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This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the October 30, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Spreading Out In New Jersey

Look down from an airplane as you prepare to land in

Albuquerque and you see development spreading out in all directions.

The western city occupied three square miles in 1940 and is approaching

an area of 180 square miles today. Still, says David Rusk, author,

urban policy consultant, and former mayor of Albuquerque, sprawl in

New Jersey is worse — far worse.

This is so, he explains, because the growth in Albuquerque is happening

largely because of the number of new residents moving there, while

New Jersey’s sprawl is caused largely by existing residents spreading

out more, leaving cities for the surrounding potato and soy bean fields.

Rusk speaks on "Sprawl and Fair Housing: New Jersey’s Unfinished

Agenda" on Thursday, October 31, at 7:30 p.m. at Rutgers’ Edward

J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy. Free by reservation.

Call 732-932-5475.

Rusk, a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley (Class

of 1962), was a full-time civil rights and anti-poverty worker throughout

much of the 1960s. He then entered the U.S. Department of Labor, serving

as the Manpower Administration’s legislative and program director.

In 1971 he and his wife moved to Albuquerque.

They were looking for a beautiful place to live where "I wouldn’t

have to work for Richard Nixon," says the unrepentant liberal.

He served as mayor of the city from 1977 to 1981. Even after he left

office, he and his wife stayed on to raise their children. They now

live in Washington, D.C.

"We had no choice," he says with a laugh. "We have two

grandchildren on Long Island and two in Boston."

In addition to fighting against poverty and for civil rights and to

being involved in government and politics, Rusk is a prolific writer.

His books include Cities Without Suburbs, Baltimore Unbound, and Inside

Game/Outside Game.

Rusk, an independent consultant on urban and suburban policy, says

most of his clients are from "small box" areas. New Jersey

is made up of small boxes. This means, he explains, that the state

is divided into hundreds of self-governing municipalities. This contrasts

with a "big box" locale, like Albuquerque, which, while it

is four times the size of Middlesex County, has but one government.

A common problem with small box regions or states is that coordinated

planning becomes difficult. It is far easier to plan for growth, for

development, for mass transit and roads, and for the preservation

of agriculture and open land when there are not dozens — or hundreds

— of competing governments.

He speaks about the Trenton area, separated in census data as the

City of Trenton and contiguous suburbs. It is an example, he says,

"of the same population spreading over more and more area."

From 1940 to 1990 (census data from 2000 is not yet available for

urbanized areas), the area saw a 58 percent increase in its urbanized

population, but a 268 percent increase in its urbanized land.

By contrast, Rusk says, Orlando saw a 1,113 percent increase in its

urbanized population during this period, and a 1,485 percent increase

in its urbanized land — close to a one-for-one increase.

The Trenton area is not the worst example of existing residents spreading

out. "Buffalo had a 7 percent growth in its urbanized population,"

says Rusk, "but a 133 percent growth in its urbanized land, a

20-fold increase."

In areas like Buffalo and Trenton, sprawl during this period was first

caused, in large part, by middle class whites moving out of the city

and into the suburbs. Now racial flight has slowed down, but there

is economic flight. "Middle class blacks," says Rusk, "are

leaving the cities."

Not a man to mince words, Rusk lays responsibility for sprawl at the

feet of the federal government. Through the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, and

right into the 1960s, it lured whites into the suburbs with government-backed

mortgages so low that they made rent look expensive by comparison,

while at the same time building roads to make getting around the new

suburbs a breeze.

FHA mortgage maps were color-coded, with high risk neighborhoods,

generally defined as those with a significant black population, shown

in red. "That’s where the term `red lining’ comes from," he

says. Integrated neighbors were dubbed "high risk" too, as

were neighborhoods with even a small Jewish population.

With no mortgage loan money available, cities languished. Out in the

suburbs, developments sprouted, roads jammed up, and concerns about

preserving land and water became more pressing.

The most serious social effect of routing the middle class away from

the cities, says Rusk, is that the children left behind are not getting

a decent education.

"I just got a call from Camden," says Rusk. "They want

to put another $40 million into the schools." In his opinion,

the attempt to improve inner city schools by throwing more money at

them is futile."

"For 35 years," he says, "every study has shown that the

single most important factor in the success of a school is who the

kids are. There is no finding that is more consistent, or more consistently

ignored." Poor children sitting in classes made up entirely of

other poor children just do not do well. Seat those same children

in desks alongside middle class children, and their performance improves.

What’s more, says Rusk, the performance of the middle class kids does

not suffer.

Rather than put more money into city schools, towns need affordable

housing to get poor children into middle class communities — and

largely middle class schools.

The best way to accomplish this, says Rusk, is through mandatory inclusionary

zoning. Under this type of zoning, every housing development of 50

units or more must include a percentage of houses for working class

people and for low income people. In Montgomery County, Maryland,

he says, 10 percent of the units in every development are set aside

for working class homeowners and 5 percent for low income homeowners.

"This is true even where market rate houses cost $1.5 million,"

he says.

Do the market rate buyers object? "They don’t seem to," he

says, "it’s a very hot housing market. And if they do, good riddance."

In New Jersey, there have been some attempts — including the Fair

Housing Act of 1985 — to locate affordable housing in middle class

suburbs, but they have not been very effective.

"I would give New Jersey a B or B- for effort and a D- for accomplishment,"

says Rusk. In a country where he believes that many states deserve

an F on both counts, it could be worse. Still, he says, "New Jersey

needs to get back to the drawing board."

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