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Archive: Neal Peirce

Links to prior Peirce columns are also available at Washington Post Writers Group and National Academy of Public Administration websites.

North Carolina’s Political U-turn: Model of a Reborn Confederacy?

Neal Peirce / Jul 26 2013

For Release Sunday, July 28, 2013
© 2013 Washington Post Writers Group

Neal PeirceThere was a time when North Carolina was a symbol of Southern enlightenment. Compared to the policies of the old “Solid South” – Democratic, conservative, fervidly anti-civil rights – the state embraced relatively progressive policies in such areas as education and race relations.

No longer.

In the new, suddenly solid Republican South, the Tar Heel state is racing to lead the pack in conservative anti-city and implicitly anti-black politics.

Just check the record of what’s occurred since 2010, when Republicans for the first time since 1896 won control of both houses of North Carolina’s Legislature.

They’ve passed a tax bill that will reduce state revenue by more than a half-billion dollars a year, benefitting higher-income taxpayers while increasing taxes for small business owners and lower- and middle-class taxpayers.

Moves on unemployment insurance will cut benefits and the length of coverage for tens of thousands of North Carolina workers.

The state’s earned income tax credit is being closed off, raising the tax burden on thousands of the working poor.

Aid to elementary education is dropping, with the growing state now spending less on public schools than it did in 2007.

On the social side, the GOP-controlled legislature recently repealed the Racial Justice Act of 2009 – a law that allowed death-row inmates to claim that racial bias played a role in their convictions. With 152 people on death row, that decision and others helped spark a series of political rallies at the state capital in Raleigh, called Moral Mondays. The NAACP and allied civil rights, labor and immigration groups have joined in, trying to combat what they call North Carolina’s new “mean-spirited” public policies.
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Dark Clouds of Yesteryear Return to Threaten Right to Vote

Neal Peirce / Jul 17 2013

For Release Sunday, July 21, 2013
© 2013 Washington Post Writers Group

Neal PeirceOne of my thrills as a young political writer was to trace the long and arduous – yet eventually victorious – struggle to assure the right to vote for all Americans.

I was working on a book about the Electoral College and all the formulas for tallying votes and electing a president that had been proposed over the years. Suddenly I realized that the varieties of compromises then so widely discussed – such as dividing states’ electoral votes by district, or proportionately reflecting vote counts by state – wouldn’t do. Only a simple, direct, equal vote for all Americans, I concluded, would match the promise of a mature, fully shared American democracy. All votes equal. The People’s President, I titled my book.

But it was clear, checking history, that the American experiment had started very differently. When the Constitution was written, only propertied “freeholders” could vote – an injustice not fully corrected (and then only for white males) in the 1820s. Women were denied ballots until the Suffragist movement culminated in the 19th Amendment to the Constitution (1920). Youths between 18 and 21 could fight for their country but not vote until the 26th Amendment (1971).

But the true, deep divide was our history of slavery in America. For African-Americans the struggle to vote, even after the Civil War, was painstakingly slow, each advance fiercely resisted by the states of the old Confederacy.

The 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, did forbid state or local governments from denying citizens’ right to vote based on their “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” But the Southern states resisted, through decades of lynchings, Jim Crow laws, poll taxes, stacked literacy tests and whites-only primaries.
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Fleeing Factories, Superstores: Time to Demand Performance Bonds

Neal Peirce / Jul 10 2013

For Release Sunday, July 14, 2013
© 2013 Washington Post Writers Group

Neal Peirce For a half century and more, there’s been an ugly abandonment scene across America – factories, malls, gas stations, superstores abruptly closing and fleeing sites in cities and towns. They leave it to mayors and councils to either suffer the scourge of abandoned territory or pay heavy demolition and cleanup costs.

Translation: Local taxpayers are obliged to pay for private industry’s irresponsibility. It’s a crime against civic America, and it ought to be stopped in its tracks.

Some 17 years ago I wrote a column suggesting that performance bonds, covering all reasonable property recovery costs, be required of all industrial or commercial owners whose properties might constitute a future blight.

Now there’s backup for that idea in a fresh report from Michigan State University that proposes not just bonds but an alternative of long-term mandatory insurance policies for clean-up of properties.

The need is as compelling as ever. My “worst” examples are the wrecks of yesteryear’s industries to be seen from the train windows on Amtrak’s Northeast corridor. Worst of all are 7 miles of Amtrak’s line through north Philadelphia – a succession of long-abandoned, decaying factories strung along the right-of-way, their carcasses slowly falling to pieces, rotten roofs caved in on tops of crumbling red brick walls.

What an embarrassment for the United States, with foreign visitors numbering among the passengers witnessing the carnage from train windows.

Thousands of other dereliction sites languish across urban and suburban America. Hundreds of shopping malls, as a website named deadmalls.com has amply documented, have become vacant and indebted hulks. And the trend is accelerating. Analysts suggest that 15 percent of U.S. regional malls will fail in the next five years.
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Resilience to Disasters: Challenge of the Century?

Neal Peirce / Jul 05 2013

For Release Sunday, July 7, 2013
© 2013 Washington Post Writers Group

Neal Peirce NEW YORK – Resilience – our ability to withstand massive natural or man-made shocks – is fast becoming the big challenge word of this decade. Most likely, for the century as well.

Small wonder. Vast floods, droughts, wildfires, earthquakes, tsunamis, blizzards and tornados are no strangers to humankind. But in a world of gathering clouds of severe climate change – rising waters engulfing shorelines, severe droughts, high temperatures – the dangers are increasing ominously.

As one defense, President Obama noted in his recent climate policy speech, we’ll need “more resilient infrastructure – stronger seawalls, natural barriers, hardened power grids, hardened water systems, hardened fuel supplies.”

The federal government, Obama announced, would open access to its climate data and imagery so that states and cities can assess risk under different climate scenarios and not “waste money building structures that won’t withstand the next storm.”

But today’s perils extend still further – witness the Boston Marathon bombing, the weapons of death used in Newtown, Conn., and other murderous shootouts, potential cyber-attacks, deadly chemical spills, or a repeat of the 1918 flu pandemic that infected 500 million people worldwide and cost 50 million to 100 million lives.

Today we have first-ever-in-history perils: cyber-warfare, for example. Or the split atom. At a late June “PopTech” conference in Brooklyn on “The City Resilient,” I heard a speaker ask: “What if there was a small nuclear explosion in New York City?” On top of the terror such an event would trigger, there might be tens of thousands of potential victims, quickly overwhelming the city’s hospitals and their 40,000 beds.
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Cities for All: No Skipping Generations

Neal Peirce / Jun 28 2013

For Release Sunday, January 27, 2013
Reposted Friday, June 28, 2013
© 2013 Washington Post Writers Group

Neal Peirce WASHINGTON – We’re in a new age of celebrating America’s cities, no longer disparaging and fleeing them as we did through the pre-crash, suburban expansion era.

But who are the cities really for?

Are they for waves of young professionals drawn to glitter and opportunities? Or for America’s seniors, seeking community, supports, activity in their twilight years?

Yes on both counts.

But what about families with pre- and school-age children – especially as schools improve? Are the cities for them too?

That answer, also, needs to be an emphatic “yes.” Because the very future of cities depends on drawing young, child-rearing families.

That theme – the value of truly multigenerational cities – was embraced by a group of liberally oriented city leaders, the “Mayors Innovation Project,” meeting in Washington shortly before Inauguration Day.

Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt of Chapel Hill, N.C., said most people in his university town seem to be 20 or 80 – thus “missing the middle.” That crimps economic opportunity because of a serious lack of investors or workers.

By contrast, Mayor Joseph Curatone of Somerville, Mass., boasted of his Boston-area city, a close neighbor to Cambridge, as “multigenerational,” “the most densely populated city in New England.” Somerville is highly livable, he noted, with a wide range of housing units, lots of little squares and centers, high transit availability and strong civic engagement. Plus, 32 percent of Somerville’s population is aged 25 to 34 – the biggest share of that highly productive age group in Massachusetts.
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Economic Rejuvenation Rx: Skills + Equity

Neal Peirce / Jun 21 2013

For Release Sunday, June 23, 2013
© 2013 Washington Post Writers Group

Neal PeirceIf the national economy isn’t stimulating enough jobs for millions, how can mayors, business and other metro area leaders figure out routes to decent-paying jobs for more of their people?

A bunch of “scholars with a heart,” looking for the opportunities in a project on building resilient regions funded by the MacArthur Foundation, recently appeared at Washington’s Urban Institute to release papers focused on multiple regions’ economic challenges.

One key finding: Fairness, along with decent wage levels, pay off. People assume companies are drawn to regions where they can hire workers for low pay. (A prime example: call centers).

But California-based scholars Manuel Pastor and Christopher Benner, reported – based on U.S. and international surveys they’d conducted – that metro areas with higher income equality are more likely to sustain growth over time. Big pay inequalities, they noted, actually dampen growth while generating social tensions and suspicions.

In Chicago, there’s a new “Plan for Economic Growth and Jobs,” sparked by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and developed over five months by a steering committee of business, labor, civic and community leaders led by World Business Chicago. Its headline objectives, as you’d expect, include enhancing Chicago’s position as a key transportation hub, becoming a leading center of advanced manufacturing and a top exporter.

But what sets Chicago’s effort apart is how community grounded it is – all the way to a specific call to “develop and deploy neighborhood assets to align with regional growth.” Its steering committee isn’t just big business moguls, it’s also unions, civic leaders, educators and the Urban League, with a range of subcommittees including one on neighborhood assets co-chaired by a MacArthur Foundation vice president, Julia Stasch.
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Less Harmful Shale Development: Ohio’s Big Experiment

Neal Peirce / Jun 14 2013

For Release Sunday, June 16, 2013
© 2013 Washington Post Writers Group

Neal PeirceCan a state do “fracking” right?

Can it use the new shale gas drilling technology to deliver thousands of jobs, revive depressed industrial zones, spark new high-tech industries, feed state coffers – and still not mess up its countryside, imperil water supplies and possibly release dangerous amounts of methane gases?

It’s a big order, and environmental concerns remain real. But a strong cross-section of Ohio’s leadership – political (Gov. John Kasich), business investors and respected think tanks like Cleveland State University’s Levin College of Urban Affairs – see smart exploitation of shale reserves as key to a strong, opportunity-rich future.

By historic and geographic accident, the action is focused on northeast Ohio, anchored in Cleveland, Akron, Youngstown and Canton. This was an early center of U.S. steel and birthplace of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Co. in the 1880s. But the economic action shifted south and west, and the area has been in or near recession since the 1950s – forever yearning for a new break.

Could shale be the answer? Just maybe. Massive reserves of so-called Utica shale – a source not just of natural gas but also liquid petroleum products that can be feedstuffs for specialized fuels and chemical manufacturing – have been discovered in this area (including a swath running east and southeast to the Pennsylvania and West Virginia borders).

The claims are stupendous. Though actual start-up on wells in Ohio has been slow, the soon-to-come statewide impact could easily reach $10 billion a year, plus $500 million in tax revenue, with oil and gas field development creating 65,000 jobs with average income over $50,000 a year, according to a Cleveland State study released last year by energy expert Andrew Thomas and colleagues.
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Opponents Sue to Stem Onrush of Flashing Digital Billboards

Neal Peirce / Jun 07 2013

Hardly a Driver
Is Now Alive
Who Passed On Hills
At 75
Burma-Shave

For Release Sunday, June 9, 2013
© 2013 Washington Post Writers Group

Neal PeirceOnce upon a time, advertising in America was fun. As a boy, I didn’t want to miss the Burma Shave jingles – one line per sign in a quick roadside series – as my father took me on my first drive across America.

Today it’s different. Massive, glaring, digital billboards, commandeering attention as they flash new messages every few seconds, are proliferating across most states.

Around 2005, the first appeared. By 2008, there were 1,800. Last year there were 3,600, and this year the figure is likely to be close to 5,000. The industry (some 250 independent contractors) is licking its chops. It reports the cost of new boards is dropping rapidly, the “dynamic new content” allegedly outperforms television, radio and newspaper ads, and there’s “an increasingly favorable regulatory environment” – states and cities agreeing to the signs.

Unless, of course, regulations strike back. That’s precisely what Scenic America, a nonprofit public interest group, is trying to force. It has sued in federal court to force the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) to clamp down, to reverse its 2007 ruling that permitted the garish signs as long as they don’t flash new images more frequently than every four seconds.
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The Quandary of Suburban Poverty

Neal Peirce / May 31 2013

For Release Sunday, June 2, 2013
© 2013 Washington Post Writers Group

Neal PeirceLuis Ubiñas knows what poverty is all about. Today he’s president of the Ford Foundation. But he grew up in the 1960s and ’70s in New York City’s fire- and demolition-ravaged South Bronx, in the midst of some of the most dangerous streets in America. He was raised by a mother who made $50 a week.

Help, though, was on the way, sparked by President Lyndon Johnson’s “war on poverty” and programs like community development corporations (CDCs) that were seeded and grown with early foundation support. Today the revived South Bronx pulses with activism and provides a range of services to families still caught in poverty.

Now Ubiñas leads an expanded foundation mission: fighting the poverty that’s spreading rapidly out beyond city boundaries, infecting suburbs in metro regions across the United States. A tipping point was reached in the last decade, as poverty expanded an astounding 53 percent in suburbs, compared to 23 percent in cities. By 2010, exacerbated by the Great Recession, the number of suburbanites living in poverty exceeded the total in cities by 2.6 million.

That startling development and the mega-trends behind it are examined in a new Brookings Institution book, Confronting Suburban Poverty in America, co-authored by Elizabeth Kneebone and Alan Berube. The book, Ford-supported, was released May 20, along with a detailed website, confrontingsuburbanpoverty.org.

One reason for the rise in poverty was the slowdown in suburban-based manufacturing and construction industries, costing jobs and decimating many workers’ income. Another was the rise of housing costs in resurgent central cities, pushing low-income families into suburbs.
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Girding Cities for a Perilous Century

Neal Peirce / May 23 2013

For Release Sunday, May 26, 2013
© 2013 Washington Post Writers Group

Neal PeirceIt’s as bold a move as one could imagine. The Rockefeller Foundation, celebrating its 100th anniversary, is launching a “100 Resilient Cities Centennial Challenge.” It will invest $100 million in 100 cities across the world that come up with the best and broadest plans to cope with massive natural and man-made shocks of the time.

In accepting the award, each winning city will be required to appoint a “chief resilience officer” who will work across departments to make sure strong city resilience plans are developed, refreshed and strengthened over time.

As Rockefeller Foundation president Judith Rodin puts it, we’re in a time when a “once-every-hundred-year storm becomes a once-a-week storm somewhere.” Climate change is leading to massive disruptions – all in addition to potentially dire earthquake, tsunami and infectious health challenges.

And with humankind crowding into cities by the billions – numbers unprecedented in human history – metropolises become the dominant stage for humanity.

The Rockefeller Foundation is especially concerned that the shocks of the times, while a peril to all, may most seriously affect poor and vulnerable people who have fewer means to recover.

Yet some may ask: Isn’t it too intrusive for a single foundation to suggest recipient cities must appoint an official with a previously unknown title and duties – “chief resilience officer”?

One reply: The idea comes from a proven friend of humanity. The Rockefeller Foundation has already invested deeply across the world, including in the Green Revolution of the mid-20th century, which introduced crops and production methods credited with saving more than a billion people from starvation.
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