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For half a century America has had one dominant vision of how its metropolitan areas ought to grow and develop. This vision, best described as unlimited low-density sprawl, encompasses personal and social goals that most Americans cherish: a home in the suburbs, a car, good schools, and responsive local government. While Americans have been overwhelmingly successful in achieving these goals, that success has generated a host of growth-related problems, including intensive traffic congestion, air pollution, rising taxes for infrastructure, loss of open space, and the relegation of many poor households and minorities to destitute inner-city neighborhoods. With the long-run viability of American society in danger, America is in desperate need of a new vision for metropolitan growth. In this book, Anthony Downs identifies growth-related problems and examines current efforts to control growth. He explains that individual suburban governments have reacted with policies intended to manage local growth; but those policies taken together have actually aggravated problems at the regional level. The most dangerous result of growth management policies is that they help perpetuate the concentration of very poor households in depressed neighborhoods in big cities and older suburbs. These neighborhoods are riddled with exploding rates of crime and violence, increased numbers of children growing up in poverty, poor-quality public education, and many workers excluded from the mainstream work force. Downs asserts that these problems undermine social cohesion and economic efficiency throughout the nation, yet many Americans fail to recognize how serious they are. He shows that as suburbs develop, their residents come to believe that their welfare no longer depends upon the economic and social health of central cities. Suburbanites feel emotionally detached from cities or hostile to cities' fiscal and social problems even though they are partly responsible for creating those probl
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Editorial Reviews

Brookings Senior Fellow Downs examines the effects of growth management in communities that have tried to alter the course of urban growth. He also analyzes several alternatives for metropolitan growth--alternatives that might reduce the problems that have arisen from the pursuit of unlimited low-density development. Downs's analysis focuses on the relationship between the suburbs and the central cities, and identifies the policies likely to be most effective in helping to resolve growth-related problems. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR
From the Publisher

"Down's presents a wealth of data and scholarship that will be invaluable to all students of urban issues." — Journal of Economic Literature

Reading Downs on urban problems is like seeing a lawn mower operate for the first time, when you have been trimming the grass with a pair of scissors. He offers pithy summaries of the work of others, offers his own ideas, and uses a hard-headed economic perspective to assess alternatives.
" — Planning

Provocative, probing, philosophical, policy driven--Tony Downs poignantly defines a future vision for America's building environment." —Rep. Marcy Kaptur

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780815719250
  • Publisher: Brookings Institution Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/1994
  • Series: Integrating National Economies Series
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 272
  • Lexile: 1420L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.61 (d)

Meet the Author

Anthony Downs is a senior fellow in the Economic Studies Program at the Brookings Institution. His specialties are housing, real estate, real estate finance, metropolitan planning, demographics, and transportation. His books include New Visions for Metropolitan America (Brookings/Lincoln Institute for Land Policy, 1994), and Still Stuck in Traffic: Coping with Peak-Hour Traffic Congestion (Brookings, 2004).

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Read an Excerpt

New Visions for Metropolitan America

By Anthony Downs

The Brookings Institution Press

Copyright © 1994 Brookings Institution Press.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 0815719256

Chapter One

Major Shifts in Population and Economic Activity

Despite the unprecedented prosperity of the 1990s, urban issues have sunk below the threshold of serious national policy discussion.1 During the intense policy debates of the national presidential campaign of 2000, neither major-party presidential candidate offered a platform on the state of the cities or their suburbs. The one minor exception was Vice President Albert Gore's anti-sprawl position.2 Voters entered voting booths more knowledgeable about anti-ballistic missile shields, the benefits of long-term trade relations with China, and the long-term rate of return on social security contributions relative to the Nasdaq index than about the continued deterioration of Camden, New Jersey, or East Palo Alto, California. This stands in contrast to strong interest in earlier decades: the 1960s, when urban problems, eventually resulting in the Kerner commission report, were high on the national political agenda; the 1970s and early 1980s, when the divergent fortunes of the Northeast and Midwest (the Frost Belt or Rust Belt) and the South and West (the Sun Belt) generated intense discussion about the regional implications of the federal budget. Nevertheless, the absence of public debate does not mean that city and suburb, Sun Belt and Frost Belt, no longer provide important axes for policy or analysis.

Urban policy has become largely a state and local preoccupation, despite the continued urban efforts of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (discussed in chapter 2).3 Some of the issues that are currently being raised at the state and local level have antecedents. The widespread attack on suburban sprawl has links to questions raised in earlier decades about how suburbanization affects society as a whole and whether this pattern of growth can be sustained environmentally. Some critics have suggested that suburbs should be required to help their core cities, perhaps by fiscal integration, but the dramatic improvements in the quality of life in many cities during the 1990s have muted these arguments. The still-unexplained drop in crime rates has reduced the urgency of some of these concerns. The growth of sectors such as Internet-related firms, whose main requirements are often low-cost loft space and a nearby Starbucks, has led to a reinvigoration of dilapidated areas in some cities—for example, "Silicon Alley" in Manhattan. During the booming stock market of the 1990s, young single persons who preferred cities to suburbs bid housing prices up, which led to a perception that cities were again robust and needed no special attention. The slowdown in 2000 tempered this perception somewhat.

Despite these phenomena, there are two major long-term trends that require analysis, namely, the continuing shift of economic activity and population from the Frost Belt to the Sun Belt and from the city to the suburb. To determine whether these trends are desirable and whether they should be the focus of public policy requires first documenting the process and then attempting to understand it. Public policy becomes relevant only if the geographic redistributions have undesirable consequences or if undesirable consequences result from current government policies that distort normal underlying economic processes. Analysts who are concerned with cities often assume that some public policy is necessary to foster growth, often focusing on the potential contribution the suburbs can make. The perspective in this book is on the huge regional shift that has occurred in economic activity and population. As one measure, almost all of the fifty fastest-growing metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) are in the South and West, and almost all of the slowest-growing ones are in the Northeast and Midwest.4 It seems unlikely that even perfectly managed suburb-city integration will suddenly propel ten metropolitan areas of the Northeast and Midwest into the top fifty or remove ten from the slow-growth list.

Thus, my view is that urban issues in the United States must necessarily be considered in a regional framework—a perspective that was widely held during the 1970s and gradually abandoned. The remainder of this chapter provides the empirical documentation for these views.

Urban Development: The Post–World War II Shifts

Two shifts in the locations of population and industry have resulted in a major change in the urban structure of the United States. The relocation from city to suburb (table 1-1 and figure 1-1) and from Northeast and Midwest to South and West (table 1-2 and figure 1-2) have brought to the forefront the problems of cities, particularly the older cities of the Northeast and the Midwest.5 The regional shifts in the distribution of the metropolitan population (figure 1-2) are striking. The metropolitan populations in the South and West have been growing steadily, while the metropolitan populations in the Northeast and Midwest have been declining.

Between 1950 and 1996 the metropolitan populations of the Northeast and Midwest declined from 63 percent of the metropolitan total to less than 45 percent (table 1-2). During the same period, the proportion of the metropolitan population living in the West and South increased from less than 40 percent to more than 55 percent (table 1-2).6

These dramatic interregional shifts are graphically illustrated in maps 1-1 through 1-9 (see color plates), which show the population growth rates by quintiles for each of the metropolitan areas in the sample. Maps 1-1 through 1-3 show metropolitan area growth rates for the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s; maps 1-4 through 1-6 show suburban area growth rates for the same three decades; and maps 1-7 through 1-9 show the growth rates for central cities for these decades. Both the regional central tendencies and the intraregional variation are clear. In the 1970s, for example, nearly all of the metropolitan areas in the Northeast and Midwest experienced decreases in population or small increases. In the South and West growth rates were nearly all positive. Although the metropolitan population growth rates showed a similar regional pattern in the 1980s (map 1-3), the declines were greater and the growth rates somewhat lower. The contrast in the suburbs is not surprising for the Northeast and Midwest in the 1970s and 1980s: although most grew slowly with some declining, several of the suburban areas, particularly in the Midwest, experienced somewhat more substantial increases in population growth (maps 1-5 and 1-6). In the 1960s many more of the suburban areas in the Northeast and Midwest experienced substantial population increases (map 1-4). The geographic population growth pattern for cities was very similar to that for the suburbs, with one important difference: the cities that declined experienced much larger decreases in population than the suburbs that lost population (maps 1-7 through 1-9).

Given the simultaneous shift of population from cities to suburbs and among regions, the cities of the Northeast and Midwest experienced the greatest declines in population, falling from 33.4 million in 1960 to 29.2 million in 1990.7 During this same period, their total suburban populations continued to increase (table 1-3). In the South and West, the populations of most cities actually increased.8 The data in table 1-3 are the basis for the preoccupation of urban scholars and policymakers with the decline in city population and the low growth rates in both cities and suburbs of the Northeast and Midwest (as well as with the differences between cities and suburbs, in per capita income and poverty, in all regions of the country, analyzed in chapter 3).

Just as population shifted from cities to suburbs and among regions, so too did total income. In 1960, 45 percent of metropolitan income was in central cities. By 1990 the proportion had fallen to 30 percent (table 1-1 and figure 1-3). In 1960, total income in the metropolitan areas of the Northeast and the Midwest was 62 percent of the metropolitan total. By 1990 the proportion had declined to 49 percent (table 1-4 and figure 1-4). As a mirror image, the share of total income during this period in the South and West increased from 38 percent to 51 percent.

The geographic patterns of per capita income growth rates are shown in maps 1-10 through 1-18 (see color plates). Shifts in total income are described above. Per capita income is a very different indicator. It is possible to have declining population and declining total income but rising per capita income; that is, an increase in the welfare of the population. It is also possible to observe the opposite pattern: rising population and total income but slow growth or decline in per capita income. The maps show both of these. In the 1970s, the lowest rates of growth (including many declines) in per capita income in metropolitan areas occurred in the Northeast and much of the Midwest. By the 1980s, it was the metropolitan areas of the Northeast in which per capita incomes were growing most rapidly; the situation was the reverse in the Midwest. A similar pattern, particularly in the Northeast, characterizes the suburban portions and central cities of the metropolitan areas. These differences in population and per capita income growth patterns are important throughout this volume.

During the 1970s, the far more rapid growth in total income and population in the Sun Belt states of the South and West than in the Frost Belt states of the Northeast and Midwest was a major urban policy concern.9 The Sun Belt–Frost Belt literature documented the convergence of per capita incomes among regions that reflected the high growth rates in per capita incomes in the South—incomes that had been far below those in other regions. In contrast, the Northeast and Midwest grew more slowly. Between 1960 and 1990, the total income in the metropolitan areas of the Northeast and Midwest grew by 101 percent and 91 percent, respectively, compared with 234 percent and 216 percent in the South and West (table 1-5, last column).

One might reasonably think that such enormous shifts among regions influenced the development, form, and welfare of the growing regions as well as of the declining regions. However, it remains to be determined whether this is so and if so how these influences differed and why (see chapters 3 and 4).

One of the purposes of this chapter is to present a broad overview of the major changes in urban growth over a fairly long period so as not to become entangled in excessive detail and idiosyncrasy. Despite these very large regional shifts, however, some regions and individual metropolitan areas showed substantial differences in growth rate from decade to decade. As indicated above, in the discussion of the maps, the most striking of these decadal contrasts occurs in per capita income growth between the 1970s and the 1980s. The average metropolitan per capita income growth was 14 percent in the 1970s and 19 percent in the 1980s. However, the change in growth rates was scarcely more than 1 or 2 percentage points in each of the regions but the Northeast. In the Midwest the average metropolitan growth rate in per capita income increased from 13 percent in the 1970s to 15 percent in the 1980s; in the South the average rate increased from 18 percent to 19 percent; and in the West the rate increased from 15 percent to 17 percent. In contrast, in the metropolitan areas of the Northeast the average growth in per capita income rose from 5 percent in the 1970s (lowest of all the regions) to 32 percent in the 1980s (the highest of all regions) (table 1-6).

It is critical to recognize these differences in each of the decades in the analyses in chapter 3, in which the effects of growth on the welfare of the population are estimated, and in chapter 4, in which the determinants of differences in growth rates are estimated. When such large relative (and absolute) regional swings in the growth of a major variable occur, it does not make sense to use averages over three decades.

The Fastest-Growing and Slowest-Growing Metropolitan Areas

Identifying more specifically the metropolitan areas that are growing most rapidly and most slowly will help to anchor the emphasis on the importance of region in analyzing urban trends. Listed in tables 1-7 and 1-8 are the 50 metropolitan areas whose populations grew most rapidly (table 1-7) and those that grew most slowly (table 1-8) between 1960 and 1990.10 It is not surprising to see that 48 of the 50 most rapidly growing regions are in the South and West (more than one-third of the 137 metropolitan areas in these two regions). Only 2 metropolitan areas from the Midwest appear in the list: Columbia, Missouri, ranked 40th, and Lawrence, Kansas, ranked 49th. Moreover, the fastest-growing metropolitan areas are concentrated within a small number of states: 11 of the 50 are in California, 11 are in Florida, and 8 are in Texas.

There is also substantial regional concentration among the most slowly growing metropolitan areas (table 1-8): 38 of the 50 metropolitan areas with the slowest population growth are in the Northeast and Midwest (38 of 113 metropolitan areas in these two regions). Of the 12 remaining, 10 are in the South, with several bordering the Northeast or Midwest (in West Virginia and Ohio). The slowest-growing areas are also concentrated in a few states: 10 of the 50 are entirely or partly located in Ohio, 6 are in Pennsylvania, 5 are in Illinois, and 5 are in New York (see also maps 1-1 through 1-3).

It is not surprising that just as rapid population growth has been concentrated in the metropolitan areas of the South and West, so too has the growth in total income.11 Of the 50 MSAs with the most rapidly growing total incomes over the three-decade period, only 5 are in the Northeast and Midwest. Among the 50 slowest-growing MSAs, 40 are in the Northeast or Midwest (tables 1-9 and 1-10). Just as income growth is slightly less concentrated by region than is population growth, it is also somewhat less concentrated in only a few states. Among the 50 MSAs with the fastest-growing total incomes, 9 are in Florida, 7 are in California, and 6 are in Texas. Of the 50 MSAs with the slowest-growing total incomes, 10 are entirely or partly in Ohio, and Pennsylvania, Illinois, and New York have 5 each.

Among the metropolitan areas with rapidly growing populations, there are some obvious contrasts: Las Vegas and Reno, Nevada, are growing in population for very different reasons than are Raleigh- Durham, North Carolina, or San Jose, California, and their rapid population growth is of a very different kind than that of the retirement communities of West Palm Beach–Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale, or Sarasota, Florida. The metropolitan areas with slowly growing populations appear to have somewhat more in common; they are generally the older heavy- manufacturing areas and the coal- and steel-producing areas of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia.12

Explaining Interregional Shifts

Many explanations have been offered to account for divergent regional experiences. Economists, influenced by international trade theory, emphasized the role of low wages and land prices in inducing the movement of factories from the more expensive locations in the North.13 But other factors were also adduced to explain the shift of population and firms from the Midwest and Northeast to the South and West.14 Public policies, technological changes, and market forces all played important roles in the process. Technological changes in manufacturing production, transportation, and communications and more capital-intensive agricultural innovations encouraged a shift from earlier regional economic specialization. The development of air conditioning, the aging of the population, and increases in international competition propelled growth and development in the South and West; lower wages and the absence of unions in the South attracted labor-intensive industries from the Northeast and Midwest. On the policy side, the national highway system, water projects, and continued subsidization of water usage opened up arid areas in California and Arizona to both urban and agricultural use. Defense procurement concentrated defense industries in areas with warmer year-round climates and large expanses of open land.15 The enactment of environmental laws— compliance with which was relatively more difficult in the more industrialized and more densely developed Northeast and Midwest—also resulted in some relocation and start-up of businesses in the South and West.

The Movement from Cities to Suburbs

Market forces as well as public policies have also influenced intraregional shifts. In particular, growing population and industrial bases, technological changes, and increasing incomes are some of the factors that have both spurred and made possible the movement out of central cities to suburbs. As more land was needed to accommodate growth, other factors allowed households and businesses to widen their geographic horizons. Public policies such as subsidization of roads relative to mass transit, subsidies for extension of water and sewer infrastructure, and mortgage and tax deductions in the federal income tax are among those that have supported the movement to suburban locations.16

In thinking about the dispersal of population and economic activity to the suburbs, it is important to recognize that these shifts have had both positive and negative effects. The positive impacts were increases in efficiency and consumer satisfaction as firms and households moved to preferred locations. The relatively large cities in the Northeast (average population of 343,460 in 1960), whose populations declined over the period, may have been too large, too dense, and too congested, and therefore their population declines improved the quality of life both for those who left and for those who remained in the cities.17 Population and employment relocation to the suburbs increased efficiency, given the negative characteristics of the larger, older cities and the major technical changes of the post–World War II years—the increased ownership of automobiles and land-intensive changes in industrial technology. The policies that are now seen as biased in favor of suburban locations—mortgage interest deductions, property tax deductions, road construction, and infrastructure subsidies more generally—may have been important positive instruments to achieve improvements in quality of life and industrial efficiency.

At the same time, there may have been social costs associated with suburbanization. People were left behind—for various reasons, such as low levels of education or restrictive suburban zoning—who could not take advantage of the new opportunities in the suburbs or in the South and West. The result has been a concentration of poverty and other social ills in the central cities, which has harmed those directly involved and has imposed hardships on other residents.18 As demonstrated in chapter 3, poverty rates are highly correlated in particular locations from decade to decade, partly because many large cities serve as entry and transformation locations for the poor—immigrants, for example—who are able to take advantage of the cities' opportunities and institutional assistance to increase their human capital and incomes. Having done this, they move on. But new migrants and immigrants continually replace them.19 Thus both an initial poor population, many of whom are not mobile, and this additional influx of poor persons, many of whom move up the economic ladder and out of the city, put a fiscal burden on the city. As a result, large percentages of city budgets must be devoted to dealing with poverty, leaving little to maintain or improve the efficiency of city services to businesses and nonpoor residents.20 Accordingly, if federal policies that helped to spur positive goals have also had negative implications, rethinking these policies may now be appropriate.

In sum, both current urban policy recommendations and the many urban and other policies that affect development in urban areas should be viewed in terms of their larger regional context. The development of cities and suburbs may depend on their own characteristics but will be conditioned in major ways by federal policies and by the region in which they are located.


Excerpted from New Visions for Metropolitan America by Anthony Downs. Copyright © 1994 by Brookings Institution Press. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Table of Contents

1 Why We Need a New Vision 3
2 Factors Affecting Growth 17
3 Local Growth Management Policies 31
4 Links between Central Cities and Suburbs 45
5 Urban Decline and Inner-City Problems 60
6 Policy Strategies for Large Cities 95
7 Alternative Visions of Growth 123
8 Elements of the Alternative Visions 142
9 Offsetting Fragmented Land Use Powers 169
10 The Politics of Choosing among Visions 183
App. A Paradigms for Metropolitan Growth 206
App. B Comment on The Myth of America's Underfunded Cities 211
App. C Comment on The Next American Metropolis 218
Notes 228
Index 231
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