#70 - 5 March 2021

Having a Mayor’s view for USDOT

With the recent appointment of Pete Buttigieg as Secretary of Transportation, the United States intends to revitalize its mobility strategy in a complex social and economic context.

As Bruce Katz, author of The New Localism, points out, the career path of Pete Buttigieg, who previously was mayor of South Bend (Indiana) et nicknamed Mayor Pete, sets itself apart from those of its predecessors, who have climbed up the federal ladder. This former mayor of a city of 100,000 inhabitants is now at the head of a department with nearly 58,000 employees.

As surprising as it may be, this choice shows the willingness of newly elected president Joe Biden to change the way the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) works. By choosing a mayor to run USDOT, the American government seems to signal it wants to work more horizontally and start from the needs on the ground, in order to better understand  local problems and their stakes at the federal level. Moreover, the appointment of the former mayor of South Bend, a former car manufacturing city located in the Rust Belt, may well put on the agenda the mobility issues of medium- and small-sized cities, which have been experiencing decline for several decades.

On the other hand, while the USDOT was a “backwater agency both in Republican and Democratic administrations”, Buttigieg’s appointment aims to put transportation, which accounts for nearly 40% of the US’ CO2 emissions, back at the center of America’s strategy for decarbonizing its economy. However, the DOT’s role will no longer be limited to funding. For Buttigieg, “transportation investment is about a lot more than dollars and cents; it is about American values at stake […]. We’ve got to make sure everything we do leads to less pollution and to infrastructure that is more resilient in the face of climate change.”

To achieve this goal, there is no silver bullet : “it can’t be a one-size-fits-all approach”, says the former mayor of South Bend. Solutions lie in strengthening dialogue and cooperation between the different territorial levels (cities, counties, states, federal) and sectors, such as transportation, housing, and energy. – Camille Combe, Project Manager


No time to read? La Fabrique de la Cité has got you covered.

NO VACANCY? In the US, as “a product of the pandemic, but also of the years leading up to it”, the housing market is following diverging trends: while prices of homes, that are really scarce on the overall housing market, are skyrocketing (+15% nationally, 20% in Atlanta), rents are stable or declining. Could new developments resolve the situation? In the context of climate change, increasing construction, solving cities’ affordability crisis and protecting the environment is a complex equation that requires locally-tailored responses. – Sarah Cosatto

What could the Great Depression of 2007-2009 teach us about the urban and employment dynamics that will follow the pandemic in the United States? During and following this crisis, suburban and exurban areas lost jobs faster than metropolitan areas, leading to a concentration of employment in the latter, even though the rise of teleworking would have increased “their accessibility, livability, and resilience”. Will the cycle repeat itself?– Sarah Cosatto

FOR INNOVATION! – Pursuing the innovative urban projects launched in the wake of the pandemic will be a major challenge for municipalities in 2021. There are several ways to achieve this goal: by getting the public and private sectors and their multiple stakeholders to work together, paying close attention to key trends such as climate change, and using relevant data. Special attention should be dedicated to the funding of these projects as well. – Sarah Cosatto

– American cities are experimenting a new take on solving their housing affordability crisis by progressively ending single-family zoning, a land use policy dating back to the 1960s and 1970s. However, making cities like San Francisco denser can prove tricky because “vacant land is scarce and expensive, construction costs are high, and lots are small”. That being said, a housing expert points out that this model might work best in suburbs, where lots are larger and land is cheaper. – Sarah Cosatto

→ Related: our issue brief debunking myths on the complex notion of urban density.

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