Read Full Report

Date: Sept. 21, 1999
Contacts: Vanee Vines, Media Relations Associate
Megan O'Neill, Media Relations Assistant
(202) 334-2138; e-mail <>


Publication Announcement

States Should Consider Steps to Expand
Opportunities in Metropolitan Areas

In many of the nation's inner cities, the story of urban decline is familiar, but their problems are actually metropolitan in scope. And a seldom-told part of the story involves how the sheer number and variety of local governments, each going its own way, often make socioeconomic inequalities between city and suburban residents worse. Local governments, for example, adopt fiscal, tax, and zoning policies that may increase racial and economic separation among communities. The result is unequal educational and employment opportunities as well as wide disparities in tax burdens and public services. To a great extent, where individuals and families live significantly shapes the opportunities available to them.

To reduce inequalities in metropolitan areas, state governments should consider taking new steps to level the playing field between disadvantaged inner-city residents and their more affluent suburban neighbors, says a new report from the National Research Council of the National Academies. Patterns of extreme segregation and disparity damage the economies of metropolitan areas and the overall quality of life. The report, however, does not recommend specific state actions. Instead, it explores policy options that states might consider to expand housing, educational, and employment opportunities for poor city residents, particularly those living in high-poverty neighborhoods.

For example, states could boost enforcement of fair-housing laws and monitor more closely the way jurisdictions apply land-use regulations, with an eye toward curbing housing discrimination. Both state and local governments also could promote school-reform initiatives aimed at improving the quality of education for disadvantaged students. And state policy-makers could not only seek ways to connect inner-city residents with suburban jobs, but also consider measures to reduce funding differences among jurisdictions, the report says.

All metropolitan-area residents pay for socioeconomic inequality. Poverty can feed self-destructive or antisocial behavior, leading to a loss of personal security and social order as well as to problems such as criminal conduct and low school performance, the report points out. Taxpayers also see the results in higher expenditures for social services, housing assistance, police protection, and prisons. Just as everyone can enjoy the benefits of city life, everyone is affected when cities deteriorate.

In addition to taking steps to reduce housing discrimination and increase educational opportunities, states should explore ways to help inner-city residents gain access to jobs in the suburbs, where much of today's employment growth occurs, the report says. States also should consider ways to ease the financial burdens cities face as they attempt to stretch limited tax dollars to provide an increasingly needy population with public services. State-aid policies could be designed to favor impoverished jurisdictions within metropolitan areas, for instance.

While the report examines the role of state government in bridging socioeconomic gaps, it also calls for more research on the link between disparity and different forms of governance. The research base is weak, but limited evidence suggests that the system of metropolitan governance often accentuates segregation and inequality. The system is characterized by large numbers of local jurisdictions in a region, local responsibility for functions such as zoning and K-12 education, and limited state oversight. Creative strategies are needed to offset this tendency without significantly weakening the vitality of local government.

The study was sponsored by the National Research Council. A committee roster follows. The Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. It is a private, nonprofit organization that provides advice on science and technology under a congressional charter.

Read the full text of Governance and Opportunity in Metropolitan America for free on the Web, as well as more than 1,800 other publications from the National Academies. Printed copies are available for purchase from the National Academy Press Web site or at the mailing address in the letterhead; tel. (202) 334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242. Reporters may obtain a pre-publication copy from the Office of News and Public Information at the letterhead address (contacts listed above).

Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education
Transportation Research Board

Committee on Improving the Future of U.S. Cities
Through Improved Metropolitan Area Governance

Alan Altshuler (co-chair)
Ruth and Frank Stanton Professor of Urban Policy and Planning,
and Director, Taubman Center for State and Local Government
John F. Kennedy School of Government
Harvard University
Cambridge, Mass.

William Morrill (co-chair)
Senior Fellow
Mathtech Inc.
Princeton, N.J.

Lawrence Dahms
Executive Director
Metropolitan Transportation Commission
Oakland, Calif.

Martha Derthick
Julia Allen Cooper Professor
Woodrow Wilson Department of Government and Foreign Affairs
University of Virginia

Anthony Downs
Senior Fellow
Brookings Institution
Washington, D.C.

James Gibson
Project Director and President
D.C. Agenda
Washington, D.C.

Genevieve Giuliano
School of Policy, Planning, and Urban Development
University of Southern California
Los Angeles

Harry Holzer
Chief Economist
U.S. Department of Labor
Washington, D.C.

Christopher Leinberger
Founder and Owner
Arcadia Land Co., and
Managing Director and Co-owner
Robert Charles Lesser and Co.
Santa Fe, N.M.

Myron Orfield
Minnesota House of Representatives, and
Executive Director
Metropolitan Area Research Corp.

Neal Peirce
Syndicated Columnist
Washington, D.C.

Paul Peterson
Henry Lee Shattuck Professor of Government, and
Director, Program on Education, Policy, and Governance
Harvard University
Cambridge, Mass.

Deborah Stone
Coordinator of Intergovernmental Affairs
Cook County

Catherine Witherspoon
Senior Policy Adviser to the Chairman
Air Resources Board
California Environmental Protection Agency

Julian Wolpert*
Henry G. Bryant Professor of Geography, Public Affairs, and Urban Planning
Woodrow Wilson School
Princeton University
Princeton, N.J.


Faith Mitchell
Study Director

*Member, National Academy of Sciences