Remember when poor neighborhoods were crowded? Geographer Deborah Popper, writing in the Chicago-based Planning (July): “Population loss in the Northeast, Midwest, and South has meant more open space within cities, often disconcertingly so. Long-term decline has often led to neighborhoods filled with abandoned buildings and overgrown, litter-filled empty lots, where public health hazards and crime flourish….University of Pennsylvania urbanist Witold Rybczynski has argued that we should seek to concentrate the population of seriously declining cities in the most salvageable neighborhoods. Such an approach, he says, would allow better municipal service provision and create a more urban fabric.”

“We do know that low spending, high achieving schools invest about $5,500 per child,” writes Mary Sue Barrett of the Metropolitan Planning Council, “yet the state’s per-pupil foundation level is stuck at $4,560 for the second year in a row” (“Regional Connection,” Summer).

Who’s onboard? The July issue of “Railgram,” newsletter of the Illinois Association of Railroad Passengers, reprints the June 20 congressional testimony of Amtrak’s new president and CEO, David Gunn, who took office in May: “The first thing I asked for when I arrived were organization charts. I found we had nearly 85 people with titles of vice president. Many of these titles had adjectives like senior, executive, or regional in front of the word vice president. This is changing.”

Remind me again just why Garry Wills is a Catholic. “Wills’s survey of the popes from the thirteenth century to the present could hardly be bleaker,” writes James Wood in the New Republic (August 19 & 26), reviewing Why I Am a Catholic. “We pass by the infamous Boniface VIII (the one punished by Dante in hell), who proclaimed a crusade against the families of two Colonna cardinals; Innocent III, who granted indulgences (essentially, promises of reduced time in purgatory) to the warriors who massacred the Albigensians in Languedoc; Urban VI of Rome and Clement VII of Avignon, two rival popes who excommunicated each other; Gregory XIII, who rejoiced in 1572 at the news of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of thousands of Huguenots and had a festival Te Deum sung to commemorate it; Paul IV (1555-1559), who strengthened the Inquisition and compelled Jews in Rome to wear a yellow badge; Pius IX (1846-1878), who sheltered a Jewish boy kidnapped from his parents, and who canonized Pedro d’Arbus, a fifteenth-century inquisitor who presided over the forced baptisms of Jews in Spain….But it is strange that after this bloody and numbing recitation, Wills swoons himself back into a Catholicism that sounds disturbingly tribal….[He writes] that ‘even in the darkest hours of the papacy, there is more life and light within the church than in the groups that split off from it.’ More light and life within Boniface’s church than within John Wesley’s? More light and life within Pius XII’s church than within Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s? This is the sheerest Catholic solipsism, and a deeply dismaying confession from a writer who seemed beyond such superstitions.”

The war against the Constitution. Michael Kinsley in Slate (July 10): “The eerie non-debate we’re having as vast preparations for battle are made before our eyes is a consequence of a long-running constitutional scandal: the withering away of the requirement of a congressional Declaration of War. Oh, the words are still there, of course, but presidents of both parties flagrantly ignore them–sometimes with fancy arguments that are remarkably unpersuasive, but mainly by now with shrugging indifference. The result is not just a power shift between the branches of government but a general smothering of debate about, or even interest in, the decision to go to war among citizens in general.”