The Latest in Economic Development – 2.23.12

This week’s blog entry explores the economics behind Major League Baseball’s spring training, looks deeper into “Smart Growth” strategies, provides small business hiring poll results, and explains Richard Florida’s take on Obama’s manufacturing focus.  Comment below or send to common@nlc.org.

Get last week’s blog here.

As Major League Baseball returns to its sunny spring training destinations in Arizona and Florida, what are the economic impacts of hosting the world’s best baseball players? Even as the fiscal conditions of Sun Belt cities have been strained in recent years, the competition to attract professional baseball teams for a limited time each spring is fierce.  The upfront costs to host spring training are steep – Lee County, Florida sold “up to $81 million in bonds to fund a new baseball stadium where the Boston Red Sox would play 18 exhibition games in the spring per year.” This was in 2010, when the county was reeling from the burst of the housing bubble. The return on investment from spending public money on baseball gets mixed opinions, depending on who is asked. Community leaders tout the investment as a “proven economic driver,” while economists are more skeptical. (Governing.com)

“Smart Growth” has been all the rage lately; what gives?  Roger Showley of the San Diego Union-Tribune interviewed Geoffrey Anderson, president of Smart Growth America, and Bill Fulton, vice president for policy and programs, to get a handle on the movement. Anderson explains that one of the challenges to implementing Smart Growth policies is convincing the public to support it given the admittedly mixed success of past development strategies. Fulton adds that the way forward is to show people successes, mentioning San Diego, where the New Partners for Smart Growth conference was recently held. (San Diego Union-Tribune)

A recent Gallup poll showed that 85% of small businesses surveyed said that they are not hiring. Why not? Put simply, they are not convinced that the economy is strong enough, and their revenues are not providing enough cash to justify taking on more employees. In addition, nearly half report that the challenges of government regulations and healthcare costs are “exacerbating an already uncertain and difficult decision.” And although small business hiring continues to struggle, this is the best it has been since January 2008. See the results here: (Gallup)

President Obama recently announced a renewed policy focus targeted at improving and enlarging the manufacturing sector in the US.  The administration posits that if the manufacturing sector improves, that would mean not just more, but better paying jobs. But is that entirely true? Richard Florida points out that production job wages are less than stellar, and highly paid manufacturing jobs require knowledge-based skill sets to operate advanced machinery and perform complex analyses.  This set-up further confirms the widening gap between high skill, high wage jobs and low skill labor, and has implications for workforce development strategies for the future. (Atlantic Cities)

The Latest in Economic Development – 2.16.12

This week’s blog entry explores the complicated issue of FDI from China, highlights a few recommendations for economic development in the face of a stagnant economy, and uncovers recently released job creation figures from the “app economy.” Comment below or send to common@nlc.org.

Get last week’s blog here.

Should the United States actively seek investment from China? China is flush with excess cash reserves from running perpetual trade surpluses and they have been very active the last few years investing in assets all over the world. Currently, the United States represents a very small portion of Chinese FDI, but these figures are increasing. James Lindsay, in a Council on Foreign Relations blog post, explains that Chinese investment can potentially stimulate growth and create jobs, but allowing Chinese access to American technology continually sparks security concerns. In a separate article in the Wall Street Journal, Joseph White and Norihiko Shirouzu tell the story of a factory in Saginaw, Michigan that was saved from closing by “Chinese industrialists.” A cautiously optimistic dynamic seems to be at play within the Saginaw community, as they still don’t completely trust that the jobs will remain in Michigan. The Chinese investors say they are committed to the US market and for now, the Michiganders are just happy to be working. As more Chinese investors infiltrate our communities seeking out profitable assets, this issue will no doubt rise to the forefront.

Although the US receives a small sliver of FDI from China, we continue to receive more FDI inflows than any other country.  Mark Crawford states that “according to the Council of Economic Advisors… nearly half of all goods and services provided by foreign-based companies came from the US manufacturing sector. These companies employ about 5.7 million US workers, including more than two million employees in manufacturing industries.” Helping this trend are economic development professionals who aggressively seek out investment from abroad by building effective relationships and setting up trade missions. The competition to provide incentives to foreign companies is fierce – 300 counties competed for German company Schulz GMBH before they selected Tunica, Mississippi. FDI figures will continue to be strong, particularly in industries related to alternative energy, biomedical, and advanced manufacturing. (Area Development)

In an economic climate forecasted to be relatively stagnant for the next few years, what should cities and states focus on with regard to economic development? According to Daniel Levine, chasing projects with incentives and interstate poaching of industry has become too expensive to be effective. “Regional-centric” partnerships involving private industry and universities and community colleges prove to be much more valuable. Levine also recommends a focus on distressed workers, most of whom are not qualified for the high paying, high-tech jobs that are often targeted with incentives. (Area Development)

Even if you don’t have a smartphone (like me), you’ve probably been exposed to the “app economy.” Looking around, it’s quite easy to see the growing dependence on apps to get around, find something to eat, or check what time the next train leaves. This is the “app economy” at work. Has the “app economy” been an effective job creator? Apparently, in the last five years, the mobile applications market created an estimated 466,000 jobs according to TechNet via the LA Times. While many job seekers don’t have the computer science and engineering skills to qualify for “app economy” jobs, it is still a bright spot in an otherwise gloomy economy. (Dayton Daily News) via (Economic News from Ohio’s Regions)

Payroll Tax Cut Deal Paves Way for Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network

The following was written by Mitchel Herckis, Principal Associate for Federal Relations

In these difficult times, it seems rare that we can tout a bipartisan victory that helps cities and towns across the nation.  However, this week Congress has the opportunity to take a major step forward in replacing the current patchwork of voice-only first responder communications with a modern nationwide 4G wireless network that will ensure our first responders receive the information they need when disaster strikes.

Since well before September 11, 2001, cities and towns, along with our first responders, have requested the construction of a nationwide interoperable network for public safety.  After the attacks in 2001, it became a major recommendation of the 9/11 Commission—one of the few never fulfilled by Congress.

However, with the passage of the payroll tax bill, Congress will pave the way for the creation of a nationwide interoperable public safety broadband network that gives our first responders access to technologies that you and I take for granted as commercial customers.

Once fully implemented, first responders will be able to share video, pictures, and data in real time.  Police and fire services from other jurisdictions and states will be able to have their communications equipment seamlessly linked into local systems when responding to major emergencies and national crises.  Most importantly of all, public safety will have a reliable, resilient communications network that they control.

While details of the agreement are still coming out, one thing is certain: this is a big win for the National League of Cities, local governments, and our first responders.

Here’s just some of what the final deal will mean to our nation:

•    Sufficient dedicated spectrum for public safety.  The bill will reallocate the 700 MHz D Block of spectrum to public safety, and retains nationwide “narrowband” 700 MHz spectrum currently used for land mobile radio (LMR) communication.  This ensures our responders will be able to utilize both mission critical voice and modern 4G wireless broadband services to communicate in almost every emergency situation.
•    $7 billion in funds for build out and operate the nationwide network.  While there is a requirement of a non-federal match of at least 20 percent, it may be waived if in “the public interest.”
•    Funding for Next Generation 9-1-1.  NG9-1-1 will allow citizens to send texts, pictures, and video to 9-1-1 call centers, who will in turn be able to share vital information with our first responders.
As a result of gaining this significant benefit for cities and towns, public safety utilizing the “T-Band” (470-512 MHz) will be required to transition off of it over the next 9-11 years.  For many localities, this will mean changing how public safety communications are handled.  To assist localities, the legislation authorizes funding to assist affected state and local governments in relocating from the T-Band.

The bill may also impact some local authority.  Under the bill state and local governments must approve any requests for a modification of an existing wireless tower or base station that does not substantially change the physical dimensions of that tower or base station that involves collocation of new transmission equipment, removal of transmission equipment, or replacement of that transmission equipment.  Historic preservation and environmental requirements will still have to be met, though.

The network will be overseen by a national governance committee consisting of state, local, and tribal representatives, as well as public safety officials, from across the nation.   While individual states will have an option to opt out of the national network construction and conduct their own deployment, their plan to do so would need to be approved by the national governance body, meeting certain requirements of interoperability and perhaps other benchmarks.
While challenges lie ahead, we can safely say Congress has taken the big step in the right direction.  We can also say that we are on the threshold of a great victory for our communities, our first responders, and our nation.

Screaming for Housing Demolition

In a country that cannot adequately house all of its citizens, both government and private-sector actors will bulldoze more than two million homes in the time before us. Implemented on a vast scale already thanks to dollars from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP), the pace of demolition will quicken as the winter months recede.

It does little good to dwell on the arguments made under the guise of practicality. Practicality dictates the sacrifice of one part of a neighborhood over another part. It’s as if all of America is now a metaphor for the Vietnamese provincial capital of Ben Tre where “it became necessary to destroy the town to save it.”

What was once spoken only in whispers is now a loudly advocated policy proscription (http://wapo.st/yamsnT). Gone is the rhetoric promoting home ownership as the principal path to wealth and prosperity for millions of families seeking a foothold in the ranks of the middle class. Gone too is the rage at the most recent example of “creative destruction,” as house after house collapses under the blade of the bulldozer.

If cities and counties are now going to ask for money to demolish existing housing, however dilapidated,  let’s at least take the moment necessary to fix in our minds the lessons that brought the country to this situation.

  1. An over-emphasis on home ownership, and the tax benefits that accompany it, over any other option of residence;
  2. The characterization of home ownership as a superior tool for wealth creation rather than simply an economical method of domesticity and family stability;
  3. An over-reliance on home construction as a central component of the local, regional and national economy;
  4. An over-abundance of state laws that prohibit mixed-use development; and
  5. An over-reliance on the market to police itself against fraudulent mortgage processes and risk underwriting.

It costs upwards of $10,000 to tear down a modest single-family home. The price increases geometrically when one crumbling townhouse must be separated from another. Beyond the money, the far greater price we pay comes in terms of the lost opportunity to reduce the nation’s ill-housed population closer to the desirable level of zero.

President’s Housing Proposal Would Help Cities, But Congress Unlikely to Cooperate

In the State of the Union President Obama announced the Administration’s latest proposal to help struggling homeowners lower mortgage payments; and help neighborhoods hard hit by vacant and abandoned housing.  Unlike existing programs that target assistance to homeowners at high risk of foreclosure, the new proposal is aimed directly at middle class homeowners who may or may not be at risk of foreclosure, but who are in many instances tied to mortgages worth much more than their homes.  If successful, the proposal could jumpstart the housing market by opening an avenue to hundreds of thousands of homeowners to refinance their mortgages.  But first, the proposal will need approval from an extremely combative Congress, in an election year, where common ground on any issue has been hard to find.

The new proposal would help homeowners who have been mostly current on mortgage payments over the course of a year.  More than one missed mortgage payment over six month prior to the immediate past six months would disqualify an applicant.  Under the proposal, any qualifying homeowner that has been unable to refinance their mortgage in the private market could refinance through a federal entity to take advantage of historically low interest rates.  Homeowners with mortgages insured by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would have access to streamlined refinancing through those entities.  Homeowners with privately held or insured mortgages would have access to refinancing through the Federal Housing Administration.  Homeowners with FHA mortgages and rural homeowners with mortgages insured by USDA would be given similar access through those agencies.  Federal mortgage refinancing would only be available for single-family, owner-occupied homes to prevent housing speculators from benefitting.  According to the White House, the program would cost the federal government a total of $5 to $10 billion, which would be paid for by a proposed “Financial Crisis Responsibility Fee” on financial institutions.

Cities and towns with high rates of foreclosure and vacant housing would also benefit.  First, the proposal includes a request to Congress for $15 billion in FY 2013 for Project Rebuild, modeled off the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, to provide direct grants to local governments to put people to work on rehabilitating homes made vacant by foreclosure and commercial property vacated or damaged as a result of the economic downturn.  Secondly, the President is calling on Congress to fund the Housing Trust Fund for the first time at $1 billion.  Housing Trust Funds would be distributed to states based on vacancy and foreclosure criteria for use in neighborhoods impacted by the housing crisis.  Lastly, a pilot program to transition foreclosed homes held by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into rental properties could help cities and towns increase necessary affordable housing stock and quickly put vacant homes to use rather than remaining vacant and depressing surrounding home values for an indefinite period of time.

However, without a significant groundswell of support, the President’s proposal faces high hurdles in the House where Republicans have made decreasing the role of the government in the housing market a priority in response to near collapse of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and in opposition to the Wall Street Reform bill.  Other opponents include financial industry organizations, including the American Bankers Association, who are lining up against the proposed fee on financial institutions that would pay for federal mortgage refinancing.

After the President’s proposal was announced, House Financial Services Chair Spencer Bachus (R-AL) took to the pages of USA TODAY to criticize the proposal for “doing nothing to help those on the verge of losing their homes”.  He also made the point that Republicans are unlikely to support a proposal that shifts the risk of refinancing underwater borrowers from private lenders to taxpayers.  Earlier this year, the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Capital Markets and Government Sponsored Enterprises dealt a setback to the proposal months before it was even introduced by approving, along party lines, a bill that would repeal authorization of the Housing Trust Fund.  Opponents of the Trust Fund call it a waste of taxpayer money and little more than a slush fund.  Sound familiar?  Opponents of CDBG use the same argument.

Congressional supporters, however, are saying they will nevertheless push the proposal forward.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, whose home state of Nevada has been hotbed of foreclosure activity said the President’s housing proposal is a high-priority.  He also chastised opponents of the proposal for advocating a “do-nothing policy”.  Still, without some Republican assistance, the chances of the proposal advancing will remain small.  NLC is supporting the Administration’s efforts to help homeowners and improve the housing market, and is urging the President and Congress to find common ground.

The Latest in Economic Development – 2.9.12

This week’s blog entry showcases a successful approach to regional collaboration, highlights a proactive program for workforce development, explores a community-driven strategy for urban development, and makes the case that small businesses should be open to exporting. Comment below or send to common@nlc.org.

Get last week’s blog here.

Regional collaboration is usually big on ideas, but devoid of action due to the inherent competitiveness of regional geographies. The Federal Regional Innovation Cluster Initiative – unveiled in March 2010 – is trying to lower traditional barriers to collaboration. Where has this been apparent? Steve McKnight says that the Techbelt Initiative, a regional collaboration scheme involving the previously booming industrial corridor from Cleveland to Pittsburgh, has effectively used partnerships, grants, and cross-state resources to attract new investment. Not all regions have the industrial fortitude of the Rust Belt, but lessons can still be learned with regard to its regional focus. (4th Economy) via (Innovation Daily)

Unemployment continues to be a huge burden on the economy, but under the surface, the bigger problem may be the overall lack of qualified job candidates. Vermont is lucky enough to have a low unemployment rate, but “more than 15% of the state’s workforce is discouraged and underemployed.” Amid rhetoric of entrepreneurship and startups (both of which are noble causes), workforce development sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. But not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur, and startups usually require highly skilled, tech-savvy employees. So Vermont’s Department of Labor partnered with the Community College of Vermont to develop a “career readiness” program to sharpen students’ professional skills, from computer aptitude to professional etiquette. (VT Digger)

There seems to be two broad approaches to urban revitalization; the first involves high-cost, large master plan projects, the other calls for smaller, modest, “place making” projects. With the current economic climate continuing to strain city budgets, the second option – small scale, grassroots approach – may be the more prudent option. According to Alan Pullman, smaller scale project usually end up being more community-driven than finance focused, and they also lack the bureaucracy and red tape of a large scale project. (Buildipedia) via (Planetizen)

“For large American corporations, exporting – especially to booming markets such as China, India, and Brazil – is often seen as a logical part of their growth.” Why is this not the norm for small and medium sized businesses? Often, because of their limited time and resources, they feel like exporting abroad is not in the cards. But in the current era of e-commerce, exporting products and services to huge markets like China has never been easier. The Obama administration is helping to increase trade financing for smaller US companies, and the private sector is doing its part as well, with numerous firms offering translation, customer service, and currency conversion services. (USA Today)

Broken Politics Does Not Diminish the Value of Government

A startling NBC/Wall Street Journal poll (January 22-24, 2012) indicates that 80 percent of Americans disapprove the job performance of Congress. Indeed, attitudes about government generally, whether Congress, the President, cabinet departments or agencies, are generally unfavorable. Research work conducted by Public Works Partners www.publicworkspartners.net illuminates a bit more of the truth behind these figures.

The first observation is that attitudes about government tend to reflect a distant institution dimly understood. More importantly, government is immediately equated with contentious partisan politics, with taxation and with services delivered to customers much like candy bars are dispensed from a vending machine.

The good news is that at a deeper level government and citizenship are valued. Government is viewed favorably as a vehicle for collective action such as national defense. It also provides systems and structures that benefit society as a whole such as courts and a unified currency.

The paradox is that we value government but despise the political process.  A survey by the Pew Center for People and the Press finds that when it comes to Congress the problem with the institution is the members themselves, not the political system. In assessing Congress, 55% of the public says they think the system can work fine; it’s the members that are the problem (http://bit.ly/uEax4S).

This is nothing new of course. The citizenry have been supporting their government but hating their public decision making process since the founding of the Republic.  The ink on the U.S. Constitution was not yet dry when Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay began papering citizens in the State of New York with the essays that we know collectively today as The Federalist Papers. (http://thomas.loc.gov/home/histdox/fedpapers.html)

At the founding, the need for government was an accepted principle. “Nothing is more certain than the indispensable necessity of government, and it is equally undeniable, that whenever and however it is instituted, the people must cede to it some of their natural rights in order to vest it with requisite powers,” wrote Jay in Federalist #2.

But once past that basic hurdle, things get messy; the passions of individuals play upon the system. Madison in Federalist #10 reminds us, “Complaints are everywhere heard from our most considerate and virtuous citizens . . . that the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties, and that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.”

The political process is all about “faction;” the interests of one group of persons as compared to another group of persons. Madison gives full voice to matters about factions in Federalist #10. “A landed interest, a manufacturing interest, a mercantile interest, a moneyed interest, with many lesser interests, grow up of necessity in civilized nations, and divide them into different classes, actuated by different sentiments and views. The regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modern legislation, and involves the spirit of party and faction in the necessary and ordinary operations of the government.” This is to say, disharmony is unavoidable in a free society.

Politics is the art of the possible; of compromise. As such, some will always be disaffected. But the words of John Jay in Federalist #2 can help today’s elected policy makers focus on the values citizens place on the basic institutions of government. “A strong sense of the value and blessings of union induced the people, at a very early period, to institute a federal government to preserve and perpetuate it. They formed it almost as soon as they had a political existence; nay, at a time when their habitations were in flames, [and] when many of their citizens were bleeding.”

Local government leaders are political creatures. But to the extent that they can articulate the value and significance of governmental systems and structures, their efforts to instill strong attachments of citizenship and participation in decision making will be rewarded.

Disappointed by the House Ways and Means Committee

The following post was written by Leslie Wollack, Program Director at the National League of Cities.

NLC is disappointed in the vote by the House Ways and Means Committee to change the way public transportation is funded…a funding structure that has provided highway and transit programs with dedicated and dependable funding for over thirty years.    The Committee voted 15 – 22 to defeat an amendment by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) that would strike the link between highway and transit funding and fund transit entirely from annual appropriations, extremely unlikely in this strained budget climate.

Transit funding is a critical element of communities large and small and vital to creating and getting people to and from jobs in our community.   The House of Representatives is avoiding the larger issue of funding our national infrastructure and leaves it to state and local governments to continue to find ways to hold our national transportation network together.

The Latest in Economic Development – 2.2.12

This week’s blog entry explains new progress in entrepreneurial-focused federal legislation, explores the upward trend in U.S. exports, highlights Oklahoma City’s successful growth strategy, focuses on lessons learned from Michael Bloomberg and Cornell’s ambitious project, and discovers a startup that helps startups. Comment below or send to common@nlc.org.

Get last week’s blog here.

Are we getting closer to federal policy changes that will accelerate entrepreneurship? We certainly could be. Yesterday, President Obama introduced his Startup America legislative agenda, based on a few varieties of proposed legislation and Kauffman Foundation research. Leader of the Startup America Partnership – Steve Case – explores in this blog post some of the main features of the agenda, including crowdfunding, allowing highly-skilled immigrants to remain in the US, and regulatory reform. (TechCrunch)

The “recovery” from the Great Recession hasn’t been much of a recovery. One aspect of the American economy is on the uptick though – exports. Exports as a percentage of GDP have been steadily rising since the recession thanks to a weak dollar and depressed domestic demand. Will president Obama’s much ballyhooed plan to double exports come to fruition? The New York Times’ Annie Lowery and Binyamin Appelbaum explore this very topic.

Many cities have continued to struggle financially due to the adverse revenue effects of the recession, but Oklahoma City has done better than most to soften the blow. How? According to Mayor Mick Cornett, an additional penny on the dollar sales tax has allowed the city to invest conservatively in capital projects focused on improving the quality of life. This approach has paid off, as Oklahoma City has been able to attract young people to move into its core due to its many opportunities and amenities. What’s the secret to citizen support for additional taxes in a conservative state? The political capital that comes when you do what you say you’re going to do. (NPR) via (Planetizen)

Most cities don’t have the capacity to undertake projects like NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s recent announcement that Cornell University will be building a graduate science and engineering campus in the city. The project is estimated to cost around $2 billion – not in the ballpark of a traditional economic development budget. But important lessons can still be learned from the project: 1) “Great cities view their universities as investments in their economic future.” 2) University students are important contributors to a city’s economy. 3) “Economic development takes place with public-private partnerships.” And 4) “It takes leadership from both the public and private sectors to build support for far-reaching proposals.” (Bangor Daily News)

The startup environment can sometimes be confusing to an outsider, but what about a startup that helps startups? Entrepreneur Andrew Yang is doing just that, and he’s gaining attention and support from struggling cities. His Venture for America program is placing trained fellows in cities like Detroit and Providence for two years to provide much needed support to small, fast-fast growing companies. It’s a win-win; high-potential startups receive talented and cheap labor, and the fellow gains real world entrepreneurial experience. (Forbes) via (Innovation Daily)

Curitiba’s Former Mayor Lerner Offers Valuable Reflections on Designing Sustainable Cities

Last week, Embarq, in conjunction with the other major players in the development world (think: international banks), hosted the ninth annual “Transforming Transportation” Conference to share model practices,  meet with colleagues doing similar work, and address sustainable transport issues worldwide.  This year’s conference focused on “scaling up” – that is, finding ways to emulate/adapt/multiply current best practices from various cities to make a larger, more powerful print on the future of (sustainable) development.

For me, the most exciting part of the conference was the opportunity to hear the keynote speaker, Jamie Lerner, who, until yesterday, I had only read about in grad school textbooks and researched for my sustainability classes.  Lerner- former three-time Mayor of Curitiba; two time Governor for the State of Parana, Brazil; architect; and urban planner (the list goes on) is perhaps best known for his implementation of the first ever BRT (bus rapid transit) system in his first term as Mayor.  Since then, academics, practitioners, researchers, and the like have looked to Curitiba as the highest example of a visionary transit system.  Today, over 100 BRT systems are operating from Los Angeles to Dhaka, making the effects of increased mobility and access felt worldwide.   

Without spending too much time on the details on Curitiba’s BRT system (if you’re curious, Google will turn up plenty of publications on its design and implementation), I wanted to share my interpretation of some of his messages about city planning- messages that I believe are applicable to virtually every city.   While he stated that every city has its own design, certain principles are universal:

  • Mobility matters.  Lerner’s talk, along with several others at the conference, highlighted the importance of analyzing transit access and availability from the user’s standpoint.  By shifting perspectives, we are able to better understand the connections between various transit systems (train, bus, BRT, walking, biking) that already exist in our cities, without necessarily building anything new.  Rather than competing for users within the same space, transit systems should enhance each other. Additionally, Lerner mentioned that there’s not just one way to address mobility concerns for all cities- a simple point, but one worth noting.
  • “Creativity starts when you cut a zero from your budget.”  Enough said.  With ever-increasing fiscal constraints, the time is ripe to think of innovative, out-of-the box (and economical) strategies to address persistently pesky municipal issues or long-term sustainability goals. There are stellar examples from within our own country’s borders:  Austin’s Green Business Leaders Program, hosted by the city’s Office of Sustainability, is a competitive awards program for local businesses to take advantage of sustainability opportunities already existing in other city departments as a means to green their business. As a result, the program brings together the various business stakeholders in Austin’s green future, while capitalizing on the ongoing efforts of other city departments.
  • Co-responsibility. Lerner stressed an “equation of co-responsibility,” where all people begin to understand the ideas, motivations, and reasons for city led projects.  When that happens, Lerner states that support for city led projects quickly multiplies, as people feel a sense of ownership over what their city is doing. To breed co-responsibility, informing constituents and getting their feedback is critical and in this age, that means utilizing various social media outlets such as websites (SustainIndy); twitter feeds (Sustainable Cleveland 2019); and Facebook pages (Greenworks Philadelphia).
  • Educate children/youth about sustainability. We often forget that sustainability deals with long-term systemic change- when we recall that, we realize the impact that educating children about sustainable living can have on drastically altering a city’s trajectory.  Check out the Youth Planning Program in Portland’s Office of Sustainability, where 14 – 21 year olds work with professional and planners to shape the city’s long-range planning.  Instilling a culture of sustainability in your city begins with engaging the younger generation in your sustainability efforts.

As a designer who has a clear commitment to the political process, Lerner brings a unique perspective to the future of sustainable cities.  His keynote speech was quite an appropriate and inspiring beginning to a conference that generated substantive and spirited dialogue around sustainable transit.

[In case you’re interested in hearing him speak, I was able to find a TED talk that mentions some similar elements.]