Can you discuss your observations of federal and state governments that turned your attention to metro regions?
I have been a keen observer of cities and metropolitan areas for decades because they are the engines of national economies and centers of national trade and investment. At Brookings we focus on the top 100 metropolitan areas in the United States (out of 388 in total). These top 100 metros sit on just one-eighth of our landmass, but are home to two-thirds of our population and produce three-quarters of our gross domestic product. Further, on every indicator of a competitive economy—infrastructure, innovation, human capital—the top 100 metros incredibly contribute upwards of 90 percent of our national assets. Metropolitan areas, in short, punch above their weight.
This outsize economic impact of our metro areas, of course, has been growing for decades given how the economy rewards concentration and agglomeration of assets within defined geographies. The focus of the Metro Revolution has emerged from our more recent recognition at Brookings that metros are becoming the vanguard of policy innovation and progress in the absence of federal—and in some cases—state leadership.
We do not believe that the rise of metros will be a cyclical phenomenon, due to the increasing partisan division and ideological polarization that is occurring in Washington, D.C. and many state capitols. Rather, we believe that this will be a structural shift, particularly as the federal government shifts spending to entitlement programs to cope with the aging of our population and devolves more responsibility for investments in education, infrastructure and innovation to public, private and civic institutions and leaders in cities and metros.
You've observed many cities over the past several years, what are key factors that differentiate successful from non-successful cities?
First, I would stress that cities and metropolitan areas are networks of pragmatic leaders—public, private, civic—rather than governmental silos and hierarchies. This is what makes them distinctly different from—and more dynamic than—state and federal governments.
So the most successful metropolitan areas are those with the strongest networks who are working together—collaborating to compete—across sectors, disciplines, jurisdictions, and parties.
In the Metropolitan Revolution, for example, Jennifer Bradley and I tell the story of Denver, which throughout the mid-20th Century was defined by regional dysfunction and distrust. But starting in the 1970’s, with a small regional ballot initiative to fund arts and cultural institutions in the Downtown, the region as a whole began to realize the benefits of collaboration. This grew into one of the country’s first regional economic development organizations and then led to the formation of the Metro Mayors Caucus, which brings together leaders from across the region to set aside conflicts and pursue policy to make the region as a whole more competitive. With transformative investments in transit and game changing initiatives around advanced industries, Denver is now on its way to becoming a world-class city, a global city, and it has this collaborative spirit to thank.
In your book you state, "They (cities) are eschewing fanciful illusions of becoming the next Silicon Valley and instead are deliberately building on their special assets." What do you see as some of the unique assets of Midwestern cities like Indianapolis?
This is a key notion of the Metropolitan Revolution. The advanced economy is a differentiated economy, with different cities and metropolitan areas sporting competitive assets and advantages. This leads metros to follow the insightful advice of Dolly Parton: “Find out who you are and do it on purpose.” Truly successful metros are those that identify their distinct advantages and strengths and build on them, rather than trying to be someone else.
Here in Indianapolis that means leveraging your distinct clusters. Pharmaceuticals are clearly a major industry for the metro. The broader life-sciences cluster is growing thanks to strong organizations like BioCrossroads that are active in promoting smart, targeted investments. And, thanks to your geographic advantage, Indianapolis has a very strong freight and logistics sector—according to recent Brookings data, freight produces a $3.8 billion metro surplus for Indianapolis.
At a time when advanced economic sectors, innovative companies and talented workers are revaluing the physical and cultural attributes of cities, leveraging your assets also means investing in the core of your city, the downtown and midtown areas. You are blessed with many distinctive advantages – historic buildings, the central canal, and wonderful museums, just to name a few. Many cities like Boston, Philadelphia and Seattle are growing Innovation Districts in their downtowns and midtowns to cluster and connect leading-edge anchor institutions with startups and spin-off companies, business incubators, and accelerators in the relentless pursuit of cutting-edge discoveries for the market. Compact, transit-accessible, and highly networked, these Districts grow talent, foster open collaboration, and offer mixed-used housing, office, retail, and 21st century urban amenities. Indianapolis is well suited to embrace this new model in a distinctive way.
Finally, a huge strength for Indianapolis—that many other cities in the country struggle with—is the city/county consolidation from the 1970’s that has left the region much stronger, both fiscally and politically.
What role can business alliances like Chambers of Commerce play to have the greatest impact on the local economy?
Chambers of Commerce and similar business groups are key parts of a metropolitan network. I see three mains roles for these groups.
First, Chambers can play a critical role in initiating and stewarding what we call “business planning” strategies for their metropolitan areas. These strategies enable metros to identify and build on their regional strengths, and unite political, business, and civic communities behind a shared economic vision for their place. Brookings has worked closely with World Business Chicago, Greater Portland Inc. and business organizations in other cities and metros to drive these action oriented efforts.
Second, Chambers need to advocate—both to different levels of government and within the private and civic sectors—for the types of game changing investments and initiatives that will lift up their unique clusters and assets and make them more globally competitive. In some cities like Los Angeles, the game changing investment has been designing and developing state-of-the art transit. In cities like New York, the game changer has been the attraction of world beating advanced research institutions like Cornell and Technion and building a new institutional platform for innovation.
Finally, Chambers can be a voice for both innovative and inclusive growth, with the understanding that regions are stronger when there are good, well-paying jobs for all the residents. In all cities, a focus on giving young adults the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) skills they need to succeed is essential and business chambers can both help design and execute smart strategies.
How do you see young emerging leaders making an impact on local and metropolitan areas?
Metropolitan areas that succeed are those that welcome young individuals into metropolitan leadership networks and key institutions of metropolitan life—local government for sure, but also regional non-profits, businesses, universities and philanthropies. Metropolitan communities that are open and welcoming – to youth, immigrants, diversity of all kinds – are hardwired for success.
These young emerging leaders can reinvigorate metropolitan areas in several ways. They can bring, for example, new ideas about the interplay between economy shaping and place building. We are clearly living in a period when young people are revaluing cities—and we’re seeing the results as downtowns across the country get an influx of residents and become more vibrant and vital.
Young leaders can also bring a new way of working, a new way of solving problems. Unlike prior generations, young people are more likely to work across disciplines, programs, practices, and professions. They are a generation of generalists rather than specialists, who see the connections between challenges and work to devise and implement policies that advance multiple objectives simultaneously. As these new metropolitan leaders work their way into our cities and counties, slowly, gradually, the vertical, silo driven bureaucracies and organizations of the past century are being laid horizontal.
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