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WH Office of Urban Affairs

White House Working Group Formed on Obama National Urban Agenda

Dayo Olopade over at The Root has written an update on the White House Office of Urban Affairs, which began its listening tour last week in Philadelphia. The story gives a bit more clarity on the office's role in convening a White House urban policy working group to draft the administration's national urban agenda.

The Office of Urban Affairs is still very much in an information gathering phase. It will soon convene an interagency working group that includes the 10 federal agencies that "touch every aspect of urban metropolitan life," says Carrion. This includes the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Energy, Transportation, HUD and others. The Domestic Policy Council, Office of Management and Budget, National Economic Council have also been asked to join in deliberations. The group will draft “a national urban agenda that makes sense for the future, that will touch people in the workplace, in their homes, out on the roads … all aspects of urban living,” says Carrion.

Urban Listening Tour Begins in Philly Supermarket

The Obama administration's National Conversation on Urban and Metropolitan America, announced two weeks ago, begins today with a visit to a ShopRite supermarket in a low-income West Philadelphia neighborhood. White House Office of Urban Affairs Director Adolfo Carrion will join Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and other administration officials in the tour.

The officials are reportedly visiting a supermarket to learn about Pennsylvania’s Fresh Food Financing Initiative and to promote the importance of supermarkets and access to fresh produce, as opposed to fast food restaurants and convenience stores more typically found in such neighborhoods. Some believe that such issues influence obestiy rates in low-income neighborhoods.

Obama mentioned the Philadephia visit during his July 13 remarks. The listening tour is also expected to make stops in Kansas City and Denver, among other cities. The Kansas City stop is expected to focus on home weatherization and building a green local transit system. The Denver stop will focus on their public transit system and associated smart growth efforts that place new housing, retail, and office development near each transit stop.

Update: The Philadelphia Inquirer has reported on the event. So has Citiwire.net.

President Speaks at Urban Policy Roundtable

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.

White House to Host Urban Policy Summit Monday, July 13

According to an article posted in the online version of the Washington Post:

The White House will host a daylong urban policy discussion including mayors, county executives, governors, urban policy experts, and heads of various agencies ... President Obama is expected to address the conference.

According to the article:

[D]iscussion will include initiatives like Choice Neighborhoods, a new HUD program that provides poor neighborhoods not only with housing, but also social and economic benefits, like day care and farmers' markets; and Promise Neighborhoods, a Department of Education program modeled after the Harlem Children's Zone, to improve academic achievement and life skills by offering after school and weekend sports, social and arts activities.

The conference will include several dozen policy experts, including Bruce Katz, the director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, who developed some of the ideas that led to the creation of the Office of Urban Affairs. Bankers, planners, and advocates will also attend.

We will post more as we learn more.


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by Dr. Radut