Speech by Senator John F. Kennedy Delivered Before the Urban Affairs Conference, Pittsburgh, PA
In the past weeks, I have talked in more than half the States of our Union about new frontiers for America. The frontier of which I speak tonight is the new urban frontier, which exists in every city in America and in its suburbs.
Aristotle said, "Men come together in cities in order to live; they remain together in order to live the good life."
The good life is still just a dream for too many of the people who live in cities. But our cities are doing something about it. I have just come from the Gateway Center, that magnificent symbol of the Pittsburgh renaissance, and of the administrations of two great mayors, Dave Lawrence and Joe Barr. On the lower hill of Pittsburgh, the slums are going and a great arena is rising in their stead. I have seen exciting changes in Dick Lee's city of New Haven - and in scores of other communities and I salute the mayors who are here today for their effective leadership.
There is no limit to what we can do - there is no limit to what could already have been done - if we had only had the same kind of leadership on urban problems down in Washington.
I think we can provide that leadership.
I propose that we act - beginning next January 20.
What stands between our people and the good life of which Aristotle spoke is not any lack of ability to produce consumer goods. That problem, for America, has been solved. What have not been solved are those problems which lie largely in the realm of public action - bad housing, poverty, recessions, unemployment, discrimination, crowded and obsolete schools and hospitals and libraries, inadequate recreation, the breakdown of mass transportation, polluted air and water, juvenile delinquency.
These problems are compounded as we become more and more an urban nation.
But when the cities turned to Washington for help, how have they been received? The Republican administration has taken a position as consistent as it is negative. You know their record:
On urban renewal - stall it.
On low-rent public housing - kill it.
On moderate-income private housing - bury it.
On aid for public school - block it.
On aid for hospitals - reduce it.
On mass transportation - ignore it.
On control of stream pollution - abandon it.
On air pollution control - study it.
On alleviating juvenile delinquency - research it.
This is the 8-year Republican record of neglect. It is a shameful record. It is a record we must bring to an end on November 8.
Of course, this is an election year - and now the Republican candidate contends that he, too, has an urban program. It was presented in a position paper 2 weeks ago. That paper fills three columns of a newspaper. But what it says is very little. Mr. Nixon says, for example, that "the transportation problem is * * * complex." But he does not suggest doing anything about it.
He says "the Housing Act of 1949 worked well." But if he had his way, there would not even be a Housing Act of 1949 - because in that year he fought and voted against it. I remember well, because I was fighting for it. He says that he is now in favor of low-rent housing, after voting against it in Congress every time he had the chance. But he would cut back on urban renewal assistance. And he still opposes any middle-income housing program. Finally, he is for higher interest rates - as though increasing the monthly payment for home buyers is the way to build and sell more homes.
Mr. Nixon's urban program is an empty shell.
Our Democratic Party does have a program for housing and other city problems. That program is expressed in our platform and in our record in the Congress over the years. If the people want to move forward in these fields - as I am sure they do - they had better buy the genuine democratic article and not the counterfeit that Mr. Nixon suddenly coined in the middle of the campaign.
I propose that we create a new and vital partnership between the National Government and the communities of America. Each community will plan its own future, but it will be helped to get there by the combined resources of cities, States and Nation.
I propose a 10-year Federal-local action program to eradicate slums and blight and help solve the problems of explosive metropolitan growth. This 10-year program will emphasize five approaches:
1. Urban renewal: This program has shown what wonders can be worked through Federal-city partnership. Before there was a national program, there were almost no local programs - Pittsburgh being a conspicuous exception. Now almost 500 communities, large and small, have more than 800 projects underway. Federal action has not stifled local initiative - as the Republican orators love to claim. Far from it, Federal action has stimulated local initiative, released local energies, making it possible for local leaders to do what they want to do, and what they know needs to be done. An expended urban renewal program should be made effective in conserving and restoring older areas, as well as in clearing and rebuilding areas that are beyond conserving. The National Government should give a long-term commitment to urban renewal - in place of the present year-to-year approach - so that cities can make long-term plans with the assurance that aid will not be suddenly cut off.
2. Housing: Our housing programs should be brought into a better balance - so that they will be designed to build homes not only for higher income families but also for lower income and middle income, not only in the newer suburbs hut also in our older cities. We should be building half again as many homes every year as are being built this year. We need a new, effective middle income housing program. We should meet the neglected needs of the elderly and of minority groups. And let us improve the help we are giving to those families and businesses that are displaced by redevelopment and other governmental programs. The cost of projects which benefit a whole community should not be disproportionately borne by a few.
3. Mass transportation: Almost every metropolitan region has a transportation crisis, but few have the resources to meet it unaided. I supported the bill the Senate passed this year to provide assistance for metropolitan transportation planning and facilities. We have extensive Federal aid for highways but none for commuter railroads, bus and streetcar service. Continuation of this unbalanced policy-or lack of policy - can only mean still further decline of mass transportation facilities and still more bumper-to-bumper automobile traffic - in a vicious circle which has no end short of paving all our cities over. Unified transportation planning should be a condition and a goal of Federal assistance.
4. Pollution: The pollution of our air and water has reached the proportions of a national disgrace. It endangers our health. It limits our business opportunities. It destroys recreation. Yet the Republican administration selected the program of Federal aid to cleanse our streams and rivers as one Democratic program which should be abandoned. I proposed to go the other way-to provide the indispensable element of national leadership to develop comprehensive conservation plans for all of our great interstate river basins.
5. Recreational facilities: In every plan for urban redevelopment, parks and recreation must have their proper place. We must act to preserve and protect open spaces along our rivers, lakes, and seashores and on the edges of our expanding metropolitan areas. And we must act quickly - for with every passing day, the available open spaces shrink and their cost increases. In addition to expansion of the national park system, aid to the States for these purposes should be inaugurated.
These are five areas in which a new partnership of community and National Government can lead us across the urban frontier. To co-ordinate its own participation the Federal Government should raise to that status of Cabinet department all of its activities relating to urban development and metropolitan planning. The cities and suburbs of America deserve a seat at the Cabinet table.
The Department of Agriculture was created 98 years ago to serve rural America. It is time the people who live in urban areas receive equal representation.
Some may say that all these things will cost too much. But the cost to the taxpayer will be far less than the present enormous cost of slums, traffic jams, crime and delinquency, and the economic decline of downtown areas. And the entire Federal share will actually be less than just one item in the Federal budget - the excessive interest costs on the national debt that have been added by the high-interest policies of the Republican administration.
Thomas Jefferson told us that our "laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind." But in this area of urban affairs, our laws and institutions have lagged behind what our minds tell us we can do. There is a civil renaissance, an awakening of public spirit and will, throughout our cities. We see it in the Golden Triangle in Pittsburgh, at Lincoln Square in New York, at Charles Center in Baltimore. Let us hope that that spirit of confidence and enterprise now arising in the cities of America will sweep next year into the Capital of the United States. Then the Federal Government will join in partnership with its States and its cities - and together we will move forward to realize in our cities the good life that can be ours.
John F. Kennedy, Speech by Senator John F. Kennedy Delivered Before the Urban Affairs Conference, Pittsburgh, PA Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/274449