Yesterday's blog was concerned with our renewed efforts toward an urban policy for the nation. I could also add rural policy to that sentence since I think we have come up short there too. As Jane Jacobs said years ago, "we have sacked our cities." That we have. I won't offer my treatise this morning on why I think this has happened but suffice it to say that our policies, despite billions of dollars spent, have resulted in an under-investment in cities not the opposite. So what to do now?
In an interesting new book by Joshua Cooper Ramo, The Age of the Unthinkable, he suggests some global tactics that might just work for cities too. The premise of the book is that the new age requires new thinking. In this complex world we need to think of interrelated responses and approaches to the world's issues. In some ways this theme is echoed this morning by David Brooks when he asks how we will organize ourselves to deal with 21st century challenges like Swine flu, the threat of terrorism, and global finance. Ramo suggests throwing out the old and bringing in a new ways to address issues that deals with a higher order thinking about chaos and uncertainty. Now just yesterday I said that the best thing that the new urban czar could do is figure where we have been before we invest billions more with limited results. I still feel that way despite Mr. Ramo's persuasive arguments.
Here is the issue for cities in Urban Policy 101: cities require duel investments in people and place that only the federal government can provide in a comprehensive way. States and localities must pick up the slack by connecting the dots and assuring that the building blocks to build an economy and secure families are in place. The most important of those investments must occur in a way to make cities desirable for middle class families to stay or to locate. That investment must support the high performance of inner city schools. Note I did say improvement of the schools--I said performance of the schools. We have invested in schools with too little attention to the conditions and environment of the children while they are not in school. So how can we have higher performing schools? By investing in foundational supports that prepare children to learn--early childhood education, parent training, quality daycare, tutoring, etc. I actually think this is a step toward higher order thinking for our urban policy.