Office of Urban Affairs Principles

The fundamental shift to a more urban and metropolitan society -- across the globe -- demands a new Federal vision that recognizes metropolitan areas as dynamic engines that drive the nation’s economy and a new  Federal  policy that capitalizes on their economic, social, physical and human assets, for the benefit of all.

According to the United Nations, in 2007, for the first time in history, the majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and that percentage is projected to grow by 37 percent by 2050.  In the U.S., 83 percent of residents and 85 percent of all jobs are located in our 363 metro areas.  

The significance of urban areas goes far beyond population.  The overwhelming majority of the Nation’s assets -- infrastructure, airports, hospitals, universities, financial institutions, manufacturing plants -- are concentrated in metropolitan regions and generate 90 percent of the Nation’s economic production as well as a similar percentage of all Federal taxes collected. The 100 largest metro areas alone sit on just 12 percent of the Nation’s land mass but are responsible for 75 percent of America’s GDP, punching above their weight in productivity and energy efficiency. 

A new national urban and metropolitan policy is transformational and inspiring.

A new national policy, its goals and programs represent a dramatic shift from the past.  It is hopeful and optimistic that solutions to our most challenging problems are possible; that people and places are resilient; that innovation is essential for a strong economy; that the American people can attain the knowledge needed for personal growth and competitiveness in the 21st century; that markets can be both robust and fair and prosperity shared; that healthy, vibrant places can foster an enviable quality of life for all residents; and that decisions made on the basis of evidence increase the resources available for approaches that work for both the individual and for society at large.

A national urban policy views cities as the solution, not the problem.

A new Federal urban policy moves away from the views of the past in which cities were viewed as centers of poverty with a host of problems to a view that recognizes cities as central to a national strategy for economic prosperity.  Cities and metropolitan regions are critical engines of the economy, the locus of national assets, and the vehicle by which we solve the most pressing national issues of our time-economic recovery and long-term prosperity, environmental sustainability, and upward mobility.

A national urban policy is metropolitan, built on a foundation of strong cities and strong neighborhoods and responsive to different market conditions across the country.

U.S. cities and suburbs have radically changed over the last forty years.  Cities have experienced a resurgence since 1990 but the rapid growth of suburbs have blurred distinctions between cities and suburbs and the exurbs as jobs and people traverse these boundaries daily in both directions.
Many, if not most, of the systems we need to boost productivity and create opportunity--real estate markets, labor markets, business markets and industry clusters, and transportation/ infrastructure--are regional. 

That said, any metropolitan strategy must be built on a foundation of strong neighborhoods and cities in order to be successful.  Strong neighborhoods and cities are integral to strong metro areas, and strong metropolitan markets and opportunities are critical to ensure thriving neighborhoods and cities.  These geographies are all highly inter-related and interdependent and share in the same regional assets. The best local strategies coordinate and link these neighborhood, city and regional interventions.  Therefore, solutions must accommodate strategies at all scales to best respond to the various challenges, opportunities, and intra-metropolitan disparities that exist. 

A national urban agenda invests in developing human potential through individual achievement, civic engagement and community leadership.

To compete effectively in the new global reality, all available human potential must be utilized. While no government can guarantee individual success, it can guarantee opportunity and a focus on inclusion.  Federal investment in and incentives for education, social integration, community building and responsibility are critical to ensure that the nation’s human resources can be fully marshaled.
A national urban agenda allocates resources based on evidence of what works, promotes accountability and transparency, sets goals and outcomes, providing the metrics to benchmark performance, and rewards local and regional leaders who do the same. 

To be truly catalytic and create change, policies and programs must set explicit goals and outcomes, and then use data to track and reward progress towards those outcomes.  A national urban agenda advances the three-prong goals of prosperity in cities and metropolitan areas--competitiveness, sustainability, and inclusion. 

Federal policies will aim to use evidence-based decision-making to reward government and private ventures that demonstrate inclusive and sustainable growth.  Finally, the Federal government will advance an information policy that ensures data transparency, accessibility, and availability and a data infrastructure that provides ongoing access to information for course correction and continual improvement and enables outcome-based performance and evaluations.

A national urban agenda requires a new approach to policy development:  one that is integrated, multi-jurisdictional, collaborative and flexible, supports cooperation among the public, private and nonprofit sectors and creates a Federal-city/metro partnership in which the Federal Government is a catalytic partner to change from the bottom up. 

Local and regional leaders often scramble to fit working local programs into ill-fitting, narrower, and inflexible Federal grants and programs.  Simultaneously, cities, suburbs and exurbs often compete with one another for limited funds or create duplicative programs.  A new Federal urban agenda will advance policies that empower bottoms-up, multi-dimensional and multi-jurisdictional problem-solving.  Specifically, a national urban agenda will:

  • Promote integrated, silo-busting approaches;
  • Provide incentives for collaborations and partnerships across issue areas and jurisdictions;
  • Elevate and bring to scale effective and promising policies and programs;
  • Provide flexibility in implementation, rather than overly prescriptive, top-down rules and regulations;
  • Provide incentives to focus on outcomes, not just compliance to processes;
  • Remove barriers to accomplishing goals at Federal, state, metro and local levels; and
  • Leverage market investment and public-private partnerships.

A national urban agenda benefits rural areas, and rural vitality matters to urban areas. 

Urban and rural areas are highly intertwined.  Metro areas are economic centers, defined by commuter sheds, which include large swaths of rural land, farm land, and open spaces.  As a result, more than half of rural residents live inside metro areas.  In addition, rural and urban economies are interdependent.  For example, rural areas provide the food supply and, more recently, new alternative energy sources (e.g., wind, biomass) for urban dwellers.  At the same time, urban grocers and restaurants have become major consumers of organic and other boutique agricultural products.  Thus, a national agenda that advances the health and vitality of urban areas does not result in a zero-sum game for rural areas but instead benefits and complements rural strategies. 

A new national urban and metropolitan agenda is not a separate initiative that competes with other priorities but a vehicle through which many national goals align and are accomplished.

The most effective federal policies will be integrated investments, ones that acknowledge the necessity of linking housing, energy, transportation, education and economic policy.  Within this understanding, cities and their metropolitan surroundings are the vehicles for the successful investment of these integrated resources, the places where they can be best leveraged for the benefit of city, suburb, rural area and the nation as a whole.