Thursday, October 8, 2009

Distorting Metaphors

"The approach is winning applause from local officials and urban thinkers who credit the administration for quietly beginning the most ambitious new policy for the nation's cities since the Great Society programs of the 1960s."

Michael A. Fletcher, "Obama Sets Sights on Urban Renewal," The Washington Post, October 7, 2009

Maybe it's my age but evoking urban renewal sends chills up my back. This federal approach to cities of the 1950s and 1960s was called things like "slum removal" and worse, and was a mechanism for bulldozing poor neighborhoods to rescue cities and their downtowns. I'm sure there were some bright spots -- not for the people moved.

Evoking Great Society programs gives me a different feeling. I'm not a Great Society basher but it's fair to say that it was more about people programs, rights, benefits, and participation than the physical redevelopment of cities. Model Cities was much of the same.Programs, not power and progress

What's so different about Obama's approach is that it's metro, people and place oriented, focused on restructuring access and locational inequities, and interested in rejuvanating the economic base of cities by helping them become more sustainable. It combines poverty alleviation with smart growth and with economic competitiveness. That's way different -- and an approach that is relevangt for many rural communities, not just those already in metro areas. The heroic assumption is about ability to work accross silos cooperatively.

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