City of Brass

City of Brass

The first urban president

Christof at Intermodality blog points out that Obama is the first Urban president in modern times, whose home is within walking distance of public transport:

Obama lives only four miles from the center of the third
largest city of the United States, and his political roots are
unquestionably urban. That should not be remarkable in a country where
80% of the population lives in metropolitan areas. But our politics has
valued “small town values” and as a result the issues of cities —
traffic congestion, for example — have not been a major part of the
national dialog. But we can hope that’s changing. Many of the places
that helped swing this election — the Philadelphia suburbs, Northern
Virginia, Denver — are places that have rail transit, are building rail
transit, or are demanding rail transit. Will that shape the policy
debates to come?


It should be noted that Joe Biden has been a proponent of – and daily
commuter on – Amtrak for decades. I think at bare minimum, grand designs like the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative are suddenly on the table, and voters in California already approved Proposition 1A, a high speed rail initiative between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The argument for rail is also part of the energy independence argument, as rail is more fuel-efficient per passenger than flying, especially for shorter distances.

On a more prosaic level, instead of hearing about President Bush clearing brush from his Crawford ranch, we are going to be hearing about President Obama returning home to the Chicago suburbs. As a result, there’s going to be enormous media scrutiny on Obama at “home”, far beyond what Bush dealt with, because of the increased accessibility. In that sense even Obama’s vacations will be working ones, because his largest constituencies are right outside his front door, and more immediate in his face than they are from behind the walled compound at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue or out on some country ranch.


Recall that President Clinton’s offices are in Harlem, NYC – that location has given Clinton a more direct, tangible connection with the issues he fights for in the abstract using his Clinton Global Initiative. The same dynamic of engagement will apply to Obama. It’s important for a President to get outside the Beltway, but equally important they don’t go so far away that they are removed from everything else.

  • Abu Noor Al-Irlandee

    As salaamu ‘alaykum
    Good points Aziz. Just one clarification…Obama doesn’t live in the suburbs, he lives on the South Side of the city, which just emphasizes the points you are making about him being an urban president but throw into some doubt the idea that he will be in any way accessible to common people. Actually, I’m not sure what the set up will be on an ongoing basis, but right now they have a security zone of several blocks around his house where streets are closed and people can’t enter without identification and proof they belong there. According to news reports, people who want to attend the synagogue across the street from his house have to give 24 hours notice and be put on a list so their identity can be verified.

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