Revenge of the Suburbs

If we are to believe recent newspaper accounts, the wall between the public and the private conceals little more than the president's peccadillos. But in the suburbs beyond the Beltway, that wall is at the crux of a very different debate. In "America, The Gated?" in the winter issue of The Wilson Quarterly, Andrew Stark discusses how private-community residents, who pay dues that fund services such as trash disposal and park and road maintenance, argue that they should be allowed to deduct these dues from their state and federal income taxes. Such "rebate talk," Stark writes, "has a distinctly self-interested twang: residents should get back any amount that goes beyond what they receive." For Stark, the issue comes down to the most basic question any community can ask itself: Do people, regardless of where they live, have a civic responsibility to shoulder the broader duties of government?The political ascendancy of suburbs is at the heart of the policy changes charted by Karen M. Paget in "Can Cities Escape Political Isolation?" in the January-February issue of The American Prospect. Between 1981 and 1993, as urban poverty swelled, federal aid to cities fell by an astonishing 66.3 percent.Paget argues that the political system is delivering less to cities because suburbanites control federal and state legislatures and, therefore, government coffers. She discusses various strategies for reversing the trend, from developing new regional structures that would broaden the fiscal and political bases of cities to the revival of the broad coalition politics that once allied urban progressives with rural populists. Suburbs are also redefining urban policy on the northern side of the 49th parallel. Canadian cities, with their excellent public transportation and pedestrian-friendly streets, have long enjoyed reputations as eminently livable.In the winter issue of the Ontario-based Alternatives Journal, Tamin Raad and Jeff Kenworthy warn that these cities are now threatened by car-dependent suburban sprawl. From the '50s to the '80s, the government agencies that controlled urban development favored land-use and transportation policies that drastically reduced the need for driving. Over the last decade, however, as population growth in cities has spilled into suburbs outside the jurisdiction of these metropolitan-based agencies, Gingrich-inspired urban policy has elbowed aside the social liberalism of the past. Responsibility for mass transit has devolved to bedroom communities wary of paying taxes for public services they don't use. Their way is the highway.The January issue of City Limits, a Manhattan-based urban affairs magazine, offers a fascinating case study of a flawed urban renewal effort in a Baltimore neighborhood. In "Left Behind in Sandtown," Barry Yeoman explains how a church-based coalition, in alliance with a local developer, funneled $60 million into the revitalization of Sandtown, an impoverished West Baltimore community.The problem, Yeoman explains, was that the alliance expected the rehabilitation of housing alone to reverse Sandtown's fortunes. The alliance, he writes, "shored up the district's facade -- but left the interior structure still in serious need of repair." Not until 1993, after most of Sandtown's housing stock had been restored, did the alliance realize its error and establish Community Building in Partnership, an organization that develops job-training, health and education programs.Alternative Radio, affiliated with the Boston-based Institute for Social and Cultural Change, specializes in broadcasting lectures and interviews with progressive-minded politicians and writers. Alternative Radio is broadcast by public and college radio stations in 30 states, seven Canadian provinces and Washington, D.C. For a free catalog of programs, tapes and transcripts, call 1-800-444-1977. Or visit its Web site: -- www.freespeech.org/alternativeradio.

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