The Power and Limitations of Metro Nation

Posted by Jon Talton, July 15, 2013, Seattle Times

Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institution lays out a compelling argument in the Financial Times(registration required) that the action in the Great Reset is coming from metropolitan areas, not paralyzed D.C.

These communities are not waiting for Washington, mired in partisan rancour, to get its act together. They are driving a “metropolitan revolution” – doing the work needed to increase jobs and restructure their economies. Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles and Miami are using local resources to boost private investment in economy-shaping infrastructure such as transit systems, ports and airports. Boston, Cleveland and New York City are refocusing their development on innovative, productive and export-driven growth rather than the pre-recession mixture of stadium building, homebuilding and consumption. Chicago, Houston and San Antonio are working to integrate immigrants, make early education universally available and equip young workers with the skills they need to compete globally.

As I have argued before, the fundamental units of competitiveness now are metropolitan areas. The real game is not Bellevue vs. Seattle, but metro Seattle competing for world talent and capital against Singapore, Shanghai, Amsterdam and the Bay Area. In the United States, the 100 largest metro areas generate three-quarters of the nation’s gross domestic product and hold two-thirds of its population. Katz writes, “More importantly, they contribute upwards of 90 per cent of educated workers, advanced industry jobs, patent creation and trade-oriented freight flow – assets that the nation needs for growth.”

Katz contends that metros will need to be laboratories of innovation and self-sufficiency even more as the federal government spends more on programs such as Medicare and Social Security. It’s an elegant idea and true up to a point. But state governments still hold the whip hand on many issues and many state capitols face their own paralysis or legislators who are anti-city. In Washington, anti-Seattle lawmakers would not even allow King County voters a say in preserving the bus system. The world-class asset of the University of Washington has been hostage to sweeping cuts out of Olympia in recent years. In addition, metropolitan projects from infrastructure to research funding are heavily dependent on a federal partnership. Until state and federal authorities understand and better support the crown jewels of cities and metropolitan areas, a real reset will be stillborn.

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