Serious people are proposing that the Federal government establish … a Federal Department of Cities.
We’re doomed. Like, that’s a great idea. After all, local urban planners have failed to revive their cities after a century of “Local Departments of Cities” have operated. And believe me, spend some time in your city’s library and read about its planning history, your head will spin. So let’s layer this agency on top of HUD, the Department of Education and Department of Transportation, without of course eliminating any or all of those three agencies, despite Florida’s insistence that we could in fact reduce the bureaucracy when doing this. But we all know that the new agency comes first, and then the supposed “streamlining” never happens. So, even if Florida makes some astute observations (including the fact that the feds are heavily involved in urban planning already) given the record of Congress there must be a presumption against any and all expansions of what it does. That makes me a crank of course, and I recognize that – but the burden of proof really ought to be the other way around.
Here is some of Florida:
How would the Department be structured? It could take shape around a bipartisan panel of mayors, city-builders and experts, similar to the Council of Economic Advisors. Potential members: former mayors like Philadelphia’s Ed Rendell and Milwaukee’s John Norquist, who heads the Congress for New Urbanism; business leaders like Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh (who is redeveloping downtown Las Vegas); Rocco Landesman, the Broadway producer and former National Endowment for the Arts head, and academics like Harvard’s Edward Glaeser.
Some would doubtless rush to criticize the very idea of a new Department of Cities, saying it will ultimately squelch the innovativeness of cities under the heavy hand of the federal government. It’s better to keep Washington out entirely, they’d argue.
But the federal government makes massive investments in them across a wide range of programs, ranging from transportation and housing to education, crime and economic development — none of them coordinated in any meaningful way, many acting at cross purposes.
And of course, every single dollar of government is always justified by “spillover benefits” to the rest of us. Of course the logical conclusion is that every dollar spent spills over to all of us, so the government should spend infinitely:
These investments will redound not just to the benefit of the cities themselves, but to the wider economy.
The same is true of cities take care of it themselves. And don’t tell me they have incentives to underinvest in these sorts of things, there is ample evidence that the opposite occurs already. And check this out, our new department of cities cannot only help deal with income inequality at the individual level, it can address a new dreaded kind of inequality: city inequality. I am not making that up:
Inequality is not just a growing problem among individuals, but between cities and regions. Highly skilled, highly educated, and highly paid workers are increasingly concentrating in just a handful of very large or very knowledge-intensive cities while older manufacturing cities continue to fall behind.
Replace “city” with failing corporation and see how that idea sounds. And in perhaps the most horrific reason to establish this department … wait … it … is … for … foreign policy purposes. Again, I cannot make this up:
A Department of Cities would also help strengthen our nation abroad. As Patrick Doherty recently argued, urbanism and sustainability should underpin a new U.S. “grand strategy” for foreign affairs.
Worldwide, urban populations are projected to double over the next quarter century. By helping developing nations create dense, clean, safe, energy-efficient cities of their own, funneling aid and expertise directly to their mayors, the U.S. can effectively exert soft power, winning new friends while resuming its place at the vanguard of nations.
And to send the final shiver up anyone’s spine (well, at least Coca-Cola’s spine):
Just imagine what a Mike Bloomberg could accomplish as America’s first Secretary of Cities.