Author Richard Florida of the NY Daily News made an argument in his “Obama, build a lasting urban legacy” article that President Obama should create a new federal department at the cabinet level called the Department of Cities. Although the President has listed many issues that he would like to focus on in his second term, such as immigration, gun control and climate change, an initiative to create a more promising future for American cities could define the President's term and leave a lasting impression on the country.
The President made efforts in his last term to rethink and revitalize America's urban centers with the Office of Urban Affairs, created in 2009, but these efforts have gone largely unrewarded. Pair this with the existing Department of Housing and Urban Development, which is becoming increasingly out of date and irrelevant, and it's clear that Mr. President needs to rethink his approach. But despite the challenges that the Obama Administration faces, creating a Department of Cities to finally tackle the issues plaguing our most vital urban nuclei could be one of the most important and far-reaching moves he makes.
Read more about the future of our cities!
The author writes that "it is seldom acknowledged by our political culture, which routinely and reflexively sees small-town America as the 'real America,' but the well-being of the United States is increasingly determined by the well-being of its cities." This is evidenced by the fact that a whopping 2/3 of our population resides in cities and that these metropolitan areas produce 3/4 of our economic output as a nation.
A Department of Cities would recognize the importance of our cities by addressing their problems with a more efficient, holistic attitude. It would absorb the functions of several different organizations: the two mentioned above, as well as that of Transportation, Education, Commerce and Interior. It would consist of a wide variety of people, such as previous mayors and city officials, city-builders and experts on various urban matters, as well as developers and business leaders, creating a truly unique and bipartisan department united by a shared goal: to improve American cities.
Many may believe that giving the federal government an even more direct say in the way our cities run will only lead to the demise of cities' inherent innovativeness; however, it should be acknowledged that the government already invests millions of dollars in cities by funding policies and initiatives that do not communicate with each other and often even work against one another. By putting their officials under the same roof in Washington, the Department will eliminate the lack of communication cities see today and lead to even more innovation.
The Department would be able to address other important issues, such as the need to update our infrastructure, the creation of affordable housing, job creation and even the management of cities all over the globe. It could handle infrastructural problems in areas still affected by Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy, as well as encourage infrastructural developments in urban areas over unsuccessful suburban ones. It would create housing with pilot-projects that would increase density in addition to revising zoning and building codes for new residential developments. It could also play a very important role in job creation by balancing the tendency cities have to create more high-pay, high-skill jobs than low ones by infiltrating the city with the latter. It could also help cities that are stuck in the past of manufacturing move forward into the technology age to compete with already successful cities. Lastly, by working towards as many of these goals as possible, the Department would serve as an example for other developing nations who are struggling to improve their urban centers.
This proposal for a Department of Cities is an idea that could have a major influence on the future of America's cities and America itself. Now it is up to President Obama to make it happen.
Reference: NY Daily News
For more on issues effecting urban life, read "How to Design Safer Cities".