April 16, 2014

Addressing Inequality and Access to Opportunity at the World Urban Forum

The World Urban Forum 7 (WUF7) took place April 5 – 11 in Medellín, Colombia. HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan served as head of the U.S. delegation where he discussed with world leaders and economic experts what President Obama has called the defining challenge of our time: growing inequality coupled with declining access to entry into the middle class.

Secretary Donovan in Secretary Donovan in ColombiaIncreasing income inequality, a growing disparity between productivity and pay, and social and economic ceilings have stalled upward mobility for millions of Americans and they now threaten to undermine some of the core values of this country – fairness and equal opportunity.  At WUF7, Secretary Donovan discussed how these aren’t just American problems; they are global problems.

While in Medellín, the U.S. delegation took a tour of the Santo Domingo neighborhood which was once considered to be among the most dangerous in the world. Today, it is bustling with economic activity, a busy transit system that uses cable cars to get residents to and from jobs in the city center, a state of the art library, and new parks and plazas that are filled with people of all ages. These changes came about through an inclusive participatory budgeting process led by the city.

What we saw in Santo Domingo demonstrates that cities around the world, as well as in the United States, can tackle the challenges of public safety, economic disinvestment and poverty and create opportunities for transformation. We saw a community that has taken bold actions to ensure future generations can grow up in a neighborhood where opportunity is not a privilege for the few, but broadly available to everyone in society.  To be sure, much work remains to be done in Medellín, but its leaders and residents are committed to continuing to build on their early success.

During WUF7, as members of the U.S. Delegation, we shared how America has put a strong emphasis on supporting community and economic development at all scales; from neighborhoods to entire metropolitan regions. Whether it be through initiatives like the White House Promise Zones initiative, Strong Cities Strong Communities or through the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, we are working to make sure the federal government breaks down its silos to support comprehensive community development and brings together the public, private and nonprofit sectors to achieve the best possible results for communities.

The desire to make a better life for ourselves and our families is a universal one.  The promise of real social and economic mobility that has been a pillar of our democracy has inspired others. Our resolve to increase the economic competitiveness and equity of American communities and to improve the life outcomes of all our people cannot falter or fade.  We must complete our unfinished work to insure that all places and people in America have a ladder of opportunity to succeed.


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