14 October 2012

The Ambiguous Urban Policies of Obama and Romney: A focus on the Biden/Ryan debates and urban issues

  (Image of Curtiba, Brazil, considered a model of sustainbility found at :" What are Cities Doing to Go "Green? " found in Scientific America )

During the recent Vice-Presidential debate (11 October 2012), the references to cities were sketchy and mixed with national/international issues.  Biden mentioned Detroit, and the assistance given General Motors as a measure to save jobs and Detroit.  Then, he touched on mortgage relief, a de facto urban topic, in reference also to Detroit.  Biden stated: “Romney said, no, let Detroit go bankrupt. We moved in and helped people refinance their homes. Governor Romney said, no, let foreclosures hit the bottom.” Ryan, avoided the issue of governmental intervention in Detroit by a deflecting dialog with Biden about the increase of unemployment rate in Scranton, Pennsylvania (Biden’s hometown) during Obama’s first four years. “He continued to state that: “He talks about Detroit. Mitt Romney's a car guy.” Then, Ryan switched to Romney’s character with an antidotal story about Romney giving money to a family that had a tragic car accident.  Ryan’s argument completely avoided the issues of the creating  or retaining industries in American’s urban areas.  It should be noted that the candidates’ home cities of Janesville, Wisconsin (Ryan) and Scranton, Pennsylvania (Biden) are on the fringes of the Rust Belt and have seen dramatic changes in their economic base due to the structural changes that have been in process, for at least 30 years. Yet, these issues were not discussed, even in passing.

Both candidates did not adequately discuss the issues of restructuring of the economy and education (both primarily urban topics) making statements that had a hollow ring to them from both sides. We have heard both side’s statements about energy development—no surprise here. Ryan attacked the Green program of Obama as a failure and stressed energy independence, presumably related to the exploitation of natural gas and petroleum in North America.  Infrastructure and the environment were not addressed.  Some of the lack of emphasis in urban affairs is due to the brief time of the debate, but there also seemed to be extraordinary focus on Iran acquiring nuclear weapons and defense. It is difficult to cover these diverse topics in the time allotted in the debate.  Overall, urban policy or problems is cities were inadequately addressed by both Vice Presidential candidates (The entire transcript of the Ryan/Biden debate can be found on the Public Broadcasting System webpage. )

The debate between Biden and Ryan reflected the loose urban policy of Romney and Obama. On Romney’s web site within the topic of issues there is no direct mention of cities  (http://www.mittromney.com/issues .)  or in Obama’s (http://www.barackobama.com/issues?source=primary-nav .)  There may be a bright spot in Romney’s urban policy, although not directly stated, in his hiring of Rick Baker as his urban policy advisor. Baker, the former Republican mayor of St. Petersburg, Florida, is a supporter of livable cities, including investment in the city center and apparently is an adherent of The New Urbanism Movement, although to him this might translate to controlled urban sprawl ( see Mark Bergen’s article in Forbes, “Romney's Urban Adviser Loves Livable Downtowns, Infrastructure.” )  Obama is pro-urban, but his urban policies appear to be a continuation of those initiated during the Johnston years, expended during Catrter administration and revised during the Neo-Liberal Clinton Administration.  A positive move by Obama was the establishment of the Office of Urban Policy in the Executive Branch. When inspecting the website of the Office, it is minimal, lackluster and shows minimal activity in updating (i.e., the last blog entry was in June 2012.)  Although campaigning on the issues of income disparity, housing and unemployment, Obama’s policy have been largely ineffective to address these issues in urbanized areas (For another opinion on Obama’s urban policy, see “Obama's Destructive Urban Policy Alienates Low-Income Communities.” From Truthout—a Progressive blog.)
No one involved in urban policy or planning can be particularly enthusiastic about the urban policy stances by neither candidate nor their running mates.  Neither side has a concrete urban policy addressing education, infrastructure, energy, pollution, restructuring, sustainability, public transportation, economic disparities in cities?   Most people now live in metropolitan areas, yet the candidates do not speak directly to current urban issues   According to my assessment , Obama get a C plus and Romney gets a D minus for this urban policy. Many of the platforms of third parties particularly that of the Green Party ,Progressive Democrats of America (issues, not policy statement) and Justice Party better address the problems in cities than the two major parties.

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