City Paper Widget

Friday, October 24, 2014

Cheater's Guide to Dream City -- Part 22 (Epilogue)

This is the twenty-second installment of a series (see the first installment here) summarizing the 1994 book Dream City: Race, Power, and the Decline of Washington, Harry Jaffe and Tom Sherwood. This book has recently been republished as an ebook and a paper book. HBO has plans to use material from the book to make a movie about the life of Marion Barry.

The epilogue of this book was written in 1993 or 1994. It suggests some possible futures for the city, but first it describes the crime and violence-ridden atmosphere under then-Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly.

“Sharon Kelly wasn't much of a field marshall, but even if she'd been George Patton, she would have had little chance of winning the war. The police force she inherited was not prepared to fight, because her predecessor, Marion Barry, had wrecked it” (Kindle location 5749).

“For all his achievements and failures, the dispirited and desperate  state of the city's police department in a time of turmoil was perhaps Barry’s most damning legacy” (l. 5750).

“Given the uniqueness of the setting, Barry had the opportunity to create a modern urban center that worked.... Expecting Marion Barry and [his allies] to make the city function at an ideal level may be unrealistic, but there's no reason it had to sink to the level of poverty, infirmity and fear that it occupies today” (l. 5762).

“...[T]he District of Columbia had become a mesmerizing mirror for black and white America's inability to integrate African-Americans -- economically, politically, and socially” (l. 5773).

“In essence, the poor parts of the city were becoming unhitched from the upper and middle class sections of the capital -- and from the rest of America” (l. 5786).

"As Mayor Kelly and other politicians jockeyed for position in the 1994 mayoral and council campaigns, wealthy whites and middle class blacks were voting with their feet. The District’s population in 1993 dipped below 600,000 for a 25 percent loss from the high of 800,000. Nearly 50,000 black Washingtonians had left during the 1980s, and the exodus picked up momentum in the early 1990s” (l. 5801).

“Thus the conundrum: Washington, D.C. won’t die because it’s the capital city; but if it weren't the capital, it might not be in such dire straits. If it hadn't been under the thumb of racists in Congress for a hundred years, it might have developed politics such as those in Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, or other cities” (l. 5810).

“Lacking clear divisions of power and identity, the city and its residents have become addicted to the blame game. No one is responsible for his or her actions -- not the people, not the politicians, not the criminals. The well-healed whites of Ward Three have little stake in the city, and most don't care about the politics or the government. What happens across the Anacostia River doesn't concern them. African-Americans often pin their problem on racism and blame Ward Three” (l. 5814).

The authors (again, writing in the mid-1990s) imagine two possible futures for the district.

“One leads gradually toward true home rule, independence, and possibly statehood. This would require the kind of incremental change envisioned by Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, as opposed to any quick fixes” (l. 5822).

The authors consider a possible deal with Congress. It proposes, as possibilities, the hiring of a professional city manager, doubling the size of the city council but halving its salary, and increasing city control of finances, the judiciary, and criminal systems. These include the local election of an attorney general, and the election of judges, or perhaps appointment of judges by the city council and the mayor.

“To spur economic development, laws could be changed to make the city into a haven for corporate headquarters, similar to Delaware. Or it could become a tax free zone that would promote jobs and development on hundreds of acres of prime vacant land, much of it east of the Anacostia” (l. 5834).

“On the other hand, the federal government could tighten its control over the city. As we finish our work, there is growing unease about the financial stability, of the local government, even as the city's social problems draw the attention of both demogagic and well meaning members of Congress” (l. 5835).

“We've argued that Washington is unique, but we can argue the other side, as well. It is enough like other cities with financial and racial strains to be a barometer for how well the nation tends to urban America. The problem of race -- so evident in the District -- is the paramount domestic problem facing America” (l. 5842).

The original version ends at this point. The newly-released revision continues the story up to 2014 in an Afterword.

Cheater's Guide to Dream City continues

Further installments will appear on successive Fridays. All posts are cross-posted on the ad-hoc "Cheater's Guide to Dream City" blog.

Full disclosure: I have a commercial relationship with Amazon. I will receive a very small portion of the money people spend after clicking on an Amazon link on this site.

This is a great book and well worth reading in its entirety.

No comments:

Post a Comment