Clinton Urban Policy Misses the Big Picture

By Peirce, Neal R. | Nation's Cities Weekly, July 7, 1997 | Go to article overview

Clinton Urban Policy Misses the Big Picture


Peirce, Neal R., Nation's Cities Weekly


By advance billing, President Clinton's address to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, meeting in San Francisco in late June, was to encompass the first comprehensive urban agenda of his 4 1/2-year-old administration.

Simultaneously, the White House released a "State of the Cities" report, prepared by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This document, Vice President Gore said, was "the most significant report on the condition of urban America in a generation."

But if you expected fresh vision on how America's cities and suburbs can grow and prosper together into the 21st century, then Bill Clinton, Al Gore and HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo all let you down.

Gone--apparently a victim of untimely crib death--was the ambitious Metropolitan Economic Initiative that former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros laid out just eight months ago. Cisneros had been seeking to link inner-city and suburban fortunes by a focus on regions' shared economic growth clusters, with Washington challenging regions th include inner-city people and interests in their strategic plans.

But the Metropolitan Initiative wasn't to be found, either in the "State of the Cities" report or the president's remarks. Invisible too was any link to the Presidents Council on Sustainable Development--new ideas on how a strong economy, a healthy environment and sustainable communities, city and suburban alike, can be linked.

Echoing traditional liberal rhetoric, the Cities report preaches to the suburbs about how they should care about inner cities. But it miraculously misses the wave of research showing older working-class suburbs are starting down the same slippery slide as inner cities, trying desperately to fight off job loss, crime and deep losses in property values.

Nor did the president or the Cities report mention the most critical legislation for cities Congress must consider this year--reauthorization of "ISTEA," the six-year-old transportation funding bill. Strengthened appropriately, ISTEA could help cities immensely by slowing down sprawl-generating superhighways to far-out suburbs and redirecting more funding to crumbling urban roads and bridges and mass transit.

Of course it's true, as the president claims, that the strong national economy under his administration is in fact helping cities. "We've got the biggest economic resurgence in cities since World War II, the unemployment rate is down by a third in our 50 largest cities, more down-town towns coming back to life with sports and tourism and local business booming," Clinton told the mayors. …

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