President Donald Trump’s weekend exchange with Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the Rev. Al Sharpton and the city of Baltimore was devoid of tact, a quality whose demise is among the more lamentable casualties of today’s political world. Criticizing an American city as a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” and asserting “no human being would want to live there” is unbecoming of the country’s leader.
Still, the comments raise an important question: What’s going on with America’s cities?
They’re failing, to put it bluntly. Some of the country’s crown jewels are drowning in violence, drug abuse, homelessness and poverty. Shifts away from market principles and strong civil societies have left families fleeing for the suburbs. Bringing them back is a key to revitalizing America’s urban cores.
Baltimore may not be a place where “no human would want to live,” but it’s also not a beacon of safety. It consistently sits in the top 10 most dangerous cities when accounting for various crime statistics, and the FBI reports it has the highest number of homicides and the second highest murder rate in the U.S.
San Francisco has a serious housing crisis, where the annual salary needed to buy a median-priced home is now $322,480, according to the California Association of Realtors. Its power to draw in lucrative startups, combined with a vocal group of “not in my backyard” activists, has made the City by the Bay the world’s home to the most billionaires per capita. Yet, The New York Times reports, street corners are spilling with trash, human waste and drug needles.
The homeless situation in Seattle is a living Kafka novel. The city’s budget for combating homelessness has topped $90 million, but for all the taxpayer dollars spent on building tiny homes and designating “safe drug injection spaces,” Seattle still houses more than 12,000 homeless people, many of whom come from out of state, says Christopher Rufo in City Journal.
Perhaps these are among the more visible of urban failures, so it’s worth pointing out that cities have been cleaning up their act for several decades. In general, crime rates are down and economic development is up. But, as Derek Thompson writes in The Atlantic, this revitalization is missing one thing: families.
Strong families are the bedrock of society, so they ought to be the foundation of America’s cities. But young, professional urbanites are staying single longer and having fewer children, if they have children at all. Since 80% of the country resides in urban areas, this spells trouble for the ability to replace an aging population and financially support the pending growth of government services.
The question city leaders ought to ask themselves is simple: What do we want to prioritize? Some families will always prefer the suburbs, but enticing those who enjoy the urban aesthetic to return to the city would bring numerous benefits. Leaders need to prioritize family-friendly infrastructure projects, use market principles and zoning laws to lower rents and abandon what Aaron Renn, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, calls “official toleration of social disorder.”
Running a city on government projects and interventions isn’t working. Embracing market principles and building family-friendly environments, on the other hand, is an integral part of a complex solution to restore urban centers and benefit others in the process.