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Chapter 14: National Distribution and Migration Policies


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Reducing national population growth is a long-term process, the benefits of which will be experienced over many years. As the growth of the nation as a whole slows, so will local growth. Unquestionably, then, many of the problems often attributed to distribution— congestion in central cities, air pollution, aesthetically unattractive suburban growth—will be alleviated by national population stabilization. But until stabilization achieved, we must cope with the difficult problem of where the growth occurring in the interim will be located. And even after the national population stabilizes, problems associated with distribution and mobility will continue to affect the quality of life.’

Prominent among traditional American values is freedom of movement, yet blacks and other minorities are restricted in their mobility, especially from city to suburb. Access to high quality education is considered a right of all Americans, yet many rural poor living in depressed regions have inadequate skills. Environmental quality is a national goal, yet high pollution levels are common in large metropolitan areas and in some smaller urban and rural places as well.

Ameliorating these and other problems related to population movement and distribution will require a new approach to policy—one that questions the belief that local population growth is necessarily good, just as it questions the growth ethic for the nation as a whole; one that examines where population growth may appropriately be encouraged as well as where it may not; one that places new emphasis on helping people directly, in addition to aiding the places where they live; and one that gives new importance to social and environmental objectives in the establishment of public policy.


An Approach to Policy

Our traditional approach to population distribution policy and local growth has been governed by the ethic that development and growth are inherently good. This is a heritage from the age of a nearly empty continent. But now we need to recognize that continued local or regional growth in some areas may have many undesirable consequences—possibly even threatening the integrity of the human community or the ecosystem.

For many of the same reasons that the nation as a whole should welcome population stabilization, communities and regions should begin to consider seriously whether substantial further population growth is desirable. Several are already doing so. While some areas may secure important gains through an increase in population size, others have little to gain from growth per se. In fact, it is increasingly clear that social and environmental problems are often aggravated by the continued growth of large population concentrations.

At the same time, communities across the country will have to accommodate additional growth in the coming decades; the national population will grow whether or not we eventually achieve population stabilization. It would be just as irresponsible for communities to arbitrarily erect barriers to future growth as it would be to encourage growth for growth’s sake. This is not to say that all communities must accept unrestricted growth. But, the accommodation of future population is a public responsibility which must be shared by all communities and dealt with on a broad scale.

Partly as a consequence of traditional beliefs that growth is good, the focus of regional development policy has been to promote the prosperity of places. The approach is based on the philosophy that the way to ensure individual prosperity is through place prosperity. From this perspective, the best strategy to help the unemployed of a small town is to revitalize the town through better development planning and capital investment which will attract new jobs. The fortune of the individual, then, depends on the fortune of the place where he lives.

A second approach would be to emphasize helping people directly. If individuals can be helped to upgrade their skills, then one might both make “their place” more attractive for developmental investments and make the individuals themselves more mobile. With this policy approach, the individual’s future is not tied so inextricably to the future of his community. Rather, through geographic and occupational mobility, he may benefit from prosperity at home or elsewhere.

These two policies are potentially complementary. Experience has shown that training people without having appropriate job opportunities available leads to frustration and disappointment. The two policies suggest, on the one hand, attracting jobs to where people live and, on the other, equipping people to fill jobs wherever they may be located, and thus enabling them to participate in a national job market with its vastly greater range of job opportunities. The policy emphasis in the past has been on the development of places. A balanced program for the future would call for greater emphasis on the development of people. Since the adequacy of a national job market is far more readily assured than on a community-by-community basis, such a shift in policy emphasis would facilitate the task of matching jobs and people.

Economic concerns have traditionally been paramount in determining distribution patterns. They had to be, given the need to raise levels of per capita income. But in our attempts to maximize material well-being, we generally ignored other factors that contribute to well-being.

In particular, social and environmental aspects of distribution were not major considerations in either private location decisions or public policy. For example, the traditional economic evaluation of the advantages and disadvantages of life in metropolitan areas often has neglected many important social costs. Today, it has become increasingly clear that, in considering the desirability of moderating population trends or exploring new ways to improve our living environments, social and environmental factors must be given much more importance in policy decisions.


The Meaning of a Metropolitan Future

The United States is today experiencing three important shifts in population: (1) migration from low-income, rural, and economically depressed areas toward metropolitan areas; (2) a movement of metropolitan population from older, and often somewhat climatically less hospitable centers in the northeast and midwest, toward the newer, climatically favored centers of the south and west; and (3) an outward dispersion of residents from the cores to the peripheries of the metropolitan areas. The combination of these population movements and the continuing increase in our total population has resulted in the development of large metropolitan areas and urban regions—indeed, the emergence of an almost totally urban society.

Although comments about excessive urban size or concentration are so common as to be clichés, the “anthill” image of the “megalopolis” is a misleading guide for policy making. We have seen that, while the percent of the population living in large places is rising, much of this shift is due to natural increase. Furthermore, the average densities of urbanized areas are declining, not rising. We have suggested that the appropriate scale at which to grasp emerging settlement patterns includes the metropolitan area, but goes beyond it to the urban region—a constellation of urban centers dispersing outward. Basically, the urban region is an adaptation of adjacent urban centers to underlying economic change and to most Americans’ desire for dispersed suburban living. The easy communication among urban places in urban regions permits the smaller metropolitan areas to benefit from the economic advantages of agglomeration, while avoiding some of the penalties of excessive size and density. Future problems of both urban regions and the metropolis will stem, in large part, from unresolved issues of territorial and governmental structure and restrictions on residential location, not from size or density.

The transition to a metropolitan society in many ways has been beneficial, at least in terms of raising living standards and enhancing personal opportunity. Productivity and average income are higher and inequalities among residents are less pronounced in these areas than elsewhere. Some of the benefits are a result of the absolute size of a metropolitan area. Other benefits are associated with relative size. For example, the largest urban center of a region—whether it has 500,000 or 5,000,000 people—usually has the best cultural and health facilities in the region. For whatever reasons, compared to their counterparts in rural areas and small towns, the residents of larger metropolitan centers on the average have access to better health and education facilities, higher income, a wider range of employment and cultural opportunities, and broader avenues of economic improvement for disadvantaged members of the population.

While these benefits accompany metropolitan living, many urban Americans, though more prosperous than they would be in small towns, seem unhappy with the conditions under which they live. They are sensitive to the liabilities which have accompanied metropolitan growth, even if these liabilities have not always been caused by such growth.

As part of living in large metropolitan areas, the average resident is subjected to high levels of pollution and crime, congestion of all sorts, and inadequate access to the outdoors. Moreover, the scale of many metropolises promotes larger slums and ghettos. This scale effect almost inherently increases the separation created by all forms of segregation. Less definable, but no less real to many people, is a feeling of loneliness, impersonality, alienation, and helplessness fostered by being an insignificant one of millions.

Finally, total urbanization and the dominance of metropolitan areas can involve the loss of certain social and community values associated with small-town living. It may carry with it some loss of diversity in living environments-a diversity that is valuable in itself and as an indicator of freedom of residential choice.


Dual Strategy

How one balances out these considerations is necessarily a subjective matter. The evolution of the United States into a metropolitan society with many large urban areas presents both opportunities and liabilities.

Nevertheless, the Commission believes that the losses resulting from a continuation of current trends in population distribution are sufficiently serious that we should attempt to moderate them. We believe that encouraging the growth of selected urban centers in economically depressed regions in the United States night well enhance opportunities significantly for the residents of those regions. We have seen that the cultivation of growth in smaller centers might assist in he decongestion of settlement in urban regions. Furthermore, creating opportunities in these smaller centers night aid in providing a greater variety of alternative living environments.

However, on the evidence presented to us, we also recognize that powerful economic and demographic trends are not easily modified. Previous government efforts to this end, both in the United States and abroad, have not been marked by conspicuous success. Whatever future success we may have in moderating current trends, most of our population now and in the future will live in metropolitan areas, and serious population distribution problems exist in these areas. Accordingly, we also believe that new and better efforts must be made to plan for and guide metropolitan growth.

Cities, suburbs, small towns, and farms have all provided congenial environments for Americans. But, it may not be possible to accommodate every combination of tastes; it would obviously be impossible, for example, o combine Manhattan’s high-density working environment with single-family suburban homes for all who now work there. Nevertheless, in the process of guiding population movement, we should seek to enhance choices of living environments for all members of society to the extent that is possible.

However, promotion of congenial environments and places of opportunity might well be meaningless for disadvantaged people who, because of physical remoteness and immobility, are often denied access to opportunities. A man in an isolated rural town finds it very difficult, if not impossible, to take advantage of a thriving job market in a city several hours away. Similarly, suburban jobs are often too many bus hours away for the central-city black to commute on a daily basis. Whether consciously imposed, or a side effect of a shift in the locations of employment opportunities, these physical barriers create socially destructive situations which need to be remedied. Whereas mobility often provides an avenue to personal welfare, immobility or restricted access denies opportunity. The Commission thus views the reduction of involuntary immobility and restricted choice of residential location as an important goal of any population distribution policy.

A dual strategy—of attenuating and simultaneously better accommodating current trends in distribution— would therefore have several goals:


To promote high quality urban development in a manner and location consistent with the integrity of the environment and a sense of community.

To promote a variety of life style options.

To ease the problems created by population movement within the country.

To increase freedom in choice of residential location.



To further these goals, the Commission recommends that:


The federal government develop a set of national population distribution guidelines to serve as a framework for regional, state, and local plans and development.


Regional, state, and metropolitan-wide governmental authorities take the initiative, in cooperation with local governments, to conduct needed comprehensive planning and action programs to achieve a higher quality of urban development.


The process of population movement be eased and guided in order to improve access to opportunities now restricted by physical remoteness, immobility, and inadequate skills, information, and experience.


Action be taken to increase freedom in choice of residential location through the elimination of current patterns of racial and economic segregation and their attendant injustices.


In what follows, we describe the direction that we believe distribution guidelines should take and specific actions to carry out the above recommendations. Fuller and more refined goals, policies, and strategies must be generated over time, as we learn—through experimentation with alternative measures, through further research, and through continuous monitoring of trends—how best to influence the pattern that population redistribution takes.


Guiding Urban Expansion

The emergence of large regions of urban settlement requires that considerations about our environment and quality of life be reconciled with the forces that propel urban growth. How can we achieve more desirable patterns of growth than previously enjoyed, secure ecological balance, enhance the quality of life, and promote the ability of the poor and minorities to enjoy the opportunities of metropolitan areas?

In the 1960’s, about 75 percent of national growth occurred within the boundaries of metropolitan areas as defined in 1960; most of that growth was suburban. In the future, regardless of public policy, an even larger portion of national growth is likely to be metropolitan. Accommodating future national growth, then, is primarily a job of accommodating future suburban growth and of sensibly guiding the transformation of currently rural territory to urban uses as metropolitan areas physically expand. How the character and form of the next generation of suburbs develops will play a large role in determining the quality of life of the vast numbers of Americans living in these areas across the country. Will their residents have access to open space, jobs, and community facilities? Will they live in an uncongested clean environment? Will they be more satisfied in the new settlements than they are in the present suburbs?

The problems and possible solutions for promoting orderly urban growth are not new. Not long ago, the Douglas Commission on Urban Problems explored these questions in detail. Our Commission deals with these issues in recognition of the fact that the major portion of future growth will be metropolitan. As the scale of metropolitan areas increases, the importance of effective planning becomes even greater. While recognition of this need is not new, our findings suggest a degree of urgency not understood before. The territory of urban regions is expected to double between 1960 and 1980, and to grow at a slower rate after that. This means that the land we occupy in the year 2000 is largely being settled now. If we settle it badly now, we shall endure the consequences then.

To achieve effective planning and community development, we need not only more knowledge of how things might be made better, for much is known in this area, but also a new commitment on the part of government and the private sector to do things differently. Moreover, if we are going to achieve a high quality urban environment, marginal changes will not be sufficient. Local governments should broaden their interests and responsibilities beyond local parochial concerns and be responsive to metropolitan and regional objectives. Where necessary, the power of planning and implementation will have to be transferred to a regional or metropolitan-wide authority or government. The logical level from which to guide urban growth is the regional or metropolitan scale.

The interdependence of different aspects of metropolitan areas is evident. The transportation system influences land-use patterns, which in turn influence housing patterns, which in turn influence transportation patterns, and so forth. The system of financing public services influences the quality of education which influences where people seek to live. The expanding employment in the suburbs affects employment patterns in the central city. Yet most local governments within metropolitan areas traditionally have planned with little regard for the effect of their actions on neighboring communities. Where a comprehensive approach has been taken by metropolitan or regional planning agencies, the results have largely been limited because of a lack of both funds and authority to establish priorities and enforce planning decisions. The increased complexity and scale make the continued fragmentary approaches to metropolitan planning and development progressively more costly and wasteful. This suggests that the basic responsibilities for planning settlement patterns, new public facilities, and public services should be at the metropolitan level. To encourage this comprehensive approach and local cooperation, the major portion of federal funds to support planning activities in metropolitan areas should go to the appropriate multi-purpose area-wide planning agency. These agencies, in turn, can support planning efforts for individual jurisdictions within the metropolitan area.


To anticipate and guide future urban growth, the Commission recommends comprehensive land-use and public-facility planning on- an overall metropolitan and regional scale.


The quality of life in an urban area depends largely on how its land is used—the location and character of housing, the amount and accessibility of open space, the compatibility of adjacent land uses, the transportation system. Land-use regulations, principally zoning and subdivision regulations, are the chief government tools to influence local land-use patterns and the character of development.

In the past, these controls have been used by local governments largely to prevent undesired uses of land and to protect its market value. This approach has sometimes resulted in the exploitation of land for private gain instead of public benefit. Public objectives such as provision of open space or adequate low-income housing have often been secondary.

In addition, governments have had little control over the timing of development. This has produced a haphazard pattern of development where land is jumped over when it is to the economic advantage of the developer, but not necessarily in the public interest. Land is wasted, and the public provision of sewers, waterlines, and electricity becomes more expensive.

In order to promote environmental, social, and economic objectives, governments must begin to ask what the best use of land would be. New development should satisfy such public needs as ample open space and efficient and equitable transportation. It should not violate the environmental integrity or the social viability of the community. For example, developers should not be permitted to cut down valuable trees indiscriminately or skim off topsoil simply to reduce building costs. New concern for the relationship of land use to environmental quality suggests that this change in attitude has already begun. But, we still have a long way to go.


The Commission recommends that governments exercise greater control over land-use planning and development.


This could be achieved through: (1) early public acquisition of land in the path of future development to be used subsequently as part of a transportation system or for open space; (2) establishment of taxes and easements to influence the use of land and timing of development; (3) establishment of a state zoning function to oversee the use of the land; and (4) establishment of special zoning to control the development of land bordering public facilities such as highways and airports.

Suburban development need not have the sprawling, aesthetically monotonous character of many suburbs built during the 1950’s and 1960’s. The many amenities and public services now found in suburbia could be improved. This could be done at lower costs, while producing a more pleasing environment than would result if traditional practices were followed. With sensitive planning and development, new suburbs could encourage the sense of community now often lacking. Moreover, in an attempt to satisfy a diversity of preferences, a variety of living environments could be built, from low to high density, small town to cosmopolitan setting.

Although the conventional forms of suburban growth have been fostered by a variety of factors, the role of local zoning is prominent. Through lot-by-lot zoning, even those developers wishing to build comprehensive and imaginative developments encounter difficulty under the constraints of local zoning regulations and subdivision ordinances which designate lot sizes, street frontage, house placement, and even the floor space of a house.

In contrast to the usual fragmented process of urban development, a large-scale approach presents more opportunity for experimentation and innovation in site design and the building of community facilities. Unless current zoning and subdivision regulations are changed, however, the potential opportunities offered by large-scale development will not be realized. Controls must be more flexible to permit new approaches to community development, such as substituting general development guidelines for specific zoning regulations. There is no guarantee that large-scale development will result in high quality. That will require cooperation between developers and government to ensure the promotion of public objectives. But large-scale development offers an opportunity to achieve a high quality living environment.

We are already seeing some of this in planned unit developments and new towns. Designers of planned unit developments are permitted greater flexibility in site design and freedom to combine building types. In return for freedom to disregard lot-by-lot zoning regulations, developers must satisfy requirements for the entire project, and proposed plans receive discretionary public review.

A more comprehensive and larger type of development is the new town or community. These larger developments can theoretically include all the facilities and activities of a city—including shops and offices, entertainment, and health centers. New towns usually are located either within the central city as a new town-in-town, or at the periphery of a metropolitan area as a satellite city. They present the opportunity not only for comprehensive planning, but also for subsequent control of the location, timing, and sequence of land development.

However, innovation, even in planned unit developments and new communities, will be limited unless the federal and state governments provide some form of financial assistance to support experimentation. Though the form of assistance would have to be carefully determined, substantial support of experimentation, particularly when the techniques developed could be transferred to other areas, would seem very desirable.


Racial Minorities and the Poor

Historically, the cities of the United States have provided both social and economic advancement to the deprived. Disadvantaged immigrant groups have traditionally shed many of their problems by moving to the city. They have become part of the political, social, and economic life of the country. By and large, however, this process has not worked well for the blacks. Institutional racism has been more pervasive and persistent than earlier forms of ethnic discrimination, and serious inequities remain in education, housing, and employment. These inequities are continuing sources of social conflict, polarization, and isolation. As racial cleavages attain a geographic character, they can only aggravate existing social and economic distinctions. Until the restrictions on the movement of nonwhites to areas of opportunity—geographic as well as economic and social—are eliminated, their participation in society as full citizens will be incomplete.

Four years ago the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders said: “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.” It added that “white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto.” In the intervening years, little if any progress has been made to diminish the isolation of the disadvantaged. If there is any hope for a future where all people can realize common opportunities, the behavior, if not the attitudes, of whites and their institutions needs to be changed so they will no longer support racism.

Resistance to a geographically open society may not be as universal as newspaper headlines imply. According to the Commission’s survey, only 26 percent of Americans believe that racial integration in the suburbs is proceeding “too fast,” and 60 percent thought it was “too slow” or “just right.” Furthermore, in a survey conducted for the Commission on Civil Disorders, nearly half of the black respondents preferred to live in a mixed neighborhood, another third did not care, and only 13 percent preferred all black or mostly black neighborhoods. These results can be viewed as a broad commitment of the black population to mixed neighborhoods.


To help dissolve the territorial basis of racial polarization, the Commission recommends vigorous and concerted steps to promote free choice of housing within metropolitan areas.


Even without further legislation, federal agencies could do much to promote housing integration simply by changing administrative practices. This would require that the federal government become more alert to local housing practices and establish an active program to guarantee local compliance with housing laws. An additional means for pursuing these objectives might be the establishment of institutions which could buy housing in white suburbs and subsequently rent or sell them to ethnic and racial minorities. Where such programs are already operating effectively, they should be expanded and strengthened.

The disparity between white and black incomes has obviously been caused by many factors operating over the years, not the least of which is discrimination. But perhaps because of discrimination, there are other contributing factors, such as differences in education and health, which would put blacks and other minorities at an occupational disadvantage even without racial discrimination in the labor markets.


To remove the occupational sources of racial polarization, the Commission recommends the development of more extensive human capital programs to equip black and other deprived minorities for fuller participation in economic life.


This will require a coordinated set of programs including education, health, vocational development, and job counseling. Greater communication and cooperation are needed among the various organizations— public, nonprofit, corporate—involved in these programs to make them effective.

Racial discrimination, inadequate training, and poor public services are only three of a variety of conditions which help perpetuate poverty in urban areas. An additional factor is specifically related to the location and types of jobs and housing available to blacks and the poor. Access to employment, particularly jobs offering opportunities for advancement, is often restricted not only by the inability of the poor to satisfy job requirements, but also the physical inaccessibility of many jobs. Blacks and the poor are, in part, locked out of jobs because they cannot get to the suburbs where opportunities open up. Reverse commuting can be expensive, time consuming, and difficult. Suburban housing, while closer to job opportunities, is often too expensive or simply unavailable because of racial discrimination.

While the absence in the suburbs of an adequate supply of low- and moderate-income housing available to all races is certainly not the sole or even the primary cause of unemployment or underemployment in the central city, it is a contributing factor which needs to be remedied.


To reduce restrictions on the entry of low-and moderate-income people to the suburbs, the Commission recommends that federal and state governments ensure provision of more suburban housing for low- and moderate-income families.


At least two approaches could be used to increase the supply of suburban housing within the financial reach of low- and moderate-income families. First, ways could be found to lower the cost of some new or renovated suburban housing and still meet the requirements of standard quality housing. Second, families could be given some type of financial assistance to supplement the amount of money they can afford to pay for housing. But neither approach will succeed unless suburbs accept some responsibility to ensure that an appropriate amount of their housing stock is accessible to low- and moderate-income families. One would hope that this would be voluntary, and there are some signs that this is beginning to occur. But acceptance of this responsibility should be encouraged by federal, state, and local governments. For example, federal and state funds and grants could be made dependent on whether the locality fulfilled requirements relating to the amount of land or numbers of housing units designated for low- and moderate-income housing. Whatever methods are used, the increased supply of housing should be scattered throughout the suburbs to avoid a repetition of the economic and racial residential segregation now found in most metropolitan areas.

We must distinguish sharply the long-run national policy of eliminating the ghetto from a short-run need to make the ghetto a more satisfactory place to live. It is clear that improving conditions in the ghetto does not constitute an acceptable long-run solution to the racial discrimination which created the ghetto. But if we wait for the long-run solution, we shall bypass the present need for better schools, housing, public transportation, recreational facilities, parks, and shopping facilities.

These needs illustrate the imbalances between the demands on government and resources available to meet them, which accompany the fragmentation of local government within metropolitan areas. These imbalances arise in large part because local public services depend so heavily on locally raised revenues produced by locally applied taxes (principally, of course, the property tax). The present situation invites, in fact encourages, income and racial segregation between local communities—the flight of the well-to-do from cities to suburbs to which access is limited by zoning. It should not be surprising that people move with an eye to their economic self-interest. A major part of the problem lies in a system that induces people—acting in their own self -interest—to act in such ways as to produce the collective consequences that we see when we examine the levels of segregation and disparities between needs and resources within metropolitan areas.


To promote a more racially and economically integrated society, the Commission recommends that actions be taken to reduce the dependence of local jurisdictions on locally collected property taxes.


We recognize the complexity of trying to determine the best means of carrying out this objective and are not in a position to recommend one best alternative. However, any kind of tax program adopted should be progressive in nature and should provide for the distribution of revenues among jurisdictions according to need.


Depressed Rural Areas

Rural-to-urban migration has left behind undereducated, underskilled persons in locales that have fallen into economic and social decline.* This is not to suggest that all rural places are suffering from economic obsolescence. On the contrary, many small communities are viable and prosperous. But the economic development of the United States can be traced through the impact it has had on the distribution of population in this country. The decline of Appalachia and the growth of Texas reflect in part the shift from coal to gas and oil as sources of fuel. The shift from rural areas of the mid-continent and the south to metropolitan areas and the coasts reflect increases in the productivity of agriculture and the new dominance of distinctively urban occupations. Accompanying the ascendance of highway and air transport, we have seen the decline of the railroad town. In the process, many places have simply outlived their economic function. Their remaining residents are often ill-equipped to migrate or to cope with increasingly difficult conditions where they now live.

*A separate statement by Commissioner Alan Cranston appears on page 152.


In chronically depressed areas, it may sometimes be true that the prudent course is to make the process of decline more orderly and less costly—for those who decide to remain in such areas as well as for those who leave. This would hold true if economic analysis discloses that no reasonable amount of future investment could forestall the necessity for population decline as an adjustment to the decline in job opportunities. In that event, the purpose of future investment in such areas should be to make the decline easier to bear rather than to reverse it. In the process, we should ensure that communities that are losing population are still able to provide such basic social services as adequate education and health facilities. The educational needs of a community losing population, for example, may be no less than those in more favored communities. In fact, children growing up in declining communities may be faced with more difficult problems than children elsewhere, since many will choose to move to a new and unfamiliar area. Rural to urban migration of southern blacks might well have been more successful had they received quality education, training, and other vital services before leaving rural areas.


To improve the quality and mobility potential of individuals, the Commission recommends that future programs for declining and chronically depressed rural areas emphasize human resource development.


To enhance the effectiveness of migration, the Commission recommends that programs be developed to provide worker-relocation counseling and assistance to enable an individual to relocate with a minimum of risk and disruption.


Such programs should be designed to match an unemployed worker who is unable to find work locally with job opportunities elsewhere for which he is or can become qualified. Relocation counseling and assistance should not be designed to accelerate migration; rather, it should offer alternatives and facilitate the choice between remaining in a socially congenial and familiar location and moving to an economically healthier, if less familiar, place.

This program should include: (1) information about job opportunities in nearby urban centers; (2) pre-relocation supportive services, such as personal and family counseling; (3) employment interviews in potential destination areas; (4) coordination and assistance in the solution of problems involved in moving; and (5) post-relocation supportive services such as legal, financial, and personal counseling, and assistance to individuals and families in finding housing, schools and day-care facilities, and additional training opportunities.

In general, migration from declining areas is frequently ill-directed. It often involves a lengthy move to a distant city, with all the difficulties of adjustment. A superior approach may be to create new jobs nearer to or within the declining rural areas.


To promote the expansion of job opportunities in urban places located within or near declining areas and having a demonstrated potential for future growth, the Commission recommends the development of a growth center strategy.


This strategy could be reinforced by assisted migration programs that would encourage relocation to growth centers as an alternative to the traditional paths to big cities. Growth centers could also provide many of those who are unemployed and underemployed in declining areas with an opportunity to commute to new or better jobs. In such circumstances, more effective employment could be achieved without altering the living environment. Equally important, such growth centers would provide alternative destinations for urban migrants preferring small town or city living.

The types of growth centers envisioned are expanding cities in the 25,000 to 350,000 population range whose anticipated growth may bring them to 50,000 to 500,000. Somewhat lower and higher limits should be considered for the sake of flexibility. Not every rapidly-growing city within this range should be eligible. Only those cities that could be expected to benefit a significant number of persons from declining regions, as well as the unemployed within the center, should be eligible. Thus, growth centers should be 4ected on the basis of commuting and migration data, well as data on unemployment and job opportunities, and physical and environmental potential for absorbing more growth.

Some industries are already relocating in smaller communities which might be good growth centers. The reasons for this new trend in plant location are varied. Some firms are looking for a location removed from the problems of the big city, but which still has good access a national market through the interstate highway system. Others may seek the type of labor force found in small towns as opposed to the central city. Whatever the reasons, the development has both positive and negative aspects. It usually means new jobs and prosperity for the small town. But by virtue of relocating, a company may leave behind scores of former ‘employees who are at least temporarily unemployed. Recognizing the inadequacy of existing knowledge about this trend and its potential importance for policy, the Commission believes that a thorough examination of this trend should be an important part of future research in regional development policy.

Implementation of a growth center program will not be easy. In recent years, the federal government has pursued, with only limited success, a growth center strategy through programs administered by the Economic Development Administration, the Appalachian Regional Commission, and a number of other regional commissions. Both economic and political constraints have seriously hampered program effective-Less. Further research, substantial increases in funding, and better focusing of investment are clearly needed for such a policy to succeed. Many questions concerning the criteria for selecting growth centers and the most efficient tools to stimulate growth are yet to be answered. A difficult problem will be to avoid unnecessary subsidies for places whose future growth requires 0 additional stimulus. Moreover, the policy must avoid catering to the industries and interests that profit from growth per se, as distinct from the region-wide interest in building a sound and diversified urban economy. Care must also be taken to avoid simply relocating industries from one area to another, and thereby possibly aggravating the problems of some areas while mitigating those of others. A growth center policy, misdirected, could inadvertently produce overurbanization, or merely represent a transfer, not a reduction, of national problems.

It will be some time before the effectiveness of a growth center policy is known. In the meantime, this policy seems’ to be a promising way to improve the quality of life for residents of declining and depressed areas. Moreover, this policy can be made consistent with a goal of providing migrants with alternative destinations to large metropolitan areas. In doing so, a growth center policy will also help improve the quality of life in larger metropolitan areas by reducing the migrant-generated pressures on them.


Institutional Responses

These policy guidelines and recommendations chart broad directions for new initiatives. Their specific features should be developed on a regional and local basis, because the problems and possibilities differ for each urban region or metropolitan area. Attempts to take such initiatives, however, are inhibited by the absence of adequate guidelines for translating them into forceful and coordinated action. The necessary first steps are to determine the appropriate role each level of government should have in facilitating and guiding population movement and distribution, and to create an institutional framework to develop and carry out these policies.



Formulation of overall policies relating to the distribution of population and economic activity must be carried on at the federal level. Indeed, this responsibility was clearly enunciated in Title VII of the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1970. Title VII provides for the development, at the federal level, of a national urban growth policy to encourage desirable patterns of urbanization, economic growth and development of all types of communities. Congress further stated:


. . better patterns of urban development and revitalization are essential to accommodate future population growth; to prevent further deterioration of the Nation’s physical and social environment; and to make positive contributions to improving the overall quality of life within the Nation.


In the Act, Congress calls this policy a national urban growth policy. We believe the policy should be a coordinated set of guidelines to serve as a framework for regional, state, and local plans and development. They should not be restricted to either urban- or growth-related issues, but instead, should apply to the full range of population distribution issues relating to rural and urban people and areas, and conditions of population decline and stabilization, as well as growth. With this in mind, a more appropriate designation would be national population distribution guidelines.

The recent completion of the first Report on Urban Growth, as required under Title VII, can only be considered the initial step in developing national population distribution guidelines. It will be some time before these guidelines are well enunciated. And it is likely that they will be continually evolving as conditions change and understanding of the redistribution process grows.

In the meantime, the federal government should establish a continuing effort to learn more about population movement and distribution and to begin to shape national population distribution guidelines.

Among the important functions which should be a part of this continuing effort are:


To develop goals, objectives, and criteria for shaping national population distribution guidelines.

To anticipate, monitor, and appraise the distribution and migration effects of governmental activities that influence urban growth—defense procurement, housing and transportation programs, zoning and tax laws, and so forth.

To develop a national land-use policy which would establish criteria for the proper use of land consistent with national population distribution objectives and guidelines.

To provide technical and financial assistance to regional, state, metropolitan, and local governmental agencies concerned with planning and development.

To coordinate the development and implementation of a growth center policy.


The delegation of these functions to specific federal organizations is discussed in Chapter 16.



At the state level, planning and development agencies should take an active role in the development and implementation of policies to facilitate orderly and high quality urban development. State government is close enough to metropolitan and other urban areas to be aware of their problems. In addition, the power of zoning and other land-use regulations resides with the state. State government, then, is in a strategic position to develop policy guidelines for future development and to coordinate local and metropolitan plans with state development plans. This suggests the need for effective state planning offices.

In addition to better and more active planning at the state level, state development agencies may be desirable to implement development plans on a broad geographical basis. To function effectively in such a role, these agencies must have broad powers to acquire land, to override local ordinances, and actually to carry out development plans.

While the need for such organizations is gradually being recognized, only New York State has actually established one. In its first years of operation, the Urban Development Corporation showed that it can be an effective mechanism, particularly for improving housing opportunities for low- and moderate-income families. It is also committed to actively promoting orderly urban development and is currently involved in the development of several new communities throughout the state. The early success of the Urban Development Corporation, and its promise for effectively guiding orderly urban development, suggests that it would be a good model for other states.


The Commission recommends the establishment of state or regional development corporations which would have the responsibility and the necessary powers to implement comprehensive development plans either as a developer itself or as a catalyst for private development.



A commission concerned with the impact of population growth must comment upon those features of society which make growth troublesome or not. The point applies as well to population distribution as to growth. And the point is nowhere better illustrated than in the effects of metropolitan growth and expansion, occurring in the context of a fragmented structure of Local government. It is obvious that this structure makes regional problems—relating to land use, transportation, the environment, and so forth—extremely difficult to manage, and that, for this reason, reorganization of government in metropolitan areas is long overdue. Moreover, given the heavy reliance of local jurisdictions on locally collected property taxes, the very structure of local government in metropolitan areas influences the way population is distributed. It provides incentives for people and activities to segregate themselves, which produces disparities between local resources, requirements, and levels of service, which in turn invite further segregation.

Perhaps the most important institutional response needed to achieve the objectives and recommendations suggested above is some restructuring of local governments. The number of overlapping jurisdictions with limited functions and the fragmentation of multipurpose jurisdictions need to be reduced. The responsibility and power to serve the various needs of the metropolitan population should be assigned to the most appropriate level of government. Governmental organization will vary in different locales depending upon existing governmental structures, social and political traditions, urban problems, and specific objectives to be accomplished by reorganization. In some areas, a single metropolitan-wide government might be most appropriate. In others, a two-tier system—such as the one in Toronto, Canada—might be most effective. There are many ways to assign specific governmental functions, services, and taxing powers within a metropolitan area. Functions such as transportation planning and air pollution control belong at the metropolitan level; others, such as the operation of neighborhood health centers, may require closer community accountability, best accomplished within smaller jurisdictions.

The need for reorganizing local governments has been recognized for some time, and there are signs that it is beginning to occur. Increasing awareness of the metropolitan implications of urban problems is leading to more cooperative efforts to achieve area-wide coordination of governmental activities. The federal government has initiated some efforts to encourage this change, but change is slow in coming.

The Commission urges that federal and state governments take action to rationalize the structure of Local government. This could be done through encouraging metropolitan areas to examine the effect of their current governmental structure and to determine ways that it might be improved. In addition, federal and state governments could establish requirements or incentives to encourage existing metropolitan-wide agencies, such as councils of governments, to expand their scope of activities, powers, and responsibilities. Or, metropolitan areas could be required to adopt new jurisdictional arrangements as a prerequisite for receipt of funds.

Apart from their stated objectives, governmental activities at all levels often have unintended and contradictory effects on population distribution. Whether building highways, guaranteeing mortgages, or modifying zoning and tax laws, government policies and actions affect population distribution and movement and alter the intricate system of incentives that attracts the private sector. The absence of deliberate policies merely invites hidden ones whose effects may or may not be desirable. Indeed, a 20th century de Tocqueville reviewing these activities could easily mistake inadvertence for perverse design.

It is imperative that public policy take serious and deliberate account of population distribution—the way distribution is affected by policy, and the way it affects policy outcomes.



Report TOC Chapter 15 Population Statistics and Research Top of Page Center for Research on Population and Security