Cities of Tomorrow

I recently read the article “Urban Renewal” in the March issue of Architect. The story focuses on the “City of Tomorrow” and the Obama Administration’s commitment to cities. “If you want a state as a whole to do well,” President Obama is quoted as saying, “then the metropolitan areas in that state have to do well. There is no separation. It is all linked together. We have to get past this notion that we can just leave the cities to rot, because your economy will rot. We want to work to revitalize cities, to diversify their economy.”

The White House Office of Urban Affairs has created a mandate that covers important topics for our cities: community development, housing, job creation, manufacturing innovation, sustainable technologies and infrastructure. It is nice to see the Administration recognize these issues. However, I wonder if Obama’s stimulus package, purported to provide unprecedented support for infrastructure projects, will have much effect on our urban centers: Infrastructure funding accounts for only 6 percent of the total $787 billion recovery act, according to Architect.

Here in New Jersey, I am not sure if the Corzine Administration is committed to our urban centers, particularly considering the substantial cut in municipal funding in this year’s budget. In a Mar. 5 article in The Star-Ledger, reporter Tom Hester states the Corzine administration will cut $168 million in municipal aid. Most of the stimulus package will be earmarked for “state stabilization aid,” special education funding, and aid to poor school districts.

Transportation is another area the state is allocating significant aid: $652 million for highway and bridge projects and $524 million in mass transit funding. Science and new technologies will also receive substantial funding. Apparently Princeton, Stevens, and Rutgers universities will have opportunities for additional research funding for research. [Sidenote: For further information about the local stimulus package destined for Mercer County, see “Mercer stimulus pieces begin to come into focus”, which ran in the Apr. 11 edition of The Times.]

It will be interesting to see how our State and municipalities end up utilizing the stimulus money and what effect it has on cities. Ideally, it will stimulate and benefit our urban investment. It seems, however, that many master plan initiatives overlook the cultural and socioeconomic segregation that exists in our cities.

To truly master plan a city, individuals need to understand more than bricks and mortar and pretty pictures showing beautiful green spaces intertwined with buildings in fanciful patterns. A good master plan demonstrates a full understanding of the problems communities have faced and are facing. To truly revitalize our cities, the political agenda needs to include and understand our cities’ problems. I hope the increased attention and discussion from the White House and our local towns will eventually foster improvement to the quality of life in our cities.