Urbanization, Suburbanization, and Metropolitanism

Urbanization isthe clustering of people into very densely packed geographical areas. Throughout the country’s history, there have been important patterns of migration both from other countries to the U.S., and from certain parts of the United States to other parts.

Until the late 1800’s, most people in the United States lived in rural areas or small towns. But starting in the 1800’s until about  the 1920’s, millions of immigrants from Europe moved into major cities in the Northeast and Midwest, while at the same time, people already in the country left agriculture for better jobs in urban areas.

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Even as late as 1900, about 75 percent of people still lived in rural areas.  Beginning in the 1920s and increasing in the post-WWII period after 1945, more people moved into urban areas. Now more than 80 percent of people live in urban areas.

Suburbanization is the movement of people from the cities to areas immediately outside the city. People who are more affluent tend to move to suburban areas right outside the legal jurisdictions of cities. Since 1930, a fairly consistent 30 percent live in municipalities while the suburbs have continued to grow much faster than cities. So today, fully half the people in the U.S live in suburbs, about 30 percent live in center cities, and about 20 percent live in rural areas.

In the postwar period, southern blacks moved to urban centers in the north like New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Detroit, as well as to southern cities like Atlanta, Dallas, and Houston. People from dustbowl states including Texas moved to California during the Great Depression. Today, immigrants from Latin America, Asia, and elsewhere primarily move into central cities. In general, however, suburbs have grown fast than central cities and rural areas.

Today, some rural people move directly to suburbs of major metro areas, while others move to central cities. Some suburbs have become large urban centers themselves (e.g., Arlington, TX). People move to the suburbs to escape problems of the cities, especially poverty, urban blight, and crime. Of course, by leaving they take with them resources that could be used by cities to help address these problems. And, at the same time, these people want to continue to enjoy the amenities of urban centers: high paying jobs, cultural attractions, and pro-sports teams. The fundamental issue is that suburban dwellers may work in cities and use city amenities but can avoid paying for them. To the extent that they support public, tax-supported services, it is for separate suburban public safety and well-equipped and staffed school districts (special districts).

Metropolitanism isthe clustering of people into urban geographic areas that do not correspond to legal boundaries.  Therefore, problems created by population density are not addressable by any one local government-county or city.  Hit-and-miss services provided by one governmental entity, cannot address the problems of people who cluster across the legal boundary of any specific legal jurisdiction.  And local governments are not always willing to cooperate with each other to solve problems.

Who influences government policy in metropolitan areas? Interest groups, especially business interests do. Mayors and other city officials cannot usually risk offending businesses because often they can simply move to the suburbs or to another area.

Solutions to fragmented governmental services

*County-city consolidation of these two local governments into a regional government:  Consolidation is not common except in the largest metropolitan areas. The Texas constitution does not allow for county-city consolidation.

*Annexation of suburban areas:  Annexation is often fought by suburbs who want to keep taxes and services minimal.  Often, suburbs will request municipal incorporation so that annexation cannot occur.

*Creation of special districts:  These allow people in a particular geographic area to have certain services.  But the problem of coordination with other local governments remains.

*Interjurisdictional agreements:  Whether informal or formal, these agreements allow different local governments to share resources or services (e.g., provision of fire-fighting services).

*Councils of Governments (regional councils):  These regional organizations provide resources and discussion of shared issues among the governments of a specific geographic area.  They do not have legal authority to enforce agreements. In Texas, there are 24 regional planning commissions that serve the role of councils of government.

An alternative view of multiple local governments in an area-the Public Choice Model

The above reforms are standard suggestions for reducing fragmentation of services.  The Public Choice Model views local governments as producers of services and citizens as customers with very little choice as to services because local governments act as monopolies.  In this model, citizens have a choice of where they live and what kind of services they receive just as customers have choices of products to buy.  The existence of multiple governments and their competition with each other to attract and retain citizens in an area improves public services.

The more local governments in an area, the more choice citizens have.  The assumptions of this model are that citizens have full knowledge of services everywhere and are mobile-able to pick up and move.

Terms and Ideas

Urbanization and its history
Who influences government policy in metropolitan areas?
Solutions to fragmented governmental services
*county-city consolidation
*creation of special districts
*inter-jurisdictional agreements
*councils of government
Public Choice Model

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