What Qualifies as "Urban Policy" These Days?
Back in the early 1990s, most people who said they were interested in “urban policy” were talking about a pretty narrow cluster of problems – big city fiscal woes, concentrated poverty, crime-ravaged neighborhoods, distressed public housing. That thinking led them to an equally narrow array of public policy responses – Community Development Block Grants, subsidized housing development, community policing. Today, “urban policy” covers far more territory – both geographically and topically.
Urban policy isn’t just about central cities anymore. The city and suburban jurisdictions that make up metro areas are so interconnected that it doesn’t make sense to focus attention exclusively on core cities. Here in the Washington region, for example, parts of suburban Montgomery and Fairfax Counties are just as densely developed – and just as diverse – as DC neighborhoods. There are many more jobs outside the District of Columbia than inside, and people stream from city to suburbs and back again for work, commerce, culture, and recreation. Over the past couple of decades, DC has gone from a declining community that was losing its population, jobs, and tax base to the vibrant heart of a prosperous region. And the neighborhood poverty and disinvestment that once seemed synonymous with the inner city now plague some suburbs too.
Once you start thinking broadly about what urban means today, what kinds of urban policy matter? In my view, the range is broad. We still need the bricks-and-mortar policies that build or rehab affordable housing and community facilities, as well as programs that target services to troubled neighborhoods. But without good schools, safe streets, decent jobs, accessible health care, nutritious food, fair credit, and a reliable safety-net, metropolitan communities can’t offer the opportunities their residents need to thrive. So our definition of urban policy needs to stretch.
That’s why the MetroTrends blog – which I hope you’ve found useful – covers such wide-ranging subjects, from child care to racial segregation, homelessness to public pension reforms, foreclosures to municipal budgets, food deserts to income tax refunds.
What challenges face the urban communities where you live, work, and play? And what policies would you like MetroTrends bloggers to tackle?