Half Past the Month: ‘All Land Matters’

October 17, 2015

“What if I should fall right through the center of the earth and come out the other side, where people walk upside down?” — Alice in Wonderland

IF LAST NIGHT’S MAYORAL DEBATE in Indianapolis is portend, we will need to learn to think creatively and upside down like Alice. That will be difficult for feet-on-the-ground Hoosiers, so let’s get started.

The urban-studies theorist Richard Florida can serve as a guide. His best-selling book, “The Rise of the Creative Class,” observed that creative people — generally, professionals in healthcare, business and finance, the legal sector and education — were found where there was affluence. From that he deduced they were the cause of the affluence.

City planners throughout the nation lobbied for the urban amenities the creative were said to demand — sports stadiums, art museums, refined restaurants, bisexual toilets, nightlife. “Build it and they will come” was the mantra.

Nowhere has this been more fully incorporated into civic thinking than in Indianapolis, where publicly funded sports teams are the beginning and end of economic development. It is understandable, then, to get to what is interesting about the mayoral race — that the gentry is mortified by the sight of anything so off-mission as abandoned houses, vacant lots and the like. The two mayoral candidates clearly feel their pain.

The Indianapolis Star gave expression to this recently in a story leading up to the debate, noting the similarity of the candidates’ neighborhood policies: “Not only does blight invite crime and drive down neighboring property values, some of these homes are actively blocking redevelopment.”

Got it? The owners do not abandon property because the neighborhood is unsafe. Rather, unsafeness increases because property is abandoned.

Both candidates, in addition to requiring police to wear body cameras, want to create an inventory of abandoned houses. The Republican would use a “tool” authorized by the last General Assembly that puts such property in a municipal receivership. A similar program in Baltimore — if this tells you anything — allows city officials to transfer homes to new ownership in as little as eight months.

“If they want their properties back? They’re gonna have to pay a fine,” the Republican told the Star before last night’s debate. “And maybe even if they lose these properties, they’re also going to have to pay a fine for the city’s time.”

OK, enough of this silliness. Turn everything upright again. Abandoned property is symptomatic of a high-crime rate; it does not cause it. And all land matters; abiding crime anywhere will drive property values to zero.

Citizens in high-crime neighborhoods who do not support lawful authority to the fullest extent politically and morally will lose their investment in their homes, in their labor and in their community. And nobody else will be investing there — creating jobs, providing commerce — until safe neighborhoods are restored.

Proof of this, both coming and going, is the South Bronx of New York. Crime reduced neighborhoods there to a default Third-World setting. Now they are recovering but only after an agonizing two-decade crime-fighting effort. Indeed, over the last half-century, according to the political analyst Michael Barone, it has been crime and not absentee ownership that has been the primary confiscator of wealth in our cities:

“Conscientious Black Americans who saved up for down payments and paid their mortgage every month found that they had an asset that was worth very little — less than if they had put their savings in an interest-bearing account. This is one of the tragedies of our times, and the politicians who are seeking to undo policies that have vastly reduced crime rates in certain cities are, I suppose unknowingly, threatening to impose this wealth confiscation tax again.”

Indianapolis, sadly, has become a place in which political debates lead blithely away from a consensus on how to fight crime in depressed neighborhoods. Rather, it concerns itself with second-guessing police and stigmatizing private property. Such an upside-down world would be a welcoming one for fellows such as DeRay McKesson of Black Lives Matter, who inserts this contretemps into the discussion:

“The mystifying ideological claim that looting is violent and non-political is one that has been carefully produced by the ruling class because it is precisely the violent maintenance of property,  which is both the basis and end of their power.”

So looting, in creative-think, is merely property being abandoned spontaneously. I think we know all we need to know about the direction Indianapolis is being taken.

— Craig Ladwig

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