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White House starts urban policy outreach

/ Source: The Associated Press

President Barack Obama said Monday that federal policy has encouraged urban sprawl, has hurt city residents and damaged the environment.

Pledging a top-to-bottom review of how the United States deals with cities and metropolitan areas, Obama invited political leaders and policy experts to the White House to solicit their ideas for a national urban policy. Citing the connection between education and employment figures, transportation and pollution, White House officials said their next budget proposal would address how to remedy long-festering policy questions about the pace of urban growth.

"We've got to figure out ways to rebuild them on a newer, firmer, stronger foundation for our future," Obama told the group of mayors, governors and other officials at the end of a marathon day. "And that requires new strategies for our cities and metropolitan areas that focus on advancing opportunity through competitive, sustainable and inclusive growth."

Seeking specific ideas
Administration officials sought specific ideas from political and city leaders for how they are coping with growth in urban areas, where an increasing share of the population will live during the coming decades.

"We have to look at the fact that it's estimated that by the year 2050, 70 percent of the world's population will live in cities. ... It's going to continue," said Adolfo Carrion, the director of the White House Office of Urban Affairs.

No concrete proposals came from the daylong meetings, although officials described the effort as a way to jump-start discussions after years of neglect. Obama also announced that Carrion and other top administration officials would fan out across the country to highlight successful programs in places such as Denver, Kansas City, Mo., and Philadelphia.

"It's great to have an urban president," said Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat who joined the discussions. "This is the first urban president we've had in a long time. And we've had no policy directed at American cities for the previous eight years."

Obama's past tied to cities
Obama tied his own biography to the need to revitalize deteriorating cities and his experience in places that have weathered economic downturns.

"I've lived almost all my life in urban areas," the president said. "Michelle and I chose to raise our daughters in the city where she grew up. And even though I went to college in L.A. and New York, and law school across the river from Boston, I received my greatest education on Chicago's South Side, working at the local level to bring about change in those communities and opportunities to people's lives."

"For too long, federal policy has actually encouraged sprawl and congestion and pollution, rather than quality public transportation and smart, sustainable development," Obama said. "And we've been keeping communities isolated when we should have been bringing them together."

He said, "Forward-looking cities shouldn't be succeeding despite Washington; they should be succeeding with a hand from Washington," the president said. "We want to hear directly from them and we want to hear directly from all of you, on fresh ideas and successful solutions that you've devised."