Lawyer says urban sprawl keeping cities racially segregated

Monday, June 23, 2003

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Urban sprawl, promoted by government policies fostering suburban economic growth at the expense of cities, is keeping Kansas City and other metropolitan areas as racially segregated as ever, a civil rights expert says.

"It's not enough to change our speech. We have to change our practices, our institutions," said John A. Powell, a lawyer and executive director of Ohio State University's Institute for Race and Ethnicity in the Americas. "The way we have arranged our society is a sin."

Powell spoke Saturday at a meeting sponsored by the Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity, a new group formed by about a dozen area ministers working to solve social and economic problems arising from sprawl.

The group is a western Missouri companion to Metropolitan Congregations United for St. Louis. The Kansas City and St. Louis groups are affiliates of the Chicago-based Gamaliel Foundation, which works to strengthen grass-roots community efforts.

Powell said that at the same time civil rights legislation and court decisions were tearing down segregation laws, loan programs, tax credits and other government subsidies were encouraging businesses and white urban residents to move to the suburbs.

"These are your monies, your public resources used to push people farther from the city," he said. "We are sucking the resources out of the central city ... Jobs are moving further out; opportunities are moving out."

Kansas City is no exception to what Powell called "this crazy arrangement of resources and space."

As the Kansas City area has sprawled, its nonwhite residents have become even more concentrated in the urban core, Powell said.

If current trends continue, sprawl and economic segregation will continue in the area, said David Warm, executive director of the Mid-America Regional Council.

The area's population will grown from 1.7 million to more than 2 million by 2020, with almost all that growth in the suburbs, Warm said.

Warm said the Kansas City area will remain economically stratified.

"We will continue to geographically separate the wealth in this region," he said. "Our growth patterns don't serve any of us well. We have to create a region where all parts are (economically) healthy."

Powell offered examples of several urban areas that are making efforts to reverse the trend toward economic and racial segregation. In Montgomery County, Md., for example, low-income housing is included as part of new development projects, he said. In the Chicago area, large businesses have agreed to consider locating only in places that have housing affordable to working people.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: