Every couple of weeks, I get an email from Citiwire.net, a brainchild (I think) of Neil Pierce, the longtime observer of urban life and policy. Each email has two columns, one from Pierce and a second that “rotates” among a variety of writers. (Those of you interested in–or passionate about–cities should sign up. It’s free.)
Last Friday’s edition included a piece from Curtis Johnson, identified as the President of Citistates Group, commenting on a very prominent article from the previous week’s New York Times headlined “Republicans to Cities: Drop Dead.”
Johnson–who noted that he had worked many years for a Republican governor–said he cringed “to see the way sensible economics has been chained up, locked out and hooted over by the reigning ideology of today’s Republicans. Not that the Democrats are much better. A dear colleague of mine says ruefully that the Democrats don’t have very good answers, but Republicans don’t even understand the questions (and he’s Republican).”
Johnson goes on to report what most people who follow urban policy already know: as baby-boomers age, a huge number of them are abandoning suburbia and moving back into the cities, while the “millennials” already prefer urban life. (He shares a ‘factoid’ of which I was unaware–millennials are the first modern generation showing a decline in automobile ownership.)
Despite the increasing move to the cities–a move amply documented by demographers–those cities are struggling. Infrastructure is crumbling. Mass transit is lagging (or, as in Indianapolis, virtually non-existent). “Things that metro regions used to be able to build in a decade now take 30 to 40 years.” Yet policymakers of both parties give short shrift to these problems.
Johnson ends by pointing out something I’ve known ever since I got married, because it is my husband’s most persistent gripe: We rely upon our cities to generate the profits that pay the nation’s bills. Here in Indiana, certainly, tax revenues generated in Indianapolis don’t stay here–along with the other cities in Indiana–South Bend, Ft. Wayne, Evansville–we pay the lion’s share of the state’s bills. We fund the priorities of Indiana policymakers–priorities that rarely include us.
It behooves us to take better care of the goose that is laying that golden egg.