Bruce Katz: 'The success of cities cannot be fuelled by reform alone'

From a speech by the Director of the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Programme, in Washington DC, to the IPPR's Centre for Cities event, in London
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The Independent Online

The UK is having a debate about how to sustain the recovery of British cities. An important part of this discussion is focused on making local government more entrepreneurial and accountable, partly through the direct election of mayors. I believe that the UK can learn several lessons from the American experience.

The UK is having a debate about how to sustain the recovery of British cities. An important part of this discussion is focused on making local government more entrepreneurial and accountable, partly through the direct election of mayors. I believe that the UK can learn several lessons from the American experience.

American mayors are sparking a wave of policy innovation to enhance the competitiveness of their cities. From Richard Daley in Chicago to Jerry Abramson in Louisville to John Hickenlooper in Denver, mayors are at the forefront of school, public safety, housing and transportation reform. Their success is not due solely to the fact that they are directly elected; rather it derives largely from the fact that they have substantial tax, spending and regulatory powers. For example, 41 per cent of local revenues in the US are raised by local governments. Britain should consider a greater devolution of fiscal and other powers.

Second, the administrative boundaries of many American cities are expanding outwards as cities strive to reflect the metropolitan nature of commuting as well as housing and labour markets. Some 400 cities in the US expanded their borders through annexation of adjoining land during the 1990s. Other cities are merging with their county governments to form regional cities, with Louisville, Kentucky, being the most recent example.

All US metropolitan areas are engaged in some kind of formal or informal regional collaboration given that issues such as air quality and congestion and workforce clearly cross borders. Given the metropolitan reality of the economy, the UK might want to consider the direct election of mayors for larger conurbations - say Greater Manchester - rather than individual cities.

Finally, the resurgence of American cities is not due to the actions of elected mayors alone. A rich network of business, civic and community institutions has had a profound impact on the growth trajectory of their urban places. The success of cities cannot be fuelled by government reform alone.

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