When businesses join hands with US cities to solve urban problems

''Today, our nation's urban areas are under siege, assailed by a wave of economic and social forces,'' says William F. Kieschnick, president of the Atlantic Richfield Company.

Mr. Kieschnick's comment points to a growing recognition among US corporations that they must increase their contribution to the prosperity of urban America.

The size of that challenge was underscored recently by Detroit Mayor Coleman Young, whose city is struggling with 25 percent unemployment. Mayor Young says he is particularly concerned by the ''siege'' conditions. Speaking in Houston shortly after declaring a ''state of emergency'' and requesting emergency federal funds for Detroit, Young warned, ''Our cities are fast becoming human disaster areas, with no jobs, no food, no heat, and no hope for millions of Americans.''

Other mayors meeting in Houston echoed Young's warnings during a two-day conference cosponsored by Atlantic Richfield and the US Conference of Mayors (USCM). But this second of three national conferences aimed at building ''public/private partnerships'' to combat urban problems followed the warnings with a string of success stories.

San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein said every city should prepare for ''major cuts'' in federal and state aid as ''the fiscal tortures of Reaganomics'' spread across the country. She then explained that San Francisco has adjusted to the major cuts that followed Proposition 13's approval in 1978. She and Benton Dial, a vice-president of Pacific Telephone Company who heads the volunteer Fiscal Advisory Committee of business leaders working with the city government, outlined how San Francisco has learned to provide more services with fewer dollars. The result, she said, has been ''to save the city $43 million a year, with more savings on the way.''

Mayor Young, the USCM's president, remained unimpressed. He said Detroit and many other cities are being forced to pay for an increasing share of ''the human costs of our nation's deepening economic recession'' as factory layoffs and shortened working hours reduce family incomes.

Corporate executives at the conference said that to help solve urban problems , businesses large and small should contribute at least 2 percent of pretax earnings to double the annual level of private-sector support for the public sector to $6 billion a year.

Otto Silha, chairman of the Cowles Media Company of Minneapolis, which gives 5 percent of pretax earnings, cited the case of the for-profit City Venture Corporation (CVC) set up by Control Data and Cowles Media in 1977. Pointing to Toledo's revitalized downtown Warren-Sherman area as the most successful CVC project to date, he said that with little capital of its own, ''CVC acts as a catalyst, a facilitator to bring together all parts of the greater community to launch job-creating development, small businesses, and housing.'' Toledo Mayor Douglas DeGood said the CVC project has created 500 inner-city jobs in the first two years and should achieve its target of 2,000 new jobs after another two years. He said this kind of success depends on close cooperation between city government and the private sector.

To Atlantic Richfield vice-chairman Edward Benson, private-sector support shows ''corporate good citizenship'' and good business sense because ''for business to prosper, our cities must prosper.''

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.