What cities should do now They need to get back to providing the basics, one expert says

Growth conference keynoter

Baltimore is identified as among those cities failed by leaders

March 22, 1998|By Robert Nusgart | Robert Nusgart,SUN REAL ESTATE EDITOR

When Fred Siegel glances at cities, he sees what they once were, what they are and what they can be.

As a native New Yorker now living in Brooklyn, he knows that cities can be juggernauts of activity, culture and passion. But, Siegel says, the mechanisms that run cities have failed miserably. And those failings have sent people fleeing to the suburbs.

"If basic services don't function, if schools don't work, if police are ineffective, people don't stay in cities. People can be driven from cities, it's not just the lure of the suburbs. The suburbs I have no attraction for. People can be pushed out," said Siegel, who will deliver the keynote address Friday at the Managing Growth in Maryland: 2000 And Beyond daylong conference.

The conference, presented by the Maryland State Builders Association, will be held at the Inn & Conference Center at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Siegel, author of "The Future Once Happened Here: Failures of the Past, Challenges for the Future," is among a number of participants who will discuss the fate of American cities and debate numerous issues that will be confronting homebuilders and developers.

According to John Kortecamp, executive director for the Home Builders Association of Maryland, the conference will be nonpartisan. A similar conference was canceled last year after Gov. Parris N. Glendening -- the architect of Smart Growth legislation -- had scheduling conflicts and could not appear.

"This conference is nonpolitical from the standpoint of direct participation on the agenda by any politicians of any stripe, and I guess that was intentional," said Kortecamp. "We wanted a neutral playing field, so to speak."

Kortecamp said invitations were extended to every officeholder in the state, and he expects the governor's office to be represented. Kortecamp added that early registration has shown mixed representation, from environmental groups to members of the public.

"We do not want this to be a discussion among like-minded people," Kortecamp said.

"We need to have diverse points of view and diverse perspectives into this thing and, in order to broaden people's understanding of the issue and, hopefully, affect their thinking about what needs to be addressed, we have to have a diverse representation of people participating," Kortecamp said.

Siegel says government officials and their programs have mishandled the needs of citizens.

"What my book is about is what has happened to American cities over the last 40 years," Siegel said. "What has happened is that we have systematically evaded the problem, and have failed to manage our cities efficiently. [That] Smart Growth continues to evade those questions is problematic there is an element of evasion.

"Cities got away from the basic functions. They got in the human renewal business. They failed in urban renewal, and they got into human renewal, and they failed at that. Cities have to get back to basics. Cities have to be safe. Infrastructure has to be sound. Schools have to be well-run and effective. And that's really the core.

"Government has certain basic jobs, and if it doesn't do them well everyone suffers and Baltimore is one of those cities that suffer."

Kortecamp pointed to the Smart Growth legislation enacted last year, which essentially directs the state's resources back toward helping existing developments and neighborhoods rather than supporting suburban sprawl.

"It's been the knee-jerk reaction," Kortecamp said. "Builders are the cause of the problems, and that's not the case. Builders build where people want to live, period. And if they build where people don't want to live, they are going to be bankrupt builders in a very short amount of time. They are just responding to market demand.

"We've got to make the case that the current policy is not focused in the right place. We have to change thinking. We're very concerned that the problem has been identified, but the causes of the problem have not been identified and they are certainly not part of the treatment."

And that's why Kortecamp hopes that at, the end of Friday, more people will understand where the industry is going and will have formed some solutions.

"This [conference] is really a first-time endeavor, and it is meant to be representative of the intentions of the association on behalf of the industry to be much more visible, to be engaged and be much more active on this and other issues," he said. "We want to act and be perceived as part of the solution and not in the case of growth be identified as, quote, 'the problem.' "

Pub Date: 3/22/98

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