Today's Priority: Urban Renewal

Great. Just what we need. Another top priority.

Right now we have the economy, cap and tax, global warming, and socializing health care as front burner issues. Did I forget anything? Oh, yeah, there are a couple of wars being fought, two rogue states about to acquire nukes, and Russia casting covetous eyes on any number of small nations.

Add to this dog’s breakfast yet another priority. Urban renewal.

President Obama is putting a new emphasis on revitalizing U.S. cities with a coordinated effort that involves stimulus funding and getting multiple agencies to work together to improve schools, housing and neighborhoods.

The approach is winning applause from local officials and urban thinkers, who credit the administration for quietly beginning the most ambitious new policy for the nation’s cities since the Great Society programs of the 1960s. But the plan involves fundamental changes in the way federal agencies dole out assistance to urban areas, making its success uncertain.

But this isn’t going to be Lyndon Johnson’s demolish-the-slums-move-the-poor-people-out-and-bring-in-white-liberals urban renewal, this is going to be environmentally and ethnically sensitive urban renewal.

In Kansas City, stimulus funding has galvanized a project called the Green Impact Zone, led by Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (D-Mo.), a former mayor of the city. About $200 million in mostly federal money will be invested in the project, which aims to transform an economically depressed 150-square-block area east of Troost Avenue. About half of its residents live in deep poverty, with numerous vacant houses, high crime levels and unemployment rates approaching 50 percent.

The project involves a coordinated rush of federal money. Stimulus funding will be used to weatherize the 2,500 homes in the community. Block grants from the Energy Department will be used to hire residents and train them to do energy audits. Meanwhile, the local power company will build a “smart grid” in the area, using $25 million in stimulus money and $25 million of its own. More than $30 million, mostly from the Transportation Department, will be used to build a 13-mile rapid-transit line through the community to downtown that will feature solar-powered stations and buses that run on biodiesel fuel. There also will be job training in environmental cleanup and community policing funded by various agencies.

If there is anything we should have learned from the “war on poverty” it is that government intervention only rarely improves the lot of people in poor neighborhoods. When one looks at the scheme described above one can’t help but notice that there is absolutely nothing here that is going to change the lives or economic conditions of the people in this neighborhood.

Weatherizing homes is nice, but you still need money to heat them. Ever researched the job market for “energy auditors?” A “smart grid” in a slum? How does a 13-mile rapid transit system running “through” the community help anyone? Do they expect commuters to get off the train to enjoy ambiance of a high crime neighborhood? Or do they expect to use eminent domain to clear a path for the rail and create premium commercial and residential construction around the rail stop? Solar powered stations? Biodiesel buses?

So if there is little to nothing in this package to benefit the residents of the “renewed” area, who benefits?

The city government benefits because it is able to attract large quantities of state and federal money for a project which would have been funded with city dollars and then use the city dollars to fund good old pork barrel spending to the benefit of local pols.

Mr. Cleaver benefits because he gets a lot of free publicity from the deal and a lot of major contractors will owe him favors… and contributions… in the future.

President Obama benefits because under the guise of a newly recognized national priority he is able to divert large sums of cash to areas which went heavily for him in 2008. That cash will enrich the Democrat machines that control so many of our cities and return to him as campaign contributions and votes in 2012.

An unemployed citizen of the area gets a roll of weather stripping for their doors and an eviction notice when the developers move in.