For the first time in decades, the Federal Government has been taking a comprehensive look at how its policies impact the way urban and rural areas develop and how well those places support the people who live there, in all aspects of their lives—education, health, housing, energy, and transportation. This “place-based” approach is a long overdue effort to help places work better for people.
Last summer, President Obama directed the Office of Management and Budget, the Domestic Policy Council, the National Economic Council, and the Office of Urban Affairs to conduct a comprehensive review of federal programs impacting places, the first of its kind in thirty years. The review represented an important first step toward leveraging federal investments in an integrated way, on a regional scale, and in a particular place to have the most transformative impact.
An effective place-based policy requires comprehensive interagency collaboration and investment that can ensure an increased impact of federal dollars and a greater return on federal investments. By concentrating resources, this approach asserts the primacy of place in moving our nation towards more robust social and economic outcomes. A place-based policy is about finding the place-specific triggers not only to localized neighborhood and community growth but also to metropolitan and regional growth. Federal programs that meet urban and rural areas where they are and federal policies that respond to the ways that people live will meet the demands of communities that are striving for a better quality of life.
A place-based program looks at a distressed neighborhood as a system. For example, instead of only focusing on underperforming schools, the Department of Education’s Promise Neighborhood program recognizes the role an entire community plays in a child’s education. Promise neighborhoods create a continuum of service from pre-k to college to career by partnering with community-based organizations that provide a network of services that include workshops for parents with young children, in-school and after-school tutoring, mentoring, and community building programs just to name a few.
And we are finding that placed-based policy approaches work. The review made clear that there are many existing opportunities to work across agencies –cutting redundant, dislocated programs and replacing them with innovative, regional policies designed to improve the economic health, environmental sustainability, and social opportunity of urban and rural communities. For example, the Sustainable Communities Partnership—a collaboration between the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development as well as the Environmental Protection Agency—is one example of interagency efforts to align planning and implementation dollars to achieve more affordable, economically vital, and sustainable places. At the same time, our interagency working group on Regional Innovation Clusters—spearheaded by the Departments of Commerce, Labor and Education as well as the Small Business Administration—is working to support economic cluster strategies by leveraging local assets to improve the economic well-being of neighborhoods and regions.
This summer, we are building upon the progress made last year by initiating the second annual place-based review of agency programs as part of the preparation of the President’s FY 2012 Budget. Our goal is to continue to apply placed-based principles to existing policies, potential reforms, and new and promising innovations with a particular focus on strengthening economic growth and achieving greater cost effectiveness. Knowing that our national economic health is driven by regions, if we are to usher forward a new area of prosperity it must be based upon a sound policy foundation across agencies and respond to the characteristics, obstacles, and opportunities that shape the economic landscape of cities, towns, and regions across the country.
Derek Douglas is Special Assistant to the President on Urban Policy