THE GROFF/ELLISON POLITICAL REPORT

Urban Decor and Definition

Posted in Uncategorized by groffellison on February 26, 2009

images12The composition of the Urban Affairs team draws two obvious points: 1) the White House is drawing experience from the nation’s largest urban model: New York City and 2) with Carrion’s appointment, there is a public effort to ease concerns over perceived lack of Latino leadership in the Obama Administration.  A marked focus on “urban affairs” is laudable in many respects, given the city-centered scope of our most critical challenges: from infrastructure to public health; from economic development to jobs; from public education to crime. These issues strike a strong personal chord with the President. It’s a clear departure from the previous Administration which didn’t appear to care very much about American cities while appeasing to a primarily suburban and rural base. And, this definitely gives Obama leverage in dealing with Mayors during a time of local budget shortfalls and rising unemployment.

Since, as the White House notes, 80 percent of the U.S. population is concentrated in cities, the effectiveness of this new Office will greatly depend on how it coordinates activities through other agencies. The White House must be certain that its definition of “urban” is clear and that it doesn’t brand one particular agenda or typecast one or two particular groups.  Urban will have to acknowledge cities as centers of commerce, culture and governance while addressing the many social, economic, environmental, health and political issues that are inextricably linked.
If careless, critics will have ammunition to accuse the White House of political window-dressing, with conservatives quick to criticize the ‘urban agenda’ as ‘too left.’  Others will watch cautiously, ensuring the office doesn’t become ‘racialized.’ That said, many advocates, particularly in the African American community, will expect sharper focus on issues impacting Black people.  And, although a focus on urban affairs is needed, let’s be mindful of the fact that many working to middle class city residents, especially African Americans, are being displaced or gentrified into cheaper suburbs.  Over time, the White House will have to find a way to address the rapid rise of suburban poverty, which recently outpaced its urban neighbor.

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