Place Matters

Place Matters

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Place Matters: Metropolitics for the Twenty-first Century

“Could suburbs prosper independently of central cities? Probably. But would they prosper even more if they were a part of a better-integrated metropolis? The answer is almost certainly yes.” (p. 66)
Deepening economic inequality is fundamentally associated with the spatial polarization between central cities and sprawling suburbs, and between wealthy regions and poorer ones. Government policies have promoted economic and racial segregation, encouraged businesses and the wealthy to move to outer suburbs, and effectively limited the poor and minorities to central cities or troubled inner-ring suburbs.
It was interesting to find that 39 percent of all earnings in New Orleans come from residents who worked in the central city. I did not think that the central city of New Orleans had such a dense market for higher paying jobs! This fact is very positive for the city, and hopefully the corporate services industry continues to grow here in New Orleans because the density allows for overall productivity. And the suburban property values outside New Orleans depend on the availability of jobs and an active economy in the Central Business District. So places like Metairie and River Ridge or “edge cities” really rely on the strength of the central city of New Orleans. Therefore it should be the vested interest of both city and suburban residents to scrutinize federal policy that affects the economic health of all cities.
After reading Place Matters, I realized that all city mayors have struggled and will continue to struggle with addressing and implementing a plan for the concentration of poverty in their cities. They all take different approaches- some believe that instead of concentrating on anti-poverty programs, they want attract new investments, such as international companies to promote smart growth. This is to trickle down the services from taxes and create jobs for the motivated poor. In order to attract these international companies, the city infrastructure must also be attractive. Policies that do not take care of city infrastructure and development get little interest from outside corporate capital for investment. Secondly, they also promise things like better jobs, better low-income housing, and better schools but all to often this is a ploy to rally support for votes. Inner city poverty ends up being far too great of an overwhelming problem; so voting is usually swayed to more programs that aid the poor rather than fix the problems. The wealthy want and need different things than the poor and much less involved than their counterparts.

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Those who involve themselves reap the benefits and poverty is not the major concern of those involved. They want an agenda with attainable goals, and raising the poverty level is not one of those attainable goals.
The authors of Place Matters see the need for a policy agenda that fosters economic integration and highlights the interests of the working poor, the middle-class, and the wealthy. I agree with the authors that we should not accept our levels of poverty, crime and homelessness as normal. I also agree that these levels of crime, poverty, and homelessness are mostly symptoms of national policy. Yet I think that the free market has the power to reduce poverty and promote social integration for those who want to better themselves. There is a need to put people at the center of development, but personal motivation is required and with years of policy that promotes freeloaders, we continue to suffer from lower levels of development. We should be focusing on our investments in people's education and well being, because their education and health are critical to their productivity in the community. Social development that recognizes empowering the poor to utilize environmental resources continually is a necessary foundation for sustainable development. The unsustainable pattern of consumption and production, particularly in industrialized countries, is a matter of grave concern, aggravating poverty and imbalances the availability of resources to help develop the poverty stricken.
The authors want to integrate economic, cultural, and social policies so that they become mutually supportive, but I do not think they acknowledge the interdependence of public and private spheres that would enable the policies to be successful. Create an enabling economic environment aimed at promoting more equitable access for all to income, resources and social services.
I think that the government is responsible for promoting dynamic, open, free markets. Also, they must recognize the need to intervene in these markets, to prevent market failure, and promote stability and long-term investment. To ensure fair competition and harmonize economic and social development, policies must include language directed towards public and community involvement and recruitment. The development and implementation of appropriate programs would entitle and enable people living in poverty the opportunity of advancement and to grab a stake in the central city the live in. Reinforcement and the means and capacities for people to participate in the formulation and implementation of social and economic policies and programs through decentralization is necessary. Through open involvement in institutions and strengthening the abilities and opportunities of civil society, local communities can develop their own organizations, resources and activities that will develop pride in their communities.
I felt that the authors thought it would be simple to find the politicians and/or community leaders who would create community institutions that would reinforce stronger unions, help alleviate poverty, and move middle-class residents into the city. However, the American government is not developed as a socialistic democracy where the government allocates and provides for all. In Washington, they could start with limiting bidding wars among localities, insisting all federal programs (ex: housing and job training) be implemented regionally, and diverting a big chunk of the home mortgage deduction to low-income families. They could improve place through allowing specific aid that is appropriated in the forms of incentives for removal from welfare and self-improvement initiatives.
Ideally the goal for the central city would be to deconcentrate the urban poor by facilitating a move to suburbs while enticing the middle class back into the city. When the middle class are attracted to the city, they bring with them needed investment. When the city and the suburb are split, then there is no community and no opportunity for critical interaction. As we see in New Orleans, mixing the two class causes resentment for people with the resources and wealth.
Douglas Massey argued that racial discrimination is the main cause of concentrated poverty. Racial discrimination, which leads to racial segregation, which leads to economic segregation, poses a great problem for any city. Each area contains a unique social network that people tend to associate with (an example would be the different boroughs in New York). People feel comfortable with those who are similar to them. Incorporating the different groups often extends the feelings of distrust and disdain as a result of the differences between them. The racial climate escalates with the increasing disparities between those who have the capital and those who do not.
At times I felt that Place Matters was overly focused on the Democratic Party and how they will lead the U.S. in ending the divisions by revitalizing our cities and ending suburban sprawl. They forget that nearly half of our citizens back the Republican Party and what policies they stand for. The whole idea of having metropolitics or achieving a political alliance will be contradictory if we say that Republicans are wrong and Democrats are right. There has to be a bi-partisan drive with a joint goal and an agreed upon route to get there. I agree that poverty is a real issue for all people, but rash and swift liberal programs may not be the answer. We feel that we need to have a playing field that is equal and fair, but the luxuries of capitalism do not provide for everyone to be winners.
I learned that of the seventy-eight largest metropolitan areas, New Orleans’ measured median household income in 1989 was the lowest, with $24,442. As a freshman coming to school at Tulane, I knew that the cost of living here in Louisiana would be much less expensive than back at home in California. I have compared monthly rent amounts with friends at school in Boston, New York City, and Georgetown and I pay two to three times less than they pay. Although residents of New Orleans have the benefit of paying less for their homes, they must give up the possibility of earning more in a different city in the U.S. I am now getting ready to graduate, and I had to weigh the cost of living to the huge wage differentials and the amount of career opportunities. Place affects each person’s access to jobs and public services (especially education), access to culture, level of personal security, the availability of medical services, and physical environment.
In order to escape the city’s problems of concentrated poverty living in a suburban community imposes costs on middle class and rich families, including less time spent with the family, more time on the road, and resulting in more stress. The authors say these residents undermine the quality of their own lives by suffering the effects of unrestricted sprawl. These are sacrifices and initiatives that have to be instilled in the poor to develop the cities and its inhabitants. It is not just this factor of course, but with the other mentioned ideas I believe it is a good foundation for change. What will be the enticing factor that will get these families to move back into the city again? Who knows for sure?
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