Edward Glaeser has a good rundown, from a government skeptic's perspective, on the urban train wreck called Buffalo (well, Boston could have suffered the same fate if not for Harvard and MIT) in the latest issue of City Journal. I was struck by one passage:
...declining areas also become magnets for poor people, attracted by cheap housing. This is exactly what happened to Buffalo, whose median home value is just $61,000, far below the state average of $260,000. More than 10 percent of Buffalo’s residents in 2000, it’s worth noting, had moved there since 1995. The influx of the poor reinforces a city’s downward spiral, since it drives up public expenditures while doing little to expand the local tax base.
It's easy to get a mental picture of a city with declining population (not only Buffalo, but St. Louis, Detroit, and Boston from the 1950s through the 1970s) that emphasizes people packing up and leaving, but Glaeser notes that even failing cities attract a lot of new residents. Indeed, the Census Bureau recorded 65,923 people moving into Buffalo's Erie County between 1995 and 2000 (the last years available) even as 107,038 people moved out. That's only 500 fewer people than the number who moved into Plymouth County, Massachusetts (considered a prosperous, growing suburban area), during the same period. I'm not familiar enough with Glaeser's data to confirm that Buffalo's newcomers are only making the city poorer, but it's daunting to think of a major city hit with a double whammy: the people who move out and the people who move in.