“We need to put problem solving on steroids if we want to own the future,” said Bruce Katz, Centennial Scholar at the Brookings Institution, speaking about The New Localism at the ICMA Annual Conference on October 24, 2017. He emphasized the importance of local leaders stepping up to address the most pressing challenges and asking these questions:

  • What is your community’s edge in the new economy?
  • Who is in charge?  Who are the leaders in our network we can tap?
  • Where’s your power?  Local governments have market and civic power which can be aggregated and converted into other resources. 

Katz spoke about the growing dysfunction of nation states and the need for a city-led century that builds on community networks. This new model emphasizes growth that is innovative, inclusive, and sustainable as well as new financial tools that can raise local revenues and promote economic growth. Pittsburgh, for example, has become a magnet for talent, an eco system of innovation. Building on the talent in its universities, the city has attracted high-tech industries, including General Electric, Google, and Uber. 

Another turnaround city he cited was Indianapolis that sought to become the Amateur Sports Capitol of the United States, building multiple facilities to support the vision. The city then shifted its attention to bio technology working through a regional decision-making group, the Central Indian Corporation Partnership. By making strategic investment decisions, Indiana has become the nation’s second largest exporter of life sciences products after California. 

To find new financing mechanisms, Katz looked to Europe. Copenhagen was facing 17.5 percent unemployment 30 years ago after losing its manufacturing base. In the 1990s, leaders from Denmark’s two major political parties came together and created a publicly-owned, professionally-managed corporation to manage the city’s assets. The goal was to develop idle city-owned land and create the stimulus needed to regenerate the city. All revenues from the redevelopment project have been used for such public goods as transit. 

Although governments have wielded great power in the 20th Century, Katz observed that local governments have market and civic power that can be aggregated and converted into other resources. He urged local governments to focus on social mobility and education. If we make an investment in education, we can help children in poverty today reach the middle class by middle age, he concluded.

You can access the Katz presentation and 15 more ICMA 2017 Annual Conference sessions through the ICMA Virtual Conference