New York: The Politics of Urban Regional Development

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New York

The Politics of Urban Regional Development
By Michael N. Danielson Jameson W. Doig

University of California Press

Copyright © 1982 Michael N. Danielson and Jameson W. Doig
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-520-04371-5

Chapter One

Government and Urban Development

Cities grow and deteriorate, highways and houses spread across the urban landscape, racial and ethnic minorities cluster in ghettos, sources of water supply are polluted and reclaimed. These and other features of urban development are found in every major metropolitan region in the United States. And the basic elements differ little in other advanced industrial societies. The patterns of development that characterize the modern metropolis are the product of the complex and continuing interactions of geographic, technological, economic, political, and other social factors which constantly mold and alter urban society.

Our central concern in this study is with the role of government in shaping urban development in modernized societies. More specifically: To what extent do the actions of governmental organizations have a significant independent influence on urban development, rather than having no significant role, or affecting development only by ratifying and supporting decisions previously made in other subsystems of the society, such as the private marketplace? By governmental organizations, we mean those organizations which authoritatively allocate values (i.e., make binding rules) for a society, and which are primarily oriented toward this function, together with subordinate units of such organizations. The actions of governmental organizations must be examined in the context of the broader pattern of human relationships concerned with the authoritative allocation of values, i.e., the political system.

The New York region is the focus of our study. Our immediate concern is the analysis of the role of government in shaping development within this metropolis, the largest and most complex in the United States. We also seek broader relevance. The approach used in this study should be helpful in understanding urban development in other areas; and our conclusions concerning the impact of city and suburban governments, public authorities, state and federal agencies, and other governmental units will suggest generalizations that apply in other regions, especially in the United States.

The difficulty in assessing the influence on urban development of any one set of organizations should be emphasized at the outset. There is, as York Willbern points out, a "chicken-and-egg" character to the question. The many governmental and nongovernmental organizations operating in the metropolis influence each other continuously, making it very difficult to sort out the impact on development of any one factor. Moreover, the problem of determining cause and effect is particularly complex when one is analyzing causal factors related not to a clearly measurable outcome (such as the number of automobile accidents), but to a much broader set of outcomes comprising "urban development."

These difficulties have not prevented social scientists from assessing the impact of governmental organizations and other institutions on urban development. The most intensive analysis of this issue, certainly in terms of the New York region and perhaps for any modernized urban complex, was that conducted in the late 1950s by Raymond Vernon, Robert C. Wood, and their colleagues in the New York Metropolitan Region Study. Their conclusion is, to quote Wood, that "public programs and public policies are of little consequence" in shaping the metropolis. Governmental organizations "leave most of the important decisions for Regional development to the private marketplace." Other observers such as York Willbern and Scott Greer have generally reached the same conclusion with regard to urban development in the United States.

Our own position differs from that of Wood and Vernon and others who emphasize the dominance of economic factors. Admittedly, in some situations, governmental action appears to do little more than ratify decisions made in the private marketplace. On the basis of our review of the Wood and Vernon studies, however, together with additional evidence presented in the following chapters, we argue that governmental influence is frequently important. In many cases, public programs significantly modify or amplify developmental trends, and in some instances, governmental actions have a critical initiating role in shaping urban development. These variations in governmental influence can be understood in terms of several factors-areal scope, functional scope, and the ability to concentrate resources. In this study, we define these factors, and then use them to analyze the influence of various types of governmental units.

Before examining the complex issue of cause and effect raised by the question of what influence-if any-does government have on urban growth and change, it is necessary to define what we mean by "urban development." Some studies refer to "urban development" as the process of change in urban areas; other discussions use the term to denote the outcome of the process at any point in time. The latter definition is used in this volume. More specifically, our analysis focuses on the distribution of residences in urban regions, in general and by income level and race; on the distribution of jobs; and on the location of major transportation facilities. This focus is similar to that used in the Vernon studies, although that analysis gave primary emphasis to the distribution of jobs and residences.

In our study, as in Vernon's, the main emphasis is on "physical" aspects of urban society. The quality of education, police behavior, the welfare system, health care, and other service areas are not directly under scrutiny. It may be that many of the forces-governmental and otherwise-which are considered in our study also shape these aspects of urban life, but we leave that exploration for another study.

We begin our analysis of the influence of government on urban development in the New York region by briefly examining the governmental system. The remainder of the chapter explores in detail the general problem of evaluating governmental influence on urban development. This analysis provides the framework which is used in the chapters that follow.

Governments in the New York Region

As Robert Wood has commented, the tristate region centering on New York City contains "one of the great unnatural wonders of the world"-an interrelationship of governments "perhaps more complicated than any other that mankind has yet contrived or allowed to happen." The governments of three states and the nation share responsibility in the metropolis with more than two dozen county political units, over 700 municipalities, and several hundred specialized functional districts. The number of governmental units in the New York region in 1977 is shown in Table 1.

Of nearly 2,200 nonnational units of government in the New York region, the three states possess the broadest array of powers. Each state has a wide range of policies that affect its portion of the metropolis, and all local government activity is subject to ultimate state control. But since New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut share these responsibilities, state policy in the New York region is far from uniform. Each state has distinct traditions of local government, and different policies for transportation, education, welfare, recreation, state aid to local governments, and other matters that affect the metropolis. These policies and programs are shaped not only by the needs and demands of residents of the New York region, but also in response to a variety of other urban and rural pressures in each state. Another important characteristic of state action is the fragmentation of programs among functional agencies within each state, many of which, such as highways and education, have considerable autonomy from the governor and legislature.

As in most metropolitan areas, local governments in the New York region vary greatly in size, governmental structure, policy goals, tax resources and expenditures, and political styles. One of these local governments, New York City, encompasses almost half of the region's population. Like the state governments, the complex governmental system of New York City is characterized by internal fragmentation and functional autonomy. In addition to New York, the region includes several large cities-Newark, with 329,000 residents in 1980, and Jersey City with 224,000, together with Paterson (138,000) and Elizabeth (106,000). Jersey City is itself the largest center in a cluster of older cities comprising Hudson County, with a total population of 557,000.

The region also includes more than a dozen other cities with populations of over 50,000, many of which would be metropolitan centers if located outside the New York region. Interwoven with this complex of cities are suburban counties and municipalities, ranging from the placid local governments in the affluent enclaves of Westchester and Morris counties to the more intensively settled and financially hard-pressed suburbs of Middlesex and Nassau counties.

Finally, layered over this mosaic of governments are the special units, most of which have relatively narrow functional responsibilities. Most common are the school districts, which spend up to 75 percent of the local tax dollar in the region's newer residential suburbs. Most powerful are the regional public works enterprises, particularly the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, with assets of over $3.6 billion in tunnels, bridges, airports, port facilities, a rail transit line, bus and truck terminals, and a world trade center. Until recently, great influence also was wielded by the cluster of specialized agencies long controlled by Robert Moses, a public entrepreneur without peer in urban America, whose monuments include bridges, tunnels, parks, parkways, garages, housing projects, and a coliseum. Two new regional organizations were added in the 1960s-the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which now controls the Long Island Rail Road, the subways and toll bridges of New York City, and other transport facilities; and the Urban Development Corporation, created by New York State in 1968 to build housing and other projects without the encumbrance and inconvenience of local zoning and building restrictions. Beyond the school districts and the regional authorities are several hundred other special districts concerned with such problems as water supply, sewage disposal, parking, and housing, and with jurisdictions ranging from several counties down to individual municipalities.

The impact of these governments on citizens varies greatly, depending on where they work and live. Tax burdens differ from state to state, from city to city, and from suburb to suburb. The per pupil expenditure for education, the amount and nature of public housing and downtown renewal, and other public services vary widely. Integrated regional policies for these and most other matters of public concern do not exist in the New York area.

These variations in effective demand and public policy in different parts of the region are readily illustrated by expenditures on education and on welfare-related services. Some comparative data for New York City and suburban counties in the New York portion of the region are summarized in Table 2. These figures illustrate the relatively heavy per capita outlays for welfare and related services in the region's largest older city, compared with suburban areas.

The wide variations among municipalities can also be indicated by comparing annual school expenditures per pupil within the New York region. At the upper end of the range are wealthier suburbs, while a number of older cities are concentrated toward the lower end of the scale. Table 3 gives a sample of the figures for the New Jersey portion of the region. Similar disparities are found in taxable valuation ("ratables") and tax burdens in the region. In the affluent suburb of Millburn, for example, ratables average $18,760 per resident, and the effective local tax rate (per $100 of actual value) is only $3.50. But in Elizabeth, only $8,495 in ratables stand behind each resident and the tax rate is $4.36; while in Jersey City, the ratables figure drops to $3,003 per capita, and the tax rate climbs to more than $7.50.


Excerpted from New York by Michael N. Danielson Jameson W. Doig Copyright © 1982 by Michael N. Danielson and Jameson W. Doig. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

List of Tables xi
List of Maps xii
Foreword xiii
Acknowledgments xxi
Abbreviations xxiii
Terms of Office xxiv
1. Government and Urban Development 1
Governments in the New York Region 3
The Impact of Government on Development 8
Government as Inconsequential: A Critique 8
Varieties of Influence 13
Varieties of Influence: A Further Look 16
The Sources of Governmental Influence 23
Areal and Functional Scope: Toward a Classification of Governments 23
Concentration of Resources 25
Formal independence 25
Variety and intensity of constituency demands 26
Control over the use of land 27
Financial resources 28
Political skill 29
Control over subordinate units 30
Planning 30
Targets of Analysis 32
2. Development in the New York Region 35
Size and Complexity 35
The Physical Setting 40
Genesis from the Sea 41
The Unique Central Business District 45
External Economies and White-Collar Jobs 45
Benefits and Costs of the Central Business District 47
The Decline of the Older Cities 50
The Departure of Middle-Class Whites 51
The Growth of Black and Hispanic Ghettos 52
The Dispersal of Blue-Collar Jobs 54
The Burdens of the Cities 56
The Spreading Metropolis 57
The Impact of Transportation 58
The Movement of Jobs and Homes 60
The Slowing of the Region's Growth 64
3. Maximizing Internal Benefits 67
Suburban Capabilities 67
The Constraint of Size 69
Variations Among Suburbs 69
Homogeneity and Heterogeneity 74
The Central Fact of Autonomy 75
The Pervasive Influence of the Property Tax 77
The Logic of Exclusion 78
The Westchester Approach 79
Planning for Fewer People 81
The Dilemma of Apartments 84
The Right Kind of Industry 89
The Results of the Maximizing Strategy 94
Accelerating Spread 96
Discouraging Innovation 98
Excluding the Less Affluent 100
Suburbanization Without Maximization: The Case of Staten Island 106
Maximization and the Passage of Time 108
4. Minimizing Outside Intervention 110
The Dispersion of Power: New Roads in Suburbia 112
Perspective of the Highway Agencies 113
New Roads and County Government 114
Highway Costs and Benefits at the Grass Roots 116
Political Weakness of the Individual Suburb 119
A Successful Coalition: The Fourth Jetport 123
Defeat of the Great Swamp Proposal 123
Opposition to Other Sites 126
The Basis for Successful Collective Action 129
Environmentalism and Suburban Victories 130
The Long Island Sound Bridge and I-287 133
5. Political Actors of Regional Scope 138
Impediments to Regional Integration 139
The Obstacles of Political Complexity 140
Lack of Regional Awareness 143
The Pervasive Fear of Regionalism 147
The Metropolitan Regional Council 151
Agencies of Broad Areal Scope 154
Functional Agencies and the Advantages of a Focused Mission 154
The Coordinating Agencies: Modest Resources and Multiple Constraints 162
6. Concentrating Resources on Highway Development 171
Contenders for Influence 173
The Highway Coalition 177
The Highway Coalition at Work 185
Under and Over the Hudson River 186
Bringing Manhattan Closer to the Suburbs with Buses 194
Regional Arteries That "Fire the Mind" 200
7. Mass Transportation and the Limited Capabilities of Government 205
Mass Transportation and the Region's Development 206
Obstacles to Governmental Action 210
Responding to a Transit Crisis in New York City 214
A Railroad Is "Practically Reborn" 215
Toward Broader Regional Action 216
Elements of a Solution: Realistic and Otherwise 219
Steps Toward Stability 221
Dramatic Changes and an Elusive Goal 226
Creating a Regional Transit Agency 227
Larger Resources and a "Grand Design" 233
"Many a Slip ..." 236
The Interweaving of Federal and Regional Action 239
The MAT's First Decade 241
The Port Authority in Disarray 244
Conflict into the 1980s: The Case of Westway 250
The Continuing Search for Solutions 255
8. Concentrating Resources in the Older Cities 256
Goals and Resources in the Older Cities 257
Areal and Functional Scope 262
The Shortage of Land 264
Conflicting Constituency Interests 271
The Fiscal Straitjacket 278
Dependence on State Government 283
Lack of Executive Integration 285
9. Urban Renewal: Political Skill and Constituency Pressures 291
The Federal Framework 292
Elements of Success and Failure 294
Conflicting Pressures in Trenton 296
Building an Autonomous Base for Renewal in Newark 297
Neutralizing the NHA commissioners 299
Offering minor concessions to local political leaders 300
Denying the city planners a role 300
Winning the support of other city agencies 300
Muting those to be displaced 301
The Fragile Structure of Newark's Success 302
The Medical College 303
The Collapse of the Urban Renewal Alliance 306
The NHA's Urban Renewal Program in Retrospect 309
Enlarging the Renewal Arena 311
The Lesson of Urban Renewal 314
10. Patterns of Government Action 316
The Complex Role of Government 322
Another View: Government Officials as All-Powerful 326
Sources of Influence 327
Contrasts in Influence: The Case of Marine Terminals 328
Constituencies, Insulation, and Leadership 333
Broader Values and the Shackling of Government 338
The End of Growth and the Role of Government 341
Index 349
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