Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The new and most effective U.S. politics may be local

Image: Ecobags® "Think Global, Act Local" tote bag.

Brookings Institution director of the Metropolitan Studies Program and Judith Rodin, ex-president of U of Pennsylvania and now president of the Rockefeller Foundation, have an essay in Time Magazine, "Forget Washington: America's Pragmatic Caucus is Creating Jobs," about what they call the "pragmatic" caucus of Mayors and state Governors focused on improving their local economies.

The piece makes the distinction between the relatively unoperative Congress and motivated local and state politicians. Note that it's not a new argument. Governing Magazine and people affiliated with it and the "reinventing government" have made that argument for 20+ years.

Still, when public opinion poll results about confidence in government and Congress in particular are at new lows, we can take solace in that some local and state governments are proactive and focused rather than reactive, dysfunctional, and immobile.

From the article:

Across the country, the Pragmatic Caucus is engaged in economic renewal.

While it took four years for Washington to finally pass a series of free trade agreements, metros such as Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Portland and Syracuse are reorienting their economic development strategies towards exports, foreign direct investment and skilled immigration.

While federal transport programs are in limbo, metros like Miami and Chicago, and states like Michigan, are restructuring and modernizing their air, rail and sea freight hubs to position themselves for an economy where growth is increasingly driven by global rather than just domestic demand.

While federal energy policy is in disarray, cities such as San Diego are building out their electric vehicle infrastructure, Seattle and Philadelphia are cementing niches in energy efficient technologies and the state of Connecticut is experimenting with Green Banks to help deploy clean technologies at scale.

What unites these disparate efforts is intentionality and purpose. After decades of pursuing fanciful illusions (becoming the next Silicon Valley) or engaging in copycat strategies, states and metros are deliberately and systematically analyzing, and then building, on their special assets, attributes and advantages using business planning techniques honed in the private sector.

Second, the Caucus has a distinct modus operandi. As Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper likes to say "collaboration is the new competition." Neighboring cities and metros, long divided by petty differences, are now coming together to engage forcibly in the global market. For example, Louisville and Lexington, Kentucky, once on opposite sides of a decades old college basketball rivalry, are now constructing a common platform for advanced manufacturing. In Northeast Ohio, the Fund for Our Economic Future, a non-profit intermediary, is leading a similar effort to retool and modernize small and medium sized manufacturing firms located across Akron, Canton, Cleveland and Youngstown.

The Pragmatic Caucus does not, of course, exist in all states and metropolitan communities. Many metros continue to be defined by division rather than unity. And, as Wisconsin's battles with its labor unions showed earlier this year, partisanship hasn't been repealed in states. But the dominant, driving trend at the state and local level is toward collaborative governance and no-nonsense results.

One of the local programs mentioned, the Fund for our Economic Future, invests in improvements in the manufacturing sector in Northeast Ohio.

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