Black Box Metros
It is quite obvious that the U.S. economy is an economy of metropolitan regions, with employment and economic activity concentrated in these areas. However, this fact can often obscure more than it explains. Metros consist of urban, suburban, and rural areas so speaking about strengthening “urban policy” can be a slippery eel: federal housing policy, for example, actually sucks resources away from central cities by favoring homeownership (of big, expensive homes in the suburbs) over rental housing (concentrated in cities). In fact, strengthening a core city can be critical to a region’s success, while shifting resources to outer suburbs can have unfortunate consequences.
The Harvard Business Review investigates a growing trend of businesses moving back to central cities (One example is United’s move from the suburb of Elk Grove to downtown Chicago, which Karin references below.). Carol Coletta of CEOs for Cities explains that:
Increasingly CEOs understand that without a vibrant central city, their region becomes less competitive…Good CEOs care about the fate of their cities, because they have to question whether that is the place where they can attract the talent they need.
Somewhat paradoxically, the emphasis on the strength of metro economies at times overshadows the question of what makes such metros strong. The answer, more often than not, is strong central cities.