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Article Summary

Orfield, Myron.1997. "Metropolitics: Coalitions for Regional Reforms," Brookings Review. 15(1):6-9.

Using Minneapolis-Saint Paul as an example, Myron Orfield discusses the urban decline, inner-suburban decay, and urban sprawl that has blighted so many American cities over the last several decades. He then presents regional solutions for deconcentrating poverty, which Orfield sees as the key to solving the myriad of urban problems that stem from poverty and segregation.


Throughout the 1980s and 90s, Minneapolis-Saint Paul experienced the push of concentrated need in the inner city, along with the pull of concentrated resources in the outer suburbs. These forces combined to create intense white flight from the inner core of the Twin Cities, resulting in rapid segregation and the concentration of poverty. Crime and joblessness in these areas soared. At the edge of the Twin Cities metropolitan region, the most prosperous developing communities used restrictive zoning to exclude "undesirables" and build a broad, rich tax base to keep services high and taxes low.


The traditional approach to solving the problems of Americas inner cities has been to try to turn their disadvantaged residents into middle-class people. This has proven to be nearly impossible; the solution remaining is to end the unnatural concentration of poverty. Deconcentration helps solve the problems of poverty on two levels. For individuals, it opens access to opportunity in the form of jobs, unstressed schools, and adequate local services. For a community, it breaks poverty down into more manageable pieces and creates community and metropolitan stability.


Orfield gives two steps, to be implemented on a regional level, toward the deconcentration of poverty. The first is regional reform in fair housing, including the destruction of regulatory barriers to affordable housing in the suburbs. Orfield contends that once affordable housing is built at the metropolitan periphery, the expansion of the urban and suburban distressed areas will slow and ultimately stop.


The second reform is tax-base sharing. The most prosperous areas of the metropolitan region will share a certain portion of commercial, industrial, or residential property taxes on high valued homes region-wide. Orfield argues that property tax-base sharing: (1) creates equity in the provision of public services, (2) breaks the intensifying metropolitan mismatch between social needs and property tax-based resources, (3) undermines local fiscal incentives supporting exclusive zoning, (4) undermines local fiscal incentives supporting sprawl, and (5) ends intra-metropolitan competition for tax base.


In Minneapolis-Saint Paul, working class suburbs have joined forces with the inner city to create regional reform. The first step was the metro-majority coalition in the state legislature, followed by the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability. These local coalitions that are beginning to take action in the Twin Cities provide an example to cities everywhere facing polarization.