Time for New Metro Agendas

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Here's why the time is now for city leaders to rethink their local strategies.

Karen G. Mills and Jan W. Rivkin

As a civic leader in America, you may be elated or dismayed by the election and inauguration of Donald J. Trump.  Regardless, it is time to come to grips with the practical implications of a Trump Administration.  The change in president will alter the federal context in which U.S. cities operate, and the strategies of America’s cities must now adjust to match the new environment.

The picture of a Trump Administration is coming into focus.  During and just after the election, the policy statements of Donald Trump lacked detail and shifted regularly.  Trump intended to deport 11 million illegal immigrants, or maybe 2 million; ban Muslim entrants to the United States, or vet newcomers from some countries; build a wall on the Mexican border, or perhaps mostly a fence; and so on.  The shifting nature of his policies made it difficult to think about how cities might need to adjust their strategies.  But now that Trump has taken office, named his Cabinet, and made his initial moves, the likely actions of President Trump and the appropriate actions of cities have started to become clear.

It’s helpful to recall where America’s cities stand as we head into the Trump years.  Our cities are diverse in so many ways, but they also share certain promises and perils.  On the positive side, most major U.S. cities are enjoying economic and population growth; are attracting talented and educated young people; and have institutions that draw government, business, nonprofits, educational institutions, and others into cross-sector collaboration.  But the cities also have major challenges, especially when it comes to creating opportunity for all of their citizens.  Public schools are troubled and plagued by achievement gaps.  Workforce skills are limited and often not aligned with the needs of employers.  Key elements of infrastructure such as roads, bridges, and public transport are run down.  Significant hurdles face would-be entrepreneurs, and our  Main Street businesses, traditionally paths to the middle class, struggle for capital, customers, and confidence in their future prospects.  As a result, prosperity is not shared: inequality is rising, and economic mobility is limited.  Racial and ethnic tensions run high, fueled by economic disparities and sometimes by police conflicts.

In recent years, federal gridlock has forced city leaders to face their problems and tap their potential with limited help from Washington.  With a diminished federal partnership and many city governments constrained fiscally and otherwise, civic leaders have often turned to businesses, foundations, and educational institutions to be important partners in city-level efforts.

Now, with the presidency and both houses of Congress in Republican hands, gridlock is likely to give way to federal action.  In fact, Congressional leaders have signaled that there will be major legislation in many areas, including infrastructure, immigration, healthcare, tax reform, and financial services regulation.  President Trump has begun to take executive action in some of these areas and has indicated that he will do so in others, including on international trade.  Precisely what actions are we likely to see?  And what do these actions imply for city strategy?  We take up these questions in a series of short posts, each centered on an area of likely federal action.  Click below to see our posts on…

A theme that runs through our commentaries is that local cross-sector collaborations, particularly those that involve the private sector, will become even more important in the Trump years.  The president has already indicated a predilection for more local (vs. federal) control and for public-private partnerships.  City leaders can prepare for the times ahead by engaging all local stakeholders—convening groups that already exist and forming new relationships focused on the opportunities and challenges that the new Administration will bring.  These cross-sector collaborations will be critical in the coming years.

We hope our posts will provide a starting point for initial discussions and convenings.  We look forward to your thoughts and especially your alternative perspectives.

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