Urban Policy for a Second Clinton Term?

Article excerpt

The United States may be on the verge of its first coherent urban policy in a quarter century.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros began outlining elements of the new approach-a "Metropolitan Regional Strategy" - at a National League of Cities meeting in Columbus, Ohio, Oct. 6-8.

A full court unveiling of the new initiative to assist cities and regions, virtually certain to be administration policy if President Clinton wins re-election, is set for a Cisneros speech to the Detroit Economic club this Tuesday, Oct. 15.

The basic idea is to focus on an issue practically all Americans care about - the competitiveness, in the new global economy, of the nation's 343 metropolitan areas, home to 80 percent of us.

Cisneros acknowledges many people in heavily suburbanized America feel they're untouched by the fate of cities. But he says his department's research shows cities and suburbs are mextricably linked and need to collaborate to succeed in the new world economy.

HUD has identified, in fact, 18 dynamic economic sectors, ranging from entertainment and tourism to manufacturing transportation equipment, that make up, cumulatively, 54 percent of all jobs in America.

American regions succeed most against their global competitors, says Cisneros, when they have significant clusters of these sectors - or example, commercial aircraft and computer software in the Seattle citistate, health services and biomedical products in Philadelphia and Baltimore, automobiles and design engineering in Detroit, multimedia entertainment in Los Angeles, petrochemicals in Houston.

But in every case, HUD argues, the lead clusters depend on resources rooted in the cities, ranging from research universities to cultural attractions to seaports and airports.

Consider Akron, Ohio, once-fabled tire maker to the world (Goodyear, Goodrich, Firestone). The region in the `70s and `80s lost thousands of jobs to nations offering cheaper labor. But now it's coming back as the world center of research and engineering of "polymer products" - plastics and synthetic rubber.

But Akron's 400 polymer firms aren't just a suburban phenomenon. The University of Akron's former Rubber Research Institute, rechristened College of Polymer Science, is located downtown. Advanced Elastomer Systems, an industry leader, moved its world headquarters to Canal Place, a research park near center city that's a magnet for new polymer firms.

Acting more like a commerce department than a housing agency, HUD has completed - and will release next week - indepth studies on the economic dynamics of 10 metro areas. Four reports will cover "booming regions" of very fast growth - Atlanta, Jacksonville, Nashville and Austin. …