Can Neighborhoods Save the City?

City Journal, Spring 1991.


CHAIRMAN NATHAN GLAZER: Today’s session is part of an effort to figure out how city neighborhoods and communities work and how they fail; what we gain when they work well, and what we lose when they do not. Most of us here are New Yorkers, especially if you count the expatriates among us. But the problems of neighborhoods and communities in New York are surely part of national trends. So I would like to start by calling on Charles Murray, who for several years has been arguing that many of our urban problems are caused by policies that disable communities and neighborhoods, particularly working-class and even underclass neighborhoods.

CHARLES MURRAY: Nathan, in recent years, as I looked at various urban problems, I have been struck by the number of times in which a bureaucracy was behaving not just ineffectively or inefficiently, but in ways that were almost lunatic. When a school system is run so that teachers are physically afraid of their students, there is something lunatic about that; it is so far removed from everything that common sense suggests. When a criminal-justice system returns to the community someone who has repeatedly committed dangerous crimes, that is crazy: No normal community would consent to that. There are countless examples of the governing bureaucracy behaving in ways ordinary human beings would never behave if given the chance to run their institutions closer to the ground.

This leads to the proposition that citizens can make much more sensible and effective decisions about their neighborhoods than bureaucracies.

City Journal