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São Paulo and U.S. Metros Link and Learn Together

A cargo ship is seen at Santos port, 27 kilometres southeast of Sao Paulo (REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker).

Yesterday's discussions in São Paulo dug further into the challenges facing the São Paulo metropolis, the responses that governments are mounting, and obstacles to implementation and long-term prosperity. Among the issues tackled were infrastructure, land use, housing, social inequity, education, governance, and public sector capacity and continuity.

Turns out that changing hemispheres doesn't change some things all that much.

In that spirit, leaders from an array of U.S. cities and regions imparted their experiences in metropolitan development and economic growth strategies that might hold lessons for the city and state of São Paulo. Although the economic and social starting points for São Paulo and, say, Cleveland are radically different, a set of common themes, as well as key challenges for both American and Brazilian city leaders, came into view. Several of those themes were reflected in remarks that JPMorgan Chase Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon delivered to the delegation at the start of the day regarding his firm's interest and investment in global cities:

1) Focus on the long term. Dimon sounded a bullish note on the global economy long term, noting the remarkable progress that has been made in recent decades, and the power of technology and urbanization to transform economies and societies for the better. Understanding quarter-to-quarter and year-to-year balance sheet fluctuations and economic performance is important for market transparency, he remarked, but responsible investment decisions must be made over much longer time horizons.

The same imperative should animate, but often bedevils, metropolitan development. Moving a regional economy in a new and more strategic direction can take decades, across several changes in political leadership, shifting priorities, and budget fluctuations. The city of São Paulo's SP2040 plan for instance, aims to develop three sub-sectors of the city to serve complementary functions for advanced services firms by better aligning industrial development, transportation, housing, and the environment. Similarly, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) developed the GO TO 2040 plan to meet the long-run infrastructure needs of that region's advanced services and manufacturing economy. Participants agreed that ensuring the success of both efforts over the next two to three decades requires building capacity and ownership outside the public sector to hold successive administrations to account for implementation.

2) Public/private relationships are a two-way street. Dimon related that when he became chairman and CEO at Bank One, former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley (chair of the Global Cities Initiative) discussed with him how the city could support the bank's continued presence and contribution to the local economy. Dimon stressed how important a supportive local business environment was for corporate investment decisions. At the same time, he emphasized that businesses must "get in the game" at the local level to support smart and strategic public spending on things like infrastructure and education, where public investment can yield clear private benefit.

The ambition of metropolitan business planning in the United States, as Brad Whitehead from the Fund for our Economic Future in Northeast Ohio explained, is to engage private, public, and other civic actors in charting and executing a strategic vision for a metropolitan economy. Adopting the rigor and language of a private-sector tool--business planning--has proven useful for developing business participation in realizing that region's plan. Leaders from São Paulo clearly recognize the critical role that business can and must play to deliver economic growth, and are engaging them around public/private partnership investment opportunities to alleviate the massive infrastructure deficits the region faces. But as Brazilian participants discussed, trust issues complicate the relationship between government and business here, even more so than in the United States. A common vernacular, and a focus on addressing issues of equity and social cohesion first and foremost through economic growth, may help advance those relationships.

3) Local is global and global is local. In a multinational firm like JPMorgan Chase, Dimon explained, the global and the local meet. A significant share of the firm's 20,000 employees in the Columbus, Ohio area, for instance, work not on local finance but in international markets. For that reason, local leadership in the public and private sectors must truly understand global markets and the opportunities and challenges they present for local job growth.

That merging of the local and the global is in many ways the animating idea of the Global Cities Initiative. Metro leaders from São Paulo  and the United States not only traded ideas and lessons learned, but walked away with a better understanding of some of the dynamics affecting some of the world's most important economic centers. Representatives from World Business Chicago and Brazil Investments and Business discussed their respective visions and strategies for making Chicago and São Paulo globally competitive cities, including how their cities could adapt to long-run shifts in the global location of manufacturing and services activities. American metro leaders were meanwhile challenged and inspired by the "macro-metro" planning that is linking four metro areas in São Paulo state (Baixada Santista, Campinas, Paraiba Valley, and São Paulo) and helping to position a diverse, integrated, 30 million-person region on the global stage.

Like the scale of the city itself, the challenges facing São Paulo are massive. But they are not intractable. These discussions between São Paulo and U.S. metro leaders revealed fertile ground for continued dialogue, joint problem solving, and opportunities to understand not just one another's—but also our own—cities better.

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