City Politics
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City Politics

Cities and Suburbs in 21st Century America

Annika Marlen Hinze, Dennis R. Judd

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eBook - ePub

City Politics

Cities and Suburbs in 21st Century America

Annika Marlen Hinze, Dennis R. Judd

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Über dieses Buch

City Politics has received praise for the clarity of its writing, careful research, and distinctive theme – that urban politics in the United States has evolved as a dynamic interaction between governmental power, private actors, and a politics of identity.

The book's enduring appeal lies in its persuasive explanation, careful attention to historical detail, and accessible and elegant way of teaching the complexity and breadth of urban and regional politics which unfold at the intersection of spatial, cultural, economic, and policy dynamics. This 11th edition has been thoroughly updated while retaining the popular structure of past editions.

Key updates include:

‱ Individual chapters introducing students to pressing urban issues such as race and racism, gentrification, sustainability and the environment, urban crises, shrinking cities, immigration, and suburbanization, political polarization, and the COVID-19 pandemic's impact on cities

‱ The most recent census data integrated throughout to provide current figures for analysis, discussion, and a more nuanced understanding of current trends.

‱ The effects of the events of 2020 on cities – namely the Coronavirus pandemic; the murder of George Floyd and its aftermath, and the growth of the Black Lives Matter Movement; and the U.S. presidential election in November

‱ The new and present challenges of the climate crisis, and its growing significance for cities.

Taught on its own, or supplemented with the optional reader American Urban Politics in a Global Age for more advanced readers, City Politics remains the definitive text on urban politics – and how they have evolved in the United States over time. This is a comprehensive resource for a new generation of undergraduate and graduate students, as well as established researchers in the discipline.

This book is accompanied by Support Material online:

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CHAPTER 1City Politics in America: An Introduction

DOI: 10.4324/9781003175315-1

Three Themes

The political dynamics of America's cities and urban regions have remained remarkably similar over time. From the nation's founding to the present, a devotion to the private marketplace and a tradition of latent democratic governance (doubtlessly an imperfect one) have been the pivotal values defining American culture. Finding a balance between these two imperatives has never been easy; indeed, the tension between the two is the mainspring that energizes nearly all important political struggles that occur at the local level. The politics of growth becomes obvious when conflicts break out over public expenditures for such things as airport construction, convention centers, and sports stadiums. Projects like these are invariably promoted with the claim that they will bring prosperity to everyone in the urban community, but such representations do not lay to rest important concerns about whether these are the best or the most effective uses of public resources. The fact that there is conflict at all lays bare a second imperative: the politics of governance. Public officials and policymakers must find ways to arbitrate among the many contending groups and interests that demand a voice in local government. The complex social, ethnic, and racial divisions that exist within America's cities have always made governance a difficult challenge. A third dynamic has evolved in step with the rise of the modern metropolis over the past century: the politics of metropolitan fragmentation. During that period, America's urban regions have become increasingly fragmented into a patchwork of separate urban and suburban municipalities. One of the consequences of the extreme fragmentation of political authority within metropolitan regions is that it helps perpetuate residential segregation and makes it nearly impossible to devise regional solutions to important policy issues such as urban sprawl.
The growth imperative is so deeply embedded in the politics of American cities that, at times, it seems to overwhelm all other issues. Urban residents have a huge stake in the continued vitality of the place where they live; it is where they have invested their energies and capital; it is the source of their incomes, jobs, and their sense of personal identity and community. Because of the deep attachments that many people form for their local community, its continued vitality is always a high priority. Throughout American history, “place loyalty” has driven civic leaders to devote substantial public authority and resources to the goal of promoting local economic growth and prosperity. In the nineteenth century, for instance, cities fought hard to secure connections to the emerging national railroad system by providing huge subsidies to railroad corporations. Today, the details are different but the logic is the same: Since the 1970s, cities have competed fiercely for a share of the growing market in tourism and entertainment, the “industry without a smokestack.” In 2017, American cities were trying to outbid one another for Amazon's second headquarters (the first ones are located in Seattle). The [out]bidding process demonstrates the absurd lengths cities are willing to go to attract international corporations: Famously, the city of Tucson attempted to gift Amazon a 21-foot saguaro cactus along with its bid. Amazon refused to accept the gift and donated it to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum instead. To attract private industry, cities have spent huge amounts of public money for such things as convention centers, sports stadiums, cultural institutions, and entertainment districts. They also tend to offer huge tax breaks and favorable transit connections to corporations to sweeten the deal. These kinds of activities, all devoted to the goal of promoting local economic growth, are so central to what cities do that it would be impossible to understand urban politics without taking them into account.
One factor in the inter-urban competition for growth and investment that has definitely changed today is the detachment of business leaders from the local environment through the forces of globalization. While throughout the first half of the twentieth century, businesses were firmly rooted in the local context, and business leaders saw the health of the downtown business district as a vital factor in their economic success, corporations in a global world no longer have these local attachments. The borderless flows of capital, goods, and services (though not of people) have made it easy for transnational corporations to uproot themselves and choose the most fiscally and economically convenient location for their business headquarters. This means that inter-urban competition has not only grown much fiercer but it has also moved from a national to a global scale. This development has led local leaders and policymakers to more actively bargain for business investment, not only by creating greater incentives for businesses (by offering tax breaks or clearing favorable parcels of land through the use of eminent domain) but also by actively inviting private actors to partake in the urban development process, introducing more “public-private partnerships” as ways to implement major projects. Of course, private actors will not invest in development projects out of the goodness of their hearts. Instead, they look out for profits to be made, and they may decide to abandon projects that do not meet their expectations. Some scholars have also complained that the focus of state and local governments on attracting private actors and aestheticizing the urban environment takes away attention from the needs of poorer segments of the urban population.1
The imperative of governance arises from the social, racial, and ethnic differences that have always characterized American society. America is a nation of immigrants, and for most of the nation's history, anxiety about the newcomers has been a mainstay of local and, for that matter, national politics. Attempts to curb immigration can be traced back to the 1830s when the Irish began coming to American shores in large numbers. Episodes of anti-immigrant reaction have flared up from time to time ever since, especially during times of economic stress. The United States has a long history of being an ethnic and racial democracy, where people of color were not only disenfranchised but enslaved to build the colonial economy. Serious steps toward a more inclusive democracy have been implemented practically only throughout the past century—often including fallbacks and stagnation. It is embarrassing that even today, historically disadvantaged groups do not enjoy the same privileges as white people, from wealth accumulation to personal safety. Therefore, ethnic and racial conflicts have been such a constant feature of American politics that they have long shaped national electoral and partisan alignments. At the metropolitan level, bitter divisions have often pitted central cities against suburbs and one suburb against the next.
The extreme fragmentation of America's metropolitan areas has its origins in the process of suburbanization that began unfolding in the late nineteenth century. For a long time, the term “urban” referred to the great cities of the industrial era, their diverse mix of ethnic groups and social classes, and their commanding national presence as centers of technology and economic production. The second “urban” century was very different. Increasingly, the cities of the industrial era became surrounded by rings of independent political jurisdictions—what came to be called suburbs. Beginning as early as the 1920s, the great industrial cities went into a long slide even while the suburbs around them prospered. Much of this can be traced back to systemic racism, where state institutions closed the doors to social upward mobility (in terms of jobs, homeownership, and equity) to people of color. Ultimately, an urban geography emerged that was composed of a multitude of separate jurisdictions ranging from white, segregated suburbs to hypersegregated cities inhabited mostly by people of color. Recently, the central cities have begun to attract affluent (and especially younger) residents, and the suburbs have become more representative of American society as a whole. Even so, a complicated mosaic of governments and even privatized gated communities continue to be important features in the daily life of urban residents: Where people live greatly influences with whom they come into contact with, their tax burdens and level of municipal services, and even their political outlook. Within metropolitan areas, there is not one urban community but many.
The three strands that compose city politics in America—the imperative of economic growth, the challenge of governance, and the rise of the fragmented metropolis—can be woven into a narrative that allows us to understand the forces that have shaped American urban politics, both in the past and in our own time. Reading a letter to the editor of the local newspaper protesting a city's tax subsidy for a new stadium (a clash of values typical of the politics of growth); walking down a busy city street among people of every color and national background (which serves as a reminder of the diversity of interests and needs governance must address); entering a suburban gated community (and thus falling under the purview of a privatized governing association, still another of the many governing units that make up the metropolis): All of these experiences remind us that there are consistent patterns and recurring issues that shape the political dynamics of urban politics in America.

The Politics of Growth

Local communities cannot be preserved without a measure of economic vitality, and this is why growth and prosperity have always been among the most important priorities for urban residents and their civic leaders. Founded originally as centers of trade and commerce, the nation's cities and towns came into being as places where people could make money and find personal opportunities. From the very beginning, European settlement in North America involved schemes of town promotion. The first colony, Jamestown, founded in 1607, was the risky venture of a group of English entrepreneurs who organized themselves into a joint-stock company. Shares sold in London for about $62 in gold. If the colony was successful, investors hoped to make a profit, and of course, the colonists themselves had gambled their very lives on the success of the experiment. Likewise, three centuries later, when a flood of people began spilling beyond the eastern seaboard into the frontier of the new nation, they founded towns and cities as a way of making a personal bet on the future prospects of a particular place. The communities that grew up prospered if they succeeded in becoming the trading hub for a region and an export platform for agricultural and finished goods moving into the national economic system. For this reason, the nineteenth-century movement across the continent placed towns at the leading edge of territorial expansion:
America was settled as a long, thin line of urban places, scattering outward and westward from the Atlantic seaboard. The popular imagination has it that farmers came first and villages later. The historian's truth is that villages and towns came first, pulling farmers along to settle the land around and between urban settlements.2
Each town was its own capitalist system in miniature, held together by the activities of entrepreneurs in search of profit and personal advancement. The restless pursuit of new opportunities encouraged the formation of what urban historian Sam Bass Warner has called a national “culture of privatism,” which stressed individual efforts and aspirations over collective or public purposes: “[The] local politics of American cities have depended for their actors, and for a good deal of their subject matter, on the changing focus of men's private economic activities.”3 The leading philosophy of the day promoted the idea that by pursuing their own individual interests, people were also contributing to the welfare of the community.
On the frontier, the founders of cities and the entrepreneurs who made their money in them recognized that in order to ensure their mutual success, they would have to take steps to promote their city and region. Local boosters promoted their city's real or imagined advantages—a harbor or strategic location on a river, for example, or proximity to rich farming and mining areas. They also boasted about the local culture: music societies, libraries, and universities. And they went further than boasting; they used the powers of city government to promote local growth. Municipalities were corporations that could be used to help finance a variety of local undertakings, from subscriptions in railroad stock to improvements in harbors and docks. There was broad support for such undertakings because citizens shared the perception that local economic vitality was absolutely necessary to advance the well-being of the urban community and everyone in it.
Today, support for measures to promote the local economy continues to be bound up with people's attachments to place and community. Without jobs and incomes, people simply cannot stay in the place that gives life to family, neighborhood, and local identity. The environmental and social effects of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in the spring and summer of 2010 illustrate this point. As the disaster unfolded, it seemed certain that thousands of jobs would be lost in a long arc stretching from southern Louisiana to the Florida coast. At the time, tourism was expected to drop by half on Florida's Gulf Coast, costing the state at least 200,000 jobs.4 In Louisiana, fishing, shellfish, and other industries seemed to be on the verge of being wiped out. When people talked about the disaster to news reporters, they spoke not only of the loss of livelihood but also, with great emotion, about its effect on family values and community traditions—about the loss of a “way of life.”
No matter how calamitous, the oil spill was not likely to make coastal communities disappear overnight, no matter how hard it may have been to recover (fortunately, the long-term consequences of the spill were not as severe as many feared). People identify with the community within which they live, and they are often reluctant to move even in the face of genuine hardship. The resilience of community was illustrated in the 1970s and 1980s when massive losses of businesses and jobs hit the industrial heartland of the Midwest and Northeast. The rapid deindustrialization of a vast region threatened the existence of entire communities. The Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, region experienced a 44 percent loss in manufacturing jobs from 1979 to 1988, three-quarters of them related to steel. Unemployment levels reached as high as 20 percent, not only in Pittsburgh but also in Detroit and several other cities of the industrial belt.5 Some people fled for more prosperous areas of the Sunbelt, but a great many of them elected to stay. Rather than giving up, in city after city public leaders took measures to rebuild their economies; indeed, in most places, the cause of local renewal took on the character of a permanent crusade. After the 2008 economic crisis, Detroit was essentially declared dead. In 2013, Detroit declared bankruptcy, becoming the largest American city to take this step.6 Public buses drastically cut down service to only serve the most essential routes; trash collections were skipped, and the grid of streetlights was cut to only about 60% of its capacity.7 There was even talk of consolidating the city, condensing its neighborhoods into a smaller grid, in order to cut down costs. By 2017, it looked like the city was starting to bounce back from the brink of death. In 2010, the mortgage lending company Quicken Loans moved its offices to downtown Detroit, where real estate was cheaper than ever before.8 Artists have transformed abandoned buildings, young Millennials are flooding some of the city's downtown neighborhoods. It is clear, however, that the Creative Class alone won't save Detroit. It is also the r...