Leaders Explore Revitalization of Cities
Leaders Explore Revitalization of Cities
by Mark Borak
The National League of Cities joined 21 municipal, private sector and nonprofit leaders in a dynamic forum for metropolitan revitalization ideas at the first joint meeting of the Saving Americas Cities Working Group and Advisory Committee last week.
Chaired by Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), the working group, charged by House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) to examine the challenges facing Americas metropolitan areas and recommend actions, includes 24 House Republicans. An advisory committee of national and municipal leaders, chaired by former HUD Secretary Jack Kemp, complements the working group.
The advisory committee, which includes Washington, D.C., Mayor Anthony A. Williams, NLC president, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and Akron, Ohio, Mayor Don Plusquellic, joined the working group at the meeting.
Panelists emphasized the need for increased cooperation and coordination between the federal government and local economic regions.
Cities are the centers of interconnected local economic regions which together comprise the overall U.S. common market, said panel member Donald J. Borut, executive director of NLC. The conditions, performance and outlook for the national economy are directly dependent on the condition, performance and outlook for those local economic regions.
The seeds of the solution lie in the problem, said Kemp, who agreed that the foundation of U.S. economic success and competitiveness in the global economy resides with the economic health of Americas cities.
The panel emphasized that investment in education, entrepreneurship and housing opportunities in cities will create national economic benefits and improve the quality of life for all Americans.
Education levels are one of the most important components of economic performance, said Carol Coletta, president and CEO of CEOs for Cities, a national organization of leaders from business, academia and government. Cities that can generate new ideas and industries will also raise incomes and standards of living.
Sheila Crowley, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, drilled down into housing issues and explained that many first responders, teachers and public servants cannot afford to live in the communities where they work. Crowley added that the United States needs to produce 250,000 new housing units each year for low-income residents over the next 20 years to close the projected housing gap.
To provide enough low- and mid-income housing to serve our cities populations, the panelists emphasized using different approaches that would complement existing infrastructure, redevelop brownfields and use creative methods to marry private development with public interests.
Investment in infrastructure would pave the way for increased development, but local governments cant handle these costs alone, said Jeff Soule of the American Planning Association.
There is a need for a greater level of incentives in addition to federal funding in the form of block grants and loans to lower the barriers to redevelopment for the private sector, said advisory committee member Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League and former mayor of New Orleans.
The real estate boom and a resurgent interest by empty-nest suburbanites in downtown living provide both an opportunity for revitalization and a danger of accentuating challenges facing Americas cities.
Investment in housing must be met with investment in people through education, job opportunities and support for minority-owned businesses, said Advisory Committee member Valerie Lemmie, city manager of Cincinnati, and president of the National Academy of Public Administration.
People are our most valuable resource, agreed Kemp.
On specific issues, panelists offered their full support for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program and low-income housing tax credits as tools to spur redevelopment in blighted, abandoned, and historic areas.
We need to recognize the primacy of CDBG as the centerpiece of urban revitalization, said Morial.
Many panelists provided examples of how mixed-income housing and redevelopment projects had contributed to higher living standards, property values, and tax revenue, but needed initial public investment of funds to break ground.
Kemp referenced a House bill (H.R. 1461) that would require two government-sponsored organizations, mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, to set-aside 5 percent of their annual profits for affordable housing construction. Kemp speculated that this could help spark reinvestment in metropolitan areas.
Source: National League of Cities. For more information on the National League of Cities, visit: www.ncl.org.