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October 7, 2020  

Why Cities Shouldn’t Wait for the Feds to Do Something about Reparations

October 7, 2020

In late September, Strong Towns president Chuck Marohn published an article making the “local case for reparations.” Drawing on a detailed study conducted by the economic consulting firm Urban3, Chuck described the long-term fiscal impact of redlining policies in Kansas City, Missouri. He wrote:

This difference in margin of error is perhaps the most pernicious aspect of redlining. The people in one neighborhood [chosen for investment] are dealt face cards and aces. Those in the other [redlined] neighborhood get dealt twos and threes. It doesn’t matter how good you are at poker. It’s hard to mess up a winning hand, just like it’s hard to play your way to success when the deck is stacked against you.

The economic and social impact isn’t just felt by people who live in formerly redlined neighborhoods. For example, in a single half-square-mile neighborhood, redlining has cost Kansas City $30 million in lost tax revenue. Now multiply that across many such neighborhoods in Kansas City—where more than 50% of the city was “redlined” in the 1930s—and then consider that most towns and cities across the Unite States implemented similar policies. We start to get a clearer sense of the broad economic devastation wrought by decades of disinvestment in poor, predominantly black—though not exclusively black—neighborhoods.

Chuck goes further, though. Conversations about reparations often focus on a federal response to redlining—whether it should happen, and what it should look like. But Chuck says that cities shouldn’t wait for the federal government to do something about reparations. There are things towns and cities can do right now, using tools already at their disposal, to begin building last prosperity in disinvested neighborhoods.

On this week’s episode of Upzoned, host Abby Kinney—an urban planner in Kansas City—is discussing “The Local Case for Reparations” with the article’s author (and regular cohost) Chuck Marohn, as well as with Joe Minicozzi, principal at Urban3. Abby, Chuck, and Joe talk about Urban3’s data-driven analysis in Kansas City, the policies that have made Kansas City financially fragile, and what it will take to stop the bleeding in disinvested neighborhoods. (It’s less than you might think.) They talk about the high price cities are paying for inaction, and why cities already have the tools they need to make the change they say they want.

Then in the Downzone, Abby talks about an upcoming mountain biking trip to Arkansas. Joe recommends a trifecta of books on race, as well as a book on human behavior. And Chuck recommends the newest book by Bob Woodward.

Additional Show Notes