By Maria Saporta
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on Friday, March 22, 2013
The economic and political power of cities and metropolitan areas continues to grow as more and more people gravitate to urban areas — both in the United States and around the world.
Harnessing and leveraging cities’ economic potential holds the key to our ability to compete and thrive. And the world’s top cities, such as Atlanta, must find what makes them unique and distinct as they build their own regional economies.
For the first time in the history of mankind, more than half of the world’s population is living in cities — a trend that will only continue.
That is why JP Morgan Chase and the Brookings Institution have teamed up to launch the five-year, $10 million Global Cities Initiative, which is now in its second year.
On March 19 and 20, the Global Cities Initiative focused on Atlanta — exploring the untapped business and trade opportunities that can spark an economic resurgence in the region. It is one of five cities on this year’s agenda along with Houston, Dallas, Denver and Mexico City.
Chairing the Global Cities Initiative is former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, who serves as a senior advisor to JP Morgan and is also a member of the Coca-Cola Co.’s board.
The director of the Global Cities Initiative is Bruce Katz, vice president and founding director of the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program.
Daley and Katz sat down for an exclusive interview before the Atlanta conference to talk about the initiative as well as the economic and demographic trends that are challenging traditional views of business and government.
“Cities make countries rich, and cities ultimately will alleviate poverty in the world,” Katz said. “The United States needs to regard urbanization as a market opportunity.”
Both Katz and Daley said the focus has been upside-down, with people turning to the federal government for answers. Daley described cities as “pilot programs” for efforts on a larger scale.
“Why cities and metro areas are so powerful is not because they are governments; it’s because they are networks,” Katz said.
Daley said that in Chicago, the city took upon itself building alliances with the business community, the nonprofit sector and the greater Chicago region so it would have a united front when it approached the state and federal governments.
“Chicago is an interior city. Chicago shouldn’t be a global city,” Daley said. But Chicago has learned a lesson that other U.S. cities should follow — “we better look outside because the rest of the world is looking outside.”
As Daley described it, the world is witnessing the “emergence of city-states” — and communities that can work as a unified region will stand a better chance to compete on a global scale.
“Cities are the economic and political power base,” Daley said. “Leadership is coming from cities and metro areas. When you bring that energy together, it makes for a real huge base.”
And while he didn’t mention Georgia by name, Daley did offer a particularly poignant observation.
“The states that don’t turn their backs to their metro areas are the states that are going to succeed,” Daley said, adding that the state of Texas has been especially supportive of its metro areas.
Katz said “the recession was a wake-up call” not just for the Atlanta region but for the nation as a whole.
“You have the wrong economic model that focused on sprawling out,” Katz said. “You are beginning to rediscover the fundamentals. You need to make things.”
A big opportunity for Atlanta is making products for a clean economy.
“Whichever country is able to crack the code on low-carbon energy is going to capture economic growth,” Katz said, adding that Copenhagen is on track to become the first major city in the world to be zero-carbon by 2025.
For Daley, a key to Atlanta’s future is its global connections.
“When you talk about Atlanta, part of it is global — the airport,” he said. “How important the airport has been to the history of Atlanta. That is the outreach to the world.”
And although Atlanta is “open for business,” Katz said there is much more room for growth.
“Atlanta is a switching point. It is a critical point to the world,” Katz said. “But it should move from a port to a production point. What’s your distinctive niche post-recession? That in the end is the platform of your economy.”
When asked what they hope will be the initiative’s long-term impact, Katz was quick to answer.
“We are building an action component to this,” he said. “We don’t want to do reports that just sit on shelves. We basically have built an academy at Brookings for cities to build their own export and trade strategies.”