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The Urban Experience

An Interdisciplinary Policy Perspective

Second Edition

Author Barry Bluestone, Mary Huff Stevenson, and Russell E. Williams

Publication Date - 05 January 2022

ISBN: 9780197527313

640 pages
7 1/2 x 9 1/4 inches

In Stock

Grounded in real-life experiences, this easily accessible and highly interdisciplinary book combines economic principles, social insight, and political realities to help the reader understand how modern U.S. cities and suburbs function.


The Urban Experience provides a fresh approach to the study of metropolitan areas by combining economic principles, social insight, and political realities with an appreciation of public policy to understand how U.S. cities and suburbs function in the 21st century. The new edition will feature a new cohesive framework called the Metropolitan Area Dynamic introduced in the first chapter of the book, then incorporated into every chapter, to demonstrate the demographic, economic, political, social, and public policy forces that impact metropolitan areas. The narrative of the book is grounded in the real life experiences of students and their families on the premise that there is a fascination about one's own surroundings to engage the students in their study. It uses a great deal of historical and comparative data to explore the wide variation in how we experience urban and suburban communities and will include greater discussion of cities worldwide to engage with large scale global issues like climate change, immigration/migration, and inequality. It addresses the changing role and function of U.S. metropolitan areas in an age of growing global competition and focuses on key contemporary problems facing cities and suburbs. Providing an interdisciplinary approach to the topic, the book introduces analyses from economics, sociology, and political science, urban studies, and public policy as useful tools to understand the evolution and current status of the nation's urban areas.

The book will be a valuable text for urban scholars, public officials, and all those interested in understanding urban dynamics.

New to this Edition

  • A more global perspective, including data and policies from metropolitan areas worldwide with all of the data in each chapter updated.
  • An entirely new chapter on the role of climate change in metropolitan areas
  • The social infrastructure chapter was split into two separate chapters, one on public health and wellbeing, the other on public safety


  • Following the fortunes of 25 large U.S. metropolitan areas across a variety of topics, which shows the variety of outcomes that affect U.S. metro areas
  • Includes, where available, data from metropolitan areas worldwide, starting with Table 2.1, which introduces an international perspective that helps to show similarities and differences across metro areas worldwide

About the Author(s)

Barry Bluestone is the Russell B. and Andree B. Stearns Trustee Professor Emeritus of Political Economy; Founding Director of the Dukakis Center; Founding Dean of the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University.

Mary Huff Stevenson is a Professor of Economics Emerita at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

Russell E. Williams is an Associate Professor of Economics at Wheaton College.

Table of Contents


    Part I Introduction to Cities and Suburbs

    Chapter 1 The Wonder and Paradox of Urban Life

    Urban Issues and the Social Science Lens
    Our Love/Hate Relationship with the City Our Love/Hate Relationship with the Suburbs The Importance of Density
    Urban Spillovers
    Economic Geographies and Political Geographies
    The Dynamics of Metropolitan Development
    An Analytic Framework for Understanding Metropolitan Area
    Further Applications of the Analytic Framework
    Well-Being and Public Policy
    The Role of Political Power and Interest Groups Paradox and Urban Inquiry
    Key Issues in Urban Policy
    Globalization and the Changing Role of U.S. Cities
    The Tools of the Trade
    Opportunity Cost
    The Criteria of Efficiency and Equity Externalities
    Unintended Consequences
    Other Important Economic Concepts

    Chapter 2 Cities of the World: How Metro Areas Rank
    Defining Metro Areas
    The Need for Standard Definitions New Definitions
    Ranking The World's Metropolitan Areas Roles in the World Economy
    Ranking US Metropolitan Areas
    Cities and Their Reputations
    A Taxonomy of 21st Century Cities
    Central Cities and Suburbs
    Economic Rankings of Cities
    The Cost of Living
    Ranking World Cities
    Average Income per Capita per Year (PPP)
    Race and Ethnicity
    Racial and Ethnic Diversity in Global Cities
    Income Disparities in Global Cities
    Using Data Wisely

    Part II The Dynamics of Metropolitan Development

    Chapter 3 Metropolitan Development from the Seventeenth to the
    Early Twentieth Century
    The Geography of Growth: Centripetal and Centrifugal Forces
    The Era of Water and Steam Power
    The Era of Railroads, Electricity, and the Telephone
    Some Economic Concepts Underlying Urban Growth
    Trade and Transportation Costs Agglomeration Economies and Density Internal Economies of Scale
    Size of Consumer Markets Technological Progress
    Transportation Costs between 19th Century Cities Weber's Graphical Model of Transportation Costs
    Other Important Ideas from Weber and from Isard Transportation Costs within 19th Century Cities
    Agglomeration Economies and the Growth of Cities
    Technological Progress and Innovation
    Demographic Growth and Change in Urban Areas
    Internal Migration: From Rural to Urban America Immigration and the Growth of American Cities Annexation and the Growing Size of Cities
    The Changing Pattern of Urban Population Growth

    Chapter 4 Cities and Suburbs Moving Into the 21st Century

    The Dynamics of Metropolitan Expansion
    Formal Models of Urban Growth and Development
    Understanding Urban Land Values
    The Basic Alonso Model---Learning About Cities from Rural
    Applying the Bid-Rent Model to Metro Area Development
    The Residential Paradox
    Constrained Choice and Political Factors in Land Values and Location
    The Evolution of 20th Century U.S. Metropolitan Areas
    Post World War II Business Location
    The Rise of the Post-World War II Suburb
    The Impact of Federal Policies on Suburbanization
    Class, Race, and Ethnic Segregation in the American City
    New Immigration and the Cities
    Cross-Currents of the Late 20th Century: Sunbelt Cities, Edge Cities, And Gentrification
    The Rise of Sunbelt Cities The Rise of Edge Cities
    Central Cities and Gentrification
    The Changing Fortunes of Individual Cities
    Globalization and the Competition for Industry in the 21st Century
    Weber and the Twenty-First-Century City

    Part III Foundations of Metropolitan Area Prosperity

    Chapter 5 Urban Prosperity and the Role of Trade
    A Short Primer on the Economics of Trade
    Absolute Advantage Comparative Advantage
    Limitations to the Theory of Comparative Advantage
    New Trade Theory
    The Theory of Competitive Advantage
    Trade and Prosperity
    Export Base Theory: The Demand Side of the Metropolitan Area's Economy
    The Basic/Non-Basic Approach: A Simple Measurement Technique
    Job Multipliers Location Quotients
    Limitations of the Basic/Non-Basic Approach
    Input-Output Analysis: A More Complex Set of Tools
    Limitations of the Input-Output Measurement Technique Limitations of the Demand Side Focus
    Shifting the Focus from the Demand Side to the Supply Side
    The Supply Side: A Long-Term Perspective
    Interactions between the Demand Side and the Supply Side
    Strategies for Less-Resilient Metropolitan Areas
    Competitive Advantage in Inner-City Neighborhoods
    Understanding Metro Area Prosperity in Light of Economic Theory
    Newly Prosperous Metro Areas in the US
    Summing Up

    Chapter 6 Urban Labor Markets and Metro Prosperity
    The National Economic Business Cycle
    Unemployment Across the Globe
    Employment and Unemployment in the United States
    What Occupations Pay
    Labor Market Earnings by Metro Area
    Occupational Wage Differentials Across Metro Areas
    Occupational Wage Differentials Between Occupations Across
    Metro Areas
    Theories About Wage Determination
    Understanding Wage Differentials
    Human Capital
    Market Power and Barriers to Mobility in the Labor Market
    Racial and Ethnic Discrimination
    Spatial Mismatch
    Skills Mismatch
    Employment, Social Networks, and Social Capital
    The Role of Unions
    Explaining Metro Area Earnings Differentials: A Summary
    Labor Markets and Urban Prosperity

    Part IV Current Policy Issues in Metro Areas

    Chapter 7 The Urban Public Sector
    Government's Economic Role in Metro Areas
    How the Private Market is Supposed to Work
    Supply and Demand in the Private Sector
    Market Failure and the Public Sector
    Market Power
    Information Problems
    Negative and Positive Externalities Pure Public Goods
    Government and the Distribution of Well-Being
    The Debate over the Scope of Government Intervention
    Market Failure and the Alternatives for Providing Goods and Services
    Regulated Private Markets Public Funding/Private Provision Public Provision
    Local Government Employment and Spending Patterns
    Privatization of Public Services
    Paying for Government Services
    Income and Sales Taxes Levied by Local Governments
    Pricing in the Public Sector
    A Primer on the Economics of Building and Paying for Bridges User Fees
    The Tiebout Hypothesis
    Limitations in the Tiebout Hypothesis Metropolitanism
    Individuals, Interest Groups, and Values
    Public Choice Theory Interest Groups and Elites Incrementalism
    Regime Theory and Growth Machines
    The Nature of Voting Systems
    The Challenge of Public Sector Decision Making
    Appendix A: Negative Externalities
    Appendix B: Positive Externalities

    Chapter 8 Urban Public Education and Metro Prosperity
    The Decentralized U.S. Education System
    Variation in School Spending
    The Importance of Schooling in Modern Society
    Variation in Educational Attainment across Metro Areas Educational Attainment and Metro Area Income
    Education, New Growth Theory, and the Well-Being of Cities and Suburbs
    Education Production Functions
    Racial and Ethnic Differences in Educational Opportunity and
    Trends in School Success by Race and Ethnicity
    Understanding “Meritocracy”
    Educational Success: The Role of Pre-School
    Does the Level of Spending on K-12 Really Matter?
    An Expanded Education Production Function
    A Growing Array of Public Schools
    Career and Technical Education Public Schools
    Magnet Schools, Charter Schools, and For-Profit Schools
    School Choice and Voucher Systems Do These School Reforms Work?

    Chapter 9 Urban Physical Infrastructure: Water, Sewer, Waste, and Energy
    Combating Disease and Death
    Density and the Spread of Epidemics
    Water Supply Systems
    From Private to Public Operation
    Solid Waste Management
    The First Municipal Garbage System Coping with Mountains of Trash
    Urban Wastewater and Sewers
    Urban Sewer Systems
    New Challenges to Urban Sewer Systems
    Urban Energy Infrastructure
    Traditional Energy Sources
    The Impact of New Prime Movers in the Industrial Age
    Location, Location, Location -- The Problem of Distance and the
    Impact of Electricity
    New Fossil Fuel Sources, Distance, and Pipelines
    Energy Infrastructure in the Early 21st Century

    Chapter 10 Urban Area Transportation
    What Consumers Want: The Demand Side of Metropolitan Transportation
    Travel Trends
    The Journey to Work
    Externalities and the Movement of Goods
    Externalities and Mass Transit Subsidies
    The Supply Side of Metropolitan Transportation
    Issues in Contemporary Metropolitan Transportation Policy Short Run Issues: Getting Prices Right
    Long Run Issues: Deciding on Future Transportation
    Infrastructure Investment
    Transportation Equity Issues

    Chapter 11 Urban Social Infrastructure: Public Health, Welfare Policies, and Public Amenities
    Public Health Indicators
    The Provision of Public Health Services
    Infectious Diseases
    Chronic Illnesses and the Expansion of Public Health Initiatives
    Personal Health Care: Hospitals and Health Centers
    Health Care for the Poor
    Health Disparities in the Metro Region
    Urban Public Health in a Global Context: Epidemics, Bioterrorism, and Homeland Security
    Urban Social Welfare: Poverty, Unemployment and Living Conditions
    Ameliorating Living Conditions in Poor Neighborhoods
    Urban Public Amenities: Pastoral Parks and Public Libraries
    Social Unrest and the Provision of Urban Public Amenities
    Failure of Expectations and a Repurposing for the Twenty-First Century

    Chapter 12 Urban Public Safety
    Urban Police
    Police, Public Safety and the Public -- Some Basic Questions
    The Origins of Municipal Police Forces in the US
    Twentieth Century Transformation of Urban Police Departments
    The Role of Civilian Employees in Police Departments
    Crime Prevention in Urban Settings: From 20th Century to 21st
    Century Paradigms
    Reimagining Public Safety for the 21st Century
    Insights From the Data
    New Issues of the 21st Century: Private Security, Internet Crime, and Homeland Security
    Fire Departments
    Fire Safety Regulations
    Structural and Chemical Fire Hazards
    Emergency Medical Services (EMS)

    Chapter 13 Land Use Controls, Sprawl, and Smart Growth
    Land Use Restrictions and Zoning
    The Power of Eminent Domain
    The Legalization of U.S. Zoning Regulations
    Types of Zoning Regulations
    Underzoning and Overzoning
    Equity Issues in Zoning
    Zoning and Informal Settlements
    Zoning and Metropolitan Sprawl What's Wrong with Sprawl
    Urban Sprawl and Commuting Times
    The Debate About Sprawl
    Measuring Sprawl
    Generating Sprawl: Market Forces and Public Policy Reducing Sprawl: Market Forces and Public Policy Smart Growth
    Density, Crowding, and Pandemics
    Barriers to Smart Growth Implementation
    Equity and Efficiency Considerations in Alternative Metropolitan
    Growth Scenarios
    Land Use Controls and Spatial Form

    Chapter 14 Urban Housing Markets, Residential Location, and Housing Policy
    The Size of the U.S. Housing Market
    U.S. Home Ownership Rates over Time
    Variance in Home Prices and Rents Across Metro Areas
    What Drives Metro Area Housing Prices: Supply and Demand
    Pricing Housing and the Hedonic Index
    Budget Constraints and Housing Preferences
    Housing "Affordability"
    Housing Prices and Vacancy Rates
    The Impact of Accelerating Home Prices and Rents on Household Location
    Post World War II Suburbanization and Residential Segregation
    Measuring Segregation
    The Causes of Housing Segregation
    Segregation and Social-Class Structure Concentrated Poverty in the Inner City
    The Suburbanization of Poverty
    Housing Policy across the Globe
    U.S. Federal Housing Policy
    Subsidizing Housing Demand Subsidizing Housing Supply
    State and Local Housing Policy
    Rent Control
    The Unintended Short Run Consequences of Rent Control
    Intervening in Housing Markets: A Word of Caution

    Chapter 15 Urban Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Change
    The Human Causes of Climate Disasters
    Rising Global Temperatures and the Potential Impact on Cities
    Major Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG)
    The Cities Most Likely to Experience the Impact of Climate Change
    The Impact of Climate Change on U.S. Regions and States
    Sea Level Rise and Ground Water Loss
    A Tale of One City
    Combatting Environmental Disaster by Reducing Greenhouse Gases
    Reducing Pollution of Varied Types
    Climate Adaptation Activities and Climate Resilience
    Relocation as a Response to Climate Change
    Steps Toward an Urban Resilience Plan
    Tools for Comparing and Selecting Adaptation Options
    Urban Measures to Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions
    Reducing Waste and Recycling Trash
    Creating Urban Energy Systems
    Reducing Vehicle Emissions
    Can Cities be Good for the Environment?
    Appendix A: Cost-Benefit Analysis

    Chapter 16 Urban Economic Development Strategies
    Firm Relocation in the U.S.
    The Trend in Manufacturing Employment
    The Geographic Dispersion of Jobs
    Goals of Economic Development
    Location from the Business Perspective
    Public Policy, Economic Development, and Firm Location
    Reducing Capital Costs (r x K) Reducing Labor Costs (w x L)
    Reducing Raw Materials, Natural Resources, and Transportation Costs (pn x N), Cs
    Reducing Taxes (T) Streamlining Regulations (R) Increasing Social Amenities
    What Works?
    Increasing a Firm's Total Revenue Reducing a Firm's Capital Costs
    Reducing Labor Costs/Increasing Skills and Education Public Provision of Transportation and Land Industrial Parks and Eminent Domain
    Reducing State and Local Taxes
    Streamlining Regulations and Enterprise Zones Building Convention Centers and Sports Stadiums
    Why Do Cities Pursue Economic Development Strategies with Such Low Payoffs?
    What are the Most Powerful Ways for Cities to Attract Private Investment and Jobs?
    Innovation Districts
    Playing Industrial Policy Right - The Case of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center
    What Should City Leaders and Policy Makers Do to Play the Economic Development Game Better?

    Chapter 17 Urban Well-Being, Civility, and Civic Engagement in the 21st Century
    What Do We Want from our Neighborhoods and How Do We Get It?
    The Tiebout Hypothesis and Privatization of Public Spaces Gated Communities and the Avoidance of Dis-Amenities Dissatisfied Citizens and their Choices: Exit versus Voice
    How Do We Create Better Communities?
    The Role of Social Capital and Civic Engagement Social Capital, Suburbanization, and Sprawl Social Capital and Neighborhood Form
    Neighborhood Form and Crime Reduction
    The Effect of Social Capital on the Lives of the Most Vulnerable
    The Future of Metropolitan Areas
    Pandemics and the Future of Metropolitan Areas
    Crosscurrents in the Impact of Covid-19 on U.S. Metropolitan Areas
    Regeneration for Whom? Rebuilding Central City Neighborhoods Demographic Change and Low Income Communities
    The Perils of Success
    An Urban Thought Experiment



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