The Politics of Neglect: Urban Aid from Model Cities to Revenue Sharing

The Politics of Neglect: Urban Aid from Model Cities to Revenue Sharing

The Politics of Neglect: Urban Aid from Model Cities to Revenue Sharing

The Politics of Neglect: Urban Aid from Model Cities to Revenue Sharing

Excerpt

The Model Cities Program, like most Great Society innovations of the late 1960s, was both a response to the special conditions of that turbulent period and the product of a long lineage of prior federal actions.It came into being because of a perceived crisis of the cities. Yet this undertaking illustrated with particular clarity that in recent times most new federal programs have arisen out of the shortcomings of earlier ones—in this case, out of the poor coordination of previous programs as well as the specific disappointments with urban renewal. Starting with the New Deal, Congress enacted a series of programs to help cope with housing and urban problems.But during the 1960s the country became sharply aware of the continued severity of those problems, as they were described in the press, broadcast on television, analyzed in the new scholarly literature on urban studies, and reinforced by rising discontent among the urban poor and the black communities in particular.

These elements all suggested that existing federal urban programs were not doing an effective job. In addition, a growing number of critics, from right and left, were lacing into the major federal aid program designed to assist the central cities—urban renewal. Serious critical works began to appear in the early 1960s, at the same time that there was growing political protest from the victims of urban renewal in the cities. A new climate of opinion increasingly regarded criticisms of renewal as legitimate and well founded—criticisms that earlier were held to represent no more than opposition to progress.

There was also a new political context in the early 1960s, giving rise to a steadily growing number of urban aid programs conceived under unusual auspices. Both Presidents Kennedy and Johnson were eager to use federal resources to cope with the social problems of the cities, which were commanding increasing national attention.They did not wait for special interest groups to organize and make demands. Instead, they turned increasingly to staff advisers, White House task forces, and Presidential commissions to generate ideas for new programs. Experts in urban affairs became the designers of programs that activist Presidents could present to the Congress—and these urban experts drew many of their ideas from reform concepts advanced in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Some of the reform ideas were concerned with administering federal programs more efficiently. Others had to do with the nature of urban poverty and the shortcomings of earlier attempts to alleviate it. At first, these streams of thought gave rise to separate proposals for public policy. But increasingly the designers of new programs began to combine ideas from both agendas in formulating, first, the War on Poverty, and later, the Model Cities Program.

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