Cities Leading, Filling Gaps Because Feds Are 'Absent'

Apr 26, 2016

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The world is reinventing itself from the bottom up according Bruce Katz. The Centennial Scholar at the Brookings Institution and author argues cities are the center of problem solving and innovation, where place rules over party, collaboration over conflict and evidence over dogma.

Katz was the speaker at the McLean County Regional Planning Commission's 11th Annual Community Information Forum  this morning at the Marriott in Uptown Normal.

He said the Brookings Institution began observing the power shift to cities about a decade ago...and began looking closely at these so called "innovation districts" in cities to see how principles could be applied to other municipalities.

"For a long time if you wanted to find an innovative economy and you were sitting in a downtown, you'd get in your car and drive 15 or 20 miles to a science park and there you would see a bunch of corporate facilities all separate, all isolated with innovation happening in secret ways within the walls the company," said Katz "What's happening now is that the spatial geography of innovation is shifting."

During Sound Ideas, Katz told WGLT's Mike McCurdy that large companies to small start ups want to be in the shadow of universities and medical districts because information sharing and networking is open, not secretive.

"The spatial geography of innovation, what we call innovations districts, is really this mashup of companies entrepreneurs, investors, researchers, faculty students all within the cores of cities and metropolitan areas, all in a vibrant urban environment," said Katz.

Bruce Katz, Centennial Scholar with the Brookings Institution.
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To create an urban environment conducive to innovation districts, Katz said cities must consider "radical mixed land use policies" and said it's absolutely fundamental "to go back to the future" and build walkable, bikeable, transit friendly communities.

"Design and build your places so that they're vibrant and vital and they're almost supporting 'the collisions between people" so you have that seamless exchange of ideas and innovations almost occur in a routine kind of way," said Katz. "We used to know how to build quality places. Go back to the 19-teens or the 1920s. That's where you had traditional neighborhood designs, the streetcar."

Katz, author of The Metropolitan Revolution said cities have to innovate and take the lead on economic development, income inequality, and even climate change because the federal and often state government is absent.

"The national government is on a frolic and detour. Washington is mired in partisan rancor and frankly Springfield is the same," said Katz. "The higher levels of government are missing in action." Local governments have to step and solve problems and fill the vacuum according to Katz.

Additionally, Katz said over the next deade, because of the rising elderly population the federal government will spend an additional $1.5 trillion on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, crowding out the ability of the federal government from making future investments in cities.

"It's a structural shift in who does what in this country," said Katz.