Choice and Continuity
American Urban Life confuses us in its intermingling of endless repetition with ceaseless change. Consider our habitual responses. We do not see in the brand-new downtown apartment towers or the freshly carpeted suburban model home the inevitable repetition of failure which surely awaits them. Nor do we see in the aging suburbs and dreary slums the economic vitality of the offices, stores, and factories in which their residents work. The newness is a goal for family achievement, the reality of aging is either to be obliterated or escaped. The past is not seen in the present, or the jobs in the houses. These are deep habits of mind. Since at least the founding of the Republic we have been concealing failure from ourselves with newness, and ever since we proved unable to protect our farmer and artisan forefathers from the oppressions of the workplace we have desperately sought to isolate home from work. Thus for generations we have dwelt in a self-created urban wilderness of time and space, confounding ourselves with its lusty growth and rising to periodic alarms in the night. It is no accident that we have no urban history.
Perhaps the frightening specter of black cities of needless suffering at home and the prevalence of poverty across the world will force us finally to look more steadily at what we are and do. As a nation we will not thereby be free, but we will confront both the weight of the past and the freedoms of the present. Should we venture out beyond the narrow confines of habitual behavior, we will carry with us our traditional
values—for what else will guide us? Thus, if we are to have new cities they must be compounded of the aims and contradictions of our long quest for open competition, inclusive community, and rapid innovation. No matter what confronts us, we will make our choices within the boundaries of these traditional ideals.
Our cities, burdened as they are by the constructions and habits of the past and yet filled with the bustle of ever-present change, tell us much about the weight of continuity and the dimensions of choice. Although the social geography of the dispersed metropolis differs substantially from its predecessors, still its class and racial segregation, and its class, racial, and sexual discrimination testify to the terrible endurance of past habits. Flourishing amid unprecedented wealth and extraordinary mass freedoms of movement and communication, they bring to a climax the long trends of American city building. Such segregation and discrimination violate every ideal we hold: they foster unequal care and education of children, shut out adults from jobs and homes, foster unemployment and underemployment, maintain wages below decent living standards, create slums, stifle personal freedom, creativity and expression, deliver the wealth of the city to the rich and the powerful, divide the city against itself, and nourish an exploitative politics.
Class and racial segregation and class, racial, and sexual discrimination lie at the root of almost all the pathologies of the current city. As manifestations of our nation's deepest feelings, of our long racist, capitalist, and sexist traditions, such behavior is both the most grievous, and the most difficult of all the burdens which the past has fastened upon the present. The essence of our urban history has been rapid growth and pervasive change working within the confines of ceaseless exploitation of white over black, rich over poor, men over women. The contradictions of slums and suburbs, freeways and sidewalks, research hospitals and welfare clinics, new towns and public housing projects, are but the latest manifestations of the American way.
Since segregation and discrimination are the most pervasive failings of the modern city and thus the social issues which we must attack if we are to realize more of the potentials of our ideals, let us review our urban history in these terms. Where we now stand, some aspects of the metropolis offer us a great deal of latitude in choosing a fresh path, while others do not lend themselves easily to an attack on this negative inheritance.
With the rise of cities, the social value and interconnections among
parcels of land soon outstripped any benefits from treating real property as a civil liberty. In the face of urban interdependencies, the attempt to maintain a property law oriented in this tradition fostered a continuous stream of needless anomalies, from inadequate sanitation in the early nineteenth century to the injustices of today's urban-renewal and highway projects. True, legal reform could overcome some of the past handicaps. Especially it could redress the balance of power between landlord and tenant, public projects and private abutters, metropolitan plans and neighborhood improvement, and inner-city residents and suburban landholders. Yet no amount of legal reform and no amount of regulation can provide every city dweller with a decent home and a suitable living environment. Despite 150 years of urban growth and ever-shifting patterns of housing style and location, the trickle-down private housing market has never been able to meet these standards for the bottom third of our population. The changing measure set by the middle-class consensus as to what constituted adequate housing in 1870, or 1920, or 1970 has never been matched despite generations of reform. It can be met only by long-sustained government action.
Since the sheer supply of housing has the greatest impact upon the quality of housing for the third of our population with the lowest income, the government must become a major builder so that there is an abundant urban housing stock. As the repeated failures of philanthropic projects never fail to demonstrate, such a government program must start with a conviction of the right of all Americans to decent housing. From this platform the government should enter the housing field as a builder of model subdivisions, apartments, and new towns that conform to the consensus of our day. The advantages of such an approach are many. By building on a large scale according to accepted norms, state and federal agencies can influence the private market to conform to such standards, just as the TVA example stood as the yardstick for private utility operation elsewhere. The building of large quantities of housing is also the most promising way to break the barriers of class and racial segregation. The barriers will fall in two ways. First by offering the poor, the old, and the black a multiplicity of locations, many now pinned down in one part of the city will be able to relocate. Second, the plentiful housing stock will benefit the mass of white working-class and lower middle-class citizens who must now find homes within the narrowest of choices. Today's pockets of public housing projects heighten class and racial animosities because they benefit so few at an obvious cost to local
taxpayers who themselves are struggling to maintain a grip on home-ownership.
Finally, since land and public services are the essence of housing costs and the key to successful development, the government should become a buyer and seller of metropolitan land in its own right so that it may harvest the speculative profits of urban growth and coordinate the timing and placement of public investments and services. The state housing authorities appear to be agencies of sufficient scale and expertise to take metropolitan-wide action for major home building and for major class and racial integration programs. In view of the importance of land and services to the ultimate land and housing package, they need not be the builders of homes themselves but could leave construction to the private market, regulating its quality and subsidizing low-income occupants. Whatever the administrative mode, the public capture of the public value of urban land could go a long way toward financing decent housing and achieving a desegregated, free-choice metropolis.
With the U.S. Routes completed in the late twenties, the airline schedules established in the fifties, and the interstate highways almost completed today, the latest transportation revolution is complete. The national network of cities is now functioning on the basis of these systems, and the internal structure of the metropolis and megalopolis is rapidly assuming an appropriate configuration. On the national level, further allocation of the Highway Trust Funds should be coordinated with a federal urban growth policy that would seek to bring all Americans into their share of the wealth of the nation. In such a context, further elaboration of transportation becomes part of a series of planned urban and regional programs that would combine investments in research, education, health, housing, public utility, and environmental quality. As the Los Angeles case and European examples show, such coordinated programs can effectively aid low-income populations and depressed areas.
In underdeveloped countries lack of capital resources forces the harshest of choices in selecting the priorities and placement of such investments, but the wealth of the United States allows a broader approach. We need not apply the strictest tests to urban planning to determine whether one cluster of investments or another will promote the most rapid national economic growth, but may instead only require that our national planning show reasonable progress toward redistributing jobs, income, and living standards to the benefit of depressed areas
or depressed populations. We can leave to the open conflicts of inter-regional federal politics the decision whether such aid take the form of modernizing Appalachia, or whether instead it makes it possible for the poor of these areas to move to new high-standard urban areas.
A serious transportation problem, however, remains neglected within the metropolises of the nation. Women, blacks, and some of the poor in general lack decent access to jobs which pay a living wage in their regions. In such cases transportation planning must be combined with a full-employment, living-wage policy. If we can do nothing else for the cities of the nation, we could see to it that no American goes unemployed or underemployed, and that no American need work for wages which will not support a decent standard of living. A number of European countries have achieved this minimum. Such a commitment carries as its immediate and far-reaching consequences the funding of consumer demand to stimulate the economy, and the support of family budgets which grant immediately a large measure of freedom and equality to our low-income fellow citizens. Progressive taxation and national fiscal planning are the prerequisites of such a crucial urban policy, but a residual urban transportation issue remains.
With the interstates in place and job locations scattering in response to their efficiency, most Americans go to work by automobile. The automobile mode is more convenient than public transportation, multiplies the effective range of job choice, and increases social freedoms after working hours. The Los Angeles demonstration shows what we might expect if a metropolitan transportation program were tied to a national full-employment and living-wage policy. There a public agency was specifically charged with serving as the transportation advocate of the poor, for arranging new bus routes where existing companies could adapt their schedules, and of operating its own multiple-destination bus service. By such subsidizing of public transportation for the poor, many of them, especially women, were able to find jobs outside their immediate neighborhoods. Had such a program been continued and the women able to earn a living wage, in time they could have purchased cars of their own, thereby decreasing the need for subsidized bussing. Over the long run, say a decade, these paired policies could be expected to provide the poor with a way to purchase entrance into the freedoms of the metropolis and reduce the need for public transportation to a kind of taxi service for the old and the disabled.
At present, however, an active middle-class coalition is lobbying in
Washington and in state legislatures to introduce costly traffic reforms which will perpetuate the injustices of our present transportation system at a new higher level of costs. The coalition for rail transportation consists of middle-class commuters, suburban environmentalists who are concerned with urban aesthetics and air pollution, rail-equipment suppliers, tax-hungry mayors, and downtown real-estate men who hope to find yet another subsidy to shore up inner-city land values. To this group is added professional planners and architects whose nostalgia for the highly concentrated city of America before World War I has led them to argue that urban civilization cannot endure in a multicentered metropolis. The coalition powerfully resembles the same union that sponsored the City Beautiful and urban-renewal projects which cost our cities so much and did nothing to help low-income Americans achieve equal membership in our society. In this case, however, rail proponents argue that the construction of rail lines will let the central-city poor reach jobs on the fringe. So it would—a few in a limited way. There was a time in the thirties when rails, busses, and highways could have been planned as a coordinated metropolitan system and such plans would have caused the city to conform to its patterns, but now with the superhighways in place it is too late. To be a full-fledged member of the American city means to own a car, and everyone knows it.
Even if the rail lines duplicated every intrametropolitan superhighway, and no one has yet dared to suggest such a costly duplication of investment and horrendous operating subsidy, the poor would still have less job access than if they had cars because they would still need to get from their homes to the stations, and from the stations to the scattered workplaces. The subsidies, for their part, would tie up billions of dollars which could better be used for incremental addition to existing road networks, new schools, parks, health facilities, and minibus subsidies. A nonpolluting automobile and reform of the local property tax are all that is required to save our cities and their disadvantaged populations from yet another massive raid by the rich and the midle class on the public treasury.
The transportation and technological climate that caused the national network of cities to grow and conform to its configuration also nourished the bureaucratization of modern urban life. Today's corporate cities offer immediate possibilities for ending segregation and discrimination, and in the long run the potential for a more humane and democratic way of life. Throughout our history, conditions in the work-
places of the city have been the most important determinants of the quality of urban life. The discipline, machinery, hours, and social amenities of work have set the boundaries of families' everyday experience. Although a new middle class of professionals and proprietors has burgeoned with the expansion of suburban retailing and services, a much larger segment of urban society labors in private and public bureaucracies. Factory workers, salesmen, clerks, engineers, schoolteachers, municipal employees, medical personnel, altogether a giant fraction of the modern city's population at every skill level, now participate in and endure bureaucratic labor. In this labor rests the fate of our cities.
The ability of large organizations to manage complex tasks and to coordinate diverse personnel makes them ideal instruments for assistance in managing urban growth and helping with the task of full employment and living wages. In Europe, subsidies and licenses are used to get businesses to locate in accordance with national and regional employment plans, and there is no reason why both private and public corporations in this country cannot be asked to meet similar demands. At the same time, the underserving of the urban physical and social environment makes the large public corporations of our cities ideal candidates for full-employment hiring. Nothing is more absurd in the contemporary American city than its neglect of public services while thousands of young people and older men and women go unemployed or underemployed.
In the long run, the bureaucratized workplace offers the chance for a major improvement in the quality of urban life. At present the corporate society, both in our capitalism and in other nations' socialism, delivers altogether too much power to the elites at the top of the bureaucracies. At the same time, the mass of employees are organized into authoritarian hierarchical relationships in the plant, office, store, or public institution. From this pervasive structure comes the management which makes the cars that pollute and rust away, the office that won't promote women or hire blacks, the communications media which lie to the public, the chain stores which cheat their customers, the hospital which serves the doctors, the school which cannot teach the children. In short, bureaucracy institutionalizes all the bad habits of the general culture and by its institutional size and many levels of responsibility erects a deep defense which makes any of these evils hard to dislodge.
The student strikes, workers' wildcat walkouts, the sudden spread of
unions among professionals, women's protests, and consumer movements in the developed countries of the world express the pent-up frustrations of people who sense some of the possibilities of our new social situation and who face instead the senseless oppression of bureaucratic control over their lives. Although unionization has protected many workers from the worst kinds of exploitation and the rise of productivity has benefited many more, as things now stand neither the consumer nor the employee has any real control over the work of the city and hence no control over the essence of his culture and his daily environment. No country has yet devised methods for the democratic control of production and services by consumers or democratic control of the mode of work by the employees; yet if our cities are to approach our goals of open competition, community, and innovation and not become managed societies run for the benefit of the elite, we must face the fact of the bureaucratized metropolis.
Consider how far we now are from respecting the rights of consumer and employee as commanding the same respect as one's rights as a voter in the political city. Recall the expression on the school superintendent's face when the students demanded control of their schools, or the office manager's incredulous expression when challenged for discrimination against blacks or women, or the shock and disbelief among the executives at the General Motors stockholders' meeting when a minority suggested that consumers should be represented. Our executives no more believe that the consumer and the employee are capable of intelligently representing their own interests than the British colonial governors of the eighteenth century believed Americans could govern themselves. Unfortunately for us all, most Americans also don't. We accept responsibility without autonomy, routine without meaning, demands for loyalty in the face of the most obvious fraud and injustice, consider power legitimate when exercised in the name of property or title, and make our separate peace within the interstices of routine bureaucracy. For our discomfort and the malaise of the city we prescribe more of the same—pills, police, education, more enlightened bureaucratic management, more consumerism. The highly organized structure of the modern city and the heightened consciousness of the sixties do, however, offer a place to begin. The group structure of the most urban workplaces is already a form which can be subject to the same sort of politicization as government institutions. In the public corporations where there is now the greatest conflict, in public housing, welfare, recreation, health, edu-
cation, and police, groups of embattled consumers and harassed employees are demanding representation in management decisions. Examples of participatory management and cooperative enterprise exist in scattered private firms. We have the precedent of the New Deal encouragement of rural cooperatives and the recent Great Society programs to tell of the possibilities for public aid to such experiments. In the long run the continued health of American urban society will depend upon the extension of democracy into the bureaucratic workplaces which now control the fate of the city and its inhabitants.
It is customary to conclude books on urban reform with a lament over the decay of the neighborhoods and the decline of small-scale community life. Although some neighborhoods are ravaged by heroin, many are afflicted by poverty, and all suffer the disease of white racism, there is no reliable historical evidence which suggests that local government, local institutions, or local life are decaying. The behavior of local government and the studies of social science show that a broad consensus on what constitutes a decent American life runs throughout the city. A decent job, a good education for one's children, a comfortable home, and adequate health care are on everyone's list of priorities, and the cultural variations by class, race and religion which give specific meaning to these priorities are not very wide. Wide enough to tip the balance in a local election, to be sure, but narrow enough to support a common set of public and private institutions in all but the impoverished sections of the city.
When the Presidents of the United States decide to finance their wars with inflation and unemployment, it is the local community which must cope with the impacts. When tax lawyers and Congressmen connive to destroy an equitable progressive tax structure, it is the neighborhoods which must suffer the housing shortages, overcrowded schools, and hospitals. When the young people begin to march for civil rights and peace, it is the churches that organize for support. When the state police beat and shoot the prisoners, it is volunteers from the city who drive out to the prison to see if they can help the convicts. When legislatures and Congress fear to regulate the smokestacks and automobiles of the nation, it is the Boy Scouts and housewives who gather up the newspapers and collect the bottles. For every race-torn town in the metropolis, there are others that are coping patiently with the transition to an integrated society.
American urban neighborhoods are not nor have they ever been
peasant villages; nor are they nor have they ever been model republics. Yet to an extraordinary degree, considering the rapid movement of millions of American families, they have been able to muster men and women who pass petitions, sit patiently for hours on local boards, and help out their friends and neighbors in emergencies. To the extent that the American city is now rotten, it is rotten at the top, not the bottom. What the neighborhoods need at the present moment, and what they have been needing ever since our cities became the creatures of large interconnecting economic forces and institutions, is the assistance of democratic national and regional planning.