Radio Address on Urban Affairs
Today I would like to talk with you about a challenge which many describe as the "urban crisis." I prefer to think of it, however, as the "urban opportunity."
When we talk about "the city," we are not talking about an impersonal abstraction, but about the needs of real people-who happen to live more closely together and in larger concentrations than elsewhere. Our goal must be to improve the quality of urban life for individual human beings--to make each city a vibrant and vital place for people to live in.
In the 1960's, Federal programs for the cities grew bigger and bigger, but the problems of the cities only grew worse. Government spending increased at a record pace, but so did crime and pollution and inflation and unrest.
That is why, in addressing our urban needs, I have insisted that we concentrate not merely on how much we spend, but on how we spend it; that we measure our progress not merely by the money we put into urban programs, but by the results we get out of them; that we improve not only the quality of our resources but the quality of our thinking.
That is why we have developed an entirely new strategy. for urban America in this Administration. This strategy is designed to do two things:
--First, to end the fragmented "bits and pieces" approach to urban problems, to recognize their interrelationships, to tackle them in a comprehensive, coordinated manner. This means focusing responsibility, so that public servants can do effective, long-range planning and pull together sufficient resources.
--Second, I was determined to end the logjam of power in an ever centralizing Washington bureaucracy and to strengthen government at the grass roots.
As a result of our new strategy, our programs for the cities have not only grown in size in the last 4 years---they have also improved in effectiveness.
Let me cite a few examples.
Our average expenditures for community development and housing have been $1 billion a year higher in this Administration than in the previous 4 years. But in addition, we have worked to cut red tape and decentralize administration. We have worked to curb runaway housing costs, to find more efficient methods of finance and construction.
Now let's look at the result: Housing starts last year reached an all-time record high of 2.1 million units--and are now more than 65 percent above the 1960 to 1968 level. Federally assisted housing for low and moderate income families has increased more than fourfold since 1969.
Let's take another example--crime. We have spent more than 2 1/2 times as much on fighting crimes this year as 4 years ago, and 11 times as much on fighting drug abuse. But what makes life better for people is not larger numbers in the crime budget, but smaller numbers in the crime rates.
At last, those numbers have begun to get smaller. Nearly half of our major cities had fewer crimes in the first 6 months of this year than a year ago. Nationwide, the rate of increase in crime was only one percent in the first half of 1972, compared to 122 percent from 1960 through 1968. Riots no longer ravage our cities as they did in the 1960's. And we made this progress by arming our crime lighters not just with more money but, even more importantly, with better, stronger laws, by backing them up and by helping to restore respect for the law and for those who enforce it.
A third example is the environment. For every $1 spent to fight pollution 4 years ago, we have budgeted $3.50 this year. But in addition, we have completely overhauled the Federal machinery and the Federal strategy for making our peace with nature.
As a result, today, for the first time, the air in our cities is getting cleaner and not dirtier. We are beginning to win the battle to clean up our lakes and rivers. We have turned 34,000 acres of unused Federal property into local parklands under our Legacy of Parks program--most of them near large population centers. That is why we describe our program as parks for the people.
In each of these areas I have mentioned, as in others, our primary goal and concern has been how well we spend--and not just how much we are spending. Our goal has been better government--not just bigger government.
One important way of getting better government is to place more emphasis on local control.
Just last month I signed into law the first phase of revenue sharing, allocating 30 billion Federal dollars over the next 5 years for the State and local governments to use as they see fit.1
I signed this bill at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. That was a most appropriate site. For general revenue sharing is the first step in a comprehensive program which I have described as "a new American revolution." It represents a new Declaration of Independence for State and local government. Now, instead of power moving from the people to Washington, power will flow back from Washington to the people again.
Revenue sharing can be used for a number of purposes. It can help, for example, to hold down property taxes. It can pay for more policemen to keep city streets safe. It can build new schools, new hospitals.
But whatever it does, it will be local officials responding to local conditions and to their own local citizens, who will decide what should be done, what should have priority, rather than having those decisions made by some impersonal Federal bureaucrat.
Let me use another example to illustrate the advantages of local control.
Nothing could do more to lift the face of our cities--and the spirit of our city dwellers--than truly adequate systems of modern transportation. The quality of urban life suffers incalculably when it takes longer to cross a city by horseless carriage today than to cross it by horse-drawn carriage a century ago. A nation that can move three persons across 240, 000 miles of space to the Moon should be able to move 240,000 persons across 3 miles of a city to get to work.
To improve transportation we needed, first, more money--and we provided it. Before we came into office, the most the Federal Government made available for mass transit in any one year was $175 million. We raised this figure to $400 million in 1971 and to a full $1 billion this year. We proposed, and the Congress enacted, the Urban Mass Transportation Assistance Act of 1970, which is a 12-year, $10 billion program. We have also launched new programs for air and rail and water transportation.
But our goal has not merely been more expensive programs. We have worked to design more effective programs. And that means more local decisionmaking.
Each city, after all, has its own unique transportation needs. The highest priority for one city might be a better subway, as it was in Washington, D.C.; for another, it may be buslines; for a third, a new airport; for a fourth, a new bridge or a better highway. Good transportation must be balanced transportation--and the balance must be struck differently in each local setting.
Now, who can strike this balance best? Not some Federal bureaucrat hundreds or thousands of miles away. How can he know what each city needs? He has many cities to worry about. Often he is hopelessly bogged down in red tape. And there is really no way for local residents to keep in touch with him or hold him accountable for his decisions.
More than that, the Federal bureaucrat is likely to specialize in a single program. His main worry may be highways, for example; his main job may be to get more highways built. And thus, he simply is often not in the best position to plan a balanced approach.
But the local official is different. He is right there--at the scene of the action. He has only one community to worry about. It is his job to understand that community inside out. If he doesn't, the local citizens can complain to him directly, or they can vote him out of office. Best of all, local officials can plan an overall transportation strategy which takes into account a wide range of transportation needs--and fits in with other urban programs.
The key point about our urban strategy, then, is not only that it gives our communities the dollars they need, but also that it gives them the freedom and the responsibility they need to use those dollars effectively.
It tells local officials to spend less time trying to please grant reviewers in Washington-so that the money will keep coming in--and spend more time pleasing the people who live in their communities-so the money will do more good.
General revenue sharing is only the first step in this new strategy. I have already charted a number of additional steps: Among those proposals that I have made that were left unenacted by the Congress were six special revenue sharing bills, including one in the transportation field, a major program of welfare reform, and sweeping plans for streamlining and decentralizing the Federal bureaucracy.
The goal of all these proposals is to make government responsive again to the voice of the average citizen.
Under this approach, people can feel that they are in control again, that they can shape events, that they can make things happen in their own lives and in their own communities.
Under this approach, more decisions will be made at the scene of the action-and this means that more people can have a piece of the action.
Thomas Jefferson said he believed in local government not only because it was a more effective government but also because it could give the individual that feeling without which life is incomplete-a sense of participation in events that really count.
If this was true in Jefferson's time-when the average Congressman represented only about 30,000 people--how much more true it is in our time, when the average Congressman represents nearly half a million people.
Several years ago a poll of the American public revealed that only 27 percent of those who lived in our cities said they did so by choice. One lesson of that poll was that the urban crisis---so often regarded merely as a crisis of money--has also been a crisis of morale.
This Administration has addressed both of these crises. We have doubled Federal assistance to States and localities--to meet the crisis of money. But we have also increased the sense of freedom and control in our communities--to meet the crisis of the spirit.
The result, as we approach our Nation's 200th anniversary, is a growing sense that the graph of urban history is climbing again and the pendulum is swinging in a new, more hopeful direction.
This renewal of the spirit in the cities of our Nation means that they have a chance again to become in reality what they have always been in our dreams: shining centers of commerce and culture, providing a fuller, richer life for all who share in them.
This is the urban challenge--and this is our urban opportunity.
Thank you, and good afternoon.
1 See Item 354.
Note: The President spoke at 12:07 p.m. from the Library at the White House. The address was broadcast live on nationwide radio. Time for the broadcast was purchased by the Committee for the Re-Election of the President.
The President spoke from a prepared text. An advance text of his address was released on the same day.
Richard Nixon, Radio Address on Urban Affairs Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/255549