Thursday, April 22, 2010

Orthodoxy Bashing

"[T]he dispersal consensus: the idea that the amelioration of urban problems requires...that the central city's poor be deconcentrated--that is dispersed--into wealthier, and usually suburban neighborhoods."

David Imbroscio, Urban America Reconsidered: Alternatives for Governance and Policy

Imbroscio talks about the dispersal consensus, or the DC, as having "near-hegemonic influence" and as an orthodoxy of today's urban policy thinking. Yet formalized dispersal efforts are rather small and evaluation evidence modest at best. Subsidized units are lost in the process. At the same time, critics like Imbroscio back themselves into a corner by supporting broken public housing projects and poor neighborhood conditions -- arguing that these problems should be righted instead of people being forced to disperse.

I have a couple of comments:

1) A study I've never completed is of the handful of planned new towns of the 1960s and early 1970s that were based upon relocating whole neighorhoods to the suburbs. These fantastic plans never got off the ground. Dispersal strategies have become more granular and project-based.

2) An argument Imbroscio does not make about the DC concerns the underlying liberal expansionist interest in recapturing valuable downtown land occupied by public housing. In short, the DC has an unstated land grab dimension -- and that motivation has cost a lot in financial and human terms.

3. I was also surprised that Imbroscio didn't take on the question of "mixed income housing," another element of urban policy orthodoxy that is based more in theory and hope than fact.

I end up in an ambigious place about this argument. I find it difficult to accept the conditions of many public housing projects -- conditions that are a function of poor design, location, and management of that housing. At the same time, moving people in irresponsible ways for whatever reason is a bad thing, especially if underlying interest is land development

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