Portland Tribune: Author: forget the feds, let cities move the country forward
Author: Steve Law, Portland Tribune
Posted: November 21, 2013

Read the original article from the Portland Tribune here.

Bruce Katz, the Brookings Institution vice president who lauds Portland’s sustainability business sector in a new book, appeared in town Wednesday to discuss the role — and obligation — of cities to fix the nation’s broken political and economic systems.

“The national government, like Elvis, has left the building, and they don’t seem to be coming back any time soon,” Katz told a luncheon audience at Portland State University, in an appearance sponsored by PSU-based First Stop Portland and the university’s Institute for Sustainable Solutions.

The nation has some “unfinished business” as it emerges from the Great Recession, Katz said: rebuilding jobs. One-third of the nation now is in poverty or near poverty, he said, “a quantum leap in one decade.”

With the federal government missing in action, Katz said, it’s the nation’s cities and metro areas that have the talent, community networks, economic clout and wherewithal to seize the initiative and rebuild the nation.

“We’re an urban country. These places are the engines of our economy,” he said. “This is the time for them to step up and do the right work to restructure their economies and put themselves on the right path.”

It was as recently as the late-1980s, he noted, when cities “were seen as the garbage cans of society.” Yet now they are centers of vibrancy on all levels.

Katz and Jennifer Bradley recently released “The Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros are Fixing our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy.” In the book, the authors cite Portland as one of their lead examples.

The fact that Portland is now exporting its sustainable-oriented services and products to the rest of the world is “remarkable,” Katz said. It’s something you’d expect in a Copenhagen or progressive German city, he said, but not an American city.

Katz said one thing cities can do is provide universal preschool, something studies show can have longterm benefits to an economy and lift people out of poverty. “Washington ain’t gonna do it,” he said. “States are not gonna do it.”

He also is a big promoter of vocational education, and assuring that high schools work to help youth transition into the work place.

Katz scoffed at cities that have rezoned their land to remove industrial-zoned properties. Portland, he noted, is a trading city, and a major industrial center, which should build on that strength.

In an interview after the luncheon, Katz scored the United States for having an “anti-manufacturing policy.”

In Germany, he said, they don’t call industry “the old economy.” Rather, the Germans have learned to reap the benefits of a more open world trade system, by investing in infrastructure, in training their work force and being purposeful in strategies to nurture manufacturing.

Katz said in research for his book, he actually studied the speeches of former Oregon Gov. Tom McCall, to understand the climate that produced the nation’s first urban growth boundary and other land-use planning advances.

Portlanders have a “set of communal values,” he found, and he says that’s partly ground in its citizens’ appreciation for its environment.