The Urban Message Missing From the State of the Union

The issues facing the nation's cities were largely ignored in the president’s speech

Image
Reuters

It feels like far more than a year ago when, in the 2011 version of his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama pledged that “[w]ithin 25 years, our goal is to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail.”

I suppose that dream hasn’t totally died (yet), but it's certainly a less vibrant one than it was just a year ago. In last night's 2012 speech, Obama didn't bring up anything remotely so ambitious. As in previous years, the president spoke of the crucial need to fix our “crumbling” infrastructure. He vaguely called for “a broader agenda to repair America's infrastructure.”

So much of America needs to be rebuilt. We've got crumbling roads and bridges. A power grid that wastes too much energy. An incomplete high-speed broadband network that prevents a small business owner in rural America from selling her products all over the world.

High-speed rail, or any infrastructure not associated with a car-dominant lifestyle, didn't merit a mention. As examples of what we should be shooting for, he called out the Hoover Dam, the Golden Gate Bridge, and, of course, the interstate highway system.

He did say he plans to sign an executive order “clearing away the red tape that slows down too many construction projects … Take the money we're no longer spending at war, use half of it to pay down our debt, and use the rest to do some nation-building right here at home.”

There’s an ambitious ring to that, and yet I'd be willing to bet much of the focus would be on the sorts of road projects that have dictated so many of the mobility patterns in and between our urban areas.

Obviously you can’t squeeze everything into one speech, and yes, it's an election year. As Greg Hanscom recently wrote in Grist, the Obama administration has by no means been ignoring the needs of our metro areas, but at the same time the really ambitious changes that urbanists have been calling for have been relegated to a theoretical second term. The lack of any real discussion of cities in the 2012 State of the Union suggests that those plans, should the president even win a second term, have been placed firmly on the back burner.

Photo credit: Reuters

About the Author

  • Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for CityLab. He lives in Los Angeles.