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What is happening in our cities?

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Joel Kotkin writes in American Affairs Journal,

Today, progressive district attorneys and city councils in New York, St. Louis, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Philadelphia, and more recently Los Angeles are increasingly committed to ending bail and emp­tying prisons of all but the most heinous violent criminals. Lenient law enforcement and turning a blind eye to rioting, chaos, public defecation, illicit drug use, and massive homelessness seems a poor way to get people or companies to move to a city.

Good propaganda and media attention cannot make up for dis­appearing jobs or leaders who deny that high taxes, oppressive regula­tion, looting, fires, and crime are the foundations of the current urban crisis. As long as these realities are not confronted, we could see something distressingly akin to what happened after the rapid rise of street crime in the 1960s and ’70s. Cities like New York may remain irresistibly compelling for the young and some of those at the top of the economic pyramid—financial engineers, software whizzes, trust fund gentry, real estate moguls—but most businesses as well as mid­dle and aspirational working-class families will gravitate else­where.

…The promise of a new urban future lies before us, one that recalls the pattern of dispersed, self-governing, and vital cities that Tocqueville praised in the 1830s, and which existed in America till the middle of the last century.11 It will feature a progression of different urban types: elegant, walkable core cities, vibrant neighborhoods, multi-polar new boomtowns, thriving suburbs, and resurgent small urban centers. Some may not thrive in the new conditions, but many will, potentially spreading the best blessings of urbanism across an ever-growing expanse of our enormous country.

But if cities are going to resurge, notes Toronto Globe and Mail columnist John Ibbitson, they will also need to make themselves safer and more attractive to outsiders. Rather than try to force suburbanites to change their lifestyles, he suggests urban dwellers need to focus on “what they are going to do with all those empty office towers and shuttered malls,” and how they might lure suburbanites to “come downtown” for a movie, a restaurant, or an event.

Today’s threats, natural and manmade, impel us to find ways to create a more humane and safer urban environment throughout the metropolitan regions. Rather than seeking to impere.ose a centralizing vision on everyone, we need to adopt more flexible and economically sustainable approaches that accommodate people’s aspirations and that allow for the creation of thriving communities from the core city to the far periphery and everywhere in between.

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