Greed is Killing American Cities

Those Americans who built this country’s large cities decades ago would scarcely believe what their stricken legacies have become today in the hands of contemporary political and business leaders.

One third of Detroit’s population of one million live in poverty. The unemployment rate is officially at fifteen percent. While the General Motors’ headquarters building still looms above most skylines, Detroit has been called the city that has left town and gone to the suburbs.

There have been attempts to “save” the city, but they have not emerged organically from its setting. Henry Ford II built a cluster of hotel and office buildings called the Renaissance Center which introverted into a barricade mentality from the decay around it.

Then there was an elevated tramway to bring people downtown. That did not work very well either. A moderately just metropolitan society brings people to town, not one abandoned by its rulers to a downward deteriorating slide.

In the early Eighties, Detroit city hall expropriated about 400 acres of homes, small businesses, churches and other parts of a community called Poletown and turned it over to General Motors, complete with a $350 million subsidy package, to build an automated luxury auto plant. That controversial usurpation of a peaceful integrated neighborhood had few multiplier effects for urban renewal.

Now comes the most bizarre plan of all — deed a small parcel of land to the Chippewa Indian tribe to qualify it for a gambling casino. Backed by a referendum, the Mayor and most of the City Council, the project escapes Michigan law that prohibits casino gambling and taps into a federal statute that allows Indians on Indian land to open casinos wherever a state has a lottery.

A gambling casino in Windsor, Ontario, which attracts 25,000 Americans a day, became the clinching argument that won over doubters who thought such an industry never generates more pluses than minuses.

The rosy scenarios for the Chippewa casino are that it will pay $25 million a year to the city, create 4,400 jobs and stimulate its surrounding streets. Such expectations would amuse the long-time residents of Atlantic City. Betting on the future rather than building the future is the way former Connecticut Governor Lowell Weicker would react.

Weicker, an anti-gambling casino advocate, had to tolerate the Foxwoods casino in Ledyard, Connecticut which is owned by the Mashantucket Pequots. This is the most profitable gambling casino on the East Coast and the state receives 25 percent ($135 million this year) of the slot-machine profits.

To balance Connecticut’s budget and provide a small tax cut, successor Governor John Rowland is backing the partial or total sale of Connecticut’s profitable state lottery. This would be the first instance of such a sale in the 36 states that have such lotteries. Just like gambling, the Governor is displaying short-term thinking. One state legislator objected, saying that she doesn’t “like to sell the goose that lays the golden egg.”

New York City bets on the future by giving locally-situated corporations, that threaten to leave for New Jersey or Connecticut, generous tax abatements, reduced cost utilities and subsidized loans. These are very profitable companies like investment banks and brokerage firms. But they push City Hall relentlessly for these welfare payments to the rich.

Also New York City loses $150 million yearly because of a law that exempts taxes on foreign banks and the insurance industry. Some members of the City Council are working to repeal these corporate welfare packages.

An impressive coalition of citizen groups in Milwaukee are working to develop solid sustainable economic activity in the central city that doesn’t rely on gambling or giving away the store to large extorting companies which play one city against another.

For information on the national effort, you can write to Sustainable America, 8116 Social Science, Madison, WI 53706.

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