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THE METROPOLITAN REVOLUTION
How Cities and Metros Are Fixing Our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy
By BRUCE KATZ, JENNIFER BRADLEY
Brookings Institution Press Copyright © 2013 the brookings institution
All rights reserved.
A REVOLUTION UNLEASHED
I will not tie this city's future to the dysfunction in Washington and Springfield.
—RAHM EMANUEL, mayor of Chicago
A revolution is stirring in America. Like all great revolutions, this one starts with a simple but profound truth: Cities and metropolitan areas are the engines of economic prosperity and social transformation in the United States.
Our nation's top 100 metropolitan areas sit on only 12 percent of the nation's land mass but are home to two-thirds of our population and generate 75 percent of our national GDP. Metros dominate because they embody concentration and agglomeration—networks of innovative firms, talented workers, risk-taking entrepreneurs, and supportive institutions and associations that cluster together in metropolitan areas and coproduce economic performance and progress. There is, in essence, no American (or Chinese or German or Brazilian) economy; rather, a national economy is a network of metropolitan economies.
Cities and metropolitan areas are also on the frontlines of America's demographic change. America's population—and its workforce—will be much more diverse in the future than at present, and soon no single race or ethnic group will be the nation's majority. Many of our metros are already living that future. In fact, every major demographic trend that the United States is experiencing—rapid growth, increasing diversity, an aging demographic—is happening at a faster pace, a greater scale, and a higher level of intensity in our major metropolitan areas.
Empowered by their economic strength and driven by demographic dynamism, cities and metros are positioning themselves at the cutting edge of reform, investment, and innovation. In traditional political science textbooks, the United States is portrayed neatly as a hierarchical structure—the federal government and the states on top, the cities and metropolitan areas at the bottom. The feds and the states are the adults in the system, setting direction; the cities and metropolitan areas are the children, waiting for their allowance. The metropolitan revolution is exploding this tired construct. Cities and metropolitan areas are becoming the leaders in the nation: experimenting, taking risk, making hard choices, and asking forgiveness, not permission.
Like all great revolutions, this one has been ignited by a spark. The Great Recession was and continues to be a shock to the American zeitgeist, a brutal wake-up call that revealed the failure of a growth model that exalted consumption over production, speculation over investment, and waste over sustainability. A new growth model and economic vision is emerging from the rubble of the recession, a next economy where we export more and waste less, innovate in what matters, produce and deploy more of what we invent, and build an economy that works for working families.
The default proposition in the post–New Deal era is that the restructuring of a national economy as complex and diverse as America's would be led by the national government. Indeed, in the immediate aftermath of the Great Recession, the federal government stepped in, and stepped up, with a stimulus package that kept the economy from collapse and stabilized state and local governments reeling from the housing-market freefall.
But now, four years after the recession's official end, it is clear that the real, durable reshaping is being led by networks of city and metropolitan leaders—mayors and other local elected officials, for sure, but also heads of companies, universities, medical campuses, metropolitan business associations, labor unions, civic organizations, environmental groups, cultural institutions, and philanthropies. These leaders are measuring what matters, unveiling their distinctive strengths and starting points in the real economy: manufacturing, innovation, technology, advanced services, and exports. They are eschewing fanciful illusions of becoming the next Silicon Valley and instead are deliberately building on their special assets, attributes, and advantages, using business planning techniques honed in the private sector. They are remaking their urban and suburban places as livable, quality, affordable, sustainable communities and offering more residential, transport, and work options to firms and families alike. And they are doing all these things through coinvention and coproduction.
Similar to the Tea Party and the Occupy movements, the metropolitan revolution is a child of the Great Recession. Yet it is reasoned rather than emotional, leader driven rather than leaderless, born of pragmatism and optimism rather than despair and anger.
Like all great revolutions, this one has been catalyzed by a revelation: Cities and metropolitan areas are on their own. The cavalry is not coming. Mired in partisan division and rancor, the federal government appears incapable of taking bold action to restructure our economy and grapple with changing demography and rising inequality. Recent Supreme Court decisions have also circumscribed the ability of the federal government to respond to national challenges. States are a varied lot. Some, often under the leadership of mayors-turned-governors, are aligning policies and programs to meet the needs of their metropolitan engines; some are too broke and broken to engage and, in fact, are scaling back investments in critical areas like education, redevelopment, and community health; still others have a long history of antagonism toward their urban and metropolitan engines.
With each illustration of partisan gridlock and each indication of federal, and also state, unreliability, metros are becoming more ambitious in their design, more assertive in their advocacy, more expansive in their reach and remit. To borrow from Pogo, metro leaders have met the solution, and it is them.
With innovation the clear driver of economic growth and productivity and federal innovation funding at risk, metros like New York are making sizable commitments to attract innovative research institutions, commercialize research, and grow innovative firms. With human capital the necessary ingredient for successful firms and places, metros like Chicago are overhauling their community college systems to ensure that students are trained for quality jobs that offer good wages and benefits. With infrastructure the platform for global trade and investment and no national freight policy in place, metros like Miami and Jacksonville are modernizing their air, rail, and sea freight hubs to position themselves for an expansion in global trade.
With companies and consumers demanding communities that are more spatially efficient and federal funding for transportation uncertain, metros like Los Angeles, Denver, and Chicago are largely self-financing the building and retrofit of their own transit systems. With global demand rising and the future of federal trade policy unclear, metros like Portland, Syracuse, and Minneapolis–St. Paul are reorienting their economic development strategies toward exports, foreign direct investment, and skilled immigration.
With the world undergoing a systemic shift toward sustainable growth (a third industrial revolution) and federal energy and environmental policies under siege, metros like Seattle and Philadelphia are cementing their niches in energy-efficient technologies. And with immigration altering the social fabric of American society and national immigration reform seemingly impossible to achieve, metros like Houston are taking innovative steps to integrate tens of thousands of new immigrants into economic and community life.
The metro revolution reflects the maturing of U.S. cities and metros in terms of capacity and focus. Over the past three decades, these communities have innovated on the form of their places, regenerating downtowns, revitalizing waterfronts, restoring historic buildings, inspiring grand architecture, expanding transit and transportation choices. Now they are focusing on their function and the very shape and structure of their economies, taking on the core elements that drive economies: innovation, human capital, infrastructure, advanced industry.
Over the past three decades, these places have labored to improve the delivery of core services such as education and public safety to ensure good schools, safe streets, and a high quality of life. Now they are innovating in the service of a grander ambition and necessary purpose: a local economy that generates wealth and shares prosperity.
For fifty years, metropolitan areas have relied on their biggest single investor—the federal government—to finance infrastructure, housing, innovation, and human capital. They have dutifully competed for federal grants and aligned their visions and strategies to the federal focus du jour. Now cities and metros are driving the conversation, making transformative investments in the public goods that undergird private investment and growth.
The tectonic plates of power and responsibility are shifting. Across the nation, cities and metros are taking control of their own destinies, becoming deliberate about their economic growth. Power is devolving to the places and people who are closest to the ground and oriented toward collaborative action. This shift is changing the nature of our leadership—who our leaders are, what they do, and how they govern. The metropolitan revolution has only one logical conclusion: the inversion of the hierarchy of power in the United States.
A REVOLUTION IN TUNE
The metropolitan revolution is accelerated by the twinned failure of the economy and Washington. But what is happening in the United States today is also rooted in timeless and quintessential American values and is uniquely aligned with the disruptive nature of this young century and the manner and places in which people live their lives. The emerging revolution is not just a cyclical reaction but also a structural shift.
Our federal republic alternates between an emphasis on the "republic" and the "federal." Power is at once centralized and diffuse, among states as constitutional partners and, in this century, among cities and metropolitan areas as de facto engines of the economy and social change. This diffusion, endlessly varied, often chaotic, is central to the American entrepreneurial strain and cultural narrative. Like Chicago's mayor Rahm Emanuel, local politicians and other leaders have long held an ambivalence toward Washington. This reflects an ingrained American suspicion of institutions that are remote, removed, and far from home. Leaders in cities and metropolitan areas are close to the ground. They shop in local stores, eat at local establishments. They are seen and accessible, open to informal, everyday conversation rather than the formal interactions of legislatures and bureaucracies. Cities and metros aggregate people and places in a geography that is large enough to make a difference but small enough to impart a sense of community and common purpose.
Yet the metropolitan revolution is not only about the local and traditional. It is also thoroughly attuned to the pace and tenor of modern life driven by technology and globalization. We are living in a disruptive moment that worships speed, extols collaboration, rewards customization, demands differentiation, and champions integrated thinking to match and master the complexities of modern economies and societies. The metropolitan revolution is like our era: crowd sourced rather than close sourced, entrepreneurial rather than bureaucratic, networked rather than hierarchical.
In a world in which people live, operate, communicate, and engage through networks, metros have emerged as the uber-network: interlinked firms, institutions, and individuals working together across sectors, disciplines, jurisdictions, artificial political borders, and, yes, even political parties. In the process, a new kind of metropolitan leadership is being spawned. It is, at its core, a pragmatic caucus, which puts place over party, collaboration over conflict, and evidence over dogma. As New York mayor Michael Bloomberg observed in remarks to the Economic Club of Washington, D.C., "As a result of [the federal] leadership vacuum, cities around the country have had to tackle our economic problems largely on our own. Local elected officials are responsible for doing, not debating. For innovating, not arguing. For pragmatism, not partisanship. We have to deliver results at the local level."
Members of this pragmatic caucus share common traits. They are impatient. They do not tolerate ideological nonsense or political bromides. They are frustrated with gridlock and inaction. They bristle at conventional pessimism and focus on constructive optimism. They are risk takers. They do not have a partisan allegiance; they have a political attitude.
With its broad-based membership, the pragmatic caucus defies easy political categorization. In Houston, a network of Republican business leaders supports and champions one of the most advanced immigrant integration efforts in the nation. In Salt Lake City, a far-reaching effort to curb sprawl and promote reinvestment is taking place in a state that has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964. In Portland, Oregon, a metropolis best known for its commitment to smart growth, a diverse set of leaders are embracing an ambitious agenda to boost trade, exports, and foreign direct investment.
The contrast between the federal and state governments and metropolitan networks is stark. The federal government and the states are legacy institutions: hyper political and partisan, hopelessly fragmented and compartmentalized, frustratingly bureaucratic, and prescriptive.
The federal government and the states are present oriented. They govern, administer, and legislate in two-year cycles, aligned more with the timeline of political elections than with social or market dynamics. By contrast, the new metropolitan leadership is intensely focused on, in the words of John Hofmeister, a former president of Shell Oil, "getting the future right." They think in the long term, act in the short run. Twenty of the top fifty metropolitan areas in the country now have formal planning efforts to achieve specific growth targets by 2040.
The federal and state governments, at their core, establish laws and promulgate rules. In so doing, they reflect the curse of the twentieth-century Weberian state: highly specialized, overly legalistic, prescriptive rather than permissive, process oriented rather than outcome directed. They reward consumers who play by the rules, check the box, and confine their innovations to tightly circumscribed boundaries. Cities and metropolitan areas, by contrast, are action oriented. They reward innovation, imagination, and pushing boundaries. As networks of institutions (for example, firms, agencies, schools), they run businesses, provide services, educate children, train workers, build homes, and develop community. They focus less on promulgating rules than on delivering the goods and using cultural norms rather than regulatory mandates to inspire best practice. They reward leaders who push the envelope, catalyze action, and get stuff done.
The federal and state governments are organized as a collection of hardened silos, fragmented executive agencies overseen by separate legislative committees. These agencies look down at challenges, conforming and confining the reach of solutions to the powers and resources at hand. A transportation agency responds to transportation challenges (for example, congestion) with transportation solutions (for example, widening a road), affirming the old adage "If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." Cities and metros are, by contrast, organic communities. Multiple public, private, and civic actors are empowered to look across challenges, naturally connecting the dots between related issues. Resolving a transport challenge, for example, might most effectively and efficiently be achieved through a shift in housing or jobs location or alternative means of transportation. Metros are integrated rather than compartmentalized.
The federal and state governments focus on atomistic firms and workers and silver-bullet tax and regulatory solutions. Cities and metros, by contrast, blend the ecosystem and the enterprise. They focus not just on a singular transaction, firm, or solution but rather on building effective structures, institutions, intermediaries, and platforms to give dozens of entrepreneurs and firms what they need: skilled talent, strategic capital, stable governance, reliable rules, functioning infrastructure, collective branding, and marketing.
The federal and state governments, driven by outworn notions of legislative horse-trading, prefer one-size-fits-all solutions that serve to frustrate rather than placate. They spread resources across the landscape of the nation and their states like peanut butter on a slice of bread, diluting return on investment and diminishing public confidence in public action. Cities and metropolitan areas are, by contrast, aligned and attuned to the differentiated nature of their economies. They build on their distinctive strengths, buttress and leverage their specific assets, attributes, and advantages. They follow Dolly Parton's maxim: "Find out who you are and do it on purpose."
The federal and state governments constitute passive, representative democracy; citizens' only active role is to vote at designated intervals. Cities and metropolitan areas constitute active, participatory democracy: tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of leaders who collectively steward their places, guide their regions, and coproduce their economies.
The federal and state governments think in terms of constituencies competing against one another for scarce resources and routinely practice divide-and-conquer tactics. Because they are dominated by legislatures that are divided by party and ideology, they reward those who rely on partisan calculus and engage in partisan combat. There, good politics is good policy—for individuals seeking to move up the legislative ladder. Cities and metropolitan areas think in terms of networks that act together to achieve common goals and encourage collaboration and teamwork. They have a different disposition toward progress and continuous improvement. There, good policy is good politics—for individuals seeking to gain community trust and commitment.
Excerpted from THE METROPOLITAN REVOLUTION by BRUCE KATZ. Copyright © 2013 by the brookings institution. Excerpted by permission of Brookings Institution Press.
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