Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 1999


This Article examines the extent to which the Empowerment Zones Program is properly viewed as a neutral, rational, and beneficial program for poor, inner-city communities and their residents by exploring the limits and potential of its chief mechanism, economic development, as a tool to achieve social justice for the inner cities. This Article grounds its exploration within the contested terrain of the city, not simply as a legal or juridical concept, but in terms of its reality as a lived place on the eve of the 21st century. By explicating some of the unwritten rules and processes of economic development in their proper context, this Article demonstrates that economic development is not a neutral policy that government can advance without addressing significant structural issues that externally impact inner-city communities. Probably most significant is that the program was applied within many cities that are places laden with racialized meaning and are encumbered by the unstated, yet popular, consensus that the problems of the inner cities should be contained. In particular, this Article examines: 1) the legacy of historic programs that have led to current metropolitan configurations characterized by a disparity between declining inner cities and growing edge cities; 2) the impact of globalization and technology; and 3) the present lived urban context of racialized space that manifests itself not only in a chasm between city and suburb, but also as an intra-city chasm between elite business interests and poor people. Parts II and III of this Article examines the genesis of the Empowerment Zones concept from the rise in popularity of economic development, both internationally and domestically, as a tool to attain social justice. Part IV explores the context of the lived city as both an affluent place for the global elite and marginalized ghetto neighborhoods that have been racialized and class ified as black and poor. Part V analyzes the Empowerment Zones Program's emphasis on jobs and the promise of federal funding priority for designated zones. This Article concludes that we ought to rethink inner city development as an instrument to further economic, social, and geographic justice.



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