Between the Covers of ~Edge City'

Browsing in a bookstore the other day, we picked up a copy of "Edge City" by Joel Garreau. Then we bought it because we happened to look inside the back cover and then we looked inside the front cover. A startling contrast.

Inside the back cover is a photograph of Tysons Corner, Va., circa World War II. It looks lonely, a Gulf station opposite a general store selling Coca-Cola and Rock Creek ginger ale, one vehicle on the road in the distance.

Inside the front cover is Tysons Corner in 1988. A multilane superhighway separates more than a score of new high-rise office buildings, each from its own parking lot. America today.

We concede we don't understand much of what is happening in America, and we are eager for insights. "Edge City" looked worthwhile, and it proved to be.

Our new Edge Cities, Mr. Garreau tells us, are tied together not by locomotives and subways, but by freeways, jetways, and jogging paths. Their characteristic monument not a horse-mounted hero in the square but an atrium shielding trees perpetually in leaf at the cores of our corporate headquarters, fitness centers, and shopping plazas. They don't produce steel, they process high-tech information.

Well, there certainly are many such places, and they contrast dramatically with small towns, many of them now dying, and with big cities, some of them dying, too, or, at the very least, not healthy.

Edge Cities are located at the intersections of superhighways, and they are, Mr. Garreau reports, where the majority of Americans now live, learn, work, shop, play, pray, and die. They will be "the forge of the fabled American way of life way into the 21st century," he says.

Mr. Garreau, a reporter for The Washington Post, writes positively about Edge Cities, and he tells us "to ignore the gloom-and-doom-sayers" who worry that "America's manufacturing prowess has rusted." This point of view alone makes his book well worth reading, but it is his effort to explain an important demographic phenomenon that helps one understand the United States of 1991.

If cities at the edge between the countryside and metropolitan centers are the focus of development, municipal bond investors should know more about them. Mr. Garreau's book does not attempt to cover the financing of Edge Cities, however, and indeed it only makes it apparent how difficult it is for the municipal bond investor or analyst to grasp the finances of this phenomenon.

A city can sell a bond issue and everyone understands the transaction. But the intersection of Interstate 287 and 1-78 doesn't have a name, a Moody's rating, or a managing underwriter. Yet such places are where most Americans live, work, and play, and the municipal bond market needs to understand them.

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