Tuesday Morning Perspective - The Urban Agenda

Today marks a decision point in the fate of cities. The two candidates for President of the United States present starkly different views on urbanism and the role of government in promoting sustainable development.

Which Romney to Trust

Throughout his decade-long pursuit of the White House, Mitt Romney has consistently advocated for a "devolved" government - moving responsibility for decision-making and service provision from the federal government to the states and to the private sector. No doubt, there are certainly policies that are best decided at a lower level. Too much proscriptive regulation and funding restriction at the Federal level can diminish innovation.

While his governing tenure in Massachusetts indicates a willingness to explore urban policy and sustainability, his long-term campaign rhetoric says otherwise... the question is which one would occupy the Oval Office? I think it is safe to assume that we would see much more of Candidate Romney than Governor Romney. There would be much more pressure from the right, and Romney has demonstrated an extraordinary capacity to fold to such pressure (case in point: the hard right turn he took in the Republican primary season).

I fear the Tea Party wing will not let him reset the Etch-a-Sketch.

Romney (and Ryan) has backed away from addressing urban policy, and it shows. He has literally proposed gutting or completely eliminating necessary policies for urban revitalization such as smart growth, public transportation, renewable energy (including plant-based renewables and wind). His economic proposals will necessarily shift tax burdens from the wealthy to the middle class.

An article in The Atlantic states that "The issue pages on Romney's website make no mention of transportation, public transit, poverty programs, smart growth or climate change, and only cursory mention of housing." The silence is telling, and Cities deserve more than that.

Obama's Plan

Obama signed an executive order establishing the White House Office on Urban Affairs - an indication that he takes revitalization of central cities seriously. The Office on Urban Affairs has several initiatives designed to promote and fund creative revitalization projects, connect Federal agencies across common urban goals, and promote urban policy.

Many aspects of planning, funding, and regulation, are best handled at the Federal level: civil rights, interstate transportation policy, immigration, education. There remains a lot of work to do on these issues, and I don't agree with Obama's approach in several areas, but he has proven that he considers cities (with their racially and economically diverse populations) a key component of a comprehensive public policy.

Another under-appreciated, but necessary element that Obama has tackled is simple documentation. In order to shape effective policy, we need to have an accurate picture of the populations affected. Enter the American Community Survey, a descendant of the much-reviled Census long form. If Republicans end up in control of the Senate and the White House, the ACS may face cancellation.

Obama's life was shaped by urbanism and firsthand experience working with people in true poverty. There is no question that he understands the trials of poverty - not through the filter of consultants and FOX news, but as a participant wading hip-deep through the tough work of actually improving conditions. It is personal and it is meaningful to him.

An urbanist's only choice is a vote to re-elect President Barack Obama for a second term.

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