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Webb Calls For Greater Metro Investment At National Livability Forum, Conference President Urges Urban/Suburban Partnership

In a major policy address to the nation’s leading advocates on city livability, Conference President and Denver Mayor Wellington E. Webb emphasized the economic benefits of strengthening America’s cities, as well as gains central cities might achieve through regional collaboration.

Webb delivered his address in Memphis at an October 20 national forum on regionalism, sponsored in part by the Partnership for Livable Cities. The three-day conference, “Crossing the Line: National Leadership Forum on Regional Strategies,” was attended by about 450 livability policy advocates from across the country. Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton introduced Webb at the keynote luncheon, praising him as one of the nation’s top mayors.

In his remarks Webb stressed the need for a national effort to preserve and build upon existing financial investments in metropolitan areas. “It’s cheaper to use vacant land in existing cities where there is already infrastructure, where there are already services, than [to build] new roadways, new highways for developers by taking farm lands,” Webb said. “I think we have a growing number of voters in newer suburban communities who hate sprawl as much as people in cities.” Webb suggested that a renewed partnership might be formed between central city and suburban interests in regions across the country, much as The United States Conference of Mayors has done at the national level through its long-standing partnership with the National Association of Counties.

Mayor Webb also stressed the importance of downtown revitalization: “It’s my personal belief that whether we like it or not, perceptions of one’s city are determined by how its downtown looks.” Housing should receive priority emphasis in downtown redevelopment, Webb said, citing cases in which Denver has provided incentives for developers to offer a mixture of affordable and market-rate housing. “I never subscribed to the theory of ‘build the retail first and then the people will follow,’ ” Webb said. “My theory is always ‘build the housing first and the retail will follow the housing.’ ”

Webb also called for increased flexibility in federal government policy toward cities, to allow flexibility to deal with metropolitan issues, as opposed to federal prescriptions of one-size-fits-all program. He further stressed that every city, even one with a good overall economy, has some neighborhoods and areas that are economically distressed; resource investments in these areas, Webb maintained, would not only benefit individual communities but would serve to spur continued national economic growth. Webb calls for a new national initiative to provide cities with resources to develop these ‘untapped markets.”

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