Governments Must Make Urban Living ‘Safe, Rewarding, and Healthy,’ Obama Administration Says

By Susan Jones | April 8, 2010 | 8:46 AM EDT

( – The Obama administration says it is the job of government to “make life in cities safe, rewarding, and healthy.”
In a statement marking World Health Day on April 7, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said this year’s theme – “urbanization and health” – is a reminder that many of the people at highest risk of poor health live in the world’s cities.
“Urbanization is spreading so fast across the globe that it has outpaced the ability of governments to make life in cities safe, rewarding, and healthy, particularly in developing countries,” she said.
“Urbanization” an issue for the U.S. as well as other nations, since 80 percent of Americans now live in cities, Sebelius said.
“Health and quality of life for people living in cities is a high priority for the U.S.  It’s why President Obama created the White House Office of Urban Affairs, and it’s why the U.S. is participating in international forums about urbanization,” including a recent U.N. gathering.
Sebelius also noted that the White House and “multiple federal agencies” are working with the Health and Human Services Department to “protect urban health.”
She singled out First Lady Michelle Obama’s anti-childhood obesity campaign as part of the effort to promote healthy living. Sebelius also mentioned EPA efforts to reduce pollution; HUD efforts to develop “green and healthy” homes; and State Department efforts to “slow climate change” – which will “slow the spread of infectious disease as well,” she said.

Sebelius pointed to the recent relief effort in Haiti as a “dramatic demonstration of the world’s commitment to health in its cities.”
She concluded by saying that the Department of Health and Human Services is “pleased” to “work closely with the international community to improve life and health in cities at home and abroad.”
White House Office of Urban Affairs
President Obama established the White House Office of Urban Affairs by executive order on February 19, 2009 “to coordinate all aspects of urban policy.”
Although its work does not produce news headlines, the Urban Affairs office did send a team to the UN-Habitat World Urban Forum V in Brazil at the end of March to take part in a global conversation on urban development.
According to a newsletter posted on its Web site, “The White House Office of Urban Affairs' participation was particularly well received as a symbol of President Obama's commitment to addressing the challenges and opportunities of an urbanized reality.”

As part of a Web cast at the U.S. exhibition booth, Urban Affairs Director Adolfo Carrion told conference participants he came to the conference with a message for an increasingly urbanized world -- from a community organizer president who has lived, studied and raised his children in cities and understands their importance.
Carrion says the way cities are built and managed is key to their economic promise and potential:
“We have made a commitment as an administration to ensure that we invest the resources (in cities) to create those robust and lasting economic engines that enrich the American economy and are good for future prospects of our global competitive position while at the same time ensuring that our investments in infrastructure and in land use are responsible and sustainable for future generations.”
Carrion said the administration wants to ensure that every neighborhood is “rich with opportunity – good schools, health services, environmental conditions, business-friendly environments and all of the things that we seek to create in the American economy.”
As part of the U.N. conference, Carrion participated in a panel discussion on “equal access to housing and shelter.” He said the world community is “on the same page with us” when it comes to providing economic, civic and opportunity platforms that will help cities thrive.

According to the White House Office of Urban Affairs, themes emerging from the U.N. conference include the need for comprehensive planning and standards for sustainable development; mobility as a tool of social and economic opportunity; the need for governments to consciously develop policies that promote inclusion; collaboration across levels of government, private and non-profit sectors, and civic society; and the need for industry and land use to adapt to economic, environmental and demographic shifts.