If Katrina and the Iraq war support weren’t enough of a reminder that both structural and even personal racism is still a big problem in this country, Bill Bennet’s horrifying remarks, his continuing refusal to apologize and the cheers for him at the Bakersfield Business Conference should do it.
In other news, pro-suburban sprawl and anti-creative class critic Joel Kotkin has a deeply misleading column on Katrina. I have one factual problem with his argument – growth numbers for Houston vs. New Orleans go beyond meaningless and into deeply misleading without indexing them to population. Houston is one of the sprawl capitals of the US, which is a notoriously easy way to generate plenty of short-term growth, even while locking dependence on cars and fossil fuels into the built environment. And who knows how much of their growth was due to offering low-road tax cuts to corporate evildoers like Enron. That is not a model that New Orleans or any other city in the US should be trying to emulate.
Mr. Kotkin refuses to get that cities offer cultural amenities not just to generate cool for the sake of cool, but to generate revenue they need for other stuff. He’s right that tourist economies are brutal to lower paid workers, but the solution to that isn’t to give up on tourism, it’s to make those jobs pay what they’re worth! The downsides have to be mitigated by the upsides for urban revival to continue, and this includes getting the fundamentals like transit, housing costs and disaster planning right as well as making cities great places to live. That is the essence of the challenge that the great American citeis are facing: they need to deliver both on the fundamentals and on the amenities. The complete absence of national leadership (fueled by the soothing reassurances of apologists like Mr. Kotkin) on urban issues only makes things more difficult. Mr. Kotkin always manages to spin it so that it sounds like cities are engaged in some kind of weird, high stakes popularity contest, but that just isn’t true.