Metropolitan Areas and the Federal Government

January 21, 1959

Report Outline
Rapid Growth of Metropolitan Areas
Metropolitan Areas and Federal Aid
New Approaches to Area Problems

Rapid Growth of Metropolitan Areas

For Nearly Four Decades two population forces, working blindly but powerfully, have been raising havoc with traditional elements of the American political system. These forces—the familiar “flight to the suburbs” operating within a larger pattern of continuing concentration—have left behind an accumulation of unmet needs which spill in a jumble across artificial and inelastic political boundaries.

New York's Metropolitan Regional Council, composed of the top elected officials of 21 counties and 20 cities in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, is considering a plan to ask Congress and the three state legislatures for permanent legal status. Such an agency, especially if given operational as well as planning authority, would inject a new and potentially startling element into the federal system. Some experts have suggested that the United States is moving toward a new kind of federalism in which metropolitan regions will play a role of greater practical importance than the states. Metropolitan areas already have been called “the most important focal points for intergovernmental relations.”

Rural to Urban and Urban to Suburban Shifts

Although urban concentration is by far the older of the two currently dominant population trends, most public discussion in recent years has been focused on the movement to the suburbs. As a result, the persistence and significance of the older trend has been obscured. Once thought of as a flight from farm to city, urban concentration today is, often as not, rather a mirror-image of its earlier self—expansion of the city to incorporate one-time farm areas and their populations. Metropolitan growth, in other words, has superseded city growth, and some population specialists now hold that the traditional breakdown of the country's population into urban and rural components is obsolete; that newer analyses based on metropolitan and non-metropolitan elements more nearly reflect the existing situation.

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