Perspective

Rockford and Gomorrah

American cities rot from the center like an old oak tree: Empty and desolate within, they are kept from dying only by the life that surges just beneath the surface of the peripheral bark.  Here in Rockford, the flight to the suburbs is commonly blamed on the aging buildings and the unpleasantness of life in the center.  As a result of a natural evolutionary process that overtakes all cities, the far east side is growing, stranding churches and neighborhoods like so many beached whales.  It just happens.

Much of what makes Rockford ugly and unpleasant did not just happen, however; it is the result of deliberate decisions made by politicians and the economic interests behind them.  Influential men bought property on the east side, and it took little to persuade their friends in government to pay for the roads and sewers that accelerated development.  Of course, such expenditures on the periphery absorbed the tax dollars that would otherwise have been used to maintain and improve services at the center.  The developers did well, as did their politician friends, though at the expense of the rest of the city.

In this, there is nothing new.  Men generally enter upon political careers in order to gain enough power to make themselves worth bribing.  What is different in the modern American city is not the neglect of old neighborhoods but their devastation.  Old cities such as Charleston...

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