How Conservatives Can Save the Cities

A lack of competition is never good for anyone.  One party domination beings to stifle creativity of a healthy debate on the issues, and this lack of variety leaves the major party weak to stagnation and and a population restless for change.  That is nowhere more clear in our inner cities.  The Republican Party has largely abandoned the cities to the Democrats, and our cities are now trapped in a cycle of crime, poverty and corruption.  For too long we have written off the cities and the Dems take them for granted. I think we could aid an urban revival with common sense, conservative policies for growth and opportunity.

First I think the way we fund cities needs to be changed. Rather than have one-size-fits-all funding allotments based on what the federal government thinks our cities need, we should issue block grants so that cities can focus on the areas they need to improve spend this efficiently, rather than blow it on nice-sounding but on a grand scale useless “beautification” projects. HUD should also be shifting funding away from “Section 8” housing projects into housing vouchers, so that citizens can work to choose more affordable housing while not trapping them in either a) crime-ridden areas or b) a cycle of debt.  Smarter policing, such as the CompStat program in New York, is much more effective in stopping crime than the tried and failed liberal methods of welfare and rehabilitation.

City management of services could also be vastly improved with conservative principles. Rather than having the city maintain all of the public services-opening the door to corruption, overspending, wastefulness and graft. Bidding should be allowed by private enterprise to manage services to raise efficiency and lower costs.  Cities need also lower the regulatory burden that unfairly aids artists and other traditionally Democratic allies, at the expense of entrepreneurs and small-business owners trying to succeed in the hyper-competitive urban economy (especially in food-service). This urban competitive spirit needs to be applied to the governments that oversee it.  One way to lift regulations is to work to eliminate oppressive zoning laws.  Restrictive zoning laws inhibit the construction of new residential areas to replace the decay of 40 years of bad HUD projects. Cities with loose zoning laws, like Houston, experience much less of the housing decay as is seen in Cleveland, Detroit or New York.

School choice is essential to an urban revival.  I could (and probably will soon) write a whole post on this topic alone, but in a nutshell a lack of competition in the city school system has ruined the futures of so many promising students born into urban areas.  Charter schools will give these students a chance to succeed, and level the playing field through merit.  I would love to see a Pell Grant be available to any student who wants one to escape from a failing school.  The increase in charter schools would also increase the quality of public schools as they would finally be forced to compete and improve the quality of education for all students.

These next two ideas are a bit more of a reach, but I do like them. I recently read an article about the “congestion charge” London uses to reduce traffic in the inner city. Drivers pay about $10 a day to drive in the inner city, and traffic has dropped over 35%. It incentivizes the use of public transportation, provides the cities with much needed revenue, and helps cut down on pollution. Of course, there are greatly reduced rates for people who live within the “congestion zone” so as not to bankrupt them  for living in the inner city.  I would also like to see a national high-speed rail system connecting the major cities to reduce traffic on the highways and help the environment without crippling business.  High-speed rail may be a bit of a pipe dream, but for some reason I have always been captivated by it.  This high-speed rail would NOT be come idealized Amtrak, it would be run by private companies with federal backing.

Do I think the GOP will ever win the cities? Not likely. But we as conservatives and as a party cannot write off this large section of the country. Conservative principles can and must be applied to our urban areas and begin an urban renewal. As Jack Kemp once said,  “American society as a whole can never achieve the outer-reaches of its potential, so long as it tolerates the inner cities of despair.”  We can do it, we can compete, and we must for the good of the cities and the country.