Obama Previews His New Budget’s Urban Policy Moves

When it comes to re-centering the Washington bureaucracy to better accommodate cities’ needs, the first year of the Obama administration has brought its share of progress (a three-agency partnership set to spend $150 million on sustainable development) and hiccups (a White House urban affairs office with lots of talk but little action).

obama_1.jpg(Photo: whitehouse via Flickr)

Now the next milestone is the White House’s 2011 budget proposal, set to hit the streets early next month. And in his speech to the U.S. Conference of Mayors yesterday, the president vowed that metropolitan areas would get their fair share of attention. Obama outlined three goals in his speech:

First, we’ll build strong, regional backbones for our economy by
coordinating federal investment in economic and workforce development,
because today’s metropolitan areas don’t stop at downtown. What’s good
for Denver, for example, is usually good for places like Aurora and
Boulder, too. Strong cities are the building blocks of strong regions,
and strong regions are essential for a strong America.

Second on the White House’s list: beefing up funding for the sustainable communities alliance struck by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and U.S. DOT. "We need strategies
that encourage smart development linked to quality public transportation that bring our communities together," Obama said, echoing his Transportation Secretary’s push for more competitive TIGER transportation grant money this year.

Obama described the third plank in his urban agenda as "creating neighborhoods of opportunity":

Many of our neighborhoods have been economically distressed long before
this crisis hit, for as long as many of us can remember. And while the
underlying causes may be deeply rooted and complicated, there are some
needs that are simple: access to good jobs, affordable housing,
convenient transportation that connects both, quality schools and health services, safe streets and parks, and access to a fresh, healthy food supply.

The primary budget vehicle for this effort is likely to be Choice Neighborhoods, a HUD program intended to go beyong the HOPE VI grant program’s focus on public housing. Congress gave the administration $65 million in its 2010 transportation/housing spending bill to launch a pilot version of the Choice program, which aims to tackle urban revitalization more holistically, boosting access to quality transportation and jobs as well as housing.

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