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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Life is Not Linear – Learning to Fight for Equity, Diversity, and Democracy in San Francisco

Woo MAUA

David Woo
Master of Arts in Urban Affairs candidate ’17

I decided late last summer to apply to the Master of Arts in Urban Affairs program at the University of San Francisco (USF) in a move to change my career path. As an undergraduate at the University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC), I studied both chemistry and sociology. While I was passionate about both fields, upon graduating I ended up working with the Environmental, Health, and Safety department at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) in the chemical safety department. While the work I was doing was important, I was not doing the type and scope of work that I truly wanted to do – that is work that addresses issues surrounding social justice. After moving back home to San Francisco after graduating UCSC, there were apparent differences brought about by the technology boom. Increased displacement, skyrocketing housing prices, and a general feeling of unease as trendy boutiques went up in the place of longtime neighborhood serving establishments.

After leaving my job at UCSF I took some time off to reconsider what I wanted out of my career. The serious crisis in San Francisco brought about by rising economic inequality was in full force and my desire to get involved in social justice work ultimately led me to the Urban Affairs program at USF. While I was unsure if I was too late to apply, the staff at the USF McCarthy center took the time to respond to all my questions and helped me get an application in very quickly, well past the official deadline to apply to the program. Having previously been interested in sociology, political activism, and social change movements in college, the interdisciplinary focus of the program seemed like a great fit. Continue reading