Obama proposes US cities may have to be bulldozed in order to survive
Dozens of US cities may have entire neighborhoods bulldozed as part of drastic “shrink to survive” proposals being considered by the Obama administration to tackle economic decline.
Local politicians believe the city must contract by as much as 40 per cent, concentrating the dwindling population and local services into a more viable area.
The radical experiment is the brainchild of Dan Kildee, treasurer of Genesee County, which includes Flint.
Having outlined his strategy to Barack Obama during the election campaign, Mr Kildee has now been approached by the US government and a group of charities who want him to apply what he has learnt to the rest of the country.
Mr Kildee said he will concentrate on 50 cities, identified in a recent study by the Brookings Institution, an influential Washington think-tank, as potentially needing to shrink substantially to cope with their declining fortunes.
Most are former industrial cities in the “rust belt” of America’s Mid-West and North East. They include Detroit, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Memphis.
In Detroit, shattered by the woes of the US car industry, there are already plans to split it into a collection of small urban centres separated from each other by countryside.
“The real question is not whether these cities shrink – we’re all shrinking – but whether we let it happen in a destructive or sustainable way,” said Mr Kildee. “Decline is a fact of life in Flint. Resisting it is like resisting gravity.”
Karina Pallagst, director of the Shrinking Cities in a Global Perspective programme at the University of California, Berkeley, said there was “both a cultural and political taboo” about admitting decline in America.
“Places like Flint have hit rock bottom. They’re at the point where it’s better to start knocking a lot of buildings down,” she said.
Flint, sixty miles north of Detroit, was the original home of General Motors. The car giant once employed 79,000 local people but that figure has shrunk to around 8,000.
Unemployment is now approaching 20 per cent and the total population has almost halved to 110,000.
The exodus – particularly of young people – coupled with the consequent collapse in property prices, has left street after street in sections of the city almost entirely abandoned.
In the city centre, the once grand Durant Hotel – named after William Durant, GM’s founder – is a symbol of the city’s decline, said Mr Kildee. The large building has been empty since 1973, roughly when Flint’s decline began.
Regarded as a model city in the motor industry’s boom years, Flint may once again be emulated, though for very different reasons.
But Mr Kildee, who has lived there nearly all his life, said he had first to overcome a deeply ingrained American cultural mindset that “big is good” and that cities should sprawl – Flint covers 34 square miles.
He said: “The obsession with growth is sadly a very American thing. Across the US, there’s an assumption that all development is good, that if communities are growing they are successful. Ifthey’re shrinking, they’re failing.”
They could then knock them down or sell them on to owners who will occupy them. The city wants to specialise in health and education services, both areas which cannot easily be relocated abroad.
The local authority has restored the city’s attractive but formerly deserted centre but has pulled down 1,100 abandoned homes in outlying areas.
Mr Kildee estimated another 3,000 needed to be demolished, although the city boundaries will remain the same.
Already, some streets peter out into woods or meadows, no trace remaining of the homes that once stood there.
Choosing which areas to knock down will be delicate but many of them were already obvious, he said.
The city is buying up houses in more affluent areas to offer people in neighbourhoods it wants to demolish. Nobody will be forced to move, said Mr Kildee.
“Much of the land will be given back to nature. People will enjoy living near a forest or meadow,” he said.
Mr Kildee acknowledged that some fellow Americans considered his solution “defeatist” but he insisted it was “no more defeatist than pruning an overgrown tree so it can bear fruit again”.
Obama Fires Watchdog appointed as Inspector General for Ameri-Corp.
WASHINGTON – An inspector general fired by President Barack Obama said Friday he acted “with the highest integrity” in investigating AmeriCorps and other government-funded national service programs. Gerald Walpin said in an interview with The Associated Press that he reported facts and conclusions “in an honest and full way” while serving as inspector general at the Corporation for National and Community Service.
In a letter to Congress on Thursday, Obama said he had lost confidence in Walpin and was removing him from the position. (Uh-huh, but not until Walpin’s investigation caught a supporter breaking the law.)
Walpin defended his work on Friday. “I know that I and my office acted with the highest integrity as an independent inspector general should act,” he said.
Obama’s move follows an investigation by Walpin finding misuse of federal grants by a nonprofit education group led by Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, who is an Obama supporter and former NBA basketball star. Johnson and a nonprofit education academy he founded ultimately agree to repay half of $847,000 in grants it had received from AmeriCorps.
Walpin was criticized by the acting U.S. attorney in Sacramento for the way he handled the investigation of Johnson and St. HOPE Academy.
“It is vital that I have the fullest confidence in the appointees serving as inspectors general,” Obama said in the letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Vice President Joe Biden, who also serves as president of the Senate. “That is no longer the case with regard to this inspector general.”
The president didn’t offer any more explanation, but White House Counsel Gregory Craig, in a letter late Thursday to Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, cited the U.S. attorney’s criticism of Walpin to an integrity committee for inspectors general.
“We are aware of the circumstances leading to that referral and of Mr. Walpin’s conduct throughout his tenure and can assure you that the president’s decision was carefully considered,” Craig wrote.
Walpin said he gave the integrity committee “a full and complete response” that was also signed by several people who worked on the case. “I have no question but that we acted totally properly,” he said in the interview.
Grassley had written Obama a letter pointing to a law requiring that Congress be given the reasons an inspector general is fired. He cited a Senate report saying the requirement is designed to ensure that inspectors general are not removed for political reasons.
Grassley said Walpin had identified millions of dollars in AmeriCorps funds that were wasted or misspent and “it appears he has been doing a good job.”
The inspector general found that Johnson, a former all-star point guard for the Phoenix Suns, had used AmeriCorps grants to pay volunteers to engage in school-board political activities, run personal errands for Johnson and even wash his car.
In August 2008, Walpin referred the matter to the local U.S. attorney’s office, which said the watchdog’s conclusions seemed overstated and did not accurately reflect all the information gathered in the investigation.
“We also highlighted numerous questions and further investigation they needed to conduct, including the fact that they had not done an audit to establish how much AmeriCorps money was actually misspent,” Acting U.S. Attorney Lawrence Brown said in an April 29 letter to the federal counsel of inspectors general.
Walpin’s office made repeated public comments just before the Sacramento mayoral election, prompting the U.S. attorney’s office to inform the media that it did not intend to file any criminal charges.
In settling the case, the government agreed to lift its suspension of any future grants to the academy and Johnson agreed to immediately repay $73,000 in past grants. The academy was given 10 years to repay the remaining $350,000.
Brown said at the time of the settlement that prosecutors determined there was no fraud, but rather a culture of “sloppiness” in St. HOPE’s record-keeping.
Kevin Hiestand, chairman of the board of St. HOPE Academy, said in a statement it was “about time” Walpin was removed. “Mr. Walpin’s allegations were meritless and clearly motivated by matters beyond an honest assessment of our program,” he said.
Ken Bach, who works in the inspector general’s office at the national service corporation, will be acting inspector general until Obama appoints someone to the position.
Walpin, a New York attorney, was appointed by then-President George W. Bush and sworn into office in January 2007 after being confirmed by the Senate, according to a news release on AmeriCorps’ Web site. Walpin graduated from College of the City of New York in 1952 and received a law degree in 1955 from Yale Law School. He was a partner with the New York City law firm Katten Muchin and Rosenman LLP for more than 40 years.
Alan Solomont, a Democrat and the board chairman of the government-run corporation, and Stephen Goldsmith, a Republican and the board’s vice chair, said they strongly endorsed Obama’s decision. (out of fear, they may suffer the same fate as Walpin, no doubt!)