Assessments

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

Keeping Cities from Becoming “Child-Free Zones”

It’s beyond dispute at this point that there’s been a central city revival over the past decade or so. Downtowns throughout the country have seen increases in residential population, and commercial districts that were moribund in 2000 have come alive with restaurants and entertainment. If you’re seeking evidence, just look around. 

Real as the resurgence has been, however, it is one marked by a nest of nuances. Perhaps the most important of them has to do with children and families. READ MORE

Bill de Blasio: The Neighborhood Mayor

A few weeks ago, on a walk-the-streets visit to New York, I found myself in the middle of a clump of foreigners getting a grand introduction to Harlem. As we gazed at the newly pricey brownstones and lively commercial boulevards, an agitated local resident slipped in to give the visitors a lesson in reality. “Don’t be fooled,” the man warned. “This place is still full of guns and drugs. This ain’t heaven up here.”

The fact that he was telling the truth was less interesting to me than that he felt obligated to make his case. But he did have to. READ MORE