ALTHOUGH AMERICANS are indignant about apartheid in South Africa, we stand mute as developers and corporate decision-makers steer us toward a resegregated America.
You can see it around Atlanta, as vast office and commercial projects, with thousands of jobs, flow to Buckhead and other developments on the affluent, overwhelmingly white northern periphery. Growth is moving farther and farther from under- and unemployed, black, poor south Atlanta.
Take the whole belt of high-tech- driven hot growth on Philadelphia's suburban Route 202. It threatens to remake the verdant, rolling hills of rural Chester County into nonstop industrial-office-strip development. But poor blacks of North Philadelphia needn't think of moving there for a job. New housing is going up, but only in pricey brackets.
A continent away, Newport Beach in California's Orange County throbs with new office development and job opportunities. There's housing -- but at prices affordable only to decision-makers. It's a freeway commute of an hour or more to Newport Beach from any housing within the price range of middle-class workers -- not to mention low-income Hispanics or blacks.
The same is happening in the San Francisco Bay area. People for Open Space, a local conservation group, has identified no less than five developing hot-growth corridors there. They are fast replicating the bumper-to-bumper congestion of Santa Clara County's Silicon Valley. Yet in grand old Oakland, central to the Bay area's rapid-rail system and home to thousands of minority citizens, hundreds of available office and industrial sites are ignored by office developers.
What propels corporations to outer suburbia? Ocassionally it's sheer escapism -- to flee minorities, inner cities and equal-employment- opportunity mandates. But such explicit motives are probably rare. In fact, many great and ostensibly socially conscious corporations, from IBM to Aetna to RCA, have joined and occasionally led the rush to suburbia. Land is often cheaper, the young technical class is footloose enough to follow and suburbia has a built-in "pink ghetto" housewife work force.
Yet status seeking and herd instincts sway many corporate decision-makers. Surely it wasn't the glory of central New Jersey's sod farms and potato fields that impelled such biggies as Exxon, Xerox, Merrill Lynch and Siemens A.G. to join the office crush mushrooming along old U.S. Route 1 outside Princeton.
By 1992, that agglomeration will equal downtown Milwaukee's office space; by century's end, it will be New Jersey's largest city. The market is "absolutely ablaze," says a New Jersey office space analyst, explaining: "Everybody wants a Princeton address."
Indeed, such projects as Princetonpark, Princeton Corporate Center and Office Center at Princeton Meadows aren't in Princeton at all; they're in such Route 1 towns as Plainsboro, West Windsor and South Brunswick, all hungry to pick up more tax base. Not a one of them, needless to say, is interested in middle-or lower-income housing for potential employees.
Is the new, ersatz Princeton necessary? Hardly. New Jersey's Revolutionary-era cities -- its Trentons and Camdens and Newarks and Elizabeths -- have been neglected for years. Says Rutgers University sociologist David Popenoe: "We are essentially letting two large, old, established cities (Trenton and New Brunswick) fall into decay while building a new city between them."
Will this be a city we'll like? Not if you believe Princeton Mayor Barbara Boggs Sigmund, daughter of the late Rep. Hale Boggs and Rep. Lindy Boggs (D-La.). She foresees "a soulless, congested, harassing anti-city," hopelessly clogged with traffic, devoid of mass transit, systematically shutting out the poor.
Princeton and Mercer County have taken the case to court, asking that townships on the Princeton corridor" be barred from issuing large commercial building permits until there's agreement on regional planning for more orderly growth on such issues as schools and lower-income housing. The idea that towns be forced to plan jointly -- taken for granted in Europe -- flies straight in the face of the rigid "home rule" tradition of a state like New Jersey.
After dismissal in a lower court, the case is now on appeal to New Jersey's progressive and often quite imaginative Supreme Court. That same court, in its famed 1984 "Mt. Laurel II" decision, said that if a town zones to attract taxpaying new businesses, it must also provide "a realistic opportunity for low-and moderate-income housing" for the employes. The court mandated regional solutions -- the opening wedge, Sigmund hopes, for an even tougher decision nw.
What is certain is that without corrective action by states, most local governments will grasp for any and all development they believe will enrich their tax base. To ask your typical suburban government to think creatively or generously about the housing problems of the poor, or the resegregation of America, is simply not realistic.
Must we accept the notion that for the American economic engine to work, corporations must have carte blanche to go absolutely anywhere their whims take them? Is it truly necessary that the poor and minorities become victims of the suburbanization of the American workplace, seeing an ever wider gulf of space between them and the new jobs?
Maybe Citibank shouldn't be forced to move to the South Bronx, or Arco to Los Angeles' Watts. But let's imagine that even a moderate share of those companies' back-office jobs were channeled to our Brooklyns and South Chicagos and North Philadelphias and Watts neighborhoods rather than inaccessible suburban sites. It could make an immense difference.
We keep advising South Africa to change its ways before it's too late. Perhaps it's time to take the counsel ourselves.