When a city is badly broken, it can be very tough to fix.
Just ask Darren Green, president of a coalition of community groups in Trenton, N.J., where deep budget cuts in 2011 forced the city to lay off a third of its police force.
"We're at a place now where it's very dangerous to walk the streets," he said, his thoughts periodically interrupted by the distant sound of passing sirens. "The school system is dysfunctional and not working. You have young people who are robbing elders. Young people who are destroying communities. With no leadership and the community in disarray, there's a lot of bad here."
The disarray and mayhem in Trenton is extreme. In August the city set a record for the most homicides in its 221-year history - at least 32 people killed this year — in this city of 85,000. Trenton's mayor, Tony Mack, has asked the state for emergency funding. But his appeal has been undermined by allegations of corruption after a federal grand jury indicted him in December 2012 on bribery charges. Several key members of his administration also have been charged with other, unrelated crimes.
The plight of the Garden's State's capital city is by no means typical of American cities in 2013. For the most part these regional economic hubs held up relatively well after the Great Recession tore one of the biggest holes in local revenues since the Great Depression.