Our dying American cities

by Zain Jaffer

At the rate negative articles are coming out of our major cities like San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, you’d think that their Mayors and City Councils are intentionally destroying them. Cities in particular that have defunded their police departments in favor of community type enforcement are seeing crime rates spike. Was that outcome ever in doubt?

The sight of young men going in droves into retail stores and grabbing whatever they want then walking out without being stopped is disturbing to say the least. There was even a news report that store managers of the retailer Lululemon were fired for trying to stop some shoplifters.[1] What on Earth is going on?

Here’s Elon Musk replying on Twitter to someone who posted about it:


Many Twitter employees feel unsafe coming to work in downtown SF and have had their car windows smashed.

They also got such a null response from the police that they rarely even bother reporting crimes anymore, because nothing happens.

8:09 AM · Jun 15, 2023 · 1.8M Views 7,031 Retweets 646 Quotes 44.7K Likes 220 Bookmarks

Even Union Square and other formerly tourist areas have a lot of empty boarded up retail space. Instead we see empty office and commercial retail spaces. Instead of stunning window displays all we see are for rent or lease signs on these store windows.

With reduced police presence you see more homeless people on the streets, graffiti, drug use, and of course street crimes. These kinds of daily scenes dissuade tourists from visiting and spending their money there, lest they be mugged or even killed.

The sordid situation also convinces young people to plan to buy their homes elsewhere. Fresh graduates, who used to dream of living and working in America’s great cities, now have a new goal. To save enough money to buy a home somewhere cheaper, with less crime, no drugs, and peaceful surroundings with lots of nice parks and recreational facilities. The glamor of city life is slowly being replaced by the type of daily street crime avoidance tension you often hear from veterans returning from wars abroad with PTSD. One can argue that that trend has always been there, but it seems to be stronger now.

It all started with the Work from Home movement and quiet quitting, which reduced the number of employees going into offices. Large office space leases have been reduced, or in some cases eliminated. The reduced number of workers who go downtown were also the ones who frequented the restaurants, the stores, and other establishments. Residents who live in apartments and visitors who stay in hotels do not really make up the slack as there aren’t really that many of them to match the numbers of people who used to physically go to work and spend their money in these areas.

Commercial real estate was already in trouble with the work from home trend, and now these policy decisions on policing and crime are making it worse. It is one thing to be amidst empty commercial space that might be leased out when the economy recovers. It is another thing to be in the midst of a crime infested area with graffiti and drugs.

The problem with these types of changes is that they first happen slowly then these changes suddenly achieve a parabolic effect. Psychologically, experts talk about a Broken Windows theory, where if people see a broken window that is not being fixed or some graffiti, it encourages people to break the law in small ways, then eventually in big ways.[2] It is likely true.

Eventually everyone realizes that they do not want to be there anymore, that there are better things to do that avoid street crimes and filth and decay in the streets. Real estate values drop, and city tax revenues also get reduced greatly. Smaller well run cities in other parts become the beneficiaries of the added business that people bring, including of course real estate taxes on their homes and businesses.

Removing the deterrence of police forces to prevent crime in the big cities is a wrong policy that will haunt America’s major cities for years if not reversed. Admittedly, abuses by police departments in the past have not contributed to the situation. But if this decline is to be stopped, the police need to be there.

If we love our major American cities, we need to reverse the wrong policies that have caused their rapid decline. The modern American city can be the pinnacle of America’s highest aspirations and capabilities.

Right now they look like the future signs of our decay and failure.


1) https://edition.cnn.com/2023/06/06/business/lululemon-fires-employees-stop-robbery/index.html

2) https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/broken-windows-theory