By Paolo von Schirach
January 11, 2011
WASHINGTON – The bad news for America is that Washington is both dysfunctional and paralysed these days. Intense political animosities combined with divided government guarantee stalemate. The people’s business will not be done in the Nation’s capital. We shall have to wait until the November elections to see if, depending on who is president and who controls both branches of the legislative power, there will be a chance to have a modicum of political cohesion that will allow any policy agenda to advance. Conversely, if we get divided government once again, then we can expect more of the same.
American Metro Areas as centers of excellence
But the good news is that, this sorry national government mess notwithstanding, there is still interesting policy innovation in America. But it is taking place mostly outside of Washington’s reach, and it is happening in spite of federal government’s inaction. Bruce Katz, Vice President of the Brookings Institution in Washington DC and founding director of the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program tells this interesting story in a thought provoking, insightful op-ed piece in The Financial Times, (God bless the United City States of America!, January 11, 2012).
The basic fact is that American Metro Areas have turned into laboratories of innovation, attracting new players, such as branches of technology universities and anchor investors, while establishment Metro-to-Metro relationships with counterparts around the world through which, leveraging their strengths, American Metros can offer a range of distinctive products and services refined in their respective regions through deliberate investment programs.
Cities as catalyst of growth
The most notable shift these days is that the new American Metro Area economic model is to attract strategic investors and innovators –be it advanced manufacturing in Cleveland or clean technologies in Seattle– as opposed to a model of cities as mostly entertainment and consumption outlets. This way a metro area, be it New York, Minneapolis or Los Angeles, is not just a place to have fun and consume wealth, but it becomes a venue for productive investments that in turn attract enterprise and clever people who want to be part of a buoyant growth environment.
As Katz puts it, Metro Areas build on their existing strengths to attract new investments. It is a locally driven bottom up approach. And smart immigrants play a critical role. While they build their enterprises in American Metros, they help them develop strategic ties with their places of origin in other countries. And so a web of economic, trade and cultural connections is created and nurtured.
Global Metro-to-Metro exchanges
All this leads to a growing international Metro-to-Metro trade, outside the normal channels created and managed by central governments. In fact, large cities establish their representative offices in other cities around the world that function as informal embassies and as trade missions. As Katz writes, this global network may soon look like a modern day “Hansa League”, the association among German Baltic coastal cities that fueled very profitable trade relations that benefited all members.
Metros leading an American renaissance?
This way innovative American Metros can be a significant part of a world network of Metro Areas involved in a variety of mutually advantageous exchanges. Despite the recession and the destruction of wealth that followed it, US revitalized cities can lead an American renaissance.