White House Urban Affairs Chief: Promising Words But Little Hint of a Plan

Adolfo Carrion Jr., director of the White House’s new Office of Urban
Affairs, today vowed to begin reconnecting Washington with the needs of
the nation’s cities — even as he offered few tangible plans for
breaking through the morass of the federal bureaucracy and effecting
change in the near term.

alg_adolfo_carrion.jpgWhite House Urban Affairs director Adolfo Carrion Jr. (Photo: NYDN)

Carrion, addressing a small crowd at the Open Cities conference (which you can follow live right here)
linked the Obama administration’s effort with the urban policy review
initiated by former President Carter, which began with grand hopes but
ultimately narrowed its focus to smaller renewal projects.

taking what he did in ’79 and revisiting it," Carrion said, crediting
Carter with "thinking forward" and predicting he "will be treated,
after he’s gone from the stage, in a much more generous way."

urban affairs office, created in March, is promoting a nationwide tour 
highlighting cities that have hit upon groundbreaking uses of economic
stimulus money, such as Kansas City’s Green Impact Zone. In coming months, the tour will take a look at high-tech development in Atlanta.

Carrion’s promise, as he put it today, of "shifting from a top-down
culture to the federal government serving as a supporting actor to
local protagonists" has caught on with advocacy groups and analysts who had become accustomed to urban priorities remaining out of the political spotlight.

when it comes to the most pressing challenges facing cities,
particularly those connected to economic recovery, Carrion’s office has
yet to advocate for urban priorities. Transportation Secretary Ray
LaHood recently all but ruled out
two reform proposals long sought by the nation’s cities — channeling
federal aid directly to municipalities and putting the federal
contribution to highway and transit projects on equal footing.

Indeed, despite telling Politico in July
that he soon would "explain [his office’s] strategy publicly," the
urban affairs chief appeared content with starting an open-ended
discussion about investing in cities rather than setting a timetable
for accomplishing specific goals.

The administration’s "punting
on the [transportation bill]," he told Streetsblog Capitol Hill today,
happened because "everybody recognizes our transportation investments
need to be rebalanced. We need to have more time for discussion."

that note, Carrion made a direct appeal to the advocates and bloggers
at the Open Cities conference for help in crafting an agenda for his
office, which utilizes staffers from the White House Domestic Policy
Council. The gesture was well-intentioned and well-received, but it may
come to serve as a harbinger for slow progress on building bridges
between Washington and the large cities that more than half of America call home.


Obama’s Touted Office of Urban Policy Slow to Take Shape

When Barack Obama was elected, urbanists were, in some cases literally, dancing in the streets. For once, America had elected a president who understood the importance of cities — and who promised to create an "Office for Urban Policy" that would help those cities to take their rightful place in the federal policy debate. But, […]

Quantifying the Value of San Francisco’s Unaccepted Streets

As we have reported, Berkeley Professor Nicholas de Monchaux’s Local Code proposal for activating San Francisco’s "Unaccepted Streets" called for transforming the patchwork of 529 acres of underutilized alleys, street-ends, and pathways into a network of green spaces. Were San Francisco to build out the more than 1500 identified sites, de Monchaux estimates that the […]

The Definition of Speeding Shouldn’t Be Relative

Streetsblog Network member blog Greater Greater Washington has been ramping up coverage of crashes that result in pedestrian and cyclist injuries and fatalities (they’ve got a new safety beat reporter, Stephen Miller), and in a recent post they highlighted the car-centric thinking of local law enforcement: Photo by sirwiseowl via Flickr. DC police officer David […]

SPUR Talk: What About the Families?

How can San Francisco keep families from moving away? That was the central question of a panel discussion this afternoon hosted by the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR). The panel included Susan Exline of the San Francisco Planning Department, Daniel Parolek, architect with Opticos Design, and San Francisco’s District Seven […]

John Norquist: “Time to Talk About a Freeway-Free San Francisco”

San Francisco is considered one of the leading American cities in the growing movement to tear down freeways. Fortunately, San Franciscans got a head start by averting the freeway-riddled fate of most other American cities in the 20th century by successfully protesting the construction of most of the proposed structures, which would have torn apart […]