In some of America's greatest cities, there are downtown sections that should be delared war zones. They have becomes no-man's-island of violence and terror. They even look the part - like battlefields, with their abandoned buildings, shattered windows, doors ripped off hinges.
It's an ugly picture that finally has stirred President Carter. He has also been stung by black and liberal critics who complain that he has abondoned the cities. "We havea political problem," conceded one White House official. So the President has ordered his aides ti rush up a plain for rehabilitation. He intends to unveil the new urban policy in his State of the Union message in January.
There is pressure on the President to pump more and more federal dollars into the older urban areas. Yet the emerging plan, according to administration sources, will back away from the direct federal bounties that Lyndon Johnson poured forth. His Great Society programs will be modified to offer government incentives instead to lure private business back to the inner cities.
This smacks of the Republican theory that business benefits will "trickle down" to the poor. But administration experts insist that the cities can't be saved unless the corporate exodus to the suburbs is halted. "This is what the Democratic mayors want," a Carter aide told our associate Howie Kurtz.
Carter has assigned an interagency task force to tackle the issues of housing, unemployment and business investment. The Treasury Department, for example, has completed a confidential staff report on urban financing. The centerpiece would be the creation of a federal Urban Bank. This new bank would be part of "a carefully designed system of assistance and incentives to private industry to remain, expand or locate in urban areas."
Explains the staff report: Many of our older cities have experienced a substantial immigration of unskilled and low-income persons" This has resulted in "chronic unemployment . . . rising chronic unemployment . . . rising crome (and) deteriorating schools. Consequently, these cities are unattractive to business."
Many corporations have fled the cities because of "high taxes," "high municipal wages and benefits" and "difficult labor relations," the document says. It adds that many government regulations "appear to inhibit economic development in urban areas and are perceived by many business to be confusing, contradictory and counterproductive."
While the rest of the nation is experiencing an economic recovery, many cities are still mired in poverty and depression. "Certain groups, such as the unskilled and minorities, continue to experience high unemployment even in good times," the report says.
Job training and educational programs often fail, it contends, because even after the hard-core unemployed are trained, "there are no jobs in the area in which they live." The solution is "for firms to be paid some form of subsidy to induce them to remain or expand in an area they otherwise would have left." These federal incentives will include:
Millions of dollars to be loaned by the new Urban Bank to city development agencies for private projects, such as housing or shopping centers. The bank will lend three-quarters of the money if a business can come up with the rest.
$1 billion to be distributed in direct grants over the next three years to help business firms acquire and develop city property.
As added encouragement, urban business will be offered tax breaks and an increase in tax-exempt bonds.
The federal money will be funneled into cities with higher-than-average unemployment an lower-than-average growth rates. According to the Treasury study, these include Boston, Buffalo, Detroit, Jersey City, Los Angeles, Newark, New York City and Piladelphia. But smaller cities will also be eligible for the benefits, such as Atlantic City, N.J., Bridgeport, Conn., Duluth, Minn., and Spokane, Wash.
As part of the federal effort, other administration officials are drawing up regulations to deter banks from "redlining" or refusing to lend mortgage money to slum areas. Evaluations will also be made of neighborhood-based crime-prevention teams and schemes to end racial discrimination in housing and employment.
"This is the only way to revitalize the economic base of the cities," insisted one White House aide. "These projects will create jobs." Of course, the solutions are still confined to paper, and the problem exists in the streets.