American cities are enjoying a renaissance, and that's a good thing as well for the suburbs surrounding them. Reversing a half century trend, the population in many cities is growing.
Why? Port cities like mine have typically benefited from immigrants coming from all over the world. Despite the current toxic debate fostered by the Tea Party, immigrants starting with the Pilgrims have made our nation a melting pot of many cultures. Jersey City in fact is one of the most diverse cities in America. But immigration alone isn't what has kick-started urban growth. The recent expansion is energized by a second population -- highly educated 20-somethings choosing to live in American cities in record numbers.
Bloomberg.com just ranked Jersey City first in the nation in its "Biggest Brain Gain" report while having the fourth highest move-in rate in 2012. Other locales joining Jersey City include Washington, D.C., Portland, Atlanta and Seattle. Highly educated young adults are moving into cities for a few critical reasons: Excitement. Cultural diversity. Better job opportunities. Strong mass transit.
Wisely, government policies in American cities welcomed this younger population by encouraging construction of housing meant to attract them, championing restaurants, supermarkets, clubs, galleries and museums that make a city vibrant, building parks and recreation facilities as well. Despite budget challenges, city governments' emphasis on safety, transportation and stronger schools are intended keep these "brains" living in urban areas instead of heading out of town as their parents' generation and those before them did.
And why is this good for the suburbs? In many areas of New Jersey -- the most suburbanized state in the union -- local communities are adopting some of the same successful housing policies used in our cities. For instance, apartment density is being built adjacent to train stations. These transit villages provide easy commutes to job centers throughout the state as well as across the rivers to New York and Philadelphia. What's more, commercial establishments are following the housing, creating micro city-type environments in the heart of suburbia.
Similarly, corporate parks left vacant as jobs moved back to the cities are being transformed into housing, providing many of the same amenities as cities. Not only is this reimagining of corporate buildings creating housing construction jobs but it also preserves open space and encourages more mass transit and less use of cars.
I'm not suggesting that all of surburbia should be transformed. Far from it. But what is important is to replicate the best America's cities have to offer in as many locations as possible.
Of course, just as the Tea Party members of Congress treat immigration as a curse instead of a benefit so do they oppose the bipartisan tax policies instituted by Presidents Reagan and Clinton that have encouraged the rebirth of many American cities. It's no coincidence that at best a handful of Tea Party congressmen live in cities or even the nearby suburbs. This means they have no appreciation of what American cities mean to our national fabric -- and the economy.
That's a shame because instead of looking to enhance the low-income housing tax credit signed into law by President Reagan in 1986, they want to demolish it. At the same time, they want to gut the new-markets tax credit which was initiated in 2000 under President Clinton and passed by a Republican congress. Like the housing credit, this one incentivizes private investors to support worthy projects that otherwise might have been seen as too difficult to underwrite.
Our cities are a big part of the nation's economic recovery, and our next generation of leaders will likely come from the government laboratories that are city governments. The destruction of policies that have been so important to urban life won't just hurt the cities, it will hurt the economy as a whole. The Tea Party leaders must be held accountable for their wrong-headed approach.