The Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros Are Fixing Our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy

The Metropolitan RevolutionIt may have been the subtitle that drew my attention to Bruce Katz’ and Jennifer Bradley’s book or it may have been a reference to the text in an article that I read. Regardless, the book opened my eyes to the increasingly important role of metros and cities in our national economic recovery. According to the authors, the nation’s top 100 metropolitan areas occupy 12 percent of the U.S. land area, but generate 75 percent of our GDP with two-thirds of our population primarily because of the concentration of networks of workers, entrepreneurs, supportive institutions, and innovative firms.

Organized into two major sections entitled, “The Living Laboratory: The Metropolitan Revolution Today,” and “The Future of the Metropolitan Revolution: Ushering In the Metro Age,” the book provides evidence of what can happen through collaboration with success stories about initiatives in New York City, Denver, Northeast Ohio, and Houston. The metropolitan revolution, as framed by the authors, is “a child of the Great Recession.”

Katz and Bradley posit that the federal government is not coming to the rescue to restructure the economy and the states are likely not coming either. Those who are closest to the situation and oriented toward collaborative action are likely to be the power brokers and change agents in the future. This revolution will likely invert the hierarchy of power in the United States.

The first half of the book discusses the revolution as it is today by citing examples of innovation in the four metro areas. The second half proposes what the revolution may look like in the future.

The rise of Innovation Districts is an interesting trend as those districts are much smaller than the metro areas or states in which they’re located. These are clusters of leading-edge institutions and innovative firms with spin-off companies, business incubators, mixed-use housing and retail, and modern amenities and transportation. In all cases, the districts are being driven from the ground up, through the actions of local players, not federal or state programs. Importantly, the districts capitalize on the difference between information and knowledge. The former is a commodity and the latter is “learned, gained through experience, not easily replicable, and enhanced by proximity.” The districts are not cookie-cutter models that are easily replicated.

Another future trend will be global networks of trading cities. According to the authors, it may not be unusual to see “Made in New York City” at some point in the future. The leaders of major cities around the world are learning that they cannot wait until a federal or state policy is implemented, but instead they must connect with their counterparts around the world. The largest 300 metro areas in the world now account for 48 percent of the global GDP with only 19 percent of the world’s population. America’s insularity from global affairs is a particular concern of the authors, but they cite two cities—Portland (Oregon) and Miami (Florida)—as examples of cities that have reached out to build an international trading relationship.

“Metros are not governed by a single executive but have overlapping networks of business, civic, philanthropic, nonprofit, and elected leaders” and for this reason, the authors state that it’s important to recognize them as actors, not subjects.

According to Katz and Bradley, the existing funding crunches at the federal and state levels are problems that will only continue if we don’t recognize the need for a more community-oriented federalism. Funding the revolution will require public private partnerships. Successful metros “never stop. They do not rest on their laurels, they build on their successes.”

The authors believe that the speed of change will accelerate in the coming decade with technology aiding in the change of pace. Even better, the authors believe that state and federal legislators who fail to serve their state or district will not be reelected. The current revolution was spawned by the economic crisis and is being led by networks of individuals living in metro areas who are committed to their communities and a common purpose and vision.

America pioneered the Internet as well as much of the fiber optic networks that linkformer third-world countries with the rest of the world. Those technology innovations are changing global economics as well as individuals, particularly non-educated individuals. Communities that find ways to enhance the knowledge of their workers and that embrace the notion of never stopping will be successful.

For a politician interested in the greater good of his or her district or state, this book is a great primer with examples of prior successes as well as a framework for the future direction of successful metro areas.

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