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The suburbs, Rouse argues, "sucked the blood out of the central cities and left behind some of the urban basket cases we see today." The middle-class exodus from the cities was to a large extent facilitated by the Federal Government, which built the freeways, provided relatively low-interest FHA and G.I. mortgages, and allowed homeowners to discount mortgage interest against their income taxes. Rouse believes the American city could well have gone the way of the brontosaurus, the dodo and the 30 stamp.
Instead, the cities eventually bottomed out and started climbing back up.
One factor, Rouse believes, is that American values have changed. While as many as 65% of all U.S. households now have two wage earners, more than half have no children; thus two of the compelling arguments for suburban living, acceptable schools and affordable housing, are becoming increasingly irrelevant for a sizable segment of the population. Moreover, says Rouse, "the old dream of suburbia —the house with a fence and the backyard barbecue—is fading. Young people increasingly tend to look at the suburbs as sterile and uninteresting."
Urban decline is being stopped by the cities themselves—and by ventures like Faneuil Hall Marketplace and Harborplace. "The rebirth of the cities really started during the past decade or so," Rouse says. "Now we're right on the edge of a big transformation of the central city. Reports of the death of the American city were premature. The American city isn't dying.
It's being reborn."
It will have to be. By the end of the century, nearly half of all Americans may be living in dwellings that do not exist today, on land that has not yet been broken. Rouse maintains that the nation's population grows by about 300,000 a month, enough to fill a city the size of Toledo. Between now and the year 2000, the population of Los Angeles and that of the San Francisco Bay Area may both double. Baltimore's population could increase by the size of present-day Miami. There is a compelling need for the kind of long-term urban planning that draws on every available social and sociological discipline —and imagination. Rouse says that "our cities grow by sheer chance, by accident, by the whim of the private developer and public agencies. A farm is sold and the land begins to sprout houses instead of potatoes. Forests are cut. Valleys are filled.
Streams are turned into storm sewers. An expressway is hacked through the landscape. Then a clover leaf, then a regional shopping center, then office buildings, then high-rise apartments. In this way, the bits and pieces of a city are splattered across the landscape. By this irrational process, non-communities are born, formless places without order, beauty or reason, with no visible respect for either people or the land."
Ultimately, of course, urban-suburban sprawl is intolerable not just because it is ugly, oppressive and dull but because it is inefficient. Says Rouse: "Suburban sprawl stretches out the distances people must travel to work, to shop, to worship, to play.