With the federal government stymied by partisan gridlock, Bruce Katz, founder of the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program and co-author with Jennifer Bradley of The Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros Are Fixing Our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy (Brookings Institution Press, 2013), talks about the way cities, and especially New York, are on the forefront of civic innovation.
A revolution is stirring in America. Cities and metropolitan areas are the engines of economic prosperity and social transformation in the United States. 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. 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 on 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. Nearly four years after the recession’s official end, it is clear that the real, durable economic 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. They are deliberately building on their special assets, attributes, and advantages through coinvention and coproduction.
If American history is any guide, these metropolitan innovations will not begin or end in isolation. We know that innovations naturally replicate “horizontally” across multiple cities and metros, adapted and tailored to the unique circumstances of disparate places. A smart export strategy in Portland will inform thinking and action in Phoenix within months, given easy accessibility to information and the tendency of smart ideas to spread virally in a political market. Cities and metros are fast, eager learners, ever observant of their peers, able to move quickly to spot innovation elsewhere and apply it at home.
We believe in metropolitan pragmatism, metropolitan power, and metropolitan potential. This book explains why.
From the book The Metropolitan Revolution (c) 2013 by Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley. Reprinted by permission of Brookings Institution Press. All rights reserved.