Bobby Kennedy Proposal: Revitalize America's Downtown
Emerson College in Downtown Boston
U.S. Senator Robert Kennedy Proposal Rejected by Executives
There seems to be renewed interest in trying to give America's ailing cities a helping hand by encouraging businesses, universities and other potential employers to set up shop in the depressed, dying downtowns of medium-to-large municipalities.
Boston's Emerson College, for instance, recently bought some property and put dormitories in a downtown area only a few subway stops from the infamous Combat Zone. Some other colleges are doing roughly the same thing.
Undoubtedly, there are examples of corporations that are making some forays into this uncharted territory, but, unfortunately, none comes to mind.
Business in general appears to be making an attempt, albeit somewhat limited in numbers, to increase its awareness of social issues and recognize its responsibility to the community. But this kind of long-term thoughtfulness is not something that comes naturally to corporations, whose No. 1 priority is enhancing equity (i.e., making money.)
There have been a number of attempts over the years by a variety of interest groups to entice business communities to open offices or build factories in the ghetto areas of the nation's larger cities, but, generally, these efforts have met with little success.
One of those efforts took place in the mid-1960s when I was employed on the staff of a nonprofit industry association with headquarters in New York City. The effort was led by U.S. Senator Robert Kennedy.
Senator Robert F. Kennedy Letter
Kennedy sent a letter to the association -- and, I'm sure, to hundreds of others -- asking that its members consider the plight of inner cities when formulating plans for new facilities or offices. He had hoped the business community would consider creating jobs that might lead to at least a limited economic revival in the country's downtown areas.
The group's chairman, in an apologetic manner, informed the two-dozen middle management men at the meeting of the letter's contents.
The executives' response could not have been more negative.
Idea Greeted With Disdain
The all-male group greeted the issue like school children, interjecting occasionally with uncomplimentary comments that made clear their disdain for Kennedy's initiative, which they clearly saw as political -- and unworthy of serious consideration.
It would seem reasonable to assume that other board members around the country were duplicating this New York scene; after all, these men were drawn from every section of the country.
Perhaps, some 30 years later, businessmen and corporations have learned that it's in their best interests, as well as the nation's, to help rebuild the cities.
Opening of New Markets
Revitalization of the inner cities would open a new, lucrative market for many companies -- and save the government the cost of dealing with widespread substandard conditions.
The plight of our cities can continue to be ignored only at an unacceptable cost in terms of humanity and economics. It certainly would be cheaper and easier to revitalize urban America through voluntary efforts rather than through expensive, new government programs.
Continued failure -- by everyone -- to address the problems of the cities would severely aggravate existing conditions.
Let's be part of the solution, not part of the problem!