Donn Esmonde starts out his column today with that most patronizing of liberal racial platitudes: minorities should be spread evenly throughout the community. I'll give him credit for admitting that what he calls "segregation" here isn't caused by racism; it's more the fault, he claims, of the suburbs' supposedly high cost of housing and the lack of public transport.
The problem is, you can’t live on a lot of streets unless you have the bucks. The suburbs have weak public transit and lack lower-income housing. For the most part, only folks who can afford a house and a car can afford to live there. The segregation is economic, but — because minorities are disproportionately poor — it means that it’s racial as well. It does not have to be that way.
Oh, he sighs, if we could only be like, get ready, "other
Other regions made laws to bring have-mores and have-lesses closer together. Other regions saw that separate-but- unequal towns, villages and neighborhoods make the community weaker. Other regions saw that warehousing the poor in cities only deepened problems.
City schools filled with baggageheavy kids from bleak streets do not spawn many success stories, no matter how good their teachers are. Uneducated kids are more likely to turn to crime, to end up on welfare, to be a burden to a community — instead of a jobholding, tax-paying asset.
Other regions saw economic — and racial — segregation as a problem and did something about it.
This whole thing ends up a plea to support regionalism and regional planning. He never does get around to naming all those other regions that have done so much to erase supposed racial economic injustice -- just one -- the Valhalla of meddlesome control-freaks everywhere, Portland.
Portland, Ore., decades ago drew a growth boundary, limiting new development beyond a perimeter. It turned growth back toward the city, so you do not have Buffalo-style streets of abandoned, worthless houses. It kept jobs reachable to all and avoided the cost of new roads, bridges and sewers that come with sprawl.
While Portland is, no doubt, an excellent example of nanny-government regional planning, it's a very odd choice to illustrate solving racial economic problems. In 2005 the Census Bureau estimated that that the non-white (minority) population of Buffalo was 49.7% of the total. Portland's minority residents constituted just 20.5% of its. The comparison starts out shaky at best.
And as for all that turning "growth back toward the city"? Well, after "decades" of trying to dictate where Portlanders may live; and for all the thousands of trees that have been killed to report on the great social experiment that is Portland; and despite all the praise lavished on it for its foresight -- the City of Portland's population dropped by about 16,000 from 2000 to 2005.
And with all that public transport and all those jobs being brought "closer to the people", the percentage of Portland's residents living below the poverty line increased from 13.1% of the population in 2000 to 17.8% in 2005 -- that's a 36% hike. Now, it's only fair to point out one of the good things that happened during this period -- the median housing value in the city increased from $176,000 (in 2005 dollars) to $225,900.
If regional planning could accomplish that in Buffalo, I doubt it would be a hard sell at all. But I'm not terribly sure that those extra 36% of Portlanders living below the poverty line were much heartened by all the cheery real estate "Sold" signs, in fact it cause me to wonder if maybe rents increased, too.
The truth is that these huge government planning schemes don't ever do much to affect the overall economic conditions of something so big as a city much at all. Billions are spent on the priorities of a relative few and while things look different, the underlying strengths or weaknesses of the city continue on as they would have anyway. Houston, for example, which is famous for no planning and no zoning had much the same results in population and poverty as micro-managed Portland during the first five years of the century.
Before we let the local government-planning zealots loose with their very own new bureaucracy, we must make them prove by specific example where their ideas have actually shown the results they claim. During the 90's we were regaled by the wonderful goings-on in Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Cleveland. We all know now that they're still just as bad off as we are. More recently, Milwaukee is the city we're told to emulate but it's hemorrhaging people, too.
Well, if the next role model is to be Portland, I'm not convinced yet. Prove it. Regionalism in Buffalo started out a decade ago as an effort to reduce government overlap, but it's been hijacked by by a small bunch of people congenitally disposed to telling the rest of us how we should live. We'd do well to ignore them.