Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

A Tale of Two Cities: An Exploratory Study of Consolidation and Annexation Policies in the Cities of Memphis and Nashville

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

A Tale of Two Cities: An Exploratory Study of Consolidation and Annexation Policies in the Cities of Memphis and Nashville

Article excerpt


In what many have dubbed an "urban crisis," America's metropolitan areas have dramatically changed in the past half-century. Urban sprawl has transformed what used to be vibrant cities into havens for the poor. Increasingly, these areas have suffered from higher crime rates, underfunded school systems, crumbling infrastructure, poorer public health, greater dispersion of jobs, a growing divide between the rich and poor, increasing concentrations of poverty, and a growing population loss of the city's most affluent tax base (Fleischmann, 2000a; Rusk, 2000). The loss of an affluent tax base has been highlighted as a fundamental cause for these languishing conditions. Much of this tax revenue loss has been attributed to the exit of former middle and upper-class city inhabitants who have since moved beyond the outer reaches of the city. According to a study by Savitch and Vogel (2000b), almost all major, industrial U.S. cities have lost residents as a result of out migration to the suburbs. In fact, the study further contends, the population growth in suburbs is more than twice than the cities. "In 1996, 2.7 million people left central cities for the suburbs, whereas only 800,000 moved in the opposite direction" (Savitch and Vogel, 2000b: 158).

In an effort to deal with the effects of urban sprawl, the policy of New Regionalism has emerged. At its core, New Regionalism seeks to reduce the inequalities which have arisen from suburbanization and to foster a collective future for the residents of both the city and the suburb (Savitch and Vogel, 2000a). In order to do so, New Regionalists have proposed multiple local-government restructuring measures that, once enacted, would contain growth, reduce economic disparities and racial segregation, and ultimately combine city and suburban resources (Savitch and Vogel, 2000b: 161). Two of the most widely-known and often used methods are city-county consolidation and annexation (Rusk 2003).

This paper seeks to explore the effects of these two methods by comparing the city of Memphis with the city of Nashville. In so doing, the authors expand on research which, for the most part, has relied on single-city case studies. Also, in contrast to these former studies, which have focused on the how, who, and why city-county consolidation proposals have emerged and the reasons for their successful and unsuccessful ratifications, this study will focus on what happens to the city and county once a consolidation proposal has passed or, in the case of Memphis, failed.

Furthermore, this study will challenge the popular conception that city-county consolidation is the panacea to the many ills existing within local governments and their communities. Besides consolidation, annexation has been considered another viable option for local government leaders. More importantly, which method provides the best benefits to a city? Specifically, with regards to a city's tax base, which method offers a city greater control over the revenue it needs to provide services to its citizens, to continue to secure its future viability, and to prevent the downward spiral that has defined many American cities in the last sixty years?

Background information on Memphis and Nashville

The City of Nashville and the City of Memphis were chosen primarily because of their relatively similar demographic characteristics. Although 1960 Census data shows that Memphis had a population over twice the size of Nashville's, after the consolidation of Nashville with Davidson County in 1962, both cities had comparable population sizes by 1970. Table 1 shows that the city of Memphis experienced significant growth from 1960-1970 and relatively stable growth during the next 35 years with a few exceptions. The Nashville area experienced incremental growth over the 1970-1980 periods. Given the substantial growth in the suburbs surrounding both cities, it is highly likely that those with the economic means to leave the city are moving to the suburbs. …

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