In his 1970 classic and controversial The Unheavenly City, Edward Banfield wrote that growing affluence in America’s cities “has increased feelings of guilt at ‘social failures.’… In the upper-middle-class view it is always society that is to blame.” This results in a rush to “fix things” according to overly narrow, ideological plans.*
A half-century later, in a season of urban disruption and discord, America’s unheavenly cities once again serve as outposts in contemporary culture wars. The left explains current urban crises almost universally through the lens of racism, while President Trump has decided cities are the perfect theater for his “law and order” re-election strategy.
The wealthier, safer, and more powerful cities become, Banfield noted, the more their affluent overseers and beneficiaries paradoxically see problems. But not just any problems. They see problems that allow them to pursue larger sociopolitical goals while shifting blame when their efforts generate (predictable) crises.
NIMBY-ism masquerades as sustainable development while pricing out the middle class, anti-paternalism turns homelessness into a public crisis for which developers and corporations get blamed, self-dealing teachers unions drive parents into the suburbs and then decry how school financing policies favor the suburbs, and police are defunded in the name of anti-racism while resulting spikes in crime are blamed on racism.