Assessments

Goodbye Gayborhood?

Twenty years ago this spring, I had a long, candid conversation with Timuel Black, one of the lions of the civil rights movement in Chicago, a man whose activist career dates all the way back to his youth in the 1940s.

We were discussing the challenges and opportunities that black people had dealt with in the years since segregation, when all of a sudden Black sighed and said something that startled me. "You know," he said, "sometimes I think we made a mistake leaving the ghetto." READ MORE

Court Case Could Challenge Houston's Hands-Off Approach

A few weeks ago, business leaders in Houston introduced a new slogan aimed at helping to attract more corporations to town. It’s a simple slogan: “Houston: The City With No Limits.”

Like almost any good civic slogan or motto, this one can be interpreted in many different ways. But to quite a few outsiders, it will signal one overriding idea about the nation’s fourth-largest city: There is no zoning. Houston, they believe, is a place where you can build anything you want next to practically anything you can think of -- a greasy garage on a pristine residential street, a convenience store in the midst of expensive single-family houses, a noisy bar next to a nursing home. READ MORE

Are Suburbs All They’re Cracked Up to Be?

I was struck by something the mayor of Cincinnati said recently in a conversation on the Urbanophile blog, published by one of our Governing columnists, Aaron Renn. The mayor, John Cranley, essentially proclaimed that the time has come for cities to stop dreaming of regional solutions to urban problems, to stop thinking that they would be better off if they could annex the suburban territory that lies just outside their borders. Cincinnati, he said, can get along just fine without any more than the roughly 80 square miles and 300,000 people that it currently comprises. At this point in the 21st century, Cranley argued, taking on suburban territory simply gives cities new problems that they don’t need.

The mayor expanded on his ideas with me in a subsequent conversation. In the past, he told me, “You had a sentiment that urban cores need the wealth of the suburbs to have a better budget picture. People in the suburbs escaped the city to flee the problems. But that’s changing. You’re going to see cities in a better financial situation than a lot of the suburbs.” READ MORE

Have Judges Overstepped Their Authority on Education?

Kansas politics has been consumed for the past 40 years by lawsuits over how to pay for elementary and secondary education. Kansas is not exactly alone in this category; all but five states have been sued over school financing at one time or another. But the level of obsession in Kansas is somehow different. No matter what the state’s legislators are talking about at a given moment, school finance hangs over them like a menacing storm cloud that won’t go away.

That’s certainly been the case this spring, as the legislature has scrambled to comply with a March state Supreme Court decision declaring that school funding levels overall were too low and that they varied too much from one school district to another. The court gave the legislature until July to fix the imbalance, a fix that will probably cost something in the neighborhood of $130 million. Within a few weeks of the court’s decision, lawmakers found enough money in the treasury to meet the deadline. But behind the court order lurks another case, one in which the entire state school system is being challenged as inadequate to the needs of Kansas children. That case, currently in state district court, has the potential to extend the Kansas school finance dispute for years to come. READ MORE

Tallin, Estonia’s Bold Experiment with Free Public Transit

This story appears in Governing's annual International issue.

What if big-city transit systems were free? What if you could board a bus or train at one end of town, ride all the way to the other end and back, and not have to pay a cent for it? How would that affect the practicalities of urban life in America? The list of possible outcomes, bad ones as well as good ones, is a long one.  READ MORE