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Policy makers say communities need new approaches to urban problems.

Two days after the jury announced the verdicts in the second trial of four police officers accused of beating Rodney King, policy makers gathered in Washington to discuss the situation in America's cities.

While they did not achieve a consensus on a specific policy agenda, policy makers reached two broad conclusions.

First, traditional urban policy has failed.

Second, communities need to promote the emergence of new approaches to address ongoing urban problems. Predominantly, these new approaches stress decentralized government control and flexible federal funding and encourage private-public partnerships and programs which increase the capacity of local leaders and residents to solve urban dilemmas.

HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros, Philadelphia Mayor Edward Rendell, Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke, David Rusk, former mayor of Albuquerque, and a number of urban policy scholars addressed attendees at a conference sponsored by the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) last Monday.

Although the range of policies and issues discussed at the conference was broad, Errol Smith, chairman of New Visions Business Council in Los Angeles, provided a summary with his plea that government "not discount the ability of urban residents to do for themselves."

He added that a measure of the strength of urban policy could be ascertained by asking two questions: "Does the policy encourage a spirit of local self-reliance" and "Does it strengthen the ability of local residents to compete in a global economy."

In presenting his opening remarks for the conference, PPI President Will Marshall expressed the need for cities to explore "emerging themes and experiments" in local government in order to "reinvent municipal governments and institutions." Additionally, he called for the federal government to meet the challenge of becoming "a catalyst and partner in this process of rebuilding."

Secretary Henry Cisneros spoke about "reinventing" government at the federal level as well. Accordingly, Cisneros stated that "we need to reexamine HUD's mission in the 1990s." He stressed the need to simplify regulations, promote program flexibility, and instill "a corporate culture" of accountability in federal government.

Laying the framework for HUD's future activity, Cisneros proposed three central tasks for the organization. He stated that HUD would (1) focus on strengthening the urban areas by "enabling communities to be masters of their own destinies," (2) emphasize greater choice and flexibility in public housing programs to 31low people to move from dependency to self-sufficiency, and (3) address the problems created by the spatial segregation of city residents by income and race. As evidenced throughout the past year in Los Angeles, he stated, "the circumstances of race are real."

Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke also addressed the need for flexibility and accountability on behalf of the federal government. According to Schmoke, the federal government needs to encourage urban renewal and serve as a catalyst for this improvement, but does not need to undertake these programs in its own right; instead, programs should be community-driven.

Philadelphia Mayor Edward Rendell echoed Schmoke's reliance on local initiative. He recounted his city's struggle to balance its budget, stressing that the "first line of response for cities (in dealing with the urban crisis) is to get their own finances under control."

Under Rendell's leadership, Philadelphia balanced its budget for the first time in seven years (closing a budget deficit of $1.4 billion) and established a plan to restore long term fiscal stability to the city. "Before we deal with long-term social problems," said Rendell, "we have to clean our own house."

Various panelists at the conference provided other examples of cities dealing effectively with urban problems. Dr. Lee Brown of Texas Southern University discussed the benefits of community policing. Deborah Meier, founder of a network of alternative schools in East Harlem, talked about her efforts in decentralizing public schools in New York City.

Egbert Perry, a corporate executive in Atlanta, encouraged cities to aim at "achieving sustainable self-sufficiency" by focusing their economic development efforts on job creation and business formation from within as well as skill development for inner city residents.

Taken together, these efforts constitute what panelist John McKnight called" a renaissance of local initiative, spurred by the failure of the federal government to solve urban problems."

While criticizing traditional urban policies for their stifling local initiative and lacking flexibility, conference spokespersons urged new urban policies which take into account the changing demographics of central cities.

Former Albuquerque Mayor David Rusk believes that local governments in general are fragmented within metropolitan areas and that this fragmentation is what has led to increased segregation by race and income.

He suggests expanding city boundaries to include suburbs or instituting a metro-wide system of programs and finances to alleviate the burden placed upon central cities in harboring a disproportionate share of the nation's poor.

Based on research conducted since the L.A. riots, PPI Fellows Joel Kotkin and David Friedman also believe that successful urban policy demands that local and federal efforts be refocused to address regional economic health. Further, they assert that effective economic development policy must recognize the increasing globalization of the domestic economy.

According to Kotkin and Friedman, traditional incentives offered by cities to attract business divert resources away from "what cities really need in the changed economic world." On the other hand, they assert, traditional federal policies fail to restrain region-to-region business trade-offs which sap local economic strength and do not benefit the national economy as a whole.
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Author:Eddins, Kevin
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Apr 26, 1993
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