So this was strange, ICYMI: Economist Joel Naroff took to the Business section of the Sunday Inquirer to suggest that residents of low-income neighborhoods that have suffered major population loss over the past half century should be forcefully relocated.
"Areas should be totally depopulated and the land banked. If large tracts of land can be amassed, commercial and industrial business can be attracted."
This is what he calls "a 'clear-cut' approach to land use" for Philadelphia. He goes on, "To accumulate that space, properties may have to be sold to the city, development corporations, or private investors, or taken through eminent domain."
Yes, seizing potentially entire neighborhoods worth of people's homes via eminent domain. Wow. The mapaccompanying the print version of the article zeroes in on the core of North Philly, which is 82 percent black and full of some very poor folks, and has lost more than 103,000 residents.
But the poor communities that Naroff proposes foreclosing on en masse are not, of course, trees. And clear-cutting does have a pretty bad rap when it comes to trees, anyhow.
I don't think Naroff is motivated by, well, evil. Philadelphia has lost half a million people, or one-quarter of its population, since 1950. And he's right that it is less efficient to provide services to less densely populated areas. But Philadelphia's population is now growing, thanks to Latino and Asian immigrants, while Detroit's is still shrinking. And solutions to restore Philadelphia's vibrancy are only socially just if they help those most in need the most.
There is a land bank proposal making its way — its painfully slow way — through City Council. This one, proposed byCouncilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sanchez, is completely different than Naroff's. It aims to restore the city's 40,000-odd vacant properties rather than expelling people from its occupied ones. And it would, advocates say, have to be community-directed and balance "market-rate and affordable housing, and commercial and green space."
Naroff does acknowledge that while "most of those relocated will be poor, who have little other than their homes. And let's face it — there is a racial component to this. This reminds people of urban renewal, which was nicknamed 'black removal.' That makes it difficult to even consider such a policy, let alone implement it."
But he concludes that it must be considered all the same. It would be better that he consider the broader political and economic forces (including massive taxpayer subsidies for infrastructure and housing) that have nurtured suburban (and later exurban) growth at urban expense instead. It is wrong to propose the sort of heavy-handed, bulldozer-forward and large-scale redevelopment schemes that have so damaged neighborhoods in the past.
The Detroit bankruptcy has provoked many to share their opinions about what is wrong with cities, especially ones with lots of poor and non-white folks that have been shunned by capital and white suburbanites. It would be worth mentioning that not even Detroit is considering forced relocation. And their Detroit Works program, which seeks to cut off city services to severely underpopulated, has provoked significant protest and criticism.
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