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‘This Is A Big Deal’: New York Hails Ventilator Deliveries From China And Oregon : Coronavirus Live Updates : NPR

New York State will be receiving 1,000 ventilators from the Chinese government on Saturday after the US federal government has failed to deliver enough ventilators to the nation’s largest city.

Could a NYC metro-regional coordinating body be useful for bringing much needed medical supplies to NYC? Almost certainly.

NPR has the story: ‘This Is A Big Deal’: New York Hails Ventilator Deliveries From China And Oregon : Coronavirus Live Updates : NPR

Seattle Flirts with ‘Municipal Socialism’ – POLITICO Magazine

SEATTLE—On an overcast morning in early April, three members of the Seattle City Council arrived to find their cavernous, titanium- and maple-paneled meeting chambers packed to capacity with a noisy, unwelcoming crowd. Many wore T-shirts bearing the message “I drive, I vote.” When the council president tried to open the hearing, one argumentative man kept interrupting so industriously that security had to escort him from the room.

The confrontation had been orchestrated in part by Uber, the ride-share company, as the latest move in its long-simmering war with the city. Almost from the moment Uber chose Seattle as its third test market, back in 2011, the city has sought to put itself between the company and its drivers: first, there had been an ordinance attempting to cap the number of ride-share drivers here; then, in 2015, the City Council passed a law allowing drivers to bargain collectively. Now, the city was considering a law to force ride-share companies to nearly double the base rate paid to their drivers, from $1.35 to $2.40 per mile.

City officials argued the new rate was necessary to ensure that drivers earn Seattle’s $15-an-hour minimum wage. But Uber, king of the budget ride, was having none of it. After blasting an email to its Seattle-area customers warning that the city “wants to double your rates,” Uber dispatched a small army of company-friendly drivers to City Hall to lobby the council in person. Seattle, a city famous for promoting innovation, was innovating in a way that Uber didn’t appreciate.

Yet, it’s the kind of assertiveness that Uber and the rest of corporate America will probably have to get used to. Ever since 2014, when Seattle became the first major municipality to adopt a $15 minimum wage—over the objections of its own business community—the famously left-of-center city has rolled out a series of ambitious, often controversial laws aimed at shielding workers from the chaos of the fast-changing, technology-disrupted urban job market. Today, Seattle’s workers enjoy a list of on-the-job benefits that feels almost European in its scope—everything from a high minimum wage to a ban on last-minute schedule changes to a city-sponsored retirement savings plan. And more are on the way. This year, council members are considering a “bill of rights” for the estimated 33,000 housecleaners, nannies and other “domestics” who work for the city’s population of high earners.

Continue Reading at the Source: Seattle Flirts with ‘Municipal Socialism’ – POLITICO Magazine


Paul Roberts is a journalist in Seattle who writes about technology, business and politics. His latest book is The Impulse Society: America in the Age of Instant Gratification. Follow him on Twitter @pauledroberts.



The New Localism: Jeremy Nowak on How Cities Can Thrive in the Age of Populism | PennIUR

Bruce Katz, Centennial Scholar at the Brookings Institution, and Jeremy Nowak, Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Drexel University’s Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation, argue in their recent book, The New Localism: How Cities Can Thrive in the Age of Populism, that the power to create social, economic and environmental change lies in the hands of a new kind of localism. Cities and communities are emerging as innovators and problem-solvers to address everything from social inclusion to environmental sustainability despite their being limited in these roles by fiscal distress. While not a replacement for the essential functions of federal governments, Katz and Nowak argue that this new localism is the ideal complement to an effective federal government. Indeed, they argue it is an urgently needed remedy for national dysfunction.

Read the Full Interview by PennIUR Here.

Berkeley is Turning to the Blockchain for City Funding

In an effort to reduce their reliance on federal and state funding, the City of Berkeley is turning to a surprising source: cryptocurrency. The idea is to leverage the blockchain — the technology that makes bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies possible — to spur private, crowdfunded investment in affordable housing and other local projects.

Read the Article at the Source: Berkeley is Turning to the Blockchain for City Funding

Led by Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín and City Councilmember Ben Bartlett, the city is partnering with University of California Berkeley’s Blockchain Lab and finance technology company Neighborly to create an initial coin offering. The offering will allow individuals to buy Berkeley’s cryptocurrency to fund city-issued municipal bonds. The money raised will pay for things such as affordable housing, homeless shelters, ambulances, street trees, even a community theater. Coin owners will potentially be able to spend the cryptocurrency at some Berkeley businesses. As with any municipal bond, investors who get in on the offering will earn a small return on their investment over time as the city pays them back with interest.

The idea grew out of concern over the impact corporate tax cuts (not to mention threats to cut funding to sanctuary cities) would have on their ability to address their affordable housing and homelessness crises. With lower corporate tax rates, corporations have less incentive to buy low income housing tax credits, a key source of affordable housing funding. In addition, big banks raised interest rates on loans to local governments in the wake of the tax cuts.

“We have over a thousand homeless people in Berkeley and expect that to grow by a factor of five,” says Bartlett. “We knew we needed to find a way to fund these things. This need is going to grow and it’s already a disaster that’s affecting our moral and physical integrity as a city.”

Beyond that, Bartlett says conventional municipal bonds are expensive, slow and have lots of red tape for investors, making it hard for individuals to invest in them at all, let alone in the small denominations most people might have to invest. With their idea, bonds could be smaller and be issued more quickly.

Neighborly was launched to do just that — to allow individuals to crowdfund municipal bonds. Austin issued a bond on the platform to pay for historic preservation. Cambridge, Mass., used it to fund schools and utility infrastructure.

Berkeley’s idea operates on a similar principle, but will use the blockchain technology to improve security and transparency, factors they hope will help spur investment (and provides a bit of flashy tech-factor that Bay Area residents might find appealing).

“You conceive of an idea, get the costs ready, push it out to the community, they can buy it right away,” Bartlett explains. “It’s more flexible. It doesn’t have to be a $100 million bond for a sewer. It could be smaller projects and with the lower denomination ability…It’s projected to be 50 percent less expensive to the issuer [than conventional municipal bonds].”

In simplified terms, a blockchain is a database stored concurrently on a peer-to-peer network of computers, making it less vulnerable than storing everything on a central server. Each copy of the database serves as a permanently available public record of every transaction on the blockchain. The technology keeps every copy of the database updated as people buy and exchange each “coin.”

“It’s immutable. It’s transparent. There might be fewer concerns about misappropriation of funds,” explains Stacie Olivares-Castain, who recently became state of California’s first ever senior advisor for impact investments and blockchain.

Olivares-Castain says she is encouraged by Berkeley’s experiment. “It’s very, very early, but what we’re starting to see is the blockchain can be used to improve a sense of individual agency and create more opportunity. The Neighborly model is a very interesting partnership. I think it could be used by other communities, too…Through the blockchain, there’s more democratization of access to capital.”

There are plenty of criticisms of cryptocurrency — coin wallets getting hacked, the wild fluctuation of currency value, the absurd amount of energy bitcoin “miners” consume to run their computers as they continually search for new bitcoin tokens produced somewhat randomly by digital algorithm. Bartlett says none of those issues apply to Berkeley’s project. There will be no coin “mining” for Berkeley’s coins, so the city’s coins “won’t be a tool for speculation. It has a set rate of return at darn near public rates,” he explains.

There are still plenty of details to work out in the plan, but the city is aiming to launch its initial coin offering in May. Bartlett says he’s already fielding calls about it from cities in the U.S. and abroad and is confident that there’s a future for their approach to city funding.

“Digitization, crowdfunding—these are just social impact bonds for the next generation,” he says. “For cities to survive this escalating disinvestment in the public trust, we’re going to have to start thinking outside the box and creating our own resources.”

Read the Article at the Source: Berkeley is Turning to the Blockchain for City Funding

* Photo by Joe Parks

Blue Cities Want to Make Their Own Rules. Red States Won’t Let Them. –

States have banned local ordinances on minimum wage increases, paid sick days and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. They’ve bannedsanctuary cities.” They’ve even banned a number of bans (it’s now illegal for Michigan cities to ban plastic bags, for Texas towns to ban fracking).

A law passed in Arizona last year threatens to withhold shared state revenue from local governments that adopt ordinances in conflict with state policy. Texas’ new sanctuary city law imposes civil fines as high as $25,500 a day on local governments and officials who block cooperation with federal immigration requests. And it threatens officials who flout the law with removal from office and misdemeanor charges.

Read the Article at the Source: Blue Cities Want to Make Their Own Rules. Red States Won’t Let Them. –

Texas’ four largest cities are now suing the state in response. Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, a Republican, has been a vocal advocate for state laws that he says are necessary to protect individual liberty from local government overreach. When cities overstep their bounds, he said this year, they “should have to pay a price for it.”

Policies in these states block or limit local laws.

These new pre-emption laws echo 19th-century “ripper bills,” legal scholars say, state laws that ripped control from cities over their finances, utilities, police forces and local charters. The backlash against them helped spur the movement for local control in the United States. Now home rule is under a “troubling nationwide assault,” warn municipal lawyers and law professors, including Mr. Davidson, in an amicus brief supporting another legal fight, in Cleveland.

There, Ohio passed a law blocking a longstanding requirement that city construction contracts hire some local workers. Cleveland, in other words, was trying to ensure that local projects created local jobs, alleviating local poverty.

Both state legislators and municipal groups agree that pre-emption laws have proliferated in the last few years in number and in the breadth of issues they touch. They disagree on who started the fight: states in stripping municipal power, or cities in seizing new roles that weren’t theirs to begin with.

Read the Read of the Article at the Source: Blue Cities Want to Make Their Own Rules. Red States Won’t Let Them. –

Bucking Trump, These Cities, States and Companies Commit to Paris Accord – The New York Times

It was unclear how, exactly, that submission to the United Nations would take place. Christiana Figueres, a former top United Nations climate official, said there was currently no formal mechanism for entities that were not countries to be full parties to the Paris accord.

Ms. Figueres, who described the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw as a “vacuous political melodrama,” said the American government was required to continue reporting its emissions to the United Nations because a formal withdrawal would not take place for several years.

But Ms. Figueres, the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change until last year, said the Bloomberg group’s submission could be included in future reports the United Nations compiled on the progress made by the signatories of the Paris deal.

Read the Article at the Source: Bucking Trump, These Cities, States and Companies Commit to Paris Accord – The New York Times

There are 195 countries committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions as part of the 2015 agreement.

Still, producing what Mr. Bloomberg described as a “parallel” pledge would indicate that leadership in the fight against climate change in the United States had shifted from the federal government to lower levels of government, academia and industry.

Mr. Bloomberg, a United Nations envoy on climate, is a political independent who has been among the critics of Mr. Trump’s climate and energy policies.

Mayors of cities including Los Angeles, Atlanta and Salt Lake City have signed on — along with Pittsburgh, which Mr. Trump mentioned in his speech announcing the withdrawal — as have Hewlett-Packard, Mars and dozens of other companies.

Finish the Article at the Source: Bucking Trump, These Cities, States and Companies Commit to Paris Accord – The New York Times

Texas Bill Overrides Local Ride-Hailing Regulation

HB 100, signed Monday, creates a “statewide regulatory framework for ride-hailing companies,” the Texas Tribune reports.

House Bill 100 undoes local rules that the two companies have argued are overly burdensome for their business models. It requires ride-hailing companies to have a permit from the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation and pay an annual fee of $5,000 to operate throughout the state. It also calls for companies to perform local, state and national criminal background checks on drivers annually — but doesn’t require drivers to be fingerprinted.

Read the Article at the Source: Texas Bill Overrides Local Ride-Hailing Regulation

Fingerprinting has been a hot topic in Austin, as in other cities. After city officials began mandating this type of background check, Uber and Lyft fought back — but were defeated on the issue by Austin voters in May 2016. Both companies then ceased operations there.

According to the Houston Business Journal, Lyft left Houston in 2014, after the city council passed a number of regulations, including mandated fingerprinting for drivers. Uber reportedly brokered a deal with the city to keep operating locally.

In Austin, ride-hailing apps filled a definite mobility gap, considering the city’s failed light-rail votes, congestion and faltering transit ridership, as Jen Kinney wrote on Next City last year. After the companies left town, alternatives popped up — but so did a number of innovative proposals on how to remake the city’s transportation grid, from smart city technology to better bike and pedestrian infrastructure.

On Monday, Abbott touted HB 100 as a victory for “freedom and free enterprise.”

“This is freedom for every Texan — especially those who live in the Austin area — to be able to choose the provider of their choice as it concerns transportation,” he said, according to the Texas Tribune.

Viewed through another lens, however, the bill could be seen as limiting the freedom of local governments — particularly because voters in Austin supported fingerprinting. Despite the governor’s words, HB 100 looks like yet another example of a red statehouse overriding a blue city hall.

Read the Article at the Source: Texas Bill Overrides Local Ride-Hailing Regulation

*Photo Credit: (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Federal systems don’t preclude national urban policies | Citiscope

Both in the lead-up to and following on the heels of October’s Habitat III conference on sustainable cities, there has been a renewed interest around the world in promoting national urban policies.

This interest stems from an increasing recognition of the importance of such policies for multiple purposes at multiple levels of government. These include, for instance, long-term strategic planning by central governments and their role in financing infrastructure. But they also include attempts to fight poverty, inequality and climate change, as well as to facilitate policy coordination among ministries or agencies.

As OECD Secretary-General Ángel Gurría put it during a Habitat III side event, national urban policy “provides a framework so governments and other stakeholders can ‘get cities right.’”

Article: Federal systems don’t preclude national urban policies by ABIGAIL FRIENDLY MAY 8, 2017

Still, what exactly constitutes that framework remains open. The United Nations’ lead agency on urban issues defines a national urban policy as “a coherent set of decisions derived through a deliberate government-led process of coordinating and rallying various actors for a common vision and goal that will promote more transformative, productive, inclusive and resilient urban development for the long term.”

But beyond this neat definition is a recognition of the diversity of national institutional arrangements and the challenge of figuring out how to actually implement a national urban policy without offering a one-size-fits-all approach — something that proponents have clearly been keen to steer around.

[See: Since Habitat III, an uptick in interest around national urban policies]

As momentum picks up for the elaboration and implementation of national urban policies in various countries, the question is increasingly arising: Can federal systems, too, adopt such a framework?

Certainly a federal system could make formulating a national urban policy more complex, simply because such policies often involve three or more levels of government. Likewise, well-established state, provincial or municipal capabilities could complicate the formulation of a national urban policy even further.

So is a national urban policy possible under a federal system? As it turns out, such policies and federalism are, in fact, compatible. But formulating these policies successfully within such a context depends on the view of federalism followed in any particular country.

Key examples

Despite the apparent challenges to a federal role in cities within specific national contexts, multiple examples show that a federal system doesn’t preclude a national urban policy.

“Despite the apparent challenges to a federal role in cities within specific national contexts, multiple examples show that a federal system doesn’t preclude a national urban policy.”

In Australia, for instance, national urban policy seems to have succeeded under a federal system. Within a country that is demographically 90 percent urban, few policies are not de facto urban policies. So with the appointment of a federal minister for cities and the built environment in 2015, commentators asked: Does the federal government finally ‘get’ cities?

[See: Six months after Habitat III, is the New Urban Agenda gaining political traction?]

The question had a long backstory. Following a failed 2011 attempt to institute a national urban policy and years of federal disengagement in cities, the Australian government inaugurated a Smart Cities Plan in 2016, formulated around investment, policy and technology.

The policy is based on metropolitan strategic planning, infrastructure funding and on the British “City Deals” approach, bringing together all levels of government to “deliver better outcomes through a coordinated investment plan for our cities”. In the City Deals approach, introduced in the United Kingdom in 2012, the national government works directly with large cities through individual arrangements, reflecting the unique needs of each city by devolving powers and financial tools, and strengthening local governance.

While the Australian approach is interesting, it is just over a year old. For now, the test — and lesson for other countries — is whether it will survive a change in government.

Brazil, on the other hand, is a decentralized federal system that is unusual in its recognition of the importance of cities. In 2001, a law known as the Statute of the City (Estatuto da Cidade) was approved, setting out the rights and obligations of cities in the Brazilian federation. The government also created the Ministry of Cities, a federal institution to deal with matters related to urban development and a long-standing demand by the urban reform movements. Since 2003, the ministry has helped Brazil’s numerous municipalities implement the Statute’s directives and acted as a national voice for cities.

Another example is Belgium, which is also highly urbanized. Dating from 1999, the country’s national urban policy — the Big City Policy (Politique des Grandes Villes) — supports Belgian cities most affected by deprived neighbourhoods through contracts between the central government and individual cities. These contracts include horizontal coordination between federal sectors and vertical coordination between other stakeholders (at the European, national, regional, local and neighbourhood level). In 2001, the Belgian authorities created the Urban Policy Service to implement the national urban policy. Belgium’s regions also have their own regional urban policies.

[See: Can the New Urban Agenda heal India’s urban-rural divide?]

Other examples of federal countries with national urban policies include Germany, Mexico and Switzerland.

Contentious proposition

Despite these positive examples, scepticism continues to flourish over the prospect of a national urban policy being instituted in a federal system. One of the major arguments against this idea rests on a conceptual view of federalism that imagines a constitutional impediment to such policies. Another barrier could be simply that while federal urban policy is possible, it’s unnecessary.

“A federal government can play a substantial role in urban policy if it is prepared to mobilize the fiscal and policy levers at its disposal, in addition to the political consequences of doing so.”

An alternative viewpoint, however, comes from a more pragmatic approach. This stance makes the case that a federal government can play a substantial role in urban policy if it is prepared to mobilize the fiscal and policy levers at its disposal, in addition to the political consequences of doing so. This pragmatic approach — in contrast to a more theoretical position — was raised in the 1970s by urban scholar Patrick Troy (in reference to the Australian case).

[See: Joan Clos: New Urban Agenda ideas ‘are now trickling down’]

Here, Canada provides an instructive example. In the 1970s, then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau created the Ministry of State for Urban Affairs, establishing a federal urban policy. But that move came about only after a change of mind from the Trudeau, who initially took a more cautious approach to federalism: At first, the prime minister saw any deviation from the constitutional roles of the provinces as a possible cause of friction and instability.

This interest in Canada began in earnest in the 1960s, considered a watershed in federal-municipal relations. But in fact, discussion over national urban policy in Canada has come up time and again. Multiple federal governments have attempted to institute such a policy, although each initiative eventually has fizzled away.

Over the years, one argument often cited in this perennial discussion has to do with Canada’s unique federal system. As “creatures of the provinces”, Canada’s cities can be formed, dissolved, amalgamated or otherwise altered and their power expanded or restricted only by provincial governments. As a result, Ottawa cannot stoke provincial resentment — particularly from Quebec — about jurisdictional intrusions.

Instead, the federal government must seek to enhance federal policy capacity and visibility in Canada’s cities, the country’s key locales of economic, social and cultural interaction. Given significant pressure from the opposition, Trudeau’s move created the most successful foray into national urban policy in Canada thus far. However, such efforts collapsed among intergovernmental tensions — thus highlighting the need for consensus among the collective stakeholders involved in crafting national urban policies in federations.

[See: After Habitat III, we need to institutionalize our urban policy dialogues]

A similar discussion has taken place in Australia, also a highly federalized country. Despite Australia being a truly urban nation, politicians, scholars and jurists have argued that the federal government has no authority to intervene in urban affairs. As in Canada, several short-lived advances over the years — such as key urban and housing development initiatives in 1972, when both the Labour and left-wing parties agreed to create a cities portfolio within the Commonwealth ministry — have made the case for a federal presence in urban issues.

In the United States, there is no national urban policy per se, although there certainly has been interest in the issue. Nonetheless, the federal government had been largely removed from national urban policy since the 1960s. That said, easing the approach to federalism actually has allowed for some steps toward an urban policy.

Following years of disengagement in urban affairs, President Barack Obama renewed a federal role in city life, driven by an approach that officials called a “new wave of federalism”. In 2009, the White House launched an Office of Urban Affairs to mobilize federal resources in a coordinated fashion toward cities and to collaborate with local communities through sustainable investments.

[See: Why are U. S. mayors missing Habitat III?]

While the Obama-era programmes did not amount to a national urban policy, the change in orientation was unquestionable — although it now appears that the Trump administration is dismantling these advances.

Flexibility and consensus-building

Despite the uncertain situation of the United States, interest in national urban policy is clearly rising. Importantly, this growing attention is being accompanied by a strengthening body of international guidance on the issue.

Before Habitat III, for instance, UN-Habitat and Cities Alliance published a global overview of national urban policies, while the OECD published a compendium detailing European efforts toward such policies. Both studies highlighted the diversity of national experiences, including those with federal systems. The policy paper on national urban policy prepared for Habitat III likewise recommends flexibility in the institutional form of such policies.

[See: Habitat III struggled to deliver — but nonetheless, a new global urban agenda is upon us]

By the same token, considering how consensus can be forged around the need for a national urban policy would greatly facilitate this process. Germany’s national urban policy, launched in 2007, is a notable example of such consensus-building. There, prior consensus-building allowed the national urban policy to more easily fit within the complex federal context and to encourage power-sharing among members of the federation.

How did Germany approach this process? To build consensus and support for the policy through engagement of a broad range of stakeholders, Germany authorities created a National Urban Development policy board. This body included representatives of a broad range of stakeholders including all levels of government, architects, planners, engineers, chambers of commerce, property owners, tenants, craft associations, the construction industry, retailers, civil society groups and academics. This example is instructive for other countries heading down a similar path.

There is also a global initiative already underway that deserves attention: the National Urban Policy Programme of the OECD, UN-Habitat and Cities Alliance. This is a global knowledge-sharing platform on national urban policies and best practices aimed at supporting capacity development. Given the buzz over national urban policy since Habitat III, the time is ripe to demystify the advent of these policies in the context of federal systems.

Article: Federal systems don’t preclude national urban policies by ABIGAIL FRIENDLY MAY 8, 2017

The Case for Devolution | CityLab

Americans on the right have long argued for the “devolution” of power from the federal government to the states. With President Trump in office, Americans on the left should consider taking that idea further: devolving power to cities.

More power to city hall: A protester in Los Angeles after the presidential election in November.

“Saturday Night Live” captured it best in its skit, “The Bubble.” The satirical planned city-state promises progressive Americans a place (other than Canada) to get away from the unthinkable election of Trump. Billed as a “like-minded community for free thinkers—and no one else,” the sketch skewers the idea of urban space as an echo chamber full of affluent young creatives.

Harsh as this portrait may be in its critique of the naiveté of the post-Trump cocoon, for many urbanists, cities really are the bubble—the last refuge for opposition and resistance to Trumpism. (Lucky me, I get to live in Toronto, an urban bubble nested inside the bigger bubble of Canada.)

True, cities may be the best safeguard against Trump and Trumpism, but there are more numerous and better reasons to press for the devolution of power away from the nation-state and the shifting of greater authority to cities, metro areas, and other forms of local control.

You’re reading the Article: The Case for Devolution | CityLab by RICHARD FLORIDA, Apr 25, 2017

Localism = innovation

Urbanists have long argued that the local level is more innovative. Years ago, when many American analysts were extolling the virtues of Japanese and Korean economic and industrial policy, one of my students from South Korea remarked at the time: “That sort of industrial policy works great when you make the right call, but when you don’t, it fails. In the U.S., you have the ability to have hundreds if not thousands of local economic policies.” Our states and cities have long been the so-called laboratories of democracy, where new initiatives and approaches are tried out and honed.

The local level is not only more innovative, it is a more effective form of governance. Economist Alice Rivlin long ago said that economic policy aimed at innovation and productivity works best at the local level and should be decentralized to local leaders and organizations who have the best handle on their economies. Corporations long ago realized that huge productivity gains can come from decentralizing decision-making to work groups on the factory floor. A massive amount of research from the OECD shows that decentralized local government is more effective and efficient than centralized control.

Local governance is also more democratic and gives citizens more choice. Decades ago, the economist Charles Tiebout argued that we vote with our feet, essentially selecting the community which best serves our wants and needs. Single people may prefer lower taxes. Families want better schools. But the diversity at the local level recognizes our differences and allows us to choose the kind of community that best fits us.

The nation-state has become dysfunctional

One reason we are so scared of Trump is that he has taken control of the most powerful office on earth; the fear he instills is a product of the vast over-concentration of power in the nation-state and the imperial presidency. It’s high time we take steps to limit and counter-balance that power by shifting more of it to states and localities. In Canada, for example, the federal government has far less power and the provinces have far more.

Not only do the American presidency and nation-state have too much power, it is increasingly an economic anachronism—out of sync with an economy powered by cities and metro areas. The uber-powerful nation-state may have made sense in the era of economically concentrated industrial capitalism, but it’s extremely ill-suited to the demands of geographically concentrated, clustered and spiky knowledge capitalism.

The biggest challenge facing America right now is not Trump. It is the underlying divides that produced him. It’s time to recognize that those divides are unbridgeable.

Our economy is in the midst of two powerful nested transformations. The first is the shift from natural resources and physical power/labor to knowledge—where the mind has become the means of production. The second shift is toward clustering as the source of innovation and economic advantage, massively concentrating talent and economic assets in a handful of superstar cities and tech hubs.

Trumpism represents a backlash not just against women, immigrants and minorities, but against this very basic and fundamental and disruptive economic force. As the world becomes spikier and spikier—across nations, across regions, and within cities—the clustering of talent and economic assets makes the city and metro the new economic and social organizing unit.

Mutual coexistence in a divided nation

Right after the election, a smart reporter asked me a good question: What do we do to overcome America’s stark red-blue divide? Without even thinking, I shot back immediately: It’s not possible.

Our divides are not just about politics and political difference; they reflect a fundamental economic and geographic fissure that is baked in the deep structures of the knowledge economy. The biggest challenge facing America right now is not Trump; it’s the underlying divides that produced him. It’s time to recognize that those divides are unbridgeable, that we are in effect a divided nation.

And we’re going to have to learn to live with our differences. We need a mutual coexistence strategy that acknowledges the gap between our two distinct and separate nations. As my NYU and MPI colleague Jonathan Haidt told Vox:

We have to recognize that we’re in a crisis, and that the left-right divide is probably unbridgeable. And if it is, we’ll have to give up on doing big things in Washington, and do as little as we possibly can at the national level. We’re going to have to return as much as we can to states and localities, and hope that innovative solutions spring from technology or private industry.

He’s absolutely right. The geographic divides that separate cities, suburbs, and rural places may well be too deep for us to form a national consensus around urban issues.

No top-down, one-size-fits-all strategy can address the very different needs and desires of those who live in the dense, expensive blue-state cities and urban areas and those who live in more sprawling, car-oriented red-state suburbs and exurbs. Every place has its own set of unique needs, and these are very different kinds of places. Dense regions need transit, spread-out ones need better roads and bridges. Just as the minimum wage should be geographically indexed to local costs and conditions, urban policies are best tailored to local conditions and local needs. Empowering cities, suburbs, and communities respects both our differences in values and our very different needs.

A big tent

A few years ago, devolution and local empowerment may have seemed like a pipe-dream, but several forces (not the least of which is Trump) have conspired to bring a wide range of strange bedfellows from the left and right together on this issue. Localism is a big tent—one that actually looks politically feasible.

From the left, it is pushed for and supported by Bruce Katz of Brookings and Benjamin Barber, author of If Mayors Ruled the World. “The road to prosperity, no less than the road to global democracy, runs not through states but through cities,” Barber wrote. “Cities are now the guardians of the future, the bastions of diversity.” In an interview with New York Magazine, Barber proposed that the tax dollars generated in cities should serve the municipality rather than being sent to Washington, given that cities create 80 percent of American GDP and tax revenue. That article succinctly described Barber’s view: Cities are labor, government is capital. [Editor’s note: As we were preparing this piece, CityLab learned that Benjamin Barber had passed away on Monday after a long illness; we’ll have more on his life and work soon.]

That sounds similar to what Yuval Levin of the National Review has been arguing. In his book, The Fractured Republic, Levin outlines the need for “subsidiarity,” or the devolution of power to its lowest level (something Jane Jacobs also long argued for). He sees local empowerment as enabling a synthesis between two seemingly opposed but actually mutually reinforcing elements of American economic and political life.

The country would benefit from the familial, social, cultural, and economic stability made possible by that unity and order, while also benefiting from the dynamism made possible by greater individualism, diversity, and competition. It was an unstable mix, but it allowed the nation, for a time, to enjoy the best of both worlds.

Devolution and local empowerment is the issue that also brought Joel Kotkin and I together. Kotkin sees localism as a way to end America’s “new feudalism,” where the federal government lost the people’s trust. Most Americans however, still trust their local government. As my colleague James Fallows has pointed out, cities work even when Washington doesn’t.

The way forward

The GOP has long argued for smaller government, for shrinking federal control and shifting power to the states and local governments. It is time to hold them to their word. Devolution not only fits the fear of Trump on the left, it fits the GOP’s professed desire to shrink the national government.

This is an area where mayors and local officials can lead. A broad bipartisan movement of mayors calling for devolving and shifting power toward greater local control might well find many allies in Washington, on both sides of the aisle. America has a huge institutional advantage in its historically flexible system of federalism, which can balance and rebalance power among the federal government, states, and cities. During the New Deal, Franklin D. Roosevelt forged a new kind of partnership between the federal government and the cities. It’s time to do so again, this time putting more resources, power, and control in the hands of local government.

We need a mutual coexistence strategy that acknowledges the gap between our two distinct and separate nations.

Instead of using the arbitrary political boundaries, the nature of federalism has to change to a more dynamic federalism, as Jenna Bednar described, where political power mirrors the economic power that cities provide.

The present moment affords a real opportunity to recast urban governance in a way that aligns the underlying nature of economic activity and the challenges it brings with the level of governing authority. Transit and transportation investments, for example, could be overseen by the networks of cities and suburbs that make up metropolitan areas, or even the groups of metropolitan areas that make up megaregions.

If mayors and local leaders seize the initiative and push hard for greater autonomy, they will be in an even stronger position when the pendulum swings back in the other direction and our nation is once again ready to re-invest to rebuild our cities and suburbs. Maybe a 21st century economic strategy cannot be central or national, but it can be local.

You’re reading the Article: The Case for Devolution | CityLab by RICHARD FLORIDA, Apr 25, 2017

Second Scottish independence vote ‘looking inevitable’

A second Scottish independence referendum is now almost inevitable, with ministers concluding it is a question of when — not if — a vote is called.

People close to Theresa May’s office said they expected Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister, to seek a referendum next autumn, but that the government would fight to delay the vote until after Britain leaves the EU.

Although the British government could withhold the legal authority for a vote, it now appears focused on determining the date instead.

“It’s looking inevitable, I don’t think we’re in any position to stop it happening,” said one minister close to the discussions. Another person briefed on Downing Street’s thinking said: “ The debate is only going to be about the date.”

But a person close to the Scotland Office denied that a vote was inevitable, adding that Ms Sturgeon could decide not to push for one.

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