Two years into his term, President Obama is promoting silo-busting tactics in federal urban policy. Shaun Donovan’s HUD leads the transformation — even that of his agency’s core function.
You’re probably familiar with Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign slogans, so I’ll spare you. It’s worth remembering, though, that he didn’t campaign on just financial and healthcare reform. He also made a pledge to change the way Washington treats cities.
Obama spoke to the U.S. Conference of Mayors in June 2008. “To seize the possibility of this moment,” he told them, “we need to promote strong cities as the backbone of regional growth. And yet Washington remains … wedded to an outdated ‘urban’ agenda that focuses exclusively on the problems in our cities, and ignores our growing metro areas; an agenda that confuses antipoverty policy with a metropolitan strategy, and ends up hurting both.” He closed with a promise: “If you’re willing to work with me and fight with me and stand with me … then I promise you this — we will not only rebuild and renew our American cities, north and south, east and west, but you and I, together, will rebuild and renew the promise of America.” To what extent has Obama delivered, and to what extent can he deliver?
Urbanists rejoiced upon the quick creation of the White House Office of Urban Affairs (WHOUA), headed by one of the many new “czars” Obama appointed. But so far, that office has remained mostly symbolic, doing public relations for other agencies’ efforts and perhaps acting as an intermediary. To really understand what the Obama administration does differently with regard to urban policy, one must look to the cabinet-level agencies — especially the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). At its helm is Secretary Shaun Donovan, who, with a charmingly geeky catchphrase, sums up the change in the administration’s approach.
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