Population migration to metropolitan areas introduces greater pressure on government leaders
To close out 1956 and look ahead to 1957, the December edition of The American City featured an article by Luther Gulick, president of the Institute of Public Administration and the first city administrator for New York City, titled “Five Challenges in Todays New Urban World.” The article summarized an “impending crisis” heading to cities and towns for which none was fully prepared.
The “urban crisis which, in the future, will be so vast as to dwarf all previous conceptions of city problems,” Gulick writes, would result from rapid population migration to metropolitan areas. At the time, the National Industrial Conference Board projected the U.S. population would reach 300 million within 50 years (an increase of 132 million people), and that 80 to 90 percent of residents would live in and around metro areas. Because of that, he writes, “Every large American city is now physically obsolete.”
Street patterns, mass transportation, housing, recreation facilities, water, sewage treatment, schools, hospitals and prisons all were inadequate to serve the changing population. Local governments also faced financial challenges because of reliance on “revenue, tax and debt systems which belong largely to the nineteenth century.”
“The truly disastrous fact,” Gulick writes, “is that there is now no way of developing a plan of cooperative action. To do this, we need new community machinery, new community thinking, new community leaders, and new powers of local government.”
The largest obstacle to overcome in addressing the crisis is “purely political,” he writes. “The political problem starts with a superficial notion that ‘politics’ is bad and that the educated and respectable citizens should have nothing to do with politics except to register, vote, pay taxes, work in a few civic groups, like the PTA, and beef about bad government… This American attitude toward politics, especially local politics, is not only obsolete, it is dangerous for democracy.”