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CENTRAL ATLANTA PROGRESS CONFERENCE
REMARKS BY HUD SECRETARY ANDREW CUOMO
TUESDAY, MARCH 9, 1999

SECRETARY CUOMO: Thank you. Thank you very much. Good morning to all of you. Mr. Ackerman, Mr. Battle, incoming President, Mr. Franklin, congratulations to all of you and all the many guests who are here today. First, my friend, Mayor Campbell, with that very, very kind introduction, I have to put it in focus for you. The New York Times said I was a man of courage. They spoke about my family and my wife's family. My brother-in-law is Joseph Kennedy, Congressman from Boston, Massachusetts, and he would say when he would introduce me, because he was in the Congress on the House Subcommittee, on the Subcommittee that took care of HUD, he would say 'My brother-in-law is the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, he is a very courageous man because no one else would take that job as HUD Secretary, that's why he has courage.' So it puts everything in focus.

Mayor Campbell, I believe that cities are poised to turn a corner to a new renaissance and a new revitalization and I believe this will be the moment in history. And I believe you can start to see it happening, but Atlanta is very much at the forefront of that movement. Atlanta is two steps ahead of the other urban areas across this nation and it's no accident - that's because you have a truly, truly unique asset in a great Mayor, Mayor Bill Campbell. And it's my pleasure to have worked with him over these past six years now as his Federal partner. What has happened in Atlanta with public housing, with economic development, and the empowerment zones, with the tax increment financing districts: these are all models of possibility and that's what this nation needs. It wouldn't have happened without the business community in partnership. But it also wouldn't have happened without the leadership of Mayor Campbell. And I want to thank you very much, Mayor, for everything you've done.

All the potential in this room and all the capacity, we just have to figure out how to liberate that capacity and how to now use that power. Reminds me of the story of the farmer and the flood. Do you know the story about the farmer and the flood, southern farmer, as a matter of fact. Southern farmer living on the farm and it starts to rain and it rains and it rains and it rains and now the rain is of biblical proportions, it's going on for days. And the officials get concerned and they hear warnings that the flood waters are rising and the river is getting large and its coming down. And they start to evacuate personnel and they get in this big truck and they go out to the farm and they say to farmer, the rains are coming and the flood is coming and we have to evacuate the farm now because it's dangerous. And the farmer looks at the officials and he says, I'm a God fearing man, I praise the Lord, I go to church every Sunday, the Lord will take care of me. And they say that's very nice but the flood is coming, get in the truck, we're going to take you safety. And the farmer said, no, the Lord will take care of me. So they left frustrated.

And it kept raining and it kept raining and the water got higher and higher and now they come back in a boat, the officials, because the water is about six feet deep and they go out and farmer is still on the farm and they say, get in the boat, we can take you to safety, the water is still coming, it's getting even worse. And the farmer says, no, I'm a God fearing man, I go to church every Sunday, the Lord will take care of me. And they said, we know that, but get in the boat now because we have to take you to safety and the farmer said, no, the Lord will take care of me. And they tried to convince him, but they can't, and at that point they get frustrated and they leave in the boat.

And now the rain keeps coming, the water gets even higher and now the farmer is standing on the roof of the farm house and the water hasn't gotten so high that the water is literally up his neck and only the farmer's head is above the water and he's looking up and out from the clouds comes a helicopter. And the helicopter throws down a rope and it's the officials again and they say, we can still save you, please just grab the rope and we'll pull you up to safety in our helicopter. And the farmer with his head just above the water says, no, I'm a God fearing man, I go to church every Sunday, the Lord will take care of me.

Next scene the farmer is at the pearly gates, and he meets our Lord and the Lord says, how are you, welcome to Heaven, and the farmer says, I'm okay, but I'm a little confused, I went to church every Sunday, I prayed, I was a God fearing man, why didn't you help me. And the Lord looked at the farmer, he said, you're confused, I'm confused! I sent a truck, a boat, and a helicopter: what happened?

The sentiment of the story is, at one point it is up to you. And I think at this point, in this nation's history, you can do what you are doing, it is up to you to seize the rope and lead the way to the future. We want to do it with you, and we are ready to do it with you.

Before I came down my predecessor said, Secretary Henry Cisneros, the first Secretary of HUD under President Bill Clinton spoke to this group in 1993. Right after President Clinton had won, just literally months into the new administration and I read that speech in preparation for today and it is amazing how different the world was in 1993. What a short period of time, but what a phenomenal difference in circumstance. Henry was speaking about a 290 billion dollar deficit. The largest deficit in the history of the United States, today we're talking about the greatest surplus in the history of the United States.

We were talking about record unemployment, we're now talking about record employment, 18.5 million new jobs, the lowest unemployment rate in this nation since I was born, in my lifetime, 41 years, the lowest unemployment.

It is truly remarkable the progress we've made. And if you look at the social indicators the progress there is also undeniable. Crime is down, poverty is down, welfare is down. And it is very much a national story to be proud of and a story of potential. But it is also a story with a sub-story. Because if we were to say, 'The economy is doing well and therefore our problems are solved' we would make a mistake. And we would lose a precious opportunity that this economy is now giving us. And don't be mislead because those numbers are so strong, because we talk about new records on the Dow Jones almost every day. It doesn't mean that everyone every where is doing well. And it doesn't mean that we don't have real problems in the nation that we still have to address. We have one of the highest income inequality rates in history. We have more millionaires than any time in history in the United States, we still have 30 million poor Americans, one out of five children still will sleep in poverty tonight.

And our cities, which have long borne the burden of these challenges, of these problems, still need work to turn that corner. Atlanta is at the head of the parade. But let's not underestimate the challenges that we face, because to underestimate the challenge is not to meet it and to be doomed to live with it. You look at the largest cities in this nation over the past 20 years, two-thirds of our cities have gotten smaller.

Most of our cities have gotten poorer and the poverty has become more concentrated. Why, because the cities didn't do things correctly? No, because the economy changed on the cities. We went from that great manufacturing economy to this new high tech service-based economy. One problem, the cities were founded and formed to do the manufacturing business. That's why they tended to be near transportation centers, they tended to be on the water, they tended to be at rail lines. We were a manufacturing economy, we needed large factories where we can employ hundreds of people, so we needed the density of the cities.

Now we changed that, seventies, eighties and we said, we no longer do that type of economy, we are now going to farm that out, that's going to be done internationally. We're going to go to a high tech, high skill service economy. So we don't need the factories, we don't need the density, we don't need the rail, we don't need the water. Okay. But now you put the cities at a competitive disadvantage.

Now we can move out to the suburbs: businesses are more mobile than ever before. People are more mobile, and they use that. And now the investment we had in the manufacturing era in the cities becomes a liability. Now the cities have literally the stain from the manufacturing era where we had the factory, where we had the gasoline station, where we had the dry cleaning store. And we're going to have to work through those liabilities to understand our assets.

The cities during that period lose the middle class, which has to be reversed if we're going to reverse the course of cities over the long term. The cities cannot survive without the middle class. If you look at the demographics of the cities, they are getting younger and they are getting older - they are losing the middle. Why? Because cities by-and-large have an inferior public education system to the suburban public education system. And as long as that is the case cities will lose the middle class to the suburbs.

As the Mayor said, I have three young daughters. If I have to choose between educating my children and getting my children the best education, and staying in a city, the cities will lose every time. No one will sacrifice the education of their children: no one should. You put those factors together and you saw the decline of the cities over the past 20 or so years. But you also see a moment in history where now they can reverse that change and explode. That's what you see happening in Atlanta now. Why? Because it's in the best interest of the nation.

Three reasons - first, for this economy to keep growing, to sustain this economy we need the two essential elements for business. You need a labor pool and you need a new consumer market. The labor pool is not in the suburbs, it's not in the exurbs. The labor pool that business needs to drink from is in the cities, that's the flip side of having the high unemployment. Three million workers in the cities. And you go across this country, you'll hear the same story from all businesses, 'We need workers. Find me the workers, I'll train them, I'll put in an apprentice program, just find me the workers.' The workers are in the city.

The second element that businesses need are consumer markets. That is in the cities if we expand it and we exploit it. Purchasing power of central cities in the nation, 665 billion dollars, equal to the purchasing power of Great Britain. The poorest census tracks in the nation, purchasing power of 65 billion, equal to the purchasing power of Mexico. Tremendous economic potential for the nation in the cities. That's the first reason.

Second reason we have to invest in our cities and downtown areas is, we can't afford the alternative which is sprawl. We tried that. We've exhausted that avenue. We developed out and out in concentric circles and we can't go any further. We consume now 400,000 acres of green space per year, 400,000 acres. We built the roads out, we built the interstates, we can't go any further. We are consuming the planet, we are poisoning the environment, and everyone knows it. God bless Governor Barnes. We're literally are poisoning the air we breathe. Further concentric circles of development are not possible. You can't go out any further. Atlanta knows that better than anyone else. Average commute of 34 miles. Too much of your morning news deals with the traffic. There is more to life than the commute, move back, move back. Coca-Cola and Bell South, God bless them, for having the wisdom and the vision to point the way for the real development and investment of the future.

But we also can't say that, because sprawl is bad and sprawl is hurting the nation that we then won't develop anymore. We have to develop to grow, we have to build to grow, that's what working for the economy. You have 1.3 million households forming every year. You have to build more houses, but don't build them out, build them back. Re-build the nation's cities. No one is saying, 'Don't build,' we're just saying do a U-turn on the development highway and come back and invest in our central areas.

The third reason why we're poised for that success is because there is no longer a distinction between the suburb and the city - that is gone. You have studies all cross the nation, University of Louisville did a fascinating study, Federal Reserve Bank, Mayor, former Mayor Rusk talked about this for a long time. Mayor Campbell said it, 'As goes the city goes the suburbs.' That is not a clich´┐Ż, that is a documented fact. Cities that grow have suburbs that grow, have metropolitan areas that grow. Cities that shrink have suburbs that shrink, have metropolitan regions that shrink. They are inter-connected, they are inter-related - as goes the city goes the suburb, no more false distinction. 'Well, I'm in the suburb, I am removed from that.' No, you're not. There is a cord that is attaching you. You may not see it but it is there. And if that city sinks it will pull you in, that is the reality. That's why this nation has to take another look at its cities, its downtown areas, not just for the city and the downtown area, but for the soul of the nation and the progress of the nation as well.

What do we have to do? Change the thinking, change the thinking. Forget the county mentality, or the suburb mentality, or the city mentality, we are a region. We go up or we go down, but we do it together. We are a region, we're not Fulton County or De Kalb County, or Guinnett County, or Clayton County or we're the city of Atlanta, we are a region. You got there first with the metropolitan orientation, but we are a region. The line between the city and the county is artificial. It was drawn at a different time in history. It is meaningless now. Erase the line. Plan the region, plan the metropolitan area.

Second thing we have to do is we have to be honest and understand that the central city is at a competitive disadvantage economically with the surrounding suburbs. Recognize its poor economic function and then correct it. If we want to develop the central cities let's look at the competitive advantages, disadvantages, and let's subsidize or incentivize the private sector to go into the central city instead of going out to the suburbs.

I was with a group of businessmen two weeks ago and we were talking about the new mobility in the business world. How now there are so many firms that are not locked into a place, they are not locked into a factory, they are not locked into a location. They do high tech businesses as long as they have a phone line and a modem, they can go anywhere. And we were talking about Indian reservations, which is one of the areas of the portfolio at HUD and how do we get businesses to Indian reservations, some in South Dakota, North Dakota, Arizona, very remote areas. And I said to the businessmen, 'Well, is there an opportunity now because you are so mobile that maybe we could get you to locate on an Indian reservation where you have a whole work force that is just looking for work, they need training, but they are there?' And a businessman looked back at me, he said, 'Sure, how much.' I said, 'What do you mean how much, what does that mean?' He said 'How much are you going to, how much do you want businesses to locate there, how much are you going to pay for me to go to the Indian reservation.' And I said, 'Well, what do you mean,' he said, 'I can go anywhere. I can go to a suburb, I can go to a rural area. If you want me to go to the Indian reservation I'll go, but how much is it worth to you?' And there is an honesty in that calculus.

What is it worth to the nation to develop those parts of the country that are lagging behind. Let's understand that and let's subsidize it and incentivize it. That's what Jack Kemp and the Republicans were talking about with Enterprise Zones, tax benefits for businesses that go into areas where we need them. That's what President Clinton is talking about with Empowerment Zones, more of a comprehensive approach than just using the tax code, but the same concept. Let's subsidize the development in the areas we need it because long term it is an investment for all of us in this nation. If downtown Atlanta does well, then the region and the metropolitan area of Atlanta does well. It is an investment for the region for the downtown to survive. And if we believe that and we know that - which we do - well then let's put our money where our thinking and our mouth is and let's invest in downtown America.

The third point is we have to understand the message of the farmer and the flood, which is we will be there as a Federal partner. And you have a great, great leader in Mayor Campbell. But at one point it is up to you. We need the business community to unite and to mobilize and to organize, and to excite the downtown area. And take what you are doing so extraordinarily well, we have to take this model and use it across the country. What we need in downtown areas is we need the downtown area to be back in business. And we need a comprehensive business plan, the way you would do it for your own business, that says we need that economic engine, but we also need the quality of life issues to be corrected. We heard it on the video. You have to do something about fighting crime, because people will not come if they don't believe it's safe, period.

We have to invest simultaneously in housing and homeownership. Offer a homeownership alternative to the middle class who thinks now to buy a home you have to move 30 miles away, because that's the only place you can afford it. Let's take those beautiful structures that we have here in the city of Atlanta, beautiful historic value, let's invest in them and bring them back. That's what you are all about, that's what Central Atlanta Progress is a model for. What you did with the Empowerment Zones, what you are doing with Ambassador Force, what you're going to do regionally with the homeless.

It is a quality of life issue and it's an issue of humanity, and focusing on that and stepping up to the plate on that is truly something admirable. What you've done with the Decatur Street Center, you are showing the way. Let's do more, let's take the model and share it with the rest of the nation.

Because there is one other reason, and I'll close on this point. Why downtown Atlanta has to work and why the cities have to work, not just as an economic analysis, and a spatial analysis, and sprawl, and the environment - all of those work well enough, and any one of them is a justification, either the balance sheet, or the environment, or the space usage. But there is another reason, because downtown areas and city areas really pose a very interesting question to this nation. And the question is, 'Can we live together?'

That's what downtown Atlanta is asking. That's what cities are asking the nation. Can we live together. Think about it, and think about how really that's the question that this nation posed at its very inception. Mayor Campbell did the State of the City: Return to Community was the name of his State of the City address this year. It says it all in the title, community. Over used word from communitas, of the common. Return to community because we lost community. Return to of the common. A lot of what sprawl is about, a lot of what that movement is about, a lot of what Tom Wolfe was saying in A Man in Full, we decided that we can't live together. We are not of the common. We chose movement and separation and isolation, let's move away, flee the problems, flee the differences. Move to homogenous enclaves beyond reach. We tried that, we did it for 30 years, we ran away. We can't run anymore.

The question is, can we live together, can we succeed together. That's what the experiment was always about, every other nation on the globe started with a homogenous background. You're all Italians, all Irish, all Israelis, all Africans. The United States posed a different query, can we say we're not any one thing, but we're united in ideology and opportunity. And we'll take all different types of people, from all different types of country, and we'll try to forge one community, one country out of all of them. And that's what the cities really were, they were the entry places where you had this beautiful mix, you had a beautiful mosaic. But can you do it, can you live together, can you take your diversity and make it a strength rather than a weakness, can you do it?

And the answer to that question is the answer to your future, America, because you're not becoming any more homogenous, you're becoming more diversified. In the year 2050 you will be a majority minority nation. You have some states now where whites are no longer a majority. What will happen when that changes: will you be stronger or will you be weaker? If you continue to run you will not succeed. If you come together and say we're going to make it, but we're going to make it together, we're going to return to community.

We're going to reach the promise of America, then you will be stronger than ever before, that's what Ghandi said. Ghandi was talking about communal spirit, he said there is no society that has succeeded without communal spirit. That's what Martin Luther King said. We will either make it together as brothers or we will perish together as fools. That's what the founding fathers were talking about. Look at the founding credo of the nation, e pluribus unum, out of many one. That was the founding premise, that is the enduring promise of America, that we can come together, we can make it together. That's what you're working to succeed at, together we will make it happen.

Thank you very much.

Content Archived: January 20, 2009

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