Election 2000: Is It Time for Urban Policy?

Could it be urban policy time again? As Bush and Gore square off, is there a chance the idea of having a national policy governing urban development ð something most other industrialized nations have could catch their attention?


Election 2000 has brought a few pleasant surprises. Republicans are throwing mud at each other over the religious right. The two Democratic candidates did a dance to show they “care” about the victims of poverty and racism more than the “compassionate Republican.” Could urban growth and inequality get on the agenda? Will anyone look at the economic and environmental consequences of the federal government’s absence since the Reagan Revolution?

Although the majority of eligible voters will probably check out, once again, on election day, most people will watch eight months of a media spectacle. The quadriennial ritual to exchange Commander in Chiefs, by tradition, entails a public discussion that brings out, willy-nilly, the fundamental policy issues that concern people most. For those engaged in the day-to-day battle of fighting for progressive change, it’s a chance to get involved in the discussion and pose real alternatives. And if Pat Buchanan enters the fray, he could use anti-corporate sentiments to pull the debate to the right and there would be no balancing voice on the left.

Can we influence the Republicans? Can you change a bush into a sequoia? Maybe they’ll get it some day, but in the meantime.

Is there hope for Gore? We cam give the Clinton-Gore Administration credit for saving HUD from extinction, acknowledging environmental justice as a legitimate concern, and withstanding some strong attacks on the by now severely limited role of the federal government in urban affairs. On the other hand, the New Democrats conceded from the start the Reagan Revolution’s policies of devolution to the states and downsizing government. They gave in to welfare deformed, started the privatization of public housing, and screwed up health care.

Should we back Ralph Nader running on the Green Party ticket? He would be the first anti-corporate candidate. But will he run a serious campaign and generate steam for a progressive program? Will he notice racial injustice and the diverse elements in progressive politics?

Can either Gore or Nader develop a national urban policy to address problems the conservative state governments have proven themselves incapable of solving? Will they come up with proposals to stop sprawl, limit auto use and build mass transit that go beyond the feeble Smart Growth initiative announced by Gore? Will they advocate policies that build and preserve healthy communities at the same time they guarantee universal health care? Can they get the Justice Department to really fight racial discrimination, HUD to house the homeless, Agriculture to feed the hungry, and EPA to go after the polluters in communities of color? Can they help us reverse the bipartisan consensus, backed by a conservative judicial system, founded on the strengthening of  “state’s rights?”

Progressive planners should ask the questions. And have some answers for the candidates.I invite PN readers to do so in this column.

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