Magazine article Government Finance Review

Inclusive Problem Solving

Magazine article Government Finance Review

Inclusive Problem Solving

Article excerpt

Cities are in very bad shape across the country. Their condition grows worse with every bout of policy gridlock in Washington. The quality of life, especially for the poor and disadvantaged, is deteriorating at an alarming pace. Today's urban diagnosis is a prognosis of what is in store for metropolitan areas and suburbs in the near future. Urban problems do not stop at the city limits. Surely we need a more comprehensive and inclusive approach to saving our communities....

The problems that need to be solved are familiar... As a result of global market changes, a "jobless" recovery, and corporate and military downsizing, the economic future of low-skilled workers is bleak and getting worse. The value of median household earnings has declined during the last decade, pushing more people than ever into the ranks of the working poor. This greatly expanding divide between the rich and the poor continues to grow.

Meanwhile, the artificial separation of city from suburb exacerbates problems in the city while failing to isolate the suburbs from the reverberations of urban decline. Former Mayor David Rusk, in his new book, Cities Without Suburbs, makes this point with startling clarity, and so, too, do the suburban victims of carjackings....

[In April 1993], the Milton S. Eisenhower Foundation announced its own study of the conditions in our communities, updating and expanding upon the findings, 25 years ago, of the Kerner Commission on Civil Disorders. The foundation's conclusions were grim: Government has learned little, and done less, to address the problems of our communities....

The Eisenhower report called for a strong federal commitment to programs that have been successful, like Head Start. It recognized that the government must be a full partner in helping its citizens adjust to the economic and demographic changes shaping the world and in providing skills to compete in a global economy. It is necessary to invest more in basic education, on-the-job training and retraining, and upgrading urban infrastructures: housing, transportation, roads, etc.

The report recognizes... that the nation's economic conditions and its flagging political will mitigate against a massive investment of federal funds to solve urban problems. Some argue that race may have something to do with this myopia.

The failure of the U.S. Senate to invoke cloture and pass the president's economic stimulus package... market the demise, at least for the present, of important urban aid initiatives.... The partisan and ideological nature of the economic policy debate at the federal level has made it clear that the leadership for change will have to come from the grassroots level.

I think that leadership will emerge out of inclusive problem-solving strategies.... By inclusive problem solving I mean bringing to the planning table, to the policy table and to the implementation table all of the stakeholders in the communities whose problems we are trying to solve. Inclusive problem solving recognizes that community-based solutions are the most effective solutions, and it encourages public-private partnerships.... We have got to have some good ideas and workable solutions. Planning for the future has always been a challenge. Anticipating future conditions and opportunities would appear to be part science, part practical politics and part luck. With the balance of forces in this equation shifting constantly, as players and systemic conditions vary, the difficulty in choosing a course and seeing it through seems almost insurmountable....

One area where new ideas are needed is in land-use planning and governance.... We must develop strategies and vehicles to transcend the political boundaries that tend to frustrate effective comprehensive problem solving. Instead of compartmentalizing service delivery systems and duplicating efforts in every jurisdiction, we need cooperative efforts to share the burden in the most cost-effective way. …

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