The Revolution Will Be … In Our Cities

7.18.13 | Given the raging dysfunction on 24/7 display in Congress, and the idea that states are antiquated political constructs, cities and metropolitan regions are pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps.

Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley are raising quite the wonk ruckus (wonkus?) with their new book, “The Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros are Fixing our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy.”

Per the book’s blurb, its premise is deceptively simple: “In the face of federal gridlock, economic stagnation and fiscal turmoil, power in the United States is shifting away from Washington and toward our major cities and metropolitan areas. Across the nation, these communities, and their resolutely pragmatic leaders, are taking on the big issues that Washington won’t. They are reshaping our economy, and fixing our broken political system.”

(Note: I have yet to read “The Metropolitan Revolution,” but will soon; tells me the book is on its way. Among the better reviews I’ve seen so far, however, are Aaron M. Renn’s at The Urbanophile, Kaid Benfield’s at Switchboard, and Richard Layman’s at Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space. Moreover, the book’s website provides a preview of the forward and introduction, along with an iPad app and schedule of upcoming events with the authors.)

In part one, titled “The Living Laboratory: The Metropolitan Revolution Today,” Bradley and Katz make their case by examining four cities—Cleveland, Denver, Houston, and New York City—and how they’re tackling problems on their own.

  • Regional foundations have banded together, creating the Fund for Our Economic Future in Cleveland.
  • Denver serves as an example of the evolution of regionalism.
  • The work of Neighborhood Centers Inc., a social service organization, is creating change in Houston.
  • The new Cornell-Technion technology campus in New York will help bring new technology to established industries.

In part two, “The Future of The Metropolitan Revolution: Ushering In the Metro Age,” they consider trends they deem critical: so-called “innovation” districts, a global network of “trading cities,” and metropolitan regions as the “new sovereigns.”

Katz and Bradley also summarized their thoughts recently on the “PBS NewsHour”:

That cities must look to their own devices rather than Washington’s isn’t exactly a new meme. In his book, “The Wealth of Cities: Revitalizing the Centers of American Life,” John Norquist, former mayor of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and currently president and CEO of the Congress for the New Urbanism, wrote in the first chapter about his struggles to get the United States Conference of Mayors to stop essentially putting cities’ hands to the federal government for alms.

“Mayors must rid themselves of the self-pity that focuses on urban pathology and ignores the advantages and virtues of cities thus undermining the ability of cities to compete in the marketplace,” Norquist said—in 1998.

But in “The Metropolitan Revolution” frame, that statement is no longer operational. Judith Rodin, president of The Rockefeller Foundation, writes in her introduction:

Our language has not yet caught up with the realities. Often when we refer to cities we are actually referring to the broader economic, environmental, and infrastructure networks of the entire metropolitan region of which a city is a part. In this sense, it is difficult to separate the city from its larger metro region—or to separate the metro from the city. In today’s world, the two are inextricably linked.

The authors distinguish a difference in definition between the metropolitan region and the city at its core, but treat them as one throughout.; they stress again and again that both cities and their metro regions are today’s sources of innovation, economic development, and cultural adaptation.

“We do not believe in fairy tales,” they write. “The federal government will not heal itself any time soon. The states are political artifices, not natural markets. We do, however, believe in metropolitan pragmatism, metropolitan power, and metropolitan potential.

“This book explains why.”

2 Responses to The Revolution Will Be … In Our Cities

  1. Jon thanks for referencing my book. Sounds like Bruce Katz finally got around to reading it.
    Actually Ed Banfield first made the point that cities shouldn’t wallow in self pity in The Unheavenly City(1968)

  2. Maury Forman says:

    this is so true. the key to our future has now become local. Local food, local economy, local government. I recommend every leader read Michael Shuman’s book, Local Dollars, Local Sense to show how communities, urban and rural, can achieve real prosperity and sustainability