Urban Update

Ed Note: This is the first in a series of blogs that will detail the work of the White House Office of Urban Affairs in coordinating the development of a national urban policy agenda. For a summary, read our urban policy handout.

In the past, the federal government has taken a fragmented approach to urban and metropolitan policy that failed to reflect the complexity and interconnected reality of places and the people that live there. This siloed approach limited the reach of federal programs and missed opportunities for true innovation.

In February 2009, President Barack Obama created the White House Office of Urban Affairs with a broad mandate to provide leadership and coordinate the development of a national urban policy agenda.

Since then, we have begun changing the way in which the federal government invests in places. These efforts are guided by three overarching goals: to foster urban and metropolitan areas that are economically competitive, environmentally sustainable, and socially inclusive.

From the beginning, the Administration and the Office of Urban Affairs has made public engagement a priority. We know that Washington doesn’t have all the answers, so we hit the road, meeting with urban experts, non-profits, mayors, county officials, foundations, and other stakeholders from across the country to get their input and see for ourselves what works and what doesn’t.

In all, the Office of Urban Affairs visited eight cities and towns across the country, from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Flagstaff, Arizona, visiting local leaders and holding policy discussions with practitioners. We saw innovation at work and brought those ideas back to Washington.

While on the road, we heard many of the same stories of difficulty navigating and implementing the myriad of available programs. Though the federal government invests billions of dollars through programs to help urban and rural communities, the funding communities receive is too often fragmented and limited in impact. Communities need programs that are flexible and that foster innovation, rather than being overly prescriptive. Programs need to be integrated and comprehensive. Federal programs should incentivize local actors to collaborate so that municipalities think strategically as a region. Perhaps most importantly, federal programs should be outcome-oriented, not just process oriented.

This input has helped us change the way we think about and create policy. To create better, more integrated and efficient programs we brought together 17 federal agencies in an urban policy working group. This convening provides a platform for information sharing and general coordination of programs. It is also responsible for conducting the annual place-based policy review that asks each federal agency to analyze the impact of their programs on how urban and rural areas develop.

Additionally, our urban policy sub-working groups focus strategically on specific initiatives that support our overarching goals. The Regional Innovation Clusters group works to build upon the economic assets and competitive strengths of a region to boost job creation and economic growth. The Sustainable Communities group links transportation and housing with environmental impact to promote sustainable development and expand economic opportunity. And the Neighborhood Revitalization group addresses neighborhoods with high rates of poverty, crime, and unemployment with an eye toward reversing negative trends through comprehensive and targeted strategies.

In the weeks ahead, representatives from these urban policy working groups will give an update on their work and how it will impact your community. Our hope is that this blog series will offer readers a picture of all of the exciting policies that have developed over the last year, and how they come together to form a vision of more economically competitive, sustainable and inclusive communities—the urban and metro realities that we all know are possible.

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