While cleaning out some old files--six years old to be exact, I came across a fascinating summary of a report issued by the Fannie Mae Foundation in October 1999. Titled "The American Metropolis at Century's End: Past and Future Influences," the report spotlighted the top ten influences on American cities over the past 50 years and then went on to predict the top factors that will shape urban areas during the coming half century.
The report involved a survey conducted by Robert Fishman, history professor at Rutgers University, and was based on 149 responses from leading urban historians, planners and architects.
I find the lists, looking backward and forward, most interesting.
Here they are.
Top ten influences over the past 50 years:
1. 1956 Interstate Highway Act and the dominance of the automobile.
2. Federal Housing Administration mortgage financing and subdivision regulation.
3. De-industrialization of central cities.
4. Urban renewal: downtown redevelopment and public housing projects (e.g., 1949 Housing Act).
5. Levittown (the mass-produced suburban tract house).
6. Racial segregation and job discrimination in cities and suburbs.
7. Enclosed shopping malls.
8. Sunbelt-style sprawl.
9. Air conditioning.
10. Urban riots of the 1960s.
Fishman noted that the single most important message in the survey findings is the overwhelming impact of the federal government on American cities. Public policies promoted suburbanization and sprawl.
The top 10 influences over the next 50 years:
1. Growing disparities of wealth.
2. Suburban political majority.
3. Aging of the Baby Boomers.
4. Perpetual "underclass" in central cities and inner-ring suburbs.
5. "Smart Growth"--environmental and planning initiatives to limit sprawl.
7. Deterioration of the "first-ring" post-1945 suburbs.
8. Shrinking household size.
9. Expanded super-highway system of "outer beltways" to serve new-edge cities.
10. Racial integration as part of the increasing diversity in cities and suburbs.
Fishman reports that respondents were in more disagreement about the future than the past. Most believe that the "urban crisis" will only intensify and continue going forward.
The two lists provide much to ponder, don't they?
I have a hunch that if the exercise were repeated today, just six years later, the ranking of the Internet would be much higher.
It seems clear that sound, thoughtful, intentional public policy can affect real world outcomes. People who live the cities of America need to be exercising more influence.
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