If Mayors Ran America …

In 2004, after John Kerry and John Edwards conceded a second term in the White House to George W. Bush, the editors of Seattle’s liberal-tarian weekly The Stranger published an essay entitled "The Urban Archipelago," calling on urban Democrats and their political candidates to unite on issues relevant to cities, where the majority of Americans live. Though an enjoyable read, most of the essay isn’t suitable for print on a family blog, but here’s a representative passage:

With all the talk of the growth of exurbs and the hand-wringing over facile demographic categories like "security moms," you may be under the impression that an urban politics wouldn’t speak to many people. But according to the 2000 Census, 226 million people reside inside metropolitan areas — a number that positively dwarfs the 55 million people who live outside metro areas. The 85 million people who live in strictly defined central city limits also outnumber those rural relics. When the number of city-dwellers in the United States is quadruple the number of rural people, we can put simple democratic majorities to work for our ideals.

According to the New York-based Drum Major Institute for Public Policy, those ideals include funding for police, health care, housing, utilities, transit and other infrastructure — and, for the most part, still aren’t being talked about in the heart of the 2008 presidential primary season by either dominant party. So DMI, in association with The Nation magazine, launched MayorTV, a series of interviews with mayors from coast of coast, in which they talk about why cities matter and challenge White House hopefuls to make urban America part of the national discussion. (Mayor Michael Bloomberg has so far not participated.)

In addition to being "an ATM for the major presidential candidates," said DMI Executive Director Andrea Batista Schlesinger in a recent TV interview, "If cities aren’t functioning, being the economic engines for their regions, then it becomes the problem of suburbs and exurbs, and it becomes the problem of the country."

Video: Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, via MayorTV/YouTube

  • Seems like the challenge is to get people living in suburbs to accept that suburbs are basically cities. Shouldn’t be too hard, since these days suburbs have all the urban problems of traffic, smog, scary neighborhoods, and housing shortages. We just have to convince them that urban solutions like transit and selective density can help them–and that this doesn’t mean you have to give up your yard!

  • Bill

    I agree that cities are almost always the birthplace on new ideas, that’s part of the reason why they exist. But I also realize that many people of influence live outside of the city because they have the wealth to do so. Our current president lives on a ranch, fergodsake!

  • Larry Littlefield

    The last thing we need is to have the federal government suck more money out of cities and for them to beg for the money back.

    Those who want to be informed, to see where federal money actually goes, read this

    http://www.r8ny.com/blog/larry_littlefield/the_federal_budget_by_administration_expenditures_by_category.html

    and download and print the spreadsheet attached to this post

    http://www.r8ny.com/blog/larry_littlefield/the_federal_budget_by_administration_overview_of_revenues_and_debt.html

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    I will read this piece but I am disappointed in the repartee so far from our loyal urban reader/writers here. The suburbs are distinguished from the cities they surround solely by the entirely arbitrary boundaries that separate them. Those boundaries exist solely to harvest tax and real estate value from the center cities. The more weakened the city centers are (Detroit) the stronger the automobile economies are that enable that disenfranchisement.

    Its not like this structure was ordained by the Old Testament in the tablets taken down from Mt. Ararat. It is mostly a creature of 20th Century American politics and pretty much limited thereto. As luck would have it the main crisis facing the suburban bantustans surrounding NYC is property tax inflation. Thank God Governor Corzine addressed that by making everyone in Jersey pay more sales taxes to bale them out. No wait, Spitzer is “relieving” those property taxes in New York too. Not a minute too soon for Garden City.

    Truth is, on a square foot basis, property taxes in the burbs are much lower than in NYC. And when you work transportation funding into the equation, with the split mortgage recording tax for the MTA, the disparity deepens.

    The wild thing is that the balkanized land use structures that have driven the property tax inflation in the burbs is somehow envied by the “civic associations” in the city, especially the outer boroughs. And the City Council members who cater to their whims, and want to be elected to something after they are termed out, enable that tendency. Downzoning in the outer boroughs will drive urban planning down to the gutter of suburban land use planning.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Don’t worry Price. In 25 years NYC may be richer than many of the suburbs. And then the tax base will be regionalized.

    For example, for Medicaid services concentrated outside NYC — nursing homes, family health plus — there is little or no local matching share. But for services concentrated in NYC, there is a massive local matching share. Etc. Etc.

  • EWF

    Niccolo – It’s always enjoyable to read your articulate & entertaining comments, even when I disagree (which I don’t in this instance). So thanks. (I had to wiki ‘bantustan’)

  • The article in The Stranger was really talking, although they couldn’t quite put their finger on it, about the nature of the American statehouse, which always gives extra representation to the “rural” areas. The Stranger was pointing out that, although “urban” values enjoy a strong majority in the US, the political structure has buttressed “rural” values (which, of course, are now factory farms and a mish-mash of Mike Huckabee style populism and Big Daddy Warbucks capitalism).

    It might be worth remembering that city politics in the 40s and 50s were corrupt machines, and many people who moved to the suburbs wanted to escape the machine politics, said politics then proving the wisdom of the move by destroying the cities they ruled.

    Frankly, I read the article and don’t see how “most” of it would be unsuitable for a “family” blog. Maybe Brad is displaying a little “rural” valuation here.

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