Saturday, December 6, 2008

Infrastructure Nation: The City is Back

I watched President Elect Barack Obama's Saturday morning "radio" broadcast video on U-Tube (see it here) twice this morning (the second time, after my 11 year old daughter showed me how to make it fill my laptop screen was even more interesting). Anyone wishing, hoping, to find that Barack will not shrug off the FDR comparisons will find much to like here. No civilian conservation corps, but as elements of what he promises to be a much bigger plan, this morning's message signaled a willingness to move federal investment through multiple pathways into energy saving and mission enhancing infrastructure and technology spending. Federal buildings will get energy upgraded (a nice move that will make sure that something visible is going on in almost every big city in America). State's will get money to spend on highways and schools, but only if they spend it quickly. More money will flow into wiring hospitals and schools, whether through states or some other vessels is not clear.

Like FDR, Barack Obama's one step forward always has a bit of a half step back. In his 2.5 million jobs created or saved, I thought I heard a watering down of the number that has been out for a week.

Like FDR setting matters. Barack Obama spoke from a desk with curtains behind him slightly open to reveal that he was high up, presumably in one of Chicago's downtown skyscrapers. Behind him on one of those grey Chicago winter mornings that I remember all too well having grown up there, snake lighted streets and highways and slumbering neighborhoods. When was the last time we had a President so identified with urban America (something intertwined with but not exhausted by his race)?

When he spoke of the real families behind the more than half a million jobs lost in November, for the first time in a long time one could be sure that those families included the very substantial portion of the American population living at or near the urban core of metropolitan areas with more then one or two million people (I'm no demographer), and not just the morning in America small towns and suburbs.

Even more important, cities for Obama, like Chicago, are not a "problem" of poverty and crime to be solved by some federal "medicine" as concerned suburbanites look on, as they have been for Democratic presidents since LBJ. Instead, cities, like his Chicago, are centers of expertise for problem solving, and platforms for low carbon, high content life styles.

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