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Cities throughout the West face rising crime, soaring housing costs, a sprawling homelessness crisis and devastated downtown areas following two years of COVID restrictions and the aftermath of destructive protests. Policymakers typically address these and other urban problems in a piecemeal fashion. They fail to understand what makes great cities thrive.


As they impose their top-down plans, elected officials and planners ignore the role of entrepreneurship in reviving downtowns and neighborhoods, as they pursue the same old subsidy driven plans. They need to heed these sage words from urban theorist and author The Death and Life of Great American Cities Jane Jacobs: “There is no logic that can be superimposed on the city; people make it, and it is to them, not buildings, that we must fit our plans.”


Cities are not blank slates for central planners. They reflect the hopes and aspirations of the people who live, work, visit and build businesses within them. It’s time to think about cities in a comprehensive manner and embrace Jacobs’ people-centered approach. We need to incubate innovative ideas that prioritize 

freedom and property rights – and look at solutions that don’t revolve entirely around government.


The Free Cities Center is the Pacific Research Institute’s effort to foster serious thinking about urban policy. Progressives who run most major cities understand the importance of urban life, but they embrace policies that sow disorder, threaten public safety, distort the housing market, drive up the cost of living, increase congestion and undermine public education. They end up chasing people away.


Conservatives have many good ideas, but cities don’t always get their attention, nor do they know how to sell their ideas to urban dwellers. Criticism of progressive failure is necessary, but it’s not enough. PRI hopes to incubate good ideas that will improve our cities. It will feature incisive reporting and opinionating on our new web page, and in a series of webinars, research papers and books.


If you love cities and are brokenhearted by their current state, then be sure to stay tuned to the Free Cities Center. Help is on the way!

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