Three Areas Where the Federal Government Can Assist Cities

I am visiting the White House tomorrow with a group of city officials from across the U.S. to discuss some matters that are pertinent to the quality of our places in the country. I am hopeful that the visit will be fruitful and that we will get past some of the “rhetoric of the day” and engage in a dialogue about what is really important to the future of our cities.

I am particularly interested in three items that appear on the agenda and are sure to be covered during the day long briefing.

  1. Infrastructure.  The U.S. in general has an infrastructure that is coming eerily close to making us uncompetitive versus other developed and emerging nations. In cities, the problem is magnified. The federal government, and to a similar degree the states, have shunned infrastructure spending in recent decades making the product both outdated and poorly maintained. Advancements in infrastructure (transportation, water and sewer, broadband deployment, higher education, etc) are needed to advance innovation and create new opportunities for growth.
  2. Transportation. A division of infrastructure but important enough on its own, transportation systems in U.S. cities are in dire need of funding and innovation. Big cities especially face problems when transportation systems are not modernized. I believe that federal involvement in transportation is one of the key leverage points that the President and Congress have in creating jobs and driving the economy. I was in Chicago a few weeks back and heard the President’s former Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, now Mayor of Chicago, say this about government’s role in creating jobs, “I don’t create jobs, I create the environment where jobs can grow.” I agree with the mayor, and transportation improvements have much to do with creating that positive environment.
  3. Immigration. Some people think that because immigration issues are constantly in the news that we are actually having an immigration debate in this country. They would be wrong. We are not. Our national discussion is focused almost entirely on the border issue between Mexico and its border states with a dose of homeland security thrown in for good measure. Meanwhile, we have multi-national corporations leaving the U.S. because our laws make it too difficult to bring talented immigrants to work in their companies and our largest cities, long a landing place for immigrants, are losing population and becoming less competitive without an influx of innovation that immigrant populations usually bring with them. We need to enact appropriate legislation that allows for the U.S. to fully engage in the global economy. The Mexico issue is important and homeland security is essential, but we need reforms that allow this country to remain the principle destination for talented people from around the world.

Failing any progress on the preceding items, I hope to get a picture with the President because my six-year-old still thinks (with a shout out to Ron Burgundy) that “I’m a pretty big deal.” I figure that even with a picture with President Obama that I’ve only got a few years left before he figures out otherwise, so I am going to savor the time until then.