As a former resident of Philadelphia and Buffalo, I've spent a fair amount of time in cities that have seen better days in terms of population and what might be called forward momentum. Over the last decade, Philadelphia lost about 4.3 percent of its residents, who now number around 1.5 million. It's still the fifth-largest city in the U.S. but will almost certainly drop a notch or two by the next Census. Buffalo is in even worse shape: It's the heart of one of only two major metropolitan areas that actually lost total population over the course of the '90s. Such places can have their charms -- Philly and Buffalo certainly do -- but they also take a psychic toll on the folks who live there. Cities, like people, get hardened and ossified after years or even decades of diminishing expectations. Often, they not only stop taking chances and experimenting with new ways of being, but resent those that do, further contributing to an exodus of people and energy.
I now live about 30 miles outside a third slumping city, Cincinnati, which lost about 10 percent of its population over the past decade. Why that happened -- and why it exemplifies a national trend -- is the subject of Sam Staley's "Ground Zero in Urban Decline" (see page 42). Earlier this year, Cincinnati made the news for riots that erupted after the police killed an unarmed black man. Race relations are not good in the Queen City -- a recent poll found that over 90 percent of its residents believe race relations pose a serious problem. But as Staley shows, Cincinnati's problems aren't limited to racial tensions.
They include a political and corporate elite that is hell-bent on the same basic course of action that has helped to empty cities across the country. Rather than taking care of basic quality-of-life issues -- keeping schools and streets in good shape, say -- Cincinnati's leaders are pursuing high-end, publicly funded "edifice complex" projects such as stadiums and light-rail systems. Such plans rarely work -- if anything, by raising taxes and diverting resources from other areas, they typically speed up a city's demise. However, all is not bleak in Cincinnati (or elsewhere in urban America). Staley points to a flourishing entrepreneurial zone in a poor neighborhood where individuals are creating new and innovative businesses. The only question is whether the powers-that-be will help or hinder such efforts.
Speaking of innovation, let me direct your attention to the first "D.C. Dispatches" column written by our new Washington editor, Sam MacDonald, who joined the staff in May. He's already won an enthusiastic audience for his weekly columns on REASON Online, a feat I'm sure he'll duplicate with his magazine offerings. And, as noted on the next page, get ready for a brand new look for REASON with our next issue.