MEADVILLE, PA.– More sparks flew in the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination today as Illinois Senator Barack Obama and New York Senator Hillary Clinton continued sparring about which of them was best prepared to make major improvements in America’s public spaces. And now Republican candidate John McCain has joined the fray.

Clinton, announcing an unprecedented $1.7 billion plan to fund playground improvements in every American community, again questioned whether Obama was prepared to undertake major Placemaking efforts from his very first day in the White House.

“When that red phone rings at 3 a.m.,” she declared to a cheering crowd of 18,000 at Reading Terminal Public Market in Philadelphia. “I will have my tennis shoes on and be ready to hit the streets with carefully drafted plans to calm traffic, revitalize business districts and create public plazas in every neighborhood from Bangor to Bellingham.”

Clinton went on to herald her Placemaking accomplishments during eight years in the White House, including peace gardens in Northern Ireland, village-style parks for children in low-income neighborhoods and the Millennium Trail project creating national hiking paths crisscrossing America. Hillary cited her Placemaking inspiration started with an evening Placemaking workshop that PPS led in her home town of Chappaqua, NY.

Obama, touring the historic Meadville Market House in Meadville, PA, offered a sweeping vision of how Placemaking can heal America’s historic divisions. “We can build more bikeways and rails-to-trails. Yes we can! We can have safe, clean, lively parks. Yes we can! We can restore the spirit of democracy by restoring town squares. We can bring back the excitement to our downtowns. We can get neighbors together by promoting walking in every town, suburb and city. Yes we can!”

The crowd of 18,000 roared its approval—making it difficult to hear the details about his far-reaching plan to add a new Secretary of Public Spaces to the presidential cabinet.

When asked by reporters about Clinton’s assertion that she was better prepared to move quickly on Placemaking initiatives, Obama responded, “My record speaks for itself. While Hillary Clinton was in the White House, I was a community organizer in the streets of Chicago, working to help people create neighborhood places to hang-out and have fun. It will take that kind of bottom-up approach to give the American people the great places they desire and deserve.”

John McCain has recently entered the debate, claiming he is the true Placemaking candidate. “When I was imprisoned in North Vietnam, I sat in my cell and dreamed of strolling on a sidewalk, sitting on a comfortable bench in a park, spending Saturday night in a lively downtown,” said the presumptive Republican nominee at a gala fundraiser in Houston last night.

“America is the most free nation on Earth, so we cannot tolerate a situation where people are not able to take a walk in their own community due to poor urban planning and everything-for-the-auto transportation policies,” McCain proclaimed. He obviously surprised his audience, which was silent for several seconds before bursting into uproarious applause. In the speech he called for creation of a National Trust for Public Spaces, a public-private collaboration to restore the glory of public spaces in every U.S. state.”

Next week, McCain will be the last of the major candidates to make a public address at the Manhattan office of Project for Public Spaces, an increasingly influential organization that has been advocating the art and science of Placemaking since the Ford Administration.

Obama spoke there in early March, pledging to create a “PlaceCorps,” where young people can be trained to design and rebuild vital gathering spots in their communities. Visiting the same day, Clinton proposed a groundbreaking project along the lines of the Interstate Highway System in which every block in every community nationwide would get a sidewalk and bike paths.

It was a surprise when the two of them warmly embraced when meeting by accident at the PPS elevator, spending several minutes chatting about their favorite places to bike. (Obama rhapsodized about park trails along Lake Michigan in Chicago while Clinton favored on-street bike trails in Washington’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.)

PPS president Fred Kent is clearly thrilled to see Placemaking in the political spotlight, but showed some exasperation at the constant stream of public officials parading through his Greenwich Village office, which last week hosted Ralph Nader and prospective GOP vice-president contender Mike Huckabee as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “I keep telling them,” Kent told a reporter for Nigerian TV at a press conference this morning, “we’re a non-profit organization. We can’t endorse anyone for president!”

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