The power and purse of the whole metropolis

To have any effectiveness, uniform standards for what the community is providing would need to be set and enforced in urban communities, including both the rich and the poor residential districts in a metropolitan area. In the present situation, however, a metropolitan area as recognized by the Census Bureau may contain a hundred or more governmental units with power to tax and spend. This jurisdictional division is, in fact, nothing but a legalized superstructure of the inegalitarian residential segregation.

[…] It must seem doubtful, however, whether a development in that direction could be expected to come as the result of a rational conclusion by the citizens in a metropolitan area that such a change is practical and fair. The people in the suburbs would feel an economic interest not to become joined with other and poorer communities. It is, of course, a fact that the ordinary dwellers in the suburbs have chosen to live there, partly in order to have pleasant, clean surroundings and, not least, to have good schools for their children without paying too high taxes.

There are thus overwhelmingly forceful vested interests for preserving the division of local government in functionally irrational, small jurisdictional units and in not setting and enforcing uniform standards. These vested interests are set upon preserving the present residential segregation that is the framework within which hotel decay of the old inner cities developed. The architect and engineer will remain as powerless as the school reformer, not only because so much more than the reconstruction of the physical structure is needed, but also—apart from this factor that I shall discuss later—because saving the old cities from deterioration implies tremendous expenditures that cannot be financed except in the setting of a much larger unit.

But even if we had arrived at the functionally more rational, consolidated jurisdictional, administrative, and political units, could it realistically be expected that they would be effective in setting the uniform standards, the need for which I mentioned previously, and vote the taxes that would have to be spent in order to give reality to these standards? How could the richer inhabitants—who if the unit were made big enough would be in a majority—be enthusiastic about joining in sharing the costs?

Gunnar Myrdal, “National Planning for Healthy Cities,” in Sam Bass Warner, Jr., ed., Planning for a Nation of Cities (Cambridge: M.I.T. Press, 1966), p. 9–10.