January 23, 2005

TOO LITTLE SPRAWL (via Tom Morin):

Jersey’s Urban Meltdown: The problem isn’t sprawl; it’s collapsing cities. (Steven Malanga , January 2005, City Journal)

Two years ago, former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey announced that one of his administration’s highest priorities would be to control suburban sprawl. To the applause of environmentalists and other no-growth types who said that the Garden State was running out of land, McGreevey laid out an ambitious agenda to limit development.

But like most sprawl activists, McGreevey danced around the real problem—which is that Jersey’s cities had become increasingly uninhabitable and that suburban sprawl had largely resulted from the flight of hundreds of thousands of city residents away from crime and bad public schools. Recent news reports about still rising crime in Camden and gang killings in Newark help remind us how little progress Jersey’s cities have made and how misplaced McGreevey’s priorities were.

Once upon a time, long before “sprawl” entered our vocabulary, Jersey’s population was concentrated in and around its major cities. Places like Newark boasted thriving and diverse neighborhoods, from solid blue-collar districts like the old First Ward to upscale enclaves like the Forest Hills and Weequahic sections.

But decades ago Newark and Camden and Trenton became among the most crime-ridden, inhospitable cities in the country, and residents fled them, moving first to the close-by suburbs like East Orange and Irvington and then, as the disorder spread, going further and further out. Newark, a city that once boasted nearly 450,000 residents, now has just 279,000, and entire neighborhoods that once pulsed with life have long since been cleared of their houses (some of them splendid) by nonresidential urban renewal projects, because no one wanted to live in these places anymore. [...]

Given this situation, you would have thought that, sometime during his tenure, McGreevey would have stood up and said that fixing Jersey’s cities was his number one priority—certainly ahead of suburban sprawl. From the bully pulpit of the governor’s office he could have insisted that Jersey’s cities employ the most modern and scientific techniques of crime fighting, now being copied from New York around the country with great success in cities as different as Baltimore, Miami, and Providence. You might have also thought that McGreevey would have pushed for innovative changes for the schools, including expanding school choice, as former gubernatorial candidate Bret Schundler advocated, as well as former Newark mayoral candidate Cory Booker.

Politically, it’s no mystery why he didn’t. An agenda of fixing the state’s cities would have required that McGreevey take on his political allies, like Newark Mayor Sharpe James and the state’s powerful teachers’ union. Far better to blame Jersey’s problems on developers, middle class families, and McMansions in the suburbs.

McGreevey’s misplaced priorities will continue to plague Jersey, where the failure of cities is a drag on the entire state. That failure not only contributes to sprawl, because Jersey’s cities could comfortably accommodate hundreds of thousands more residents, but is an increasing financial burden on state’s middle and upper class residents.

Rather than trying to make cities better warehouses for the underclass, shouldn't the goal be to move them out to the suburbs and integrate them into the broader, functional society?

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 23, 2005 9:58 AM

It's the standard socialist solution to a social problem – don't fix things, build walls.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at January 23, 2005 11:17 AM



Posted by: Jeff Guinn at January 23, 2005 11:44 AM

Never forget that this was a DemocRAT plan all along to build political machines based of the welfare class. Evil politicians want the city schools and neighborhods to be as bad as possible.

Every family of middle-class voters chased across the city line means that many fewer Republican voters to worry about. They have gotten their way.

I know families who have been chased three or four times in a couple of generations. What are we do do now, take their tax money and finance the transfer of social pathology to the places to which they have fled?

Posted by: Lou Gots at January 23, 2005 12:59 PM

Think of how Moslems will be taking Europe over as the Europeans let themselves die out. The same sort of dynamic can take place here, as these little Leftist ghettoes gradually and voluntarily die off. Or, we will just have ring suburbs without an "urb" in the middle. No great loss either way.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at January 23, 2005 1:02 PM

'Moving them out to the suburbs' has been tried again, and again and again. NJ cities like Irvington, East Orange, Hillside, Maplewood, South Orange etc have been destroyed by the imposition of the urban underclass on them. All that has happened is that the same pathologies have spread much like lymphatic cancer.

The same stunt wrecked many NYC neighborhoods during the Lindsay Administration, such as Coney Island and Far Rockaway, and had it not been for the Asian and West Indian influxes, Flushing and Canarsie would have gone the same way.

The only way to change the behavior of the urban underclass is to create incentives to change that behavior along with disincentives to maintaining that behavior. Everything else is just moving the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Posted by: Bart at January 23, 2005 1:18 PM

Urbanism, like liberalism, is a disease. The sooner both are wiped out, the healthier our society will become.

Posted by: M. Murcek at January 23, 2005 1:20 PM

East Orange was fine and well-integrated until the city removed the residency requirement for public employees.

Posted by: oj at January 23, 2005 1:22 PM

East Orange was a hellhole in the 70s. After the 1967 riots, its days were numbered.

I know that East Orange was integrated since forever, having been a center of support for abolition before the Civil War. But once the decision was made to import the problem of the urban underclass from Newark as was done later in Irvington, it was over.

There is no reason to move people around. Just go back to the rational imposition of standards. End the process of encouraging the unfit to keep breeding at public expense, end the presence of the disruptive in the schools, and the criminals in the public housing and most of the issues would be over.

The policy you recommend has devastated much of the inner suburban ring of America from places like Compton to Cicero to Irvington to Prince Georges County, MD.

Posted by: Bart at January 23, 2005 1:37 PM

Yes, the law was changed in the late-60s. Destroyed a perfectly good town.

Posted by: oj at January 23, 2005 1:43 PM

Are you suggesting that African-Americans can not have a decent town, without having a significant per cent of Whites living and/or working there? If not then why are residency requirements necessary for govt. employees?

Posted by: h-man at January 23, 2005 3:50 PM

No, they can't have a decent town without a middle class. Residency requirements exist because it's the townspeoples' money.

Posted by: oj at January 23, 2005 4:37 PM

Residency requirements exist because it's a way for the city government to nail down people so they can be fleeced. It's no different that GM requiring it's employees to buy only Chevies, or Motorola forbidding it's employees from buying a Nokia cellphone.

Posted by: ray at January 23, 2005 4:41 PM


So that they're fouling their own nest when they screw up. Just like public schools would be better if the teachers, administrators and school board members were required to put their own children in them. If they can live somewhere else, it's just not their problem (nor their neighbors and social circle's problem) when munical services break down.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at January 23, 2005 4:46 PM

Don't take the job and you can live somewhere else.

Posted by: oj at January 23, 2005 4:46 PM

Residency requirements also insure that you will get inferior people to do the work, as those who can flee to a different police force or school system will do so. This is certainly true in NJ where the municipal pension system is statewide and your time teaching in East Orange can be applied to your pension when you decide to retire from Millburn or Ridgewood.


The teachers can't change the school system any more than the cop on the beat can change the justice system.

Posted by: Bart at January 24, 2005 7:45 AM

No they don't.

Posted by: oj at January 24, 2005 8:21 AM


Everyone, who can afford to flee the NYC or Newark or Jersey City school systems, flees them.

Posted by: Bart at January 24, 2005 8:43 AM

Not if you require the public employees to live in the city.

Posted by: oj at January 24, 2005 8:55 AM

Your argument is completely circular. If a residency requirement is imposed, the only people who will take the job are those who want to live in that particular city or who can't get jobs elsewhere. How many people do you know who want to live in Newark and send their kids to Newark public schools? So, the pool of potential applicants becomes exclusively made up of people other districts have deemed undesirable, lowering the overall quality of the teaching pool. This situation feeds on itself, the schools get worse, fewer quality people wish to stay there, etc.

Posted by: Bart at January 24, 2005 11:17 AM

Are you mad! That would mean the end of the "urban place" as we imagine and cherish it.

Posted by: LUCIFEROUS at January 24, 2005 6:42 PM


Nope. Folks will take the jobs cause they pay.

Posted by: oj at January 24, 2005 7:27 PM

Can't find people to meet your standards? No problem, just lower the standards.

Just like a self inflicted wound, but worse.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at January 24, 2005 9:39 PM


Do a little research.

Newark pays less than any of the surrounding suburbs. You have to go out to Western Morris County or Southern Ocean before you find a district in NJ as poorly paying as Newark, East Orange, Orange or Irvington. A friend of mine just fled Irvington for Jackson Twp. NYC pays about 25% less than anything on Long Island or Westchester.

Those places don't need residency requirements. In fact, teachers can't afford to live in places like Chappaqua or Manhasset.

Posted by: Bart at January 25, 2005 7:40 AM

You're in the 80s in Livingston and pushing 100K in Great Neck or Scarsdale.

Posted by: Bart at January 25, 2005 9:37 AM


Posted by: oj at January 25, 2005 10:35 AM

Are you being deliberately obtuse? If you can make $80000 in Livingston why would you settle for $50000 in Newark? Livingston gets a larger pool of people to select from and hence gets better teachers.

And Livingston doesn't have to impose a residency requirement.

Posted by: Bart at January 25, 2005 12:04 PM

because you can't get hired in Livingston.

Posted by: oj at January 25, 2005 4:55 PM

Precisely. The best go to Livingston the dregs go to Newark.

Posted by: Bart at January 26, 2005 8:17 PM

Yes, the point is to keep them in Newark.

Posted by: oj at January 26, 2005 8:22 PM