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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
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.
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
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
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
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,"
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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