In Place Matters: Metropolitics for the Twenty-First Century, Peter Dreier, John Mollenkopf, and Todd Swanstrom document the proliferation of economic segregation and assert that economy segregation is growing within and between different regions, metropolitan and otherwise. Such economic segregation is having adverse effects on the quality of life, especially for the poor, who tend to belong to ethnic and/or racial minorities and who live in generally decaying central cities. This is leading to what I call the ghettoization of central cities, as they become pockets of concentrated poverty, and this goes in line with the argument above, as locales and areas become increasingly demarcated economically, poverty becomes concentrated on a larger scale.
Dreier et al. starts off by criticizing the idea of the national economy as a whole and its claims of general prosperity by asserting that such claims mask the different regional economies present throughout the nation. Thus, the “rising tide lifts all boats” framework touted throughout the nation doesn’t reveal the economic inequality between different regions. Although it is often said that the national economy prospered in the last ten years, much of the prosperity is distributed unevenly across regional, urban, and income lines.
Furthermore, Dreier et al. discusses the extent of the problem and its effects on not only the central cities and inner-ring suburbs, in effect the suburbs just outside the central cities, but also those who live in such areas. This also covers the effects of sprawl and Dreier further explains the reasons behind economic segregation and suburbanization. In addition, in contrast to typical wisdom of the free market causing economic segregation, Dreier targets government policies although he does not adequately mention personal preferences, and suggests policy innovations, currently stifled, to remedy the situation.
The author gives the example of Bear Creek in Redmond, Washington, a gated community just across Lake Washington from Seattle, as an example of America coming apart socio-economically. Bear Creek and the sentiments of citizens is used to illustrate the unwillingness of people from different socio-economic strata to have anything to do with each other, as the citizens of Bear Creek are “not inclined to tax themselves to help solve Seattle’s problems” and this phenomenon is also described as relevant to the working and middle classes, albeit to a somewhat lesser extent. In this case, the citizens of gated communities have effectively seceded from the public sphere and created private islands for themselves. Similar attitudes towards central cities in general are held by residents of upper-income communities towards central cities, which are regarded as black holes, sewers, and/or otherwise inadequate places for them, overwhelmingly populated by what some call riff-raff.
As a result of the diversion of tax dollars away from central cities, the author asserts, central cities and poorer neighborhoods in general offer much poorer public services to their residents, despite higher tax rates, due to a shrunken tax base. In addition, this is compounded by a steady decline in average annual per capita income of central city residents compared to suburbanites, from 105% in 1960 to 83% in 2000, with this disparity being greatest in the Northeast, with central city per capita income on average being 68% of suburban average per capita income, implying significant urban deterioration in that region, as they are past “the point of no return,” in which cities are unable to attract business and economic activity.
One aspect of economic segregation and sprawl that Dreier et al. points out is the role of government programs and policies which caused the phenomenon. For instance, in bringing up official subsidies for affluent districts, Dreier et al. points out the taxpayer-subsidized Metro-North line and tax breaks in The Pinnacle, a housing development in Purchase, New York. However, other indirect subsidies included access to new infrastructure, including the Interstate Highway System, which led to the growth of suburban areas at the expense of central cities, an unprecedented step in urban policy, as it promoted suburbanization and the automobile, as gasoline taxes were earmarked for new roads. In addition, Dreier et al. talks about the bias of “government programs…[which] for many years refused to provide mortgages to families who wished to purchase home in the cities,” implying government favoritism of suburban areas, despite the desire of the public after World War II to stay in cities, which was considered surprising, as this was mentioned before.
Dreier et al’s argument that economic segregation is happening at the expense of the central cities and those who live in them is backed by substantial evidence. They point to the growing disparities between urban and suburban income, especially over the last 25 years and in the Northeast, and combines this with the diversion of tax revenue away from central cities to wealthier suburbs to demonstrate they those who have no choice but to live in central cities due to poverty, etc are forced to contend with higher tax rates (due to a declining tax base) for poorer quality services of all sorts, including education, public works, and public safety, leading to a far poorer quality of life. Thus, it is appropriate to conclude that, the arguments made in this book fit the title perfectly, as where one lives has an effect on that person’s quality of life.
 Dreier, Peter; John Mollenkopf, Todd Swanstrom. Place Matters: Metropolitics for the Twenty-First Century, Second Edition, Revised. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2004, 34.