Cities and their suburbs: "Go along to get along"
Post, Stephanie Lee Shirley
Stein, Robert M.
Doctor of Philosophy
This dissertation examines the economic and policy relationships between center cities and their suburbs. It makes several contributions to the existing urban literature. First, this dissertation confirms previous research finding that center cities and their suburbs are economically linked. It confirms that the economic link exists over time (1970 to 1990) and that it endures even after controlling for the impact of the state economy. Second, it confirms the traditional expectation that metropolitan area government structure influences the direction of center city/suburb income disparity---but not in the way predicted by previous literature. Using an alternative conceptualization of local government fragmentation---the total number of local governments per square mile---it finds that the geographic density of local governments within a metropolitan area influences center city/suburb income disparities. The analysis suggests that geographic density of metropolitan area governments should be considered when examining the influence of fragmentation on local government policy decisions. Third, this dissertation finds mixed evidence regarding the impact of center city/suburb income disparity on metropolitan area economic health. Traditionally, it is thought that the center city is the regional economic engine, and that increasing income disparity favoring the suburbs undermines metropolitan area growth. Although this theory held true during the 1970s, the data unexpectedly reveals an opposite conclusion in the 1980s: increasing income disparity in favor of the suburbs was related to increasing metropolitan area economic health. If this finding proves stable using the 2000 Census data, it may signal a change in the nature of the metropolitan area economy that would be significant for future policy development. Finally, this dissertation examines the relationship between fragmentation and the incidence of local intergovernmental agreements. It finds that fragmented local governments can cooperate in the provision of certain goods and services. This cooperation is especially likely among geographically dense local governments providing capital-intensive goods and services that generate economies of scale. This finding reinforces the importance of density in future urban research and signals an opportunity to pursue new cooperative solutions that could achieve many of the benefits of consolidated government while preserving existing local governments.