April 17, 1997

April 17, 1997 | Commentary on Smart Growth

ED041797c: How to Revitalize Our Inner Cities

You hear the stories every day -- maybe even see the truth outside your window: America's inner cities are falling apart.

The hearts of many of our cities have become decaying centers of poverty and crime where residents are afraid to walk the streets of their own neighborhoods. The situation is getting worse every day despite the billions of taxpayer dollars Washington bureaucrats spend each year on "solutions."

But there is hope. Finally, a small group of lawmakers in Congress has figured out what most Americans have known all along: The solutions to our inner-city problems have to come from the churches, homes, charitable organizations and neighborhoods of America.

The American Community Renewal Act, now before Congress, would empower the people living in troubled areas across America to take back control of their own turf. It would do so by helping people help themselves.

As communities deteriorate, businesses and banks are usually the first to leave. A bad situation only gets worse when jobs disappear and economic growth comes to a standstill.

The Community Renewal Act would designate 100 of the country's poorest and most troubled communities as "renewal communities." It would seek to lure businesses back into these neighborhoods, and make it easier for local residents to start their own businesses, by easing up on some of the federal regulations that make it difficult to open a business and by offering tax breaks to businesses that locate within these neighborhoods.

The plan would also give businesses tax incentives to hire welfare recipients and kids who might otherwise be in danger of getting into trouble. In other words, it would give people a chance to become productive members of society rather than being a tax burden or crime risk.

But, as we all know, economic solutions won't stand on their own. Along with the crumbling of local economies, many inner cities suffer from an even greater problem: crumbling families and kids with no moral compass.

A Harvard University study found that inner-city boys who regularly attend church are 50 percent less likely to commit crimes than boys of similar backgrounds who don't attend church. They are also 54 percent less likely to use drugs and 47 percent less likely to drop out of school.

The sponsors of the Community Renewal Act -- Reps. J.C. Watts, R-Okla., James Talent, R-Mo., and Floyd Flake, D-N.Y., as well as Sens. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., and Spencer Abraham, R-Mich. -- recognize the importance of giving kids a strong moral foundation. Through a scholarship program, low-income parents would have the opportunity to pick the schools that best meet the needs of their children -- including religious schools. Currently, many poor parents would like their children to get the kind of rigorous moral and educational training offered by religious schools. But they can't, because they can't afford private schools, and the government refuses to pay for "school choice" programs that offer religious schools as one of the choices. The Community Renewal Act would change that.

For too long bureaucrats in Washington -- who many years ago lost touch with the day-to-day issues and concerns of ordinary America -- have tried to force their one-size-fits-all solutions on the cities and states of this nation. All you have to do is look in your local paper to see how successful they've been -- inner-city juvenile crime, illegitimacy, joblessness and welfare dependency rates all continue to soar.

Now it's time to give communities a chance to heal themselves.

Note: Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. is president of The Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based public policy research institute.

About the Author

Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. Founder, Chairman of the Asian Studies Center, and Chung Ju-yung Fellow
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