Thursday, 19 February 2009

Office of Urban Affairs? I Like it Already

I wanted to publically thank Veena for her informed and informative posts on urban development.

In good news for us city folks, Obama has just appointed Adolfo Carrion, a former Bronx Borough President, to head up the newly created Office of Urban Affairs. In addition to his long service to New York City, he happens to have a Masters degree in Urban Planning, so it seems to me like we should be be in pretty good hands here.

More than anything else, after an election cycle in which the Republican VP candidate felt perfectly comfortable descibing the (majority of) people who happen to live in urban areas as "not real Americans", it's nice to see these issues are going to get some much needed TLC.

The Road to Recovery - where will it take our cities?

With the signing of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the White House also set up to promote accountability and transparency. A key principle underlying the Recovery is that 'Programs meet specific goals and targets, and contribute to improved performance on broad economic indicators.'

Here's what I'm wondering: what will be the performance indicators for U.S. cities? What are the criteria for success at being a sustainable and equitable city, economically, environmentally and socially? How will we know the sum of the parts - the systemic outcomes of the various initiatives aimed at Recovery. The business world always says 'you can't manage what you can't measure' - exactly what are all our urban Mayors being held accountable for? And how will we know how well they are doing? This is important, because the President Obama and Vice-President Biden have emphasized how urban areas are at the heart of the economy. If the economy is going to Recover, then knowing how well we are doing in cities is key.

Can the U.S. learn from Great Britain's approaches to cities? Generally speaking, the London-based Centre for Cities thinks 'yes, it can!' Specifically, I hope Federal policy-makers look around both across different U.S. cities and abroad to consider how we can measure success when it comes to urban recovery and renewal. It is one thing to be fueled up and ready to go on the Road to Recovery, but we also need to know where we are going.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Confidential to Mitch McConnell...

I know a lot of folks who would really welcome "a dramatic move in the direction of indeed turning America into Western Europe," on account of it's longer life expectancy, higher literacy rates, lower rates of teen pregnancy and obessity and the fact that those millions of newly unemployed would still have health care.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Partisanship and Bipartisanship

So our President has made a solid effort, bless him, to bring Republican Lawmakers on board - sacrificing some popular programs, and spending a significant amount of time on the assumption that the other side is composed of reasonable people with reasonable concerns. The result has been... less than one might have hoped for. So is he going to keep on with these effort at bipartisan lawmaking?

"I am an eternal optimist," he says, "That doesn't mean I'm a sap."

Quite right. But the less on of this is not that bipartisanship is dead - the message is that we are going to have to do it without Republicans in Congress. Actual REPUBLICANS, however, are another story - right now Obama's approval rating is in the mid 60's. But he only won 52% of the vote - that means that an awful lot of people who didn't vote for him nevertheless are getting behind him and want to see him succeed, despite what Rush Limbaugh says.

So there are an awful lot of folks in the country who are going to support us, even if they never vote for us. Because everybody who has to live in this reality can see that if the economy tanks, it's going to take us all down with it. And those people, some of them even Republicans from deep red states, don't want to see their state laying off teachers, or watch roads and bridges crumble around them, or see their local business go under.

But Congress - well, Congress is another story. And this is where it's interesting to watch these developments from the UK.

Because, you see, here in Britain the Parties operate an incredibly strict system of vote whipping that means it is incredibly rare - newsworthy to a high degree - whenever a Labour MP, or a Tory peer doesn't vote along Party lines. But no one ever criticises the Government for failures of bipartisanship.

And this despite the fact that, arguably, the differences between the parties are much smaller here - in fact idealogically, all three British Parties could fit comfortably within the US Democratic Party. You'd think that this might lead to a lot of bi- or tri-partisanship as philosophically similar groups find plenty of overlap.

In practice, of course, this doesn't happen - for the simple reason that people understand the JOB of the parties is to draw contrasts. The main party not in Government is even described that way - they are the Opposition.

But people don't regret the loss of bipartisanship if (and this is a big if) they feel that the Government is broadly representing the majority in the country. It's when they aren't, such as in the invasion of Iraq, that opportunities are created for the opposition. In fact, with three viable parties in Parliament, it's been a long time since any one party had an outright majority of voters in hand. By definition, they can only represent a majority by coming to some sort of consensus with the voters.

In short, people aren't necessarily looking for leadership that straddles parties, as much as they are looking for leadership that represents voters.

THAT's why Obama is going to continue to find a consensus position on his policies. Not because he expects to win over Republicans in Congress, but because he needs to win and keep voters.

Economic Recovery : what are the values that underpin it?

'The idea that immigrants workers deserve protection simply as a matter of human decency can be hard to sell in hard times. It is just as valid to make the pragmatic case. After the bottom drops out of the economy, raise the floor.' New York Times, 15 Feb 08

Last week, I highlighted the views of Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass on e-verify, software for employers to check to see the migration status of prospective employees. Kass was upset that a provision in the Stimulus Package requiring employers to use E-Verify was taken out. Well, the editorial team of the New York Times strongly disagrees with Kass. Kass wants employers to use E-Verify for the purpose of keeping undocumented workers out of 'American' jobs. The New York Times suggests the software is prone to errors which result in documented workers getting fired/not hired and wants a labor strategy that focuses instead on the support of all workers. In contrast to Kass, the New York Times doesn't see undocumented workers as a threat to urban economies and instead encourages government to 'fight back against abuses that make wages and job conditions worse for everyone.' To show what it means, it gives an example from Los Angeles - the Clean Carwash Campaign.

Migrant workers, labor rights, employers' responsibilities are key urban issues. The Chicago and New York perspectives on them remind us that, for both the White House and Westminster, successful Recovery has to be about more than getting people into jobs. It also is about values, social justice, and human dignity.