In the 2008 election, African Americans particularly those in large cities gave President Barack Obama the strong support needed to offset a virtually even split between suburban and rural votes. One month after taking office, Obama signed an executive order establishing the White House Office of Urban Affairs in an effort to make good on a campaign promise that the federal government would be more responsive to major metropolitan areas.
“About 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas, and the economic health and social vitality of our urban communities are critically important to the cultural, religious, and nonprofit institutions they attract.”
Obama said he would implement forward-looking policies that encourage wise investment and development in urban areas and create much- needed employment and housing opportunities. The president brought in Adolfo Carrion, a former Bronx, N.Y., borough president, to serve as director. One of Carrion’s first actions was to send top administration officials on a listening tour. The National Conversation of America’s Cities and Metropolitan Areas held its last town hall meeting in Atlanta some two years ago and resulted in major initiatives for promise neighborhoods and sustainable communities.
PROMISE NEIGHBORHOOD INITIATIVE
WHAT IT DOES: The Department of Education’s program recognizes the role the community plays in a child’s education.
WHY IT WORKS: Promise neighborhoods create a pre-K to college-to- career continuum by partnering with community-based organizations that provide workshops for parents with young children and tutoring, mentoring and community-building programs.
WHERE IT CAN IMPROVE: Outcomes for youth in urban areas have not changed. Many inner-city schools have a 50 per- cent dropout rate, and some cities have a 50 percent teen unemployment rate.
SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITIES INITIATIVE
WHAT IT DOES: Coordinate federal policies, pro- grams and resources to make sustainable investment choices that will provide residents with a mix of housing suitable for families of all income levels; improve transportation options; all while protecting public health and the environment.
WHY IT WORKS: HUD, the Department of Transportation and the EPA joined together to form the Partnership for Sustainable Communities. This big-agency trifecta has put muscle and co- ordination behind the president’s vision. Together, they developed six “livability principles” used to coordinate federal transportation, environmental protection and housing.
WHERE IT CAN IMPROVE: Unfortunately, none of the principles specifically deals with the No. 1 issue in urban areas, unemployment. More direct targeting needs to be done if urban areas are to become sustainable.