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The White House

Remarks by the Vice President at the Richard J. Daley urban forum

Office of the Vice President

For Immediate Release
April 27, 2009
University of Illinois at Chicago
Chicago, Illinois
12:00 P.M. CDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you very much. (Applause.) Mayor Daley, it's an honor -- it's an honor to be here with you. My first official visit to this city was -- I had the great honor of speaking with one of my mentors, Hubert Humphrey, at a political dinner here when your dad was still there. And this city has been guided wisely, with real wisdom by the Daleys for a long, long time.
Chancellor, thank you for the opportunity to be here at the university. And I also want to -- I will embarrass him, but I would like to say hello and acknowledge my good, close personal friend, former Secretary of Commerce, Bill Daley, who is here as well, and the whole Daley family. (Applause.) Billy. (Applause.)
I say to the mayors who abound here who come from the greatest cities, literally, in the history of mankind, that are represented here, I say to you all this is a daunting experience to come before all of you. And speaking of wisdom, the collective wisdom of the mayors, who every single day, every single day, make decisions that affect every single moment the quality of life of tens of millions of people, for me to come and speak to you about the state of the world and the state of the great cities of the world is somewhat presumptuous, because you all know so very much.
I admire -- I admire what you're doing. This forum though, I think, is a fitting tribute to a man who was a truly great mayor, and a man who had a great deal of wisdom. I think he understood human nature better than the vast majority of the women and men who I've had the pleasure over my 37-year career of coming to know. He was a man who knew the limits of men, but also, from my observation, never gave up on the aspirations of men and women he represented either as a state senator or as a mayor.
And if his leadership during that period Chicago became known as "the city that works," that Mayor Daley, the present Mayor Daley, I would say that your leadership will be known for making Chicago the city that inspires, with new and beautiful -- (applause) -- with new and beautiful public spaces, and the one thing every city in America yearns to see: a skyline full of construction cranes. (Laughter.)
Comptroller Dan Hynes is here I'm told, and all 32 of Chicago's aldermen are in attendance. That's more people than we have in Delaware. (Laughter.) But it's a delight to be with so many distinguished mayors from around the world.
And let me also say that it's many of you mayors, I would say all of you mayors have the most difficult job in governance, the scheme of governance. There's no one who has greater responsibility, and no one entity makes as many consequential decisions that affect the lives of our fellow citizens. So I compliment you for your willingness to take on these jobs. I was always -- I think the only thing that Bernie said that may be right when he said I had wisdom, I had the good wisdom never to want to be a mayor, because it's too tough. (Laughter.)
But it's been fewer than 100 days since President Obama and I came into office. And in that time, we -- (applause) -- in that time, we’ve responded to the economic challenge we’ve inherited with unprecedented scale and speed, some suggesting we're trying to do too much. We passed the largest recovery plan in our nation’s history, possibly the largest recovery plan in all of history, $787 billion, within a month after taking office. This plan is now in the process of creating or saving 3.5 to 4 million jobs over the next two years. It's putting money directly in people’s pockets with tax cuts for 95 percent of all working families in America.
And to cushion the blow of this recession, we've also extended unemployment benefits and help in health care coverage for Americans who have lost their jobs. And many -- too many have. We’ve moved aggressively to unfreeze the markets and jumpstart lending both inside and outside our banking system. To stabilize the housing market, we’ve launched a plan to save up to four million responsible home -- responsible homeowners from being faced with foreclosure, and helping millions more refinance their homes.
To coordinate a global response to this recession, President Obama, with many of the leaders in your countries, went to the G20 meeting in London, where he was able to help build a consensus on regulatory reforms and expanding the lending capacity of the International Monetary Fund.
Everything we have done has been with one goal in mind -- to move this economy, and the world's economy from recession to recovery, and ultimately, to prosperity, a true prosperity build on a real foundation, a prosperity that isn’t an illusion created by excessive debt or reckless speculation, but instead a lasting condition that comes from the efforts of skilled, productive workers.
In that strategy, we believe, unlike other administrations, that cities are a central element. Over two millennia ago, Aristotle recognized the defining advantage of cities. He wrote, and I quote, "Men come together in cities in order to live; they remain together in order to live the good life." That is as true today as it was then.
According to the Brookings Institution, the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the United States of America occupy just 12 percent of our nation’s land mass, but they generate two-thirds of America’s jobs and three-quarters of our Gross Domestic Product. These same 100 largest metro areas are responsible for nearly 80 percent of all the patents, 94 percent of all the venture capital funding in the United States. And because of the population density and public transportation, city dwellers have a much smaller carbon footprint than others in American. For all of these reasons and many more, successful cities are a key element to any plan to create a successful economy.
I’m often struck, when I visit your countries in South and Central America, Europe, Asia, at how young America is -- particularly Asia and our friends in Europe. Our cities are new –- they've grown up on the coasts and the plains out of ports and stockyards and trailheads. But around the world, you realize that so many great cities represented here today are really cities on top of cities -- cities built above the remains of what came before them. In that sense, history forms the foundation for the future.
When I grew up, cities were built on industry -– the rhythms of life were set by the shifts of the factories. Very few cities operate that way today. So as those jobs have left, the question for us has become what will we build on? What will be the foundation that in fact needs to be built -- a foundation that already existed?
I believe it begins with a true metropolitan investment strategy, a strategy that fills our cities with the resources they need not to survive merely, but to thrive, with innovations working on the next big ideas, because the innovators are in the cities, with highly trained and productive workers; with clean energy and smart growth; with an efficient public sector, providing a good environment for business and the "cradle-to-career" education and training opportunities for families.
We want to fill the steel and glass canyons not solely with people who can do complex financial calculations, but with scientists and engineers who build and make the things that will power a strong economic base, an economic future that will not be based on a bubble. That's why President Obama and I have created the White House Office of Urban Affairs. We’ve tasked that office with creating a new urban policy –- one that promotes economic competitiveness, equal opportunity, and sustainability. Already, you’re seeing the beginning of that strategy in the commitments we’re making to our cities just through the Recovery and Reinvestment Act, let alone our budget.
I want to discuss our investments in three key areas: in education and health, in strong communities with high standards of living, and, thirdly, energy and infrastructure. Let me discuss briefly each one of these. First, education and health. Recently, a group called CEOs for Cities looked at education and income in the 50 largest metropolitan areas in our country. What they found were that the differences in four-year educational attainment between cities account for three-fifths of the difference of income between those cities. Let me put that more simply: How educated your city is explains 60 percent of how wealthy your city is.
According to that analysis, if this city, Chicago, were able to increase the number of residents with four-year degrees by just 1 percent, it would add $7.2 billion to the local economy -- just 1 percent in the number of four-year college degrees held by city residents. Other cities showed similarly huge potential. That’s why our Recovery Act includes $125 billion in funding and tax measures to improve schools, raise the level of educational attainment, close achievement gaps, and upgrade workforce skills. And for many cities, those jobs will be in the field of health and health care.
We’re seeing many cities making the transformation from smokestacks to stethoscopes. The Recovery Act invests $19 billion in computerized medical records that will help to bring our antiquated health care system into the digital age, saving billions of dollars -- (applause) -- billions of dollars -- (applause) -- and not incidentally, improving the quality of health care.
We’re investing $10 billion in research at the National Institute of Health, and colleges and universities all across America. Studies show that roughly 80 percent of the funding from this $10 billion investment will go to cities. We’re investing $2 billion in community health centers, $500 million to help train the next generation of doctors and nurses. I believe that strong cities are going to be the hub of learning and the hubs of healing, and the faster we get on to it, the better off we'll be.
The second point I'd like to make is that improving communities and the quality of life is absolutely essential to do simultaneously. One of the legacies of our industrial past is the polluted land and dirty water. To truly reclaim our cities, we have to make them safe, appealing, and affordable places for families to be able to live, fit to be able to raise your family.
The Recovery Act invests $1 billion in strengthening policing, and making significant commitments to affordable housing and local economic development.
And third, and finally, we strengthen our cities through the investment in efficiency and infrastructure, which also has an impact on livability. The Recovery Act invests $126 billion in spending on transportation, energy, water and sewer, and other key infrastructure areas; $53 billion of this, the largest single share of funds in the act, will flow to transportation infrastructure; $3 billion of it is dedicated to smart grid grants to advance forward the smart meters and smart grid deployment, a new superhighway for renewable energy. We’ve already provided $11 billion to bolster state and local government energy efficiency programs and to weatherize low-income homes.
And just recently, the Department of Energy made a $300 million grant in funding available to state and local governments, and to transit authorities, to expand the nation’s fleet of clean, sustainable vehicles, saving tens of millions of gallons of gasoline and diesel fuel a year, and as well, funding for the fueling infrastructure necessary to support these vehicles. This money, awarded through the Clean Cities Program, will speed the transformation of our nation’s vehicle fleet, will help reduce carbon emissions, will increase energy security.
I know that's a whole lot of numbers. And you can go on to -- on to to find out exactly what is being spent, exactly where it's being spent, and exactly how rapidly it's being spent. But ultimately these numbers are an expression of our values. Let me say that again, ultimately, these numbers are an expression of our values.
My dad, who Bill knew, used to have an expression. He'd say, don't tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I will tell you what you value. (Applause.) So don't tell me you value education, a clean environment, clean and rapid transportation, and then not invest in it. What we are doing is an expression of our values, how much we value cities, and what we believe will play a role in their success is what we're attempting to invest in.
I’d like to close by sharing a visit I just made to a factory with the Mayor right here in Chicago. One month ago before Christmas -- one month before Christmas I should say, over 200 people -- some with over 30 years of service –- were left jobless when a company called Republic Windows shut down. But the story didn’t end there. The energy efficiency -- an energy-efficiency company called Serious Materials has bought the plant, and started putting people back to work. It expects to put 600 to work.
I just had a chance to see them building some of the most energy-efficient windows in the world. If you ask the folks at Serious, they'll say that they're willing to take this risk, and their CEO stated it explicitly, they're willing to take this risk, buy this company and five others like it across the country, and expand at this moment of contraction, because of the investments we're making in energy efficiency. That's what we want to accomplish, to bring the next generation of industry to our cities, and to make the cities not just a place to live Aristotle’s good life, but to anchor the economy of a great nation.
That's our commitment. That's what we're going to attempt to do. And that's what I hope we'll be able to -- three years from now, if you invite me to address you, to say, we're well on our way of doing.
Thank you. Thank you for listening. And thank you all. (Applause.)
12:19 P.M. CDT