Richard Nixon photo

Radio Address About the State of the Union Message on Community Development

March 04, 1973

Good afternoon:

I want to report to you today on the quality of life in our cities and towns.

A few years ago we constantly heard that urban America was on the brink of collapse. It was one minute to midnight, we were told, and the bells of doom were beginning to toll. One history of America in the 1960's was even given the title "Coming Apart."

Today, America is no longer coming apart.

One of the most difficult problems of the 1960's was the alarming increase in crime--up 122 percent from 1960 to 1968.

Today, the rate of crime is dropping in more than half of our major cities.

Civil disorders have also declined.

The air is getting cleaner in most of our major cities.

The number of people living in substandard housing has been cut by more than 50 percent since 1960.

The Nation's first new transit system in more than 20 years has just been opened in San Francisco. Another is under construction in Washington, D.C.; others are planned in Atlanta and Baltimore.

City governments are no longer on the verge of financial catastrophe. Once again the business world is investing in our downtown areas.

What does all this mean for community life in America? Simply this: The hour of crisis has passed. The ship of state is back on an even keel, and we can put behind us the fear of capsizing.

We should be proud of our achievements, but we should never be complacent. Many challenges still remain. In approaching them, we must recognize that some of the methods which have been tried in the past are not appropriate to the 1970's.

One serious error of the past was the belief that the Federal Government should take the lead in developing local communities. America is still recovering from years of extravagant, hastily passed measures, designed by centralized planners and costing billions of dollars, but producing few results.

I recently learned of a city where $30 million was paid for an urban renewal project. But instead of getting better, the physical condition of the target neighborhood actually got worse.

In one of our huge, high-rise public housing projects, less than one-third of the units are now fit for human habitation and less than one-fifth are even occupied.

In another city, urban renewal was supposed to salvage and improve existing housing. Thirty million dollars was spent over 12 years, but the results were so meager that the planners finally gave up and called in the bulldozers. Now almost half of the project's 200 acres lies vacant, unsold.

Some of our programs to help people buy or improve housing are also backfiring. Too many of the owners fail to meet their payments, and the taxpayer gets stuck with the bill. He also gets stuck with the house and the added expense of looking out for it. As a result, over 90,000 federally subsidized housing units are now owned by the Federal Government--your Government--over 14,000 in one metropolitan area alone.

Now these examples are not unusual. This does not mean that the people in charge of these programs were dishonest or incompetent. What it does mean is that they are human, and that no human being, accountable only to an office in Washington, can successfully plan and manage the development of communities which are often hundreds or thousands of miles away.

There are too many leaks in the Federal pipeline. It is time to plug them up. That is why we are changing our entire approach to human and community development. We are putting an end to wasteful and obsolete programs and replacing them with ones that work.

Our 1974 budget would eliminate seven outmoded urban development programs. It would suspend four ineffective housing programs.

We are not pulling the rug out from under anyone who has already been promised assistance. Under commitments already made, we will subsidize an estimated 300,000 housing starts this year and will provide housing assistance to more than 2 million low- and moderate income families.

But we are stopping programs which have failed. We are determined to get a dollar's worth of service out of every dollar's worth of taxes. The high-cost, no result boondoggling by the Federal Government must end.

This means we will continue to press for greater efficiency and better management in Federal programs. But it also means giving the lead role back to grass roots governments again. The time has come to reject the patronizing notion that Federal planners, peering over the point of a pencil in Washington, can guide your lives better than you can.

Last October, at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, I signed into law a general revenue sharing bill. This bill allocates 30 billion Federal dollars over the next 5 years for State and local governments to use however they like.

Revenue sharing represents a new Declaration of Independence for State and local governments. It gives grass roots governments a new chance to stand on their own feet.

Revenue sharing money can be used to put more policemen on the beat, to build new schools, to lower property taxes, or for whatever other purpose you and your local leaders think best.

Let me emphasize one point which is often misunderstood. General revenue sharing money is new money. It was never intended to replace programs we are now cutting back. To replace those programs, I am asking the Congress to create four new special revenue sharing programs.

One of these new revenue sharing bills, the Better Communities Act, would provide $2.3 billion in its first year of operation. This aid will have no strings attached as long as it is used for community development. Your local leaders can go on spending it the way Washington was spending it if they like. But they would also be free to work out better plans without having to get Washington's approval.

We have several other proposals which deserve the support of every American taxpayer.

One is our recommendation for a new Department of Community Development. This department will pull together programs which are now scattered among different departments or agencies. It would put them under a single roof. I first made this proposal nearly 2 years ago. It is time for the Congress to act on it. As a first step toward getting better coordination in this field, I have already appointed a Counsellor to the President for Community Development [James T. Lynn].

Another key recommendation is our $110 million proposal to help State and local governments build up their administrative skills and planning expertise.

In the field of housing, we must stop programs that have been turning the Federal Government into a nationwide slumlord. One of my highest domestic priorities this year will be the development of new policies that eliminate waste and target aid to genuinely needy families.

One of our highest priorities must be to improve transportation. In the past 20 years, Federal money has helped build the world's best system of modern highways. Our Administration has committed $19 billion to this goal. 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.

I propose that our States and communities be given the right to use a designated portion of the Highway Trust Fund for capital improvements in urban public transportation, including improvements in bus and rapid rail systems.

Changing the way we use the Highway Trust Fund should be one of the top items on our national agenda. If we do not act now, our children will grow up in cities which are strangled by traffic, raked by noise, choked by pollution.

By opening up the Highway Trust Fund today, we can open up great new vistas for our cities tomorrow.

I have also asked that Federal funding authority for mass transit capital grants be doubled--from $3 billion to $6 billion. And I recommended that the Federal share of mass transit projects be raised to 70 percent.

All of these steps will help us meet the challenge of mass transit.

Perhaps no program means more to those it helps than does disaster aid. But it is not enough for Government merely to respond to disasters. We should also take actions to prevent disasters, to reduce their effect.

I will soon send recommendations to the Congress to revamp and improve disaster aid. I hope the Congress will also support an important proposal I have already made--moving disaster assistance out of the Executive Office of the President and into the Department of Housing and Urban Development, where it can be coordinated with other community aid.

Too often, people think of community development solely in terms of the big city. In fact, less than 30 percent of our people live in places with a population of more than 100,000. This is approximately the same number who live in rural America. The proportion of our people living in cities with a population of over 1 million is no greater today than it was 50 years ago.

In an age when people move a great deal, the growth of our great cities and that of our smaller communities are directly linked. A balanced approach to community development must keep small town America clearly in sight.

Our Administration will use every effective means to help develop smaller communities, to bring new vitality to the American countryside.

Perhaps the most important factor in the crisis mentality of the 1960's was the growing sense on the part of the average individual that the circumstances of his life were increasingly beyond his control. Nothing is more important in improving our communities than giving people a sense of control again, letting them know that they can make a difference in shaping the places where they live.

If the spirit of community means anything, it means a spirit of belonging, a spirit of responsibility, a spirit of participation. Restoring this "spirit of community" is the ultimate purpose of all the community development efforts of our Administration.

"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.

Thank you and good afternoon.

Note: The President's address was recorded for broadcast at 12:06 p.m. on nationwide radio.

On the following day, the White House released the transcript of a news briefing by six mayors who had met with the President to discuss revenue sharing and urban development. They were Mayors Pete Wilson of San Diego, Calif.; John Driggs of Phoenix, Ariz.; Ben R. Boo of Duluth, Minn.; Stephen May of Rochester, N.Y.; George Sullivan of Anchorage, Alaska; and Carlos Romero Barcelo of San Juan, P.R.

On March 6, 1973, the White House released the transcript of a news briefing on their meeting with the President to discuss Federal-city relations by Mayor Roman S. Gribbs of Detroit, Mich., president, and Allen E. Pritchard, Jr., executive vice president, National League of Cities; and John J. Gunther, executive director, U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Richard Nixon, Radio Address About the State of the Union Message on Community Development Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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