A mayor without a passport isn’t doing his job, according to the author of a new book that claims mayors and cities are driving economic recovery around the country and the world. With gridlock in Congress and residents looking for work, cities are supporting innovation and job creation and even forging their own trade agreements with international counterparts. Kojo explores the role of cities and metro areas in the 21st century economy.


  • Bruce Katz Vice President and Director, Metropolitan Policy Program; Co-author, "The Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros are Fixing our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy" (Brookings, 2013)
  • Sommer Mathis Editor, The Atlantic Cities
  • Anthony Williams Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director, Federal City Council; Former Mayor, District of Columbia (1999- 2007)


  • 12:06:40

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. A mayor without passport is not doing his or her jobs, so says the author of a new book that claims cities in metropolitan areas not the federal government are driving the 21st century economy. With gridlock in Congress and a new focus on local innovation, cities and mayors are increasingly at the center of the economic recovery.

  • 12:07:17

    MR. KOJO NNAMDISome are even creating direct bonds with counterparts around the globe. So what does that mean for the Washington region? We've always had the federal workforce to power our local economy. Is it time to grow a stronger private sector and act more like an international metropolis? Joining me to look at the roles cities in metro areas are playing in the economy is Bruce Katz.

  • 12:07:40

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIHe is vice president and director of the Metropolitan Policy Program. He's co-author of the book "The Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros are Fixing our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy." Bruce Katz, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:07:55

    MR. BRUCE KATZWell, thanks for having me.

  • 12:07:57

    NNAMDIAlso in studio is Sommer Mathis. She is the editor of The Atlantic Cities, former editor of dcis.com. Sommer Mathis, good to see you again.

  • 12:08:06

    MS. SOMMER MATHISGood to see you, Kojo.

  • 12:08:07

    NNAMDIYou too can join the conversation, call us at 800-433-8850. What city do you think is a global economic player in its own right? 800-433-8850. Bruce, let's start with demographics. How many people live in cities or metropolitan areas in the United States, and who are they?

  • 12:08:29

    KATZSo the top 100 metropolitan areas, as you said at the beginning, it's 1/10th of our land mass. It houses two-thirds of our population, and it's three-quarters of our gross domestic product. What's very interesting about the demographics, it houses 85 percent of our foreign-born population. And what's powerful about cities, they face supersize economic challenges.

  • 12:08:53

    KATZThey have a federal government that is essentially absent, but networks of leaders in these places, fueled by their demographic dynamism and their economic concentration are stepping up and doing the hard work to grow jobs and make their economies more prosperous. They are investing in infrastructure.

  • 12:09:12

    KATZThey are making innovation a priority, manufacturing a priority, and they're equipping workers with the skills they need and linking small businesses to global markets abroad. Change is happening in places where people live partly because of the absence of our national government, but frankly because these places are just so powerful economically and demographically.

  • 12:09:36

    NNAMDIYou raised several issues. I'll start with the 85 percent of foreign-born people...

  • 12:09:41

    KATZThat's correct.

  • 12:09:41

    NNAMDI...live in metropolitan areas. What does that have to do with all of this?

  • 12:09:46

    KATZWell, these are the top 100 metropolitan areas, and so they are magnets for people, skilled workers, innovative companies, entrepreneurs. People want to come to places where there is opportunity, and this is where there's opportunity in the United States because the United States is really not one unified economy. What we really are, are networks of metropolitan economies. And people within our country and people outside our country are obviously looking for places of opportunity where they can raise a family, get a decent job.

  • 12:10:20

    NNAMDIDo those people also, I guess, facilitate connections with other countries?

  • 12:10:25

    KATZVery much so. The United States is demographically blessed because we're a growing country, and we're a diversifying country. We're the world in a ZIP code, as we like to say at Brookings. And when you have people come here from other parts of the world, whether it's Asia, whether it's Latin America, what that does immediately is create a cultural affinity with these rising nations outside of our country, and it enables you over time to make the family connections, the cultural connections, the institutional connections on which trade and commerce and exchange are based.

  • 12:11:02

    NNAMDIHow did the recession spark what you call the metropolitan revolution, the emergence of cities in metro areas as the key drivers of the American economy?

  • 12:11:10

    KATZI think what happened with this recession was a tremendous wakeup call to cities in metropolitan areas around the United States. They really came to the conclusion, you know, we've got the wrong growth model here. For two decades, we've been building an economy based on consumption and debt. We forgot the fundamentals. We forgot that what really matters to an economy is what you make, what kind of services do you provide and what do you trade with other metros in the United States and abroad and who do you trade with.

  • 12:11:43

    KATZYou know, the productive and the innovative economy is what drives everything else. So we spend a good amount of time in the United States, particularly in many cities, building sport stadiums, extending convention centers. Well, how many -- how much beer and hotdog can you buy? Essentially, you want to be a productive and an innovative globally engaged metropolis.

  • 12:12:04

    NNAMDITo what extent is gridlock in Congress fueling the rise of mayors in metropolitan areas around the country?

  • 12:12:11

    KATZWell, I think cities in metropolitan areas got the signal. They're on their own. Washington is mired in partisan gridlock and ideological polarization. It is not riding to the rescue anytime soon. But I think what it's primarily done is help cities in metropolitan areas and the networks of leaders. It's not just elected officials. It's corporate, civic, university, philanthropic, labor. It reminded them, you know, we have power here.

  • 12:12:40

    KATZWe're powerful by ourselves. We're even more powerful when we come together. So I think, you know, to some extent, the gridlock in Washington may have accelerated, may have catalyzed some of the innovation happening around the country. But this is a structural shift in the United States. Power is devolving to the places that our economic engines and our centers of trade.

  • 12:13:00

    NNAMDIBruce Katz, he's vice president and director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings. He's co-author of "The Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros are Fixing our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy." He joins in studio, along with Sommer Mathis. She is editor of The Atlantic Cities, former editor of DCist.

  • 12:13:18

    NNAMDIYou can call us at 800-433-8850. Which mayor do you think does the best job of promoting economic prosperity for his or her city? Sommer, one area in which cities seem to be taking the initiative is job creation. How are Louisville, Ky., and San Antonio, Texas, examples of metro areas boosting their economies by helping companies to train and to hire workers?

  • 12:13:43

    MATHISWell, this is something Bruce knows a lot about as well, but, you know, absolutely what we're seeing here is -- and this has been going on for some time in places like Louisville for sure. You know, they've had an incredibly innovative program since -- what -- the late '90s in place with the partner -- public private partnership with UPS, which is based in the Louisville area.

  • 12:14:05

    MATHISAnd they created something called the Metropolitan College, which is actually a partnership that, you know, UPS was having trouble finding workers that they were having incredible high turnover and finding the right kind of workers.

  • 12:14:20

    MATHISAnd that was a partnership not just with the city of Louisville but with the whole state of Kentucky, really, that allowed UPS to help fund job training, meaningful job training that brought them workers and helped fix their turnover problem by having, you know, being able to hire people who were well qualified for the jobs that they were trying to fill.

  • 12:14:45

    MATHISAnd that's very much looking at, you know, this concept is, you know, looking at, OK, we need workers here, where we are right now. It's about the place where you are. And so those kinds of connections and creativity in creating, you know, real job training that leads to actual jobs is, I think, a lot of the kinds of things we're just talking about.

  • 12:15:06

    NNAMDIAnd what's going on in San Antonio?

  • 12:15:08

    MATHISWell, San Antonio had -- the mayor of San Antonio recently re-elected, his big push right now is job training, and San Antonio has got kind of a unique problem that their population is -- they're young. It's quite different, I would say, than a lot of other metro areas that are really struggling with, you know, aging populations and not necessarily having the workforce to replace those baby boomers who are about to retire.

  • 12:15:36

    MATHISSo -- but in San Antonio, what you've got is a kind of not particularly well educated and much younger population, so the mayor of San Antonio is looking to expand programs that they've got some kind of small-scale versions there now. But, you know, it's realizing that not everyone is going to go to a four-year liberal arts college that there's just a crucial need for high schools that provide real, you know, practical job training.

  • 12:16:10

    NNAMDIBruce, you've said metro areas are increasingly conducting their own international trade, harkening back to the days of the Silk Road and network of trading cities across Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Northern Africa. Talk about how Portland, Ore., is selling sustainability solutions to other countries around the world.

  • 12:16:29

    KATZWell, I think Portland, Ore., has understood what many other metros in the United States understand is that the foundation of cities is trade. This is what Jane Jacobs wrote essentially 50 years ago because trade makes you wealthy. Trade makes your companies competitive. Trade compels your workers to be more skilled. Ninety-five percent of the consumers in the world today live outside the United States.

  • 12:16:55

    KATZThe United States for a long time looked internal for its growth. It didn't feel the need to engage, particularly our small companies, our medium-sized comps, outside the U.S. because we're a growing country. We're growing 30 million people a year. Portland, however, basically said, you know, we need to take the president's admonition, the challenge to double exports seriously and look within and say, how do we do that? Now, what they have in Portland is obviously Intel and Tektronix and computer and electronics.

  • 12:17:26

    KATZBut what they also have is this several decade-long commitment to sustainable growth and sustainable development. So many companies have emerged in Portland over the last 30 years that makes sustainable products, right? But also provide sustainable services. They helped developers plan developments in such a way that they have less impact on the environment. They're more accessible by transit.

  • 12:17:52

    KATZWell, guess what? The Chinese cities, the Indian cities, the Brazilian cities, they need this expertise and this experience, and they're willing to pay for it. So the Portland model is we build green cities. We build it at home, and then we export that expertise abroad.

  • 12:18:09

    NNAMDIOnto the telephones. Here is John in Rockville, Md. John, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:18:15

    JOHNYeah. So it is my understanding that cities and states cannot enter into treaties or commerce with a foreign power that that is forbidden by Article 1 Section 10 of the Constitution. Did I miss something here?

  • 12:18:35

    NNAMDIBruce Katz?

  • 12:18:37

    KATZWe're not talking about free trade agreements. I mean obviously that's something with the national government it has to do.

  • 12:18:41

    MATHISIt's more like relationships.

  • 12:18:43

    KATZYeah. We're talking about structured relationships, trade missions, selling our exports abroad, attracting foreign investment here. That's what these cities and metropolitan areas are doing to power their economy and create jobs.

  • 12:18:55

    MATHISAll right. Here's what's interesting to me about this. I'm not convinced that voters are really OK or sort of acclimated to the idea that that mayors ought to be traveling abroad and establishing relationships with other cities, with other countries. I mean you think about recent history here in D.C., in the District, you know? When...

  • 12:19:16

    NNAMDIOh, hopefully, we'll be having former Mayor Anthony Williams...

  • 12:19:19

    NNAMDI...later in the broadcast. He took a lot of heat for this.

  • 12:19:20

    MATHISBut it's not just Anthony Williams, you know?

  • 12:19:23

    NNAMDIAdrian Fenty.

  • 12:19:23

    MATHISAdrian Fenty, absolutely, you know, also took heat for spending tax dollars to travel abroad...

  • 12:19:29

    NNAMDIGoing to Dubai.

  • 12:19:29

    MATHIS...and go to Dubai and, you know? So if this is what mayors ought to be doing if they're irresponsible not to do it, do we need to reeducate voters about this?

  • 12:19:41

    KATZWell, Sommer, I think you're actually right. I mean, when we see many mayors go abroad, the local media and many civic -- criticize them. Why are you...

  • 12:19:51

    NNAMDIWhere is the mayor?

  • 12:19:52

    KATZYeah. Where is the mayor?

  • 12:19:52


  • 12:19:52

    KATZWhere is the mayor? But the proof is in the pudding. We have a 10.1 million jobs deficit in this country to make up the jobs we lost during the downturn and keep pace with population growth. We have 107 million people in this country, a third of our country, living in poverty or near poverty. We need to grow more jobs, and we need to grow better jobs.

  • 12:20:15

    KATZAnd as the world urbanizes and we see the rise of China, India and Brazil, these are markets for our goods and services. And if we're not going to provide them, the Germans will provide them. The Japanese will provide them. So I get this sort of reaction to this. But frankly, cities and metros are the centers of trade and investment and they need to grow their responsibility and their orientation globally.

  • 12:20:41

    NNAMDIJohn, thank you very much for your call. Bernard, Arthur, Paul, stay on the line. We will get to your calls. If you'd like to join the conversation, you can call us at 800-433-8850. Send email to kojo@wamu.org, or you can send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Which international cities do you think would be good economic partners for the Washington region? You can also go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:22:59

    NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on what one of our guests calls "The Metropolitan Revolution." He is Bruce Katz, vice president and director of the Metro Policy Program at Brookings Institution and co-author of the book "The Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros are Fixing our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy." Also with us is Sommer Mathis. She is editor of The Atlantic Cities and former editor of DCist. I'd like to go directly to the phones where you have, in a way, a challenge from Bernard in Washington, D.C. Bernard, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:23:31

    BERNARDYes. Hi. I think I'm missing the point here on the novelty of this metropolitan-centered economic paradigm. How is this idea different from American cities in the past, such as Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York, Boston in the 19th century? Back then, they were all economic powerhouses as well. I mean, and people were concentrated in cities, and I need to check on this. But I'm sure most foreign-born people were located in cites as well.

  • 12:24:08

    NNAMDIWhat's the difference now, Bruce Katz?

  • 12:24:10

    KATZWell, I think the difference right now is two things, really. One is the extent to which these top 100 metropolitan areas are powering our economy because there's a concentration effect that's happening here and elsewhere around the world. Again, they're two-thirds of the population, three quarters of the GDP. But on everything that matters to an economy, skilled workers, infrastructure, patents, innovation, advance industry, they're 75, 80, 85, 90, even 95 percent of the national share.

  • 12:24:39

    KATZThere really isn't an American economy. It's a network of metro economies. The second thing is the role and responsibility of different levels. In the 19th century, as the caller basically implies, these cities built themselves. There really wasn't a national government that time that reigned down resources around infrastructure and housing and so forth. That changed in the 20th century.

  • 12:25:04

    KATZIn some ways, we're going back in time where cities and metropolitan areas are more responsible for larger areas of domestic policy because the federal government is scaling back, is withdrawing and not keeping pace with the dynamic growth of this country. So the caller is actually right in terms of this historic foundation that we can now build on.

  • 12:25:30

    MATHISWell, in some ways...

  • 12:25:31


  • 12:25:31

    MATHIS...the deck is actually stacked against cities. You know, the fact that there's creativity and innovation happening in terms of growing our economy is almost in spite of themselves. You know, one of the things you talk about in your book, which, you know, we have absolutely seen a lot and the stories we cover on The Atlantic Cities is, you know, the federal and state funding structures are not particularly useful for metro areas.

  • 12:25:59

    MATHISYou know, most state legislators are kind of locked in this, you know, the rural areas where they're much more sparsely populated have a kind of disproportionate poll in terms of polling in state dollars that have come tricking down from the federal government as well.

  • 12:26:15

    NNAMDIWell, is this region different in that respect? We got a tweet from someone who identifies themselves as Tysons Traveler, who says, "No federal involvement? Funding of Dulles rail by the federal government was key to jumpstarting the redevelopment of Tysons."

  • 12:26:29

    MATHISWell, that's absolutely true. But at the same time, I think what you've seen is that the lack of dedicated funding is for the whole WMATA system is its big Achilles heel, right? You know, it's been coming together of the kind of regional governments here in the metro area to make sure that WMATA keeps running. That's the real story there.

  • 12:26:52

    KATZI think there's a new math, however, to how we build infrastructure in the United States, take Dulles build-out of the transit. I think 16 percent of the financing is coming from the federal government, a good portion that's coming from toll road financing dedicated to the transit.

  • 12:27:06


  • 12:27:07

    KATZYou go to Detroit today. They're building a light rail along Woodward Avenue, 100 million local, 25 million federal. You look at how we dredge our ports. You look on how we extend our airports. The federal government is not as involved in infrastructure financing as people think, and what that means is that places need to decide for themselves. What's the highest return on investment we're going to get from infrastructure? In some places, it might be an airport extension, in another place, it might be transit. I think, actually, having decision-making closer to the ground is a good thing.

  • 12:27:41

    NNAMDIBernard, thank you very much for your call. We're looking for your calls too at 800-433-8850. You can send email to kojo@wamu.org. Aside from the federal workforce, what do you see as the Washington region's greatest economic strength? You can also send us a tweet, @kojoshow. We go on now to Paul in Alexandria, Va. Paul, your turn.

  • 12:28:06

    PAULHi, Kojo. I have two things. One, there is a Brookings studies called "Polyglot Washington," and it talks about all the different limited English proficiencies about families that are all around us in Washington area and how much we are enriched by that now, how much it's, I mean, the multiple countries all around us as far as that.

  • 12:28:30

    PAULThe second thing I wanted to say was these other two cities that might be worth to look at it are Rotterdam in Holland and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, because they have an underground flood control, and it's a dual use parking and flood control. I was just talking with Judy Feldman about Save the Mall yesterday about this. And they're -- we're trying to do that, but it's going to take a lot of effort to cooperate across regions and infrastructure.

  • 12:29:01

    MATHISRight, well, that's great example of, you know, flood control options. Obviously, you know, Mayor Bloomberg in New York just released a $20 billion plan. And actually, I think, it's more than $20 billion. I think that...

  • 12:29:11

    KATZRight, right.

  • 12:29:11

    MATHISI think that number was a little conservative. You know, people's mouths were kind of falling open at the idea of 20 billion. You know, this was just last week, incredibly detailed plan. There was a second part two. We've got a story up on The Atlantic Cities today about -- there's a 33 point plan just for protecting buildings from the next Sandy. The detail drops down to like what kind of caulking we ought to be using and the price of different -- new kinds of fasteners. It's -- and you know, that was very much the work of a large collection of city and regional leaders. This is not a federal government plan.

  • 12:29:53

    KATZCities really learn from each other. That's what interesting because they're the engines of economy. They're also, as the caller implies, they're in the frontlines of climate change and extreme weather. So what you'll see cities in the United States saying is, what is Rotterdam doing? What is Kuala Lumpur doing? They're not waiting for a federal rule. They're not waiting for the regs is what we're saying, right? They're looking across the country in the world and say, who's doing it right? How do we replicate that innovation?

  • 12:30:18

    NNAMDIPaul, thank you very much for your call. Talk about Miami's relationship with Sao Paulo, Brazil, another example of cities reaching out to international counterparts.

  • 12:30:27

    KATZWell, this really is the new silk road because what we're seeing initially were Brazilians moving up to Miami to buy real estate, to obviously come for travel, to send their children to Miami's universities, and that's because of the cultural affinity, right? The weather is quite similar between Sao Paolo, Rio and Miami, and it's such a polyglot region like Washington is. But when you have that kind of back and forth of travel in tourism and real estate, what that does is create a foundation for more trade, for more commerce, for more exchange.

  • 12:31:03

    KATZIt leads to something bigger. And Embraer, which is the big aerospace manufacturing firm based in the state of Sao Paolo, actually has a facility at the edge of the Miami metropolis. So they're making things now in Miami. It may have started as a relationship of just travel and tourism, and now, it's extending to something bigger.

  • 12:31:26

    KATZAnd what's really interesting is there are now structured relationships between the ports of Sao Paolo and Miami, between the business associations, between the universities, Florida International and their counterparts, between museums and cultural institutions. Once you have that tight, intricate web, amazing things happen between cities.

  • 12:31:46

    NNAMDIOn to Arthur in Largo, Md. Arthur, your turn.

  • 12:31:50

    ARTHURThank you. The Brookings Institution, 10 to 15 years ago, published a study regarding Washington, D.C., the east-west divide. I thought that could be a very interesting study. And there were people from Brookings who are going around, presenting that to the local government, council of governments and others. It seems like that study has been removed from the website, and I wanted to find out if you're going to put it back, and has it been updated?

  • 12:32:22

    NNAMDIBruce, I don't know about it.

  • 12:32:23

    KATZNo. Well, that was the study called "A Region Divided." Amy Lou, my co-director, and myself basically co-authored that report, and we will put that back up on the website. And we ask you...

  • 12:32:33

    MATHISIt's a promise from Bruce Katz.

  • 12:32:34

    KATZNo, it is a promise. I will try to get that done as quickly as possible. It will also -- you'll see from our website a lot of statistics particularly around the suburbanization of poverty, which is a major trend in the United States, have been updated by other colleagues. And so take a look, and if you don't find it within a day or two, email me at bkatz@brookings.edu. We'll get it on the website.

  • 12:32:58

    ARTHURThank you.

  • 12:32:59

    NNAMDIArthur, thank you very much for your call. You too can call us, 800-433-8850. What should the state and federal governments do in order to help American cities prosper? 800-433-8850. Send email to kojo@wamu.org. We're talking with Sommer Mathis. She is editor of The Atlantic Cities and former editor of DCist.

  • 12:33:18

    NNAMDIAnd Bruce Katz is vice president and director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings and co-author of the book, "The Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros are Fixing Our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy." We talked about the Washington region earlier. We've long benefited from having the federal government here, but does Washington have a global economic presence that's separate from the federal workforce? Should it?

  • 12:33:45

    MATHISYou know, I think it does. It is obviously different from many other metro areas Bruce and I were talking a little bit earlier about, you know, some of the sort of cyber infrastructure that, you know, is certainly a kind of skill set that we -- that this metro area can certainly be exporting.

  • 12:34:05


  • 12:34:05

    KATZYou're not -- I mean, D.C., I think, over time has really evolved into a very robust and vital and vibrant private-sector economy off this base of federal spending and procurement. And I think for D.C. going forward, it is really critical, probably with the Baltimore Metropolis, which is not that far away, to declare your distinct division. What makes you special in the world besides just being the capital of the United States? What makes you special from an economic perspective?

  • 12:34:38

    KATZWho are your trading partners in an area like cyber security? And how do you begin to collaborate to compete within the region and across the world? That's how many other metros think about economic growth going forward. We see that in Northeast Ohio with manufacturing. We see that in Portland, Ore., as we said before, with sustainable products and services.

  • 12:35:02

    KATZSo Washington now needs to think of itself particularly at a time when the federal government is really changing its role as a world class economy. It's the seventh largest by population. It's the fourth largest by economic output in this country. It has to now think about where does it fit in the network of trading cities.

  • 12:35:20

    NNAMDIAnd, of course, we would like Washington, D.C. to have that kind of grand vision, Sommer Mathis. But you're a little more skeptical about portraying mayors in metropolitan areas as super innovators and economic saviors. And one of the reasons you, I think, feel that way is because of the condition of the District of Columbia's government right now.

  • 12:35:40

    MATHISWell, you know, I think most D.C. voters would share some of my skepticism about that. But, you know, obviously -- that's much more of a sort of structural problem, in my view. You know, it's not that that the D.C. government is, you know, hopelessly flawed although, you know, it sometimes feels that way, I suppose.

  • 12:36:01

    MATHISBut, you know, one of the things I was talking about earlier is how the deck is sort of stacked against every city, how every major city struggles to get its, you know, the sort of fair share of state and federal attention that, you know, it is really due due to the -- how much is driving an economy and the share of population that it represents in any given state.

  • 12:36:24

    MATHISOf course, D.C. has this extra problem where we don't necessarily control our own destiny in terms of budgeting and investing, and are often subjected to the whims of any single senator who wants to hold things up. You know, we can have as many fantastic, creative ideas as you can imagine, and there's never any guarantee that we won't be interfered with.

  • 12:36:52

    NNAMDIBruce Katz.

  • 12:36:53

    KATZYou know, when I think about cities and metropolitan areas, I don't think first about government. What I think are about networks of institutions, employers, unions, institutions that provide skills and education. So when I look at D.C., what I see first and foremost is a network of very powerful colleges and universities, strength in particular clusters, STEM clusters, science, technology, education, math, right, engineering, math.

  • 12:37:23

    KATZSo you've got some unbelievable -- you have an unbelievable foundation to build on here. Government is important as an enabler, and government, at times, can be a convener of different stakeholders to crack the code on certain problems. But what's different about cities is unlike the federal government or state, they're not just governments. They're not just governments.

  • 12:37:44

    NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. And when we come back, we will be joined by Anthony Williams, former mayor of the District of Columbia and now CEO and executive director of the Federal City Council. In the meantime, you can still call us, 800-433-8850. Which mayor does the best job you think of promoting economic prosperity for his or her city? 800-433-8850 or send email to kojo@wamu.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:39:48

    NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guests are Bruce Katz, he is vice president and director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution and co-author of "The Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros are Fixing Our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy." He joins us in studio, along with Sommer Mathis. She is editor of The Atlantic Cities and former editor of DCist. Joining us by phone is Anthony Williams, former mayor of the District of Columbia.

  • 12:40:13

    NNAMDIHe is now CEO and executive director of the Federal City Council. Before I bring him on, I have to mention that Bruce Katz and Anthony Williams will be speaking about the aforementioned metropolitan revolution tonight at seven o'clock at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in D.C. You can get tickets. They're available online or by calling Ticketfly. Anthony Williams joins us by phone. Mayor Williams, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:40:37

    MR. ANTHONY WILLIAMSHey, Kojo. It's a pleasure to be with you.

  • 12:40:40

    NNAMDIYou just left the event where Frederick -- the Frederick Douglass statue was being placed in Emancipation Hall. Can you tell us in 30 seconds or less how that event went?

  • 12:40:49

    WILLIAMSWell, it's a moving event in what I think was a -- I think everybody are, Democrat and Republican alike -- I mean, it was a unity event, so infrequent now in Capitol Hill, where everyone recognized how Frederick Douglass as a great leader, public figure, adviser to a president and really instrumental in the fight for equal rights for men and women.

  • 12:41:11

    WILLIAMSYou know, for someone to have his kind of success, going from bondage into freedom and then leading the way for others was quite powerful. And then what really -- I think really distinguished the event, you heard particularly from Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Vice President Biden strong support for both representation, self-determination in the District. So it was great in that respect.

  • 12:41:37

    NNAMDIOK. Thank you very much for your report from...

  • 12:41:38

    WILLIAMSSo this is Tony Williams reporting from...

  • 12:41:41

    NNAMDIExactly right. What is your take on the role of cities in this 21st century economy? Are cities, in fact, leading the way, in your view?

  • 12:41:51

    WILLIAMSOh, you're asking me?

  • 12:41:52

    NNAMDIYes. That's for you, Mayor Williams.

  • 12:41:53

    WILLIAMSYeah. I believe as mayor when I went into office around the year 1999, 2000 that I had a special responsibility not only because we're the nation's capital, capital of the world, in my humble opinion, but because I really felt we were entering the century of cities. And I've come to realize in my own reading and experience and talking to Bruce and working with him that, you know, cities succeed as our metro areas succeed.

  • 12:42:19

    WILLIAMSSo Washington is only as successful as we are successful as the center of the Washington metroplex, if you will, competing in the global economy. So, you know, I think for a lot of different reasons, because cities work better, people are realizing that, because of the absence and indifference of national government and their inability to get it together, because cities are the primary platform for convening government, non-government, all the sectors together in the public realm, yes, I'm a big believer in it.

  • 12:42:51

    NNAMDIWhen you served as mayor of the District of Columbia from 1999 to 2007, you were sometimes criticized for your heavy travel schedule. Why did you feel it was important to wave that D.C. flag outside of the District, and how important do you feel it is today?

  • 12:43:08

    WILLIAMSYou know-- well, I would do it differently and a little less of it, but I do think it was important. You know, going to Las Vegas to bring retail to the city was important, and look at the difference that it's made. Going out to spread the gospel that we're a great center for investment around the world made a difference, and look at the difference it's made with the Qatari investment, for example, of hundreds of millions of dollars over a city center, you know, building respect for the city.

  • 12:43:33

    WILLIAMSIt's important in the global economy that a mayor of a city like Washington, D.C., get out there and do the marketing promotion for his or her city. Now, you have to obviously produce in the fundamentals and the blocking and tackling. You got to connect the execution to the strategy, but the marketing is important because, ultimately, it's about jobs and revenue and a greater quality of life for our people.

  • 12:43:56

    NNAMDIThe District of Columbia has its own unique structure and relationship with the federal government. How well do you think that fits Bruce's narrative of a potential economic powerhouse? Can the District strike out on its own even though it does not have control of its budget?

  • 12:44:14

    WILLIAMSYes, it can because one of, you know, one of the things -- we need control of our budget, we need budget autonomy, but one of the things they set us off on doing and my successors have built on is we're diversifying our revenue base. You know, the sales tax or the income tax was a fraction of what it is now when I started. But by rebuilding the downtown, for example, we were able to rebuild -- expand the sales tax base.

  • 12:44:40

    WILLIAMSWe didn't really need -- didn't really have the federal government directly involved in that, but we did that. Likewise, with the income tax, we joined with Alice Rivlin and said we're going to bring 100,000 new people to the city. Everybody thought we were smoking and crazy, and, look, you're bringing new people to the city. That's new investment.

  • 12:44:56

    WILLIAMSSo you're able to work even when the federal government isn't directly working with you, although I will say, you know, different administrations, the federal government did different things, particularly with President Clinton with the Revitalization Act and the great support he showed us, you know, made a big, big difference.

  • 12:45:12

    WILLIAMSBut I'll tell you, another difference it makes is, you know, with the retreat -- retrenchment, retreat, whatever term you want to use with the budget deliberations and ongoing stalemate with that, you know, we're going to have to diversify our economy. We can't rely on the federal government the way we used to. And the good thing that's happening is that the District's share, whatever happens to the region now -- and we want it to grow -- the District's share of that regional pie is growing.

  • 12:45:40

    WILLIAMSAnd that's a good thing, and that didn't occur before. You know, whatever happened to the region -- and people -- you know, you see all these articles. For example, The New York Times has done it. Wall Street Journal just did one. Oh, everybody's happy in Washington because of the federal government.

  • 12:45:53

    WILLIAMSWell, no, because the federal government's always been here. There have been huge recent spending in the federal government, but we didn't really benefit from it in a way that we didn't really benefit from whatever was happening in the region of our economy because we really weren't seeing it as a place to invest and do business, and now we are.

  • 12:46:11

    WILLIAMSThat's a game changer, which makes it all the more important that we work with the kind of networks that Bruce is talking about to produce these, you know, benchmark changes, whether they're in tourism or in health or in sciences, you know, ways to grow our economy and produce the jobs we're talking about.

  • 12:46:30

    NNAMDITurn to -- turning to Bruce Katz again. Bruce Katz, earlier, Sommer Mathis talked about flawed government and...

  • 12:46:35


  • 12:46:36

    NNAMDI...governments with a lack of control, which brings, of course, to mind Detroit. Detroit said that...

  • 12:46:40


  • 12:46:41

    NNAMDI...on Friday that it will default on $2 billion of debt to avoid bankruptcy. Yet you hold Detroit up as a city that's created an economic innovation district, and it's redeveloping downtown and midtown areas.

  • 12:46:53


  • 12:46:53

    NNAMDIWhat's going on there?

  • 12:46:54

    KATZSo Detroit really is a tale of two cities. It's 138 square miles. It used to be two million in population. It's now down to 700,000. But in this small area of the downtown and the midtown, only five square miles, 4 percent of the land of the city, what you have is a cluster of tech and creative firms in the downtown. You have the old Woodward Corridor where there will now be transit.

  • 12:47:16

    KATZAnd then you get to the midtown area of Detroit and you have Henry Ford Health System, Wayne State University, the Detroit medical campus, the College for Creative Studies. And there's an enormous amount of business and residential growth off that base, fueled by private and civic investment. So we -- what we mostly hear about Detroit is what's not happening, what's going wrong, and I totally appreciate that because it's critical to get the fiscal house in order, and it's critical to fix the schools in Detroit and make Detroit a safe place to live.

  • 12:47:50

    KATZBut we also should celebrate that something is happening in Detroit's downtown and midtown which reflects what Sommer, you know, often sort of writes about, which is the different demographic preferences of younger workers in the United States. They want to live in urban places. They want to be able to walk to work, bike to work, take transit to work, and many companies now need to be in these places to serve that -- those new demographic preferences.

  • 12:48:16

    MATHISYeah. Detroit obviously, you know, what's working there is indeed in a incredibly small, you know, area...

  • 12:48:22

    KATZThat's right.

  • 12:48:22

    MATHIS...of Detroit, and the rest of the city is, you know...

  • 12:48:27

    KATZVery troubled.

  • 12:48:27

    MATHIS…very, very troubled. But, you know, it's nice to have Mayor Williams on the line here, you know, partly because I think some of those livability issues are the key to reinforcing -- you know, young people are moving to cities because they need jobs, and the jobs are in our major cities. It's much easier to find work when you have a large and varied network of people and contacts to find work, at the same time, you know, to keep those young people in cities, going forward, as they marry and have younger children.

  • 12:49:06

    MATHISYou know, there is a whole host of livability issues that cities across the country are working on, and I think -- I do think that D.C. has kind of led the way.

  • 12:49:16

    KATZYes, yes.

  • 12:49:16

    MATHISYou know, we talked earlier about cities borrowing ideas from each other. You know, many U.S. cities could do a lot worse than to look at what's happened here in the District over the last decade in terms of just living here being a little bit easier.

  • 12:49:31

    NNAMDIIs that the vision you had for the city, Mayor Williams, at the time you took office?

  • 12:49:36

    WILLIAMSWell, I always knew that Washington was underperforming and we could do better. That was always my abiding belief. I never shy from that.

  • 12:49:44

    NNAMDIMayor Williams brought a different style of governing to the District of Columbia. And I'd like to ask all of you, what role does personality play in the mayor's ability to champion economic development and prosperity? As you talk about him, you can also talk about Michael Bloomberg in New York or Rahm Emanuel in Chicago, what they can do compared with oh, lower profile civic leaders. First, you...

  • 12:50:05

    KATZYeah. It's very interesting because the United States has sort of a celebrity concept of mayors and actually a celebrity concept of entrepreneurs. And so we're looking for the great leader, the charismatic leader. One of the stories in our book is about Mayor Bloomberg in the depths of the recession, when New York was really rocked back, right, because of the collapse of the financial industry, convening hundreds of business in civic and university leaders and really asking them, what's our game changer?

  • 12:50:33

    KATZWe've got to diversify our economy. We've got to set a platform for job growth. And what they come up with was this notion of having a competition to attract world-class engineering and tech universities to New York. And they finally settled on Cornell and Technion to set a platform for longer term growth.

  • 12:50:52

    KATZRahm Emanuel comes in again, a hard-charging former chief of staff to the president, and everyone says, OK, what kind of mayor is he going to be? What he did initially was convene business, civic, university, labor and say, we need one unified economic strategy for this city. So I -- what I look for in a mayor, and I think Mayor Williams had it, was the ability to convene, the informal power, pull stakeholders together and do great things together.

  • 12:51:19

    MATHISYou know, of course cities -- big cities like New York and Chicago -- I wonder if we might have the causation backwards there -- you probably have to be a really oversized personality and, you know, a very strong presence to even become mayor of the city like New York or Chicago or even D.C. So, you know, I think part of my skepticism earlier about the idea of a bunch of sort of benevolent crusading scrappy mayors from smaller cities all over the country is -- and I think Bruce made a great point.

  • 12:51:50

    MATHISIt's not just about governments, obviously. We're talking about relationships and networks between government and the private sector and non-profit organizations that are all working together on the sort of project of America's cities.

  • 12:52:04

    NNAMDII think you've just defined Anthony Williams' new job.

  • 12:52:08

    NNAMDIIs that how you see your new job, Anthony Williams?

  • 12:52:11

    WILLIAMSIt's really to help our mayor who's the leader at the top. But, you know, in my mind, you know, we're going to have a private realm. We're going to have a king or queen. We have a public realm, and the head of the realm is the electoral leader. And your basic job, the blocking and tackling, is to run your government well.

  • 12:52:28

    WILLIAMSNow, if you run your government well, then you have respect. People in the clerical, business, labor, scientific or whatever, arts, education community will you return your calls, and then you can lead them on one or two or three big things. But if you don't do the blocking and tackling, then no one's going to pay attention to you.

  • 12:52:46

    NNAMDIHere is -- go ahead.

  • 12:52:47

    WILLIAMSIt was incumbent on, you know, incumbent on someone like me to help support our city by helping to be a convener. So that's how I see the job, yeah.

  • 12:52:57

    NNAMDIHere is Mark in Washington, D.C. Mark you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:53:01

    MARKHi. I wanted to make a point that other factors are going into the building up of Washington, D.C. I've been a resident here for a long time. And what I've noticed now is that there're a lot of tourists from around the world coming into D.C., and I think that's because of the dollar now is at such a low point as compared to other currency that it's making available the travel to D.C. and that also businesses that were manufacturing products here in the United States have gone overseas and have made groups of people much more wealthier.

  • 12:53:46

    MARKAnd then they're able to travel into D.C. and into the U.S. And I think that these things are driving the growth of D.C. without -- it's just going on. It's just happening.

  • 12:54:01

    NNAMDIHere's Bruce Katz.

  • 12:54:02

    KATZWell, you're not a big export economy in D.C., but tourism and travel is your number two export service. So the caller is right. Obviously, this is the capital of the United States. It's got...

  • 12:54:15

    MATHISWe have some stuff here.

  • 12:54:16

    KATZWe've got some stuff here.

  • 12:54:16

    MATHISYeah. Just a few of things, yeah.

  • 12:54:18

    KATZBut I would say, going forward -- and it was really going back to the conversation before -- something is changing in the global economic dynamics. We are seeing a reshoring of production in the United States. We are seeing a much greater focus on innovation and its relationship to making things.

  • 12:54:37

    KATZAnd so as the D.C. economy evolves and particularly with its presence in cyber and life sciences and many other advance sectors of the economy, I think it has to ask its question, what kind of economy do we want to be in 15 or 25 years, particularly as the federal government begins to scale back certain kinds of investment?

  • 12:54:56

    NNAMDIBefore we get to 15 or 20 years -- and thank you for your call. We're running out of time, Mayor Williams. And I like to bring us back to the present and what's in the news for a second because in your efforts to improve health care delivery in the District of Columbia, one of the things you did was help Jeffrey Thompson to acquire Charted Health in the District of Columbia. And now there's controversy swirling around Jeffrey Thompson.

  • 12:55:20

    NNAMDIHe, of course, has not been charged with anything. But Chartered Health is now in ruins. Is that a procedure and action that you look back on now with some regret?

  • 12:55:31

    WILLIAMSWell, Brookings did a paper on the public health plan on the District. It is a model for the country, number one. So I don't regret that. I think I'm proud of that. Number two, Chartered Health was the only company, as far as I remember, that bid on the program. Number three, I didn't help them with anything. I never involved myself in any procurement in any way, shape, form or manner any time I was mayor. So that's the answer to that question.

  • 12:55:56

    NNAMDIOK. Thank you, and thank you for joining us.

  • 12:55:58


  • 12:55:59

    NNAMDIAnthony Williams is a former mayor of the District of Columbia. He is now CEO and executive director of the Federal City Council. Bruce Katz, cities cannot act completely on their own.

  • 12:56:09


  • 12:56:10

    NNAMDIYou've called on the federal government to help pave the way for their economic success. What do Congress and the president need to do to help cities thrive?

  • 12:56:17

    KATZSo they need to do two things. They need to act in the service of cities in metropolitan areas because these are engines. What that means, first, is do what cities can't do. So cities can't do trade agreements with China. They shouldn't be responsible for making our food safe or securing our borders or passing in immigration law for our entire country. But also, what they should do is act in service in metropolitan visions and metropolitan priorities.

  • 12:56:44

    KATZWe have a lot of challenges in this country, but we also have distinctive economies. What Phoenix does is different from Pittsburg. What Denver does is different from Detroit. So we think, going forward, that states and the federal government will be much more successful if they look to their cities and metropolitan areas to define what's our vision, what's our priorities, how do we cut across these compartmentalized agencies and specialize bureaucracies and really enable cities to be -- to reach their fullest potential.

  • 12:57:16

    NNAMDIAlmost out of time, Sommer Mathis, but what's your perspective on how states and the federal government could be making life easier for cities? Do cities have the voice they need in state capitals and on Capitol Hill?

  • 12:57:25

    MATHISWell, certainly not in state capitals, and I actually think that that's where a big part of the problem was. You know, the way that state governments, you know, allocate funding to individual cities is broken. You look at any state government across the country, and I think we know we can probably use more governors who recognize the -- just vital importance of big cities to their economies. And, you know, we're starting to see some of those changes. In Maryland, for example...

  • 12:57:59


  • 12:57:59

    MATHIS...you know, not a big surprise since O'Malley was, in fact...

  • 12:58:03

    NNAMDIMayor of Baltimore...

  • 12:58:03

    MATHIS...mayor of Baltimore.

  • 12:58:04

    NNAMDI...before he became governor.

  • 12:58:05

    MATHISYou know, he's certainly not the first former mayor to become governor. But, you know, I think those attitudes are going to be pretty important.

  • 12:58:11

    NNAMDISommer Mathis is editor of The Atlantic Cities and former editor of DCist. Bruce Katz is vice president and director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings and author of "The Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros are Fixing Our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy." Thank you both for joining us, and thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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