regional consolidation and annexation
The following material is excerpted with written permission from How Smart Growth Can Stop Sprawl, a briefing guide for funders by David Bollier. (Washington, D.C.: Essential Books), 1998. 

David Rusk convincingly argues that the "real city" necessarily includes both the central city and suburbs. Unless political jurisdictions reflect this fact, the population and economic growth of most cities will suffer. Through detailed historical statistics, Rusk shows in Cities Without Suburbs that the most economically robust cities have been "elastic cities" -- that is, they have been able to expand their borders through consolidation or annexation of suburbs and thus "capture" new growth in the metro area.

Cities that are "inelastic" tend to be older, more complacent and more racially segregated, as well as more impoverished. Examples include Detroit, Cleveland, Louisville and Milwaukee. Cities that are elastic tend to be newer and more ambitious, less segregated and more economically robust. Examples include Houston, Indianapolis, Albuquerque, Seattle and Austin. Rusk argues that elastic cities are more successful because they practice some form of regionalism.

A classic example is Indianapolis, which through the foresight of then-mayor Richard Lugar, consolidated the city of Indianapolis with the surrounding Marion County in 1970. The new governmental entity annexed tens of thousands of new suburban voters into "Unigov," which is headed by an elected mayor and shares tax revenues. Consolidation "instantly re-energized Indianapolis, expanding its tax base and cementing a blue-chip municipal bond rating," writes David Rusk. Lugar's successor, Mayor William Hudnut, said that consolidation "brought better delivery of services and lower taxes -- taxes that don't go up as fast. Equally important, consolidation has created a wider sense of community that helps you sell your city." 1

It bears noting that regional consolidation and/or annexation do not necessarily result in a reduction in sprawl. But reorienting governance on a regional basis does create an important precondition for attacking sprawl issues more effectively. All sorts of issues that contribute to sprawl and intra-regional competition and inequities can be addressed more holistically.

Much as the suburbs hate to admit it, for example, their economic health is inextricably linked to that of the cities. Recent literature explains this more fully. The National League of Cities, in a study, "All in It Together: Cities, Suburbs and Local Economic Regions," found that for most U.S. metro areas, median household incomes of central cities and suburbs moved up and down together between 1979 and 1989; one did not prosper without the other. 2

The economic interdependencies of city and suburbs are also documented in a 1992 paper by H.V. Savitch et al., which examined 59 U.S. metropolitan areas from 1979 to 1987. The study found that suburban towns that encircle a healthy city are far more likely to succeed economically than those surrounding troubled cities; suburban "self-sufficiency" is an illusion.3

This conclusion should not be surprising. Despite their troubles, cities are homes to major private employers, the flow of capital and the selling of goods and services. As Henry G. Cisneros and other essayists show in Interwoven Destinies, cities remain pivotal to the national economy. A number of scholars, such as Dr. Theodore Hershberg of the University of Pennsylvania, contend that metro regions are increasingly the new unit of global competitiveness. The real question is whether regions can configure their governance to exploit this fact and so improve their economic development.

The value of regional governance has been demonstrated by cities that have annexed suburbs or consolidated with county governments, such as Nashville -- Davidson County, Tennessee; Lexington -- Fayette County, Kentucky; Jacksonville -- Duval County, Florida; and Columbus Muskogee County, Georgia. At present, however, fewer than a dozen of the 330 metropolitan areas in the country have regional governance.

The synergistic benefits of consolidated governance can also be seen in Montgomery County, Maryland, which grew from 164,000 to 757,000 between 1950 and 1990, without succumbing to suburban fragmentation. How? As Rusk explains, the state legislature gave the county government exclusive planning and zoning authority throughout the county, which allowed Montgomery County to develop one of the most comprehensive growth management systems in the nation.

State law also unified the school system in Montgomery County, which has helped it become one of the largest, most racially integrated and best-performing school districts in the nation. The county has fostered socio-economic and racial diversity through an ordinance that requires builders of fifty or more residential units to set aside 15 percent of them for low- and moderate-income tenants.4

1 Cited in David Rusk, Cities Without Suburbs, 2d edition (Washington, D.C.: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1995)
2 Henry Cisneros, Interwoven Destinies: Cities and the Nation (New York: W.W. Norton & Con., 1993), p. 23-4
3 Savitch, H.V., et al., "Ties That Bind: Central Cities, Suburbs and the New Metropolitan Region," Paper prepared for the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Chicago, September 3-6, 1992, cited in Neil R. Pearce, Citistates (Washington, D.C.: Seven Locks Press, 1993).
4 David Rusk, Cities Without Suburbs, p. 62-3.