Urban Policy Office Missing in Action

Dayo Olopade reports on the slow rollout and diminished stature of Barack Obama’s once-promising Office of Urban Policy inside the White House. She observes that this especially matters in the context of the Recovery Act:

But the urgency of dealing with the recession in these first 100 days has made the slow rollout of the office worrisome for some local officials. Caroline Coleman, federal relations director of the National League of Cities, says cities have been pummeled by the economic downturn. For the first time in the 24-year history of the organization’s City Fiscal Conditions report, the three primary sources of revenue for urban centers — property, sales and income taxes — all experienced a quarterly decrease. “What we’re seeing reflected in the national news is hitting hometown urban America every day,” says Coleman.

Under the Recovery Act, federal funding is flooding state governments — by formula and through competitive grants. A robust and powerful Office of Urban Policy, local leaders say, could handle city-specific conflicts that currently fly under the White House’s radar.

One big institutional issue in American life is that while any number of state governments are primarily oriented toward rural issues basically all of the states that include large cities are primarily suburban in their orientation. Consequently, the tendency is for money to flow through state capitals that refract it out to the fringes of metropolitan areas. A strong voice for cities in the White House could do a great deal to correct that, but it looks like we don’t yet have one up and running.