New Visions for Metropolitan America

Transaction Publishers

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, theirresidents 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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About 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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Additional Information

Transaction Publishers
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Published on
Dec 31, 1994
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Political Science / Public Policy / City Planning & Urban Development
Social Science / Sociology / General
Social Science / Sociology / Urban
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Anthony Downs
Advocates of growth management and smart growth often propose policies that raise housing prices, thereby making housing less affordable to many households trying to buy or rent homes. Such policies include urban growth boundaries, zoning restrictions on multi-family housing, utility district lines, building permit caps, and even construction moratoria. Does this mean there is an inherent conflict between growth management and smart growth on the one hand, and creating more affordable housing on the other? Or can growth management and smart growth promote policies that help increase the supply of affordable housing? These issues are critical to the future of affordable housing because so many local communities are adopting various forms of growth management or smart growth in response to growth-related problems. Those problems include rising traffic congestion, the absorption of open space by new subdivisions, and higher taxes to pay for new infrastructures. This book explores the relationship between growth management and smart growth and affordable housing in depth. It draws from material presented at a symposium on these subjects held at the Brookings Institution in May 2003, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the National Association of Realtors, and the Fannie Mae Foundation. Contributors seek to inform the debate and provide some useful answers to help the nation accommodate the curtailment of growth in urban and suburban domains while still ensuring a supply of affordable housing. Contributors include Karen Destorel Brown (Brookings), Robert Burchell, (Rutgers University), Daniel Carlson (University of Washington), David L. Crawford (Econsult Corporation), Anthony Downs (Brookings), Ingrid Gould Ellen (New York University), William Fischel (Dartmouth College), George C. Galster (Wayne State University), Jill Khadduri (Abt Associates), Gerrit J. Knaap (University of Maryland), Robert Lang (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University), Shishir Mathur (University of Washington), Arthur C. Nelson (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University), Rolf Pendall (Cornell University), Douglas R. Porter, (Growth Management Institute), Michael Pyatok (University of Washington), Michael Schill (New York University School of Law), Samuel R. Staley (Reason Public Policy Institute), Richard P. Voith (Econsult Corporation).
Anthony Downs
American cities are shifting collections of individual neghborhoods. Thousands of residents move every year within and among neighborhoods; their flows across a city can radically and quickly alter the character of its neighborhoods. What is behind all this ferment—the decline of one area, the revitalization of another? Can the process be made more rational? Can city neighborhoods be stabilized--and older cities thus preserved?

This book argues that such flows of residents are not random. Rather, they are closely linked to overall migration into or out of each metropolitan area and to the way U.S. cities develop. Downs contends that both urban development and the social problems it spawns are built upon social arrangements designed to benefit the middle-class majority. Racial segregation divides housing in each metropolitan area into two or more markets. Socioeconomic segregation subdivides neighborhoods within each market into a class hierarchy. The poor live mainly in the oldest neighborhoods, close to the urban center. The affluent live in the newest neighborhoods, mostly at the urban periphery. This separation stems not from pure market forces but from exclusionary laws that make the construction of low-cost housing illegal in most neighborhoods. The resulting pattern determines where housing is built and what housing is left to decay.

Downs uses data from U.S. cities to illustrate neighborhood change and to reach conclusions about ways to cope with it. he explores the causes and nature of racial segregation and integration, and he evaluates neighborhood revitalization programs, which in reviving part of a city often displace many poor residents. He presents a timely analysis of the effect of higher energy costs upon urban sprawl, argues the wisdom of reviving older cities rather than helping their residents move elsewhere, and discusses the advantages and disadvantages of public and private policies at the federal, state, metropolitan-area, city, and neighborhood levels.

Anthony Downs
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