Civic Amputations

Via Instapundit comes this story on plans to bulldoze large sections of 50 failing cities in Great Lakes states. That alone is enough to make one weep.  A mere 40 years ago, these cities were still the economic titans of all the earth and now they are imploded wastelands. 

Even more shocking and frightening is the strange, delusional state that seems to have settled over the political thinking of the majority of the people in the region. They seem to have no conception that their own political choices destroyed their communities. Worse, they’re rationalizing their own self-inflicted failure as a good thing. 

Here’s Dan Kildare, Obama’s point man for the plan:

“The obsession with growth is sadly a very American thing. Across the US, there’s an assumption that all development is good, that if communities are growing they are successful. If they’re shrinking, they’re failing.”

What the HELL is wrong with these people?

Yes, that is exactly what it means! Economically vibrant cities don’t shrink! Bulldozing deserted areas of cities may be their only remaining response to such a massive failure, but it’s insane to talk about the necessity as if it arose from some brilliant economic insight instead of pure desperation! 

Mr Kildee acknowledged that some fellow Americans considered his solution “defeatist” but he insisted it was “no more defeatist than pruning an overgrown tree so it can bear fruit again”.

Except that the tree is “overgrown” because it is so healthy and vibrant that it’s growing up and out to capture even more sunlight. We don’t prune healthy limbs from fruit trees to make them healthier. We do so to cripple the tree and force it to divert resources into making fruit for us instead of growing. Bulldozing deserted sections of failing cities is more akin to amputating dead or diseased limbs in order to preserve the rest of the tree. 

Amputations work in trees, people and cities, but no one should ever regard them as a sign that things are going well. Instead, people in the Northeast should see this grim necessity as a sign that their political system has grown so dysfunctional and diseased that it can no longer support a healthy economy. 

Instead they seem gripped by a full-fledged rationalization frenzy wherein everyone is to blame but themselves, and where having to perform civic amputations is a good thing.

This will not end well. I hope the rest of us can pick up the pieces.

26 thoughts on “Civic Amputations”

  1. There are some condo projects in Las Vegas and Phoenix that would be best demolished but for different reasons. Those reasons are more on the order of the fruit tree that is growing too fast. Work on them has stopped and it will be years, if ever, before they are economical to complete. It will cost more than the demolition to maintain these half-finished structures. The land is still valuable and may be used for other purposes when the economy revives (assuming no Obama second and third term). This is a different situation from the dying union enclaves like Flint.

  2. Hey. FDR slaughtered animals to keep the price of food up. They’re going to destroy houses to keep the price of houses up. Who cares if people are hungry and on the streets? It’s not part of their “vision”.

  3. This is the cashing in on the idea that the roman emire never fell. This is exactly what happen as the empire declined. Some of these people would be happy to be our new lords and masters. Those people are swine

  4. If one believes that humans are automatically suspect; and

    If one believes that human economic activity is dangerous and chaotic unless carefully controlled; and

    If one believes that fewer humans and less human activity would be best for the planet; and

    If one believes the best way forward is to drastically reduce humanity’s “footprint”, to use the latest buzzword;

    Then it is entirely reasonable and ideologically correct to celebrate the shrinkage of human places and the reduction of human activity, especially that nasty private enterprise stuff that causes all the world’s problems, and replace that cancerous growth of homes and businesses with nice, quiet meadows and groves of trees.

    After all, wasn’t that the way the innocent, uncorrupted world was before all those nasty, ishy, greedy people came along and spoiled everything with all their farms and towns and stuff.

    Let’s all sing Kumbaya and hold hands. We could dance around a fire, but we wouldn’t want to hurt any trees. Maybe we could burn some of those houses over there….

  5. I had exactly the same response to this news — what a waste! A waste of resources, a waste of opportunity, a waste of a proud heritage…all squandered because of political greed.

  6. I’m currently studying for LEED accreditation exam (the process that makes me weep in frustration over human folly every day, but that’s a different topic).
    It is a rating system pertaining to green practices in design, construction and maintenance of new and existing buildings. The LEED system is on a way of becoming a norm in all domestic construction, now and in an immediate future. It’s pursued in several professional tracks; mine is Commercial Interiors.
    The system consist of number of credits in various categories, assigned to a project. One of the first is a Site Selection credit. Within this credit it’s considered good practice to use existing buildings for new commercial leases, other than building anew; to use and improve existing municipal communications and utilities’ lines; to use and improve existing site lighting, sewage, stormwater runoff systems, etc etc.
    If whole existing neighborhoods will be raised off, how much more it’ll cost in the future to develop all these systems anew rather than reclaim, rehabilitate and reuse existing?
    The right arm doesn’t know what the left one does. As usual, whenever government’ guidelines are concerned.

  7. hey’re going to destroy houses to keep the price of houses up. Who cares if people are hungry and on the streets? It’s not part of their “vision”.

    Dude. The empty houses are where the jobs aren’t: it makes no sense for Hugh Homeless to move to Rustbelt, New York if there isn’t any work there, and won’t be any work, ever.

    Also – houses are not a commodity. Destroying a house in Ithaca has no effect on the market in Green Bay.

  8. here in w pa my business is buying properties rehabbing them and then renting them. so our mayors focus on reducing supply by knocking down abandon buildings may help me in the future. or maybe not

  9. If whole existing neighborhoods will be raised off, how much more it’ll cost in the future to develop all these systems anew rather than reclaim, rehabilitate and reuse existing?

    Tatyana, the theory is correct — don’t waste, build on prior investment. The problem here is there is no demand for the homes or the infrastructure, because inept government policies have run off the productive citizens as they are doing throughout Blue State/City America. Otherwise, it would be the perfect solution to first time homeownership.

  10. Isn’t this situation in a formerly prosperous manufacturing town related, even emblematic, of the stimulus package that doesn’t encourage the free-market production of new THINGS?

    Manufacturing and industrial start-ups are not encouraged by the stimulus. It seems unlikely that service jobs and the generally uneconomical (wealth-draining) production of energy and automobiles that this administration favors will get this country rolling again. Sustainable wealth and value derives from valuable things, economical things. Tearing down houses, and jobs like them, will not employ many backhoe operators and it won’t employ them very long.

  11. Back in the 1980’s, two professors proposed the creation of the Buffalo Commons, allowing a huge tract of the US Great Plains to revert to a giant nature preserve repopulated with bison. They cited a continuing outflow of people from the rural communities as evidence that existing use of the area was uneconomic. This latest Obama proposal merely brings the Buffalo Commons to what was once an industrial powerhouse.

  12. Some say that spirit no longer exists. But I’ve seen it. I’ve felt it — all across this land; in the big cities, the small towns and in rural America. It’s still there ready to blaze into life if you and I are willing to do what has to be done

    We — we have to do the practical things, the down-to-earth things such as creating policies that will stimulate our economy, increase productivity, and put America back to work. The time is now to limit federal spending, to insist on a stable monetary reform and to free ourselves from imported oil.

    The time — The time is now to resolve that the basis of a firm and principled foreign policy is one that takes the world as it is and seeks to change it by leadership and example; not by harangue, harassment, or wishful thinking.

    The time now — is now — The time is now to say that we shall seek new friendships and expand others and improve others, that we shall not do so by breaking our word or casting aside old friends and allies.

    And, the time is now to redeem promises once made to the American people by another candidate, in another time, and another place. He said,

    “For three long years I have been going up and down this country preaching that government — federal, state, and local — costs too much. I shall not stop that preaching. As an immediate program of action, we must abolish useful — useless offices. We must eliminate unnecessary functions of government. We must consolidate subdivisions of government and, like the private citizen, give up luxuries which we can no longer afford.”

    And then he said, “I propose to you, my friends, and through you that government of all kinds, big and little be made solvent and that the example be set by the President of the United States and his Cabinet.” End of quote.

    That was Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s words as he accepted the Democratic nomination for President in 1932.


  13. There are large sections of many major cities that could honestly be condemned for urban blight. Abandoned buildings of all sorts, housing that has been allowed to slid into slum conditions. High crime rates, violent crime not surprisingly, has flourished on the borders between the prosperous and the poor.

    Tearing down these areas–as Detroit, where the average price of a home has slid to around $40K, with no buyers even at that price because there are no jobs–will mean relocation of problem populations, no question. No other communities are welcoming them with open arms.

    The fact is, many urban areas are a net cost, showing no long term profit or even sustainability. It might be better indeed to return them to prairies and forests. These have at least some economic value.

  14. Round and about the early 1970s, my family and another were the last hold-outs in a suburban neighborhood in Los Angeles which had been essentially condemned for the benefit of a new highway. Our neighborhood was built of rather modest houses on half-acre sized lots, and as all the other homeowners accepted the compensation for their properties, and moved out of their houses – which were promptly torn down, and all the fences removed – I was a little startled at how swiftly it all reverted to what it had been before: chaparral-grown hillsides, with only an exotic tree here and there. It was all dirt roads there, of course – which only made the reversion to wilderness rather more quickly than it otherwise might have been.

    No, if the cities involved get very vigorous about tearing down the empty houses, and clearing all the detritus away … you might be very startled at the rapidity of the wilderness reclaiming it’s own.

  15. Now if only there were plans to stop the growth of D.C., make superfluous its vast bureaucracies, and bulldoze the useless buildings. That would be plan I could get behind.


  16. John Burgess: prairie in the middle of Detroit will cost some mighty bucks, not only immediately, but long-term, too.
    Instead, I’d raised some pretty ugly suburbia surrounding big cities – but only after making the cities itself livable and desirable for people – by encouraging business.

  17. Having outmigrated from Memphis in 2007, I can tell you that there are areas of the city that are filled with uninhabitable buildings. Anyone who tries to do anything with that real estate will have to start by incurring the expense of tearing them down and disposing of the debris. If those buildings are razed, there’s at least a chance that something decent will go in there. Meadows would be an improvement, actually. Left as they are, they’re like a gangrenous limb.

  18. Just read in the linked article that the city if Flint wants to switch to “health and education, service industries that are not easily relocated overseas”.
    So, that’s what it came to?
    This is the liberal mindset. Can’t they see 2 steps ahead? Didn’t they learn anything in their Marxist economic classes?
    What’s the point of getting people “healthy and educated”, if then they can’t apply themselves to anything productive? Where’s a place for industries? For businesses that actually produce something? So you get customers “educated” and then they’ll go overseas to earn money in the place that is actually economically vibrant?
    Or it is like a never-ending loop where the whole city is involved into teaching, into schools and universities: you grow, you go to school, then become a college student, then go teach regurgitated lectures to yet another college, your kids go to school – and so on, so on?

    I remember an irritating conversation I had with then a friend, a erudite guy with extensive linguistic education, who just moved to a small town in MA. He triumphantly told me that the last remnants of a “military complex” plants had died down in the area, and the town now is full of art galleries, picturesque B&Bs, local crafts stores, non-profit organizations and an amateur theater Co. “But where the money are coming from”, I asked – “for all these people to buy each other’s “art” in your galleries? Who’s paying salaries of all these non-profits?” “We are autonomous”, he said ” we help and serve each other. I go to a local restaurant, and the restaurant chef visit the library where I work”.
    Nothing could perpetrate this “communal utopia” mindset.

  19. It helps if you consider real estate, including residential real estate, as a factor of production. A house near a thriving city is worth more because the purchaser expects a net gain in income by moving there. A perfectly good house in Flint is nearly as worthless as a load of iron ore at the bottom of Lake Michigan: there is no economically feasible way it could contribute to production. You see houses going for much less than their replacement costs. That is usually because anyone moving into one, given the job prospects, would risk unemployment and ruin, not to mention the risk of not being able to sell it (exit costs). Potential buyers would have to avoid that housing market for fear of worsening their net financial position.

  20. The communal mindset often appears in college towns, like Hanover, New Hampshire. It doesn’t seem to occur to these people that money comes to Dartmouth College from someplace else and most of the money in town comes from the college. Tuition is paid by someone (parents) and endowments come from somewhere (NY City) but, if the economy takes a fall, like now, some of those coop towns get a rude shock. That is happening now at Dartmouth.

    I would like to see someone study the phenomenon of young men not going to college (or not staying for a degree) and seeking trade occupations instead. I have a nephew in Chicago who has a BA from Northern Illinois and who spent four years as a Marine. Now he is finishing an apprenticeship as a elevator repair and maintenance man. He will do much better than many of the people with BA degrees in soft subjects like Communications and others. His sister has two degrees, a BS from U of I and an MS from Loyola, but rather than apply to medical school and incur student loans, she became a nurse, is doing very well and content. The state of Michigan has a lot to do with the plight of Flint. North Dakota spent considerable money wiring the state with fiberoptic cable a few years ago to enable an internet based work force. Many of them are not high paying jobs but they can be done from home or from small towns.

    Many of these economic disasters are preventable. Unfortunately, few politicians are skilled at anything except getting elected.

  21. Where’s the state of Michigan in all this? They permitted the creation of Flint by granting it its charter and they could modify or revoke that charter if they so choose. You put land in a city to have city services. No services, revert the land back to the county. Drop the regulatory burden on these areas and people will create jobs there. But Michigan doesn’t want to spank its socialist dystopias. They’d rather let the whole state go down the drain.

  22. “The obsession with growth is sadly a very American thing”…as a general rule–if an Obama-ite says that X is “a very American thing”, then you can be pretty sure that X is something that the Obama-ite doesn’t like.

  23. Tatyana,

    Just read in the linked article that the city if Flint wants to switch to “health and education, service industries that are not easily relocated overseas”.

    Yes, I’ve seen this mindset before in leftists and it’s very strange. As a rule, leftist seem to have only a vague sense that useful things have to be built. It almost like they believe that we could all live just by trading each other slips of poetry.

    The service industries idea is particularly stupid because service industries “serve” people and Flints basic problem is that they are running out of people. It’s like a Texas down deciding that because the oil fields are drying up they’re going to stop basing their economy on pumping oil and instead go into oil field services instead. (Oil field services handle task such a field catering, surveying or assaying that are related to but not central to the act of drilling or pumping oil.)

    You can’t have a service industry if their are no people to serve.

  24. So long as the government is not using eminent domain to force people out of their homes, this might be necessary for those areas that have made themselves economically counter-productive. Might. It won’t lead to a rebirth, but it will reduce the costs.

    What I find interesting is that there has been talk of reforesting large swathes. Probably will, given the preponderance of Eviros involved.

    This is just a thought. But the people who remain behind after an economy collapses are usually your less ….. psychologically stable and functional. It usually includes the sociopathic and uneducated. Given the nature of school systems in areas that have been under Liberal control for a couple of generations; that last designation would probably include the 50% plus of local school dropouts.

    This would certainly include the huge number of gang members extent in these areas. As these areas go back to nature, they would be perfect “wild zones” for a recreation of scenes that would be a combination of the Lord of the Flies, and a zone beyond the legal Pale that could be used as a base for attacks on “civilized” folk. Think of the 700+ French Zones Urbain Sensibles [my spelling in French may be off, it translates as “Sensitive Urban Zones”] where French law does not run. I will watch with great amusement, from a safe distance.

    Subotai Bahadur

  25. The worship of the service industry ignores the fact that many services can in fact be more easily offshored than can tangible goods production. An undersea fiber-optic cable can carry information even faster than air freight, and even cheaper than ocean freight.

    By a great irony, Robert Reich’s claims for the great future awaiting the “symbolic analyst” came out at about the same point that the Internet began its great period of growth.

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