Recently, Peoria Mayor Dave Ransburg said he didn’t think he could feel worse after the events of September 11 until he learned police officer Donan "Jim" Faulkner had been killed.
The mayor further remarked that cities like Peoria must begin to deal with what he calls "Urban Terrorism."
While the issues facing the city are multi-faceted, the starting point to resolve these issues always centers around economic development.
My position is based upon two profound days I spent in Camden, N.J., one of America’s poorest cities, with significant crime, educational, social and economic issues far beyond Peoria’s. I was among 50 people discussing these issues along with other city, state and federal officials.
An expert on education asked the group why Camden’s schools were so bad. Our response: the high student dropout rate.
She then displayed a graph that indicated the dropout rate in Camden’s schools today was largely the same as over the last 40 years.
Next she displayed another graph that showed Camden’s decline compared with the rate of businesses moving out of Camden.
As major businesses such as RCA and Campbell Soup moved, (and some only to the suburbs), there was a direct correlation to increasing poverty, social problems and taxes that city and state officials never resolved.
Years ago, people who dropped out of high school still had good jobs that supported the schools, neighborhoods and community. That’s not the case today.
I see direct correlation between the issues facing Camden and the City of Peoria.
As the urban sprawl continues and population shifts away from the City, urban terrorism will continue to rise. Kids who have no opportunities and no jobs will make bad decisions—such as shooting a police officer.
I hope the incident with Officer Faulkner is the final straw that makes the community, first and foremost, realize that without economic development, they cannot address city issues and there may be no hope for the future. Crime and other social issues will not stay confined to the city. It will spread, like a cancer, unless it is stopped.
When crime and urban terrorism spreads and affects people who live in Dunlap, Morton and Bartonville, will people then move further out to Brimfield or Eureka?
I believe downtown Peoria and the Riverfront are Peoria’s greatest assets. It needs constant re-inventing, like many major cities have done around the country.
At some point, we all need to stand up and address economic development issues and find ways to "rebuild" the City of Peoria to ensure a bright future. IBI