President-elect Barack Obama's announcement that he will create an Office of Urban Policy in the White House should resonate not just with city dwellers but with most residents of the state. Mr. Obama takes the view that cities and suburbs are inexorably intertwined and that the metropolitan region is, as he put it in a speech in June to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, "the backbone of regional growth."
As Mr. Obama said, the old city/suburb dichotomy has changed. Lines are blurred. To focus exclusively on the problems of cities is to ignore their relationship with their growing metro regions. In most parts of the country, metros are working together to build transit, train workers, attract innovative industry and create entertainment. Greater Hartford is behind many of its peers in creating and executing a regional vision.
But perhaps the new president will help.
There has been no urban policy for the past eight years. The Clinton years had some successes, such as the Hope VI housing program and more police, but still offered no broad vision. Much federal policy toward cities since the misguided "urban renewal" era has been, if anything, anti-urban.
But with volatile energy prices, falling exurban housing prices and the threat of global warming, the cities and their regions may now be, as Mr. Obama put it, not the problem but the solution.
Brookings Institution has begun a multiyear initiative called "Blueprint for American Prosperity: Unleashing the Potential of a Metropolitan Nation." Brookings says the nation's largest 100 metro areas generate a massive 75 percent of the nation's gross domestic product. Thus the nation's future is largely dependent on the viability of its metros.
Appearing at a recent Courant Key Issues Forum co-sponsored by the University of Hartford's Center For Integrated Design, Mark Muro, policy director of Brookings' Metropolitan Policy Program, called for powerful federal incentives for regional activity.
Mr. Obama has lived in major cities for most of his adult life, and will continue to do so for at least the next four years. If he can put resources behind his metro vision, he will have fulfilled another of his promises: Change.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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