THERE HAVE BEEN NUMEROUS GOVERNMENT and privately sponsored attempts to revitalize this country's inner cities, where most African Americans reside. But none have made a real impact on the tremendous problems of unemployment, hopelessness and despair. And, certainly, none have led to any sustained urban rebirth.
Nearly three decades after the Kerner Commission Report that described two distinct Americas--one white, one black, one rich, one poor-and many well-intentioned programs to address such problems, the $64 billion question remains: How can America's inner cities be reborn and all its citizens fully utilized?
A proposal by Harvard professor Michael E. Porter--a highly regarded economist and a marketing guru--is gaining much attention. Porter argues that past efforts, everything from affirmative-action programs to empowerment zones, have failed largely because they stressed social investment more than sustainable economic development. "[Previous programs] have had some success," explains Barbara J. Paige, co-executive director of Boston's Initiative for a Competitive Inner City, which Porter founded to pursue his economic model. "But what they have not produced, if you simply look back over the history of the last 20 to 30 years, is a sustainable economic base."
If this country's inner cities are to be revitalized, Porter …