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New revolution: Cities lead economic and social change in U.S.

Few cities in the U.S. have faced more challenges to creating a new economic and social future than Detroit. Yet those same challenges, argues Bruce Katz, are fueling new networks of local leadership in metropolitan areas like the Motor City, and giving rise to innovative and exciting approaches to addressing some of the nation’s most pressing problems.

Katz, vice-president and director of the Mott-funded Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, will join local leaders July 16 in downtown Detroit to discuss ways that cities are leading the country in creating economic and social change.

Katz and co-author, Jennifer Bradley, recently published The Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros are Fixing Our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy.

The July 16 event is sponsored by the Detroit Economic Club.

Mott: The new book begins with the statement that a “revolution is stirring in America.” Could you elaborate on that?

Katz: We are witnessing a metropolitan revolution across the country. Cities are facing huge economic and competitive challenges, and realizing they’re largely on their own.

The good news is that in the face of federal dysfunction and partisan gridlock, leaders in our metropolitan areas are stepping up and making hard choices to rebuild their economies. Networks of mayors, philanthropic and business leaders, labor and community groups are working together — investing in infrastructure, making manufacturing a priority again and equipping workers with the skills they need.

More than ever, change is happening where we live. We believe that every community has the potential to find a game changer, and our book is a call to action, for leaders to work toward this change and for citizens to demand it.

Mott: How has the notion of local leadership taken on new meaning and purpose, and perhaps urgency, for U.S. cities?

Katz: We’re in a pivotal decade. Communities around the country need more and better jobs. The national economy currently faces a jobs deficit of 10 million, and our poor and near-poor populations total more than one-third of all U.S. residents. At the same time, the federal government seems unwilling or unable to solve these problems.

Leaders in our cities and metropolitan areas are confronting these challenges in a much more personal and direct way than national leaders. I think that’s creating a real sense of urgency and driving the spread of this metropolitan revolution.

Mott: Many small, older industrial cities around the U.S., including Mott’s home community of Flint, are struggling to maintain even basic services, such as education, public safety and so on. Are these communities part of the revolution or are they being left behind?

Bradley: We believe every community can be part of the metropolitan revolution. As folks in Flint know, metropolitan areas are not, in themselves, governments. Instead, they’re networks of elected leaders, philanthropies, university leaders, business people, community groups and others.

These networks increase the resources available to a particular metro, and their members then can come together to set a vision and find a way to implement that vision.

For example, in our book we talk about how a group of philanthropic, business and political leaders in Northeast Ohio — the Cleveland, Canton, Akron, and Youngstown metros — came together in 2003 to strengthen the region’s small and medium-sized manufacturing base. The efforts of this network over the last nine years have created more than 10,000 jobs, $333 million in additional payroll and $1.9 billion in new economic investment.

The Northeast Ohio story is a testament to the ability of these hardest-hit communities to recover and rebuild.

Mott: What are the broader implications of this shift in leadership for such national issues as poverty, education, the economy and the environment?

Katz: The metropolitan revolution doesn’t let national leaders off the hook. The federal government has to respond in two ways.

First, do the things that metros can’t. This includes providing a secure and broad social safety net, ensuring a strong national defense and pursuing sane immigration, climate and trade policy.

Second, it means acting in service of metros and getting behind their innovations. The federal government can bring to bear resources beyond that of any metropolitan area. Metros are already starting to lead with innovations in areas like environmental policy, education and economic development. The federal government now needs to get behind these programs, ensure their success and work towards scalability.

Metropolitan areas have distinct assets and challenges, and a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work. But when metros lead and the federal government follows, we can do grand things.

Mott: What are the roles for the public and private sectors, including government and philanthropy, in this revolution of local leadership?

Bradley: The metropolitan revolution is blurring traditional roles of leadership in our metropolitan areas and forcing leaders to work outside of conventional silos.

The stories in our book feature a rich diversity of leadership that cuts across these sectors. In Los Angeles, it was Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa who convened a network that successfully petitioned for a federal rule change to allow his city to make critical investments in infrastructure. In Houston, which is one of the country’s most ethnically diverse metros, a local nonprofit is leading efforts to integrate the large immigrant population into the area’s economy. And in Detroit, a diverse group of entrepreneurs, civic leaders and business groups are rebuilding the city’s downtown and midtown.

The message of the Metropolitan Revolution is to stop waiting for that superhero mayor to appear and lead the economy forward. Metro areas are rich in leadership and it’s time for those leaders and all metro residents to start acting like it.

(Note: This report is provided as a service to our readers from a press release submitted to eastvillagemagazine.org. The story is edited to conform to Associated Press and local style. The group or individual who submitted the story is responsible for all information provided.)

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