Why Cities Decline, Case Study No. 1,223 (Idiotic Streetcar Edition)


Officials in Cincinnati, a city that's been in decline for decades (maybe a century), have finally hit on a way to pull re-enthrone the Queen City (a.k.a. Porkopolis) as urban royalty: Build a $100 million, 4-mile streetcar route with the money they don't have.

Yeah, that's the ticket. To rub salt in the wounds of taxpayers, officials are claiming that the project will add $2 billion to the city's economy and revitalize a long-unrevitalizable section of town.

Cincinnati today will unveil plans on how to pay for a four-mile, $100 million downtown streetcar line that advocates believe will contribute $2 billion to the city's economy and transform [the] Over-the-Rhine [section of town].

The plan's cheerleaders include politicians, transit activists and urban developers. So far, it seems to have no enemies, although that could change when the city explains where it will get the money to fund the plan.

More here. The project is a fantastic example of how city officials delude themselves into thinking that whipped cream and sprinkles–or a goddamn transit technology that is one of the most frustrating, underperfroming rides imaginable–can save cities. What is it about trains? Or light rail? Or streetcars? Is there a Freudian analysis that's relevant here?

Why won't cities such as Cincinnati do far more basic things to lure people back into their craptacular clutches? The list might include: Generally reducing taxes and regulation so that it's relatively cheap to live and easy to do business in an area; creating a safe climate with regards to crime; reforming a public school system so people who don't have kids (a majority pretty much everywhere) don't have to worry about school issues and people with kids have some decent measure of choice; not spending billions of dollars on the owners of jerk-off sports teams.

Somehow I don't think building a 4-mile streetcar from point Y to point Z is going to help.

Back in 2001, as Mr. Mxyzptlk at Suck, I wrote about Cincinnati's woes as a way of talking about the plight facing many other mid-sized (for now) cities.

Cincinnati's leaders (if you can call them that) are predictably holding up Portland, Oregon as a model. Here's Randal O'Toole in reason on why that is totally off-target. And here's Dan McGraw on why sports welfare is destructive of just about everything it touches, except the wallets of fatcats.

O'Toole (named after his father, perhaps [scroll down]), wrote a good piece for Cato cleverly titled "A Desire Named Streetcar."