One of the perks of being a software patent expert witness is that one gets to visit Wilmington, Delaware, where the Federal District Court hears disputes between corporate titans. Walking and driving around the empty blighted downtown it occurred to me that it will likely be decades before most parts of the city could be revitalized as a place where people would voluntarily live. Without a sufficient core population of people with at least a middle class income there is no way for a supermarket to thrive. Without an array of businesses, there is no practical way for a middle class person to move into Wilmington and have the kind of city living experience that is available to a resident of Boston, San Francisco, New York, or Washington, D.C.
[Note that due to Delaware’s niche in providing a safe legal home to America’s corporations and banking services, plus presumably a reasonably efficient city government, Wilmington is not nearly as blighted as Detroit, for example. Middle class people commute into work here every day, but they also go home at night, resulting in a dead downtown.]
Our governments (federal, state, and local) spend a huge amount of money and energy helping poor people to stay poor in cities such as Wilmington. We provide free housing, free medical care, free food, etc. Our society also spend a lot of money to bring poor people to middle class areas, e.g., in Massachusetts where the state mandates a certain percentage of “affordable” housing in every town. and where children from poor areas rides buses, sometimes for two hours each day, to attend schools in richer areas.
But once a city falls below a certain level of prosperity it often seems to get stuck. Nearly all of the locals are now poor. There are few of the services available upon which middle class families would depend. The tax base shrivels to whatever percentage of federal Welfare transfers can be harvested by the local government, e.g., taking a percentage of Medicaid spending through a property tax on a doctor’s office.
For an attempted quick break-out, why not offer 10 years of free housing to the first 5000 families willing to move back into a blighted city? The conditions would be that the family must have at least 1.5X the median household income of the state and send their children to the same schools that are available to other city residents (i.e., public schools, charter schools, and private schools if a voucher program is in place). That critical mass of 5000 families would be sufficient to support the range of businesses necessary to attract the next 5000.
The success of cities such as San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, et al., proves that middle class Americans want to move back into the cities. The continued failure (in terms of desirability for middle class residence) of cities such as Detroit, Baltimore, Buffalo, Wilmington, et al., proves that middle class Americans don’t want to move in by themselves.