What if America’s Urban Economies Were National Ones?

The U.S. Conference of Mayors released a
this week with some dire conclusions for the nation’s cities:
Even the payroll growth that many prognosticators anticipate this year
won’t make a dent in double-digit urban unemployment. Half of the 363
biggest metro areas won’t return to their pre-recession jobs levels
until 2013 or beyond.

economies_cities.png(Chart: US
Conf. of Mayors)

All this despite the fact that those 363 cities accounted for 90
percent of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) last year and 86
percent of all jobs.

Looking at the chart at right, the weight of urban contributions is
even clearer: the most economically vibrant U.S. city, New York, had a
higher productivity rate in 2008 than all but 10 foreign nations.

Going further down this list (to rankings not pictured at right),
the transportation contrasts become clearer.

The United Arab Emirates, where Dubai just opened
a $7 billion subway line, has a lower GDP than Miami, where transit
cuts are a fact
of life
. Singapore, which boasts a vast rail network, has a
lower GDP than Detroit, the only major U.S. city without rapid transit.

Still, as diverting as it may be to compare American cities to
their international counterparts, the domestic struggle for better urban
transportation planning has less to do with overseas competition and
more to do with entrenched bureaucracy.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told the mayors’ group today
that he understands the complaints
from metro areas that federal stimulus money was siphoned off by
state-level politicking and failed
reach cities in sufficient proportions.

"Congress wanted the money out the door within 120 days," LaHood
said. "The only way you can do that is through these relationships we
have with the [state DOTs]."

To better meet urban needs in a jobs bill that "will be structured
pretty much the same way the current one is," LaHood added, he is pressing
for a larger infusion for TIGER, the stimulus’ merit-based grant program
where metro areas can apply directly for federal transport aid.

"It’s the one way that cities can have direct access to the money
without going through anyone else," he explained to the mayors.

Still, the heartening prospects of extra TIGER money may not salve
the transportation funding gaps developing in many large cities. The
mayors’ group reported that of the 85 biggest metro areas, 35 are
dealing with double-digit unemployment and getting proportionately less
transportation aid from the state DOT than they contribute to the state

Among those cities getting super-shortchanged: Los Angeles,
Atlanta, Detroit, Miami, Chicago — and Portland.


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