Column: Trump doesn’t understand cities

Donald Trump responded this weekend to Representative John Lewis’ claims that Trump is an “illegitimate president” by bashing him and his district on Twitter. Trump, in his usual Twitter nonsense, claimed that Lewis was “all talk … no action or results” and that his district is “in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested).” Besides the appalling stupidity of bashing a former civil rights leader on the weekend of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Trump very obviously doesn’t know Lewis’ district. We’ve seen this kind of talk from the president-elect before, where he highlights his ignorance on the realities of what life is like in America’s major metropolitan areas.

Trump’s attack on Lewis’ district, the 5th district of Georgia, is pretty personal to me. My hometown is Atlanta (though I reside on the edge of the 5th district), and I, as well as many other residents (as well as our local newspaper), haven’t taken too kindly to Trump’s assertions about our home. Trump really should know better — after all, he almost developed two $300 million condos in the heart of the city. His plan fell apart during the recession, despite Trump’s insistence that “Atlanta is one of those cities that won’t be suffering the real estate foibles. Atlanta is like New York. New York is as hot as it ever has been. It’s just going to get better.” For those as unaware about Atlanta as our president-elect, let me give you a rundown on what Atlanta really is like.

Atlanta, besides being Georgia’s capital city, is the ninth-largest metropolitan area in the US with 5.7 million residents. Atlanta is also home to the Falcons, the Braves, the Hawks, Coca-Cola, Delta airlines, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Georgia Tech, Emory, Georgia State and the busiest airport in the world (101 million passed through in 2015). On top of all of that, Atlanta is by no means “falling apart” or “crime infested.” My city is one of the fastest growing in the nation, expecting to add 2.5 million residents by 2040. Furthermore, according to PolitiFact, “the district isn’t in as terrible economic shape as Trump suggests. While it has higher unemployment and poverty rates than the national average, it still has a thriving economic hub in Atlanta and higher educational attainment. Atlanta does have a much higher crime rate than the national average, but like most major cities, that has been in decline.”

This kind of ignorance could be excused if it came from someone who had never heard of or ever visited Atlanta, but Trump fits neither of those categories. No, Trump’s ignorance stems from malice and a fundamental misunderstanding of cities and urban areas.

Trump has made multiple claims about urban areas, many of them bordering on straight up racist dog whistles to his supporters. Throughout his campaign, he described urban areas heavily populated by African-Americans as inner city “ghettos” with “So many horrible, horrible problems.” This is simply not the case in most cities, where the crime rate is still falling, even despite a slight spike this year. Economic growth is also picking up in a large number of U.S. cities, in spite of Trump’s belief that many of these areas are on their last legs.

Perhaps Trump’s inflammatory remarks about urban areas can be chalked up as pandering to his largely rural base, many of whom have probably never lived in any of America’s major cities. That lack of knowledge is understandable and nothing to be ashamed of, but Trump’s outright manipulation of it is cause for concern. After all, the president-elect serves the whole country, not just his rural strongholds. Urban areas have real problems; anyone who lives in one is very aware of that fact. Crime, poverty and traffic (especially in Atlanta) are all still at levels that should be concerning, but our urban centers are not the crumbling, "Mad Max"-esque wastelands he makes them out to be. Our urban areas are the drivers of the American economy, our cultural centers and, in my opinion, the very backbone of this nation. So, next time I’m back in Atlanta, I’ll be sure to remember Trump’s words as I safely stroll about downtown, enjoying a Coke and thinking about how damned proud I am of the city I call home.

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