A little quiz for those that are fond of U.S. Presidential History.: Which former President spoke these inspiring words about cities in a State of the Union Address?
“A great city,” Walt Whitman wrote, “is that which has the greatest men and women.” Only by appealing to the greatness that lies within our people can we build and sustain the kind of communities we want for America.
And from the same address, this passage on urban transit:
Federal money has helped build the world’s best system of modern highways…Now we must concentrate on moving people within our cities as effectively as we move them between our cities. We must help our communities develop urban mass transit systems of which America can truly be proud… If we do not act now, our children will grow up in cities which are strangled by traffic, raked by noise, choked by pollution.
Answer: Richard Nixon, 1973 State of the Union Address
In an article for the Huffington Post, Milton Curry tied Nixon’s speech to his trip to China around the same time (and featured in a current Broadway show). He applies Nixon’s calls for radical urban revitalization in the 70’s (and critiques of suburbanization) to what’s needed in cities now though innovative thinking about the intersection of architecture and poverty, an interdisciplinary advisory panel to the President on urbanization, and restructuring government incentives for how our built environment takes form.
Granted, in the same speech Nixon skewers planners for failed urban housing programs (rightly so) and outlines a plan to totally restructure initiatives that allowed the Federal Government to become a “nationwide slumlord.” I’m curious how Nixon’s policies on urban revitalization in housing and transit actually played out. And could Curry’s proposals for bringing social theory and architecture into conversations about cities at the federal level actually work today – or would they have been taken more seriously in the 1970’s?