Federal Government Offers a Helping Hand to Six Struggling Cities

In a move to help buoy crisis-stricken cities, the Obama Administration this week introduced a program designed to provide administrative support to help local government officials “cut through the red tape” and access urgent federal assistance.

“Strong Cities, Strong Communities” will offer expert technical support — but not additional funding — in the areas of jobs, housing, transportation, the environment, education and economic development to cities that are suffering the staggering effects of economic displacement or natural disaster.

Memphis, New Orleans, Detroit, Cleveland, Fresno and Chester, Pennsylvania were chosen to pilot the program, which begins immediately.

Pilot cities will receive assistance from a team of mid-career federal administrators from a variety of agencies. The goal is to not only help these cities take better advantage of existing federal programs, but also to secure additional investment from the private sector and wider community.

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan told the Wall Street Journal that the program was inspired by difficulties experienced in the city of Detroit as it struggles to implement its Detroit Works blueprint for revitalization. Federal officials observed that complicated federal regulations and the difficulty of accessing federal officials were a major stumbling block in the city’s recovery efforts.

“We found they had millions in federal block grants that they either were not using or not using in the best way,” Donovan said.

As part of the Strong Cities, Strong Communities program, the Motor City will receive assistance to help leverage USDOT’s investment in light rail for the Woodward Corridor.

Meanwhile, Strong Cities will help Chester, Pennsylvania revitalize its downtown, according to a statement from the White House. Cleveland will focus on strengthening its port, while Memphis will examine ways to improve educational outcomes and attract industry. New Orleans will tackle infrastructure repair, health care delivery and safety services.

Smart Growth America applauded the concept, saying it would help further livability and sustainability goals.

“Many of the programs of Strong Cities, Strong Communities employ smart growth strategies to help these places grow stronger economically,” said SGA spokesperson Alex Goldschmidt in a statement. “We’re looking forward to seeing these programs take root to build stronger and more resilient communities in the months to come.”