Designing a jobs plan around a city map

There’s a lot of talk surrounding investment in infrastructure as a means to create jobs for Americans, more than 10 million of whom are out of work. President Obama this week unveiled his jobs plan that would inject $447 billion into projects covering bridges, roads, and other public structures that are and have been in decay for years. The rationale behind the proposal is two-fold: to create jobs for unemployed Americans and to promote the transport of U.S. goods for interstate commerce and foreign export.  Awesome.

One of my paranoid projections is that we invest in the highway infrastructure around cities and continue to promote sprawl. I submit sprawl is not only an environmentally bad eyesore, but it also degrades cohesion of the workforce and scatters the unemployed population across miles of terrain. Perhaps sprawl is one reason why telecommuting has become so popular in some areas.

I haven’t seen the details of the plan, but I would hope any jobs plan would include a framework for how cities function, as they are the center of where Americans live and work. Or at least want to.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 16 percent of Americans overall live in rural areas. While there are Americans still moving outside of cities, they are predominantly older retirees.  Just look at a new trend of reporting on the best retirement cities in America, such as Durham, N.C.

But this isn’t the population Obama is addressing when he says, “You know, we’ve got a lot of folks in Congress who love to say how they’re behind America’s jobs creators…Well, if that’s the case, then you should be passing this bill. Because that’s what this bill is all about, is helping small businesses all across America.”

Durham, NC Tobacco District (photo, Derek Anderson / Indyweek)

Small businesses downtown will create jobs only if we have a plan. With outer suburban areas growing quickly, urban job centers are at risk. In many ways, we’re feeding the brain without maintaining a beating heart. America’s cities are its primary job centers – we need to figure out how to integrate them with the growing suburbs. Some call it sustainable urban development.  Some call it smart growth.

Whatever its label, a successful jobs program employs a long-term vision that promotes technological innovation, creates jobs, improves quality-of-life in our nation’s cities, and pulls us together as a culture of people, not just as a culture of the trained and employed.

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