Many different people would give many different answers to the question, but it takes a bureaucrat to offer a 19th-century solution to a 20th-century failure. Reason TV reports on the proposal to revive Motor City by putting in a federally subsidized light-rail line, about as much of a policy non-sequitur as ever offered:
In a town lacking essential services, what do local leaders and federal politicians have in mind for helping the city? What’s needed to hoist Detroit back to its 1950 heyday, when it was America’s fourth largest city, with more than double its current population?
Why, light rail, of course!
The Motor City is moving ahead with a plan to build a 9.3-mile light rail line that will run from downtown Detroit to the edge of the suburbs. It’ll cost an estimated $500 million. Three-quarters of the bill will be paid by federal taxpayers, with the rest picked up by a consortium of foundations and businesses.
If built, the project will end up on the Mackinac Center’s list of government-subsidized white elephants touted as “crucial to Detroit’s comeback,” its “rebirth,” and pivotal to “turning things around.” In reality, it’ll just be another train to nowhere, much like Detroit’s existing light rail line, the unfortunately named “People Mover,” which operates at 2.5% of capacity.
Why stop there? Let’s spend a bunch of money on a sports stadium or two as well. That’ll bring business back – higher taxes and a focus on non-essentials are just the recipe for urban revival! What Detroit needs is a renovation in spirit and regulation that will attract investment, not another shiny toy for politicians that will operate at minimal capacity.