President Obama spoke today at the White House to a collection of mayors and urban policy experts who were invited to a one-day roundtable. The president talked about several proposals that have already been released, including the administration’s sustainable communities initiative, which is built around transportation, housing and the environment.
He also briefly mentioned both Promise Neighborhoods and Choice Neighborhoods.
The first, Promise Neighborhoods, is modeled on Geoffrey Canada’s successful Harlem Children’s Zone. It’s an all-encompassing, all-hands-on-deck effort that’s turning around the lives of New York City’s children, block by block. And what we want to do is to make grants available for communities in other cities to jumpstart their own neighborhood-level interventions that change the odds for our kids.
The second proposal we call Choice Neighborhoods — focuses on new ideas for housing in our cities by recognizing that different communities need different solutions. So instead of isolated and monolithic public housing projects that too often trap residents in a cycle of poverty and isolate them further, we want to invest in proven strategies that actually transform communities and enhance opportunity for residents and businesses alike.
He announced that several White House offices would be collaborating in an interagency review of federal urban policy:
I’ve directed the Office of Management and Budget, the Domestic Policy Council, the National Economic Council, and the Office of Urban Affairs to conduct the first comprehensive interagency review in 30 years of how the federal government approaches and funds urban and metropolitan areas so that we can start having a concentrated, focused, strategic approach to federal efforts to revitalize our metropolitan areas.
It’s clear that Obama is practicing big-tent politics, as far as urban policy is concerned. Early in the speech he noted that:
[W]hen I spoke to the U.S. Conference of Mayors last year, I tried to hone in on this point that what I think traditionally had been seen as this divide between city and suburb, that in some ways you’ve seen both city and suburb now come together and recognize they can’t solve their problems in isolation; they’ve got to paying attention to each other.
Now, that doesn’t mean investing in America comes at the expense of rural America; quite the opposite. Investing in mass transit and high-speed rail, for example, doesn’t just make our downtowns more livable; it helps our regional economies grow. Investing in renewable energy doesn’t just make our cities cleaner; it boosts rural areas that harness that energy. Our urban and rural communities are not independent; they are interdependent.
So he’s for urban America, but also suburban and rural America, got that? Okay, okay … politics are politics here, and we need to ensure broad support to make sure constructive policies for the inner city actually get enacted. Still, we also need to make sure the president’s urban policy agency doesn’t become so watered down that it has no impact. As noted in our earlier blog entry about the perils of regionalism, that’s a real danger.