Economic Engines

The Benefits of Being a 'Necessary City'

This story is part of Governing's annual International issue.

One aspect of globalization that has received tremendous attention is the concept of the so-called “global city” -- a place like New York or London that is in some sense an exceptionally successful and dominant player on the world stage. These have been variously defined, but often with a focus on specific business services like finance, and on overall economic size, diversity of culture and attractiveness as a tourist destination.  READ MORE

For Infrastructure’s Sake, America Needs Skilled Workers

From the smartphone in our hands to the flat-screen TVs on our walls—and the Internet that now runs between them—we have a level of technological wizardry that would make Harry Potter envious. We all know that behind these gadgets and platforms is an amazing level of skill and knowledge: in the concepts that led to them, in the designs that take concept to reality and in the manufacturing that creates them. 

Outside our homes is a built environment of roads, train lines, bridges, water, power and fiber-optic lines that also requires skills to conceive, design, build and maintain. For whatever reason, though, we don’t often think about those types of skills. But we should. Because unlike smartphones or even trains, it’s hard to import that know-how from China or elsewhere. It’s crucial that we maintain those important skills at home. READ MORE

How to Harvest Good Ideas

In an era of creativity we have come to fetishize the idea. That’s why every innovation competition is about coming up with the best new ideas. It’s as though the idea itself has the power to generate transformation. Yet, if it’s never implemented, even the best idea is of no value.

This has been clearly shown in Rhode Island, the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution in America. The state has been in economic decline far longer than the Midwest’s Rust Belt, prompting many a search for a solution. As one local TV reporter noted, proposals have been piling up since the Eisenhower administration, with none of them ever really implemented. READ MORE

Change Is Gonna Come

I could be as rich as fabled King Midas or the latest Internet billionaire, but I would still be powerless against the transformative force of infrastructure.

I had the good fortune recently to spend two days at Greentree, the imposing estate of the Whitney family on Long Island that now serves as a meeting place for select nonprofits. The baronial estate was part of the now largely departed Gold Coast, the fabled North Shore where industry titans and wealthy elites lived large in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. READ MORE

America’s Days of Dreaming Big Are Over

Across the country, transportation and utility department directors are repairing roads, extending sewers and building water lines. Other officials are managing airports, libraries, parks, police and fire departments. This is the daily, weekly and monthly life of city and state government, managing these essential but ordinary assets.

 What’s interesting is that once upon a time all these services weren’t just accepted, but were seen as mere dreams. They were aspirations, which some people shared and others thought foolish and unwise. Public water systems were a wild idea in the mid-19th century. The construction of the secondary road system in the early 20th century was an immense task, with dozens of bureaucratic battles and choices. The idea of every city having a library was a pipedream until Andrew Carnegie spent a chunk of his immense fortune to build about a thousand of them more than 100 years ago. Even the idea that every child was entitled to an education at public expense was once controversial and a much debated notion (and one that wasn’t fully settled until well into the 20th century). READ MORE