What Cities Need

U.S. Capitol building with flags draped across the front and an inauguration stage on the steps.By David Feehan

As January 20 approaches with a new administration in Washington, D.C. (where I live), I have to express my outrage for recent events. I love living in Washington and I have great respect for the heart of our federal government. Having said that, it is important that we look forward to what a new administration might mean for transportation, parking, and cities in general.

Let’s look at what we need. Cities–downtowns in particular–are hurting right now because the virus that has killed more than 365,000 Americans has also nearly killed many businesses. Parking and transit systems have been hit hard by loss of revenues. And city governments have been struggling with budget issues as tax revenues and parking revenues are greatly diminished.

Everywhere we turn, almost no aspect of urban living goes unaffected. I work with the University of Minnesota, and the absence of sports revenues, parking revenues, and other types of income have forced the layoffs of faculty and staff. The ancillary loss of business to business districts surrounding the university has yet to be measured.

There will be a major role for the new administration to play in helping cities recover. Direct financial aid will be needed. Investments in infrastructure and support for transportation systems and specific grant programs can help recovery. Bus and subway systems will need subsidies until riders return and in the meantime, rolling stock will need ongoing maintenance. Old programs such as Urban Development Action Grants might be revived to help developers complete stalled projects.

Local readers will look to new cabinet officers for creative ideas. The departments of transportation, housing and urban development, commerce, and other cabinet-level departments should develop and implement new programs that encourage recovery and provide a bridge to stability. And the new normal will undoubtedly look different than the old normal. Teleworking, e-commerce, ghost kitchens, and food delivery systems will offer new challenges and opportunities.

We have to put 2020 behind us and look to the future.

David Feehan is president of Civitas Consultants, LLC.