One of the reasons that the city of Philadelphia is so overwhelmingly Democratic -- cutting across virtually every boundary of income, race, religion, education level, etc. -- is because ever since the "Reagan Revolution" of the 1980s, there's been the sense that the conservative tides in Washington were successfully leaving America's cities behind. By the 2000s, national candidates in either party rarely took to the time to even pay lip-service to urban affairs. Now that we have a Democratic president with roots in the American city of Chicago, with a real interest in a smarter urban policy, I wonder if the government will be able to get it done over angry mobs who would brand one additional dollar for a place like Philly as "socialism."
The Washington Post has a good story today about the Obama administration's renewed passion for urban policy, and it mentions this project, the kind I would love to see here:
In Kansas City, stimulus funding has galvanized a project called the Green Impact Zone, led by Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (D-Mo.), a former mayor of the city. About $200 million in mostly federal money will be invested in the project, which aims to transform an economically depressed 150-square-block area east of Troost Avenue. About half of its residents live in deep poverty, with numerous vacant houses, high crime levels and unemployment rates approaching 50 percent.
The project involves a coordinated rush of federal money. Stimulus funding will be used to weatherize the 2,500 homes in the community. Block grants from the Energy Department will be used to hire residents and train them to do energy audits. Meanwhile, the local power company will build a "smart grid" in the area, using $25 million in stimulus money and $25 million of its own. More than $30 million, mostly from the Transportation Department, will be used to build a 13-mile rapid-transit line through the community to downtown that will feature solar-powered stations and buses that run on biodiesel fuel. There also will be job training in environmental cleanup and community policing funded by various agencies.
Bolsheviks! In fairness, nobody -- conservative or liberal -- wants badly run urban-aid programs of the type that were too prevalent by the late 1970s. But this pilot in Kansas City (pictured at top) seems like a much more intelligent effort to get the most bang for the taxpayers's buck -- it has a second public component in reducing greenhouse gases, and it does so by creating jobs at at a time when everyone seems mad at Obama and the rest of Washington about unemployment. Of course, it's dubious that more funds would be freed up for worthy projects like this in the current toxic political climate. It was a big goof by Obama not to get more urban dollars when he had the chance.
Much of the $787 billion federal stimulus package was structured in ways that left states in charge of the final distribution, largely forfeiting the federal government's role in reshaping how the money is eventually spent. A report released by the U.S. Conference of Mayors found that major metropolitan areas were shortchanged in the first round of stimulus transportation spending administered by states.
Cities short-changed? It probably won't be the last time.