Citing unfair public policies, social pathologies, and a failure of imagination, Governor Tom Wolf says that Pennsylvania must level the playing field for cities to thrive.
How does a man who has spent his life in a town of fewer than 1,400 people become a big fan of cities? Well, he becomes a businessman — and then the governor.
On Tuesday, Governor Tom Wolf delivered the keynote address at Keystone Crossroads’ Urban Ideas Worth Stealing conference in Harrisburg, a half-day event to discuss how to improve cities across Pennsylvania. And his message was clear: Cities have been getting a raw deal.
“The public policy environment in Pennsylvania and in most places in the United States is absolutely, positively hostile to cities,” Wolf told an audience of politicians, urban planners, academics, transit experts, bureaucrats, and preservationists, citing his experiences working in York County. “If we had a level playing field … we’d have a great system. But public policies actually mitigate against healthy development for cities.”
Wolf pointed to the fact that public policies regulating infrastructure and water, sewer, and electrical networks actually incentivize suburban sprawl, rather than encouraging infill development in cities.
“The outward movement in population [from cities] actually abandons public buildings like schools and infrastructure like sewers and transportation,” the governor said. “And we have to re-spend the same dollars to build, over and over and over again, the same buildings that already exist in those older areas.”
The governor went on to tear into the historic practice of redlining — which restricted the granting of mortgages in urban areas, especially to minority populations — and Pennsylvania’s failure to adequately fund schools, as well as the fact that racism is a barrier to the success of cities.
“Racism exists in Pennsylvania, it exists in the United States, and it has a corrosive effect on the cities that we are all trying to save,” Wolf said. “That’s a social pathology and we have to confront it and recognize it.”
Wolf called for a litany of changes in the way Pennsylvania approaches cities, including regional land use planning, easing of regulations to allow more mixed-use development, inclusionary zoning, finding a better balance between highway and mass-transit funding, and reforming local tax policies.
“The truth is, people do want to live in cities,” he said. “Millions and millions of people every year go to Disney World and Disneyland, and where do they go? Main Street USA! It’s high-density, mixed-use. That’s what they want to see, they love that!”