Why Cities Matter

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Tim Redmond is editor of 48 Hills, the official publication of the San Francisco Progressive Media Center and a faculty member of the Urban and Public Affairs MA program

Rebecca Solint, the author of Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas and Nonstop Metropolis: A New York Atlas, notes that if you take a map of the most walkable areas in the US and superimpose a map of the presidential election results, you see a pattern that many of us have been talking about for a long time:

We don’t really have blue states and red states. We have cities, and we have areas outside of cities. And in cities all over the US, even in the most conservative states, you tend to get more liberal voters.

This is not a trend that fits with the coasts, or the “elite” areas like San Francisco and New York. Jackson, Mississippi has one of the most progressive mayors in the country.

No: It has something to do with urban life, with what happens when you walk out the door in a city.

Cities are places where people who don’t look like each other, don’t sound like each other, don’t worship like each other, don’t think like each other interact on a daily basis. In great cities, residents are more likely to learn to live with diversity, to celebrate it instead of fear it.

Cities are also becoming the most important political players in the world today. Great cities are eternal — Rome, London, Paris, Cairo, Moscow, Beijing … they have outlasted a long list of empires and national governments. And they will outlast many more.

And as the United States government becomes more and dysfunctional, cities are emerging as the policy leaders, the laboratories of democracy. Local government is — by necessity and choice — taking on more and more of what the federal and state governments used to do.

And as that happens, there are massive challenges. In San Francisco, the wealth that has emerged in recent decades has gone almost entirely to the very top. Poverty and homelessness are epidemic. The middle class is squeezed out.

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We see the same patterns in other big cities, in the US and elsewhere. As we are becoming increasingly a world where people live in cities, the policy problems that once beset the White House and Congress are playing out on our streets, in our backyards.

That’s part of what we talk about in the Masters of Urban and Public Affairs program, and what I will be covering in my classes on Issues in Urban Public Policy this fall. Our students are brilliant — and every time I teach this class, I think: the next generation of urban leaders are coming from here. And it gives me constant hope.

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Beginning My USF in D.C. Experience

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Emily Adsit
USF in DC spring ’16 participant

USF in DC is a semester-long program in Washington, DC that integrates a full-time internship with relevant coursework taught by USF faculty and University of California Washington Program faculty. Emily is a performing arts and social justice major with a music concentration, double minoring in African American studies and legal studies and is pursuing a certificate in theatre tech and design. 

It was 34 degrees outside when I first landed at Dulles International Airport. Never having spent much time in cold weather, that was definitely a shock. The biggest shock, however, came when my Lyft driver pulled up in front of the University of California DC (UCDC) building and said, “Wow, you’re only six or seven blocks away from The White House, that’s cool!” Sure enough, I walked to the corner, looked down 16th St NW, and caught my first glimpse of The White House.

Leo T. McCarthy Center USF in DC blog

That was one of the most surreal moments I have ever had in my life. The next was a couple hours later when my roommates walked with me to The White House and I got to stand in front of the building that great leaders and incredible people have worked in. The next would come the following morning when we walked to the Washington Monument and the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and when UCDC went on a tour of Capitol Hill. There was also a moment when I crossed the National Mall and picked out the exact spot where Mandy Hampton (played by Moira Kelly) was pulled over in the pilot episode of The West Wing, though that’s more nerdy than surreal!

It’s been a week since that first night, and I’m getting more acclimated to the District, though I still slip and call it “the city.” I’ve memorized the address to the building (and I understand the importance of including the quadrant in addresses), I’ve had Dunkin’ Donuts for the first (and second time, the very next day), and I’ve walked past The White House more than once. I’ve also become accustomed (as much as one can be) to saying sentences like “I walked to the Washington Monument this morning!” I am a card-carrying member of the Library of Congress, I have taken the Metro, I’ve officially visited Virginia and Maryland for the first time in my life, I’ve started my classes (which include taking a week-long intensive on political research with the Master of Public Affairs candidates).

Leo T. McCarthy USF in DC blog

I have (as of today!) accepted an offer to intern at an organization I am excited about, the Center for Policy Analysis and Research at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, where I will be able to work on projects that promote and aim to effect positive social change. This city is unbelievable, the possibilities are endless, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the next three months.

Apply for the USF in DC program here, applications close March 8, 2016. 

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NOTE: A generous gift helps fund Leo T. McCarthy Center undergraduate students: $1,500 covers the cost of travel, books and materials for a student in our USF in DC program.