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Experts discuss designing a long-term outlook for developing cities' potential.

Development, tourism and infrastructure were the key buzzwords during the Congress of Cities Development and Design Plenary in New Orleans. The session was led by former San Antonio, Tex. Mayor Henry Cisneros, a past president of NLC.

A panel of city officials shared information with Cisneros, now a member of the Clinton transition team, about how infrastructure woes and declining tourism have affected their cities and what strategies they have developed to make improvements.

"You have to have a strategy. You have to decide where you want a community to move. We took people from all sectors of the community in the 1970s and talked about where we wanted to go and end up today," said former Charlotte, N.C. Mayor Harvey Gantt.

The other panelists were Seattle, Wash. Mayor Norman Rice, Las Vegas, Nev. Mayor Jan Laverty Jones, Jane Forston, secretariat, Atlanta Housing Project, and Charles Rial of the South Shore Bank in Chicago.

Cisneros highlighted several principles, based on the panelists' particular approaches, to serve as a guide for the Tuesday morning discussion. The principles included setting direction, getting the public involved in decision making, and building for people by relating to people values and making things people friendly.

"The question is what people are we responding to," said Forston of Atlanta. "I don't envy public officials who have to represent entire communities, because they have to balance."

For most NLC officials this balancing act is indeed a reality, said Cisneros, as the audience of about 3,000 city officials agreed in unison.

For Seattle, making education a priority has helped other community needs, like infrastructure, fall into place. Mayor Rice's push at giving people better educational opportunities has improved the overall investment in people. "from there," he said, "we begin to look at how the community approaches infrastructure."

Cisneros posed the question "is tourism a viable development strategy for smaller communities?"

All of the panelists and several members of the audience agreed that tourism can be viable in any community, with the same of game being planning and strategy along with taking a look at individual community resources, because each city's approach will probably be different.

"In the planning process you have to consider what attracts tourists to your city," said Mayor Jones. In Las Vegas, the traditional attraction has been casino gambling and entertainment. However, as part of the need to balance, Mayor Jones said she has to make sure that development plans also support the other needs to the community such as better housing and retail districts.

"When it came to planning, we changed our at-large government system because people wanted to be more involved in the entire government," said Gantt.

According to the panelists, as cities develop strategies, a common thread seemed to be the concept of being "people-friendly." Whether plans are for designing a new building, adding or resurfacing a major highway, or building hospitals and schools, people should be involved from the beginning.

"We are there to serve a community, not serve on a community," said Fortson. She said that some plans in Atlanta's public housing failed or were not successful because the people who live there were involved in the process. The result was an unintentional "discrimination against the poor."

That experience has taught the Atlanta Housing Authority to say to the residents of public housing "work with us, work with us at helping manage our properties," said Fortson.

In planning, "we have to remember parks and hospitals are just as important as highways," said Rice.

"Without some family influence and effort, physical investment is not going to help people," said Rial.

Cisneros, then set the stage for the panelist, by asking them to pretend they were Secretaries and Assistant Secretaries in the Clinton Administration and during a cabinet meeting were asked to make decisions about the federal approach to infrastructure, housing, labor and education. All of the panelist had one common approach of letting federal dollars go directly to local government.

"I think I have to be radical, HUD is a bureaucracy out of control," said Forston, encouraging cheers from the audience. "The federal government owes local government a return of funds without the federal barriers in delivering those funds. We ought to allow cities to design their own programs."

Denise Alexander, deputy assistant secretary of HUD, who was a member of the audience agreed with Fortson, that HUD need to be restructed. Particularly she called for a legislative restructure in financial management. She said currently, funds are distributed through numerous accounting systems which "proliferates the process for getting things done." A common system for all programs, she said, would improve the delivery of funds directly to cities.

Cisneros interjected with the traditional federal concern that local government's need accountability and structure. While Fortson agreed that their is a need for some accountability, she said that by allowing cities to be responsible for their own programs, accountability will come naturally. "I trust people. Our cities are closer to the people than the federal government."

Gantt, decided that he would speak at the theoretical cabinet meeting from a mayor's perspective and talk about jobs. "There are people that become useless to their community because they don't have a job. We have to meet the basic needs of the people," he said.

Gantt called for a bigger investment in revenue block grants, so that more money can be put into transportation, security and urban enterprise zones.

"It makes more money to do business in low-income communities," he said. By improving transportation in low-income communities, people can get to jobs and by providing a more secure environment, and loosening credit regulations business can move into the communities and offer employment.

Rial agreed with the need to be more oriented toward linkage, and from his banking perspective, said he would encourage the new administration to include entrepreneurs and banks in the planing, so that programs are designed to be inclusive of these viable entities.

Rice called for an urban planning council, where all federal agencies like commerce transportation, housing, health, and education would get together and plan together. "We need to come together and make sure issues link at the Federal level. No more trying to create my own little program," said Rice.

Cisneros added two more principles to the original list of basics for the new administration--"heavy emphasis on partnership and focusing on performance leading initiatives at the local level."

One official from Rochester, Mich. told the panel that they have to keep in mind that "many of the delegates are part-time officials of small cities and towns and villages across the country." He added that while they have design and infrastructure needs their planning has to be more long-term. "We have to do it one building at a time... people have to be willing to gamble and look for long-term returns."

A member of the city council of La Porte, Tex. talked about the benefits his town of 30,000 received from a visit by Cisneros. After meeting with Cisneros and analyzing the cities resources, the city was able to develop a growth plan which included revitalizing its many old buildings and structures and the development of a golf course. an athletic complex and plans for Hilton and Meridian hotels.

As believed by the panelist, emphasis on infrastructure and tourism will mean jobs, if cities are allowed to develop their own development plans and if in making plans people become the focus.
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Title Annotation:National League of Cities
Author:Baker, Denise
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Dec 7, 1992
Previous Article:Panelists tackle dilemmas confronting the human side of cities.
Next Article:Panelists explore future of governance under new administration.

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