Remarks of Secretary Julián Castro
American Planning Association National Planning Conference
Washington State Convention Center
Seattle, Washington
April 20, 2015

As prepared for delivery.

Good afternoon, everyone.

Thank you so much, Bill, for that gracious introduction. And my thanks to the membership of the American Planning Association for your warm welcome.

HUD is proud to be your partner and I'm honored to speak with you today, especially during such an important portion of the conference.

The Awards Luncheon is a chance to celebrate exceptional design and to recognize the visionaries behind that great work. Thoughtful, creative planning has always been essential to community development.

Centuries ago Roman engineers designed roads that could withstand flooding. At the turn of the 20th century, Daniel Burnham's visions in steel and stone remade Chicago. Generation after generation, planners and architects have been as essential to the growth of cities as the people themselves.

It's true that planners aren't often out front and center. And your long days and even longer nights before community boards and commissions don't generate splashy headlines. 

But your contributions are felt-and, even if they sometimes don't know who to thank-you're appreciated by Americans from all walks of life.Your skill and insight have also never been as important as they are today.

You see, we're living in a Century of Cities. A time when people all over the world, some with little more than their dreams and determination, are flocking to urban centers.

It's happening in Africa, in Asia and in South America. And it's also happening here at home, where Americans are falling in love with cities again. Official estimates project that by 2050, 75 percent of our nation's population growth will happen in cities-60 million people. 

So the question isn't 'How do we help cities to grow?' Cities are growing whether we want them to or not.

Rather, the questions we must answer are:

'How do we help cities to thrive?' 

'How do we equip the people who will live in these cities-the people who will transform schoolhouses into places of learning, factories and universities into places of innovation, and neighborhoods into places of opportunity-how do we equip them for success?' 

And I don't just mean career success, because good, inclusive planning is about so much more. It's about creating vibrant, sustainable communities that give everyone a fair shot at pursuing their dreams. It's about possibility and hope.

So, the fundamental question for planners and policy makers is 'How do we help our fellow citizens in this new century make not just a living but a life?'

I'm convinced that answering that question begins with a commitment to collaboration-a commitment to ensuring that every voice is heard and that the needs of every community are considered in our planning decisions.

As Jane Jacobs once wrote, "Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because-and only when-they are created by everybody."

That's what's needed for success in this Century of Cities-understanding that we're all connected and that collaborative planning is smart planning.

Just look at what they've done in Denver.

Back in the 1980s, the Denver metropolitan economy was struggling. The downtown districts were disconnected from the surrounding counties and everyone-urban and suburban families-was hurting as a result.

Fortunately, folks in Colorado realized that if they viewed their communities as connected-and developed a unified planning vision-then they could make smarter investments that would benefit everyone.

So Denver and its suburbs came together and invested in Denver's downtown. They fostered a vibrant urban core-a core that then boosted the entire region's economy.

Today, HUD is helping Denver build on that work as part of the Sustainable Communities Planning Grant initiative.

We're working with local officials and with the U.S. Department of Transportation to expand permanent affordable housing, improve access to jobs and enhance connectivity along Denver's transit corridors.

That includes the development of more than 120 miles of light rail, which will help transform Denver's west side into livable, transit-oriented neighborhoods.

This kind of collaboration is at the heart of what Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper means when he says communities in the 21st century have to "collaborate to compete."

HUD is committed to helping all communities in our nation do just that.

And today I'd like to tell you about our approach.

I'm convinced that, to thrive in this Century of Cities, communities must get three things right.

First, they must get the basics right. They must ensure that residents have clean water, that electricity and transportation are reliable and available to everyone, that neighborhoods are safe and that housing is free from discrimination and affordable to families and individuals up and down the income scale. 

And I want to emphasize that last point. 

Too often when we think of "the basics" we overlook housing affordability. But being able to secure a good home without spending so much of your income that you can't afford to invest in your child's education or ensure they have enrichment opportunities like music or sports-to a parent, nothing is more basic than that.

That's why HUD is making each of those basics a cornerstone of our local and regional partnerships.

That includes our work in communities like Brooklyn's East New York, where we're helping to transform vacant or underutilized sites along key transit corridors into thousands of new, mixed income housing units – projects that will also create jobs for local residents.

In Chicago, we've joined forces with the non-profit Preservation of Affordable Housing, the University of Chicago and the City to revitalize the Woodlawn neighborhood.

Together we're renovating more than 500 affordable housing units while creating another 500 market-rate units and boosting public safety.

For its part, the University of Chicago has agreed to place its public safety officers at key locations along school routes to help keep the children who live in nearby public housing safe. 

No child should have to risk their safety to get an education, and I'm proud that the University of Chicago has made the community's children their children as well.

This is what's possible when everyone is brought to the table, when everyone's voices and concerns are heard. When we plan together and partner together, that's when we prosper together.

The second key to success is that cities must create a vibrant, compelling quality of life, one where folks want to live, work and visit.

That means investing in public transit that's affordable and accessible.

It means creating great parks and public spaces. Investing in the arts. Pairing preservation with new retail and commercial development. And it means fostering walkable neighborhoods.

Shortly after I was elected to the San Antonio City Council, we had to decide how to allocate funding for street maintenance. During that time, at a neighborhood meeting, a middle-aged woman came up to me and told me about her elderly mother.

Her mother had diabetes, she said, and because of that her doctor had recommended that she exercise. She wanted to walk in her neighborhood but her street didn't have any sidewalks and loose dogs made it dangerous too.

That woman's story has stayed with me, and I'm grateful to her for helping me see early-on how all of our work is connected-health, infrastructure, public safety, quality of life.

That's the idea behind our partnership with the City of Pittsburgh and the local housing authority through Choice Neighborhoods.

Their community revitalization plan was completely resident-informed and community-led, and has brought together City leaders, planners, and a number of non-profit and private sector groups.

They're creating a new street grid and connecting those streets to main thoroughfares. They're also building a state-of-the-art bus transit center to better connect residents of the surrounding neighborhoods to Pittsburgh's downtown. And they're developing new parks and new green infrastructure.

In fact, the residents' vision is to make their community a "21st Century Green Neighborhood that Works."

I don't know which is more exciting-the vision statement or that everyday folks are talking about things like bioswales and storm water runoff.

Pittsburgh is a great example that when planning is done right, it benefits people, their pocketbooks and the planet.

Finally, the third step communities must take to succeed in this Century of Cities is to prepare their residents, especially their youth, to compete in the global economy. They must cultivate brainpower and match that brainpower to economic opportunity.

Creating great public schools is an important step, but it can't be the only step.

That's because for so many children in low-income neighborhoods, opportunities for learning outside the classroom-which we know is so important for long-term success-just aren't available.

That's why HUD is investing in educational opportunity for children in a number of communities, including in the Yesler neighborhood right here in Seattle.

Working with the Gates Foundation, the local housing authority and the school board, we've created an after-school tutoring program for 400 students. And the results are impressive.

Between 2011 and 2013, science scores for fifth graders in the program rose from 15 percent who met the state standard to nearly 60 percent. We also know that even a great K-through-12 education in today's economy just isn't enough.

So HUD is connecting more public housing residents to continuing education and job training opportunities, including through initiatives like Jobs-Plus, which is designed to help residents boost their skills and their earnings.

As President Obama has said, your zip code shouldn't determine how far you can go in life. And our team at HUD is determined to help more Americans secure a quality education and good skills training so they can achieve their dreams no matter where they live.

So much of the work I've described today depends on the insight, the skill and the vision of planners.

And HUD wants to expand our support for good planning so that we can accomplish even more together.

That's why President Obama has proposed $300 million for a Local Housing Policy Grants initiative to help policy makers formulate smarter regulations and bring more stakeholders to the table in order to expand housing in their communities and increase affordability.

It would also help create a learning community for grantees, so that we can take best practices and put those great ideas to work for other cities around the nation.

I don't have to tell you that cities are complex beings.

Poets and novelists throughout history have written about the city in two ways. Some have cast the city as a place of new beginnings, of excitement. A place where the sun is rising and the air is fresh with opportunity. A place where anything is possible. To them the city is like dawn.

Others have written about it as a foreboding place, a jungle, a mystery, with an element of danger and of romance. A place where anything might happen-the city like dusk.

Our challenge is to make the 21st century city both of these things (well, minus the danger). Places of enormous opportunity for individuals willing to work hard and with a vibrancy and character that you can't find just anywhere. Places that are unique, unforgettable even.

That is the charge of your calling.

Your fellow Americans are grateful for the passion and expertise you bring to your role everyday.

And your cities are lucky to have you. You make them stronger, more resilient and more prosperous. Most of all, you make a difference.

With your help, may this Century of Cities be a century of dreams realized in your communities, throughout our nation, and around the world.

Thank you!

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Content Archived: March 17, 2017