Book of the Day: Metropolitan Revolution

The Metropolitan Revolution by Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley. Brookings Institution Press, 2013.


How the structure of civic relationships shapes economic trajectories; weak link networks are better for urban regeneration than those with strong links.


Jessica Conrad:

“In the face of “federal gridlock, economic stagnation and fiscal turmoil,” cities and metropolitan areas across the country are tackling the pressing problems that Washington won’t, says Jennifer Bradley, a fellow at the Brookings Institute Metropolitan Policy Program. Her new book The Metropolitan Revolution (with Brookings colleague Bruce Katz) is about cities that are instigating change from the ground up in partnership with nonprofits, foundations, and citizens.

Their practical and oftentimes ad hoc solutions come from what Bradley describes as a profound behavioral change: “People are staring to ask, ‘What can we do together that we can’t do by ourselves?’” Perhaps not surprisingly, it’s the same ethos behind the sharing economy, an economic trend that Bradley believes emerged from the Great Recession.” (



Interview of Jennifer Bradley conducted by Jessica Conrad:

* Jessica Conrad: In your new book The Metropolitan Revolution, you describe how power is shifting away from federal and state governments to cities and metropolitan areas. What does this shift mean for the average citizen?

Jennifer Bradley: The shift means that there are more opportunities to engage networks of power than there have been in the past. If Washington drives change, and you’re just one of however many voters in your state, the decisions made in Washington might seem very distant and arcane.

But if metropolitan areas drive decisions about the shape of their economies instead, citizens can intervene in a lot of different ways. They have access to elected officials, for example, and university officials, philanthropy leaders, and leaders of civic institutions—any number of entrepreneurial community members that are involved in making decisions and making change. And one of the really exciting things is that these networks of power span jurisdictional boundaries.

* Jessica Conrad: Why is this power shift happening now?

Jennifer Bradley: I think the Great Recession forced people to think differently, and two things happened. After the initial and vitally important infusion of federal funds from the Recovery Act, the federal government stopped being a source of policy innovation. There was a debate about whether the Recovery Act was too big or not big enough, and then there was a kind of partisan lockdown. That’s not to say that the federal government totally checked out, but there still isn’t a lot of intellectual energy in Washington devoted to thinking about the economic model that got us into the recession or about how to get into a different and more sustainable economic growth pattern.

Even so, we know the growth model that led to the recession was based largely on consumption. It was about housing. It was about retail. It was about building new subdivisions and then building the retail infrastructure to fill those new houses with a lot of stuff. It was not focused on production or on the tradable sectors where goods are produced and sold to people across borders. As we know from thinkers like Jane Jacobs and economists like Paul Krugman, the tradable sector is what drives economic growth.

We need to get back to basics and think about what we produce and trade. But the federal government isn’t leading the way, and states are becoming increasingly partisan and struggling with their own budget deficits. As a result, metropolitan areas are starting to say to themselves, “We’re it! We are where innovation happens.” From patents to STEM programs to universities, cities have the key ingredients for an export- and innovation-oriented economy—and they know they have to make change for themselves.

People across the U.S. have told me over and over again that collaboration and networking made a difference. It’s the same ethos behind the sharing economy. People are starting to ask, “What can we do together that we can’t do by ourselves?”

* Jessica Conrad: Why didn’t cities collaborate this way in the past?

Jennifer Bradley: The original model for cities and suburbs was based on competition and developed by an economic theorist named Charles Tiebout. Called the Pure Theory of Local Expenditures, the idea was that there would be high tax, high service jurisdictions and low tax, low service jurisdictions and whichever ones more people liked would win. People would sort themselves based on their preferences and everybody would get the kind of local government they really wanted. But the theory assumed that people had perfect information and perfect mobility and that jurisdictions wouldn’t implement things like exclusionary zoning or tax giveaways.

But again, I think we’ve started to overcome this model at the municipal level to some extent. For example, Washington D.C. and two big suburban counties in Maryland have agreed to raise their minimum wage over the next three years. Previously, local governments would have wanted to compete very aggressively on wages. If a neighboring jurisdiction raised its minimum wage, you’d think hot dog because big companies that thrive on low-wage workforces would flock to your jurisdiction instead. But in this case, all three jurisdictions are saying “No, we aren’t going to let big companies pit us against each other.”

We’re no longer locked in a struggle where one jurisdiction’s gain is another jurisdiction’s loss. Of course this shift toward collaboration isn’t ubiquitous, but there are signs that local governments are beginning to think in new ways.” (


The Post-Hero Economy,

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