National Public Radio
March 28, 2001, Wednesday


FRANK STASIO, host: It's TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Frank Stasio, in for Juan Williams. Things appear to be looking up for America's cities. The economic boom of the 1990s sent new money into decaying neighborhoods and business districts, fueling a kind of urban renaissance. That, plus a huge influx of immigrants, has stemmed the population decline that nearly killed many cities in the last half of the 20th century. The latest census figures show that the population in some big cities, including New York and Chicago, actually grew. Other cities experienced smaller losses than expected. So is it a fluke or are cities making a comeback? Join the conversation. Our number here in Washington, (800) 989-8255. That's (800) 989-TALK. And our e-mail address is So with us today by phone, the honorable Bart Peterson, mayor of Indianapolis, Indiana. Welcome to TALK OF THE NATION, Mayor Peterson.

Mayor BART PETERSON (Indianapolis, Indiana): Good afternoon.

STASIO: And in our studios, the honorable Donald Plusquellic, who is the mayor of Akron, Ohio.

Mayor DONALD PLUSQUELLIC (Akron, Ohio): Good afternoon.

STASIO: And Vincent Ciani--Cianci. Pardon me. He's the mayor of Providence. I was doing pretty good there for a minute.

Mayor VINCENT CIANCI (Providence, Rhode Island): Yeah. You were doing OK, you know, for an Italian guy, too. You know...

STASIO: Yeah. You would think I'd get the Italian name right.

Mayor CIANCI: ...your name is Stasio.

STASIO: That's right.

Mayor CIANCI: Buddy Cianci, Providence, Rhode Island, great city.

STASIO: Good to see you.

Mayor CIANCI: Good to see you.

STASIO: And also joining us here in the studio, Dr. William Frey, demographer with the University of Michigan, senior fellow at the Milken Institute in Santa Monica.

Dr. WILLIAM FREY (University of Michigan): Good to be here.

STASIO: St. Monica, I think, was Italian, too. I'm not sure. Dr. Frey, the numbers in some cities are very impressive. As we say, some cities have grown. Others have lost less than we expected. Is this really a rebirth of America's cities?

Dr. FREY: Well, in some cases, it is. I mean, this has been a good decade for population growth in general in the United States. No state has lost population. Many of the cities who have declined haven't declined as much as they were expected to decline, but I think the real winners in terms of population gains over the course of the '90s decade are the big immigrant magnets, and part of the reason for that is we didn't count the immigrants so well in the 1990 census, and as a result, cities like New York and Boston and Chicago, which have attracted a lot of immigrants, have done exceptionally better than we would have expected them on the basis of the most recent estimates. It's not just the immigrant magnets, but they certainly are the big winners. I think a lot of the other cities that have shown, you know, extremely sharp declines in the 1970s and the 1980s have turned around, I think, because there is some attraction to living in the city, to starting businesses in the city. Especially cities have tried to capitalize on some of the new economy industries, some of the high-tech stuff that bring young people and professionals back to exciting, interesting cities. So it's not uniform, by any means. I think the immigrant cities and the high-tech cities are the ones that are going to be the shining stars of the future as far...

STASIO: But still, we've seen these increases in Indianapolis, Chicago, New York. Those are not necessarily the high-tech meccas. Now have we seen an end to the flight to the suburbs or is this, you know, an accounting fiction? What's happening?

Dr. FREY: Well, in many places, a flight to the suburbs occurred. I mean, let's face it, America is a suburban society. I say this with trepidation with three mayors here. Unidentified Panelist: Oh, my God. That is absolutely horrendous.

Dr. FREY: But if you look at the numbers, you have to agree with me. And, yeah, I think what happens is that the cities now have special attractions for certain kinds of folks, and they can capitalize on that and bring them back, and so I think these are examples of cities--the mayors that are sitting around today are examples of cities that have done a good job.

Mayor CIANCI: Doctor, when you talk about suburban cities, what are you talking about? Because the cities that surround the major cities, the ring cities--and they are experiencing some of the same problems of growth that other cities or major cities experienced in the '80s and '90s. So the ring cities, are you referring to those as suburban communities, even though they're not?

Dr. FREY: Yeah. Well, it's a tricky definition of what the suburbs is.

Mayor CIANCI: Yeah.

Dr. FREY: And I think you're right there. I mean, the old distinction used to be the city border and then the suburbs...

Mayor CIANCI: Yeah.

Dr. FREY: ...was the main demographic divide. I think now there are gradations within the suburbs, and the ring suburban cities have an awful lot in common with the inner cities, and I think, you know, politically, they have a lot in common to sort of go to bat for as well.

STASIO: Well, let's find out a little bit about this. Mayor Peterson, Indianapolis certainly experienced a gain after years of decline. What do you think is the reason for it?

Mayor PETERSON: Well, Indianapolis has some unique characteristics. We have a combined city-county government, so we have a very large geographic city. So there's still a little bit of room to grow here. We still have some green field areas within our city limits, which is not typical for most big cities east of the Mississippi. But we did become an immigration city for the first time really in our history for a lot of historical reasons. A lot of the immigration trends in this country over the past century passed Indianapolis by, but we saw our Latino population grow by 300 percent in this decade alone, and we're fairly confident that's a significant undercount, even at that. So our city has changed pretty dramatically, and immigration is one of the big reasons. We had a growth of 50,000 people more in our city than what the final estimate was. We were estimated to be about 810,000. It turned out to be 860,000.

STASIO: Mayor Plusquellic, let's go to Akron. Your city lost a little population, but at a certainly much slower rate. Are people moving back from the suburbs, do you think?

Mayor PLUSQUELLIC: Well, I think to some extent, that's true. I don't think there's a mass migration back in. I think we basically have stabilized from the losses that we witnessed over the last three decades. This is the lowest decline since 1950. And we all know at just about that time, people started thinking about the so-called American Dream, where they could go out to some green pasture and own a little plot of land and move and have easy access on the expressways, and that started that trend in the '50s, and the loss of 50,000 rubber jobs over that period of time, at least from 1970 or so until the present day, has hurt Akron. And so I guess my belief is that that 2.7 number is really sort of a leveling off and keeping about the same that we had in 1990...

STASIO: How about...

Mayor PLUSQUELLIC: ...changing the trend where we had a large--as in 1970, where we had almost 15 percent loss.

STASIO: How about the demographics? Have they changed much?

Mayor PLUSQUELLIC: Well, they have, but not, again, as dramatically as the last couple of decades. Because I think we spent a lot of time and effort and money trying to rehab old homes and build new homes, that we've kept a great percentage of the middle class that still finds Akron a good place to live and raise a family, and we have some wonderful housing. The various reports that come out, our price of housing and the quality of housing is way up there, and so I think we're able to keep that--the middle class have not totally abandoned Akron. Have some of them? Yes. Absolutely. We see the flight. We see the suburbs, the outer ring especially, growing. We're dealing with urban sprawl between Cleveland and Akron and the same types of things that many places in the country--but I think we've been able to keep--that's our story--more of the middle class than maybe a lot of cities.

STASIO: You know, we talk about these trends, about the immigration, about flight to the suburbs and all that sort of thing, but, Dr. Frey, I just wondered, there are also some interesting disparities in this report in the latest census numbers. And a city like Indianapolis is a pretty big winner, but then St. Louis, which seems on the surface to be, you know, a similar kind of city, loses almost 12 percent.

Dr. FREY: Well, that's right. I mean, one thing all of these cities have in common, represented by the mayors here and St. Louis, is these are basically Midwest and Northeast cities as opposed to cities that are in the Sun Belt, which naturally get a lot of inflow both into their cities and to their suburbs. So there's a real challenge to the cities in the Midwest because they're not getting these huge numbers of folks coming into the whole urban region, and I think in a place like Indianapolis, which has sort of an expanded city boundary and is able to keep a lot of its tax base inside the central city, I think that's an opportunity there. A city like Providence, which has now a lot of cultural advantages, a lot of revitalization and redevelopment that occurred over the last 10 or 20 years, and a city like Akron, which has made some important effort to try to keep the population inside the city boundaries. It takes those kinds of efforts. I don't think you're going to find it across the board in the Northeast and the Midwest. Today I just learned that Detroit has gone below a million for the first time in 80 years, I guess. And, you know, that's not surprising for a Rust Belt city.

STASIO: That's frightening, but then again, it wasn't a big drop either. It was something like a 1 percent drop.

Dr. FREY: Right. Right.

STASIO: Well, Mayor Cianci, let's talk about Providence. Your numbers aren't out yet, but what are you expecting? Yeah.

Mayor CIANCI: No, but they will be tomorrow. We put a big effort into counting people who we think were undercounted on back from 10 years ago. And basically, I think we ought to tell the people what it means to cities and why we're so anxiously awaiting our numbers. We estimate that if, in fact, they undercount by one person, you lose something like $ 3,400 in aid from the federal government, and I noticed that Secretary Evans said that they would not use statistical sampling on the counting of people for representation in Congress, but the jury is still out as to whether or not statistical sampling will be utilized for the distribution of that hundred and eighty-five billion dollars of aid. In the city of Providence, we've had a tremendous resurgence, and like Don Plusquellic from Akron was saying, back in the '50s when the roads were built, people moved out, we lost our retail. Obviously, the economy had a lot to do with the reduction of population in cities, because we were dependent on textiles and jewelry. That changed because of a whole bunch of different factors. We were on the end of every energy pipeline. And so--and the demographics changed dramatically in the city, so that as time went on, we latched on to a few things, and I think that's why numbers are going to change. We latched on to things like historic preservation. We celebrated our great universities. We got ourselves involved in the great--and made them partners, by the way. We celebrated the arts to a tremendous, tremendous level, where we have the only district in America where artists don't pay taxes. And that empowers that industry. We went into tax stabilizations for high-tech industry. And we brought people--and our school population, as in many cities, is going up because of a tremendous number of Latinos that are coming in. It's amazing to look at the numbers between 1990 and now when you look at them nationally, because Hispanics now number 35.3 million or 12 1/2 percent of the total US population, and in 1990, there were only 22.4 million Hispanics in the United States. So the Hispanic population grew 58 percent during the '90s.


Mayor CIANCI: But...

STASIO: Well, I want to talk about..

Mayor CIANCI: Yeah.

STASIO: ...some of the problems this poses to the cities as you find a...

Mayor CIANCI: Well, it's enriching, in many ways, I mean, to have a diversity--65 languages...


Mayor CIANCI: ...are spoken in our school system. It's a cultural experience, and America is for everyone. And America is a place that, I think, gets its strength from its diversity. And you might find people with a different attitude the further west you go with that philosophy, but I think it makes cities richer.

STASIO: Well, let's go West. Let's go out West to Albany, California. Lee is on the line. Hello, Lee.

LEE (Caller): Good morning. I'm calling from the West Coast, and we still haven't hit the noon. But I find that this is sort of a spin city type of discussion. The thing, as a city planning consultant, that I discover between an inner city and an outer city is the outer cities are attractive. The inner cities are not attractive. You don't see people in the inner cities taking care of their yards.

Mayor CIANCI: Well, that's not true.

STASIO: Yeah, I agree.

Mayor CIANCI: That's totally false.

LEE: Well, it's totally true. You'll find also that within certain areas, if you were--the census doesn't talk about how cities really look. I dare say that if you had an impartial group come into your city and photograph the areas that are not attractive...

Mayor CIANCI: We did. We had Money magazine that came in and said we were one of the five best cities in America to live in, and one was Sarasota, Florida. One was Providence, Rhode Island. And I have the article right here. It was published not that long ago. People who live in cities are not dirty, and people who live in cities are not people who don't have any cultural base. And we're maybe not as sharp as you are living out there, but the fact of the matter is that people who live in cities are coming back, you know, and my city as an example--now you live in Albany, California. I've never heard of the place, but I imagine it's a fine place.

LEE: The point is...

Mayor CIANCI: But let me tell you something, do you have in your city--I'll tell you what you could have done in my city this year or this week. Our sister city is Florence. You could have seen an exhibition of people who've come over and all the artists--we had exhibitions from the Uffizzi Gallery. In addition to that, we have our own philharmonic. We have a Tony Award-winning repertory theater. We have a black repertory theater. In addition to that, we have a civic center, one of the greatest convention centers, a hundred and sixty-five new stores in the Providence Place Mall with Nordstrom. In addition to that, we also have our own hockey team and we have neighborhoods that are stable and our real estate values are going up because the competition for the cultural life of the city is amazing. So when you say that, you know, we're dirty and inner cities are terrible, that's wrong. There's a big argument going on now about sprawl. The biggest people who support the United States Conference of Mayors are rural people because they don't want to see the sprawl moving out...

STASIO: I'll tell you what. What we want to do then is talk a little bit about who's benefiting by all this, because there are changes. Clearly, the numbers are going up, and we want to see who's really benefiting and whether or not there are improvements across the board. And we're going to do all of that when our conversation about cities in America continues on TALK OF THE NATION.

STASIO: It's TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Frank Stasio, and we are talking about the 2000 census numbers, what they say about the future of America's cities. My guests are Dr. William Frey, a demographer with the University of Michigan Population Studies Center, and mayors Donald Plusquellic of Akron, Ohio; Vincent Ceca--Cianci--I'm going to do that all day--of Providence, Rhode Island; and Bart Peterson...

Mayor CIANCI: Let me say once again for you: Cianci.

STASIO: Cianci. Cianci of Providence, Rhode Island; and Bart Peterson of Indianapolis. You can join us, too, see what I can do with your name, if you give us a call at (800) 989-TALK. Our e-mail address,

Bart Peterson, let me talk a little bit about the changes that take place in the city. Because, you know, many of your cities have added stadiums. There are cultural attractions now that are all coming back to the cities, shopping opportunities. But is everybody benefiting by this? What about the homes that our caller mentioned earlier? Are we making efforts to rebuild housing and to build housing for some of the poorer people who move into your cities?

Mayor PETERSON: Yes, we are. And I think this is going on across the country. We've seen a renaissance of downtowns in the '80s and in the '90s, and certainly, Indianapolis is, I believe, one of the finest in the country. But we recognize that we can't simply have a beautiful core and have decaying neighborhoods surrounding it, and so a big part of the focus since I became mayor 15 months ago has been on those neighborhoods that surround the downtown area that, in many ways, are the most needy and where the investment really hasn't been there. And my predecessor, Steve Goldsmith, really started this as well. And that is much more of a focus on utilizing available resources and creative financing techniques to try to create mixed-income housing in areas that have just been devastated in the past.

Not gentrifying neighborhoods--that's something that's not always so hard to do, but that if you gentrify a neighborhood, people are going to have to find another place to live if they can't afford to live there. So we've been focusing on mixed-income neighborhoods, and we have one of the 12 federal home ownership zones in the country here in Indianapolis, and it's giving us an opportunity to build a 300-plus-house community within a couple of miles of our downtown area that will be mixed income, not just for higher income folks, and it's making a difference across the city of Indianapolis and I think across the country. And that's a big part of why we're seeing these population increases.

STASIO: Bill Frey, before I go around the table, let me ask you what your research shows about that. I mean, is that the kind of thing that's happening in the cities in terms of redevelopment?

Dr. FREY: Well, in the best case, that's what you want to have. You just don't want to focus your development on the yuppies or whatever you want to call them, or have an incentive to just have the upper tier of the professional groups coming into the city. You want to do something where there's a mix. Otherwise, you wind up having a two-tiered population, which really causes problems for folks in the middle.

STASIO: But there are some suggestions that that's precisely what's happening, because you say you want to do that, but do you want to do that? I mean, do investors and developers see a return at the low end of, say, the housing spectrum?

Dr. FREY: I mean, I think that's where, you know, state and local and federal government needs to come in and try to put those incentives there for those investors to come in.

Mayor PLUSQUELLIC: But I think it's a little unfair to look just at the city boundaries and not understand that in our society, we're going more and more towards a two-tiered society, and much of it has to do with those folks who decided to flee, and their family members have never had any dealings with the city, and they're out in some third-ring suburb or gated community, and they never mix with, you know, city folks or other people of different kinds, and I think that's more a problem that's societal that really doesn't have anything specific to do with just within the city boundaries. I think most mayors understand the benefit of diversity. It's part of what makes cities, for many people, the wonderful...

Unidentified Panelist: Attractive.

Mayor PLUSQUELLIC: ...attractive place. It's what they like. And I think it's a little unfair for callers and other people to sort of single out cities that, in many cases, in the Northeast and Midwest in particular, different than Indianapolis, are locked in, can't annex, can't expand. David Russ(ph) talks about elasticity, and I think those issues are more societal than they are just within a city boundary that was decided, you know, a hundred years ago or something.

STASIO: But, Mayor Cianci, as you suggested, you do have a more diverse population now. That's one of the things you tout...

Mayor CIANCI: That's right.

STASIO: certainly a cultural advantage, but it also creates the problem of providing services at the lower end of the economic scale. How do you do that when it's not when developers aren't looking really to serve that level of society?

Mayor CIANCI: Well, the point is that we have a city that I believe has been extremely stable in many ways, and we've had development and the Community Development Act and all the different federal programs have helped us, but sometimes, if you've concentrated on always building buildings for the poor or the lower economic end of the chain, all you're going to be doing, if you concentrate on that, is perpetuating poverty. Now what we've tried to do is empower people and improve the quality of life. Our Housing Authority, as an example, years ago was one of the worst ones in America. Today it wins awards. It's one of the best ones. And what our goal is is not to keep people in public housing but to get them out and get them--there's nothing more important than a person to own his or her own home, and that's what we've tried to do with all kinds of programs in our neighborhoods.

But remember--and I'll end with this--there are five things that a mayor has to do in order to be successful. First of all, there's no one coming anywhere or no one's going to stay in a city that's not safe. Number two, if you don't have reform in public education, no one's going to want to live in your city, no matter how pretty it is. Number three, you've got to provide affordable housing. You've got to also provide a job, and that's when you have to empower industries to come in and--when you change your economic approach. And that's what we've tried to do. And then you provide the cultural and recreational activities that truly make a city a city. A city's got to smell like a city. It's got to walk like a city, talk like a city. It's got to have all the kinds of things that you can get in a city--the services, the food, the arts, the jobs--all those things, and it's different from, I guess, Albany, California.

STASIO: Well, let's hear from somewhere out in Michigan, too. I'm sorry. Timothy is in St. Paul, Minnesota, actually. Hi, Timothy.

TIMOTHY (Caller): Hi.

Mayor CIANCI: How's Norm Coleman?

TIMOTHY: OK, I guess. Don't know him personally.

Mayor CIANCI: He's the mayor. Yeah. He's a good guy.

TIMOTHY: Beyond the comment I wanted to make about the gentleman calling from California, I just thought that I wanted to call in because my family, my wife and I, we're a good example. We lived in rural Michigan and just moved to St. Paul within the last seven months and...

Mayor CIANCI: Is your yard dirty?

TIMOTHY: Pardon me?

Mayor CIANCI: Is your yard dirty?

TIMOTHY: No. Well, cities...

STASIO: It could use some work.

TIMOTHY: you know, tend to be a little dirtier as the snow melts.

STASIO: Yeah. Why'd you move back--and I shouldn't say back, you may never have lived in St. Paul. Why'd you move to St. Paul?

TIMOTHY: Because we have two small children and we basically wanted to give them a more realistic profile of what the 21st century holds, and diversity--I heard you talking about diversity earlier--plays an important part in that.

STASIO: All right.

TIMOTHY: We moved from a town of 900 people with a major metropolitan area, if you want to call it that, of maybe 10,000, and we were just lacking a lot of options and stimulus for our kids. So we moved back to a city, to a metropolitan area that is extremely diverse and extremely tolerant of differences among people, and we thought that that was a healthy situation to raise our children in.

STASIO: How long have you been back there?

TIMOTHY: Six months.


Mayor CIANCI: Norm Coleman's done a wonderful job with that city, marrying with the private sector, the warehouses, and things they've worked on there. It's a delightful place.

TIMOTHY: Well, we bought a house, luckily, but there was just an article in the local papers over the weekend that the hous--since February last year, they've gone up 30 percent, the housing value. I think the mean has hit 155, up from 132 or something like that, just in that short time period. And I think some people are seeing or feeling the associated problems or logistical issues related with living in the secondary and tertiary suburbs because of commuting and all of these other things, and time is so valuable that when you live in the city, you don't have to go very far to have a lot of choices to do a lot of different things.

STASIO: All right, Timothy. Well, thank you very much for your call. And I know that, Mayor Peterson, you're going to have to leave us, and Mayor Plusquellic, you're also going to be leaving us very shortly because you've got some other commitments. So let me ask you, Mayor Peterson, for your comment on that.

Mayor PETERSON: Well, I agree that it is becoming a little less attractive to live a long way from the core of a city, particularly when the cultural attractions and, in many cases, the business opportunities of a city are more concentrated downtown, as they certainly are here in Indianapolis. And I think an interesting thing about the numbers that we're seeing here--and I think this is borne out elsewhere across the country--is the end of what we used to call white flight, but I think is really probably more accurately described as middle- or upper-middle-class flight, because our city population across most demographics was fairly stable and grew in almost every respect. The suburbs are still growing much faster here, and I think they are elsewhere as well. But clearly, a new generation of folks think that living in a city is attractive, and that's the big turnaround from the situation we've seen over the last 30 or 40 years.

STASIO: All right. Bart Peterson of Indianapolis, thanks so much for joining us.

Mayor PETERSON: Thank you very much.

STASIO: And Donald Plusquellic from Akron, Ohio, thank you, too.

Mayor PLUSQUELLIC: Thank you. I enjoyed it.

STASIO: Let's go to the phones. Jim is on the line from Boston. Hi, Jim.

JIM (Caller): How are you doing? Thanks for taking my call.

STASIO: Sure. JIM: I wanted to make a couple of points. Actually, you've talked mostly about what I wanted to say already. One of the things I really wanted to say is that with--I definitely see the people coming back to the city. I'm a young person of about 31 years old. I definitely see people my age and a little younger coming back to the cities, and we all think it's great. But the problem is that, you know, if you're not in the tech industry--this is, of course, a special problem in Boston, as you already mentioned it. We benefit from the tech industry. Unfortunately, if you're not in the tech industry, if you're not one of the, you know, so-called yuppies or whatever you want to call them, the housing market is killing us. And the rent is going through the roof. There are very few places to even rent these days. And even if you go out to the suburbs, especially around here, 10, 15, 30 miles out, to buy a house is ridiculous. You can't do it nowadays.

Mayor CIANCI: Where are you from?

JIM: I'm in Boston right now.

Mayor CIANCI: Yeah, well, I'm the next city over...

JIM: Yeah.

Mayor CIANCI: Providence, and that is what's helping us.

JIM: Yeah, I think so. You know, I was listening to you earlier, thinking the same thing, that...

Mayor CIANCI: Yeah.

JIM: ...people are--you say some people are thinking--you know, people don't want to drive or commute that far, but I've heard people moving down to...

Mayor CIANCI: Oh, they have, when Fidelity came in, and we've attracted a number of companies from Boston--the headquarters for AAA...

JIM: Sure.

Mayor CIANCI: ...Resolutions Travel(ph)--a whole bunch of companies have come down, high-tech companies especially, because it's only a 45-minute ride, and then we've just got the high-speed train, the Acela, and also we have train service. But it's one big region there, and the disparity of housing prices in Boston and commercial space in Boston and Providence is amazing. And...

JIM: Yeah. I wanted to say that you did talk about the lower income or mixed-income housing, and that was my point. But thanks for taking my call...

STASIO: All right. Well, Jim, thank you very much for the call.

JIM: and I'll just listen off line then.

STASIO: OK, Jim. Bill Frey, you know, we have been talking about housing, and it does seem that there is a sort of a skew to the upper end, and there's not a lot of federal help these days in housing. What kind of programs are available?

Dr. FREY: Well, there are a variety of ones. I'm not as aware of them as the mayor is, because he has to deal with this on a regular basis. I was just looking down the list of Mayor Cianci's attributes of what a successful city should be: something that's safe, that has a good education system and affordable housing and jobs. And that's why people go to the suburbs, more or less. I mean, if you can do that in the city, that's great, because what you have in a city that you don't have in the suburbs are the concert halls, are the diversity, are the restaurants. And they've done surveys around the country, and what people say is they don't want to live in the city, but they want to live near a city. And so if you can have a city that puts it all together, I think that's fine, but I think it's a real challenge because of the affordable housing, because of the other sort of pressures that are in the city...

STASIO: So are cities becoming kind of cultural living history museums? Is that what's happening now?

Dr. FREY: Well, I don't know about that. I mean, I think the ones that are breathing and growing...


Dr. FREY: ...and living are the immigrant cities, the immigrant magnet cities. This is what had made cities to begin with in this country, and I think a lot of these areas are the ones that are really going to breed that diversity and that vitality and that sense of community in ways that many of the other cities don't have.

Mayor CIANCI: You know, people come to visit our city, and they're amazed at the architecture. Back in the '70s we made a very important decision. We said that we weren't going to knock our old buildings down, as many cities did, and we were going to preserve them. And my colleague here, Dr. Frey, was a resident of the city of Providence when I first got elected mayor back in '74. He went to Brown University. You see, when you go to a city such as Providence and you have historic buildings and you have wonderful universities, that lends to the cultural life of the city...

Dr. FREY: Right.

Mayor CIANCI: ...and raises its standards to--maybe that's one of the big attributes--well, not maybe; it is one of the big attributes that we have. And when you talk about the cultural aspects, now yes, suburbs are safe. There are some suburbs that are not as safe as a central city. Schools--we're working on our schools, as every major American city is. Housing and jobs are fine. But the cultural aspects are what separates living in a city from someplace else.

STASIO: Yeah. Well, I just want to get back to that, but first I want to remind everybody that you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Mayor Cianci of Providence, tell us a little bit about--we talked about the immigrant influx. Are you concerned that once that group becomes established, they're going to do what other middle-class people have done in the past historically? Will they leave?

Mayor CIANCI: We already have had--during the '70s and '80s, we had black flight. African-Americans who were successful attorneys, people who were educated, and they left the cities. They moved to the suburbs. That happened. But now there seems to be those who want to live in the cities and those who want to come back for the very reasons that I explained before. It's the safety, it's the affordability, it's the jobs, it's the--you know, another thing is commuting. Do you want to live in a car for three hours a day? I mean, some of these people who commute, I just can't believe that they drive the distances that they drive. Maybe...

STASIO: Sure. But it does raise other questions about the infrastructure in the city. In fact, let's go to the phones. Roland's on the line from Auburn, Maine. Hi, Roland. ROLAND (Caller): Hi there. I'm wondering, with all the idea of the city living in this country, compared to European city life, we still haven't done anything to solve the vehicle problem, the automobiles. It seems to me that...

Dr. FREY: You are correct. ROLAND: And if you have to completely raise a big portion of the city, as is being done in Boston and many other cities, you really destroy neighborhoods. And then when you finally replace them, you replace them with a gentrified neighborhood so that your public transportation is attractive only to the service personnel and nannies. And I don't see any trend except for the immediate of people moving from other countries; that is, the immigrants coming in. They have a greater opportunity for the first generation, and as soon as they can, they barrel back to the third or fourth ring outside of a city. So I don't see this big progress. And the other thing is we still have a TV box, we have all kinds of entertainment at home, so that makes the city that much more attractive for sporting events or even for art. These--you've got to have something--other quality. Right now, you gentrify a neighborhood and it's attractive to the higher echelon of the economic population.

STASIO: All right, Roland. Let's get a response. Thanks for calling. Infrastructure--you know, are we putting in highways and parking lots and...

Mayor CIANCI: Well, in cities and across Amer--I mean, the early cities, especially cities like Providence, Boston, they were built for the horse and buggy. They weren't built for the automobile. And basically, when the roads were built, the big highways, back in the '50s, those really served as the exit ramps for those people to leave the cities and get their little--as Don Plusquellic was saying earlier, they left the cities because those highways were built. They wanted a different lifestyle. Now they seem to be coming back because they don't like the commute, and they like the cultural activities of the city. Now the--I mean, we're always going to have problems with traffic. I mean, there's an old story about parking. A lady went into a bank, and she said, 'I want to borrow $ 5,000.' And the banker said, 'I don't have--I need collateral.' She said, 'I'll give you my new Rolls-Royce. It's unencumbered.' And he said, 'Fine.' He took the Rolls-Royce, gave her the five; she came back two weeks later. She said, 'I'd like to have my car back and I want to pay my loan off. How much is it?' And the banker said, 'It's 5,000 plus $ 16 of interest.' He said, 'But, ma'am, there's your car. Why are you telling me--why did you come and borrow the money in the first place?' She said, 'Well, I was going away for two weeks, and where else was I going to park a car in this city for $ 16.40?'

STASIO: Humor in the city. That's our topic on TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Frank Stasio. We'll be back. (Announcements)

STASIO: It's TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Frank Stasio. Tomorrow join Juan Williams and guests for a look at affirmative action programs. Do we still need them? It's the Changing Face of America from Ann Arbor, Michigan. That's the next TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Today we are talking about census 2000, the numbers and what they say about the future of American cities. My guests: Dr. William Frey, a demographer from the University of Michigan Population Studies Center; and Mayor Vincent Cianci of Per--Providence--now I got Providence wrong--Rhode Island. I'm getting closer. Join the conversation and call us: 1 (800) 989-TALK, 1 (800) 989-TALK. E-mail address: How much did the 10 years--8 years of the Clinton administration play into this, and what do you expect, looking forward to the Bush years?

Mayor CIANCI: Clinton was a very good 'mayor' president. He was a--in fact, we called him mayor. And they had kind of a seamless approach. They would look at the problems of the city from all different standpoints, and we were always welcomed into the White House. And let's face it, he was an initiator. His administration was an initiator of a lot of things that helped to change cities. The cops program is an example, putting a hundred thousand cops on the street more. He was big in education, he was big in partnerships with business, with the cities, and also big in housing. And he got it--the new administration has not mentioned cities as much, and we're meeting with the president on April the 4th and 5th at the White House. We're having a conference there for about 50 mayors and interacting with the people from his administration. We're hoping for good things. But there's a different approach between this administration and the last administration. If you wanted to talk housing with the Clinton administration, you probably brought your neighborhood housing corporation with you, or the poor people or the people who represented them. If you want to talk housing to this administration, you bring the National Realtors Association with you, and that's how it works. And I'm not saying that's a bad approach; I'm saying that it's a different approach.

STASIO: Yeah. Well, of course, one of the things that this administration does talk about is education.

Mayor CIANCI: Oh, yes. That's correct.

STASIO: And I've got an e-mail here: 'I live outside Baltimore, Maryland. Love to come back downtown, raise my child.' This is from Nancy. 'What stops me is the city school system. Any thoughts about improving education?'

Mayor CIANCI: Yes. We are changing--and I can only speak for myself and the city of Providence. We have--and I have a unique position because I appoint the members of the school board. And we are in the process of reforming. And reforming--some of our buildings are old. Some of our buildings were built a long, long time ago. So we're in the process of funding brand-new schools in our city, computerizing the opportunities for our children. And the whole idea is for a kid to be able to wake up in the morning and walk to a good school safely and not walk to a bus stop. We need to talk about professionally training teachers. We need to have teachers who want to be merit certified, to get merit certified, become National Merit teachers and then pass that on. You've got to pay for that, and you can't have inner-city--if you can use the term 'inner-city'--teachers just working for less money than what people get in the suburbs. So all those things--and there's such great diversity. For instance, we're in the middle of building a new performing arts high school in the city, which is a great opportunity. But we just changed school superintendents. We had an intergalactic search, and we used Brown University to help us find that new superintendent, who is doing a bang-up job.

STASIO: Well, do you like what President Bush is saying about education? Is that going to help you?

Mayor CIANCI: Some of the things I like. I don't like the idea of vouchers. I think that vouchers would almost sound a death knell for the American public school system as we know it, and maybe some people would say that's good. But the fact is that if you--charter schools are very important. We've supported charter schools. Most mayors support charter schools. Most mayors support smaller classes. But remember, every time you reduce the size of a class, it's costing you a lot of money, and that has to be taken into consideration, too. I think we should pay more attention to after-school programs. Many cities don't do that. You know, what always bothered me is you'd see a school close at 3:00 in the afternoon, 3:30 in the afternoon, brand-new school, and then it's closed, shut down, and it can't be used at night because of whatever kind of union problem there is or whatever. And that seems to me to be something we can work on. We've set up organ--because of the immigrant--you'll like this--because of the immigration we've had, we've set up child's opportunity zones, where the whole family comes in and learns in the school together. And adult education is so much a part of the teaching of people in the city today. This isn't just a school system that has the responsibility of K through 12. It's the responsibility of the adults who came in here to teach them English, because if they can't speak English, they're not going to pass a test for a driver's license, they're not going to be able to take advantage of the opportunities.

STASIO: Bill Frey, though, one of the things Mayor Cianci just said is that vouchers could mean the death of public school system. But isn't that why a lot of people left the city? That's why they don't want to--it's the public school system?

Dr. FREY: Well, that's true. And I think this is a big challenge for cities. And I say this again because of the immigration flow. We've been talking more about Eastern cities and Midwest cities here, but if you look at Los Angeles, where you have a huge influx of young people--we know that most of the immigrants are of childbearing age; they have higher fertility. And we have a majority minority city school population for quite a while. And this raises all kinds of challenges to be able to get these kids ready for the middle class, ready to plug into the mainstream economy, but at a reduced tax base because of the suburbanization, as we well know it.

Mayor CIANCI: I'd like...

Dr. FREY: And I think this is a very important role that cities are going to have. It used to be the suburbs' role to educate kids, but it's going to be even more the case for cities with the new population.

Mayor CIANCI: I'll give you an interesting statistic for my city. One out of every three kids in our public school system was not in the United States three years ago.


Mayor CIANCI: One out of every 3 1/2 students was not in the United States three years ago. I mean, it's amazing. And 65 different languages are spoken in the schools, and that's a challenge. But we're up to it, and money is--you can't just throw money at it. It's got to be a whole attitude. And what I've found out now, though, is that we've never had more support for education. The business community, leadership in the business community, state legislators now who used to maybe not pay big attention to the central cities are now sharing the load with us because they understand. You know, problems in cities, we always treat it--I've been mayor now since 1974 and I think I'm the longest-serving mayor in America of any city over 100,000 in population. And they often ask me--I don't know if I said this before--'What's the difference between being a mayor before and a mayor now?' Well, it's simple. If you think about it, in the '70s, we were social workers, in a sense. We still are, but now we've become risk-takers and entrepreneurs. And that also includes the school system, because unless you're willing to take risks in schools and take on the challenges instead of doing it the old status quo way, you'll never change the system and you won't ed--we're educating kids exactly the way they planned on doing it back in the '40s.

STASIO: You talk about taking risks, though. You talk about taking risks. Are there any programs out there that seem to be working?

Mayor CIANCI: Yes. We have a number of programs that work in our city and across America. You have to give kids an opportunity. You know, kids will learn--I started something--I started with the city maybe several years ago when we had a teacher contract that didn't allow us to take long-term substitute--we wanted to make the school system reflect--the teachers reflect the demographics.

STASIO: The demographics? Yeah.

Mayor CIANCI: Yeah. And we had a problem, because we had a lot of white substitutes and we couldn't call them in. But we eventually fixed that. But we've started a program that you're going to be amazed at. I said, 'Let's grow our own teachers.' And so we started a program where, if a kid wanted to be a teacher, we did a program with Rhode Island College with one of our high schools, and you could, at an early age--ninth grade, you could say you wanted to be a teacher. You'd be mentored. You'd go to the college. You'd watch them teach. You'd be with somebody. And then we graduated our first class. They went on to college and they had an automatic spot teaching in the inner-city school system. And we've now hired--we've had, I think--we started--we have about 12 or 13 of them who are now on the payroll. So programs like that do work. We have a public safety academy. There's also--another program that's working in Chicago, and Mayor Daley brags about it--he has the military school. So much so I'm looking into it for ourselves, where these kids go to military school. They don't live there, but they go every morning, and it's a discipline situation. And it's not a boot camp. They want to go to military school. And they've got 30 or 31 of them in Chicago. And that works. We find out that maybe we're too overspecialized. We have a--you can go into a school system now and you can see academies for retail and academies for--I think they should just teach the kids how to read and write and run a computer. That's what we ought to do. That's it.

STASIO: Maria is on the line from Miami. Hi, Maria. MARIA (Caller): Hi, Frank. How are you doing?

STASIO: Good. MARIA: I had a comment. I commend the mayor for all the good things he's done in the city. And I come from Miami; I'm a town planner here, where we've got communities that actually sprawl all the way out to the edge of the Everglades and eight-lane highways leading out to them. And I always wonder why the federal government and the DOT don't spend that kind of money pumping it back into the city instead of, you know...

Mayor CIANCI: That's a good point. MARIA: ...wasting it out there, and I wanted to know what the mayor thought about that.

STASIO: All right. Thanks, Maria.

Mayor CIANCI: Well, sprawl is a big issue for mayors, and the biggest supporter--not the biggest, but certainly among the biggest supporters we've had in the past several years of Congress are those individuals who are from rural areas, rural congressmen. And the reason for that is they realize the fact that when sprawl occurs, it hurts them. Dennis Archer, the mayor of Detroit, one in our leadership--I read in the paper--he told me he spent a day on a farm, and the farmer came in and spent a day, I guess, in city hall. And they show that this can't happen with--there are plenty--that's what brownfields legislation is all about, and that's why this administration we're supporting, President Bush, on the brownfield initiative, because brownfields affect us dramatically. A brownfield is a gas station that's closed with the oil underneath in the tanks, or it's an old laundromat that has old chemicals, or it's an old mill. There are many places like that in cities that you can remediate with the right amount of money, and you can make sure that those--that you can--instead of sprawling, you can rebuild within the city, and that's what this is all about. It's to preserve land and also grow smart.

STASIO: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Frank Stasio, in for Juan Williams today. We're talking about the future of American cities. And, William Frey, one of the problems politically for dumping money back into the cities is that there has been a lot of political--I mean, the politics has changed and the political power base has shifted. Can you recoup that, the political power it would take to really put the resources back?

Dr. FREY: Well, that's a real issue, because with the tax base going to the suburbs, with it goes a lot of the power, not only in the state Legislature but in the local region. And there needs to be more cooperation. I think there's been good examples, for example in the Detroit area, of having more cooperation with the city and the suburbs in the last few years, but it's the kind of thing that needs to be built in order for the city to be able to take advantage of everyone in the community, and people can contribute to the city's growth.

STASIO: Mayor Cianci, what about the cooperative...

Mayor CIANCI: Well, I think that, obviously, we're going to have a redistricting in the state of Rhode Island soon, and I don't know if we're going to lose or gain. That's what this census is going to help us determine. However, in--people who are in the Legislature have now learned to understand that they do control a lot of the purse strings that come to public education in the cities. But they've learned to understand, I think, that if they don't treat a city and its school system the way they ought to, just because they happen to be minorities, then the whole country is the loser, and so is the state in which they live. We've never--see, I think we're coming around to changing our minds, but we've never really treated the causes of the problems of poverty in American cities today. We always treat the aftereffects. And one of the reasons that we do that is that we haven't had the money. But I think they realize now, finally, that education is the key to success and everybody deserves one. And we're going to have one system that will work. And that's what reforming education is about. That's the biggest challenge for the American city today.

STASIO: Vincent Cianci of Providence, Rhode Island--got it all right this time--thank you very much.

Mayor CIANCI: Thank you. Enjoyed it.

STASIO: William Frey from the University of Michigan, thank you.

Dr. FREY: Sure.

STASIO: Thank you all for listening as well. Earlier today we spoke with Mayor Bart Peterson of Indianapolis and Mayor Donald Plusquellic of Akron, Ohio.

STASIO: In Washington, I'm Frank Stasio, NPR News.