Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Obama's urban renewal efforts in the US

It may have not hit the headlines in the US, but the Obama administration is making urban renewal a priority. The Obama administration will include several plans in next years budget that will fight poverty through cooperative efforts across many government departments. The administration also plans on using stimulus money to help fund efforts it deems worthy.

From the Washington Post, reporter Michael A. Fletcher writes about the many challenges of arms of government "co-operating" and some of the proposed measures.

Still, many obstacles remain. Federal agencies must learn how to cooperate more closely, a process that officials say is more difficult than it sounds. Agencies are set up to funnel policy and money through their own chains of command, not across the government.

In addition, the policy relies on alliances between historically contentious suburban and city officials. The administration plans to use federal grants to reward cities for cooperating with their suburban neighbors, which in many parts of the country are increasingly beset by traditionally urban problems such as crime, failing schools and declining neighborhoods.

Also, state governments must be on board. Much of the $787 billion federal stimulus package was structured in ways that left states in charge of the final distribution, largely forfeiting the federal government's role in reshaping how the money is eventually spent. A report released by the U.S. Conference of Mayors found that major metropolitan areas were shortchanged in the first round of stimulus transportation spending administered by states.

In its budget for next year, the administration has proposed creating programs that would fight poverty through tightly linked services and improvements. The Choice Neighborhoods Initiative would expand on the Hope VI program, which financed the redevelopment of decrepit public housing by funding projects that improve surrounding areas, by adding housing, sidewalks, parks and other amenities.

Also, the Education Department is offering planning grants to nonprofit organizations to develop full-service programs to guide young people from birth through college. The hope is to replicate the success of the Harlem Children's Zone, a nonprofit that provides services such as medical care, day care and charter schools, and is credited with increasing academic achievement for many of the 11,000 students in its programs.

So far, much of the administration's work to transform the federal policy toward metropolitan areas has proceeded below the radar, but people who work in the field are nonetheless hopeful.

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