What Happened to the Office of Urban Policy?
After 100 days, Obama’s shiny-new dream for our cities is looking more like a bureaucratic nightmare.
Another part of the problem, some suspect, may be the experience level of Carrion, the director of the office. A former teacher with a record of general success in the Bronx—including a commitment to green building in low-income neighborhoods—Carrion is still essentially a local politician, now tasked with a massive nationwide renovation. While his deputy worked on federal policy for Paterson, this is Carrion’s first foray into national administration. “[He] doesn’t have a lot of experience in dealing with federal policy,” says Lind. “How could you give somebody like Adolfo Carrion control over, say the transportation laws in Milwaukee? It’s a hard leap to make.” Despite the campaign funding allegations (the White House declined to comment on the controversy, and requests to interview Carrion for this article were denied), Carrion beat out other, higher-profile officials whose names were floated for the position, including Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin; L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; and Brookings Institution scholar Bruce Katz, who is now working as a senior adviser to HUD. Picking a “celebrity” to run the office might have inspired more confidence that it will make a difference to urban America.
At times, the mere existence of Urban Affairs is used as proof of its efficacy. “People have tried before to crack the skulls and break the silos,” says Douglas. “What’s different this time is that there is a new office that was created to do that…. So I think that speaks to the priority.”
Symbolism alone will not solve all of the pressing issues facing American cities. But many urban interest groups retain high hopes for the new office. “We’re all waiting and watching,” says Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, president of Green for All, which promotes green jobs for people of color. “For issues like retrofitting and weatherization, we need that office to be successful.” Team Obama is rarely shy about advertising its own successes. And the White House will undoubtedly hype several legislative and diplomatic victories during the 100-day sprint. So it’s worth waiting and watching to see if cities are indeed “the solution”—or if substantive, transformational change remains an urban legend.
Dayo Olopade is Washington reporter for The Root.