The subject of blight has nearly become ubiquitous in the wake of the dilapidation of cities such as Detroit and Baltimore. One topic which has recently entered the theater of the newsroom has been the restoration of these cities. NPR’s podcast “Planet Money” covers this topic with a charismatic investigation into the specific case of the 900 block in the city of Baltimore.
This podcast, entitled “Unbuilding A City,” specifically highlights a federal law known as the Uniform Act, which was passed in 1970 to establish “minimum standards for federally funded programs and projects that [either] require the acquisition of real property (real estate) or displace persons from their homes, businesses, or farms. The Uniform Act's protections and assistance apply to the acquisition, rehabilitation, or demolition of real property for federal or federally funded projects.”
This act was originally intended to afford reasonable accommodations for those individuals whose real property fell victim to so-called eminent domain, whereby the federal government would compensate individuals for their displacement in favor of constructing such public utilities as highways and railroads. Nowhere within the specific letter of eminent domain will one find any provision for the redevelopment of lands or real property which has purely become an eyesore along the commuter's route.
Unfortunately, NPR does here what it often seems inclined to do and grips this law, a well-groomed storyline and a presumptuous philosophical position on social responsibility and twists them in favor of a political agenda, glossing over the intended purpose of that law and, in classic NPR style, starting in the middle of the story instead of seriously investigating the causes of this neighborhood’s decline and determining how that law even applies or whether it even ought to apply.
The cast at “Planet Money” exploits a local African-American woman of anonymous identity and background, beyond her name and claimed neighborhood rank, to capitalize on the moral, ethical appetites of their aural audience members, who might otherwise possess the economic or political curiosity to question the very policy and attending funds which here serve to enable the displacement of this woman who has supposedly spearheaded her own mission against drug deals and gang-related activity in the area which consequentially follows from a syllabus of other factors conveniently not mentioned in the podcast, including the risky nature of the War on Drugs, the hiring disincentives carried out by the welfare state and the nationwide destruction of industry, resourcefulness and personal responsibility which first drove such American cities as Detroit to achieve a type of wealth and widespread productivity that the world had never seen.
Whom am I trying to kid, though? These are NPR listeners, not serious economists. In the end, the hardened position of blight-elimination is cemented by an unquestioning dive into a special, shortsighted plight of an individual whose previous, more intimate life and attending preferences go largely unknown or untested by this so-called investigation, all while an entire block in Baltimore has been wiped from the planet without any consideration for the potential gains or losses, whether direct or residual, exacted upon the city, let alone the safe-haven status which may have been otherwise enjoyed by transients or low-income persons with low-level preferences and a mere will to survive, all to make way for an aesthetically-pleasing park posing as eye candy for hipsters and occasional passerby.
Of course, this park has yet to be realized, unlike the $800,000 price-tag of taxpayer-funded demolition, let alone the supplemental outlays afforded to this lone African-American victim of literary convenience and others like her whose stories go neatly summarized for podcast format and whose broader context would only cause a Neo-style nausea which may compel the listener to question whether life has any truth to it. That is, of course, if the listener can even retain any of the material or any curiosities long enough before jumping into the next stanza of podcast poetry.