Urban Issues Absent On Campaign Trail, Although Edwards Has Plans

City Limits magazine recently completed a review of the 18 presidential candidates' stances on urban issues, and the major news is that there is no news. Most domestic issues, let alone those related to cities, don't even appear on the candidates' -- or the media's -- radar screens. Their article quotes a political scientist who "says 2008 is shaping up as 'yet another gigantic referendum on Bush and Iraq.'" The bright spots? Although Bill Richardson has advocated for greater energy conservation and public transportation, John Edwards has articulated an intriguing plan to end poverty in the U.S. by 2036 and overhaul the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Briefly, the highlights of Edwards' plans, as described on the campaign website:

  • Ending poverty by 2036: Create 1 million temporary, "stepping stone" jobs for the unemployed, lasting for up to one year; raise the minimum wage to at least $7.50; expand the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) program to cover both single and married adults better
  • Overhauling HUD: End the creation of new site-specific public housing in favor of additional housing vouchers, up to 1 million over five years; re-fund the HOPE VI program; promote regional decision-making on affordable housing distribution

While the merits of some of these strategies are certainly debatable, and the content has been reduced to talking point-size paragraphs on Edwards' website, the effort is encouraging. Most impressive, nearly all the plans cite studies by the Government Accounting Office, HUD, and the Brookings Institution, among other think tanks, suggesting that Edwards would actually take the time to listen to such reports while in office.

Ultimately, though, in order to raise awareness of urban issues and promote concrete action, such as increasing funding for HUD programs, we can't wait for the candidates to lay out an agenda for helping our cities. The media needs to increase its reporting on problems of affordable housing, unemployment, sprawl, and environmental degradation, and ask the candidates directly about them. As the presidential campaign rolls on, I encourage this blog's writers and readers to submit op-eds to your local paper or write letters to the editor on planning issues that you care about. Better yet, attend campaign events in person, and ask the candidates directly if they have a plan to end poverty in the U.S., and what they'd like to do about HUD, among other planning concerns.

David Gest is both a master's candidate in City and Regional Planning and a juris doctorate candidate at the University of Pennsylvania.

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