But celebrations about the potential triumph of urban policy may be premature. In recent weeks, the Obama administration has begun referring to the office as “urban affairs,” rather than “urban policy,” a small but notable downgrade. And while other offices and Cabinet agencies have been staffing up—the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships has representation in 12 government agencies—100 days in, urban affairs has announced only two senior staffers: Derek Douglas, who was special adviser to New York Gov. David Paterson, and former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, Jr., who faces allegations of mismanaging campaign donations and development projects in New York City.
The comparative silence from urban affairs has not gone unnoticed. Diana Lind, editor of Next American City, a journal that covers urban policy, frets that “this isn’t going to be as serious and as powerful a role as many urbanists had hoped.”
The office faces challenges aside from Beltway bureaucracy—namely coordination on a national scale. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has lobbied repeatedly—and “unsuccessfully,” he said last week—for Recovery Act funding to bypass governors and statehouses and go directly to city officials better attuned to constituent needs. Twenty-five mayors, including Bloomberg, have sent a letter to the president asking for a federal “Urban Innovation Fund” that would strategically invest and rigorously evaluate outcomes when it comes to urban policy. But there has been no indication that the White House or the office will lobby for more city-friendly appropriations; in fact, Recovery Act negotiations stripped $40 billion in aid that would have directly helped city budgets. And, when asked about the mayors’ letter, Douglas said that the two-person leadership team “is tossing around” a similar idea but is not working with the group.
Let's hope that time will prove us wrong.