Humphrey Center, University of Minnesota

What Comes Next for Our Metro Nation: The New Forces Driving Regionalism

Thank you for the invitation to speak today. It is a pleasure to return to Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota.

And I think now is a particularly good time to discuss issues around competitiveness, sustainable growth and metropolitan governance.

It’s the right time because of the difficult economic and fiscal environment in this state and across the country and the pressure of new social and environmental imperatives. These forces compel the U.S. to rethink how we grow and demand a new approach to metropolitan governance that is multi-jurisdictional, multi-dimensional, accountable and transparent.

And this is the right place to have this discussion since the Twin Cities has been an innovator on metro governance since the creation of the Metropolitan Council in the 1960s. Your hard earned lessons have national implications and import.

I want to make five major points today.

First, America faces serious challenges to its prosperity: What will drive productive growth in the coming decades? Can growth be shared across a broader segment of our population? Can growth be sustainable? The Twin Cities are not immune to these challenges. The recession has unveiled your own vulnerabilities and the breadth and complexity of the task ahead.

Second, restoring national prosperity is dependent on enhancing metropolitan prosperity. Our metropolitan areas are the engines of national prosperity because they concentrate at an unprecedented level the assets that matter, assets like innovation, human capital, infrastructure, and quality places. There is, in essence, no U.S. economy bur rather a network of sophisticated, globally integrated metro economies which will lead this recovery.

Third, there are deep, structural hurdles to metropolitan prosperity. Given the super-sized challenges they face, metros cannot go it alone and ultimately require dependable national and state partners to succeed. In addition, the governance of U.S. metros has not kept pace with their economic evolution. Metro governance is almost uniformly characterized by fragmentation and balkanization, by cultures of competition rather than one of collaboration. Here the Met Council experience, though not perfect, is instructive for the nation.

Fourth, our Metro Nation demands a national Metro Policy, both to leverage the assets that concentrate in metro areas (thereby unleashing economic potential) as well as help metros align their governance more closely with the geography of the economy and the environment. We need, in short, to fundamentally re-imagine and remake the partnership between the federal government, states, localities and the private and voluntary sectors to strengthen metropolitan economies, build a strong and diverse middle class, and grow in environmentally sustainable ways.

Fifth, there are early signs that Barack Obama’s administration “gets” Metro Policy. The president clearly understands the new spatial dynamics of America and has publicly embraced the notion that federal policies must focus on unleashing the economic potential of metro America. He has established a new White House Office on Urban Affairs to communicate a new vision of federal purpose and partnership and help coordinate the disparate agencies of the national government. The Recovery Act and the FY 2010 budget both illustrate a commitment to making investments, long deferred, in critical market shaping tools like advanced research, community colleges, next generation infrastructure, and sustainable development. And there is further evidence that the federal government is rethinking the delivery system for national programs, with emphasis increasingly placed on encouraging multi-jurisdictional and multi-dimensional efforts rather than silo driven interventions.