Obama’s 2nd Term and Urban Policy

November 7, 2012 at 6:47 pm

Obama Election Night at McCormick Place, Chicago

Obama Election Night at McCormick Place, Chicago. Credit: Shaun Jacobsen.

I was at the Obama Election Night event at the McCormick Place in Chicago last night, and all I can say is that the energy in the room was exhilarating when the major news networks announced Obama was predicted to be re-elected the 44th President of the United States.

I’ve been a fairly ardent supporter of the President since 2008, but like many individuals with interests similar to my own, I’ve had my share of frustration when it comes to urban issues and the presidency. His election in 2008 was symbolic to many urbanites – finally, a President hailing from a major city, not a ranch in the South. Obama and the Democratic Party’s commitment to environmental issues and ambitious funding for projects like light rail projects and regional high-speed rail (which really excited myself at the time living in Milwaukee – speaking of which, train manufacturer Talgo is suing Wisconsin’s Governor for more than $42 million) certainly energized urbanists.

But the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives in 2010, largely a result of the “grassroots” (ahem) Tea Party movement, slowed the progress of the White House’s ambitions. Fast-forward to 2012 and we have Mitt Romney and Barack Obama campaigning for/to stay in the White House.

While this election was largely focused on the performance of the economy and unemployment, there was still lip service given to issues like abortion, LGBT rights, and healthcare, among other issues. But nary a word on urban issues, unless you count the 2nd presidential debate when the candidates were asked about gun violence. And not a word on climate change or transportation issues, unless you count the price of gas, something that the President has little control over.

But that’s over now. There is no more campaigning – President Barack Obama has 4 more years in the White House and no more pandering to the White Suburban Woman from Ohio. I’m not so naïve to be discouraged because of a campaign season – we know that politicians have to ignore contention and appeal to popular positions in order to be elected. Once elected, we know that better things will come for all of us.

And that’s how I feel about Barack Obama and urban issues. While it was hardly mentioned in the campaign, I know that his familiarity with Chicago and the diverse array of people that live here will turn into further action for America’s urban residents. The Atlantic Cities has already written an article about urban policy ideas under Obama for the next 4 years. One that stood out to me in particular was the idea of Location Efficiency and HUD. While we really never knew any specifics about the Mitt Romney tax plan, we assumed that the Home Mortgage Interest Deduction would be done with, an idea I am not so against. While it does keep money in the pockets of Americans, it disproportionately benefits homeowners and cheats renters. A much higher portion of urban residents are renters and should be rewarded for their “location efficiency”: close proximity to all the necessities of life that reduces the need to drive. The mortgage interest deduction may have made sense decades ago when we didn’t see anything wrong with suburbanization and massive sprawl, but it’s time to reverse course. While urban living is often criticized for its high price, few look at the larger picture: not owning a vehicle means less money spent not only on obvious things like car payments, maintenance, gasoline, and parking but also less money spent over time on hidden costs like medical bills because of the healthier lifestyle walkable neighborhoods provide.

Hopefully the next 4 years can provide more change for our cities, in terms of the economy, safety, transportation, and our cities (which are interconnected, even if the media is able to separate them). I’m hoping that the Democratic Party’s more liberal stance on climate science translates into action beyond just increased fuel economy for vehicles (Obama did mention climate chance in his speech last night). I’m hopeful that a President with experience living and working in a major city will give some attention to the issues that affect not only those of us who live here, but the entire nation that largely depends on the livability and productivity of our most important cities.