Opportunity for Change

January 06, 1995|By JAMES W. ROUSE

All of us are concerned about living conditions in American cities -- the lack of jobs, the drugs and crime, school dropouts, emergency-room health care, broken-down housing, broken-down systems. The old programs that tried to change things didn't work.

The Empowerment Zone is a serious new attempt by the Clinton administration to attack the problems. This program, which will bring $100 million to Baltimore directly, along with a potential $250 million in tax credits to business, will make Baltimore a demonstration of how neighborhood people, in partnership with government and business, can work to overcome the devastating conditions that mark American cities. Its principles include:

* Having the people in troubled neighborhoods -- not in Washington -- identify the problems, point out the needs and design programs to make the cities work.

* Creating and expanding business to create jobs and make poverty-driven neighborhoods livable and productive.

* Providing competition among cities to produce a small number of the best programs as models of the possible.

Think of the opportunity for action and attention that the Empowerment Zone grant brings to the city. The planning of the separate pieces of the program has been largely completed in some neighborhoods in Baltimore, like Sandtown, where the action has already begun.

Will the program work? This is very different from the redevelopment or renewal programs, from Model Cities, or from other urban programs designed and run from Washington. This sets outcomes to be achieved, then requires a process that involves the people of the city as planners, designers and implementers, and then provides resources to make it work.

It is an enormously important opportunity for Baltimore to bring about major change, to resolve some of our most stubborn problems, to draw very favorable attention across the country. But with the spotlight on us, we cannot afford to stumble.

The private corporation now in formation to manage the Empowerment Zone in Baltimore should recruit the highest-caliber board and staff. We have such talent around us. It should be assembled without regard to anything but producing results. Our city and our country will be looking for us to show the way.

James W. Rouse is president of the Enterprise Foundation.

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