Cultivating talent, place and opportunity is essential to the rise of cities

Communities / Article

CityLab’s “The Rudiments of Growing Cities” from Aspen Institute on YouTube

In his new book, author Benjamin Barber speculates about our future “If Mayors Ruled the World.”  That could have been the theme for the discussions at CityLab. Organized by Bloomberg Philanthropies, The Atlantic and the Aspen Institute, the two-day event earlier this week attracted mayors, their aides, policymakers, philanthropists and social entrepreneurs to New York to consider the role of cities in tackling the world biggest challenges.

The accidental timing of the event coinciding with the federal government shutdown made the point of the meeting all too clear: If city leaders aren’t in the business of finding solutions to the problems society faces, those problems may very well go unsolved. Thus, the sessions were dominated by practical exchanges on everything from safety and privacy to transportation and economic development. Related Links

Despite their challenges, cities have a good hand to play. While poor people have always moved to cities seeking opportunity, today people with the economic freedom to choose where they live are also choosing cities. Increasingly they are choosing to live in the heart of those cities. This is a new development that requires city leaders to up their game and provide alluring places for talented people who can choose to live anywhere.

At the same time, city leaders must get far better at expanding the growth model to provide opportunity for those with less education and fewer skills. 

While some argue that we ought to make a big bet on manufacturing to provide jobs with good wages in the United States, it is also clear that “lean” manufacturing no longer requires the same number of workers nor can it use unskilled workers.  

We won’t solve the problem of growing the middle class with an old playbook. And we won’t solve it by relying on the projected growth of our fastest-growing jobs because too many don’t pay middle-class wages. We have to figure out new models for growing economic opportunity for people in cities that will imagine new ways to acquire knowledge and skills over a lifetime, connect people to more robust networks of opportunity, and nurture in all of us the ability to bring new ideas to life. We will have to have a much better understanding of our own strengths, both as individuals and as cities.

The key to cities ruling the world and doing a good job of it lies in making the most of our talent, the places we live and the opportunity we have for everyone to realize the American dream. Integrating these three critical components—talent, place and opportunity—is some of our most important work, and it’s where Knight can help enable our communities to thrive.

Carol Coletta, vice president for community and national initiatives at Knight Foundation