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Trump versus American mayors

The president-elect’s proposals lay the groundwork for a few key battles

Donald Trump illustration Shutterstock

A sea of red, with scattered drops of blue: The post-mortem political map of the United States, a staple of elections for decades, took on new relevance this year with the unexpected results of the 2016 election. The varied storylines explaining Trump’s ascendence read like a word cloud of American anxiety: job losses, immigration, fake news, Russian interference. Of course, one of the most discussed, and potentially long-reaching, explanations has to do with a persistent urban/rural divide.

As Curbed looks back on 2016 and peers forward into the next calendar year, we’ve earmarked one major storyline that intersects with our coverage of real estate, development, cities, and infrastructure. Coming out of the election, how will U.S. cities respond and react to the Trump administration, and vice-versa? Trump is a creature of New York City and rose to fame as a big-city developer, but the billionaire ensconced in a high-rise bearing his name sometimes seems to have a transactional love of the urban landscape, viewing it less as a vital, vibrant place, but more as a space to make deals and amass wealth. Below, a rundown of some of the issues and battle lines, what’s at stake, and an assessment of how these political battles may play out.

Ben Carson at a Nov. 1 Trump campaign rally in Pennsylvania
Ben Carson at a Nov. 1 Trump campaign rally in Pennsylvania
Shutterstock

Affordable housing policy under proposed HUD Secretary Ben Carson

Arguably one of the biggest issues facing U.S. cities is the dearth of affordable housing, an overwhelming hurdle for the many rent-burdened Americans living in urban areas and a by-product of increasingly expensive metro real estate (it’s also a persistent rural issue as well). While much of Trump’s urban agenda isn’t completely clear, his nominee for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, has spoken out against the Fair Housing Act and other programs at a time when federal action to increase affordability would be welcome by many. His lack of relevant housing experience has been a source of confusion and consternation for city leaders and housing experts. Will his pro-work policies and Trump-era take on urban renewal improve affordability, or strain the safety net so many rely on? And how will changes in affordable housing policy impact homeless populations in big cities such as New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco?

Gold Line light rail train in Los Angeles
Gold Line light rail train in Los Angeles
Shutterstock

Mass transit and transportation funding

This part of the Trump agenda gets comparatively less media attention due to its relative budget, but is directly consequential to urban infrastructure planning and maintenance. The president-elect considers himself a “great builder,” and his proposed infrastructure plan was enough to send the stock of construction companies soaring after he was elected. But will his vision for rebuilding include mass transit?

Trump did mention mass transit on the campaign trail, however: The Republican platform calls for a radical shift in how transportation is funded, and consequently, how Americans commute to work. All federal funding for transit, walking, and biking programs would be slashed, since the Highway Trust Fund, a multi-billion dollar source of support for multiple forms of transportation, would be altered to focus solely on automobiles and road-building. (For instance, the federal government currently plans to give $6.4 billion to New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority for capital programs.) If Trump’s administration can truly execute a massive program of infrastructure replacement, this will be a once-in-a-generation opportunity to shore up and strengthen mass transit, or let it fall by the wayside.

Local climate change initiatives go it alone amid new federal policies

California Governor Jerry Brown’s recent rallying cry about defying the administration’s views on the environment—”We’ve got the firepower”—sums up how progressive city leaders are taking on the mantle of fighting climate change. Local governments have been the first to experience the direct impact of climate and environmental issues such as air pollution and sea level rise, and have responded with extensive sustainability and resiliency plans and increased funding for alternative transportation and renewable energy.

Starting next year, they’ll likely be doing it all on their own. The incoming Trump administration, including a potential EPA head best known for fighting against EPA rules, is poised to roll back environmental regulations and promote the expansion of roads and highways. Cities may be our best hope for battling climate change in the near future, and their success in working with cooperative state legislatures may be the beginning of a more locally-based environmental movement.

Protestors in Chicago march against President-elect Trump on November 19
Protestors in Chicago march against President-elect Trump on November 19
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Sanctuary cities and Trump’s threats to defund them

President-elect Trump has suggested he will deport illegal immigrants who have committed crimes after taking office, offering that two to three million would immediately be at at risk. There has been some speculation over exactly which immigrants this would apply to—many analysts believe that kind of move would require raids, sweeps, an expanded federal immigration force and a “police state” to accomplish—but, despite a lack of specifics, it suggests a significant number of people.

Many cities, especially those classified as sanctuary cities—a poorly defined term, but generally accepted to mean places where local police won’t help federal law enforcement enforce immigration statutes, preferring to focus on local issues instead—have been loud and clear about not being part of Trump’s plans. New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio said the city will not play a role in deporting illegal immigrants, establishing a Muslim registry, or re-instating stop-and-frisk, stating that, “Nothing about [New York] changed on election day.” Both Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel have created million-dollar-or-more funds to provide legal assistance for immigrants facing deportation.

In response, Trump has stated he’ll defund those cities who don’t cooperate, saying, “Cities that refuse to cooperate with federal authorities will not receive taxpayer dollars.” Can his administration deliver on his promise? Legal experts suggest that current funding bills don’t contain provisions addressing noncompliance with federal immigration laws, so halting any current funding may require a protracted legal battle. But the Trump administration could begin cutting certain grants, and with federal funding accounting for a significant part of the budget of many blue state cities. Depending on the incoming administration’s stance, this could quickly become a flashpoint or a drawn out legal battle. With some churches and other houses of worship planning to serve as sanctuaries, and some members of business community preaching moderation and middle-of-the-road policy, this issue is sure to be a consequential one in 2017.