March 31, 2015 - From the March, 2015 issue

An Agenda for Nation’s Urban Metropolises: Hillary Clinton, et. al.

The Center for American Progress and the AFSCME presented a March panel on the potential of cities and the problems they face. TPR offers an edited transcript featuring: former Sec. of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, AFSCME President Lee Saunders, CAP President Neera Tanden, Sec. of HUD Julián Castro, Silver Lake Co-Founder Glenn Hutchins, YPI Executive Director Dixon Slingerland, Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program VP and Founding Director Bruce Katz, and National Council of La Raza Janet Murguía.


Hillary Rodham Clinton

“When you put that innovative economy on steroids, one innovative job equals five others. It can expand out into the neighborhoods if we’re smart about skills and education.” -Bruce Katz

Neera Tanden: America’s cities are the engines of our economy, generating opportunity and prosperity not only for the people who live in them, but for suburban, rural, and tribal areas, as well.

Our nation’s top 100 metro areas alone account for at least 75 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. Today, more and more middle-class families want to live in cities. The more we make that possible, the more our cities and our country will grow. Yet urban areas face ongoing challenges: the shortage of affordable housing, struggling schools, and concentrated poverty. 

That’s why we’re here today: to bring together leaders from across sectors to address those challenges with new ideas.

Lee Saunders: There is a tragedy within our urban centers: the lack of good-paying jobs. We’ve got to talk about it, not only with labor, but with business, academics, and elected officials. 

You know about the Detroits of the world. You’ve heard about Atlantic City. You’ve heard that some cities are having a comeback. But those specific comebacks are in smaller areas of a particular city. When you go outside these areas, you see a lot of poverty; joblessness; and problems with public education and infrastructure. 

We should coordinate our activities between the federal, state, and local level to provide quality jobs in these urban areas. 

Neera Tanden: Secretary Clinton, why should the country care about cities’ success or failure?

Hillary Clinton: How do we make sure our cities are good places for people to live and work? That has become even more important as we have watched how cities drive economic prosperity. 

Jobs used to be moving out of cities into suburbs and rural areas. That trend is reversing. People want to live in cities. Cities have always been the engines of prosperity, but now, unless we pay attention and come up with some very creative and effective solutions based on our past practices, we will not see our cities doing what cities do best. 

A lot of our cities truly are divided. Inequality there has only gotten worse. They have some of the most dynamic, well-educated, affluent people in the world, as well as people who are trapped in generational poverty and whose skills are not keeping up with what the jobs of today and tomorrow demand. 

I’m looking not just at what can be done by working across governmental lines, but also at what we can do in partnership with the public and private sector. 

For a long time, we have shifted resources to follow people. That meant that we shifted resources out of cities. It made sense because utilities and other infrastructure had to be put into place in suburban areas and even further out. 

I remember conversations as a senator with people who wanted to bring jobs to Upstate New York. They would move out into what they called “green areas” or “clean areas,” even though the utilities and other infrastructure was actually in the old cities. 

How do we repair and update our infrastructure? In a lot of the older cities we have terrible problems with water and sewer systems—to say nothing of not keeping up with the electric grid or broadband access, the infrastructure of the future. 

I hope to see a mapping of our cities and an understanding that, when it comes to the physical infrastructure, we have to take care of what we already have, upgrade it, and modernize it. We have to really invest. And then we have to throw it into the future.

The second big issue is human infrastructure—the most important part of any city and of our country. What do we do to better equip our people to take jobs, and how do we keep middle-class families in cities where they want to stay? They don’t want to leave, but they’re being priced out. 

I’m very much a supporter of what Mayor de Blasio did: trying to create pre-K access for every young child in New York, regardless of who that child is and who its parents are. But we also have to do more on affordable housing so that middle-class, working families can actually stay in cities.

Finally, we know a lot about social mobility. One of the biggest issues we face is income inequality combined with wage stagnation. They go hand-in-hand. We don’t have enough good jobs, we don’t have people being placed into those jobs, and we don’t have enough social mobility. 

Some really interesting work being done by Professor Raj Chetty and his colleagues at Harvard wakes us up to what we’re facing. They have looked at the indicators of social mobility: Why do some communities have more ladders for opportunity than other communities? How do we promote success and upward mobility? 

It’s not only about average income, as important as that is. You can look at cities that, on average, have similar affluence. People are trapped and not able to move up in one, but are moving up in another. 

For example, Seattle and Atlanta have similar affluence but markedly different rates of economic mobility. It’s not about race: white and black citizens of Atlanta both have low upward mobility. Places where the fabric of community is strong, with a vibrant middle-class; places that are more integrated across class; places with good schools, unions, religious organizations, and civic organizations help people feel rooted and part of a community, which plays into upward mobility. 

We need to think hard about what we’re going to do now that people are moving back into, and staying in, cities. How are we going to make sure that our cities are not just places of economic prosperity and job creation “on average”—but do it in a way that lifts everybody up, dealing with the overriding issues of inequality and lack of mobility?

Neera Tanden: Bruce, in the ’90s we saw articles about how cities were dying. Now they’re seen as engines of growth. What are the strategies you’ve seen that succeed in making cities more hospitable to middle-class families who want to live there?

Bruce Katz: The Secretary has it right. This is a very different conversation than 10 years ago, because cities have enormous demographic and market wind behind their backs. 

Millenials want communities where they can live, work, and play. Companies are moving to an open-innovation model. They’re not staying in their silos, inventing only within the four walls of the company. They’re looking to interact with researchers and others. That revalues proximity, density, and authenticity: cities.

Four strategies are playing out today. 

First, innovation. In a city, companies are clustered and continuously innovate on products and services. Advanced research institutions matter; medical campuses; and the companies that cluster around them. STEM skills—science, technology, engineering, and math—matter not just for people with four-year degrees, but for people coming out of high schools, community colleges, and business training efforts.

Second, infrastructure—not just roads, transit, and bridges, but also moving energy and ideas. Ports, airports, and logistics matter, as cities are trading entities. 

Last, quality of place matters more today than it has in the past 50 years: authenticity, amenities, vibrancy, and vitality. That’s critical to the innovative process, which makes cities hum, metros hum, and the economy hum. 

This recipe has worked in the past. Around the country, we’re seeing cities—not just governments, but private, civic, union, community, and philanthropy entities—stepping up. Louisville and Lexington are making manufacturing innovation a priority. Charlotte and Chicago are changing their community colleges to equip workers with the technical skills they need. Denver and LA are using local resources to build out state-of-the-art transit. At the heart of Detroit and Buffalo, you’ll see cities coming back from the cores. It’s still a very small landmass, but when you put that innovative economy on steroids, one innovative job equals five others. It can expand out into the neighborhoods if we’re smart about skills and education. 

There’s a road map for shared prosperity. It’s about public-private collaboration. This will fundamentally change what national government does. In some cases, national government does need to lead. A lot of this advanced research is coming out of the national government. No one else does the same work on basic science or even applied research. 

But on skills, on infrastructure, on quality place, the national government needs to be a better partner in the service of city priorities and city vision. 

Neera Tanden: Glenn, you’ve invested in companies in a range of cities. What cities are working and what cities are not working to attract business?

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Glenn Hutchins: Over the last 30 years, I’ve had the opportunity to help build world-class businesses in both Pittsburgh and Detroit. I saw one city go through a renaissance and the other collapse in bankruptcy. Both were vulnerable to declining basic American industries and had basically the same set of problems. 

In the ’80s, Pittsburgh lost 75 percent of its basic metals employment, but over the next 30 years, built a world-class city. I saw collaboration between all parties—business, labor, government, universities, hospitals, philanthropies, etc. They built a tech hub based on robotics and computer science around Carnegie Mellon. They built a health-care hub based upon the University of Pittsburgh. The philanthropies, derived from steel fortunes, invested in education institutions, cultural institutions, historical preservation projects, and made the city an interesting place to live. Government, together with private players, invested in brown-field redevelopment projects. It also invested in technology to bring companies in. Students who came to the universities got good jobs and affordable housing in-state, and created a resurgence in the economy. By 2009—when the automobile industry in the US was in bankruptcy—Pittsburgh was voted by the Economist Intelligence Unit as the most livable city in the United States. 

Detroit had the very same set of challenges—decline of a major industry, loss of high-value taxpayers and businesses, collapse of public revenues, a massive increase in city obligations, pensions, healthcare, as a result of the declining tax-base—but responded based upon a culture of contention rather than one of collaboration. I think it came out of the historical relationship between the largest industry in the community and its labor base, but it seemed pervasive across the community. I observed a zero-sum exercise in a dispute over dwindling resources. The capital, defined very broadly (financial, human, intellectual) all migrated away from the city—notably to Ann Arbor. 

The lesson: you can have a collaborative approach and a forward-thinking point of view, or you can find yourself mired in old disputes that you’re re-litigating in a culture of contention. Post-bankruptcy, Detroit’s leaders understand that lesson finally.

Businesspeople thrive in cultures of collaboration. We can succeed in cultures of contention, but it’s a lot easier to succeed elsewhere. 

Neera Tanden: Dixon, a number of urban areas are facing issues of inferior housing, poor health, and failing schools. Research shows that a person’s zip code has more to do with their life expectancy than their genetic code. The Promise Zones are one of the initiatives taking that into account. How does it help tackle these challenges?

Dixon Slingerland: There are a host of collective impact initiatives going on in urban communities across the country—a modern-day War on Poverty. The federal government is playing a major role in this work. 

We’re thrilled in Los Angeles to be at the forefront of these efforts to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty through a place-based approach by targeting specific geographies—in our case, a community with about 200,00 residents—and saturating that community with resources. 

Our nonprofit, the Youth Policy Institute, happens to be the only agency in the country that’s been awarded all four of the White House Signature Initiatives around neighborhood revitalization: the Los Angeles Promise Zone in partnership with the city; the Promise Neighborhood, modeled on the Harlem Children Zone; Choice Neighborhoods, out of HUD; and the Byrne Initiative out of the Department of Justice. 

I’m pleased to announce that in the last two years, $100 million in new, targeted federal investment has come into the Los Angeles Promise Zone from seven different federal agencies. These aren’t big-budget capital projects or loans—this is $100 million in programmatic funding for a specific community. 

We’re learning on the ground that there’s no silver bullet for these urban challenges. You have to do everything and do it well. We focus on the continuum from cradle to college and career, with high-quality schools, early education, and wraparound services for youth and families—targeting disconnected youth who’ve dropped out of school and don’t have employment. 

All of that has to be part of a cohesive strategy that’s results-driven. We have a common data system that all our partners within the community use so we can track these outcomes over time. 

You’ve got to have everybody at the table. In LA, we’re lucky—the Annenberg Foundation has put together “LA n Sync” to bring local philanthropy into alignment with public sector initiatives. 

Leadership is critical. We have a fantastic mayor in LA, Eric Garcetti, who’s a big believer in this approach. He’s innovating and restructuring at the city-government level. None of this would have happened if the Obama administration hadn’t taken on what I think is a Herculean challenge, of getting federal agencies to break down silos and better support place-based work in communities like LA. It’s the best-kept secret of the last six years in DC.

Neera Tanden: Janet, we’ve seen Latino entrepreneurship take off. How do we harness that energy as part of an economic development agenda for the future?

Janet Murguía: Latinos are entrepreneurial and punching above our weight when it comes to small business. There are more than 3 million Hispanic-owned businesses in this country, generating more than a trillion dollars. One of every five new entrepreneurs is Latino. Hispanic women-owned businesses are leading the way. Latinas are the fastest-growing segment of the small business-owner community. 

Many times, they’re doing it out of sheer grit and will. There’s still not enough support and services to help keep these small businesses sustainable. 

Community-based organizations are doing so much to pitch in and collaborate with community colleges, businesses, and Chambers. For us, it’s essential that community-based organizations help give communities skills and support, so that they can have access to capital. 

Oftentimes immigrants need small business assistance and help learning about access to capital—but sometimes they just need language skills to help them transition. 

One reason that these folks turn to the small-business sector is because the labor market is still not an even landscape. I would hope that we look at adequate ways to support our workforce development systems to make sure the urban progress we make is inclusive of all of our communities. 

Bruce Katz: There’s a great phrase by Governor Hickenlooper: collaborate to compete. If there’s any place more collaborative than any other metropolis in the United States, it’s Denver. They were flat on their back in the early ’80s. The suburbs invested in the downtown because they knew they needed a vibrant core. Fast-forward 25 years and they’re building 122 miles of light-rail transit with primarily local resources. 

Going forward, we need to stoke the fires—supercharging innovation economies—because the multiplier effect is off the charts for people living in those neighborhoods. 

Neera Tanden: Mr. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, what are you working on at the federal level to support these local efforts?

Julián Castro: All of these things are connected in terms of policy—infrastructure, health, economic development, and housing. 

We’re bringing those issues together: investing in brainpower and skills; ensuring that there’s good-quality affordable housing; and making sure that cities are safe. 

We’re celebrating 50 years at HUD. Some of the things we’re most proud of are our place-based initiatives—Choice Neighborhoods that built on the work of Hope VI from 20 years ago; Promise Zones; and Promise Neighborhoods.

We need to do more of that in the years to come to lift up the urban cores of communities that have been struggling.

Today those top 100 metros make up 75 percent of our national GDP. As the United States finds itself in an unprecedented competition for jobs and investment, with nations rising around the world, we need more than ever for cities to excel. We can do that if we collaborate and think of policy in a way that blends all of those areas.

Hillary Clinton: It’s really nice to get back into an evidence-based discussion about what works and what doesn’t work!

We have cities that are working well because they have been reinventing themselves in a collaborative, inclusive manner. They still have work to do, but they at least are demonstrating approaches that we can learn from and try to apply. Other cities are having difficulty overcoming the contentiousness, where it’s more of a political battlefield than a policy discussion. 

We need more cities going to state capitals and coming to Washington saying, “We need to abolish the silos; we need your help in creating the conditions for coordination and collaboration; and we need to have your help in convening.”

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© 2017 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.