No matter how one may feel about the morals and values of community building, one must agree that increasing economic viability or even economic prosperity is essential for the development of better communities. Ultimately, communities who have great or wealthier per capita income have better public facilities, educations systems, and experience an overall better quality of life. Which is why, in searching for solutions to combat poverty in poor communities, community economic development (CED) was created. A way to introduce economic activity into the community, CED has encouraged the growth of affordable housing, health services, and local business, and is a much discussed term when considering economic development for low income communities. However, despite the presumed success of CED, many communities continue to struggle with economic development, especially communities with a high minority population. This is especially common across inner cities in places like New York City, Baltimore, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Detroit. The problem is that while many varieties of CED projects exist in the low-income communities of these cities, each year, there is hardly any economic growth. Unless they are gentrified, low-income communities usually remain low-income communities. Many of the time, community members who experience personal economic growth lose interest in bettering the community and leave.
While this has been an issue I continue to grapple with, a couple of the texts that we have read in the course of this class thus far has allowed me to gain better insight into hindrances that keep CED from flourishing. In the 1994 New York Times article, “The Myth of Community Development” professor and journalist Nicholas Lemann offers explanations as to why inner-cities have not experienced much economic growth. Focusing on United States inner-cities, he describes how the Clinton Administration allocated 3.5 billion dollars over five years to inner-city ghettos in a program called Empowerment Zones. Despite the massive funding the project would receive, local leaders had no faith in the plan. Lemann also speaks to many other reasons why CED has not meant an increase in economic viability. He explains “urban slums have never been home to many businesses except for sweatshops and minor neighborhood provisioners.” He also explains that the slums serve as transitional sites, “filled with people who plan to move out as soon as they make a little money.” Therefore, they can hardly exist as stable, self-sufficient communities. That being said, trying to create new economic activity in poor neighborhoods is to go against the way of urban American life. Most of the time, attempts at public revitalization often take place of other efforts that would do much more good—for example, building schools or increasing police protection. Instead, money is allocated to public missions that just cannot be accomplished. Lemann addresses great points throughout his article, and gives multiple explanations to why Government has continued to allocate money into projects that do not bring in a return. Not only does he note the physical and metaphorical presence of the slums, he also explains the bureaucratic and political nature of Washington that keeps the war on poverty trend going. The Kennedy Administration, Reagan Administration, Bush Administration, and Clinton Administration all had initiatives that allocated millions to projects that geared towards combating poverty especially in inner cities, but none of these projects significantly affected the economic viability of inner cities.
The down fault of Lemann’s article is that it does not provide a happy ending. Neither does it provide sound solutions. He says, “Economic revitalization efforts pass every test but one, the reality test. They are popular among all the key players in antipoverty policy; they sound good; they have