Cities picking up the slack

Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley (Credit: Ralph Alswang)
Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley (Credit: Ralph Alswang)

We all know the system is broken, but maybe instead of hoping in vain that election after election will fix it, we just need to look to a different system.

That’s the argument made by Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley in “The Metropolitan Revolution,” a new book that studies the ways in which cities and their surrounding metro areas are taking up the slack left by the partisan gridlock in Washington.

“Cities and metros are now the vanguard of innovation in the United States, not just the engines of the economy,” says Katz, who is the founding director of the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “What’s happening in the United States is more and more cities and suburbs are coming to understand that, particularly with Washington broken, that they really have to make choices together about pretty substantial issues.”

Those issues include infrastructure, education, innovation, manufacturing and trade, and in their book Katz and Bradley point to metros across the country that are already taking innovative steps to innovate their approaches.

New York City enlisted major universities to help bolster its tech economy for the future; Denver forged a partnership between the city and its surrounding suburbs rather than pitting them against one another; Cleveland emphasized collaboration over the “hero” model of a single transformative figure; and Houston has chosen to view its immigrant community as a unique asset rather than a drain on public coffers.

Most of these initiatives were undertaken, Katz says, in the aftermath of the Great Recession.

“The recession really unveiled a growth model that wasn’t working for the country. Running up to the recession there was this focus on consumption, home-building, stadium-building; we lost sight of the fundamentals in terms of what really drives economies and prosperity for people. So cities, which are on the frontlines of everything, understood that we needed to get back to basics.”

Through its case studies and prescriptions for innovation, Katz wants the book to inspire other cities and metros to undertake more ambitious transformations.

“We’re hoping that the book is a catalyst for change,” he says. “The reality is pretty stark in terms of the challenges that cities and metros face and the fact that the federal government has left the building. I think the metropolitan revolution is what this century demands.”

If you go

The Metropolitan Revolution: Philadelphia as a Model for the Nation
Jul. 11, 5:30 p.m.
The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University
1900 Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Free
www.nextcity.org



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