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
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
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.