Fader.
CHAPTER TWO NEW oRLEANs
t’s 11 a.m. on a Monday and Bernice Horne is sweeping the front porch. Inside, her son fixes himself a fast lunch—he’s on the clock— while her granddaughter readies for a class at the local community college. “Erica,” she calls. “Grab me a dust pan. We don’t need any more mess around here.” The view from Horne’s front porch is bleak: a weedy lot; the dark, gutted house of a dead neighbor; and beyond that, a derelict subdivision stretching as far as the eye can see. Occasionally a bird swoops in or out of a broken window. A ripped chain-link fence borders the abandoned affordable-housing development, which never reopened after Hurricane Katrina forced its operator, the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO), to close it more than six years ago. “One day my baby granddaughter was sitting out on the porch swing, and she said, ‘Why does that building have eyes? It looks like it’s looking at us,’ ” Horne, a retired school custodian, says. “I said, ‘Baby, they’resupposed to be windows and doors to keep little girls like you safe.’ ”
BY ArIELLA COHEN
Housing and environmental policies clash in a threatened neighborhood.
Horne used a grant supplied by the state to rebuild her tidy ranch-style house from the ground up after Katrina. For reasons both emotional and financial, she never seriously considered not doing so. “We don’t have any other place,” she says quietly. “This is where I raised my children. We can’t afford to go anywhere else.” Upon her return, she installed a jungle gym in the backyard and, inside, a plush sofa with plenty of room for chatting with the neighbors she expected would return. They haven’t. The population of Horne’s neighborhood, Desire, has dropped 68 percent since 2000, falling from 3,791 to 1,213 in 2010, U.S. Census data show. Where there were once occupied homes, weeds grow. The only commercial establishment for miles is the Money and Honey One Stop, a concrete-fronted corner store with unpredictable hours and an inventory heavy on 99-cent soda and hot potato chips. Though New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s recovery plan includes putting a $11 million community center and health clinic in this Upper 9th Ward neighborhood, the only city project to be completed so far is a modestly outfitted
park with a small swimming pool, a few sports fields and a Kaboom playground donated to the neighborhood. On warm fall evenings, the sound of children playing football reverberates through otherwise quiet streets. “No traffic. Nothing. It’s a ghost town other than the park,” a neighbor, Hardy Price, says. Price is one of four residents on his block. One of the others is his adult son, who lives across the street. The remaining two are renters who moved in next door after the property’s prior owner moved to Texas following Katrina and converted his home into a Section 8 rental. The weeds were growing high in the Upper 9th Ward long before Landrieu took office—and indeed, even before the hurricane hit. For more than a decade before that disaster, a quieter one was unfolding, one that caused residents of the nearly 100 percent black, largely low-income AFTER THE SToRm community to live alongside a read our 2008 special edition potentially lethal on demographic change in legacy of federal post-Katrina New Orleans policy decisions. www.citylimits.org/magazine In the case of Horne’s neighborhood, the decisions were spectacular failures. Her house, as well as the abandoned HANO development she sees from her front porch and the public elementary school where she worked and her grandchildren studied, were built atop a 95-acre municipal dump. Despite its devastation, the Upper 9th Ward has received far less attention than the Lower 9th, which sits several miles to the southeast, across the Industrial Canal, where a levee failure during Katrina sent 20 feet of floodwater surging into the neighborhood. At a town hall meeting in September, residents begged Landrieu to invest in their neighborhood. “We have not a medical center, nothing for our senior citizens. We have a bus that goes nowhere. We need you, Mr. Mayor,” one resident exhorted Landrieu. “When you were running for your seat, you didn’t have to ask us. We stood by you. But now you done forgot about us.” A booming round of applause punctuated the woman’s comments.
SHRINkINg CITIES, BIg WoRRIES
Welcome to the new normal—where entire swaths of city neighborhoods deteriorate behind fences and no one is too surprised when a child invents a story to explain why so many buildings in her community are vacant. The circumstances that brought New Orleans’ neighborhoods into their current limbo are a combination of singular events and larger national trends. Many communities around the country currently confront similar fates. For evidence, look to the
urban prairies of Detroit; Youngstown, Ohio; and Flint, Mich. In the case of New Orleans, the storm immediately preceding abandonment was Katrina. In these other cities, it was the slower winds of economic and political change, the foreclosure crisis, decades of urban population loss, spending cuts, and federal policy changes. Now cities must decide how to proceed: continue to maintain support for communities built with earlier generations of public support or simply disinvest? “We are paying a big price for decades of bad decisions at local, state and federal levels,” says Dan Kildee, president and co-founder of the Center for American Progress, a national nonprofit that focuses on urban revitalization. “We are paying the price of decades without a vision.” Obama is the first president to admit loud and clear that new strategies must be followed in communities like Desire, where there are houses and no one to fill them or fix them. Unlike prior administrations that have changed individual programs and hinted at a broader need to reshape the way the federal government supports urban development, Obama’s secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Shaun Donovan, has said from Day One that the agency’s entire approach must be transformed to take into account changing economic and environmental considerations as well as new geography of poverty that has populations once concentrated in cities dispersed across ever sprawling suburban regions. Indeed, the New Orleans housing officials who made the decision to build affordable housing on a landfill in the Desire neighborhood were not acting in a vacuum. Rather, they built in line with the theory that many argue guided urban development across the country throughout the 20th century—the notion that the health of cities depends on sustained growth, particularly in the area of housing, America’s favorite economic indicator. “For generations in America, we have measured success by the number of housing units we are able to construct,” says Kildee. Kildee has a point. When politicians want to prove the economy is robust, they cite the number of housing starts. When they want to demonstrate a community is healthy, they cite home values. Implicit in that is an assumption that populations will keep pace with the market and that the new housing will be absorbed. It is that assumption that Desire and hundreds of other similarly abandoned communities are now proving catastrophically wrong. Obama is trying to reverse that legacy with HUD’s Sustainable Communities initiative—which takes a cross-agency approach to build more cohesive, connected regions wherein transit development coordinates with housing development and job growth—and the Choice Neighborhoods program for transforming isolated public housing developments into integrated, mixed-income neighborhoods. But those changes are taking place in a context of drastically
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Today’s urban buzzwords are “sustainability” and “density,” and in New Orleans that means focusing civic resources on neighborhoods that have repopulated and appear viable. That might be sound policy, but it’s tough news for residents of areas like Desire. Photo by Marc Fader.
reduced federal support for cities and housing. The spending package includes an 8 percent cut to the capital fund for public housing—a reduction that could have grave implications for already overburdened housing authorities. In New Orleans’ 9th Ward alone, the city’s housing authority has at least a half-dozen abandoned or partly abandoned complexes, including the Press Park subdivision visible from Horne’s porch. Adding to the challenge: a nearly 40 percent slashing this year of the agency’s largest affordable-housing block grant program—HOME, which provides municipalities with grant dollars to be used exclusively for the purpose of providing affordable housing or direct rental assistance. A smaller but still sizable 6 percent reduction hit the agency’s most flexible community redevelopment grant tool, the Community Development Block Grant program. CDBG grants provide the funding for the sort of neighborhood-level intervention needed on the messy blocks surrounding Horne in Desire. “Every local housing authority is going to be picking up the pieces and absolutely funding only its highest-priority communities,” says Linda Couch,
a senior policy analyst at the National Low Income Housing Coalition. But as budget cuts and political pressures force cities to take this triage approach, what happens to those neighborhoods that wind up on the wrong side of the red line?
HomEoWNERSHIP IN HARm’S WAy
If New Orleans is the city care forgot, Desire is the neighborhood care ignored. Built on drained swampland northwest of the Industrial Canal, the neighborhood grew up alongside a dump where refuse was burned in open pits from 1909 until 1948, when neighbors’ complaints about thick, putrid smoke forced legislation banning dumps inside the city. Instead of ceasing to dump in the neighborhood, though, city officials circumvented the legislation by converting the dump into a landfill. Burying the refuse would be more sanitary, they argued. The Agriculture Street Landfill persisted until 1965, when it was last used as an emergency dump for debris produced by Hurricane Betsy. Soon after the landfill closed, the local housing
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authority began eying the unused city land for affordable housing. In 1969 the first of two federally financed developments, Press Park, rose atop the landfill. Though project engineers worried about subsidence on the former dump, politics outweighed any environmental concerns. In a freshly integrated city where much of the housing available to black families was substandard, the idea of building a modern housing development from the ground up—even if that ground might be contaminated—appealed to the city’s leadership. No remediation was done. The Housing Authority of New Orleans began to aggressively market Press Park’s new, affordable townhouses to striving black families, instituting programs that allowed low-income public housing residents to become homeowners. A second project, Gordon Plaza, sprang up on the former landfill’s eastern edge in the late 1970s. Containing rentals, housing for senior citizens and affordable single-family homes, the development was, like Press Park, paid for with federal grant and loan money. The strategy reflected the modus operandi of the city at the time: build more and build cheap. Over several decades, the strategy transformed previously undeveloped drained swampland in the 9th Ward and farther east—areas now synonymous with Katrina’s devastation—into an area dense with federally subsidized affordable housing, populated overwhelmingly by black families. Following the rooftops, the Orleans Parish School Board had a construction spree in the area. The school board constructed one school, Moton Elementary, on the edge of the Agriculture Street Landfill. Even before the school opened in 1985, school officials contemplated abandoning it because of elevated lead levels in the site’s soil. Again, pressure for a ribbon cutting won out. The school opened. By the time of the 1990 census, about 1,000 people lived on the landfill or along its immediate periphery. “We moved there because the schools were down the street,” Horne, who bought her privately developed home on the eastern flank of the landfill in 1983, says. “The children didn’t have to cross a lot of traffic. They could walk to school.” But while the population continued to grow, so did concerns about the area’s environmental safety. People were finding stray landfill debris in their yards. The EPA, which according to legal documents had found evidence of contamination as early as 1986, came down again in 1993 to do testing, which found higher than allowed levels of lead, arsenic and polychlorinated aromatic hydrocarbons. Moton, located across the street from Press Park, closed in 1994 because of elevated lead levels, and Horne’s granddaughter Erica, then a first-grader at the school, tested positive for lead poisoning. “Around that time, we stopped growing vegetables in our garden because we were worried about what was in the soil,” Gordon Plaza homeowner Ruth Parker says.
That same year, the EPA recognized the 95-acre Agriculture Street Landfill as a Superfund hazardous-waste site. Though many homeowners urged EPA officials to buy their homes and clear the land, the EPA decided on a cheaper fix: removing contaminated soil and replacing it with clean clay atop a fabric liner. The soil remediation cost $42.8 million and took nine years, wrapping up in 2003. The site still hasn’t been removed from the federal register of Superfund sites, despite agency officials’ taking steps to do so. Still bouncing through the federal appeals system is the class action filed in 1993 on behalf of residents, homeowners and students who unknowingly bought homes, rented apartments or attended school on top of the landfill. After more than a decade in the courts, only a portion of residents included in the class of affected plaintiffs have received settlements, despite a 2006 ruling in their favor by Civil District Court Judge Nadine Ramsey, who declared the neighborhood “uninhabitable” and “dangerous.” “If this was another kind of neighborhood, we wouldn’t have to fight so hard,” Horne, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, says. “It’s like we don’t exist, like we keep having to tell the courts and the city and everyone that we are still here. That’s what it feels like.” In November an inspection of the landfill site done by EPA officials mentioned a resurgence of illegal dumping at the site. Plaintiffs in the class action say they hope for an eventual settlement that will allow them to move elsewhere. Parker bought her Gordon Plaza home in 1981 for $40,000. Thirty years later, its assessed value is $45,000. She and her husband are retired. Both have cancer. “The settlement is our only hope,” Parker says. “No one is going to buy these houses, knowing what is back here.” Last year, a nonpracticing Houston attorney named Robert Spencer bought the largest vacant Gordon Plaza building for $1 from HUD. The property’s previous owner, Desire Community Housing, had defaulted on a HUD loan, leaving the federal agency to foreclose on the 2.6-acre property and auction it off. Spencer, who has said that redeveloping the complex would be his largest project to date, was the only bidder. He has made little progress on the site since buying it in May, neighbors say. Despite loud complaints from these nearby residents, Spencer has filed no permits for the demolition of the blighted fire hazard. Meanwhile, HANO maintains that it can’t demolish Press Park until it buys out 67 private townhouse owners in the 237-unit authority development. It can’t do that until the courts decide on the class action, officials say. Neighbors impatiently await the wrecking ball. It’s not hard to see why. Walk in through breaches in its chain-link border and you will find apartments with moldy, water-damaged pictures on the walls and toys on the floor, crusted in six years’ worth of dirt. Water from leaking sewer and water
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pipes pools in the overgrowth, leaving the faint aroma of a septic tank. At community meetings, residents blame HANO for failing to take cleanup action that could inspire private owners like Spencer to get moving.
STIll INVESTINg IN dISASTER
Further complicating matters is the fact that the federal government continues to invest in Press Park and the struggling blocks that surround it. Since Katrina, HUD has sent about $9.4 million in Road Home hurricane recovery grants to property owners in the 1,137-housing-unit census block that includes the 170-unit development, Louisiana Office of Community Development records show. On a warm Tuesday in October, one of those grant recipients, John Spears, climbed through an opening he cut in the development’s fence and showed a reporter the townhouse-style condo he restored using a $70,000 Road Home small-rental-program grant from the state community development office. Buckets of white paint and Spackle littered the otherwise empty three-bedroom unit. In an upstairs room, a brand-new plastic-framed window looked out over the development’s deserted, trash-strewn inner courtyard. If you forgot about Katrina, it looked like the set of a dystopian horror movie about some kind of deadly pathogen hitting a low-end suburb. To receive the $46,000 in grant money the state awarded Spears for completing the affordable-housing rehab, he had to show the unit to an inspector, he said. “The inspector said, ‘I don’t see anything else around here. Why would you redo it?’ ” Spears recalled, tapping his foot on a glossy adobe-colored floor tile. The question, however on point, didn’t stop the landlord from receiving his grant money or a certificate of occupancy from the city. Now he is waiting for a tenant to agree to move in so he can receive the final $24,000 installment of the grant allocation. He’s shown the place to a few Section 8 voucher holders but no one has taken up the lease, he said. “I’m hoping HANO will fix the rest of this mess up so someone will actually want to live here,” he said. “Otherwise, they can buy me out and tear it down. I’ll give them this, and they can give me a new unit somewhere else.” The HUD-appointed administrative receiver who runs HANO, David Gilmore, acknowledges that he has met with Spears but declines to talk about his specific situation. “We’re trying to buy everyone out,” he says. Gilmore says that while FEMA will eventually pay for the demolition of the Katrina-battered complex, redevelopment is years off. “I don’t have any plans at the moment. That doesn’t mean there won’t be,” says Gilmore, a bureaucrat imported from Washington to clean up and modernize the long-troubled housing authority, which was put under federal receivership in 2002.
“I would love to live in a world where the federal government could provide enough resources to do it all at once, but until that day comes, someone has to make hard choices.”
A NEW modEl FoR HoUSINg
Developing Press Park into anything other than an open field will be tricky. Federal regulations prohibit using HUD housing grants on Superfund sites, meaning that HANO will have to transfer the property to a private owner if it wants to see housing developed there. Beyond that, the notion of rebuilding a neighborhood on a landfill in a far-off section of the city with few public services contradicts the essence of Obama’s holistic, cross-agency Sustainable Communities agenda. “That was developed in a different time,” Gilmore says. “I am not sure if I would’ve ever built there in the first place.” For HANO, the rethinking of federal housing policy coincided with its own controversial transformation. After Katrina, the agency never reopened its four largest traditional public housing complexes, instead initiating HOPE VI transformations—turning traditional public housing into smaller, mixed-income communities operated by private developers. The projects, which housing officials expect to complete in the next two years, reflect HUD’s reorientation toward mixed-income, mixed-use communities located in urban cores and connected to public services. One of them, Harmony Oaks in Central City, features wraparound tenant services in a new community center. A cross-city greenway has been incorporated into the design of another one of the developments, Faubourg Lafitte. The master plan for a third, Columbia Parc, includes a revenue-generating golf course. But while residents are publicly enthusiastic about amenities in the new developments, their shrunken size and
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mixed-income portfolio mean many of the neediest preKatrina tenants remain locked out of the modern offerings. Before Katrina, HANO had 5,100 occupied housingdevelopment units and 8,500 vouchers, for a total of 13,600 units. HANO now plans to provide 22,500 households with assistance, but nearly 80 percent of families will receive the housing subsidy in the form of a Section 8 voucher, according to the agency’s 2012 budget. The number living in traditional public housing will have fallen 20 percent. Again following federal policy trends, HANO has traded thousands of public housing units for a market-based voucher system that it hopes will encourage people to move into privately owned units and help deconcentrate poverty. The agency does not specifically track whether or not such a deconcentration is occurring, making it tough if not impossible to evaluate the policy’s success. Available data suggest the policy implementation still has a way to go: A 2010 analysis of census-tract-level data shows that most of the houses that are approved for voucher usage are located in low-income neighborhoods within close proximity to the former housing projects. In addition to the tens of millions of dollars going to rebuild developments shuttered after Katrina, HANO last year took on another high-profile project: the redevelopment of Iberville, the city’s last major traditional public housing development—and the only one located in touristy downtown New Orleans. HUD selected Iberville as one of five developments to receive federal support through Choice Neighborhoods. The reinvention into a mixed-use, mixed-income neighborhood will cost upwards of $600 million over the next decade of planning and construction, $30 million of which will come from the Choice grant. Situated on the fringe of the French Quarter in the Treme, Iberville is by far the authority’s most valuable property, with enormous potential for private investment. The new development reflects that potential. Only a third of the new development’s 913 units will be public housing, with an additional 305 set aside for households earning 50 to 60 percent of the city’s $37,726 median income and the final third reserved for those able to afford market-rate units in the desirable downtown neighborhood. The housing authority has set aside a chunk of the site for commercial development that the agency hopes will bring national department stores and grocers to the area. Unlike the HOPE VI grants that paid for earlier public housing reinventions, Choice requires oneto-one replacement of all public housing units. Accordingly, HANO will build 517 replacement units off site. A successful transformation of Iberville carries huge political potential for the city’s leadership as well as Obama, who has highlighted the community in speeches about the power of Choice Neighborhoods to reinvent American cities. Unlike the Press Park section of Desire, which is separated from
New Orleans’ downtown core by railroad tracks, a smoggy stretch of industrial businesses and the interstate, Iberville can’t be ignored. “The Treme community plays a vital role in the city’s heritage and cultural identity,” Landrieu said in a press release put out when HUD announced New Orleans would receive the Choice award. “This grant provides us with an essential tool to transform lives and revitalize one of the greatest neighborhoods in the country.” Gilmore admits that even if Press Park were his top priority, it would not qualify for the federal support of an Iberville. “It just would not satisfy the vast array of issues Choice Neighborhoods takes into account,” he says.
WINNERS ANd loSERS
Ninth Ward councilman Jon Johnson was mad. It was Day 10 of the city council’s hearings on the 2012 budget, and the only clear message he was hearing seemed to be that his district, which encompasses a large swath of the city’s northeastern neighborhoods, including the most storm-devastated areas, was not going to see much help in the coming year. As the director of the city’s Regional Transit Authority explained that population losses in the 9th Ward would mean fewer buses, Johnson turned to an aide and spoke quietly for a moment. As soon the authority’s presentation ended, Johnson turned back to his microphone. “We have to stop dumping all of our resources in the core of the city,” he told the crowded council chambers. “We have communities out here that are struggling to hold on while downtown, things are getting built, things are improving. It is simply not right.” Kildee, a Democrat who has announced he will run this year for a U.S. House seat in his hometown of Flint, Mich., has made a name for himself as a leader in the burgeoning “shrinking cities” movement. Kildee’s mission is to align the size of a city with its population, creating smaller cities where resources and services can be better targeted. A consultant to municipalities around the country, Kildee has advised the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority and stationed an outpost for his organization’s Vacant Properties Campaign in the city. Kildee acknowledges that Johnson is right: There will be losers. “I would love to live in a world where the federal government could provide enough resources to do it all at once, but until that day comes, someone has to make hard choices,” he says. “We know for certain that the old way of spreading money around is not working. But it does keep me up at night, worrying about those communities who may not benefit.”
CHAPTER THREE DETRoiT
A Designated Driver
The auto bailout helped Motor City. Could immigration save it?
he moniker Hollywood means both the Los Angeles enclave as well as the film industry as a whole, and to label something as being on Wall Street refers to an address on the actual roadway or some facet of the giant financial industry headquartered there. But the term Detroit is even more complicated. Geographically speaking, Detroit is both a city and a metropolitan area. Conceptually, it’s the one-word designator for the domestic auto industry. Symbolically, it’s a byword for urban decline. Consider: Detroit’s (the city’s, that is) population has been in steady decline since 1950, suffering a 25 percent drop from 2000 to 2010. More people have left Detroit in the past decade than now live in Orlando. The city’s overwhelmingly African-American population is largely impoverished and unemployed; Detroit’s 19.2 percent October unemployment rate looks better than the 27 percent the city hit in June 2009 but mainly reflects the fact that an estimated 38,000 people dropped out of Detroit’s labor force altogether. The region generally remains grossly segregated—white, wealthy, suburban neighborhoods are separated by canals and freeways from poor, largely minority areas. All neighborhoods have watched property values slide as the foreclosure crisis hit; Motown led the nation in foreclosure rates in 2006 and 2007, and in more recent years, its dismal real estate situation has been blamed by some for dragging down the national housing market. The formula for Detroit’s current status is complicated— a mix of local, regional and national socioeconomic forces that are driven by politics, capitalism and racial dynamics
BY SANDrA SVOBODA
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The impact of the auto bailout on Detroit, the city, is hard to specify because the physical footprint of the auto industry largely lies outside the municipal boundaries. Photo by Cybelle Codish.
that are evident throughout the region. But while many hands have shaped the good and bad of today’s Detroit, the impact of federal policy is easy to spot. For example, the U.S. Department of Transportation has pledged the bulk of the $550 million needed for a light-rail project that will start as a 9-mile section downtown and run up Woodward Avenue toward the relatively populous and wealthy Oakland County. Several federal law enforcement agencies are putting resources toward prosecuting gun crimes in the city to help reduce a high crime rate. Homeland Security vehicles are seen patrolling the streets and waterways along the nearby border with Canada. But in recent memory, no federal policy has more directly affected Detroit—and stirred national debate—than the auto bailout.
A PolITICAl TARgET
Historically, the fate of the city and region has been tied to a single industry: car manufacturing. Concentrated in Michigan’s southeast corner, the state’s motor vehicle manufacturing and motor vehicle parts manufacturing industries employed about 120,000 people in 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Compare that with the roughly 296,000 that had those jobs in 2001 and the impact of the automobile industry’s contraction is obvious. National election rhetoric for decades has included aspects of Detroit, the industry. Conservatives decry labor’s influence, but progressives court it, reflecting the ongoing relevance of the United Auto Workers union. Candidates have argued the wisdom of government mandates for gETTINg JoBBEd fuel standards and whose fault it is that A look at cities with high former U.S.-based unemployment rates manufacturing jobs www.citylimits.org/health have moved overseas. More recently, the preferred public investment in alternative energies has entered the fray. All issues directly affect Detroit, the industry. But it’s the controversial federal government loans approved in 2009 by President Obama in his first weeks in office that have sparked debate during this Republican primary season. “My view with regard to the bailout was whether it was by President Bush or by President Obama, it was the wrong way to go,” GOP candidate Mitt Romney—whose father ran an automobile company before serving as Michigan’s governor in the 1960s—said during a November debate in Michigan. He was echoed by another candidate on the stage. “I do agree that this country is never again going to bail out
corporations,” said Jon Huntsman. Obama’s handling of the automotive industry was one of his first big tasks, and David Bonior had a front-row seat to watch him tackle it. A 13-term congressman from a suburban-Detroit district, Bonior managed John Edwards’ 2008 presidential campaign and served on Obama’s economic advisory board during the White House transition. He was one of the few left-wing members of that team and part of intense discussions in advance of the auto bailout announcement. Bonior traveled to Chicago on the Friday after the 2008 election, meeting with nearly two dozen economic, corporate and government leaders who had been assembled by the new president-elect. “The two issues we talked about were the collapsing economy and the banking issue,” Bonior recalls. “But Obama started out with the auto piece as part of that.” The panel’s majority advocated letting the Big Three fail and proceed through private bankruptcy filings, Bonior says, and he gives Obama credit for pushing the bailout, which provided roughly $80 billion to GM and Chrysler; Ford didn’t take the deal. “He stayed with a very strong policy, although it was unpopular,” Bonior says. “The fact of the matter is the companies paid back the money they borrowed. They restructured based on his insistence on standards and mileage, and we get a better product today.” Bill Vlasic remembers that time with a shudder. A longtime auto industry reporter at The Detroit News, Vlasic now reports for The New York Times. His book Once Upon a Car: The Fall and Resurrection of America’s Big Three Automakers—GM, Ford, and Chrysler hit bookstores in October. Vlasic weaves a corporate thriller based on interviews done months after the crisis period. He chronicles the failings within the industry—unwieldy egos, too many unprofitable product lines, massive bureaucracies, failure to predict rising fuel prices and respond to consumer demands for more fuel-efficient cars, and an inability to effect rapid change. These flaws seemed to come to a head in a moment that gave much of America and auto industry naysayers a reason to view the corporations with disdain: the three CEOs flew to Washington on private jets to beg for taxpayer money without so much as a chat beforehand to craft an effective message. The auto execs “were amazed when they got to Washington and how negative it was from every direction: liberals on the environment; Southerners on unions; Republicans who didn’t like Detroit’s way of doing business,” Vlasic says. However, resentment toward the industry and the revulsion at its tone-deaf leaders soon gave way to more practical considerations: “All of a sudden it was ‘My gosh, we could lose this industry, and it will be a lot more painful than swallowing hard and loaning them money.’ ”
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Blaming NAFTA for Detroit’s empty factories and bleak neighborhoods is oversimplifying the myriad dynamics at play during the late 20th century. But there’s no doubt that trade liberalization exacerbated those problems.
Only one of the Big Three automakers, General Motors Co., is actually headquartered within Detroit city limits. Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group LLC are based in nearby suburbs. But that doesn’t matter. The city’s fortunes are clearly linked to the auto industry. In 2010 the city estimated its general fund suffered a $24 million decline in income tax revenue from GM and Chrysler alone. The two automakers’ employment numbers within city limits fell from 7,574 and 14,282 in 2001 to 4,517 and 4,652 a decade later. Detroit residents, the white- and blue-collar workers who lost jobs in droves, might be seeing the first stages of a turnaround in auto employment, thanks mostly to the federal moneys and the conditions they came with. The federal assistance—a controversial part of the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program—forced the restructuring and streamlining of companies; the discontinuation of unprofitable divisions, which were sold off or terminated; and the negotiated reduction of corporate pension and health care obligations, which has meant the union rank and file have assumed a bigger share of the costs. “I’m not exactly sure how it’s is going to play out,” says Paul Eisenstein, publisher of TheDetroitBureau.com, one of the leading auto industry news sources, discussing the political ramifications of the bailout in 2012. But he might as well have been talking about its economic impact. “If you look at it right now, auto sales … have been one of the few positive indicators in an otherwise gloomy economic institution here in the United States. One could argue that the auto industry is helping prop up the economy, and the bailout has helped.” The bailout’s performance continues to defy easy analysis. For example, as of December, GM had directly repaid $23.2 billion of the $49.5 billion it took from the government. But the government owns company stock, and as share prices rise or fall, so too does the public’s investment in the company. A drop in price equals a higher cost of the bailout. A rise means it was a “better” investment. Detroit is the largest city in a perpetual battleground state that shades blue in presidential elections but elected a Republican governor in 2010, so issues related to the auto bailout promise to be if not in the driver’s seat, at least riding
shotgun in the 2012 national elections. Interwoven into that debate are divergent opinions about what nudged the auto industry to the edge of the cliff from which the bailout saved it.
Now the chairman of the Washington-based American Rights at Work, Bonior is steadfast as ever in his stance that the North American Free Trade Agreement, in opening the U.S., Canada and Mexico to free trade, ruined the domestic manufacturing economy. “It was the first unfettered, unprotected trade bill that we had. There was no protection for working people. It was designed for multinational corporations, and it’s what we’ve operated under since,” Bonior says. “It’s cost us literally hundreds of thousands of jobs if not millions in the United States. Good jobs—jobs that people could raise a family on and have a future.” NAFTA’s implementation began in 1994 and eliminated tariffs and other barriers to trade between Canada, Mexico and the U.S. The office of the United States Trade Representative contends that in the first years after its passage, wages of American workers increased and employment rates rose. But a 2006 Economic Policy Institute study found problems. “Workers’ share of the gains from rising productivity fell and the proportion of income and wealth going to those at the very top of the economic pyramid grew,” the report states. Bonior and some economists contend that any manufacturing job in the auto industry that left the U.S. took up to seven multiplier positions with it. That’s because for every one production worker on an assembly line, seven employees at suppliers, shippers, research facilities and other facets of the industry exist as support. “That’s quite different from a retail position that’s created, where the spin-off is infinitely smaller than that,” Bonior says. Nowhere is the effect more apparent than in Detroit, Bonior says, which as a city has been hollowed of its industry as factories shut down. But while he wishes it would, Bonior doesn’t expect NAFTA to resurface as an issue in the 2012 rhetoric, at least as a stand-alone philosophical discussion. “The economy is so important because it’s the overriding issue, and jobs are the
overriding issue within the economic construct,” he says. “It will inevitably lead to some discussion of our trade regimes, and so it will probably be somewhat of an issue again. But I think it will probably get lost in the general debate about the economy.” And in that general debate, the mainstream of both major parties is staunchly pro–free trade. Of course, blaming NAFTA for Detroit’s empty factories and neighborhoods is oversimplifying the dynamics at play in the late 20th century. The city’s population peaked in 1950, indicating that at least some of the city-to-suburb migration followed national patterns. The 1967 racial unrest—some say riots, others say revolution—sparked not just white but also black middle-class flight beyond the city borders. Federal interstates designed to facilitate cross-country military traffic also encouraged the middle class to move out of denser city neighborhoods and into suburban subdivisions. (Of course, this spurred auto sales as well, which benefited Detroit the industry if not Detroit the city itself.) And the jobs often followed the population, with suburban office parks replacing downtown skyscrapers as employment centers. More recently, a complicated mix of pressures and policies bore down on Detroit; NAFTA was hardly alone. For decades before the 1994 pact, Rust Belt states watched manufacturing move not to Mexico but to cheaper Sun Belt states. And the trade imbalance with Japan was a worry long before Mexico became a threat. What’s more, since NAFTA, China’s growth as an economic competitor has complicated attempts to estimate the trade pact’s impact on auto and other industries. Meanwhile, pro-trade commentators blame the auto industry’s health and pension costs for hurting its competitiveness. And some critics say the Big Three simply made lousy cars at a time when foreign competitors, many of whom actually manufacture their autos in the U.S., churned out the chassis that Americans wanted to buy. But there’s no doubt that trade liberalization exacerbated those problems. The Big Three’s share of the American auto market decreased from 70 percent in 1998 to just over 50 percent in 2007. Today just two major auto assembly plants remain operational within the city boundaries. On the east side, the Jefferson Avenue site is where Chrysler builds Jeep Grand Cherokees, and GM’s Detroit/Hamtramck plant is where the electric Chevy Volt, the Buick Malibu and the Opel Ampera are produced.
HoPE oN THE BoRdER
As two border crossings from Detroit to Canada direct crossing freight traffic—much of it auto-related—and people through Detroit’s downtown and southwestern neighborhoods, it’s not hard to see that while freight moves easily across the Detroit River, people have more legal obstacles. Still, Detroit the region is home to the country’s largest Arab-American population as well as an increasing Hispanic citizenry and
has a noticeable presence of Southeast Asians and Indians, many of whom work in the automobile industry. With states like Arizona and Alabama largely framing the national discussion about immigration—namely how to keep numbers of unskilled, unauthorized immigrants from entering the U.S.—a more nuanced immigration discussion is beginning to take hold in Detroit. It builds on the region’s history of attracting workers of varying ethnicities to work in the auto factories. The abundant, low-skill jobs that greeted those earlier immigrants unskilled have nearly disappeared, but the reminders of the legacy remain, and the idea of a “new” population providing some future promise for Detroit is being espoused by some. In Detroit, immigration discussions are beginning to be about balancing industry’s need for qualified workers with a respect for current residents who suffer some of the highest unemployment rates in the country. It’s also about making the city attractive to immigrants who could help repopulate it, says Hayg Oshagan, an associate professor of communication at Wayne State University. In 2006, Oshagan launched the New Michigan Media initiative. It’s a collaboration of the state’s 140 ethnic and minority media led by the publishers of the top five newspapers in the state. The group has grown into a policy advocacy organization. Last summer Oshagan’s organization co-hosted a conference titled Immigration and Michigan’s Economic Future in Detroit, which was attended by corporate executives, immigration advocates, policymakers and elected officials. One of the keynote speakers, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican and former business executive and venture capitalist, has said one of the keys to building a diverse, successful state economy is turning to immigrants. “In terms of the popular perception of losing jobs to immigrants, we have to overcome that,” Snyder said at the conference. He touts immigrants as “job creators” that the state should embrace. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg attended via teleconference. Earlier in the year, Bloomberg had publicly urged Detroit Mayor Dave Bing to find ways to lure immigrants and keep them in city boundaries, pointing out that an influx of immigrants had helped keep New York City at a similar population level for the past decade. Bing’s office declined several requests for interviews for this article, but at the time of Bloomberg’s comments, Bing said, “I don’t know what [Bloomberg] was on. … We can’t provide jobs for the people here.” But University of Detroit Mercy School of Law professor David Koelsch touts Detroit’s vast tracts of land available for entrepreneurs to develop into businesses, the low cost of living and an already multicultural climate in the area thanks, in part, to the auto industry, as potential lures for immigrant entrepreneurs who might, instead of taking jobs, create them,
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meeting Motown’s two most pressing needs. “In Detroit we want people who are going to come in and invest in real production facilities,” Koelsch says. “And we need jobs for people here who are semiskilled or even moderately skilled.” Oshagan and other immigration advocates have been brainstorming to develop policy initiatives that could support immigration. How could new residents provide jobs or fill vacancies without hurting Detroit’s current population? Could a municipal office of immigration affairs help? How can they overcome the popular perception that immigrants take jobs? How can the visa process better allow for an influx of educated workers needed to fill technical jobs? Can the immigration debate in campaigns be structured so candidates differentiate between low-skilled laborers and high-skilled professionals who will buy cars, houses and other products while they live in the U.S.? As much as local initiatives can help, Oshagan says federal law must be redesigned to address migration and residency issues. “It’s hard to imagine that happening here and now,” he says. “But it would be a collaboration with cities who need this kind of federal help.”
STUCk IN NEUTRAl
Immigration could be a passenger on the ride to Election Day if—and it’s a big if—candidates raise the level of discussion from “Why aren’t we building a wall and keeping illegal aliens out?” to “How can immigration policy better support American industry’s needs and be an engine for more economic successes?” Koelsch is not optimistic that campaign rhetoric about immigration policy will reflect any economic urgency related to the need in cities like Detroit for a highly skilled immigrant workforce. That’s just too complicated. He expects Obama to shy away from promoting policies he has in the past supported—like the Dream Act, a measure that would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented children brought to the U.S. by their parents. “And the Republicans are really having a race to the bottom of the barrel,” he says. “They’re taking such extreme positions to cater to the Tea Party base. It’s going to come back and haunt them because the polls show the vast majority of Americans are not that extreme on immigration issues.” That’s true if Detroit’s ethnic destinations are an indication. Mexicantown, located adjacent to the Ambassador Bridge crossing to Canada, lures
urban and suburban patrons, who find restaurants, groceries and food trucks for jalapeño-laced feasts. Carryout Middle Eastern food is common fare for the downtown office set, and Asian markets—Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Indian, specifically—are setting up in the neighborhood around Wayne State University, the main downtown campus. Parking spaces outside any of these are overwhelmingly filled with American-made (or, at least, assembled) cars and trucks. Detroit supports its own. Will America continue to do the same with its auto industry?
The Joe Louis fist in downtown Detroit. Photo by Cybelle Codish.
U.s. Transportation issues from the city to the country
A Look at the five Largest Cities & their sub-100k population counterparts
Rank By Population & Counterpart
1 | New York, Ny 2 | Los Angeles, Ca 3 | Chicago, Il 4 | Houston, Tx 5 | Philadelphia, Pa Albany, Ny Rialto, Ca Waukegan, Il Tyler, Tx Reading, Pa
Los Angeles, Ca Waukegan, Il Chicago, Il Albany, Ny New York, Ny Philadelphia, Pa Reading, Pa
Tyler, Tx Houston, Tx
Years Spent Commuting
Years 1.92 | National Average
2.57 2.01 Chicago, Il | Waukegan, Il
1.39 New York, Ny | Albany, Ny Los Angeles, Ca | Railto, Ca
2% | National Average
Percentage of Public Transit Use Per Place Federal Transit Administration’s Budget per Fare
FTA Budget per Fare
Passenger Miles Per Person
181 172 161
Public Transportation Passenger Miles Per Person in the U.S.
Infographic by Dominic Prestifilippo Source:
Houston, TX $87.1 Million
Tyler, TX $3.8 Million Waukegan, IL $5.8 Million
2.39 2.00 1.36 Houston, Tx | Tyler, Tx Philadelphia, Pa | Reading, Pa 1.79
Chicago, IL $79.3 Million
Philadelphia, PA $47.3 Million Reading, PA $1.2 Million
Albany, NY $6.5 Million
New York, NY $734 Million
Los Angeles, CA $126 Million
Rialto, CA $6.2 Million
CHAPTER FOUR NEW yoRK
Commuters at Penn Station. There are plans for a dramatic expansion of capacity at this hub for Long-Island railroad and Amtrak commuters, but much hinges on whether federal funding arrives. Photo by Marc Fader.
The future of New York transit depends on the feds stepping up.
BY MELANIE LEFkOWITZ
36 The Urban Agenda City Limits / Vol. 35 / No. 6
n incoming commuter trains at rush hour, platforms are so crowded that swarms of passengers may spend more than 10 minutes merely shuffling off the platform. Long-distance Amtrak passengers share the terminal with Long Island Rail Road and New Jersey Transit commuters, causing backups and dampening dreams of high-speed rail on Amtrak’s busiest corridor. And though more than 550,000 people use the station every day, it is isolated from much of the city’s office and commercial activity, with the surrounding blocks relatively undistinguished for services or attractions. Pennsylvania Station is, decidedly, the transportation hub of the past. Yet modernization of the nation’s busiest train station proved stunningly elusive until a recent infusion of federal stimulus cash for renovations and a new train hall known as Moynihan Station. More than 71 percent of the plan’s entire first phase was paid for by the federal government—nearly $110 million in transportation funds, plus $83 million from the stimulus. That money was an enormous boon to a project that supporters hope will increase transit ridership and help revitalize the far West Side, allowing groundbreaking to finally take place in 2010. But it is also a striking reminder of how integral federal dollars can be to the city’s major infrastructure projects, whose worthiness may be proportional to their staggering expense. But even as New Yorkers may see the first phase of transit improvements taking shape—from Moynihan Station to the Second Avenue subway, from an extended No. 7 line to a link between the LIRR and Grand Central Terminal—the future of federal funding for these projects is very much at risk. The Republican-led House of Representatives has proposed significant cuts to transit, and the relevant portion of President Obama’s American Jobs bill, which includes an extra $4 billion for high-speed rail, appears unlikely to gain approval. The upcoming election, which could swing the balance of power in Congress and the White House, casts a long shadow of uncertainty over future funding.
“The 2012 elections, both presidential and Congress, will decide the fate of infrastructure funding in the country, not just Moynihan,” says Timothy Gilchrist, president of the Moynihan Station Development Corp.
A loNg RIdE
It’s been nearly two decades since Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan first introduced the concept of an ambitious new terminal that would both streamline transportation and befit the city it serves. According to the Regional Plan Association (RPA), Moynihan sold newspapers and shined shoes as a boy in the former Penn Station, with its glass-and-steel train sheds and soaring main lobby inspired by the Roman Baths of Caracalla. The station was razed in 1963, and its replacement has long been decried by historians, architects, planners and politicians alike as inefficient, inhospitable and increasingly inadequate. The current plan—scaled down and tweaked over the years since it was first floated—calls for the building of a new train hall for Amtrak in the James A. Farley Post Office building, on Eighth Avenue between 31st and 33rd streets. This move, which is not currently funded, would cost an estimated $1 billion to $1.5 billion, according to the RPA. Amtrak could then separate its operations from the busy commuter lines at Penn and move forward with its master plan of increasing service and ridership. A new train hall would also help pave the way for high-speed rail along the Washington–New York–Boston line, which is now hindered by, among other obstacles, the fact that slower commuter trains share the same tracks. “I don’t think anybody could ever claim that the project is not worth it. Economically, it’s just a question of finding the money up front,” says Juliette Michaelson, director of strategic initiatives at the RPA. “New York State ought to participate. New York City ought to participate. But in these economic times, I can’t really expect them to … There’s still a several-hundred-million-dollar shortfall that needs to be filled in somehow.” The Farley renovation would follow the current work, which has a $267.7 million price tag and is scheduled to be completed by 2016 and includes asbestos removal, ventilation improvement, extension of the Long Island Rail Road concourse and building of new entrances from the Farley building into Penn Station. Planners anticipate that the changes will ultimately improve commutes for hundreds of thousands by clearing platforms faster, increasing efficiency and the potential number of trains, allowing an additional 1,000 riders to pass through each day. “It’s just going to make a better pedestrian environment for the tens of thousands of people coming out of Penn Station every hour,” says Veronica Vanterpool, associate director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, an advocacy group dedicated to reducing car dependency. “Right now people
The MTA’s east Side Access project will connect Long Island railroad to Grand Central, breaking down a barrier between the two commuter lines and making it easier for LIrr riders to access Lexington Avenue subway. Photo by Marc Fader.
who are coming into Penn Station are struggling to get out or to get in. The infrastructure is definitely under strain.”
gETTINg oN TRACk
Perhaps the furthest-reaching implication could be improvements for Amtrak, which has a 30-year plan to introduce high-speed rail along the corridor, connecting New York to Washington in as little as two hours. Nearly 8.4 million Amtrak riders passed through Penn Station in the most recent fiscal year, according to the railroad—and ridership along its Northeast Corridor is expected to grow at least 60 percent over the next two decades, Amtrak says. Amtrak’s improvements over the past decade have included the addition of the Acela Express, which travels between Washington, New York and Boston at speeds of 150 miles per hour and has helped propel a 37 percent increase in national ridership from 2000 to 2010. High-speed trains would travel at 220 mph. “The current facility is operating at levels greater than at any point in its history, which can lead to passenger overcrowding when even small delays occur,”
an Amtrak spokesman, Clifford Cole, said in an email. “Failure to build Moynihan and achieve some or all of [its] benefits will require Amtrak and its commuter operating partners to seek alternatives (of which no other feasible concept has yet emerged).” Easing intercity travel both provides economic opportunity in New York City and along the route and is likely to lessen congestion at the area’s overextended airports by making travel by train for short distances more appealing than travel by air. “Intercity passenger rail brings in tourists. It brings in businesses. It relieves congestion at the airports,” Gilchrist says. “The more people we can put on rail, especially for short hauls under 1,200 miles, the better, and they can come right into the middle of Manhattan with access to the subway.” Gilchrist emphasizes that he is looking to the private sector, particularly Vornado Realty Trust and the Related Companies, to help fund the second stage of the Moynihan project. Those companies are assisting with financing Farley’s renovation in exchange for the right to build new office space, most likely on the corner of 33rd Street and Eighth Avenue, Michaelson says. For
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work to continue beyond the first phase, Gilchrist says, the project will need to find funding within the next two years. Along with Moynihan Station, a number of so-called transit megaprojects are under way across the city. The MTA says it still needs more than $3 billion to complete the Second Avenue subway’s first piece and the connection of the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Terminal, ongoing projects the agency predicts will benefit nearly 400,000 commuters every day. “The need to invest in mass transit infrastructure is vital,” says Kevin Ortiz, an MTA spokesman. “This is clearly an issue where investing in mass transit infrastructure is directly in line with economic growth and prosperity.” At stake, experts say, is not just the potential to create jobs, increase efficiency, improve commutes, raise property values and protect the environment but also the risk that underfunding transit could allow it to atrophy, creating the kinds of dangerous and decrepit conditions seen during the financial crises of the 1970s and 1980s. And as the 2012 elections approach, officials and advocates agree that control of Congress and the White House will have a major impact on which direction transit funding heads. “You want a president who will set the tone for the importance of investing in infrastructure, that it has a value,” says Gian-Claudia Sciara, of the University of California at Davis’ Institute of Transportation Studies. “A lot of the elected officials in Congress right now are very resistant to passing a more robustly funded [transportation] bill, and unless that changes, you won’t get a bill that I think is funded at the level that most people agree is needed right now.”
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Amid growing agreement that the nation should reduce its reliance on fossil fuels, including foreign oil, and a rising awareness of the ill effects of congestion and sprawl, some in Congress have proposed altering the balance of spending on highways versus mass transit—as well as the practice of funding infrastructure, including mass transit, through the gasoline tax. Better ways of paying for infrastructure could be derived from technology, advocates say, like using GPS or social networking to track and charge for transportation usage. Many argue that the economic downturn makes it an ideal time to expand mass transit, particularly rail, with its potential to create jobs and the wide, discounted availability of construction services and materials. Yet concern about rising deficits and strain on local budgets, as well as the stalemate in Congress, has also made it a time of curbed ambition. For example, the U.S. Department of Transportation in October approved New York State’s request to speed up construction of a new Tappan Zee Bridge, but without a specific plan to add rail transit, which other proposals had included. The federal government has a long history of assisting with
major infrastructure projects, from the building of national railroads and interstate highways to helping cities acquire and improve their crumbling mass transit systems in the 1960s. Today, Congress uses complex formulas—aimed at fairly compensating each state—to determine the distribution of the majority of federal transportation funds. New York City alone represented about 30 percent of the nation’s mass transit ridership in 2003, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. “The transportation bill to New York is what the agricultural bill is to Iowa,” says Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Vitally important, that is. At current levels, New York State receives about $1.5 billion a year, not including stimulus funds, according to Nadler’s office, and about 17 percent of the money distributed directly to the 50 states. The last sixyear federal transportation reauthorization bill, passed by Congress in 2005, provided about $286 billion to the states for highways and mass transit. That bill, which covered 2004 to 2009, expired in September 2009, and Congress, yet to approve a new bill, has been operating under extensions. A 2009 Democratic proposal in the House of Representatives would have raised the federal transportation total to
“If we don’t properly fund these things, it would limit economic activity, limit economic growth. Fewer people would be working here. Fewer people would live here. All of this is at stake,” says Nadler. “God forbid the president doesn’t get re-elected and you elect a Republican who is committed to austerity, isn’t committed to funding. The economy will crash.” Mica says he believes a Republican Congress or administration would speed transportation initiatives along faster than Obama and the Democrats, who he says have kept thousands of worthy projects mired in red tape. “I think Republicans would be very innovative … bringing in the private sector to help operate and finance. I think it could move a lot of transportation forward faster,” Mica says. Not everyone supports funding for highspeed rail. Critics call high-speed rail a costly, far-fetched goal and say the government has already dispensed billions in funding with little, so far, to show for it. Florida Gov. Rick Scott turned down $2.4 billion in federal funds for high-speed rail in his state, citing the potential for cost overruns that would be borne by taxpayers as well as the cost of operating the system. In California, cost estimates for the proposed bullet train linking Los Angeles and San Francisco have already doubled since the project was approved by referendum in 2008, though the California High Speed Rail Authority predicted two years ago that it should generate a surplus of more than $2 billion by 2023. Some, including Mica, fault Amtrak for dragging its feet on high-speed rail, proposing a 30-year plan when he believes speeds could be increased on the Northeast Corridor in a third of that time. Opponents also say the government-subsidized railroad, which in the past has enacted service cuts for lack of funds, should grapple with much needed maintenance of its aging infrastructure before attempting to implement anything so ambitious. In any case, experts say, the prolonged funding uncertainty hurts major projects, whether they are already under way or still in the planning stages. “It just makes it very, very hard for transit operators, local governments, all these entities to really plan for the future. … These improvements exist in a very complex urban ecosystem, and you can’t just decide
CAN RAIl FAIl?
The case for federal mass transit aid is complicated by the fact that only 5 percent of all Americans ride mass transit, and 30 percent of them are in New York. Photo by Marc Fader.
$450 billion, plus an additional $50 billion for highspeed rail, but that bill didn’t pass, and the House’s leadership changed. The current Republican head of the transportation committee, Rep. John Mica of Florida, proposed a $230 billion bill in July, a 20 percent decrease from current levels and less than half of the $566 billion Obama had requested. In an interview, Mica, who says he supports highspeed rail along the Northeast Corridor as well as several of New York City’s mass-transit projects, including Moynihan and the Second Avenue subway, says he favors increasing funding for transit projects, particularly high-speed rail, but through wider use of loan programs and public-private partnerships. Because of the split leadership in Congress and the White House, no quick consensus is likely, making the upcoming elections even more important to the future of transit funding—and the future of New York City projects, which remain dependent on these funds.
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one day that you’re going to do something,” says Sciara. Because of the daunting price tags of these projects, many, including Moynihan Station and the Second Avenue subway, are planned in separately funded phases so work can begin before all the money is acquired. But this creates a risk that projects won’t be finished, Sciara says, and many don’t achieve their most important benefits until completion. The Second Avenue subway, a project that has been discussed since the city began removing elevated lines in the 1940s, is currently in the first of four phases: construction from 96th to 63rd Street. That first part, anticipated to be complete in December 2016, will cost an estimated $4.54 billion, $1.374 billion—30 percent—of which comes from the federal government, the MTA says. No timeline or budget has been set for the remaining three phases, which would eventually extend the line as far north as 125th Street and as far south as Hanover Square, in the financial district. According to the MTA, when the 63rd Street–to–96th Street stretch is completed, it will serve 213,000 riders daily, decrease crowding on the Lexington Avenue line, which itself carries more passengers than the entire mass-transit system in Chicago, and reduce travel time by 10 minutes or more for those who live on the far East Side. Another major MTA undertaking, known as East Side Access, will extend the Long Island Rail Road from Penn Station into Grand Central—the first expansion of the nation’s busiest commuter rail line in over a century, expected to benefit about 160,000 riders each day. The project will cost $7.33 billion, $2.7 billion—37 percent—of which is federally funded, and should be complete by September 2016. East Side Access and the initial phase of the Second Avenue subway are both largely funded—yet the MTA says it still has a combined $3.46 billion gap for both projects. In July the authority said it would aim to close its capital budget gaps through a combination of cost savings, a federal loan, MTA revenue bonds and partnerships with the city, state and Port Authority. If the money for future phases of the Second Avenue subway cannot be found, the line will not be extended further south from 63rd Street or north from 96th Street, postponing relief for hundreds of thousands of potential passengers who live along the proposed route and failing to relieve overcrowding on the Lexington Avenue line. Another ongoing project, the extension of the No. 7 line from its current end at Times Square to 34th Street and Eleventh Avenue, is scheduled to be completed in December 2013, though Mayor Bloomberg recently endorsed the idea of extending the No. 7 to Secaucus, N.J. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who in 2010 killed plans for an $8.7 billion commuter rail tunnel because of concern about cost overruns, has said he would support this extension. Advocates say plans like these, along with Moynihan Station reconstruction, have the potential to revitalize vast swaths of the city, increase
efficiency, draw businesses and workers, and entice fewer commuters to drive, thus reducing pollution and congestion. “It’s essential to make this a city that is mobile, a city that is viable and a city that is accessible. Otherwise our growth is going to be stagnant,” says Vanterpool. “There are also environmental considerations to take into account, in regard to the growing unease on foreign policy and importing oil. … Transportation overall is the third largest contributor of greenhouse gases, and buses and subways help minimize and reduce that impact.”
Yet if federal funding is significantly cut, it is unlikely that the city or state could make up for the gaps, and needed projects may well be postponed or shelved. Attempts to find alternate ways to pay for transit improvements have so far faltered, as with Bloomberg’s plan for congestion pricing, which would have charged those driving into the southern half of Manhattan and used the revenue to pay for major infrastructure work. And if improvements cannot go forward, experts say, not only would New York fail to see the environmental goINg PlACES and economic benefits they A look at key transit projects in NYC would offer, but www.citylimits.org it would also face the deterioration and overuse of the existing system. Traffic would increase; commuters would face ever longer journeys; businesses would fail or leave. Then there is job creation. The American Public Transportation Association estimates that for every $1 billion invested in transportation capital, 24,000 jobs are generated, and every $1 billion spent on transit operations creates 41,000 jobs. The MTA estimates that its 2000–2014 capital plan will create 350,000 jobs, with an overall economic impact of $44 billion in the state, and according to the New York Building Congress, the MTA is responsible for a full quarter of the city’s construction industry. But although job creation figures are often quickly cited when new projects are announced, some experts believe those jobs are merely a bonus to more important benefits: the growth and sustainability of the city. “By waiting, the costs increase, but also you’re not realizing the benefits of those projects sooner, so you’re delaying and pushing into the future all of the benefits you want to see, all the financial ripple effects, economic ripple effects, improvements over time,” Sciara says. “People’s ability to travel more reliably, more quickly, for businesses and producers to ship goods more efficiently—it’s really these longer-term gains that I think are at stake.”
CHAPTER FIVE oAKLAND
Out of Ammo
When the war on crime runs short on cash, a city’s risks grow.
round 1 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 8, Maria Teresa ramirez was pushing a red plastic car with her 3-year-old son Carlos Fernandez Nava along International Boulevard in East Oakland, Calif. As Ramirez and her son drew close to a group of men standing outside a pizzeria near International and 64th Avenue, gunfire erupted from a passing car, striking Nava and two men on the corner. While the older men, the intended targets of the shooting, lived, Nava was fatally wounded by a bullet that passed through his neck. The murder, the 67th of 2011, sparked outrage. In a city where only a quarter of all murders are solved, police received a flood of tips and within a week arrested two men now charged with Nava’s death. Oakland and crime are interwoven in the popular American consciousness, The city with the highest violent-crime rate in California is where Nancy Reagan gave her famous “Just say no” advice to a group of the city’s youth in 1982, when crack cocaine was tearing Oakland’s black and brown communities apart. With an official unemployment rate of 15 percent—almost double the national average—more than 100 murders annually for six of the past seven years and a violent-crime rate of 15.3 per thousand, which leads California cities, the East Bay’s largest city is no stranger to bloodshed. Over the years, the federal government has poured millions into various anti-crime programs to stem the tide, ranging from blank-check grants for the war on drugs to intervention programs that combine law enforcement threats with job and educational opportunities. Now doubts about the effectiveness of those programs are colliding with concerns about what impact federal budget reductions will have. Oakland is a place where urban America is confronting two questions: Can the federal government help prevent crime? Can it afford to?
BY ALI WINSTON
FRom WAR To A dANgERoUS PEACE
Oakland’s contemporary shape cannot be understood outside the historical context of World War II–era labor migrations. Work at East Bay shipyards and the Oakland Army Base drew tens of thousands of black migrants to the Bay Area. Their history of voluntary and forced migration is critical to
The Urban Agenda
City Limits / Vol. 35 / No. 6
Oakland has surpassed 100 murders this year but because of severe financial problems has cut the number of police officers on its streets. Photo by Ali Winston.
Oakland’s present. Drawn initially by economic opportunities presented by the war industries, black migrants were, after the war, left high and dry in the overcrowded, redlined neighborhoods of West Oakland as the region around them—in a very planned execution of classic California sprawl—saw new suburban tracts in East Oakland replace both orchard land and the factories that had paid decent working-class wages. East Bay real estate agents also played a critical role in establishing and enforcing racially exclusive housing covenants that for years shut black homeowners out of many neighborhoods in East and North Oakland, not to mention the affluent hillside areas. However, it wasn’t until the federally financed construction of the freeway complexes in the 1950s and the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system in the late 1960s and early 1970s, coupled with the Center City project that razed blocks of old downtown Oakland for high-rise development through the late 1960s and 1970s, that this dynamic became directly destructive. All three projects forcibly displaced CITIES & CRImE black renters, homeowners Statistics from the top 25 and businesses metro areas from established www.citylimits.org neighborhoods—in the case of BART, literally ripping up 7th Street, the heart of black West Oakland and a renowned mecca for musicians on the West Coast. Roughly 10,000 people were displaced from West Oakland by the freeways and BART, shifting them into formerly majority-white neighborhoods in North and East Oakland that were already experiencing white flight. As people of color arrived, that process of exiting accelerated, with 163,000 white residents leaving Oakland from 1955 to 1966, out of a city of roughly 360,000 people. During the Johnson administration, a number of federal war-on-poverty projects aimed at reducing poverty proved to be a launching pad for black and Latino politics in Oakland and also offered an entry route for former (or current) radicals into the city’s political system. However, these projects were underfunded and did not address the rapid flight of Oakland’s industrial manufacturing base south to the expanding cities of Hayward and Fremont, which benefited directly from the freeway and BART systems that had eviscerated much of Oakland. The freeways also sped the growth of the Port of Oakland, which was at the forefront of containerization and grew to become the third largest port in the country by 1970. Although it proved to be an economic engine for the region, the shipping and trucking traffic that bordered on residential areas of West Oakland created an environmental crisis, as
smog and particulate matter from combustion engines led to elevated asthma and respiratory disease rates in the region. A significant portion of the longshoremen who operate the Port of Oakland are African American; however, nothing can make up for the eradication of dozens of black-owned businesses and the forced displacement caused by redevelopment. As jobs fled Oakland and poverty increased, the narcotics trade boomed. In the 1970s and early 1980s, most of the trafficking in the city was in cocaine and heroin. That changed markedly in the mid-’80s with the introduction of crack, which spread from Southern California to Oakland and San Francisco. Oakland’s murder rate skyrocketed to the point where the city was averaging 167 murders per year by the early 1990s. In response to this sustained rise in violent crime, the federal government provided assistance to Oakland in a number of ways—funding typical law enforcement activities as well as efforts to get at the root causes of the bloodshed.
A lAW-ANd-oRdER RESPoNSE
The Byrne Justice Assistance Grant gives the Oakland Police Department (OPD) several hundred thousand dollars a year to devote to whatever policing needs it feels are appropriate. This could include equipment, overtime, forensics or other expenses aimed at targeting, arresting and jailing violent offenders. Oakland has received Byrne grant money for the past 16 years. From 2005 to 2011, Oakland received $6,914,182 through the program. “We’ve used those grants over the years to fund investigations, drug units and everything from laptops to vehicles,” Deputy Police Chief Jeff Israel tells City Limits. From 2005 through early 2007, $727,708 was put toward funding staff and equipment for the OPD’s crime lab to make up for cuts to a state grant that had previously funded evidence analysis. Although authorized funding for the Byrne grants is $1.1 billion, on average only half a billion dollars of Byrne grant money is disbursed every year to hundreds of local law enforcement agencies across the U.S. There are currently more than 600 Byrne-funded drug task forces throughout the country. In 2007 the Byrne grant’s focus in Oakland shifted toward crime suppression with a particular focus on reducing gang violence; $821,200 was provided to set up a 14-member unit charged with cracking down on gangs and lowering the body count. The change in priorities was a direct response to the 148 murders Oakland suffered in 2006, the most since the early 1990s. For the next four years, the city experienced a decrease in violent crime. But there are conflicting perspectives on whether the Byrne grants worked, and they diverge along the typical lines of the national debate on the war on drugs. Law enforcement is highly supportive of the funding stream, with the National
The Urban Agenda
City Limits / Vol. 35 / No. 6
Criminal Justice Association—a prominent lobbying group for police agencies—labeling Byrne “the cornerstone federal justice assistance grant,” which promotes “innovation” as well as “evidence-based practices.” The NCJA also favors the flexibility agencies enjoy in using Byrne funds because that allows local law enforcement to identify and address its areas of concern. Conversely, civil libertarians and law enforcement watchdogs caution that massive funding for narcotics policing without strict standards has promoted the militarization of law enforcement by underwriting purchases of heavy munitions such as semiautomatic rifles and surplus armored personnel carriers and providing guaranteed overtime for local drug task forces. Narcotics units are notoriously susceptible to skimming seized assets and fabricating evidence to make easy arrests. From 2004 through 2008, officers from Byrne-funded narcotics units in Alabama, Kansas, Missouri, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas were charged or convicted of misusing seized assets, perjury or making false arrests.
FIllINg A gAP
Critiques of Byrne grants exist on the right as well. David Muhlhausen, senior policy analyst from the conservative Heritage Foundation, testified against a $2 billion allocation to Byrne grants in the 2009 stimulus package. In his remarks, Muhlhausen said Byrne funds don’t actually fund vital drug enforcement activities, promote reckless spending and “encourage state and local governments to shirk their responsibility for funding public safety programs and become more dependent on funding from the federal government.” Indeed, like many other federal programs, the Byrne funds are drying up: A Republican Congress intent on deficit reduction cut national funding for Byrne grants by 16 percent in October 2011, down to $430 million. California received only $25 million in Byrne funds in 2011, compared with $54 million as recently as 2009. The reduction in federal support is not, as Muhlhausen’s analysis might suggest, prompting states and cities to get back into the habit of funding their own law enforcement. For places like Oakland, this reflects not a political choice but simple math. Oakland’s budget deficit has grown rapidly in recent years, largely fueled by the foreclosure crisis, which by next year will have put an estimated 28,000 Oaklanders out of their homes. (Home values in the city are expected to drop an additional $12 billion, according to a recent report by RealtyTrac.) As a result, the OPD’s staffing levels have decreased from more than 832 officers at the end of 2008 to 645 sworn personnel by November 2011. This is in spite of federal Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grants in 2008 and 2009 that provided funding for as many as 50 OPD officers. Staffing issues have plagued the OPD. While officers earn
$77,000 in starting pay before benefits and overtime, the size of their pay package and their exemption from pension contributions until late last year forced the city to cut the police force, which was already soaking up 40 percent of the city’s budget. (The NYPD, by comparison, absorbs 7 percent of New York City’s budget.) Oakland’s budget crisis of 2010 forced the city council to lay off 80 officers when the Oakland police refused to pay into their pensions. Oakland received $10.7 million more in COPS funding in September 2011 to rehire 25 officers. But COPS funds are a stopgap measure and do not address structural problems related to officer salaries and pension or Oakland’s inability to raise revenues. What’s more, they couldn’t replace all the officers the city had to pink-slip. The yo-yo effect on police staffing levels rang familiar for critics of the COPS program. In his 2009 testimony, Muhlhausen cited Boston’s experience with COPS grants in the 1990s: the federal money led to a hiring spree, but after the federal money expired, 200 officers were laid off from 1999 to 2004, violating the rules of the COPS grant. Regardless of COPS funding, the Oakland police will not have money for a new academy class until June 2013, by which time the department will have only 552 officers. Against that backdrop, murders, robberies and shootings are all up substantially this year over 2010.
Oakland has been a laboratory for different federal anticrime strategies, from funding for traditional law enforcement to “weed-and-seed” efforts that tried to create jobs and improve communities in crime-stricken areas. Photo by Ali Winston.
FEWER FUNdS, moRE gUNS
Federal crime-fighting moneys have gone not only to traditional law enforcement solutions. Communitybased strategies involving local investment, education and job-training programs have also been implemented in Oakland since the mid-1990s. The Weed and Seed initiative, which targets impoverished, high-crime neighborhoods with investment in community organizations, businesses and local infrastructure as well as an enhanced policing effort, has followed three iterations in the city. The first effort centered on the Lockwood–Coliseum Gardens area of East Oakland in 1993. The project received $225,000, funding police overtime, buying up problem properties and funding youth programs before it ended in 2001. The second iteration of Weed and Seed focused on the Hoover-Foster area of West Oakland, colloquially known as Ghost Town. In West Oakland, $750,000 in federal funds over five years, beginning in 2003, went toward a Police Athletic League and various community beautification projects, with more than 60 percent of project money being directed toward law enforcement. That project wrapped up in 2007. The last remaining Weed and Seed site in Oakland is Elmhurst, where $824,000 in federal money has gone toward public infrastructure, job training, safe havens for youth, helping ex-offenders re-enter society, a community garden and $100,000 for murals that will be put up along boulevards by local artists. Federal funding lasted from 2006 through 2010.
The catch is, though the Weed and Seed sites have been continuing under federal oversight, there is no more federal money for the program. According to project manager Joe DeVries, the current $170,000 funding on which the Elmhurst Weed and Seed is running comes from the Oakland Redevelopment Agency, which itself is in danger of being cut because of restructuring in state contributions to California cities. With more than half of that money going toward police overtime for arrests, surveillance and patrol, DeVries says the Weed and Seed funding from state coffers is a “pittance” and what’s really needed in East Oakland is “several million dollars per year for real job training, economic development and educational reform” to address deep-seated violence and poverty. Federal gun control policy has also had a tremendous effect on Oakland, which is a major market for illicit weapons. U.S. Attorney for Northern California Melinda Haag is tight-lipped about federal efforts to tackle arms trafficking. Statistics obtained by Syracuse University show a 13 percent increase in firearmsrelated federal charges in the Northern District of California, with 76 cases of illegal use or sales of firearms brought as of August 2011. Court documents show that handguns, shotguns and semiautomatic rifles are being purchased in states with lax control laws like Arizona, Nevada and even Georgia and are then transported to Oakland for sale. The expiration of a federal ban on the sale of assault weapons to civilians in 2004 has coincided with a rise of heavycaliber semiautomatic weapons on Oakland streets.
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Oakland police statistics show an average of 11 percent of the city’s shooting deaths are the result of assault weapons. Meanwhile, the OPD’s ability to track weapons seized by its officers has also been hobbled by the loss of a contractor responsible for tracing guns back to their point of origin. Funding for the contractor was cut by the local Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives office, and the OPD has yet to find a replacement.
CARRoTS ANd STICkS
In Oakland, money is not the only obstacle to the success of federal anti-crime programs. Sometimes the method prescribed by the nation’s top criminologists clashes with the approach taken by local law enforcement and prosecutors. As Weed and Seed has faded, the OPD has turned its focus to Operation Ceasefire, a program crafted by Harvard University criminologist David Kennedy that takes a carrot-and-stick approach in seeking to change the paths of probationers and parolees involved in violent crime. Participants are required to attend meetings as a condition of their parole or probation, where they are confronted by law enforcement about their past criminal activities and threatened with prosecution and hard time if they continue down this path. Then law enforcement leaves the room and the call-in participants are offered job placement and training services as well as enrollment in continuing-education programs. Local branches of federal law enforcement agencies, as well as the local U.S. Attorney, participate Operation Ceasefire in Oakland as well as in other regional cities like San Francisco and Salinas. At one call-in in Oakland last winter, two young men from West Oakland sat at a table in city hall and listened to police officers, probation agents and prosecutors warn them about the consequences if they are caught participating in violence. After half an hour of this tense, one-way lecture, ex-cons, clergy, hospital staff and local business owners beg the young men to turn their lives around and take advantage of the job training and educational services offered by the call-in. While call-ins are politically popular in Oakland because of the antagonistic relationship between the Oakland police and the city’s communities of color stemming from the department’s long history of civil rights abuses (it is still under the supervision of a federal judge following a corruption scandal in the early aughts), they have produced dubious results in Oakland. According to a final progress report for the initiative, which cost $828,217, half in city funds, half in state money, 103 people took part in the call-ins, with 34 people receiving educational services and 56 participants gaining unsubsidized employment; the program was supposed to reach 216 people. Furthermore, the call-in approach is crossing wires
with a strategy pursued by Oakland’s city attorney that focuses on gang injunctions—a legal tool used in California and a few other states but not widely throughout the U.S. that limits alleged gang members’ movements and associations. For gang members targeted by this tactic, responding to a call-in at which they’d sit next to other former gangbangers could mean violating the injunction. Shumarr Doernners, a 32-year-old West Oakland piano mover who is on probation for a gun charge, says the city sent a confusing message by including on gang injunction lists the same people it had offered aid through call-ins. “You can’t bring the police in and … threaten us, then have the other 15 minutes of it is people from the community, well, people from these organizations saying, ‘Hey, we’re to help you,’ ” he says. “Hold on, how you here to help us when now, we feel like you with the police?” In spite of the difficulties encountered in the call-in program, last year it received a $2.2 million federal grant from the Office of Justice Programs to keep it afloat for three years.
A moUNTINg Toll
As of this writing, Oakland is on pace to exceed 100 murders by the end of 2011, a black eye it has avoided only once since 2005. (Oakland police have killed seven people this year, one fewer than cops in New York—a city 20 times as large—slew all last year.) The federal moneys it is currently poised to receive are nothing more than stopgap measures that will maintain the status quo for a few more months. There is real concern that the Oakland Police Department, which is about to slip to record lows of sworn personnel, may be taken into federal receivership after nine years of failing to enact court-mandated reforms stemming from a corruption case in the early 2000s in which four cops routinely framed innocent people for drug-related crime and assaulted suspects. Federal receivership is uncharted territory for a police department facing the sort of entrenched violence prevalent in Oakland. If a federal monitor is given control of the OPD, it is very possible that financial decisions on police matters will be taken out of city control, meaning it may have to funnel even more of its budget to hire more police. In the meantime, intervention programs like Weed and Seed and the call-ins are either getting cut or falling prey to political clashes between Oakland’s business community and the city’s combative progressives. Meanwhile, the killing continues. At press time, there have been 31 murders in Oakland—proportional to 648 additional slayings in a city the size of New York—since 3-year-old Carlos Fernandez Nava died in his red plastic car. CL
REVISITINg ImAgES ANd SToRIES FRom oUR ARCHIVE
Where’d ‘Mighty Jim’ Go?
The top picture, found in City Limits’ photo archives with no information about its photographer or when it was taken, shows a store on the corner of Lenox Avenue and 145th Street in what we guess is around 1980. The bottom image is what the same location looks like today. Since 1978, when real estate records indicate Mighty Jim Realty bought the property from the late previous owner’s estate, more than the awning has changed. When Mighty Jim got the property, some $184,000 changed hands; in 2011 the assessed value of the building was more than $2 million. In 1990 Manhattan Community District 10 was 88 percent black and less than 2 percent white; now it’s around 60 percent black and more than 10 percent white. The area’s 36 percent poverty rate in 2000 fell to 27 percent in 2010. Mighty Jim’s Deli survived at least until 2005, when a fire ravaged the building. —Jarrett Murphy
Photo by Taleen Dersdepanian
The Urban Agenda
City Limits / Vol. 35 / No. 6
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