Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Where's the office of urban policy?

With current economic dive down and recovery act money heading out the door is this not the reason a federal level agency was going to be created to inject urban issues? While money is going to states to repair roads and highways our cities are starting to crumble under the pressure of reduced tax revenue, increasing unemployment, and disinvestment because of city budget issues.

In the current economic conditions why isn't more attention, and yes, money, being directed to help out urban regions. If we want to stimulate our economy this seems like a logical direction. Pumping money into transit improvements, green collar job creation, and a real foreclosure plan would help revive cities, rather than leaving them on the sidelines being treated like bench warmers. This article in the Root breaks down some of these issues.

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.

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