Bruce Katz: Purpose of Urban Policy Office

Bruce Katz of Brookings (on leave to HUD)  is speaking now at the NYU Furman Center's Housing Policy Conference.  What does it mean for a national government to create an Office of Urban Policy?  Bruce says it is a recognition that place matters.  Cities and metro areas are key to achieving our national priorities.

What should this office do?  Five things:

A.  Play the bully pulpit role championing the changing role of cities and metros in the success of the nation.

B. Policy review and assessment role, particularly in a budget context. What we have is a legacy government reflecting an earlier time.  There is a fundamental disconnect between today's legacy government and the vision President Obama is expressing.  Government today is balkanized and compartmentalized. 

C. Policy design and implementation in an integrated way.  We need an office to connect dots between agencies, and we don’t need to wait for a review.  We need to start changing policy now.  What would send signal that this is not your parents’ federal government?  Bruce offered three ideas: 

(1) Join policies around economic development, small business so that we can focus on regional clusters of innovation.  We can't let this become buried in a department as a program.  It needs to be part of government philosophy that affects many departments.

(2) Build neighborhoods of choice.  Join up policies around housing, inner city business development, education.  What is logical successor of HOPE VI?  Join up Promise Neighborhoods with housing.

(3) Join up transportation, HUD, energy, environmental policy.  Transportation still subsidizes sprawl.  Bruce is recommending a sustainability challenge to local communities to get them to tell the federal government how they are going to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by joining up transportation and land use.

D. Drive an urban performance agenda with information.  Federal government is a fact-free zone.  Information needs to inform govt, citizens, and business people on strategic decisions.  We need cluster observatories, like those Michael Porter is running in Europe but not here.  Information must be a platform for strategic action.

E.  Encourage and nurture a new set of partnerships. As federal government has withered, states and local governments and nonprofits have grown in capacity.  The relationship between the federal government and local governments used to be that of a parent-child relationship. Now, it's time for it to become adult to adult.  We must remake and rethink federalism recognizing that a lot of capacity has been built as state and local level.  The office should not be about a constituency function.  It should not about giving everyone -- "the U.S. Conference of Mayors" --  what they want.  It’s about a partnership that will build new economies.  According to Bruce, we need a reverse RFP process in which local leaders say, "Here’s our vision for how we grow and here’s what we need from the federal government to unleash the potential we see for our community."

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