Cities produce 85 percent of our nation’s Gross Domestic Product. In fact, half the US economy is generated by just the 30 largest cities. According to the global consulting firm McKinsey & Company, “In a world of rising urbanization, the degree of economic vigor that the economy of the United States derives from its cities is unmatched by any other region of the globe.”
As the Brookings Institution has said, “These communities together dominate our trade in goods and services and are the nation’s logistical hubs, concentrating the movement of people and goods by air, rail and sea. From the beginning of time, cities have been centers of commerce, formed along the roads and routes of trade. In this way, economies have risen, innovation has flourished, wealth has grown and cultures have evolved.”
Now is the time for America to focus on the fact that despite a more urban population, Washington has ignored the need for a Federal urban plan. Since 1975, the population of America’s cities has grown by 100 million people. Yet, Federal funding to combat poverty, provide better housing and schools, and create jobs has not kept up. The Community Development Block Grant program, meant to battle poverty, provide affordable housing, and infrastructure development, provides less funding per capita than it did forty years ago. And in this century, the program has been cut 46%.
For Philadelphia, the result is that it is the poorest big city in America, with 200,000 individuals living in “deep poverty,” while tens of thousands of others just live in “poverty.” Our school system is in crisis. And all of this is happening while jobs have been lost and wages have stagnated.
The very different future Dwight Evans envisions for cities is possible because of one simple fact: In the new economy of which Philadelphia is a leader, we’re all interconnected. The new technologies invented here every day make it possible for anyone to start a new business, for any neighborhood to become a center of entrepreneurship, for any business to compete for customers anywhere in the world, and for any child to get the world’s best education from the world’s best teachers from their home or their neighborhood school. And the economics of networks mean that it’s in the interests of every one of us to help every other Philadelphian to get there.
Think about every network you’re a part of – whether it’s your mobile phone network, or an online social network, or an intranet or professional network at your workplace. For every additional person who joins, the value of the network increases: What makes our phone networks, and the Internet, and the social and professional networks that build off of them so valuable is that virtually everyone is part of them – and every time we get someone else to join the network, we continue to increase its value for ourselves and everyone else.
That’s how economics work in a network. And that’s why we need to think about cities as the networks they truly are, because the only way we’re going to build a better future for each of us is to build a better future for all of us. Every neighborhood should have a strong school, a bank, supermarkets and places that sell safe healthy foods, gathering places, restaurants, parks – places where people can live and work and play confident in their safety and in their community. And it is new technologies, new ideas, new leaders and a new vision that make that all possible.
Everything’s interconnected – jobs, education, housing, transportation, public safety –and so are we. That’s why I have always addressed all these issues together – and why we must do so together, as a nation.
To create the neighborhood economies we want, we need to be building not just the backbone but also the connections that these businesses need to thrive in every neighborhood. And the federal government can empower and assist local communities to undertake – and Dwight Evans will propose, and work to fund – programs like these for cities and neighborhoods across our country.
Each section below addresses one of the institutions I believe we need to make sure exists at the center of every neighborhood “downtown”:
- A private-sector, job-generating commercial hub, made up of local small businesses – not just large institutions and national chains.
- A major financial institution – not just a check-casher or pawn shop.
- Food deserts should be replaced with supermarkets and places that sell safe healthy foods.
- A neighborhood school that’s more than a school – a one-stop community and family center providing day care, health care, computer literacy programs and Internet access.
- Mixed housing, welcoming streets and sidewalks, and other amenities that give the neighborhood life 24/7.
- A police substation or other public-safety installation.
- Parks, green space, or other recreational and cultural opportunities.
These are the things Dwight Evans has spent the last 35 years bringing to his district in West Oak Lane. As Congressman, Dwight wants to bring the same to not just the entire 2nd congressional district, but to cities and urban areas across the country. Cities are the hub of the 21st Century; we can make our nation stronger, safer, healthier, and wealthier by re-investing in the cities that form the backbone of our nation.