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Book Summary

Katz, B., & Bradley, J. (2013). The Metropolitan Revolution. How Cities and Metros Are Fixing Our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy. Washington D.C.: Brookings Institution Press.

“The Metropolitan Revolution” touts the increasing importance of cities and metropolitan areas in solving the challenges of the 21st Century. For the foreseeable future, metropolitan governance will be the driver for technology-based innovation and economic growth. Traditionally, the state and the national level were the most powerful actors in policy creation and governance. Katz and Bradley argue that the new important scales are innovation districts, the metropolitan scale, and the global scale in the form of a network of metropolitan areas. On each of those geographic levels, economic development and other essential public services should be delivered by governance networks through cooperation of different organizations, including local governments, social organizations, and private corporations. In addition, the key to future economic development is innovation and its application in technology-intensive industries.

Innovation districts are the areas within a city where most of that invention takes place. They are walkable urban, generally mixed-use, and dense areas which lead to people bumping into one another and creating innovation through these interactions, like the catalaxis of Webster and Wai-Chung Lai (2003). Those districts are becoming more important because they change the way knowledge is created in municipalities and private firms. Companies “practice open innovation and collaborate with networks of firms, universities, and supporting institutions” (116). Suburban corporate parks and research parks were the child of a time where new advancements needed to be protected and were created by a single entity. Present innovation, however became expensive and easier to transfer across organizations and national borders. This made it harder for innovations to be produced by one company. Rather, network processes through the cooperation of different organizations, including companies and universities, create it. For this creation and for more traditional service provision, Katz and Bradley apply a governance framework: “If you are a mayor, the head of an economic development corporation or business association, a university president, a business executive, the head of a philanthropy or civic institution or local union, or any other kind of metropolitan leader, there are five essential steps you must take to bring the metropolitan revolution to life in your region” (194).

Economic activity, and especially innovation, increasingly takes place in metropolitan areas. Katz and Bradley observed that political impetus in recent years primarily came from the local and metropolitan scale. The federal government seems caught up in internal fights, which make it seem unlikely for significant initiatives to arise at that level. Many states either have anti-urban histories or are in fiscal troubles themselves. Since local budgets are stretched, too, cities came to including non-profits and the private sector through governance schemes and to cooperation with their neighbors in a metropolitan context. The third relevant scale is the global scale, which through better communication technology and the integration of global economic markets became increasingly important. However, it is not a uniform increase of importance throughout the countries; rather it is a network of metropolitan areas which trade amongst one another, evoking the example of the medieval Hanseatic League.

The authors use four case studies to display their concepts. They use New York City as an example for the importance of innovation and of cooperative governance structures; Denver as an example to show how metropolitan inter-municipal cooperation plays out; Northeast Ohio to show how cooperative governance structures and metropolitan cooperation lead to innovation; and Houston to show how service provision through networks relies on the metropolitan scale, too.

For their New York City example, Katz and Bradley stress the importance of technology-based industries. Using the innovation district approach, universities play the role as anchor institutions. After the financial crash the City of New York saw the need to diversify its economic basis. Consultations amongst stake holders within the city showed that the technology-based community could be helped most through an educational institution focused on technology.

Denver had a history of competition throughout its metropolitan area. Issues too big for a single municipality to solve showed the need for cooperation. When the regional actors decided to build a new airport they had to bundle their resources, like one city’s land and another city’s capital. Katz and Bradley stretch the importance of consensus seeking and building trust between formerly competing municipalities.

The book continues with a case study of Northeast Ohio’s network approach to development. This chapter focuses on what happened after Cleveland’s revitalization in the early 1990s. During this time, there was a massive building boom in downtown Cleveland. Notable buildings like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame brought a material prestige to the city. However, these new buildings masked a greater problem in Cleveland, as the manufacturing jobs that had historically formed the basis for the city’s economy shut down. Policy experts in the area began searching for innovative solutions to the job drain; a coalition of networks was formed, spurred by the Fund for Economic Future, which provided $30M to promote development in Northeast Ohio as a region. The main focus of this development was on creating an innovation cluster in Northeast Ohio, involving local universities, government officials, nonprofit organizations, and community groups.

The final case, on Houston’s Neighborhood Centers, focuses on development at the municipal level. Rather than develop from the top-down, this chapter describes a community-generated approach. Neighborhood Centers, a nonprofit organization in Houston metro area, focused its growth on immigrant communities, which are often crime and poverty-ridden. Each center offers courses in the English language, civics, and the naturalization process. Neighborhood Centers deliver social services that Houston does not and works within the community to determine what citizens needs to help them comfortably assimilate into the Houston metro area. This case provides an example of how grassroots community organizing can provide change in struggling communities.

This book was written for politicians and other decision-makers as the end users; it provides a general roadmap for the future of cities and metropolitan regions in the United States. Katz’ and Bradley’s goal, as members of a nationwide think tank, is reaching a wide audience and changing policies on the issue of metropolitan governance. Its statements about the value of networks and importance of the cities in a global framework are widely reported in the literature (see Salomon, L. 2002 & Sassen, S. 1992). Further, the analysis that innovation districts can provide economic development opportunities is proven by places like the Silicon Value. On the other side there have been examples in various cities showing that inorganically grown clusters do not always succeed in creating growth. None of Katz’ and Bradley’s insights is particularly new in the literature. The book is evidently not focused on academics; instead, it pares down a few academic discussions into a general “how-to” of city governance. It ignores the dichotomy of regionalism and decentralization; there is no analysis of shared services. In order for cities to create an economy which is successful in the global network of metropolitan regions, like the attempted collaboration in Northeast Ohio, they will have to debate issues of control and power. There is always the danger insufficient coordination or increase in transaction costs when different entities come together in this way.

Similarly, the book ignores political factors inherent in its recommendations. There are important power dynamics the authors glance over in their analysis. Katz and Bradley indicate the State and Federal governments should get out of the way and allow cities to develop on their own. They even suggest “City Deals,” in which cities make bids for federal funds to control their own development agendas. They are able to control and utilize these funds using their discretion rather than necessarily adhering to strict federal guidelines for grant use. This has worked in some countries, such as England, but in the United States it is unlikely money will be distributed in this way. State and federal governments have very few excess funds and the trend seems to keep track of how every penny is spent. Simply handing over large sums to certain cities creates political ill-will; it may be difficult for governments to justify funds being handed over to one city for no particular program, while neighboring areas get fewer funds. This sort of system would be heavily contested by state and federal congresses, as representatives from non-urban areas or wealthier cities would protest.

The Metropolitan Revolution ignores a final important factor in urban development: the urban poor. Though it offers solutions, such as innovation districts that may provide trickle-down support for poverty alleviation, it generally ignores the negative effects of gentrification and the funneling of funds to innovation creation rather than social safety nets. The one exception the authors name is the Houston case, but this development is led by a nonprofit organization and has little to do with the municipal government. The authors suggest the federal government should focus on strengthening social programs while cities focus on other forms of development, but this does not seem likely in today’s politically charged- and deficit ridden- federal government. It seems ironic that Katz and Bradley doubt the federal government’s ability to create economic growth but then expect it to deliver good social services. Cities should consider how new innovation centers, regional development, and inclusion in the global sphere will affect their poor residents. It is unlikely that the urban poor will be able to work in the high-tech innovation centers recommended in this book. Instead, such a form of development may serve to exacerbate inequality in cities that are already highly inequitable.