The Public Interest

Deregulating the Cities

Christopher DeMuth

Summer 1976

THE Model Cities program was to have been the crowning achievement of the “Great Society.” It was designed for President Johnson by a task force of distinguished academic, business, labor, and civil-rights leaders, working in high secrecy far from the locks and tugs of interest-group politics. It was unveiled in the Presidents 1966 State of the Union address, in which he said the program would “set in motion the forces of change in great urban areas that will make them the masterpieces of our civilization,” through “an effort larger in scope, more comprehensive, more concentrated than any that has gone before.” In nine months, the program was passed by Congress and signed into law. Over the next eight years, Model Cities was administered by a bright, earnest, hard working Washington staff; was the subject of more Cabinet-level deliberation than any other domestic enterprise of the federal government; engaged the efforts of thousands of citizens, mayors, city planners, and state and city officials across the land; and received greater federal appropriations-just under $3 billion by the end of 1974-than President Johnson had requested. And by 1974, when Model Cities was incorporated into special revenue-sharing for community development, and was thus effectively abolished, it was the most unequivocal failure of all the “Great Society” programs.

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