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Clamor for More Talk on Cities Overblown, Some Critics Say

A recent discussion on what an urban agenda is and whether candidates are talking about it gave the rare opportunity for some contrarian viewpoints on the topic. (Click here for the podcast.) On The Forum, a talk radio show from the Bay Area on KQED, a public broadcasting station, one guest took to task the idea that urban issues are not being addressed. Mark Barabak, from the Los Angeles Times, said, “It’s an urban legend, the idea that the candidates are not talking about urban issues.” They talk about infrastructure, education, immigration and crime, he said. “Go to their Web sites, if you want to hear about it.”

Some of the other guests didn’t exactly agree, however.

“The fact that the candidates have these issues on their websites doesn’t do it for me,” noted Henry Gardner, from the Association of Bay Area Governments.

And Jakada Imani, of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, quipped, “Every time our friend from Iowa talks, I get a little tense.” He went on to point out that he reads the paper everyday, and hasn’t seen evidence of a discussion on cities. When asked by the host, Scott Shafer, whether that was a criticism of the media, he responded, “I don’t know.”

Pressed by Shafer as to whether the Republican candidates gave equal attention to cities as the Democratic ones, Barabak conceded they don’t. But the fact they don’t specifically mention “urban issues” doesn’t mean their platforms won’t affect cities, he argued. “I don’t see the delineation between: ‘This is an urban issue and this isn’t.’” Issues like the war, immigration, and global warming affect people in cities, too, the reporter said.

After the host asked him who is talking about transportation, he said the issue is rarely mentioned. But the journalist did credit Bill Richardson for giving transportation a place in his platform. (Richardson has since dropped out, after only two states had voted.)

On a different note, Howard Husock, from the Manhattan Institute, argued that mayors are solving their own problems better than the federal government could. “A number of cities have started to do much, much better based on the realization that they control the lever of their own renaissance,” he said, pointing to the drop in crime in New York and infrastructure plans in Chicago.