AMERICANS have always had ambivalent attitudes about their cities. That is not surprising, perhaps, for a society that from its pre-revolutionary days was more rural than urban - until the rise of industrialism in the late 19th century and the beginning of the trek from the farm to the factory. And more of today's Americans, some 45 percent according to a new census study, live in suburbs rather than ``downtowns.'' Only 32 percent of today's Americans live in central cities.
Yet, urban centers remain the framework - the underlying trellis - of US society. Businesses and cultural enterprises are located there. Americans work and shop there. Thus, the mayors of 60 US cities, a US Conference of Mayors working group, are on target in urging that presidential candidates for 1988 must address urban concerns.
That is not to imply that candidates should ignore other regions - the suburbs, or rural areas. But in a decade when federal budget constraints have been particularly pronounced for city concerns - such as public housing and transportation - it seems only appropriate to redress the balance somewhat by a more careful focus on the needs of the cities. Merely forking over more money to cities is not necessarily the solution. What is most needed is a greater willingness to consider fresh ideas, new thinking, about how best to meet city challenges.
America's mayors want candidates to be candid about such urban challenges as welfare reform, mass transit funding, historic preservation, better health care processes, crime, housing, and, perhaps most important, finding new and varied tax sources for municipal governments. Such concerns ought not be taken lightly. US cities, for all their problems and challenges, represent a diverse and rich heritage for all Americans, no matter where they may live.