The suburbanization and segregation of American cities didn’t happen by chance

Most urban planners are taught that public policies, in addition to free market choice, led to the suburbanization, and thus segregation, of most American cities. In fact, some argue that public policies had a far greater role in influencing this migration than anything else. More from the Washington Post:

Suburbs didn’t become predominantly white and upper income thanks solely to market forces and consumer preferences. Inner city neighborhoods didn’t become home to poor minority communities purely through the random choices of minorities to live there. Economic and racial segregation didn’t just arise out of the decisions of millions of families to settle, by chance, here instead of there.

The geography that we have today — where poverty clusters alongside poverty, while the better-off live in entirely different school districts — is in large part a product of deliberate policies and government investments. The creation of the Interstate highway system enabled white flight. The federal mortgage interest deduction subsidized middle-income families buying homes there. For three decades, the Federal Housing Administration had separate underwriting standards for mortgages in all-white neighborhoods and all-black ones, institutionalizing the practice of “redlining.” That policy ended in the 1960s, but the patterns it reinforced didn’t end with it.

“Exclusionary zoning” to this day prevents the construction of modest or more affordable housing in many communities. Decisions about where to create and whether to fund transit perpetuate these divides. Government ideas about how to house the poor lead to Pruitt-Igoe and Cabrini-Green, and then government’s fleeting commitment to those projects led to their disintegration.

This Up To Speed link is meant to share perspectives from around the world that may be of interest to our readers. We do not necessarily agree or disagree with the views and perspectives shared in those stories.

  • Joe

    Goverments put their thumb on the market scale in favor of suburbanization with, bad distributory and racial consequences, for a long time. This example should worry progressives as governments gradually try to reverse suburbanization. Urbanization policies, which often encourage gentrification, can have similarly bad consequences. e.g. Over my seven years living in downtown Cincy, the area has experienced great progress. However, this progress has often been quite bad for displaced residents.

    In general, goverments tend to help the powerful and largely ignore the interests of those without power. There’s no easy solution for this fundamental problem, but it does motivate my preference that goverments should tread lightly.

    • Unfortunately, instead of eliminating the subsidies that promote suburban growth, we have kept those in place and then had to provide additional subsidies to promote urban growth. The better solution would be to eliminate all of these subsidies and let the free market decide where the growth happens. Most of the growth would return to urban areas, because most people would be unwilling to pay the true market costs of low-density suburban living. The same is true for companies deciding whether to locate downtown or in a suburban office park.

    • Joe

      I couldn’t agree more.

  • EDG

    I’ve posted this before, but you can clearly see the neighborhoods that were targeted

  • Mark Christol

    That article is one heck of a stub.

    • This is an “Up To Speed” link, which is meant to share perspectives from other sites. It is not an original UrbanCincy article.

    • Mark Christol

      no, I went to the linked article – IT was a stub.