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Metropolitan Blind Spots
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The largest areas of need in major metropolitan areas across the U.S. may be the inner ring of suburbs around the central city. This is the key finding in a new study from the Brookings Institution.

These were the first suburbs and filled up with people moving out of the cities and in from rural areas about 50 years ago, right after World War II. They now have aging neighborhoods and increasing numbers of the poor, elderly and immigrants, as well as deteriorating roads, commercial areas and housing. “A looming set of challenges that threaten their overall stability,” according to the new report.

Places like Secaucus (New Jersey) within site of Manhattan, Upper Darby (Pennsylvania) near Philadelphia, Anaheim (Calif.) near Los Angeles, Dade County (Florida) near Miami, and St. Clair County (Missouri) outside of St. Louis are in this category. One in five Americans live in these “first suburbs,” more than 52 million people as compared to 36 million in the central cities they adjoin.

These suburbs have higher percentages of ethnic minorities than the national average. They have a larger population of immigrants than either the central cities or the outer suburbs, as well as a higher percentage of residents 65 years of age and older. They also are home to larger portion of people with college degrees and White Collar jobs than either the central cities or the outer suburbs.

Housing costs are higher, overall, in these inner suburbs than in any other type of community, except for the enclaves of the most wealthy. In fact, affordable housing and real estate taxes are two of the most volatile issues for these communities.

A large number of America’s churches are also located in the inner suburbs. They are not the fast-growing megachurches, nor the old, historic “First Church” congregations in the central city. And they face the costly demands of aging facilities while giving often declines. Yet, they have a key role to play in meeting urban needs today.

What Can You Do?

If you live in an inner suburb, it is time to role up your sleeves and began to work for community improvement. Look for a local civic organization or congregation that belongs to an area-wide coalition such as Action In Montgomery (AIM) in Montgomery County, Maryland, among the inner suburbs of Washington DC.

AIM has brought together a large coalition of congregations and grass-roots groups to focus on building more affordable housing and meeting the needs of the burgeoning immigrant population. Last year, 1,700 delegates from more than 30 groups assembled in Sligo Seventh-day Adventist Church to meet with the county executive, state and Federal lawmakers and a cabinet representative from the governor. What can you do in your community to mobilize the same level of concern for your local needs?

Taken from One-Fifth of America: A Comprehensive Guide to America’s First Suburbs by Robert Puentes and David Warren from the Brookings Institution (www.brookings.edu/metropolitan); extracts prepared by Monte Sahlin.

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Extracts by Monte Sahlin. Copyright © 2013 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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