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Chapter Summary

Rusk, David, 1999. Journeying Through Urban America. Brookings Institution Press, Washington D.C. Chapter 1: Inside Game, Outside Game

In the first chapter of his book, Journeying Through Urban America, David Rusk, accomplished organizer, mayor, and multi-positioned civil servant turned urban scholar, introduces his observations of contemporary urban trends. He focuses on the dynamics of population, regional integration and fragmentation across different cities in the U.S. Basing claims on his analysis of census data, Rusk highlights the fact that sprawl positively correlates with economic, racial and social segregation. 


Rusk introduces the concept of city elasticity (initial density times rate of boundary expansions) as a way to think about the decreasing population densities in U.S. cities.  Elastic cities are able to absorb would-be suburban growth and maintain authority over the metropolitan area despite a fast growing population. These cities witness benefits including fiscal health, spatial integration of social and economic groups, and economic growth.  The larger the market share of new development subsumed in a single governments jurisdiction, the stronger its defense against the negative effects of suburban sprawl.  Inelastic cities, losing their share of population growth to suburbs, suffer the loss of the white middle class and their commercial facilities and tax base. Inelastic cities are left with mainly poor blacks and Hispanics with desperate service needs but no tax base.


Cities can achieve metropolitan integration and become more elastic in two ways: annexation or city-county consolidation.  Inelastic cities have many fragmented little box governments, with each suburb functioning as an independent governing unit.  Elastic cities are central cities that are able to expand their jurisdiction to include population growth, either by annexing or consolidating at the county level, aggregating into one cohesive big box government. 


Rusk is quick to note, however, the political difficulties of consolidation.  If regions cannot become one governmentally, Rusk comments, they can employ quasi-regional governmental structures in as many areas as possible, including regional tax-base sharing, fair-share low and moderate income housing policies, and sprawl-limiting regional land use policies.


Rusk next moves to describing how cities became the way they are and attempts thus far at combating decline, which he describes as an inside game.  The inside game, he warns, is not enough; the outside game, or regional strategies outlined in this article, must be a complementary strategy.  He highlights best practices for these regional strategies by examining the sprawl-controlling policies of Oregon, the mixed income housing laws in Montgomery County, Maryland, and revenue sharing legislation in Dayton, Ohio and Minneapolis, Minnesota.  In his opinion, the impetus for these policies must take place at the state level.  Finally, he acknowledges the tremendous difficulty of implementing these policies faced by city, county and state leaders, but points out that it has happened in other areas, with great results.