This was a busy week in the world of U.S. public policy and public affairs. Brush up on the week’s events with Five for Friday below.
1. Obama establishes the White House Office of Urban Affairs
Yesterday, Barack Obama signed an executive order establishing the White House Office of Urban Affairs. In the order, Obama stated that, “About 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas, and the economic health and social vitality of our urban communities are critically important to the prosperity and quality of life for Americans.” Additionally, he explains that, “Vibrant cities spawn innovation, economic growth, and cultural enrichment through the businesses, universities, and civic, cultural, religious, and nonprofit institutions they attract.”
Indeed, cities can be vibrant and full of culture, but in order for this to happen, they must be planned accordingly. Fortunately, the fields of urban geography and urban planning concern themselves with just this. Can you think of any cities that really ‘strike you’ as centers of innovation and cultural enrichment?
2. The United States and Canada unite in a pledge for a “Green Energy” future.
In President Obama’s first foreign trip since taking office, he headed north to attend a joint news conference Thursday afternoon where he and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that the two countries would work together on research and development to advance carbon reduction technologies and develop an electric grid that can deliver clean and renewable energy in the U.S. and Canada. Additionally, discussions centered on how these new technologies can provide a boost to the ailing economy. Both Obama and Harper hope to reduce reliance on Canadian tar sands and U.S. coal-fired power plants due to environmental concerns. Obama added,” We can’t afford to combat these issues in isolation.”
3. White House announces renewed commitment to rebuild the Gulf Coast.
Around the same time he signed the executive order supporting urban
development and joined with the Canadian Prime Minister to discuss
green energy initiatives, President Obama made good on his new
commitments to cities and the environment by calling for an augmentation in efforts to rebuild the Gulf Coast region.
Four-and-a-half years after the disaster, New Orleans is still
struggling to recover from Hurricane Katrina’s devastating effects.
Successful rebuilding of the famously vibrant cultural center will
require judicious urban and social planning as well as emergency
preparation–including both infrastructural and environmental
strategies (e.g. construction of effective levees, reestablishment of
naturally-buffering wetlands). And of course, we all remember what
happened to gas prices after Katrina hit. As one of the nation’s major
suppliers of oil, Obama’s pledge to invest in alternative energy
sources can only help protect the country from fuel shortages at the
pump–and excesses in our coastal waters–in the event of another major
4. As Uighurs are released from Gitmo, where will they go?
The United States government is having a hard time deciding
where to place 17 ethnic Uighurs who were cleared of their “enemy
combatant” charges back in 2004 and 2005. With Guantanamo Bay closing
shop, these men have found themselves without a place to call home. The
Uighurs have traditionally resided in the far Western portion of China.
They speak a Turkic language and culturally appear to have more in common
with peoples of the Central Asian republics (the “Stans”) than with
China. According to Chinese officials, the Uighurs comprise a
“terrorist organization” due to their sometimes violent opposition to
the Chinese government. In fact, the men who were detained at Gitmo had
trained at Afghan terrorist training camps. However, when asked about
their affiliation with a terrorist organization, the men claimed to
just be protecting themselves against their government, which has been
known for its sometimes flagrant human rights violations.
What are your thoughts on this matter? Should the U.S. send the Uighur
detainees back to China where they could possibly be tortured and
executed? Chinese representatives claim that, if we do not, then we
will be holding them to a double standard, in light of the U.S.’s own
track record of sanctioned torture at Guantanamo Bay.
5. Stimulus bill passes, public projects decided nationwide
Now that the stimulus bill has passed,
you’re probably wondering what comes next. The answer is actually a
lesson in geography, as the dedication of the stimulus money varies
from place to place. Check out this great mapping site which visualizes the stimulus handout proportionally by state, then find your state’s proposed stimulus projects on this site (Note California’s proposed 1,971 projects compared with West Virginia’s 1).