While cities have for decades been the biggest victims of failed liberal policies, they now stand a chance to provide America with a lesson in recovery. They also provide an opportunity for conservatives to push for major reforms and make significant political inroads in areas in which they presently have little presence.
For example, Detroit and Newark, N.J., have been through the economic wringer and are continually associated with the backhanded description of “once-great cities.” It was not that long ago that both were emerging as massive commercial centers — Detroit as the Motor City and Newark as a hub of international trade.
But in the decades since, both have atrophied as political machines, union corruption and federal usurpations removed power from residents and placed it in the hands of ever-distant politicians, bureaucrats and judges.
Growing dependency on federal solutions to local problems has almost always stifled innovation. “Tin-cup urbanism,” as it came to be known, removed the ability of citizens to control the fates of their own communities, leading to ineffective governance and increased crime. Fortunately, however, innovative local leaders such as Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Detroit Mayor Dave Bing are beginning to look past conventional wisdom and instead are striking out on their own. They would do well to turn to the Manhattan Institute and its quarterly magazine, City Journal, now celebrating its 20th anniversary.
City Journal was started in 1990 as a forum for discussion on how to fix New York City, which was suffering from high crime and taxes that had residents fleeing to Connecticut and New Jersey. That year, the city had 2,262 murders, then an all-time high. More than 1 million residents were on welfare. Schools were not only failing to educate students properly, but were rewarding and/or protecting bad teachers.
City Journal addressed the problems head-on by advocating for policies such as the “broken windows” theory. The theory held that a livable city required that neighborhoods be kept in good repair because otherwise criminals would see decline as an opportunity to move in and do their worst. When Mayor Rudolph Giuliani implemented such ideas from City Journal, New York began a turnaround that has made it one of the safest cities in America today.
As the Manhattan Institute’s Steven Malanga noted, the people of Detroit and Newark have suffered from decades of mismanagement and graft. Only now in the face of a financial crisis have their respective mayors begun the tedious but rewarding work of dislodging special interests and suffocating bureaucracies from their control of vital areas such as education, redevelopment and crime.
It may take decades for those cities to experience the kind of miracle Giuliani brought about in New York, but at least they have City Journal to provide the map for the way forward.