Inner Cities: New Hope, More Challenges

By Peirce, Neal | Nation's Cities Weekly, October 27, 2003 | Go to article overview

Inner Cities: New Hope, More Challenges


Peirce, Neal, Nation's Cities Weekly


NEW YORK -- Has the broadly proclaimed renaissance of America's inner cities, launched in the 1990s and continuing into this decade, been real? Have the ghettoes, barrios and other economically lagging areas of our cities made a true and lasting comeback?

Finally there's solid evidence, based on Census tract analysis, to show what's been happening. The data, compiled by Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter's Initiative for a Competitive Inner City, was released at the first Inner City Economic Forum here last week.

On the plus side, superstar inner-city areas, including those of Boston, Oakland, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose, not only gained jobs between 1995 and 2001, but did so faster than their host cities. Inner-city Milwaukee and Pittsburgh even added jobs as their overall cities shed workers.

Yet other inner cities, including Toledo, Rochester, Buffalo, St. Louis and Raleigh lost jobs. Detroit lost a discouraging fifth of its inner city jobs in just six years.

On several measures, the inner cities actually outpaced U.S. averages. Median incomes in the inner cities rose 20 percent to $35,000 a year, compared with a national median gain of just 14 percent. Inner-city poverty dropped by 4 percent while average household income grew 20 percent, both outpacing the nation. Percentage gains in housing units and homeownership also exceeded the nation's.

Inner cities did lag in some areas. Their job growth was just 1 percent from 1995 to 2001, compared with 2 percent nationally. With an 82 percent minority population, their total homeownership still trails the nation--32 percent vs. 60 percent. Inner cities have suffered a bit worse than the nation in the recent recession.

But for most of these areas' 21 million people, the 1990s brought an exciting reversal of decades of abandonment and grueling poverty. Inner cities gained economic momentum in tourism, entertainment, finance and services. Major retailers, recognizing big untapped markets, started to return. Assertive enforcement of federal anti-redlining laws, plus the vision of savvy development firms, sparked major housing and commercial developments.

The inner cities scored a historic breakthrough in the '90s, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros told the conferees in New York, as the massive readjustments that they'd faced since the '60s--millions of manufacturing jobs lost, cataclysmic population change, social disruption--finally leveled off.

And the climate of the decade was right. Cisneros ticked off the factors, starting with the longest economic expansion period of U.S. history, crime reduction led by mayors like New York's Rudolph Giuliani, welfare reform and a serious start to recycling urban brownfields. …

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