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, June 20, 2013

Metropolitan Revolution (book review)

Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution have authored The Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros are Fixing our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy.

They presented last night and hopefully there will be other chances to hear them speak on the topic.

My general recommendation: buy and read the book

It's well argued, well-written, has great examples, a good set of citations, and makes the case for why metropolitan areas need to work together to be successful competitors within the landscape of an economy that has reorganized on a global scale.

How the book is organized

The book organizes its argument through an introduction, four case studies, chapters on reorganizing knowledge and production networks through the creation of "innovation districts" and the creation of global trading networks organized at the scale of metropolitan areas (not unlike the Hanseatic League), a discussion on the need to reorder relationships between the federal government, states, and metropolitan areas, a summation ("Metros as the New Sovereign") and a five point guide to how regions can start off the rebooting process ("A Revolution Realized").

How I summarize the book's argument

- Metropolitan regions, anchored by center cities, are the primary economic engines of nations--in the US the top 100 metros comprise 12% of the country's land, 67% of the population, and 75% of the nation's Gross Domestic Product;

- Success in the global economy is based on networks of connectedness, collaboration, and flexibility--enabled in large part by mobile computing applications and infrastructure--rather than being generated by internally focused corporations walled off and willfully disconnected from broader practice networks (the failure of the Detroit-based US automobile industry is an example);

- and will be realized and measured through export-driven exchange;

- Center cities and their suburbs are inextricably linked, they either rise or fall together;

- National politics is broken, the federal government isn't focused on developing and fostering economic activity in substantive ways, and even if it were, the money isn't there to do so (well it could be, just by  limiting the mortgage interest tax deduction);

- Nor are states organized to support metropolitan-scale economic integration and political collaboration;

- So metropolitan areas are mostly on their own and must develop, implement, and manage new forms of collaboration across traditional political boundaries--cities, towns, counties, and other special districts--to realize and leverage their core competencies and place-shaped and -specific opportunities;

- Innovation districts, linking institutions, businesses, firms and other stakeholders in place-based and spatial terms, are a transformative method for organizing these globally-spanning knowledge and production networks in spatial terms;

- To realize export-driven growth and exchange, all human capital within our communities will have to be leveraged, and immigrants and immigrant networks (the book did not reference Arrival City by Doug Saunders here and should have) position metros to be able to develop knowledge and production networks that span hemispheres.

But that isn't exactly how they lay out the argument.  One key element is somewhat undeveloped.  While the book discusses the necessity of reorganizing local economies at the metropolitan scale rather than at the level of an individual city or town, the key elements usually are located in the center city--anchoring districts, businesses, and institutions, especially universities--organized in what urban economists call "clusters".

Because these districts, called "innovation districts" and described in  the book's best chapter, are the building blocks of economic development and growth, it means that the center city is still the driving force of the "Metropolitan Revolution" even if cities are seen to have been outspanned by the suburbs in terms of population growth and the relocation of a significant number of commercial enterprises to suburban locations.

(Actually the Washington, DC region, because of how knowledge and production networks have developed around the suburban locations of the Department of Defense, located in Northern Virginia, or the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Science and Technology, and the Food and Drug Administration, based in Maryland, is an exception to this observation.)

The case study chapters illustrate elements of the argument, but only one chapter, on Cleveland, presents a complete example of the "Metropolitan Revolution" argument, illustrating the development of systems of collaboration, organization and economic development at the metropolitan scale.  Denver almost gets there,  but not necessarily on the economic development dimension, at least according to the chapter as presented.  That being said, the other case studies, on Houston/Harris County and New York City, are still compelling.

Some of the best cases are smaller sections within the chapters on innovation districts (Detroit) and trading networks linking metropolitan areas (Portland, Oregon and Asian cities; Miami and São Paulo) across the globe.

Case studies

The New York City chapter explores the city's recognition that they need to reorient their economy away from certain types of non-value added financial services to focus on knowledge- and engineering-intensive production industries by strengthening the city's position in applied science-related elements of these fields, such as health care, fashion, digital media, information technology, biotechnology, etc.

To anchor applied sciences, the city created a competition for the development of a new engineering university focused on knowledge creation, technology transfer, and the creation of new businesses, to anchor knowledge and production networks in the selected fields..  A team led by Cornell and Israel Institute of Technology, Technion, won the competition. 

This chapter illustrates the need to refocus local economies on value-added investment and production and creating the infrastructure necessary to achieve it.  But the example doesn't illustrate reordering and collaboration at the metropolitan scale--the Cornell/Technion school, while connected to practice networks across the globe, is an in-city focused-institution.

I think of this chapter more as an illustration of how innovation districts typically are more likely to be present in center cities.  It will be interesting to see how the Cornell/Technion school reproduces and impacts production and knowledge networks within the Metropolitan New York region over time.

Similarly, the chapter on Houston isn't about metropolitan scale collaborative systems so much as it is about a truly unique nonprofit social services organization, Neighborhood Centers, Inc., that operates at the metropolitan scale.  That fact alone is worthy of a case study.

NCI uses what I think of as the "asset based community development" model--although they use a different theoretical approach, called affirmative inquiry--applied to social services.  The organization, which grew out of the settlement house movement, has transformed coincident with the great demographic changes that Greater Houston has undergone over the past 50 years--while Caucasians are still the majority of the county's population, by 2020 the population is likely to be equally split between Caucasians and people of color.

The organization operates at the scale of Harris County (just under 1,800 square miles in size, of which the county seat, the City of Houston, comprises not quite 600 square miles, and a total population of 4.1 million), has a $275 million annual budget, operates a wide variety of programs with a myriad set of funding sources, has built internal organizational development capacity and competence, and continues to develop and expand a set of multifaceted service centers that successfully serve impoverished populations, especially immigrants, helping them to become integrated and connected within their communities and the local economy.

The chapter is important because it shows how to provide affirmative and comprehensive programming (they even have credit unions at some of their centers) that re/integrates the impoverished into the local economy, fostering both poverty reduction and  human capital development, which in turn supports metropolitan-scale economic development.  (Note that Toronto's United Way has developed in parallel a similar kind of neighborhood improvement initiative).

The Greater Denver chapter covers the evolution of the relationship between the center city and the  suburban cities and counties over the past 40 years, and the transformation of the relationship from acrimony--starting with a successful fight by the counties to ward off annexation threats by the City of Denver--to collaboration--creation of a new international airport in what had been an outlying county, allowing for the annexation of this property to Denver; the creation of a regional sales tax to fund cultural assets mostly located in Denver; a plan and funding system for the development of a regional light rail transit system (FasTracks), the creation of a regional business recruiting entity; and the organizational infrastructure, such as the Metro Mayors Consortium, that acts as the glue that fosters and supports these relationships.

It's definitely a model for how metropolitan areas can and should work together.  I do wonder if it's an outlier as an example, because for the most part the Denver region is economically successful and has doubled in population since 1960, whereas other metros discussed (Detroit, Cleveland) or not (Pittsburgh) tend to have not grown or have shrunk in population over the same period.

The Cleveland story is quite interesting.  Touched off by a sobering series of articles about the economic decline of the city and region in the Cleveland Plain Dealer ("A Quiet Crisis") area foundations began to reconsider their role and how to best focus regional attention and resources on economic redevelopment in the face of deindustrialization and a shrinking population.

(Note that while not discussed, in the face of shrinking resources in the community development arena, in the late 1990s, Cleveland foundations created an accountability and measurement system for community development corporations in the city, "forcing" the merger of many groups into a smaller set of more focused outcomes-oriented organizations.  This had to have been foundational in terms of the later effort.)

The foundations have created funding pools, metropolitan-scale economic development initiatives, and have worked to align these programs with other complementary and supportive state and federal initiatives.  And in those sectors where economic development initiatives have focused, the region is adding jobs and businesses at rates greater than the nation as a whole.

Although I do think this is an illustration of a weak market element that I call "a desperate willingness to experiment because you have no other choices."  Because on a relative basis, both the city and suburbs and other center cities within the region (Canton, Youngstown, Akron) were all experiencing decline, there was less a sense that revitalization is a zero sum game, where suburban jurisdictions could still thrive without the center city being successful--although the medical institutions (especially the Cleveland Clinic) and universities located in the center city are in fact key elements in the metropolitan area's improvement strategy.

Innovation Districts

I thought the chapter on Innovation Districts was the most interesting.  The argument updates the "agglomeration economies" argument from urban economics in terms of how clusters in one place connect to other locations within the network of clusters through virtual and physical networks of knowledge development, production, logistics, and transportation, and how the spatial organization of clusters is changing too, where urban design and buildings support connection and the value of proximity, rather than separation.

The chapter states:

Our open, innovative economy increasingly craves proximity and extols integration, which allow knowledge to be transferred easily and seamlessly between, within, and across clusters, firms, workers, and supporting institutions, thereby enabling the creation of new ideas that fuel even greater economic activity and growth. ...  The vanguard of these megatrends is largely found not at the city or metropolitan scale write large but in smaller enclaves ... Innovation districts cluster and connect leading-edge anchor institutions and cutting-edge innovative firms with supporting and spin-off companies, business incubators, mixed-use housing, office and retail and twenty-first-century amenities and transport.

I have written about this general concept, although not using the fabulous phase "innovation district" in terms of the arts ("Art, culture districts, and revitalization") especially with regard to arts as production, research-based inquiry anchored by the presence of the National Science Foundation in Arlington, Virginia ("The state of Arlington County Virginia's commercial real estate market: 2012 and the future"), and the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto ("Interesting planning initiatives/research in Toronto").

A Global Network of Trading Cities

This chapter makes the argument that trade is between businesses and regions more than it is between nations.  I don't fully buy the argument, because really trade is between producers and customers, but the reality is that in the 21st Century economy, center cities and metropolitan areas and smaller businesses not typically focused on foreign markets can't wait for federal or state governments to step in and build up their relationships with markets and actors in other countries.

The chapter makes the point that the scale of the economy in the 21st Century is global, and that foreign sales tend to be more profitable compared to sales to other customers within the own-country market, and that to be capture more income, metropolitan areas need to reorganize, refocus, and scale differently to achieve success.

This chapter works as a call to action to metropolitan political and economic elites to refocus on enabling their regions to be able to compete at the global scale.

While reading the chapter, I was thinking of the recent obituaries for Nobel Prize winning economist Robert Fogel ("Robert W. Fogel, Nobel-Winning Economist Dies at 86" from the New York Times).  He linked economic history and econometrics in his work and his first claim to fame was the counter-intuitive argument that railroads weren't key to the economic growth of the United States, that canals and wagons could have substituted for railroad-based freight transportation.

Now I haven't read the book, but I have a hard time with his argument because the importance of the railroads to US economic development was not merely that it was faster to ship wheat from North Dakota to Minneapolis.  It was that by shipping wheat to Minneapolis, it could be milled and then shipped to the rest of the country cheaply and quickly.  Before that most markets were local.

Sure you could ship strawberries in a wagon, but with a railroad car you could ship strawberries to big markets, rather than just to the next town.    Or (and there are negative repercussions from the changes too), there were stove manufacturers located all over the country, because it was too expensive to ship heavy stoves long distances.

It was in how the railroads enabled the creation of an integrated market economy across an entire continent, and in turn how this advance reshaped the organization, scale, and productive capacity of American manufacturing.

This chapter carries this argument to the next level, to the scale of the globe.

Metros as the New Sovereign/A Revolution Realized

As mentioned above the "New Sovereign" chapter discusses how the relationship between cities, metropolitan regions, states, and the federal government doesn't work very well in terms of foster successful participation in the globally networked economy.

The chapter on realizing the revolution lists five steps to begin the process of metropolitan reorientation:

1.  Build your network;
2.  Set your vision;
3.  Identify and implement game changing initiatives;
4.  Bankroll the revolution;
5.  Sustain the gain.

And then discusses elements necessary to spreading the concept across metropolitan areas.

Some issues

The book maybe is more a call to action and not so much the kind of bone-crushing elucidation and discussion of the kind I am wont to write myself in overly blog entries.  So that likely accounts for the failure to include more case studies, stories, and contrasting examples.  I do aver that contrasting examples ("what doesn't work or hasn't worked as well") strengthen arguments.

That being said, the references and footnotes are particularly helpful and offer support to various additional lines of inquiry.

As far as other examples are concerned, I'd offer Pittsburgh as a good example of how innovation districts, core competencies, and educational institutions can be harnessed to staunch leakage, even if it doesn't lead to a reproduction of the local economy at the metropolitan-wide scale.  Also, Pittsburgh has a similar example to that of Denver in the creation of a regional funding mechanism for arts and culture institutions.

Or Oklahoma City passed a bond issue to self-fund infrastructure improvements to the central business district and city that will assist in the rebranding and repositioning of the city as a place to do business and live.

The chapter on innovation districts could have had more examples on the reduced spillover benefit of closed industrial research and development systems such as how AnnaLee Saxenian contrasts the impact of the earlier generation of Route 128-based technology firms outside of Boston versus the comparatively open development culture in California's Silicon Valley.  The book's discussion of MIT's initiatives and success in Cambridge proper is more an example of the approach of that region's second generation of business development.  Did they change purposefully, or just because MIT owned a bunch of land in Cambridge and wanted to harness its value?  (Probably the latter, but that's still important to know, as it reiterates the importance of center city location.)

Or how the closed campuses of the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration in Montgomery County, Maryland haven't led to the same intensity of biotechnology spinoff and industrial and economic development compared to clusters in San Diego, Boston, or San Francisco.

Similarly, the work on arts districts and creative production such as by John Montgomery (The New Wealth of Nations) can be mined also.  And there are others.

I would have liked to see more defined lists and discussion of the kind of soft infrastructure and support mechanisms, especially financing vehicles such as infrastructure banks, that metropolitan areas ought to have access to in their practice toolbox, to assist in their process of repositioning.

There are plenty of examples, examples that work (Bank of North Dakota) and others that don't operate all that well across a metropolitan area and are the fount of tradeoffs made on a political basis (the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey).  Port authorities, the kinds of regional parks and cultural assets funding mechanisms (Chicago Parks District, the SCAF in Denver, RAD in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, the Huron-Clinton Metroparks millage in Greater Detroit, etc.), and transit authorities, etc. are examples of other support and development institutions.

Similarly, jurisdictions across Metropolitan Minneapolis share a portion of their property tax revenues to militate against the practice of jurisdictions poaching businesses from each other, to boost their local income (this is a real problem in the DC region, with Arlington County and Alexandria are very much focused on recruiting DC-based federal agencies and businesses to their cities, although with high rents in the city and a great number of suburban-living employees, it's not like they have to work that hard at it--I joke that their main business recruitment strategy is to answer the phone).

Plus Portland, Oregon actually has a Metro Government (although maybe it functions more like a County Commission with the addition of the MPO) or how certain Metropolitan Planning Organizations, the Minneapolis entity in particular, do true metropolitan-scale planning and may run transit systems and other infrastructure (the MPO in Minneapolis also runs the water and sewer authority).

Does the merger of center cities and counties (Indianapolis, Nashville, Louisville, Lexington) assist in the development of this metropolitan concept and revolution?  And even how historically some cities became reorganized politically as combined city-counties and whether or not that is working out today (Philadelphia and San Francisco are leading examples).  Although maybe the city-county element is a bit off topic.

The book mentions the lack of a national freight transportation plan.  I think I have written about that a few times myself.  In the meantime, most of the ports on the east coast (Miami, Jacksonville, Savannah, Charleston, Norfolk, Baltimore, New York, New Jersey, etc.) are clamoring for federal monies to dredge and deepen their waters, to accommodate the massive container ships that will be able to sail through the soon-to-be deeper Panama Canal.  We can't afford to simultaneously expand all of these ports and it doesn't make business sense either.

Some discussion of how to coordinate the Metropolitan Revolution across state lines would be useful.  New York City (New Jersey, upper New York State, Connecticut), Boston (Rhode Island, Maine and Connecticut), Philadelphia (New Jersey), Washington, DC (Maryland, Virginia), and Chicago (Indiana, Wisconsin) come to mind but there may be others as well.

Of course, the issue of border towns linking nations is worth considering too.

I am thinking of our border with Mexico mostly, such as Tijuana in Baja California, and the cross-border town arrangements in Texas between Mexican cities (such as El Paso and Ciudad Juarez), but the relationship between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario and the relationship between Buffalo and the Toronto-Hamilton Metropolitan Area is equally significant.

At a different scale, Ecotrust Institute in Seattle promotes the "Salmon Nation" linking Oregon and Washington States, and parts of Idaho and California as well as Canada's Province of British Columbia in one large bioregion.

... maybe cross-national metropolitan economic development is a book in itself.

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At 4:39 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

“There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking.”

—Jeff Bezos, Amazon

At 5:11 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

so you say that the piece I wrote is disjoint?

At 6:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Classic RL tl;dr

At 10:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps you OUGHT to read something before expressing your opinion

At 12:01 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I presume you are referring to my mention of the work by Fogel.


The stage for national branding and nationally-active companies was set by the creation of a national transportation system through the creation of an integrated network of railroads.

Yes, this network was supplanted by the creation of a national highway system, but it set the stage for the creation of large scale mass production industry.

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