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Although it is not too difficult a task to describe the reality of urban decline, it is another task altogether to identify and isolate the underlying trigger of this decline. Many different culprits have been proposed, including racism, capitalism, environmental extremism, postindustrialism, technology, drugs, the media, the automobile, the police, the public school system, too much government regulation, and too little government regulation. Is one of the these issues or entities the true cause? Is there a precise cause and effect explanation for why our cities are now subject to such powerful and destructive economic, environmental, and racial pressures?

These are important questions, but questions that I will not try to answer in this Essay. Regardless of whether there initially was an underlying trigger, we have reached a point where the various components of urban decline are now feeding on and reinforcing each other. They are all interconnected contributors to the downward spiral that has left our urban cores in their current condition. Therefore, instead of arguing for or against a particular underlying cause, this Essay will focus on the relation among certain critical components of the urban decline cycle. More specifically, I will assess three particular components: (1) the impact of suburban sprawl and open space conversion on the urban economy and the environment; (2) the impact of environmental hazardous waste liability on the development of urban neighborhoods and the urban economy; and (3) the impact of suburban sprawl and environmental hazardous waste liability on the health conditions and economic welfare of poor, primarily minority, communities living in the urban core. Although my analysis will draw extensively on the experience in the San Francisco Bay Area, this Essay is not city-specific. The Essay addresses issues that are affecting
virtually every major U.S. metropolitan area.