Progressive Policies Threaten A New Era Of Urban Chaos & Dysfunction
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Urban America began falling apart in the 1960s, with skyrocketing crime and worsening disorder. Vagrants and drug dealers colonized streets, parks, and other public spaces. Many once-vibrant city neighborhoods collapsed. The crisis had many causes, including the flight of industrial jobs from northern and midwestern cities. But profound changes in attitudes and government social policy played major roles, too. Crucial adjustments to welfare programs, spurred by liberal policymakers’ belief that the poor were victims of an unjust system, discouraged work and undermined families. The 1960s cultural revolution, which endorsed experimentation with drugs, brought more addiction—and more drug-fueled crime. And as the crisis intensified, policymakers lowered penalties for many crimes, seeing lawbreakers, too, as victims of society, so crime got worse still. Though such policies, championed nationally by President Lyndon B. Johnson and locally by mayors like New York’s John Lindsay, were well-intentioned, they helped produce an urban netherworld.
As City Journal readers know well, cities woke up from this nightmare in the 1990s, with smarter and more aggressive policing, tougher criminal sanctions, greater focus on quality-of-life concerns, welfare reform, and other policy changes. Crime plummeted in many cities, and many city economies surged. Some cities, including New York, became models of urban flourishing.
Yet, tragically—and bewilderingly, given such improvements—a new generation of progressive urban politicians seem intent on returning to some of the policies that cost cities so dearly decades ago. They’re pulling back on enforcement of quality-of-life infractions, ceding public space again to the homeless and drug users, undermining publ..
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