The recent creation of the White House Office of Urban Affairs (OUA) has generated expectations among city leaders regarding its role in helping them do their jobs. And, though OUA is just starting its work, those expectations are high.

President Obama established the new office by executive order on Feb. 19. OUA's purpose, according to the order, is to create "forward-looking policies that encourage wise investment and development in our urban areas, [which] will create employment and housing opportunities." OUA is the first urban-focused federal office since Richard Nixon created the Council for Urban Affairs in 1969, which was rolled into the Domestic Council the following year as part of a government reorganization plan, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión has been named director of the office and has said he would help coordinate urban policy in education, health care and public safety. He also would seek to develop urban neighborhoods in environmentally thoughtful ways, citing the possibilities of offering incentives to companies to locate in densely populated areas, and improve mass transit.

The Washington-based National League of Cities (NLC) hopes the OUA will recognize that there is no "one-size-fits-all" solution to the problems facing urban areas. "There are national challenges around education and housing, but before significant investments are made, they need to look at best practices and decisions, and look for unintended consequences that happen by assuming it is the same problem everywhere," says Carolyn Coleman, NLC's director of federal relations.

Coleman expects OUA will offer a level of planning at the federal level that currently exists only on the local level. "The OUA will look at how different federal rules, regulations and policies help urban areas achieve goals and how they interfere," she says. "It may create an opportunity to revisit some areas."

"While the federal tradition is 'here is housing,' and 'here is transportation,' at the local level, it must all come together," Coleman says. "We need to weave the local, federal, state and private resources together to make a quality place [to live]."

Liz Boardman is a Wakefield, R.I.-based freelance writer.

Related Stories