This post was written by Jacques Gordon, Global Strategist, LaSalle Investment Management; and Member, MPC Board of Governors.
I was fortunate to stop by the Global Metro Summit, which took place at the University of Illinois (UIC) Forum in Chicago last week. Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) invited its Board of Governors to attend, and several of us accepted the offer to hear an extraordinary slate of speakers and panel discussions.
The author at MPC's 2010 Annual Luncheon
Photo by Michael Prischman
The guest list was equally impressive: I sat next to a row of officials from the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, and in front of a row of staffers from the White House. Academics who research urban issues were also in good attendance. Most interesting of all were the number of foreign guests: I saw nametags indicating people came all the way from the Netherlands, Italy, Germany and Japan ... and I wasn't even trying to mingle!
There was not much publicity – at least not to the local business community – on what this summit was all about. So, I was not sure what to expect. Here’s what I learned:
- Regionalism is now central to an active, growing, international dialogue.
- Some very smart, articulate people are re-thinking the notion of "planning" as it relates to metropolitan areas.
- Finally, "The Urban Question," as framed by authors such as Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Herbert Gans, and Manuel Castells, is being re-framed again.
This time around, it is taken as a given that the overwhelming predominance of economic and social activity in highly developed countries (including the U.S., Germany, Italy and Japan) is now conducted in metropolitan areas. Yet, as the founding director of the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program Bruce Katz pointed out effectively (watch his presentation on Brookings' web site), the political constructs needed to govern and manage these vast settled areas have not kept pace. Metropolitan areas are the economic reality of the 21st Century. They possess assets and liabilities that do not respect the antiquated political jurisdictions of the 19th and the 20th centuries that govern them. Katz argued persuasively for an intentional, metro-based approach to discovering and investing in the engines of growth most likely to succeed in the "Next Economy." These "metro business plans" would focus on: 1) The goods and services exported to national and global markets; 2) where innovation occurs within the region; and 3) how "sustainable, low-carbon" initiatives can help metros compete in the global economy for years to come.
Josef Ackermann, chairman of Deutsche Bank (DB) and co-chair of the World Economic Forum Foundation Board, described this era as the "urban age." Using arguments that sounded like they came straight out of a column by Thomas Friedman of The New York Times, Ackermann reminded the audience how much China is investing in sustainable energy, and that we Americans better take notice. Ackermann explained that what he called "The Green Opportunity" has become his personal passion, as well as an area of expertise of his bank. Developing alternative energy sources, establishing "carbon markets," managing the carbon footprints of Deutsche Bank’s buildings – these are all simply good business, according to Ackermann.
I had a lunchtime meeting back in the Loop, so I could not stay for all the interesting panels that followed the opening speeches by Ackermann and Katz. Without a single cab in sight, I hopped on the No. 12 Roosevelt Road bus back to my office at the Aon Center. The contrast between the world of urban policy experts and the people on the bus hit me squarely. Here were hard-working people and a scattering of students going to or from their jobs, their classes, or perhaps looking for work. Many were chatting amiably, all were staying warm, and everyone headed into the heart of the city in one of those ubiquitous, "articulated" CTA hybrid busses. When we got to the Red Line stop, I was struck by how well this basic infrastructure still works to move people around here in Chicago, despite the disinvestment in various pieces of it. I was back at my office in about 25 minutes, including the Red Line transfer. One of Katz's key themes was that our nations must invest in basic infrastructure. And here, in front of me, was as good an example as any PowerPoint presentation.
I made it back in plenty of time to meet with the global management committee of Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL). My assignment was to share major trends and economic forecasts to help our firm refine its 2011 budgets. I couldn't help but deviate slightly from my script to discuss some of what I had just heard at the summit. The heads of our European, Asian and North American business lines immediately picked up on the major themes of metropolitan growth, infrastructure and sustainable energy. Business people don't always have time for day-long seminars on "urban policy." But many of my colleagues quickly "got it” once I explained the major themes of the "Next Economy," as laid out clearly by Bruce Katz.
The head of our European business division shared that our firm helped plan and execute DB's move to their new state-of-the-art, energy-efficient, headquarters in Frankfurt. Our firm was hired to construct and manage a totally "green" building – including the materials used and the way waste water and trash recycling would be organized. To DB’s credit, they bought into one of the most dramatic plans for any headquarters of a major European corporation. My colleague was gratified to hear that Josef Ackermann was proud of what DB had been able to accomplish. The global management team at JLL pointed out that many other large corporate clients also are now pursuing this path.
In the days since I attended the summit, I have had the chance to leaf through the remarkable series of conference papers. The readability, thoughtfulness and persuasiveness of these documents is much higher than many other examples of "regional planning" literature I have seen. They include case studies from around the world that show how regions have organized themselves to address major challenges; a very well laid-out case for "Metropolitan Business Plans" by two Brookings authors, Chicagoan Robert Weissbourd and Mark Muro; and a short paper from a group of scholars and policy analysts from the London School of Economics on "Policy Lessons" in the EU and Asia.
All in all, I was impressed enough by the whole experience that I thought it worth sharing with the larger MPC community. If you attended the summit, I’m curious to know: What did you take away?