Today on the main page, Baltimore resident Matthew Loftus takes a heavy hammer to the cronyist enterprise that is the increasingly, disturbingly popular urban casino. He shows that crony capitalism isn’t just for the feds, but often spins a self-dealing web between local politicians and the real-estate developers who love them, going well beyond just gambling:

Baltimore has long been beset by a large, flashy downtown developments whose main goal is to attract tourists and whoever it is that buys waterfront condominiums, even while the city itself is still losing permanent residents. The Baltimore Grand Prix, for example, only made it through three years of unprofitable existence before “scheduling conflicts” prevented it from reappearing for 2014 and 2015 after years of complaints from local naysayers concerned about the city pumping so much money into a one-weekend event (some of which the city is still ponying up for years later). While the city, admirably, continues to lend its support to smaller-scale developments in neighborhoods—my own included—the biggest projects continue to totemically shout “jobs!” while handing out larger and larger tax breaks to developers, and shoehorning upper-class amenities into“Enterprise Zones” intended for poorer areas. One of the more comic elements in the whole story is that the campaign contributions given by the developers of Harbor Point, the latest Baltimore waterfront development, run from $250 to the mere thousands, while the tax breaks handed out in return are measured in the millions. In a particularly egregious media-oriented move, the main developer will himself buy the first round of bonds floated by the city to help pay for his construction.

He goes on to explore alternatives to headline-grabbing big budget urban economics:

What are the alternatives to flashy downtown developments that suck money from city residents into the hands of Caesar’s Wall Street creditors? For one, the city could focus more energy and attention on initiatives that benefit smaller, needier neighborhoods. In my own community of Sandtown-Winchester, this has taken the form of an urban farm that hires men and women returning home from prison. Here, investment from the city is supporting the production of a commodity that is useful to the neighborhood, reclaiming unused land that was formerly blighted or vacant, and encouraging local ownership among citizens who need as many opportunities as they can get. Supporting neighborhood commercial zoning would require even fewer city funds and has the potential to make a bigger impact in bringing economic power to neighborhoods. Even bigger projects such as railyard renovation or increasing accessibility to parks can easily improve local fortunes with better planning and political mobilization.

Read the whole thing here.