Today’s American Revolution

Jennifer Bradley and Bruce Katz
Bruce Katz Founding Director of the Nowak Metro Finance Lab - Drexel University

July 8, 2013

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published by 

Huffington Post

 on July 4, 2013.

This Fourth of July, we are celebrating a new revolution — a “Metropolitan Revolution.” In the absence of constructive action in Washington, cities and metropolitan areas have emerged as the can-do directors of the nation, taking powerful steps to grow jobs and remake their economies for the long haul.

In metro areas across the country, public, private and civic leaders are helping workers get the skills they need, investing in infrastructure, and growing jobs through expanded trade and investment — the hard work necessary to renew our economy.

With innovation the clear driver of economic growth, and federal funding at risk, metros like New York are building new innovative research institutions to invent and commercialize new ideas. With human capital vital to the success of firms and communities, metros like Chicago are overhauling their community college systems to ensure that students are trained for jobs that offer good wages and benefits. Metro areas are also looking around the world for markets for their products as 95 percent of the world’s consumers are outside of America’s borders.

This revolution has deep roots in American history. The American Revolution, for all intents and purposes, was an urban revolution. Cities were the epicenter of the succession of crises that rocked the colonies in the 1760s and 1770s.

The recession of 1763 was followed by a series of acts by the English Parliament that primarily hit urban populations by prohibiting them from doing business with other European powers and their colonies and imposing taxes on newspapers and diplomas (the infamous Stamp Act). Urban newspapers negatively affected by taxation encouraged protests in cities across the colonies. With each successive crisis, networks of leaders within and across cities began to grow and gain traction, leading the way toward the independence we celebrate today.

Of course, today’s metropolitan revolutionaries are not aiming to tear down an old regime. They are, in practical American fashion, trying to build something positive of lasting value for places and people.

Yet that should not diminish what’s happening. The metropolitan revolution has emerged in a period of deep economic crisis and political dissatisfaction that has sparked a fundamental reassessment of roles and responsibilities in our 21st century system. It is being led by networks of individuals who share a deep commitment to their communities and a sense of common purpose and vision. It is amplified by regular exposure to innovations in metros across the country and across the globe via means never dreamed of 250 years ago.

And it is a revolution with deep and profound consequences for our society and our governmental institutions.

This metropolitan revolution has only one logical conclusion: turning traditional U.S. power structures upside down. As metros lead, and states and the federal government follow.

Cities and metros are working to restructure the economy away from tantalizing illusion (endless consumption and irresponsible speculation) and back toward hard fundamentals: talent-fueled production and innovation. For a nation undergoing profound demographic transformation, the metropolitan model of education and social integration provides a path toward managing growth and diversity in a way benefits everyone. Cities and metros understand what the nation fitfully remembers and often contests: The United States is demographically blessed and this is our greatest competitive advantage and strength.

With cities and regions leading the way, the metropolitan revolution offers the United States our best chance to revive our national economy, reboot our national competitiveness, and restore purpose to our politics and civility to our debates.