URBAN POLICY AND FAMILIES: HOW CONCERNS ABOUT ORDER CONTRIBUTE TO FAMILIAL DISORDER.

Author:Bostic, Raphael W.
 
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ABSTRACT

Urban policies are often enacted with the goal of maintaining social order in a given domain. However, because domains rarely operate in isolation, efforts to maintain order along one dimension can exacerbate conditions and increase disorder in others. Families, particularly those with low incomes, often live at the intersection of these conflicting forces and are left with few options for making true progress. This Article examines this dynamic through the lens of housing policy. It documents how housing policy can make conditions more difficult for families, and offers proposals for mitigating these negative effects while preserving the original motivation for the policy.

TABLE OF CONTENTS Introduction 970 I. Introductory Context--The Pursuit of Social Order 971 II. The "Maintaining Order Dynamic" from an Historical Perspective: The Case of Federal Urban Housing Policy 976 III. The Social Order Dynamic in Today's Policy Context: Housing and Land Use Policies as Case Studies 981 A. Housing Policy and Crime 981 B. Housing Policy and Education 988 C. Land Use Policy on Density 993 D. The Social Order Dynamic Today: Its Origins and a Path Forward 999 Conclusion 1005 INTRODUCTION

Classic texts in policy analysis highlight that choices are made regarding the target and scope of specific policies. (1) These choices can have implications beyond the intended target, because individual responses to a policy focused on a single domain can have impacts in other domains that were not given significant weight when the initial policy was designed. This dynamic plays out consistently in the context of urban policy and, in the context of family well-being, the impacts are often negative. (2) As will be shown below, evidence clearly indicates that the design and implementation of urban policies affect families and, sadly, these impacts are often negative. (3) This raises a natural question of why such policies exist and why their negative effects are not mitigated. This Article explores these questions.

The overarching thesis of this analysis is that many urban policies primarily focus on maintaining social order and, because policy often occurs along singular dimensions, rarely initially consider spillover effects in their design. However, because domains rarely operate in isolation, efforts to maintain order along one dimension can exacerbate conditions and increase disorder in others. Families, particularly those with low incomes, (4) often live at the intersection of these conflicting forces and are left with few options for making true progress. This Article examines this dynamic through the lens of housing policy. It documents how housing policy can make conditions more difficult for families, and offers proposals for mitigating these negative effects while preserving the original motivation for the policy.

The Article begins with a discussion of why maintaining social order is a key focus of urban policy. As part of this discussion, we define social order and describe the necessary conditions to argue that it is driving policy. Part II explores the urban social order dynamic in a historical context by reviewing the evolution of federal housing policy, which is affected by the dynamic at various stages. Part III reviews three current policy intersections where the social order dynamic exists and has been detrimental to families: housing policy and crime, housing policy and education, and land use policy on density. The cases selected for this Article are not intended to be exhaustive, but rather to be illustrative of how the goal of maintaining social order can shape policies and have negative ancillary effects. This Article concludes by exploring why the social order dynamic exists and persists, and offers suggestions on how it might be overcome or mitigated. This final Part also provides possible remedies for the challenges highlighted in the discussion of the housing and land use policies.

  1. INTRODUCTORY CONTEXT--THE PURSUIT OF SOCIAL ORDER

    Standard economic theory posits that public policy is needed in the event of a market failure or to redistribute resources in pursuit of fulfilling an equity motive. (5) Market failures arise when transactions either positively or negatively impact parties not directly involved in the transaction (externalities), when there are frictions that give either consumers or producers informational advantages (information failures), or when competition is hampered due to the nature of the industry or the good being produced (monopoly, public goods). (6) Inefficiencies that reduce the available resources in the economy exist in each of these situations; (7) policy can reduce these inefficiencies. The redistribution need arises because competitive markets maximize income and wealth in the economy but do not ensure that they are distributed such that everyone receives enough to achieve a minimum quality of life. (8) Thus, those concerned with equity might find that the distribution of resources across families is suboptimal and look to redistributive, equity-based policy to improve the situation.

    The preservation of social order motivates each of these policies. For example, information asymmetries can prevent useful markets, such as insurance markets, from forming, which can result in more serious troubles in the wake of catastrophic events for a family or community than would occur if they had an insurance policy. (9) Similarly, food providers have more information about quality than consumers. (10) A lack of food preparation standards and labeling regulations could lead an unscrupulous provider to induce a public health crisis or food panic. (11)

    In the context of designing urban policy to maintain social order, negative externalities--private activities that increase social costs--are a main focus. Such externalities are important because urban places are primarily a locus of commerce. (12) The existence of costs associated with transporting inputs to production locales and finished goods to market, creates an incentive for firms and households to congregate so that they can minimize their costs of production, and of getting the goods they would like to consume. (13) The city is the spatial realization of firms and households responding to this incentive.

    However, there are also negative amenities associated with people and firms congregating in an urban place that reduce the benefits of urbanizing, and these often involve negative externalities. (14) Crime is perhaps the most obvious example. Crime is a more viable activity in places with greater populations and density, as the expected return to crime rises and the probability of being caught declines (at least for some crimes) when there are more people and firms around. (15) So we should expect more crime in urban areas, and this crime will impose costs. There is clearly the loss associated with the victims.

    Crime also imposes costs beyond the victim. Whether they have been victimized by crime or not, individuals and firms living in cities with crime spend their resources to prevent victimization, and those living and operating businesses in neighborhoods with crime spend resources to protect their homes and properties. (16) Both investments leave individuals worse off, with less to use for consumption. (17) Moreover, there is a cost impact on the broader society. Neighborhoods with higher levels of crime become stigmatized, leading to flight of investment capital and isolation, which can trigger social problems that require resources to address. (18)

    More generally, to the extent that the disorder created by urban disamenities is not addressed and the direct and external costs of those disamenities are not reduced, there is a risk that the costs of urbanizing exceed the benefits of urbanizing. (19) As described for the neighborhood above, this can lead to disinvestment and flight from the city. (20) In a more extreme case, it can lead to significant urban decline. (21) Thus, for policymakers interested in preserving their urban communities and economic vitality, maintenance of social order is of paramount importance.

    Defining the social order dynamic. In order for social order to represent a true "dynamic," one must be able to both define what social order is and establish a set of identifiable characteristics that drives the underlying relationship. (22) Regarding the definition of social order, the overarching interest that is the focus of order in this context is the preservation of conditions that permit for an efficient functioning of urban markets, such that resources are primarily devoted to commerce and production. The goal is twofold. First, conditions must be such that the impediments to establishing and operating businesses and buying and selling finished goods are limited. (23) Second, prevailing conditions should permit a maximal amount of private investment, so as to maximize the productive capacity of the regional economy. (24) This investment could involve the attraction of both capital and labor to an urban area. Thus, those seeking to preserve social order work to eliminate or mitigate threats that undermine the pursuit of one of these two goals.

    Importantly, not every threat will rise to the level of requiring action. Small stresses or those associated with a single neighborhood would generally be unlikely to attract significant attention from policymakers. (25) The exception is those local threats that put order at a regional or metropolitan scale at risk, such that the appeal of producing or conducting commerce in a city or region is placed at risk or the desirability of investing locally is potentially, significantly diminished. (26)

    There are three characteristics that define the social order dynamic. (27) First, one must be able to document that policymakers are focused on a single problem, and that the problem threatens social order in a fashion described above. (28) Second, and...

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