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 North Carolina
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Bob Davis,
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Ken Land,
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Miles Simpson,
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Ron Wimberley,
 N.C. State University

Robert Wortham,
 North Carolina
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Volume 4, Number 2

Fall 2006

Urban Organization and Planning in the Post-Industrial City: An Editorial and Introduction to the Spring 2006 Issue of Sociation Today


George H. Conklin

North Carolina Central University

   "Cities do not exist in nature.  Sociologists and others seem to forget that.  Cities are a product of social behavior (Wimberley and Morris 2006)."

    Thus begins the call for a reexamination of the role of the city in the modern post-industrial world in the Fall 2006 issue of Sociation Today.  2006 represents the first time in human history where half of the human population of the world as a whole is urban.  While the United States did not become half urban until 1920, it took less than a century for the rest of the population of the world to pass the same historic transformation.

    Wimberley and Morris (2006) point out that cities are really dependent on the good will of farmers who provide them with food, water and above all a place to get rid of the sewage and garbage which cities concentrate in one place.  But cities pay the rural populations upon which they depend little attention, they argue.

   So why do cities concentrate on their own internal views of themselves and ignore the needs of rural areas?  For those of us who have lived in third-world economies, it is very apparent that the shift from rural to urban residential patterns is dominated by the political power of urban residents to demand low-cost food.  The result is that farming incomes continue to decline relative to the costs of doing business.  Politicians continually favor low-cost food while the number of food providers (who we used to call farmers) declines to less than one or two percent of the total population, as in the United States.

   Yet all around the world, as well as in the United States, poverty remains concentrated in rural areas (for maps showing areas of poverty in the United States, see Wimberley and Morris 2003 Link).  Urbanites, as Wimberley and Morris point out, do not want to share their prosperity with people outside the city.  The result is that poverty world-wide is concentrated in rural areas. 

    An integral part of the focus on cities by sociology, and indeed newspapers, intellectuals in general  and those of the chattering class, has been the notion that there ought be a sharp line between what we call urban and rural to stop something called sprawl.  This sharp line used to be both cultural and physical, but these days the big intellectual push seems to be to concentrate on the physical world and leave the rest out.

   But it was not always that way.  As industrialization took hold in the United States, a city would consider itself important only if it supported Euro-centered cultural complex which included among other things, a museum and a classic opera.  The well-to-do would head off to Europe for vacations and to visit what was considered to be important cultural sites such as cathedrals and sometimes quaint villages.  Even when I was an undergraduate, certain faculty members wanted to spend their vacations in Europe and some even kept apartments in London.  When one faculty member, an economist, suggested that the faculty should study the local culture, he was ridiculed.  Only one book, assigned to classes, challenged the common view of America as pale copy of Europe.  Max Lerner's America as a Civilization (1957) actually tried to proclaim that the United States was not a cultural outpost of Europe, but was a dynamic cultural nation in its own right, and need not look to Europe for the best ways to live.

    However, the view that American cities today need not be planned on the European model of sharp distinctions between urban and rural is not what is commonly held to be viable.  Physically the modern American city is accused of spreading too far out, the dreaded sprawl.  Cities in the United States also do not fit the European pattern where the poor are pushed to the outer limits of the city and the core is gentrified for the benefit of the well-to-do.  But, as Smith (1996) has documented, that pattern has now become the model for the United States also.  The modern city is revanchist, wanting to rid its core of people deemed not desirable, to be replaced by the well-to-do.

    How is this accomplished?  Hetzler (et al. 2006) have provided a very good literature review on the subject.  They find that:

In this New Urban context, the city must sell itself to the highest bidder and development is no longer focused around industry. The city no longer directly engages in physical gentrification, but instead proposes colorblind neoliberal development policies and zoning ordinances that encourage free market gentrification, making cities an open global market for developers and development.  This creates what is known as "property-led" economic development (Wolf-Powers 2005). In this current general policy trend, all responsibilities for inequalities are shifted to the market and individuals, allowing policy makers to deemphasize issues of race while they continue with the implicitly racist (and still explicitly classist) New Urbanism/new gentrification project. 
   The above process was put into play with Durham, North Carolina hired a planner who insisted that the city needed modern planning.  An outside firm was hired to implement the model of Smart Growth at the local level.  These issues are addressed by Jentsch (2006) and Hester (2006).

    Two documents outlined the changes proposed, the Durham Comprehensive Plan 2030 and the Uniform Development Ordinance (UDO).  The comprehensive plan was developed by a committee especially chosen for the process, while the UDO developed by an outside group of consultants.   Members of the usual planning board (of which this author was a member, as was Bob Jentch) were only given the documents after they were finalized for mostly pro-forma comments.  Although many changes in land use were contained in the planning document, members of the public and planning board members and even elected officials were not shown the detailed maps, but had to buy the definitive map privately for $12, as did neighborhoods (see Conklin 2006  Link). 

   The UDO, a jargon ridden complex document of over 535 pages which baffled nearly everyone, uses such terms as "structured parking" in place of "parking garage."  The UDO at first tried to merge the former distinct zoning categories which affected both black and white neighborhoods to allow vastly increased density in both using the term "compact neighborhoods."  Whites in Durham got that quickly changed.  African American neighborhoods protested loudly but fewer changes were made in the zoning most closely representing the segregated history of Durham.  In the end, what is known as Smart Growth will affect black neighborhoods far more heavily than the historically white areas of Durham, just as the 1950s process of urban renewal did.   The terms change, but the results are going to be similar.  Community activists may have protested, but in the end very limited changes were forced onto the political elites, which reflect elitist values, be the elected officials white or black.  Hester (2006), in particular, addresses this problem. 

   The process of implementing Smart Growth in Durham (a case history) is discussed by Bob Jentsch (2006).  As a retired planner, he really asks the question "Why Planning Fails."  His answer is that planners today follow an obsolete model similar to the Burgess concentric zone theory of infamous fame.  This model seeks to impose on a city, which developed around single-family houses, an obsolete ideal-type of an early industrial city. 

    By encouraging multi-family in Durham housing to be built within existing single-family housing residential areas, the property-led rules of modern development are supposed to be put into place. The technical term is infill, to increase density.   But the result is that those who live in infill areas find that no one wants to buy their houses when they come onto the market.  The result is current areas face decline as young people continue to move away from such areas and developers wait until the land is cleared and then move in, usually with tax supports.  White people in Durham, NC, got this stopped for the older white areas, but in the older black neighborhoods duplexes can be placed at will.  Jentsch (2006) describes how this is, to him, discrimination.

    Hester (2006) tried to block Durham's Smart Growth moves by pointing out that compact neighborhoods and mixed land use are in fact something quite other than what they were supposed to be.  She passed out a modified version of her arguments presented here (Hester 2006) to the city council.  Since I was at the meeting, I can say that if her comments had any effect, it could not be easily measured.  Smart Growth is presented as modern, updated and a step toward the future.  Everyone else is considered to be ignorant and misinformed.  After all, the New Urbanism is presented today as helping minority groups, even if minority groups fail to recognize that!  Mixed land use is supposed to help communities, not reduce land values for homeowners by putting a store on a zero-lot line next door. 

    But can we measure the effects of Smart Growth?  Jaret et al. (2006), using new data and multivariate techniques, find that Smart Growth measures do not correlate with residential segregation, and blacks' job-residence mismatch, two things Smart Growth is supposed to solve.  The issue is complex and multi-layered.  But the authors comment there is a

two-part story about black-white residential segregation.  First and most unambiguously, the more highly suburbanized metropolitan areas show up as more segregated, and metro areas with larger percentages of their population living in central cities have less black-white residential segregation.  Second, beyond that, teasing out effects of the dimensions of sprawl complicates the picture.  While mixed land use appears to have no effect on black-white residential segregation, sprawl as measured by the Lopez-Hynes index (indicating low density and long unconnected streets) seems linked to diminished black-white residential segregation (Jaret et al. 2006). 
   But why is sprawl feared?   Sprawl is not a sociological term, and in fact contradicts the demographic facts of economic development as outlined above by Wimberley and Morris (2006).  All around the world the human population is not sprawling, it is concentrating in fewer and fewer urban areas.  Between 2000 and 2004, in the United States, half of all counties lost population as people moved the fewer and fewer places.  The big news is that, world wide, populations are desprawling.  By concentrating populations in fewer and fewer places land in cities is becoming very expensive.  When development is further limited by Smart Growth efforts, it is minority groups who get priced out of the market first. Yet to American liberals, pointing this out seems like giving in to the far right, which, in the past, has said much of the same thing.  For example, see:
  • Schwartz and Cox (2003) at:

  • smartgrowthpollution.html Link
  • or Bacon (2003) at:

    Issues03/02-17/Environmental_colonialism.htm> Link
   I served on Durham's planning committee while its Smart Growth development plans were developed, along with Bob Jentsch.  Denise Hester was well known to us, and even white community activists would say privately to us that the UDO encouraged housing abandonment, although in public that comment was frequently downplayed or even denied.   But what can be done to stop the process described by Hetzler et al. (2006) which  probably leads to community disinvestment in the short run and which justifies traditional renewal later? 

   Strangely enough, Bob Jentsch (2006) provides a good clue in his paper.  He states simply that the public really needs to be involved in such decisions.  Is this a profound comment?  Yes it is, because when a board of individually appointed citizens examines zoning decisions one at a time, they often (or even usually) have a difficult time with the New Urbanism.  Citizens do not pay much attention to theory, but they do know that if they have a zero-lot-line store placed next to their private house they would in deep trouble with any possible future sale.  They tend to turn down such intrusions.  More than once the Planning Board which Bob Jentsch and I sat on was dressed down by the planning director after the press had left the room (usually late at night) for not encouraging Smart Growth by not voting for a particularly strange zoning request recommended by staff. 

  How else can the involvement of the public be beneficial to the city and those who live there and do not subscribe to the notion of the revanchist city? 

   A second method is to provide a voice to those who show up at public hearings to discuss zoning issues.  Thorough many years of listening to the public, the board members would frequently listen and change their minds after a public hearing on a zoning request.  But staff, as they called themselves, never did, or if they did, I cannot remember a single example.  Rather, the recommendations went forward to the governing bodies (county or city) with the same recommendations they started with.  Planners would simply call themselves "professionals," while the rest of us were dismissed as ill-informed complainers.  Decisions were sometimes changed when developers lobbied for a different recommendation after the advance packages had gone out.  But citizens?  No way. 

   It should come as no surprise that governmental bodies are captured by the industries they regulate.  Smart Growth is the same way.  Developers find that, by buying land and increasing the density of development, they can make more money.  By posing as friends of Smart Growth and stopping the much-touted sprawl, developers can convince planners to let them make more money by saying they are doing a social good.  They say this, too,  at practically every public hearing on zoning changes in Durham.  Smart Growth today has been captured by the development community as a money-making tool with the active participation of the local and national  planners. 


    The papers presented here document the New Urbanism is a complex process which needs to be examined carefully.  Certainly the growth of the revanchist city and its technique of Smart Growth has placed strains on minority groups in the United States.  Empirically there is no evidence restricting single-family housing at this time is going to help minority populations as they begin the historic migration to the suburbs.  The European notion that the poor must live at the outer edges of the city can be challenged.  As Hester (2006) has put it, you really should not have to move out to move up. 

    Urban planning often fails because it is based on very unrealistic models, ignoring basic economic patterns.  Sprawl is what is appears to be happening in the world because human populations are concentrating in fewer and fewer places.  As this continues in the global context, there is no rational reason to fear expansion of the cities to accommodate an increasing proportion of human abodes.  Fear that "we are running out of land" ignores the vast spaces that are being abandoned, at least in the United States, where half of all counties are losing population. 

   Trying to impose on the modern city the 1920's image of Chicago's concentric zones with a focus on downtowns and high density living ignores the simple fact that technology has moved on since that time.  No longer do banks need a tower downtown to clear their books each night.  That is done remotely and even in India by computers and satellite connections.  Populations have lost their functional need to be in extremely close physical contact.  Industry is no longer a city-only undertaking.  Is it time to abandon the planning models which try to put people into the ideal-type constraints of what a 1920's city ought to look like?  As Jentsch (2006) points out, such efforts are bound to fail, but a great deal of harm to minority populations can be done in the meantime. The post-industrial city need not resemble the medieval European city, nor the early industrial city described by concentric zones of decreasing density starting with some ideal-type downtown core. 

   We might want to consider it time to abandon the revanchist city and to welcome all minority populations into the American mainstream.  The European model of a compact urban space cannot be imposed on the cities of the United States without a great deal of harm to those who currently live in otherwise stable urban communities (Hester 2006). 


Bacon, James A. (2003). "'Smart Growth' Restrictions on Development Make Housing Unaffordable to Thousands of Minority Families and Perpetuates Residential Segregation." at
Downloaded 30 October 2006.  (A list is provided of cities).

Conklin, George H. (2006).  "Is Smart Growth Just Urban Renewal?"  Paper presented at the 2006 annual meeting of the Southern Sociological Society. Link

Hetzler Olivia , Veronica E. Medina, and David Overfelt  (2006). "Gentrification, Displacement and New Urbanism:  The Next Racial Project." Sociation Today (Fall 2006).  <

Hester, Denise (2006) "We Shouldn't Have to Move Out to Move Up." Sociation Today (Fall 2006).  <

Jaret, Charles, Robert M. Adelman, and Lesley Williams Reid. "Suburban Sprawl, Racial Segregation, and Spatial Mismatching in Metropolitan America."    Sociation Today (Fall 2006). <
sociationtoday/v42/jaret.htm> Link

Bob Jentsch (2006) "Land Use Planning and The Consequences of  'Smart Growth.'" Sociation Today (Fall 2006). <
sociationtoday/v42/jentsch.htm> Link

Lerner, Max (1957).  America as a Civilization.  New York:  Simon and Schuster.

Schwartz, Joel and Wendell Cox. (2003). "Smart Growth Leads to More Road Congestion, Increases Community's Pollution Woes." at>,
downloaded 31 October 2006. 

Smith, Neil.  1996.  The New Urban Frontier:  Gentrification and the Revanchist City.  London:  Routledge. 

Wimberley, Ronald C. and Libby V. Morris (2003) "U.S. Poverty in Space and Time: Its Persistence in the South." Sociation Today (Fall 2003). 
wimmor.htm>.   Link

Wimberley, Ronald C. and Libby V. Morris (2006). "The Poor Rural Areas That Must Support the 
"Cities of the Future.'"   Sociation Today (Fall 2006). <
sociationtoday/v42/wim.htm> Link

Wolf-Powers, Laura.  2005.  "Up-Zoning New York City's Mixed-Use Neighborhoods:  Property-Led Economic Development and the Anatomy of a Planning Dilemma."  Journal of Planning Education and Research, 24: 379-393.

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