May 6, 2005

Cisneros Wants Cities to Recall Athens Oath

By E.A. Barrera

“We will never bring disgrace on this our City by an act of dishonesty or cowardice. We will fight for the ideals and Sacred Things of the City both alone and with many. We will revere and obey the City’s laws, and will do our best to incite a like reverence and respect in those above us who are prone to annul them or set them at naught. We will strive increasingly to quicken the public’s sense of civic duty. Thus in all these ways we will transmit this City, not only not less, but greater and more beautiful than it was transmitted to us.”

The Athenian Oath
(Taken by the young men of ancient Athens when they reached the age of seventeen.)

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros spoke to the 99th annual national conference of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) on April 30 at the San Diego Marriott Hotel & Marina -  telling attendees it was time for American municipal leaders to recall the Athenian Oath and strive to create a nation where “we unleash all human potential.”

”It is time for the leadership of our cities to start thinking outside the box. We need new strategic thinking on how we will serve the new population centers … and the new complexities of the American people,” said Cisneros.

Cisneros, who served at HUD under President Bill Clinton from 1993-1996, was Mayor of the city of San Antonio, Texas from 1981 to 1989. In 2000, he formed the American CityVista corporation. The company develops homes and single-family residences within central urban areas - predominantly lower income areas with large minority populations.

“The demand for homes in central neighborhoods, or ‘infill housing’, is at an all-time high,” said Cisneros at the time the American CityVista was formed. “Nationally, there is great momentum for new development in central cities, and city leaders recognize that large-scale homeownership provides community stability. Many Americans want to live closer to work and enjoy a more metropolitan lifestyle. There is also a definite increase in demand for homeownership among minorities and immigrants.”

During his speech to the BGCA, Cisneros said the expanding population centers in the west and southwest regions of the United States required that government and private sector leaders start looking at areas they had previously ignored.

“There is a new geography of need forming in America …growth is happening in the smaller markets such as San Jose, California and Charlotte, North Carolina,” said Cisneros. “There is a dynamism to the older cities - they are doing better - rebounding. The suburbs are going through a renewal as well. Places like Arlington, Texas are starting to develop many traditional urban characteristics.”

Cisneros said minority populations were swiftly becoming the new middle class within the cities and he cited statistical predictions forecasting an American population whose ancestry was far more Asian and Hispanic than Caucasian.

“By the year 2050, it has been estimated that 400 million people will be living in the United States. White, non-Hispanic American population numbers will increase by 18 million. The African-American community will grow by 25 million. Asian-Americans will grow by some 27 million. And Hispanic-Americans in the United States will increase their current numbers by 63 million people,” said Cisneros.

He said all the changes and dynamics of America in the 21st Century would involve minority populations - and thus minority leaders “must take responsibility” for educating and training future generations to compete in the job markets emerging.

“There is growing bifurcation of our society - a skill set division where those not trained and educated to meet the new demands of the 21st Century economy will find a very difficult existence out there,” said Cisneros.

He also said teaching civics and leadership skills to children was critical if future generations were going take the reigns of government and private sector power.

“Leadership can be taught. No one knows this better than the United States Military,” said Cisneros. “We can teach our kids any skills and it has nothing to do with what racial or ethnic background they have.”

Cisneros called for an increase in Federal and State spending on education. He cited the Morrill Act of 1862, which established the “land grant” college system and made higher education more accessible to working people, as an example of the good that can come from public investment. Sponsored by Congressman Justin Morrill of Vermont, and signed by President Abraham Lincoln during the depths of the Civil War, the act gave every state that had remained in the Union a grant of 30,000 acres of public land for every member of its congressional delegation.

“Since under the Constitution every state had at least two senators and one representative, even the smallest state received 90,000 acres,” wrote Harvard Professor Allen Nevins, in his 1962 textbook The State Universities and Colleges. “The states were to sell this land and use the proceeds to establish colleges in engineering, agriculture and military science. Over seventy “land grant” colleges, as they came to be known, were established under the original Morrill Act; a second act in 1890 extended the land grant provisions to the sixteen southern states.”

Cisneros concluded his speech by telling the BGCA audience that it was important for leaders in America to never give up on trying to make things better within the poor areas of America and with the children growing up in the world adults establish.

“Human progress doesn’t just roll in… we must make it so,” said Cisneros. “When we unleash all our human potential, we create a nation where our best days will always be ahead of us.”

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